After German troops had occupied Ukraine’s capital on 19 September 1941, Soviet partisans blew up several large buildings in the city center on 24 September, killing hundreds of German soldiers, mostly officers. The explosions caused a fire that eventually destroyed a square mile of Kiev’s center, making some 50,000 persons homeless. Efforts to extinguish the fires were also sabotaged by partisans. The Germans found a Soviet mining map showing about 50 objects readied for remote-controlled detonation. Large quantities of mines, explosives and “Molotov Cocktails” were also discovered.
Several reports by the Einsatzgruppen and by other units mention the fatalities and destruction caused by the partisan activities. Since the Germans suspected Jews to have been the main participants in this disaster, the city’s Jews were singled out for reprisal measures, officially by resettling them elsewhere to make room for the homeless. Posters in the city proclaimed that all of Kiev’s Jews had to show up on 29 September at a certain street intersection near the city’s cemeteries close to a ravine called Babi Yar.
The Einsatzgruppen’s Event Report No. 101 of 2 October 1941 states:
“In collaboration with Group Headquarters and two squads from the Police Regiment South, Sonderkommando 4a executed 33,771 Jews in Kiev on 29 and 30 Sept. 41.”
Later German documents repeated this number or a similar, rounded number as the death toll of this alleged blood bath, which allegedly found no opposition among the local non-Jewish populace, or was even supported by them. None of the documents indicate where exactly these executions took place.
Several photos taken by German military photographer Johannes Hähle in Kiev during those days show groups of several dozen people walking along streets; on other photos, numerous people are working with shovels in a ravine; several other photos show the bottom of a ravine littered with clothes and luggage, but with no people anywhere, dead or alive.
Although the radio messages sent by German SS units in Ukraine to Berlin were intercepted and deciphered by the British at that time, not a single reference to this event can be found.
Later Einsatzgruppen reports mention minor events in Kiev, such as the public hanging of three saboteurs or the shooting of a robber, but no large-scale execution.
On 21 October 1941, the pro-National-Socialist Ukrainian newspaper Krakiwski Wisti wrote that the Jews of Kiev had been driven into barbed-wire enclosures, and from there by foot to an undisclosed destination.
On 4 November 1941, a certain Andrei I. Maremukha, a junior lieutenant in the militia, authored a report claiming that, on 23 September 1941, the Germans had killed a hundred Jews outside the city of Kiev by taken them to a pit that was mined.
On 13 November, a Polish underground radio station reported that Germans and Ukrainians had shot 35,000 Jews in Kiev.
On 16 November 1941, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) published an article claiming that 52,000 Jews had been executed by the Germans in Kiev. On 31 December 1941, the JTA specified that “practically the entire Jewish male population of Kiev” had been executed as spies and partisans, and that the remaining Jews were killed by exploding mines, with any survivors getting machine-gunned. The report repeated the death-toll of 52,000 murdered Jews.
On 19 November 1941, the two Soviet newspapers Pravda and Izvestia reported that “the Germans in Kiev killed 52,000 Jews.”
On 10 December 1941, the Soviet newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda published the report of a regiment commissar about a massacre of Kiev’s Jews, mentioning for the first time the name Babi Yar.
On 6 January 1942, the Soviet Union’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, reported the murder of a “large number of Jews” at the Jewish Cemetery of Kiev.
The JTA reported on 15 March 1942 that 240,000 Jews had been executed by the Germans in Ukraine, claiming that people were even buried alive, and that therefore the ground was “moving in waves.”
On 20 July 1942, the Warsaw Ghetto’s underground press agency claimed that all of Kiev’s Jews had been drowned in the Dnjepr River.
On 28 October 1942, the JTA reported that Jews in Kiev were getting murdered, and their bodies dumped into the Dnjepr River.
On 29 November 1943, The New York Times reported that 50,000 Kiev Jews had been ordered to a ravine, where they had been machine-gunned, although the evidence for it was “sparse.”
Late on 28 February 1944, Radio Moscow reported that the Germans had murdered “more than 195,000 Soviet citizens” in Kiev by torture, shooting and poisoning in gas vans. This was a preview of an expert report issued by a Soviet Extraordinary State Commission charged with investigating the claimed mass murder, burial, exhumation and cremation at Babi Yar, which was officially dated and issued the next day, 29 February 1944. (See the section on Forensic Findings below.)
To come to this conclusion, the NKGB interrogated several witnesses who either had witnessed the shootings in late September 1941, or who claimed to have worked on exhuming and burning the bodies of the murder victims.
Witness testimonies about the executions agree that the victims had to undress at the top of the ravine, meaning outside of it. Some stated that the victims had to walk naked to the edge of the ravine, where they were shot at point-blank range, thus falling into the ravine. Others claimed that the victims were shot with (sub)machine guns from the opposite side or from both side of the ravine (e.g., see the entry on Dina Pronicheva). Another witness claimed that the victims had to run through the ravine while getting shot at from the edges (Nadezhda T. Gorbacheva). Children were tossed alive into the ravine.
However, machine-gun fire from the other side of the ravine, up to 100 meters away, would have been very inaccurate, particularly when the targets were moving. Lots of ammunition would have been wasted this way. If shooting at victims standing at the ravine’s edge from the opposite side, stray bullets could have hit any of the guards. Furthermore, if 33,771 Jews were all shot in one spot of the ravine’s edge, they all would have been lying on one big heap that eventually would have reached the ravine’s edge. Hence, someone had to drag away those corpses and spread them out in the ravine while all this wild submachine-gun shooting was allegedly happening. In other words, this most certainly did not happen.
German “perpetrator” witnesses who testified in the 1950s and 1960s (e.g., Fritz Höfer, Kurt Werner) insisted instead that the victims had to walk down into the ravine, then walk on the wobbly surface of wounded and dead victims already lying on the ground to a spot pointed out to them. There, they had to lay face down on the already executed victims below them, and then got shot at close range with a bullet from a submachine gun into the nape of their neck.
Of course, this would have required that all victims went like sheep to the slaughter. Furthermore, the photos taken by German military photographer Johannes Hähle show that people had deposited large amounts of clothes and personal belongings at the bottom of a ravine, hence inside, not at the top (outside). However, there are neither executed people visible on these photos, nor any other traces of a massacre. (See the entry on him.)
Within the so-called Aktion 1005, the mass graves are supposed to have been exhumed and the bodies cremated between mid-August and late September 1943 in order to erase all traces of this crime. Several witnesses, who all claimed to have been forced to do this work but managed to escape, testified about these alleged events. They all told a more-or-less consistent story:
Initially, some 100 inmates from the Syretsky Camp, 5 km from Kiev, were taken on or around 18 August 1943 to the ravine and put in shackles. There, they had to exhume bodies from mass graves, then pile them up on pyres in layers, alternating with layers of wood. These pyres contained some 2,000 to 3,000 bodies, rarely more. After they had burned down, bones in the cremation remains had to be crushed with pestles, and the ashes searched for valuables. After a while, this team of slave laborers was increased to some 320-330 men.
All in all, some 50,000 to 125,000 bodies were allegedly cremated, depending on the witness. On or around September 29, a revolt among the inmates broke out, and some of them managed to flee, among them the witnesses who testified. (See the entries on Semen Berlyant, Isaak Brodsky, David Budnik, Vladimir Davydov, Iosif Doliner, Yakov Kaper, Vladislav Kuklia, Leonid Ostrovsky, Yakov Steyuk, Ziama Trubakov.)
While these witnesses differ in several minor points, by and large they agree on what happened. This is a classic case of the convergence of evidence. However, all these witness statements describe events that cannot have happened the way they are described (see the witnesses’ entries for details):
- Almost all witnesses give approximate sizes of the pyres they built, and how many bodies they contained. Yet if we add to the bodies the wood that would have been required to burn these bodies, the resulting pyres would have reached absurd heights. Such pyres could never have been built, neither would they have been stable, toppling over already while getting built or at the latest when burning down.
- Sifting ashes with manual sieves and crushing unburned bones would have required that all the remains of a pyre had to be sifted. Wood-fired pyres burn unevenly and leave behind lots of unburned wood pieces, charcoal, and incompletely burned body parts, not just ashes and bones (80% of leftovers would have been from wood, not corpses). Incompletely burned wood and human remains could not have been crushed. If 100,000 bodies were burned, then several thousand metric tons of cremation leftovers had to be processed. Just this task would have required hundreds of men to complete in time. Any manual sieve – allegedly like flour sieves, hence with very small mesh sizes – would have clogged with the first load. Moreover, occasional inevitable rainfalls would have turned any burned-out pyre into a moist heap of highly alkaline, corrosive slush that could not have been processed this way at all. Any reasonable person facing this challenge would have employed industrial-sized strainers, loaded large quantities of cremation remains on them, flushed out all small parts with water, picked out any valuables, then dumped the rest onto a burning pyre for further cremation. The claim that a few inmates were sifting through thousands of tons of cremation remains with manual sieves is preposterous.
- Cremating an average human body during open-air incinerations requires some 250 kg of freshly cut wood. Cremating 100,000 bodies thus requires some 25,000 metric tons of wood. This would have required the felling of all trees growing in a 50-year-old spruce forest covering almost 56 hectares of land, or some 125 American football fields. An average prisoner is rated at being able to cut some 0.63 metric tons of fresh wood per workday. To cut this amount of wood within the five weeks (35 days) that this operation supposedly lasted would have required a work force of some 1,134 dedicated lumberjacks just to cut the wood. None of the witnesses mention any kind of wood-cutting team. They all state that everyone was busy digging out mass graves, extracting bodies, building pyres, sifting through ashes, crushing bones, and finally scattering the ashes and refilling the graves with soil. There was just no way to obtain that much firewood at such short notice for such a huge operation – especially not when the fighting front was getting dangerously close.
Hence, this is a classic case of the convergence of evidence on a lie. After all, these witnesses were interviewed not by some mild-mannered, serious prosecutor or judge, but by members of the Soviet state’s terrorist organization NKGB.
Having several mutually consistent witness accounts in hand “confirming” the huge exhumation and cremation activities, the Soviet authorities neglected the other end of the equation: testimonies by locals. 25,000 metric tons of wood transported to the cremation sites with a typical 5-ton truck amounts to 5,000 truckloads. While there are a few witness statements of the local populace about the shootings claimed for the 29th and 30th of September 1941, there is not a single testimony or diary entry about the alleged cremation activities lasting five weeks, involving thousands of trucks driving in and out of Kiev, and smoke blanketing parts of the city.
Add to this the fact that a German report from early 1943 stated that it was impossible to provide Kiev’s civilian population with sufficient firewood due to a lack of means to transport it. By August and September of the year, with the front near Kiev, the transportation situation was far worse. There simply was no wood and no huge truck fleet to haul them.
To bolster the case of mass murder at Babi Yar for presentation at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal., U.S. and Soviet propagandists collaborated by extracting a coerced affidavit from an unknown (and maybe invented) German in U.S. captivity named Gerhard Adametz. His story has too many similarities with the NKGB-extracted testimonies to be independent, too many absurdities to be real, and too many anglicisms to have been written by a German. (See the entry on Gerhard Adametz.)
Once the Americans were on their own without any NKGB help to straighten out their stories, they faltered. In 1947, they extracted an affidavit, evidently by means of torture, from their captive Paul Blobel. Blobel is said to have been involved in both the murders and the clean-up action at Babi Yar. What he wrote about the clean-up operation, though, was physically impossible nonsense: bodies lying in mass graves burned right there and all by themselves, right to the bottom of the grave. (See the entry on Paul Blobel.)
When a show trial about Babi Yar was staged in Stuttgart, West Germany, in 1968/69, Soviet propaganda had long since been cast in stone. Gerhard Adametz’s fake testimony played a central role even during that trial, which accepted the Soviet propaganda story. The four defendants played along with this charade, with one of them getting 4 years, another 2 and a half years in prison, while the other two were acquitted: 6.5 years for 50,000 murders, as the court claimed. That’s 41 minutes for every Jewish life taken.
If 195,000 persons had been killed in and near Kiev, but only some 50,000 to 125,000 were exhumed and burned, as the witnesses claimed, where are the remaining 70,000 to 145,000 bodies? The Soviet Extraordinary State Commission investigating Kiev forced a few German PoWs to dig for them in several places, among them Babi Yar. But all they allegedly found were the remains of 150 Soviet citizens, and a few traces of burned remains. Even if that is true, who can reassure us that these weren’t NKVD victims from before the war?
No tombstones, rails, iron racks or fences, presumably used to build pyres, were discovered in Babi Yar, although two witnesses insisted that they had been buried there. Lacking any hard evidence, the ravine was later used as a garbage dump by the city of Kiev.
In the late 1970s, the U.S. released German wartime air photos they had captured in Germany and brought to the U.S. after the war. Among them are photos of Kiev dated 26 September 1943, showing the Babi Yar ravine in high resolution. This is supposed to have been at the very end of the claimed daily burning of thousands of bodies. We should see the floor of the ravine and its surroundings mauled by hundreds of trucks delivering firewood for weeks; the ravine’s walls massively damaged by people and vehicles going in and out; ramps allowing vehicles to drive in, unload fuel, and drive back out; large scorched areas of burned-down pyres, blackened by ashes and charcoal leftovers; the smoldering, smoking remnants of the last pyres.
Nothing of that sort can be seen on it, because nothing happened.
As mentioned at the beginning of this entry, several German wartime documents exist which mention the murder of 33,771 Jews in Kiev. The exactitude of this number itself is suspicious, because it is highly unlikely that any executioner would have kept such exact details.
If the huge exhumation and cremation in August and September never happened, the corpses should still be in the ground. But if so, why did the Soviets not find them after the war? However, none of these German documents mention Babi Yar. Could those Jews have been murdered and buried elsewhere? But if so, why were those mass graves never found or at least mentioned by anyone?
Maybe the death toll was vastly exaggerated, perhaps by accidentally (or deliberately) adding an extra “3” or “7” – perhaps 3,371 were executed, or maybe even just 371.
Or worse, it is conceivable that the documents reporting this massacre are profoundly wrong simply because nothing ever happened. Or perhaps they were tampered with, or even forged. Anything is possible.