T O P I C
STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
Ukraine has a population of 42.4 million people (in 2017). Kiev is its capital and largest city with a population of 2,8 million and is a major industrial, scientific, educational, and cultural center in Eastern Europe. Spoken language is Ukrainian (official). Russian is widely spoken, especially in eastern and southern parts of the country.
Depicted on the map are Ukraine with surrounding countries, international borders, main rivers, major cities, main roads, railroads, and major airports, as well as the Russian occupied Crimean peninsula and the region in eastern Ukraine under the control of pro-Russian activists.
The Jewish population developed until it was virtually destroyed by the Nazis. Borders have frequently changed, the latest example was in 2014 with the creation of the ‘Autonomous Republic of Crimea’ and ‘Eastern Ukraine’ under pro-Russian activists. It suffered badly through the Holocaust in World War 2. Which saw the development and virtual destruction of the Jews
Today, it has a Jewish President.
in no way mislead us. The same psychology, the same thinking, the same type of trial, the same type of evidence, the same type of torture went into both. Even as Jews accused of ritual murder were hauled to the stake, Christians accused of witchcraft were burned in adjacent marketplaces. The screams of Jews and Christians as they were burned alive went up together to our Father in Heaven, who must have wondered what on earth was going on.
There was, however, one rank discrimination against which Jews thus far have registered no formal protest. Whereas the executed Christians received grand send-offs, accompanied by magnificently sung cantatas, Kyries, Alleluias, Introits, and Jubilates, the Jews received fourth-class funerals, accompanied by lamentations sung off-key.
The second movement in this medieval concerto for violence, the economic allegro, began before the first movement was over. As the Reformation slowly changed from a religious revolt to an economic revolution, the nature of anti-Jewish violence shed more and more of its religious] coloration and took on more and more of an economic overtone. By the sixteenth century, coincidentally with the Reformation, and as a result of the successive Jewish banishments from the West, Jewish life had shifted preponderantly to the East. Because the history of Jewish persecution in Eastern! Europe between 1000 and 1800 is more or less a recapitulation of the history of Jewish persecution in Western Europe between 600 and 1600, we need only briefly review Jewish events in three East European countries, Poland, Russia, and! Prussia, to show the remarkable parallelism.
German Jews, fleeing to escape the marauding Crusaders! in the Rhineland, settled in Poland as early as 1100. Here they prospered. More and more, the Jews fled Germany and Austria for Poland, and the Polish nobility welcomed them with open arms. King Boleslav V, the Chaste, granted the Jews liberal charters of self-government (1264). And why not? The Jews were helping him to build cities and to found industry and commerce, enabling him to compete economically with the West. Like the nobles, the Jews owned land and large estates. They lived in city and village. Casimir III, the Great, the Charlemagne of Poland, founded universities, encouraged trade, and imported even more Jews to accelerate the hum of commerce and industry. Vitovt, Grand Duke of Lithuania, opened that country for Jewish settlement.
By 1400 the evils which had befallen the Jews in the West hit the East. A ritual-murder charge against the Jews was whipped by the clergy into hysteria that swept all Poland. Casimir IV tried to reassure the uneasy Jews, but the Roman Catholic clergy, alarmed at the heretical trends sweeping the West, linked the Jews to the new heresies. Host desecration charges were leveled against both Jews and Protestants. The first pogroms, that is, organized attacks against Jews, broke out in Poland around 1500.
Stronger kings, not intimidated by the clergy, restored temporally the former order. Sigismund I and II were both outraged at the Host-desecration infamies. Sigismund II denounced them as a fraud, saying, “I am shocked at this hideous villainy, nor am I sufficiently devoid of common sense as to believe there could be any blood in the Host.”
Poland held the scepter of greatness in her hands in the 11th century, but a succession of weak kings and strong nobles lost it for her in the sixteenth century. The situation was complex, confused, and explosive. Weak governments were dominated by powerful nobles and a fanatic clergy, German tradesmen trying to corner the Polish market fostered anti-Jewish sentiment in order to drive the Jews out. The peasants, oppressed by the nobles, cheated by the Germans, squeezed for taxes by the Jews who served the Polish nobility as tax collectors, and kept in a feudal prison by the priests, lavished their hate on all four and waited for der Tag ("the day”), when revenge would be theirs. It came in 1648.
Greek Orthodox Cossacks, living on the border lands between medieval Poland and Turkey, rebelled against the hated Roman Catholic Poles. They were led by a shrewd cruel chieftain named Bogdan Chmielnicki, whose small son had been flayed alive by a Polish noble. Against Bogdan’s ill-clad, smelly, sharp-sabered roughriders of the steppes, the colorful, perfume-scented cavalry of the Polish nobility had no more chance than did the Polish cavalry against Hitler tanks in 1939. They were mowed down like infantrymen in the fields of Flanders during World War I. The Polish serf seeing their chance for revenge, joined the Cossacks.
The Cossack savagery knew no bounds. The enemies were the Polish nobility, the Roman Catholic priests, the German traders, and the Jews. Why the Jews? Why not.They lived in Poland and they were not Greek Orthodox The Cossacks sawed their prisoners into pieces, or flayed them alive, or roasted them into brown crisps over slow fires. They slit infants in two with their swords, ripped open the bellies of nuns, noblewomen, and Jewesses; into them they sewed live cats. They had two favorite formulas for hanging. The first was a quartet consisting of one Polish nobleman, one German merchant, one Roman Catholic priest, and one Jew. The second was a trio consisting of a Jew, a priest, and a dog. If a dog was not available, a hog was used, which could later be hauled down and eaten after a good day’s work of sawing people into pieces.
The Jews fled the fiends from the steppes to seek sanctuary in the cities, but there too massacre overtook them. The wily Cossacks promised the Poles in the cities that their lives would be spared provided they turned the Jews over to them. This the Poles did. Then, weakened by the loss of the Jewish defenders, the Poles were easy prey for the Cossacks, who slaughtered them with glee. Perhaps as many as 100,000 Jews perished in the decade of this revolution. It is difficult to estimate how many hundreds of thousands, if not over a million, Poles were killed, equally cruelly. The fields of Poland resembled a carnage house, with the limbs of the massacred and tortured strewn over the countryside. After ten years, when the Cossacks were exhausted, a measure of peace crept into the land.
But poor Poland was to know no surcease from her afflictions. The second half of the seventeenth century saw another Cossack uprising, bloodier than the first, two invasions by Sweden, and a disastrous war with Turkey. The eighteenth century brought no relief. Poland was invaded by Russia, then had a civil war. An unholy alliance—Russia, Prussia, and Austria—partitioned Poland three times until no Poland was left. The Jews in Poland had come into the orbit of Russian, German, and Austrian history.
The early history of the Jews in Russia is a unique tragi-comedy. The harder Russia tried to get rid of her Jews, the faster she acquired them. Finally she gave up, drew a cordon sanitaire along her western border, saying, “up to here but no further,” and sat back to wait for the consequences. They were long in coming.
Russia, as we know it today, did not come into being until 1700, with Peter the Great. In its earlier centuries, Russia was a mammoth crazy quilt of dukedoms, with Tatars and Cossacks all over the place. Jews settled in the various duke-
HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN THE UKRAINE
Jewish communities have existed in the territory of Ukraine from the time of Kievan Rus' (one of Kiev city gates was called Judaic) and developed many of the most distinctive modern Jewish theological and cultural traditions such as Hasidism. According to the World Jewish Congress, the Jewish community in Ukraine constitute the third biggest Jewish community in Europe and the fifth biggest in the world.
While at times it flourished, at other times the Jewish community faced periods of persecution and antisemitic discriminatory policies. In the Ukrainian People's Republic, Yiddish was a state language along with Ukrainian and Russian. At that time there was created the Jewish National Union and the community was granted an autonomous status. Yiddish was used on Ukrainian currency in 1917–1920. Before World War II, a little under one-third of Ukraine's urban population consisted of Jews who were the largest national minority in Ukraine. Ukrainian Jews are comprised by a number of sub-groups, including Ashkenazi Jews, Mountain Jews, Bukharan Jews, Crimean Karaites, Krymchak Jews and Georgian Jews.
In the westernmost area of Ukraine, Jews were mentioned for the first time in 1030. An army of Cossacks and Crimean Tatars massacred and took into captivity a large number of Jews, Roman Catholic Christians and Uniate Christians in 1648–49. Recent estimates range from fifteen thousand to thirty thousand Jews killed or taken captive, and 300 Jewish communities totally destroyed. During the 1821 anti-Jewish riots in Odessa after the death of the Greek Orthodox patriarch in Constantinople, 14 Jews were killed. Some sources claim this episode as the first pogrom. At the start of 20th century, anti-Jewish pogroms continued to occur. When part of the Russian Empire in 1911 to 1913, the antisemitic attitudes can be seen in the number of blood libel cases. In 1915, the government expelled thousands of Jews from the Empire's border areas.
During the 1917 Russian Revolution and the ensuing Russian Civil War, an estimated 31,071 Jews were killed during 1918–1920. During the establishment of the Ukrainian People's Republic (1917–21), pogroms continued to be perpetrated on Ukrainian territory. In Ukraine, the number of civilian Jews killed during the period was between 35 and 50 thousand. Pogroms erupted in January 1919 in the northwest province of Volhynia and spread to many other regions of Ukraine. Massive pogroms continued until 1921. The actions of the Soviet government by 1927 led to a growing antisemitism in the area.
Total civilian losses during WW II and German occupation in Ukraine are estimated at seven million, including over a million Jews shot and killed by the Einsatzgruppen and by their many local Ukrainian supporters in the western part of Ukraine. Ukraine had 840,000 Jews in 1959, a decrease of almost 70% from 1941 (within Ukraine's current borders). Ukraine's Jewish population declined significantly during the Cold War. In 1989, Ukraine's Jewish population was only slightly more than half of what it was thirty years earlier (in 1959). The overwhelming majority of the Jews who remained in Ukraine in 1989 left Ukraine and moved to other countries (mostly to Israel) in the 1990s during and after the collapse of Communism. Antisemitic graffiti and violence against Jews are still a problem in Ukraine.
One of Hitler's ambitions at the start of the war was to exterminate, expel, or enslave most or all Slavs from their native lands so as to make living space for German settlers. This plan of genocide was to be carried into effect gradually over a period of 25–30 years.
According to historian William W. Hagen, "Generalplan Ost . . . forecast the diminution of the targeted east European peoples' populations by the following measures: Poles – 85 percent; Belarusians – 75 percent; Ukrainians – 65 percent; Czechs – 50 percent. ... The Russian people, once subjugated in war, would join the four Slavic-speaking nations whose fate Generalplan Ost foreshadowed."
DEATH SQUADS (1941–1943)
Total civilian losses during the war and German occupation in Ukraine are estimated at four million, including up to a million Jews who were murdered by the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units) and local Nazi collaborators. Einsatzgruppe C (SS-Gruppenführer Dr. Otto Rasch) was assigned to north and central Ukraine, and Einsatzgruppe D (SS-Gruppenführer Dr. Otto Ohlendorf) to Moldavia, south Ukraine, the Crimea, and, during 1942, the north Caucasus. According to Ohlendorf at his trial, "the Einsatzgruppen had the mission to protect the rear of the troops by killing the Jews, Romani, Communist functionaries, active Communists, uncooperative slavs, and all persons who would endanger the security." In practice, their victims were nearly all Jewish civilians (not a single Einsatzgruppe member was killed in action during these operations).
World Jewish Congress
The Jews of Ukraine constitute the third largest Jewish community in Europe and the fifth largest in the world. Jews are mainly concentrated in Kyiv(110,000), Dnepropetrovsk (60,000), Kharkov (45,000), and Odessa (45,000). Jews also live in many of the smaller towns. Western Ukraine, however, has only a small remnant of its former Jewish population, with Lvivand Chernovtsy each having only about 6,000 Jews. The majority of Jews in present-day Ukraine are native Russian/Ukrainian speakers, and only some of the elderly speak Yiddish as their mother tongue (in 1926, 76.1% claimed Yiddish as their mother tongue). The average age is close to 45.
The idea of a distinct Ukrainian Jewry has been revived. In former times, Jews living in various parts of the territory of present-day Ukraine had identified themselves as Russian, Polish, Galician, Romanian, Bessarabian, Hungarian, or even Austrian Jews-and more recently, as Soviet Jews.
In the 19th century, Ukraine, as a part of the Pale of Settlement, was densely populated by Jews. Despite restrictions, Jews played a prominent role in the development of commerce and industry in the region, and especially in the growth of its major cities, such as Kyiv, Odessa, and Kharkov. Many of the most important Jewish thinkers of the modern age were born there.
Throughout this time, religious and Zionist activity was forced underground. The Soviet authorities established four Jewish autonomous districts in the southern part of the republic and in Crimea. These settlements lasted until World War II, when they were overrun by the Germans and their inhabitants murdered. More than half the Jews living in Ukraine were wiped out. The Jews of Ukraine account for a great proportion of the Soviet victims of the Holocaust, with the worst slaughter taking place at Babi Yar outside Kyiv.
Many Ukrainians played an active role in the murder and despoliation of their Jewish neighbors. After the war, returning Jews were often met with hostility, and the repression of Jewish cultural and spiritual life was especially severe in Soviet Ukraine. Moreover, Kyiv became a center for anti-Semitic publicistic activity.
The collapse of Communism and the re-creation of an independent Ukraine set the stage for the revitalization of Jewish life. The Ukrainian government has been sensitive to the needs of Ukrainian Jewry. Still, the precarious economic situation has been a decisive factor in the aliya of Ukrainian Jews.
The leading umbrella organizations are the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine and the Jewish Council of Ukraine. The community is made up of many different Jewish religious and cultural groups, including various Zionist organizations.
The Jewish population is in decline, largely due to emigration and to the aging process. The community, together with international Jewish welfare groups, is striving to alleviate the poverty of the many destitute Jews in the country, a large portion of whom are elderly. Among the community's priorities is securing the return of nationalized Jewish property.
CULTURE AND EDUCATION
The horrible slaughter at Babi Yar inspired the great Russian writer, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, to pen a powerful ode to the victims. It later became the theme of composer Dimitri Shostakovitch's 13th Symphony. In 1963 both the poet and the composer were denounced by the Soviet authorities.
Ukraine has about 75 Jewish schools in some 45 cities, among them some 10 day schools (in Chernovtsy, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, Kyiv, Lviv, Odessa, Vinnitsa, and Zapozoshye) and 65 Sunday schools. Several newspapers and journals are published, including the Kiev-based Hadashot. There is also a weekly TV program called "Yahad" on state television.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, religious life has undergone a revival, and Jewish communities in many cities and towns have been reconstituted. Synagogues and mikvaot are now functioning in all cities and towns with a significant Jewish population. Religious leadership is provided by a number of foreign rabbis.
Ukraine and Israel have enjoyed full diplomatic relations since 1991. Aliya: Since 1989, 200,000 Ukrainian Jews have emigrated to Israel.
Among the sites which attract large numbers of Jewish visitors is Uman, the burial place of Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav, and Gadyach, the tomb of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the Alter Rebbe-the founder of the Lubavitch Chassidic movement. (Go to Videos)
G.P.E.-S , Lesi Ukrainki 34, Kyiv 252195, Tel. 7 044 295 6216, Fax. 7 044 294 9748
Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine
Kurskaya Str. 6, 252049 Kyiv, Tel. 7 044 276 3431, Fax. 7 044 271 7144
Jewish Council of Ukraine
Nimosnkaya St. 7 , 252103 Kyiv 103, Tel. 296 3961, Fax. 295 9604
King David, Esplanadna St, 24, Kiev, Ukraine, 01023, +380 44 235 7418
For up to date information on Kosher restaurants and locations please see the Shamash Kosher Database
(Editors Note: Eastern Europe has a long history of border changes. Lviv is an example of a town that was recently Polish and is now in the Ukraine. After the German-Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, Lviv became part of the Soviet Union, and in 1944–46 there was a population exchange between Poland and Soviet Ukraine. In 1991, it became part of the independent nation of Ukraine. It was previously called Lviv.
In 2018 an International Jewish Choir Festival was held in Lviv
The Zemel Choir of London were the British representatives.
Residents of the Ukrainian city of Lviv are learning about and coming to terms with one of their most painful chapters: the annihilation of their Jewish community during World War II.
It's one of the paradoxes of Ukraine that some of the most horrific events in the history of the 20th century are often commemorated in the most idyllic of settings.
On Sunday, a few hundred people gathered among the quaint, narrow streets of Lviv's old city, under a cloudless sky, and remembered the Nazi-led destruction of the city's Jewish population - one of eastern Europe's oldest and largest.
The ceremony took place on a square that was once the spiritual heart of the community - where two of the city's biggest synagogues and the Beth Hamidrash, a "house of learning," stood. For years the site was a weed-strewn lot. Beer bottles and cigarette butts littered the ground where the 16th century Golden Rose Synagogue once was. On one of the remaining walls, one could make out the traces left by the ark of the Torah.
Now, however, the area is filled by a memorial complex, called "The Space of Synagogues" - the end product of an eight-year process to recapture the area, while doing justice to the magnitude of the loss.
Jews made up about one-third of Lviv's pre-war population, numbering more than 200,000. The Holocaust completely wiped out this community - only around 800 survived.
A poster shows the site before and after the memorial complex was installed
The site where the synagogues stood had been vacant for years
But it did more than erase lives - it obliterated much of the architecture and infrastructure that sustained Jewish existence and culture. Afterward, Soviet authorities demolished, commandeered or left to decay what few building were left over at the war's end. When Ukraine became an independent country 25 years ago, Jewish life was a faint shadow of what it once was.
The destruction extended to people's memories. Many Ukrainians are unaware of the vibrant communities that once lived among them, and how exactly they disappeared.
"I would say that our knowledge is weak," said Sophia Dyak, director of the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe, which sponsored the project with the Lviv city government, the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and Jewish organizations.
"But the question is, what can you do?" she said. "Let's make the history visible - but how?"
To this end - to try to convey something that no longer existed - the project sponsors commissioned two German architects, Sophie Jahnke and Franz Reschke, from Berlin, who designed an open area with different installations. "We interpreted three separate atmospheres," Reschke said.
For the Beth Hamidrash, he and Jahnke strove to convey "a vivid character and open spaces": A large grass square occupying the area where the building stood, with white stone blocks outlining its contours. The remains of the Golden Rose have been cleaned up but left standing as they were. "We wanted the authentic ruins, so that people reflected over the destruction of these buildings," Reschke said. And in the center of these two, is a structure called "Perpetuation," consisting of a line of irregular vertical stone slabs, etched with photos and quotes from Lviv's one-time Jewish residents.
"We wanted to show that there was a rich history before," said Jahnke. "But then, in the middle of the line, there's a space - this is when fear came. After that, the stones break down and get lower."
"There aren't quotes on the last stones - because the future is still to be written," she said.
Most of all, the complex is to be a place for education. Reschke and Jahnke say they strive to spark a discussion, between the country's various communities, as well as among ethnic Ukrainians themselves.
"We hope this installation won't be a place for a chat up and to drink a beer, but a place to reflect, think and get a dialogue started," says Reschke.
The process won't just be intellectual. "We want for people who live here to have a chance to learn - but also to learn emotionally, and this emotional knowledge can lead them elsewhere," said Sophia Dyak.
"Each place in Ukraine has a similar story," she added. "And Ukrainians who visit Lviv may be provoked to ask, 'What happened in my home town?'"
At the opening ceremony, seven decades after the events, emotions were still strong. Many in the crowd were noticeably moved. Afterward, onlookers - following Jewish tradition at gravesites - placed pebbles on top of the stone slabs of the Perpetuation installation.
Dr Leszek Allerhand, a Holocaust survivor, lived next to the synagogues. When he was 10 years old, German forces, with the help of police recruited from the local population, burned them to the ground.
"Our apartment was five meters from the Great Synagogue," he said. "The police cordoned off the area, so there were no people there. Then German soldiers set the buildings on fire, and the smoke was so thick, you couldn't see anything."
Dr Allerhand now lives in Zakopane, Poland, but came to Lviv to share his memories at the ceremony. "It's good that people are remembering," he told DW. "It's good that they are not just remembering, but also feeling what happened."
A seemingly cosmopolitan city is a nationalist stronghold and monument to ethnic cleansing, as its barbaric wartime treatment of Jews illustrated. The Independent, March 20141
Lviv Pogrom, 1941 Wikipedia
Lwów (Lviv) Pogrom 1918 Wikipedia
Shoah Resource Center,
The International School for Holocaust Studies
Labor camp located on Janowska Road in Lvov (in the Ukraine), where thousands of Jews were murdered. The Germans established Janowska in September 1941 as an arms factory. Soon, it was expanded into a complex of factories that served the German Armament Works. These factories employed Jews as forced laborers (see also forced labor). By October, there were 600 prisoners who worked mostly at carpentry and metalwork; some were given meaningless jobs designed to exhaust them before sending them to their deaths. At the beginning of November the Nazis asked the chairman of the Lvov Judenrat, Dr. Joseph Parnes, to provide more workers for the camp. He refused and was executed.
The camp underwent a change in March 1942. When the mass deportations of Jews from Eastern Galicia to the Belzec extermination camp began, Janowska was used as a transit camp for those prisoners who were still capable of doing hard labor. When they were no longer of any use to the Germans, they were sent to Belzec like the others.
Later in the spring, the Nazis expanded Janowska and turned it into a concentration camp. The Lvov Judenrat tried to help the prisoners there by sending them food, but hardly any of the packages reached them. During the summer of 1942, thousands more Jews arrived. In mid-1943 Janowska became more and more like an extermination camp.
Fewer prisoners were used as forced laborers, and the amount of time they stayed in the camp was shortened. The Nazis executed prisoners on the outskirts of Lvov; over 6,000 Jews were murdered in May 1943 alone.
The prisoners in Janowska tried to organize resistance actions. Prisoners who worked outside Janowska were able to smuggle weapons into the camp, to be used in the event of the camp's liquidation. However, the date of the liquidation was moved up to November 1943, catching the prisoners unaware.
One revolt did break out among the prisoners forced to burn corpses to conceal evidence of mass extermination. The rebels killed some guards, but most were caught and killed. Altogether, tens of thousands of Jews from Lvov and Eastern Galicia were murdered in Janowska.
In September 1941, the Germans set up a factory on Janowska Street in the northwestern suburbs of Lvov, in southeastern Poland. This factory became part of a network of factories, the German Armament Works, owned and operated by the SS. Jews were used as forced laborers, mainly in carpentry and metalwork. In October 1941, the Germans established a camp housing the forced laborers next to the factory.
In addition to being a forced-labor camp for Jews, Janowska was a transit camp during the mass deportations of Polish Jews to the killing centers in 1942. Jews underwent a selection process in Janowska similar to that used at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek. Those classified as fit to work remained at Janowska for forced labor. The majority, rejected as unfit for work, were deported to Belzec and killed or were shot at the Piaski ravine, just north of the camp. In the summer and fall of 1942, thousands of Jews (mainly from the Lvov ghetto) were deported to Janowska and killed.
The evacuation of the Janowska camp began in November 1943. As the Germans attempted to destroy the traces of mass murder (Aktion 1005), they forced the prisoners to open the mass graves and burn the bodies. On November 19, 1943, these prisoners staged an uprising and a mass escape attempt. A few succeeded in escaping, but most were recaptured and killed. The SS staff and their local auxiliaries murdered at least 6,000 surviving Jews from various forced-labor camps in Galicia when the Janowska camp was liquidated in November 1943.
KIEV AND BABI YAR
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Kiev was the capital of the Soviet Ukraine when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Some 160,000 Jews resided in Kiev, comprising about 20 percent of the city's population.
Approximately 100,000 Jews fled Kiev in advance of the German occupation. German forces entered Kiev on September 19, 1941. Along with the rest of the Ukraine, the city was incorporated into the Reichskommissariat Ukraine, headed by East Prussian Nazi district leader Erich Koch.
During the first days of the German occupation, two major explosions, apparently set off by Soviet military engineers, destroyed the German headquarters and part of the city center. The Germans used the sabotage as a pretext to murder the remaining Jews of Kiev. At that time, there were about 60,000 Jews in the city. Most of those who remained were women, children, the elderly, and the sick who had been unable to flee.
On September 29-30, 1941, SS and German police units and their auxiliaries, under guidance of members of Einsatzgruppe 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.
The Soviet army liberated Kiev on November 6, 1943.
HOLOCAUST IN KIEV AND THE TRAGEDY OF BABI YAR
The International School for Holocaust Studies
In the territories that belonged to the Soviet Union before 1939, mass extermination of the Jews was usually organized very soon after the occupation of a locality. Thus, in Kiev, only 10 days – from 19 to 29 September 1941 – passed between the occupation of the city and the start of the physical annihilation of the local Jews in Babi Yar.
On the eve of Operation Barbarossa, about 230,000 Jews lived in Kiev, including refugees from the Polish territories occupied by Germany. After many Jews were drafted to the front, evacuated or escaped, at the time when the city was taken by the German troops on 19 September 1941, 60 to 70 thousand, according to various estimates, still remained in the city. Most of them were women, children and the elderly.
On September 24, a few days after the occupation of the city by the Germans, NKVD mopping-up detachments left behind the lines blew up the buildings of the army headquarters, commandant’s office and visiting officers’ quarters in Kiev’s main street – Kreschatik, which had been rigged with explosives even before the retreat of the Red Army. On September 26, at a meeting convened by the field commandant of Kiev, Kurt Eberhard, it was decided that the responsibility and punishment for the explosions should fall on the Jews of Kiev.
On September 28, the following announcements in Russian, Ukrainian and German were pasted up all over the city:
Order for Kiev's Jews to assemble near Babi Yar, September 28, 1941.
"All the Yids of the city of Kiev and its vicinity must appear on Monday September 29, 1941 by 8 a.m. at the corner of Melnikova and Dokhterivskaya streets (next to the cemetery). Bring documents, money and valuables, and also warm clothing, bed linen etc. Any Yids who do not follow this order and are found elsewhere will be shot. Any civilians who enter the dwellings left by Yids and appropriate the things in them will be shot".
The text of the announcement deserves special attention: it is a typical example of a trick widely used by the Nazis to deceive and confuse the victims before the execution. It is impossible to understand from the announcement that the Jews are in mortal danger. The order to take documents, money, valuables, warm clothes and bed linen seems to mean that it’s about resettlement. In addition, there were rumors circulating around the city to the effect that the Jews would be sent from Kiev somewhere else. The ban on entering apartments left behind and appropriating Jewish property creates an illusion of protection: ostensibly, Jewish property will be safe and will await the return of its owners. At the same time, the announcement contains a threat of punishment by death for disobeying. It is no wonder, therefore, that many Jews believed it would be safer to comply and come at the appointed time to the meeting point.
It is also worth noting that September 29 was not an accidental choice – in 1941, Yom Kippur fell on that day. Arranging the mass executions of the Jews on the days of Soviet or Jewish holidays was a frequent occurrence and had symbolic meaning of triumph for the Germans.
In the morning of September 29, Jews of Kiev started to gather in the appointed place.
A resident of Kiev, teacher L. Nartova, described it in her diary on September 29, 1941:
September 29, 1941
I went out to the balcony. I saw a crowd of Jews, guarded by four policemen, going along the street. They were of different ages, but mostly elderly. They were walking slowly and with such pitiful faces that it was difficult to look at them. All of them looked ill. Three women were carried behind them on wheelbarrows. Their legs were hanging out and striking the pavement. Oh, how terrible it is to live here, how difficult it is to watch this scene. I wanted to run away. I got dressed, and went out to the street just at the time when they were even with our house. They were ill or crippled and policemen were guarding them.
I happened to meet a little girl … who also could not take her eyes off them. She asked me: "Auntie, are they Jews? Where are they being driven? Are they going to be killed?"
Her eyes were opened wide. It was obvious that such a possibility could not enter her head. Into whose head of ours could it?"
The local auxiliary police escorted the Jews to Babi Yar, a natural ravine on the outskirts of the city, where they were shot. According to the Einsatzgruppe C reports, 33,771 Jews were killed in Babi Yar over the course of two days, September 29 and 30:
"The bitter hostility of the Ukrainian population against the Jews is extremely great, because it is thought that they were responsible for the explosions in Kiev. They are also seen as NKVD informers and agents, who unleashed the terror against the Ukrainian people. All Jews were arrested in retaliation for the arson in Kiev, and altogether 33,771 Jews were executed on September 29th and 30th. Gold, valuables and clothing were collected and put at the disposal of the National-Socialist Welfare Association (NSV), for the equipment of the Volksdeutsche, and part given to the appointed city administration for distribution to the needy population".
Here is the description of the events by Dina Pronicheva, one of the few who managed to escape from Babi Yar:
Dina Pronicheva on the witness stand, January 24, 1946, at a Kiev war-crimes trial of fifteen members of the German police responsible for the occupied Kiev region.
"My name is Dina, Dina Mironovna Vasserman. I grew up in a poor Jewish family, was raised under Soviet rule in the spirit of internationalism and, thus, it is no wonder that I came to love a Russian boy, Nikolai Pronichev, married him, [and] lived with him in love and happiness. In that way I became Dina Mikhailovna Pronicheva. My [internal] passport identified me as a Russian. We had two children - a boy and a girl…
Hitler's troops occupied Kiev on September 19, 1941 and from the very first day started to rob and kill Jews… We were living in terror. When I saw the posters on the city’s streets and read the order: “All the Jews of Kiev must gather at Babi Yar,” about which we had no idea, in my heart I sensed trouble… So I dressed my little ones, the younger one [the girl] who was 3 years old and the older one [the boy] - 5, packed their belongings into a small sack, and took my daughter and son to my Russian mother-in-law. Afterwards, I took my sick mother and, following the order, she and I started out on the way to Babi Yar.
Hundreds, no thousands, of Jews were walking the same way. An old Jew with a long white beard walked next to me. He wore a talis [prayer shawl] and tefillin [phylacteries]. He was murmuring quietly. He prayed the same way as my father did when I was a child. Ahead of me a woman with two children in her arms walked along, while the third child clung to her apron-strings… Small children were crying… Russian husbands accompanied their Jewish wives. Russian wives accompanied their Jewish husbands. When we neared Babi Yar, shooting and inhuman cries could be heard… When we entered the gate, we were ordered to hand over [our] documents and valuables, and to take off our clothes. One German approached my mother and tore her gold ring off her finger. Only then did my mother say [to me]: “Dinochka-you are Pronicheva, a Russian. You should save yourself. Run to your little ones. You should live for them.”
But I could not run… How could I leave my mother alone? I hugged her, burst into tears, but I could not leave her.
My mother pushed me away from her, crying: “Go quickly!”
I then approached a table where a fat officer was sitting, showed him my passport, and said quietly: "I am a Russian."
He looked closely at my passport, but at that moment a policeman came running up and muttered: "Don't believe her, she is a kike. We know her…"
The German told me to wait and to stand aside.
Each time I saw a new group of men and women, elderly people, and children being forced to take off their clothes. All [of them] were being taken to an open pit where submachine-gunners shot them. Then another group was brought…
With my own eyes I saw this horror. Although I was not standing close to the pit, terrible cries of panic-stricken people and quiet children’s voices calling “Mother, mother…” reached me. The German who ordered me to wait brought me to some superior of his, gave him my passport, and said to him: "his woman says she is a Russian, but a policeman knows that she is a kike."
The superior took the passport, examined it for a long time, and then muttered: "Dina is not a Russian name. You are a kike. Take her away!"
The policeman ordered me to strip and pushed me to a precipice… But before the shots resounded, apparently out of fear, I fell into the pit. I fell on the [bodies] of those already murdered…. During the first moments I couldn't grasp anything - either where I was or how I got there… I pretended to be dead…
The shooting was continuing and people kept falling…
Suddenly all became quiet. It was getting dark… I felt we were being covered with earth… When it became dark and silent, literally the silence of death, I opened my eyes and threw the sand off me… I said to myself: “Dina, stand up. Get away. Run from here, your children are waiting for you.” So I stood up and ran, but then I heard a shot and understood that I had been seen. I fell to the ground and remained silent. It was quiet. Still on the ground, I started to move quietly toward the high hill[s] surrounding the pit…"
Those Jews who were not murdered during the two-day massacre of late September 1941 were locked up in garages on Melnikova Street near Babi Yar. These Jews were murdered in Babi Yar by members of Einsatzkommando 5 on October 1-3, 1941.
Not all Jews, however, obeyed the order. Thousands remained at home or tried to hide. Zakhar Trubakov, a Jew from Kiev, remembered:
"On that day of doom I went with everybody just to make sure I was right. Nothing good could come out of the idea of gathering all the Jews together… This certainty never left me. I was walking slowly, trying to find people I knew in the crowd. Many were in a hurry, because there were rumors of people being loaded onto railway cars, and lots of people walked faster than me. I reached the Pugachev Street, heard shots from the direction of Babi Yar and realized what they meant… So, I was right and the Nazis were not going to spare us… I easily slipped out of the flow of people and returned home with a heavy feeling. Something unprecedented was happening to me. I could not sit still, I wept over those who had gone unthinkingly towards their certain deaths...
There is an opinion that all the Jews of Kiev went to the indicated address, and from there – to Babi Yar. But I do not agree with this opinion. I did not go myself and urged others as best I could not to go. I told many people how the Nazis had murdered the Jews of Minsk – the capital of Byelorussia. People listened but, as often happens, did not hear. They answered that they had nowhere to hide, especially those with little kids. And many simply refused to believe the worst… "
Jews who tried to hide were captured and killed in Babi Yar for a long time after that.
German commandment and nationalist Ukrainian newspapers demanded from the residents of Kiev to denounce the Jews. In one of the issues of the “Ukrainskoe slovo” newspaper from October 1941, there was an article that said the following:
"The Yids who still remain in Kiev pretend to be people of other ethnic backgrounds – Greeks, Armenians, Ukrainians, Russians; they pay hundreds of thousands of rubles for the appropriate documents. But Ukraine has many true patriots, who are dreaming to cleanse their life, their villages, thick forests and beautiful cities as soon as possible from partisans, inciting Yids, and red Commissars. These patriots come every day to the little house on the Shevchenko Boulevard (Gestapo) and give information about the enemies".
The administration of the Ukrainian police of Kiev issued a decree that obligated all house-managers and yard-keepers to inform the nearest police station about Jews residing in their houses. The decree also stated that hiding Jews was punishable by death. Thus, yard-keepers and house-managers were personally responsible for carrying out the order under threat of death. In addition, obeying the order was made easier by the fact that since the Soviet times, they had lists of all the dwellers that included not only names but ethnic backgrounds as well. Many Jews who tried to find shelter away from their homes were also often given away (often because of fear of punishment).
After the war, at the trial of war criminals, a former officer of the German security police Erich Ehrlinger testified about a vast number of denunciations:
"…there were still many Jews living in hiding in the Kiev metropolitan area. Loads of denunciations [revealing the location] of hidden Jews by the Ukrainian population hostilely disposed toward the Jews arrived at the office of the commander of the Security Police [of Kiev]. The number of denunciations was so large that the office was unable to process them all due to the lack of personnel".
In total, over the period from September 29 to October 11, according to various estimates, over 50,000 Jews were shot.
In November 1941, about 300 Jewish patients of the St. Cyril mental hospital were also murdered in the grove close to Babi Yar.
Throughout the period of the German occupation, the Nazis continued to kill Jews and other victims of the occupational regime captured in Kiev and its vicinity, bringing them to Babi Yar and the Syrets camp (built in 1942 a few hundred meters from the ravine).
The fate of Soviet prisoners of war who were Jews was different from the plight of other POWs (who were treated abominably as well) in that they had practically no chances to survive – as a rule, the Germans separated them from the others and shot them soon after taking them captive. Thus, in Kiev, Soviet Jewish POWs were killed in Darnitsa on the left bank of the Dnieper, and in Kiev Pechersk Lavra (Monastery of the Caves).
In June 1942, the Germans started “Operation 1005” – a large-scale secret operation to destroy the evidence of the mass murder by the Nazis of the European Jews; the operation continued until the end of 1944. The commanding officer of Sonderkommando 4a of Einsatzgruppe C, Paul Blobel, was in charge of the operation.
In August 1943, “Operation 1005” began in Kiev. A group of male prisoners from the Syrets camp – Jews and non-Jews – were made to dig up and burn the bodies of victims in Babi Yar. On September 29, 1943, these prisoners (327 men) raised a revolt and attempted to escape. Only 18 men managed to flee and survive; all the rest were shot. Among those who escaped was Zakhar Trubakov. He remembered:
"When we got to the exit, we found it was blocked. There was a sub-machine gunner on top of a dugout, and he was shooting at us… No, we must not run blindly into fire! I set my hands against the door post and held everyone who was pushing from behind. I realized clearly how easy it was to get hit by a bullet and was waiting for the right moment. And, oh miracle! – it came. As soon as the German began to change the stick magazine of his submachine gun, we darted forward, past dozens of killed men…
All this happened in the dead of night, in the fall. Only when I found myself beyond the fence, in relative safety, I thought that if I should stay alive I must remember the date: September 29, 1943. Much later, after the war, I was surprised to recollect that it was exactly two years before our daring escape – on September 29, 1941, – that the murders of Jews in Babi Yar had begun".
Not only Jews were murdered in Babi Yar. The first victims of the Nazis here were the patients of the Kiev psychiatric hospital, on 27 September 1941. Later, the Nazis used this site to shoot Soviet POWs, partisans, resistance members, communists and gypsies, as well as Ukranian nationalists after the attitude of the Nazis towards them changed. The total number of people murdered in Babi Yar is estimated at 70,000 to 100,000.
The Red Army liberated Kiev on November 6, 1943. The German occupation of Kiev lasted slightly over two years, and by the end of this relatively short period, only a few out of approximately 70 thousand Jews of the city remained alive. The tragedy of Babi Yar became a symbol of anti-Jewish policy and extermination not only of the Ukrainian Jews, but all Soviet Jews who found themselves under the occupation.
KILLERS AND THEIR ACCOMPLICES
Most of the Jews of Kiev were exterminated by Einsatzgruppe C under the command of Brigadeführer Otto Rasch. In particular, Sonderkommando 4a, commanded by SS-Standartenführer Paul Blobel, carried out the executions in Babi Yar in September 1941 and the subsequent murders of the Jews of Kiev.
Wehrmacht units and auxiliary Ukrainian police also took part in the extermination of the Jews of Kiev. Einsatzgruppen were relatively few in numbers and could not achieve their goals without additional help. Therefore, in addition to Einsatzgruppe C that was active in the territory of Reichskommissariat Ukraine, military divisions of the SS (“Waffen-SS”), battalions of the Ordnungspolizei and gendarmerie, soldiers of Wehrmacht and local auxiliary police all took part in murder operations.
The extermination policy towards the Jews was part of Germany’s general occupational policy in the USSR and was directed by the Germans; nevertheless, local collaborationists played an important role in the extermination of the Jews. They knew the local population, could easily tell the Jews from the rest, and it was therefore local councils and local police that were entrusted with registering the Jews, escorting them to the murder site, and cordoning off the site itself. Many local residents were ready to collaborate with the Germans. Involvement of the locals in persecution and extermination of the Jews was systematic and on a mass scale.
Historian Alexander Prusin, who researched the motives of collaborationists in the occupied territories of the USSR, evaluated the social and ideological profile of the Ukrainian policemen using the example of the Kiev general district. Out of 82 court cases of former policemen, 73 were Ukrainians, six – Russians, two – Germans, and one was Polish, which corresponds to the ethnic demographics of central and eastern Ukraine. They were from different socio-economic classes, but only some of them had higher education. Only few of the cases reveal ideological motive for the actions of collaborationists. The two largest groups are those whom the researcher calls “conformists with initiative” (26 men) and “ordinary foot soldiers” (42 men).
In other words, most collaborationists were not members of any nationalist organizations, and their behavior was not governed by ideological impulses. As a rule, their motivation was different, more down-to-earth: gaining material benefits, prospects of career advancement under the new regime, fear of punishment, perception of police service as a way to survive in the difficult conditions of the occupation, settling of old scores, and, of course, greed – expectation of appropriating and plundering the victims’ property.
Prusin notes that, although the local police forces established by the Germans in Ukraine were rather large in numbers, they were no more than one percent of the total population. However, he emphasizes that their role must be viewed not through the prism of numerical relations but in the context of their actions in the system of the German occupation. Without the active cooperation of the local police, the Germans would have been unable to annihilate so many people in such a relatively short time.
After the end of the war, trials were held of the war criminals responsible for the mass murders in Babi Yar. Some of those trials took place in Kiev; for example, Dina Pronicheva’s story quoted above was part of her testimony during a trial on January 24, 1946.
Other trials were held in Nuremberg. In 1948, an American military court in Nuremberg sentenced Paul Blobel to death. The sentence was carried out in June 1951.
Otto Rasch was also arrested and in September 1947 was brought to trial in Nuremberg as a defendant in case against the Einsatzgruppen. Rasch’s case was discontinued because of his health problems. He died in jail on November 1, 1948.
THE REACTION OF THE NON-JEWISH POPULATION TO THE EXTERMINATION OF JEWS
The situation that was characteristic for the Soviet occupied territories on the whole, was typical for Kiev as well. Due to the reasons provided in the section "War Against the USSR and the Anti-Jewish Policy in the Occupied Soviet Territories", the reactions of the non-Jewish neighbors to the extermination of the Jews varied. Most of the people were passive in the face of what was happening to the Jews. Some were indifferent, others gloated and were content to think that they would finally get rid of “those Yids”. Some of the locals directly participated in the persecution and extermination of the Jews. There were also a few who, despite mortal danger, tried to help the Jews.
It is worth noting that the reaction of the local non-Jewish population to the anti-Jewish policies often changed when it came to mass murders. Here is what the writer Anatoli Kuznetsov says about September 28, 1941, the day before the executions in Babi Yar:
"My grandfather… came rushing into the room:
'I've got great news for you! ... From tomorrow there won't be a single Yid left in Kiev. It seems it's true what they said about them setting fire to the Kreshchatik. Thank the Lord for that! That'll put paid to them getting rich at our expense, the bastards. Now they can go off to their blessed Palestine, or at any rate the Germans'll deal with 'em. They're being deported! There's an order posted up.'
We all dashed outside. A notice printed on cheap grey wrapping-paper, with no heading and no signature, had been stuck on the fence:
' All Yids living in the city of Kiev and its vicinity are to report by 8 o'clock on the morning of Monday, September 29, at the corner of Melnikovsky and Dokhturov Streets (near the cemetery). They are to take with them documents, money, valuables, as well as warm clothes, underwear, etc…'
…I read it over twice, and for some reason it made me shudder. It was written so very harshly, with a sort of cold hatred…
Did that mean that Shurka Matso would also have to go?.. I began to feel sorry for him, sorry to have to part from him forever.
Then suddenly - to my surprise, sort of spontaneously – I began to talk to myself in my grandfather's words, with that same intonation and malice: So what? Let 'em go off to their Palestine.
They've grown fat enough here! This is the Ukraine; look how they've multiplied and spread out all over the place like fleas. And Shurka Matso – he's a lousy Jew too, crafty and dangerous. How many of my books has he pitched! Let 'em go away; we'll be better off without 'em – my Gramp is a clever chap, he's right."
But the grandfather changed his mind about what was going on after it became clear that the Jews were not being deported but shot.
Here is what Anatoli Kuznetsov writes further:
"When I got home I found my grandfather standing in the middle of the courtyard, straining to hear some shooting that was going on somewhere. He raised his finger.
'Do you know what?' he said with horror in his voice. 'They're not deporting 'em. They're shooting 'em.'
Then, for the first time, I realized what was happening.
From Babi Yar came quite distinctly the sound of regular bursts of machine gun fire: ta-ta-ta, ta-ta...
It was the sort of rather quiet, unexcited, measured firing you heard when they training…
Grandpa looked puzzled and frightened.
'Maybe it's fighting?' I suggested.
'That's not fighting!' Gramp shouted plaintively. 'The whole of Kurenyovka is already talking about it. Some folk have climbed trees and seen what's going on. Viktor Makedon ran all the way back; he went down with his wife, she's a Jewess, and he only just escaped being taken himself. Oh, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, what is this, why do they do that to them?'
…It was cold outside; there was a biting wind blowing, like the previous day. All the same I went outside and strained my ears. Grandma brought out my coat and hat and also stood listening and wringing her hands and muttering: 'Oh God, there are women and small children there…' I had the impression she was crying."
The Jews who managed to escape death and were trying to hide were completely dependent on the people around them. Even the smallest violation of secrecy could result in dire consequences. As has been noted above, informers were plenty.
Zakhar Trubakov, who disobeyed the order about going to the meeting point before deportation to Babi Yar on September 29, 1941, and thus avoided the execution, kept his illegal presence in the city strictly confidential. His wife Anya, a Ukrainian woman who had no need to hide, was with him. Trubakov remembered:
"The only thing I gave Anya a very strict warning about was not to tell any of her acquaintances that I was there, in Kiev. For many knew that I was Jewish. And one careless word was enough for me to be taken to Gestapo to be checked… And there…
But the thing I feared most did come about. One day she met her old friend, Lyalya Tomskaya, and, forgetting my warnings, brought her to our home. When Lyalya saw me, she went bug-eyed with surprise: “Zyama, you’re hiding here, in Kiev? But it’s dangerous!”
What could I do? I entreated her:
- Please keep silent and don’t tell anyone you know that you have seen me.
Further events showed that my words and entreaties had little effect on the young woman… She told everything in secret to her mother, who wrote a denunciation about me. In order not to arouse suspicion, that vile woman ordered her younger daughter to take the paper to Gestapo.
There were, however, examples to the reverse, when the locals rescued Jews despite the related risk to life. Thus, Yente Petrovskaya and her six-year-old son, instead of obeying the order and going to the meeting point close to Babi Yar, were hiding for a few days in their own apartment, until one of the neighbors denounced them to the authorities. Yente and her son managed to escape. They went to people they knew: Grigoriy Chaplinsky, his wife Nadezhda and their 15-year-old son Anatoly. The Chaplinskys gave them shelter and hid them until the liberation of Kiev on November 6, 1943. During the time of the occupation, the Chaplinskys and their “guests” moved from one apartment to another several times, so as to avoid neighbors’ suspicions. After the war, the rescued Jews and their rescuers remained close friends.
Jews took an active part in the activity of the anti-Nazi underground in Kiev.
Tatiana Markus, born in 1921, was the hero of the Kiev resistance. After finishing 9 classes of secondary school, Markus started working in 1938 as a secretary of the personnel department of the South-West Railway passenger service. In the summer of 1940 she was assigned to Kishinev where she worked in a tramway and trolleybus depot. After Kishinev was captured in July 1941, Markus returned to Kiev. When the city was occupied by the Germans, she became a courier for the underground Communist Party city committee and a member of a sabotage group. With forged documents bearing the name of Tatiana Markusidze, “daughter of a Georgian prince shot by the Bolsheviks”, Markus began working in a German officers’ mess. She was popular with officers, and used her popularity to lure them into a trap and kill them – by poisoning or shooting. In August 1942, she was captured and, after five months of interrogations and torture in Gestapo, she was executed on January 29, 1943.
On December 1, 2009, a monument to Tatiana Markus was opened in Babi Yar
The JEWS of the UKRAINE
JANOWSKA, LVIV LABOUR CAMP,
KIEV AND THE TRAGEDY OF BABI YAR