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Babi Yar

Lawrence Bush
September 28, 2017

The two-day massacre of more than 33,000 Jews at Babi Yar, a large ravine outside of Kiev, Ukraine, began on this date in 1941, less than two weeks after the Nazis captured the city. “Because of ‘our special talent of organization’,” the commander of the Einsatzkommando reported, “the Jews still believed to the very last moment before being murdered that indeed all that was happening was that they were being resettled.”

Ukrainian paramilitary collaborators were active in the slaughter. In the weeks and months that followed, Babi Yar became the site for the killing of psychiatric patients, Roma (Gypsies), Ukrainian nationalists, Soviet POWs, communists, and others; it is estimated that up to 120,000 people were murdered there. One of the very few survivor witnesses was Dina Pronicheva, an actress with the Kiev Children’s Theatre, whose 1946 testimony can be read at Testimony of Dina Mironovna Vasserman (Dina Mikhailovna Pronicheva).

“Wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar,
The trees look sternly, as if passing judgment.
Here, silently, all screams, and, hat in hand,
I feel my hair changing shade to gray.” —Yevgeni Yevtushenko, “Babi Yar”

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.