Babi Yar

By 1941, the focus and function of the Einsatzgruppen had changed significantly. With the initiation of Operation Barbarossa, Germany's assault on the Soviet
Union, the mobile killing units operated over a wide area of Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea.  There were four main divisions of the Einsatzgruppen --Groups A, B, C and D. These groups, all under Heydrich's general command, operated just behind the advancing German troops eliminating "undesirables: political "criminals," Polish governmental officials, gypsies and, mostly, Jews. Jews were rounded up in every village, transported to a wooded area, or a ravine (either natural or constructed by Jewish labor). They (men, women and children) were stripped, shot and buried.  Sachar provides a description of one of the most brutal mass exterminations -- at a ravine named "Babi Yar," near the Ukranian city of Kiev:

Kiev ... contained a Jewish population of 175,000 on the eve of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. The Nazi forces captured the city in mid-September; within less than a fortnight, on the 29th. and 30th., nearly 34,000 Jews of the ghetto were brought to a suburban ravine known as Babi Yar, near the Jewish Cemetery, where men, women, and children were systematically machine-gunned in a two-day orgy of execution. In subsequent months, most of the remaining population was exterminated.

This, the most appalling massacre of the war, is often alluded to as a prime example of utter Jewish helplessness in the face of disaster. But even the few desperate attempts, almost completely futile, to strike back served as a reminder that the difference between resistance and submission depended very largely upon who was in possession of the arms that back up the will to do or die. The Jews in their thousands, with such pathetic belongings as they could carry, were herded into barbed-wire areas at the top of the ravine, guarded by Ukrainian collaborators. There they were stripped of their clothes and beaten, then led in irregular squads down the side of the ravine. The first groups were forced to lie on the ground, face down, and were machine-gunned by the Germans who kept up a steady volley.

The riddled bodies were covered with thin layers of earth and the next groups were ordered to lie over them, to be similarly dispatched. To carry out the murder of 34,000 human beings in the space of two days could not assure that all the victims had died. Hence there were a few who survived and, though badly wounded, managed to crawl from under the corpses and seek a hiding place.

After the main massacre, the site was converted into a more permanent camp to which thousands of victims from other parts of the Ukraine could be sent for extermination. It became known as the Syrets camp, taking its name from a nearby Kiew neighborhood. Several hundred selected prisoners were quartered there -- carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, and other artisans -- to serve the needs of the SS men and the Ukrainian guards. They were usually killed within a few weeks and replaced by others who continued their duties. In charge of the administration and ultimate killing was Paul von Radomski, who seemed to crave a reputation for outdoing his sadist colleagues in other camps.


Sachar, Abram L. The Redemption of the Unwanted. New York: St. Martin's/Marek, 1983,

The Holocaust\Shoah Page.