The Tragedy of Babi Yar
by Yulia Samos
What's On, No.34, 2007
September 21, 2007

By the time the Nazi's arrived in Ukraine they had done away with the establishment of ghettos and the construction of concentration camps. The holocaust tactics when Hitler's advancing army arrived in Kyiv in September 1941 had changed - the Jewish people in the city as well as Gypsies, Slavic people "poisoned by the Bolshevik ideology" and homosexuals were immediately targeted for eradication. Terror for the Jewish residents of the city began about one week before the massacre at Babi Yar. Their homes were raided, they were severely beaten in the streets, and if there was the slightest protest or resistance they were shot. According to eyewitness accounts, 40 trucks full of Jewish people were taken to Babi Yar on September 22, never to be seen again. On September 28 leaflets were posted throughout the city in Russian, Ukrainian, and German. "It is ordered that all Jewish people living in the city of Kiev and its environs are to report on Monday 29 September 1941at 8:00am to the corner of Melnyk and Dokterivsky Streets (near the cemetery). They are to take with them documents, money and clothes. All those who do not heed these instructions will be shot. Anyone looting Jewish apartments will be shot."

Little Raisa Ester Maystrenko was only 3 years old at the time. Her father was Russian, her mother Jewish, and as the Jewish tradition is for nationality to be passed on the mother's side she and her mother reported to the designated spot as instructed.
         This photograph of her
 grandmother is one of Raisa's most
         cherished possessions

"It is ordered that all Jewish people living in the city of Kiev and its environs are to report

on Monday 29 September 1941 at 8:00am to the corner of Melnyk and Dokterivska Streets"

"Almost everyone, my mother included, beleived  the Nazi's  when they said we were  being

deported. There was a railway station near the place we were told to report to, so we thought
we were to be taken out of the  country by train. In any case, there was  always the question

of whether it would be more risky to  disobey the Nazis, " Raisa Ester explained. More  than

30,000 Kyivan Jews gathered by the cemetery for deportation, expecting to be loaded onto

trains. The commander of the Einsatzcommando reported two  days later: "Because of  our

special talent for organisation, the Jews still beleived  until the very last moment  before

execution that indeed all that was happening was  they were being  resettled."

Arriving at Babi Yar the peopoe were made to undress and leave all their belongings - luggage, clothes, documents and valuables - in a designated spot. Even then they were still not aware of their fate. The crowd was so large, consisting of men, women, and children that they did not know what was happening until it was too late. By the time the gunfire rang out there was no chance to escape. "We were separated into two groups," explains Raisa Ester. "Men and women in one group, children and the elderly in another. I was taken from my mother and I never saw her again. I was lucky enough to be with my grandmother on my father's side, Tetyana, and it was she who saved my life. When she heard the gunfire and realised what was going on she took me in her arms and began screaming, showing her passport: "I'm Russian, I'm Russian. Let me go."

"My grandmother went mad, screaming she was Russian. With myself in her arms, she ran from the crowd, paying

no attention to the shots that followed us." 

But the soldier grabbed her hair and said: "Everyone is a dirty Jew here." He lifted his weapon and was about to hit me with the butt of it, but she turned her shoulder to protect me. We fell down. My grandmother went mad, screaming she was Russian. With myself in her arms, she grabbed hold of a 12 year-old girl who had stuck to her since losing her mother and ran from the crowd, paying no attention to the shots that followed us. The soldiers must have thought it more important to stick to the crowd so as not to lose control, and they limited themselves to shooting at us, but thank God they missed.
 POW dig the mass grave at Babi
Yar, watched over by German troops
The two children and the elderly lady hid  in the bushes for more than 24 hours,  then wandered the

city for 3 days before finally managing to arrive back at the apartment. Taking into account the threat

from the Nazis that anyone found harbouring Jews  would be shot, it was extremely dangerous  for

the escapees to stay in Kyiv, but they had no other choice. 

Despite the fact that the Germans offered a reward of 1,000 rubles for every Jew, communist or

NKVS member, no one in the building said  anything about little Raisa and the three of  them hid in

the basement for 2 years. It was a  very dangerous time as there were many people who made a

business on handing over Jews. Kyiv writer Anatoliy  Kuznetsov, a young boy at the time,  wrote:

"There were a lot of people making money  from the situation. For example, Paraskoviya Derkach

lived near our Kurenivsky market. She was always  looking for Jews in hiding and when she found

them she would take everything they had. When they had nothing left to give she would hand them

over to the police for reward. "Despite this the good people in Raisa's apartment building protected

her during the occupation, and against all odds she survived. After the massacre of September 1941,

the tragedy of Babi Yar was far from  over. In October and November that year all the mentally-ill

people of Pavlov hospital, thousands of Red Army POWs, 3 Gypsy camps, Poles, Czechs and many

more innocent people were shot. In the months  that followed about 100 sailors from  Dniprovska

Marine, 621 members of the organisation of Ukrainian  Nationalists and the Ukrainian writer Olena

Teliga were also executed. The Syrets concentration camp was then set up in Babi Yar, and during

the occupation communists, POWs and Soviet Partisans died  there. After the war, the bodies  of

over 220,000 people were found in the mass graves at Babi Yar.
        BABI YAR
  by Parkhomenko

To honour the memory of the victims of Holocaust tragedy in Babi Yar come to Babi Yar on September 23, at 11:00

September 21, 2007

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