Babyn Yar

While on his first visit (official or otherwise) to Ukraine in October, 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made numerous commemorations of historical events. With Ukraine on the front lines of both world wars and the site of Stalin’s most sadistic crimes, Ukraine has no shortage of tragic events to remember.

Below is a statement from Prime Minister Stephen Harper made after returning from Ukraine, on Nov. 8, at the start of a conference on anti-Semitism:

"Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, two weeks ago I visited Ukraine for the first time.

"In Kiev (sic) I laid a wreath at Babi Yar (sic), the site of one of the numerous atrocities of the Holocaust. I was left there with much the same impression as I had in Auschwitz in 2008 — that such horrors defy all comprehension.

“At the killing grounds of Babyn Yar, I knew I was standing in a place where evil — evil at its most cruel, obscene, and grotesque — had been unleashed. But while evil of this magnitude may be unfathomable, it is nonetheless a fact.

“It is a fact of history. And it is a fact of our nature — that humans can choose to be inhuman. This is the paradox of freedom. That awesome power, that grave responsibility — to choose between good and evil."

The Hill Times, on page 34 of its Nov. 8 print edition, was promoting a Holocaust photo exhibit and included the following caption: "The Nazi massacre of 150,000 Jews over three days at Babi Yar, Urkraine (sic) 70 years ago will be remembered through a photo exhibit during the Inter-Parliamentary Conference on Combating Anti-Semitism Conference on the Hill . . . "

It’s always difficult to know exact numbers of dead in a massacre, particularly one on the scale of the genocide. While thousands of Jews were indeed massacred at Babyn Yar over 2 days, the site continued to be the mass grave for tens of thousands of Ukrainians, Russians and Gypsies totalling over 100,000 more victimes over the following two years. Here’s a number of references from numerous esteemed sources and authors:

  • From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website,

    "On September 29-30, 1941, SS and German police units and their auxiliaries, under guidance of members of Einsatzgruppe (mobile killing unit) C, murdered the Jewish population of Kiev at Babi Yar, a ravine northwest of the city. This was one of the largest mass murders at an individual location during World War II. As the victims moved into the ravine, Einsatzgruppe detachments shot them in small groups. According to reports by the Einsatzgruppe to headquarters, 33,771 Jews were massacred in two days. In the months following the massacre, German authorities stationed at Kiev killed thousands more Jews at Babi Yar, as well as non-Jews including Roma (Gypsies), Communists, and Soviet prisoners of war. It is estimated that some 100,000 people were murdered at Babi Yar."


  • From

    "According to the Einsatzgruppe Operational Situation Report No. 101, 33,771 Jews were killed at Babi Yar on September 29 and 30. But this was not the end of the killing at Babi Yar…

    …The Nazis next rounded up Gypsies and killed them at Babi Yar. Patients of the Pavlov Psychiatric Hospital were gassed and then dumped into the ravine. Soviet prisoners of war were brought to the ravine and shot. Thousands of other civilians were killed at Babi Yar for trivial reasons, such as a mass shooting in retaliation for just one or two people breaking a Nazi order.

    The killing continued for months at Babi Yar. It is estimated that 100,000 people were murdered there."


  • From A History of Ukraine
    Paul Robert Magocsi
    University of Toronto Press, 1996
    IBN 0-8020-0830-5
    pg. 633

    "Symbolically, the ravine at Babyn Iar, first used in September 1941 to innihilate most of Kiev’s Jews, was for two more years used as a site for executions and mass burials, which were to claim an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 more lives (Soviet prisoners of war, partisans, Ukrainian nationalists, Gypsies as well as Jews). The total number of non-Jews in Ukraine who were victims of Nazi extermination policies reached an estimated 3,000,000 people."

    From Old Wounds
    Harold Troper and Morton Weinfeld
    Penguin Books, 1989,
    ISBN 0-14-010916-1
    pgs 16-17

    "Ukraine was carved up into different administrative zones, its manpower and resources ruthlessly exploited as the Nazis saw fit. Eastern Ukraine, closest to the front, fared worst. The final solution ground mercilessly onward. in the valley of Babi Yar just outside of Kiev, Jews quickly learned the meaning of Nazi rule. In September 1941, a week after the Nazis overran the city, an estimated 70,000 Jews were herded into the ravine, stripped naked and slaughtered. To this day Babi Yar remains synonymous for Jews with the wanton bloodlust of the Nazi and their supporters.
    But Babi Yar was not free from the sight of mass murder once the Jews had been massacred. For the next two years, it continued as the killing ground for perhaps a million more of those in any way identified as enemies of Nazi rule. This included many Ukrainians. In the Nazi racial hierarchy, Ukrainians, a Slavic people, ranked only slightly higher than Jews. In the Nazi thousand-year Reich, Ukrainians might have been consigned to the same end as the Jews."


  • Ukraine A History
    Orest Subtelny
    University of Toronto Press, 1988
    ISBN 0-8020-5808-6
    pg. 468

    "Early indications of the nature of the Nazi regime were its treatment of Jews and prisoners of war. Because the Soviets had made no special effort to evacuate Ukraine’s Jewish population (and remained silent about its persecution), most Jews fell into the hands of the Nazis, who established 50 ghettos and over 180 large concentration camps in Ukraine. Within months of their arrival, the Nazis, and especially the SS execution squads (Einsatzsgruppen), killed about 850,000 Jews. In Kiev about 33,000 Jews were executed in Babyn Iar (Babi Yar) in two days alone."


  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
    William L. Shirer
    Simon & Schuster, 1960

    "But the gas vans, as (Otto) Ohlendorf testified, could dispatch only from 15-25 persons at a time, and this was entirely inadequate for the massacres on the scale of which Hitler and Himmler had ordered. Inadequate, for example, for the job that was done at Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, in just two days, September 29 and 30, 1941, when according to an official Einsatz report, 33,771 persons, mostly Jews, were "executed."


  • The Course of Modern Jewish History
    Howard Morley Sachar
    Delta, 1977
    pg. 443

    "Although two thirds of Russian Jewry managed to escape into the interior with the Red Army, it is probable that fully 1,000,000 Jews were trapped in the German zone of occupation. It was not difficult to dispose of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were concentrated in the large cities of White Russia and the Ukraine. In Minsk alone some 75,000 Jews fell into German hands and were systematically slaughtered. In Kiev 33,000 people were murdered within two days on September 29 and 30, 1941, in the single largest massacre of the war; they were shot and buried in the huge Babi Yar ravine, where, a few months later, their gas-bloated bodies literally exploded out of the earth… Not even the Jews of Poland were destroyed with such relentless speed and organized fury. "


  • From the wikipedia source of Anatoly Kuznetsov

    "Before September 29, 1941, Jews were slowly being murdered in camps behind a veneer of legitimacy. Treblinka, Auschwitz, etc. came later. Since Babyn Yar murder became commonplace. I trust you know how they did this. They published an order for all the Jews in the city to gather in the vicinity of the freight yard with their belongings and valuables. Then they surrounded them and began shooting them. Countless Russians, Ukrainians, and other people, who had come to see their relatives and friends “off to the train,” died in the swarm. They didn’t shoot children but buried them alive, and didn’t finish off the wounded. The fresh earth over the mass graves was alive with movement. In the two years that followed, Russians, Ukrainians, Gypsies, and people of all nationalities were executed in Babyn Yar. The belief that Babyn Yar is an exclusively Jewish grave is wrong, and Yevtushenko portrayed only one aspect of Babyn Yar in his poem. It is an international grave. Nobody will ever determine how many and what nationalities are buried there, because 90% of the corpses were burned, their ashes scattered in ravines and fields."

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