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Киев – Kiev (Russian), Київ – Kyiv (Ukrainian), קיִעוו (Yiddish), קייב (Hebrew)
Kiev or Kyiv is the capital and the largest city of Ukraine, located in the north central part of the country on the Dnieper River.
Kiev’s central position on the river Dnipro at the commercial crossroads of Western Europe and the East attracted Jewish settlers (Rabbanites and Karaites) from the foundation of the town in the eighth century C.E. At first most of them were transient merchants from both east and west. According to letters dated 930 from the Cairo Genizah there were Jews in Kiev at this time. Ancient Russian chronicles relate that some Jews from Khazaria Visited Vladimir, the prince of Kiev, to try to convert him to Judaism (986). About that time a Jewish community already existed in the city.
Kievian Letter letter written by a Khazarian Jewish community in Kiev (early 10th century)
Jewish merchants from the West took part in the trade of the city, and were called in Hebrew sources “goers to Russia.” The abbot of Kiev, heodosius the Blessed (11th century), is said to have visited Jewish homes at night and to have held disputations with the householders. There were two Jewish suburbs of Kiev, Kozary and Zhidove. A “Gate of the Jews” is mentioned at the time of the riots which broke out on the death of Prince Svyatopolk (1113), when the populace also attacked Jewish houses and burned them.
Benjamin of Tudela mentions “Kiov, the great city,” and Pethahiah of Regensburg visited the town on his way to the Orient (12th century). At the end of the 12th century two Jews, Ephraim son of Moses and Anabel Jasin, served in the court of the prince Andrey Bogoliubski. During the same century Moses of Kiev lived in the town. He corresponded with Jacob b. Meir Tam in the west and the gaon Samuel b. Ali in Baghdad.
“Lvov Gate” on a place of “Gate of the Jews”. Map by 1695
Under Tatar rule (1240–1320) the Jews had been protected, earning them the hatred of the Christian population. With the annexation of Kiev to the principality of Lithuania (1320), the Jews were granted certain rights ensuring the safety of their lives and property. Several of them (such as Simkha, Riabichka, Danilovich, and Shan in 1488) leased the collection of taxes and amassed fortunes. As the Jewish community increased in numbers so did the number of scholars, although the statement found in several sources, “from Kiev emanate Torah and light,” is an exaggeration. During the 15th century Moses (b. Jacob Ashkenazi the Exile) of Kiev wrote commentaries on the Sefer Yezirah , on the Pentateuch commentaries of Abraham Ibn Ezra and others, and held disputations with the Karaites.
In the Tatar raid on Kiev (1482) many Jews were taken captive. In 1470 Zekharia, whom Russian sources link to the beginning of the Zhidovstvuyushchiye movement (Jewish heresy), let Kiev for Novgorod. Like the rest of the Jews in the principality of Lithuania, the Kiev community was expelled in 1495. When the decree was revoked (1503), the community was reestablished. However, in 1619 the Christian merchants obtained from king Sigismund III a prohibition on permanent settlement of Jews or their acquisition of real estate in the town. They were allowed to come into Kiev for trading purposes alone and might remain one day only in an inn assigned to them. In spite of this, many Jews continued to live in the town under the protection of the Vojevoda (district governor) and noblemen in their properties in town (who saw them as a source of income).
Russian sources relate that Jews were killed in Kiev during the Chmielnicki massacres (1648). On the demand of the citizens, John II Casimir of Poland and Czar Alexis renewed the prohibition on Jewish settlement (1654). This became final with the annexation of Kiev to Russia (1667). The Russian Orthodox academy there fomented hatred of the Jews and its students attacked any Jew they found trading in the town.
Botanical Garden on the place of Old Jewish Cemetery in Kiev
Ater a break of about 150 years the community of Kiev was reestablished in 1793, ater the second partition of Poland. In 1798 the community acquired land for a cemetery. The earlier conflict between the Christian citizens and the Jews began once more. While the Jews struggled for settlement in Kiev, the economic and commercial center of the southwestern region of Russia, the citizens persistently endeavored to expel them, basing their claim on the status quo since Sigismund III and adding that “holy” Kiev was “profaned” by the presence of the Jews. In spite of this in 1809 there were 452 Jews in Kiev (of about 20,000 total population), and their numbers rose by 1815 to about 1,500 (not including transients), with two synagogues and other communal institutions. The citizens proceeded with the demand to expel the Jews but owing to the negative stand of the governor, czar Alexander I ordered them to leave the city. Eventually czar Nicholas I acceded to the demands of the citizens and at the end of 1827 residence in Kiev was forbidden to Jews. In part due to representations by state officials, who pointed out that the expulsion would worsen economic conditions in the town, the execution of the decree was twice deferred. In 1835, however, on the expiry of the last postponement, the Jews let the town, and the Jewish community facilities ceased to function. Despite this, they still played an important part in its economic life, for Jewish merchants came in their hundreds to the large annual fairs held from 1797 in Kiev in January. With their assistants and servants, they made up 50–60% of the fairs participants.
In 1843 Jewish temporary visitors were officially permitted, provided that they resided and bought food in two specially appointed inns. These were leased by the municipality to Christian agents, who were empowered to deliver to the police any Jew who did not stay in them. At the beginning of the reign of Alexander II these inns were abolished (1858), and instead a special payment to the municipality was levied upon the Jews as compensation for the losses caused by the abolishment of the inns. In 1861 two suburbs, Lyebed and Podol, were assigned to those Jews entitled to reside in Kiev (wealthy merchants and industrialists and their employees, members of the free professions, and cratsmen).
The number of Jews in Kiev increased to 3,013 (3% of the total population) in 1863 and to 13,803 (11.8%) in 1872.
In May 1881 a pogrom raged in the streets of the city, supported and encouraged by the governor-general, General Drenteln. Jewish houses and shops were looted, and many people were injured; 762 families were completely ruined. The damage caused was evaluated at 1,750,000 roubles. From that date the authorities began sporadically to investigate the residence rights of the Jews in Kiev. Until 1917 the city became notorious for the police “ oblavy ” (“hunt attacks”) for Jews without residence rights. For example, expelled in 1883 were 1,179 persons, in 1884 1,254, in 1885 1,368, and in the first half of 1886 2,076. The night searches and expulsions continued almost until WWI. In 1891 the authorities ordered that a considerable portion of the income of the Jewish community be allotted to the police to cover the cost of their measures to prevent Jews entering the town.
In spite of all these persecutions, the number of Jews in Kiev continued to increase. From 31,801 (12.8%) in 1897, it rose to 50,792 (10.8%) in 1910 and 81,256 (13%) at the end of 1913. In fact the number of Jews was greater, since a large number evaded the census. Many Jews also lived in the suburbs and townlets around Kiev and only came into the city daily on business. There were some wealthy Jewish families in Kiev, who included many of the magnates of the southwestern Russian sugar industry (the Brodsky and Zaitsev families). Many Jews were employed in their factories in the town and the vicinity. There was a very active branch of the Society for Enlightenment of Russian Jews, which maintained 21 Jewish schools in the town and the district, as well as a library of 6,500 books. The city also had many Jewish physicians, lawyers, and other members of the liberal professions. Kiev University attracted Jewish youth; in 1886 Jewish students numbered 236 and in 1911, 888 (17% of the total number of students), the largest concentration of Jewish students in a Russian university.
In Kiev were born Golda Meir (Mabovich), who became prime minister of Israel, the writer Ilya Ehrenburg, and some Hebrew writers, notably J. Kaminer, J.L. Levin (Yehalel), M. Kamionski, I.J. Weissberg, E. Schulman, and A.A. Friedman. Shalom Aleichem, who lived in Kiev for some time, described the town in his account of life in Yehupets. According to the 1897 census, 29,937 Jews (out of 31,801) declared Yiddish as their mother language. There were 12,317 who earned incomes, divided into three main groups: artisans (42%), merchants (24%), and army service (10%). The artisans were mainly occupied as follows: the clothing industry (54%), metal works (11%), woodworking (9%), and printing (6%). he main occupations of traders were in farm products (34%), textiles and clothing (16%), and building materials (7%). he Jewish merchants constituted 44% of all the merchants in Kiev.
Jewish population of Kiev:
1815 ~ 1500 jews
1897 – 31 801 (13%)
1917 – 87 240 (18,6%)
1926 – 140 256 jews
1939 ~ 175 000 (20%)
1959 – 153 466 (13,8%)
1989 – 100 584 (3,9%)
2001 ~ 20000 jews
In the wake of Jewish revolutionary activity, a large scale pogrom occurred on Oct. 18, 1905. Neither army nor police controlled the rioters, who ran amok unhindered for three days. Indeed, soldiers protected the hooligans from the Jewish self-defense organization. The rioters attacked the houses of the wealthy, but their attacks were mainly directed against the poor suburbs. However, the pogrom did not interrupt the development of the community, which became one of the wealthiest in Russia as well as one of the most diversified socially.
In 1910 there were 4,896 Jewish merchants in the town, 42% of all the merchants there, but nevertheless 25% of the community had to apply for Passover alms during that same year. The community was officially recognized in 1906 as the “Jewish Representation for Charity Affairs at the Municipal Council.” Its income from the meat tax (korobka) and other sources amounted to 300,000 rubles annually. A Jewish hospital for the poor which served the whole of Ukraine was opened in 1862, followed by a hospital specializing in surgery, a clinic for eye diseases (under the direction of M. Mandelstamm), and other welfare institutions.
In 1898 a magnificent central synagogue was built by means of a donation from L. Brodsky. From 1906 to 1921 S. Aronson was rabbi of Kiev; notable as kazyonny ravvin (“government-appointed rabbi”) were Joshua Zuckerman, the first to be appointed to this office, and S.Z. Luria. Between 1911 and 1913 Kiev was the site of the notorious Beilis blood libel trial and the town was then racked by the agitation of the members of the Union of Russian People (“Black Hundreds”). In 1911, after the assassination of prime minister Stolypin by a Jew in Kiev, severe pogroms were on the point of breaking out there, but the authorities decided to restrain the rioters.
During World War I, residence restrictions in the town were lifted for Jewish refugees from the battle areas. The years 1917–20 were years of upheaval for the Jews of Kiev. With the February 1917 Revolution, all the residence restrictions were abolished and Jews at once began to stream into the town. In the census at the end of 1917, 87,246 Jews (19% of the total population) were registered. A democratic community was established, led by the Zionist Moses Nahum Syrkin. Meetings and congresses of Russian and Ukrainian Jews were held in Kiev, the central institutions of Ukrainian Jewry were set up there, and Jewish writers and communal workers of every shade of opinion and party became active in the town. Books and newspapers were published and cultural institutions, led by the Hebrew Tarbut and the Yiddish Kultur Lige, engaged in a variety of activities. In the spring of 1919, the number of Jews had grown to 114,524 (21%). With the first conquest of the town by the Red Army, which lasted from February to August 1919, Kiev became a haven for refugees from the pogroms sweeping the provincial towns of Ukraine.
The running of the Jewish community was handed over to the Yevsektsiya, and the systematic destruction of communal institutions, traditional Jewish culture, and national parties began. With the retreat of the Red Army, an attempt was made to form a Jewish self-defense unit. When Petlyura’s forces entered the city they arrested the members of the self-defense unit and 36 of them were executed. A month after Kiev was occupied by Denikin’s “Volunteer Army,” thugs initiated a period of pillage, rape, and murder of the Jews which lasted until the “Volunteers” were driven out by the Red Army (December 1919).
The Jews in Kiev suffered heavily during the famine and typhus outbreak of 1920. In the August 1920 census they constituted one third of the town’s population. In 1923 Kiev had 128,041 Jews (32%), 140,256 (27.3%) in 1926, and in 1939, 224,236 (of a total population of 845,726). In the years 1920–22 the famine and typhus epidemic ravaged Kiev and took a heavy toll on the Jewish population. OZE, the JDC, and other relief organizations from abroad organized food and medical help. The Jews went through a process of proletarianization, engaging in physical labor; later in the second half of the 1920s half of them were government employees. In 1926, 16,690 Jews were members of trade unions (out of 77,257). The number of Jews in heavy industry grew to 4,080 in 1932. In 1931 they constituted 80% of the 3,300 workers of the shoe factory.
During the first 20 years of the Soviet regime, Kiev became a major center of the officially fostered Yiddish culture, with a school system catering to many thousands of pupils and students, culminating in institutes of higher education and learning, such as the department for Jewish culture at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences (1926) which in 1930 became the “Institute of Proletarian Jewish Culture” under the direction of Joseph Liberberg. This state-sponsored activity attracted even Jewish writers and scholars from the west, such as Meir Wiener and others. Some valuable research works on Yiddish language and literature were published there. Many Yiddish poets and writers, among them David Hofstein and Itzik Fefer, lived and wrote in Kiev. There were also the All Ukrainian Jewish State theater, a Yiddish children’s theater, Yiddish newspapers, journals, and publishing houses. In the early 1930s Liberberg and some of his associates headed a group of Yiddish intellectuals who went to the newly established Jewish autonomous region in Birobidzhan to organize Jewish educational and cultural work there in conjunction with the Jewish academic institute in Kiev. Several years later, with the forcible liquidation of all Jewish institutions, including libraries and archives in Kiev, one of the most important centers of Soviet Yiddish culture ceased to exist.
The fall of the city to the Germans on Sept. 19, 1941 marked the end of Kiev Jewry. A considerable part of the Jews living in Kiev in 1939 were among the 335,000 evacuees; some managed to lee eastward to central Russia, just before the Nazi occupation. Between September 20–24 buildings in the Khreshchatik area where headquarters of German military units were housed blew up, and many German soldiers and officers were killed. Thousands of hostages, among them many Jews, were taken and executed. On September 26 the city commander convened a meeting in which participated Friedrich Jaeckeln, commander of police and SS on the Southern Front; Dr. Otto Rash, head of Einsatzgruppe C; and SS Colonel Paul Blobel, commander of Einsatzkommando 4a. It was decided to annihilate all the Jews of Kiev. Blobel was in charge of the execution, with the help of units of the German Police and Ukrainian Auxiliary Police.
On September 28 (Tishri 7) 2,000 notices in German, Ukrainian, and Russian were posted in Kiev, announcing that “All the Zhids (Jews) of Kiev and the suburbs are to appear on Monday, September 29, 1941, at 8:00 A.M. on the corner of Melnikovskaya and Decktiarovska streets [near the cemeteries]. They are to bring their documents, money, other valuables and warm clothes, linen, etc. Any Zhid found disobeying these orders will be shot. Citizens breaking into lats let by the Jews and taking possession of their belongings will be shot.” (For Jew the derogatory word “zhid ” was used and not the usual evrei .) Since the location was near the Petrovski goods railway station, and owing to the rumors about evacuation of the Jews to other towns or camps, nobody suspected what was coming. On the morning of September 29, tens of thousands of Jews concentrated there were led through Melnik Street to the Jewish cemetery in the Babi Yar ravine, stripped naked, and led in groups to the edge of the ravine, where they were machine-gunned, their bodies falling into the ravine. At the end of the day heaps of earth were thrown over the bodies, burying both dead and wounded. According to the official report of the S.S. unit in charge of the mass extermination, 33,771 Jews were murdered in Babi Yar on Sept. 29–30, 1941. A later report said that about 36,000 Jews were killed then. Babi Yar continued to be a mass execution ground throughout the German occupation. On October 1–3 Einsatzkommando 5 murdered in Babi Yar 2,500–3,000 Jews, including 308 mentally ill. All the time Jewish prisoners of war, mostly from Darnitsa camp, were executed. Hiding in the city were many Jews, some in mixed marriages. Many of them were denounced by local Ukrainians, caught, and shot. From spring 1942, Jews who were caught were sent to labor camps in the city, such as that on Kerosinnaya Street (5,000 prisoners of war and 3,000 Jews), Pecherskaya Street, and Institutskaya Street. The number of inmates diminished due to selections, starvation, and daily killings. In May 1942 the Syretsk camp (near Babi Yar) was opened, and in December it housed 2,000 inmates, more than a third of them Jews. The regime was very cruel – prisoners were shot for the smallest infraction or for not being able to work. On August 18, 1943, 100 prisoners from Syretsk were taken to Babi Yar, and soon the group was enlarged to 321 inmates. Their task was to eradicate any sign of the mass graves in the ravine. A bonfire was made from railway ties, and excavators opened the graves. The prisoners, whose legs were in chains, took the bodies, searched them for valuables and gold teeth, and threw them into the bonfire; any bones remaining were ground, and the ashes spread around and leveled. The prisoners lived in two bunkers dug into the wall of the ravine, kept closed by an iron grate that was shut for the night; opposite them was a machine gun position. The Russian Fedor Yershov, a senior NKVD officer, organized an escape group. They managed to find a key to the grates, a wire cutter to cut the chains, and a few knives. On September 28, 1943, they learned through the interpreter (a Jewish prisoner) Yakov Steyuk (Stein) that their work was finished and that the following day they were to be shot and cremated. At about 3 A.M. on September 29, they cut the chains, opened the grates, and escaped under the cover of fog. Many were machine-gunned, among them the leader Yershov, and only 15 succeeded in remaining alive until the liberation of Kiev on November 6, 1943 – among them nine Jews. The State Commission to Investigate Nazi Crimes in Kiev could not locate graves to exhume in Babi Yar, so they set the approximate number at 100,0000. According to Steyuk, who reported daily to the Germans on the numbers of burned bodies, an estimated 45,000 belonged to Jews. To this number we may add figures attained from other exhumed mass graves, such as Syretsk, Darnitsa, and reach an approximate number of 60,000 Jewish victims.
Jews were active in the city’s underground, including Shimon Bruz, one of the underground city party committee who died in a fight with the Gestapo, and Tatiana Markus, who carried out various sabotage acts and was caught and executed in summer 1942.
In the struggle against antisemitism in the Soviet Union, Babi Yar became a symbol of pro-Jewish support, crystallized in the poem Babi Yar by Yevgenii Yevtushenko. Despite recurring requests by Soviet intellectuals, including Yevtushenko and Viktor Nekrasov, the Soviet authorities refused to erect a monument to those massacred there. Jewish survivors made attempts to hold a memorial day each year, circumspectly choosing the eve of the Day of Atonement. When in early 1959 the ravine was filled with earth, and Babi Yar was turned into a new residential area, there were protests from Jews and non-Jews alike. In 1961 a flood swept away the earth and destroyed the houses; many people were drowned. At the end of the 1960s, the ravine of Babi Yar remained a desolate wasteland. “In Babi Yar there is neither monument nor memorial” (Yevtushenko). It was only in 1976 that a stone with an inscription was put there, but it mentioned Soviet citizens, not Jews.
Ater World War II
Ater World War II At the end of World War II, when thousands of Jews began to return to liberated Kiev, they often encountered a hostile attitude on the part of the Ukrainian population, many of whom had been given, or had taken, the dwellings and jobs of the absent Jews. There were even isolated physical clashes between Jews and Ukrainians. In the 1959 census, their number was 154,000 (13.9% of the total population). Nearly 15% of them declared Yiddish to be their mother tongue. Out of about 14,000 Jews living in the smaller towns of the Kiev district, around 33% declared Yiddish to be their mother tongue. In 1979 there were 132,000 Jews in the city. The only synagogue in Kiev, with room for about 1,000 persons, was situated downtown in the Podol quarter. On holidays, particularly on the Day of Atonement, also the memorial day of the Babi Yar massacre, several thousands attended the service, overflowing into the courtyard and the street. A number of services (minyanim) were held in private homes, but when their existence was discovered, they were closed and the owners severely punished. A mikvah , a place for the ritual slaughtering of poultry, and a matzah bakery were attached to the synagogue. From 1960 until 1966 the baking of matzah was prohibited and several Jews were punished for baking them illegally in their homes. The last rabbi in Kiev was Rabbi Panets, who retired in 1960 and died in 1968; a new rabbi was not appointed. Until 1960 the synagogue board’s chairman was Bardakh; the atmosphere was relatively relaxed, and visitors from abroad, who arrived in increasing numbers from the late 1950s, were cordially received. The situation changed abruptly in 1961, when a new board, headed by Gendelman, was appointed. Gendelman, in an aggressive manner, implemented meticulously the instructions of the Soviet authorities, harassed members of the congregation, and prevented any contact between them and foreign visitors. He was eventually forced to resign in 1967 because of the growing tension between him and the congregation. In 1959, on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Shalom Aleichem, a plaque was fixed to the house where he lived before World War I, bearing the text: “Here lived the famous Jewish writer Shalom Aleichem (Rabinovich).” Shortly afterward the plaque was replaced by a new one on which the words “famous Jewish” and “Rabinovich” were omitted.
In May 1966 a group of Kiev Jews went to Moscow and submitted a petition to Mikhailova of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, about the establishment of a Yiddish theater in Kiev. The petition stressed the fact that 82 Jewish actors were ready to participate. M. Goldblat, one of the survivors of the Yiddish theater in the U.S.S.R. and the last director of the Yiddish theater in Kiev, declared his readiness to organize the new Yiddish theater. The petition also included a list of plays by Jewish Soviet and classic writers for the repertoire. The petition was rejected.
In 1957 four elderly Jews were sentenced in Kiev to several years of imprisonment for “Zionist activity.” One of them was Baruch Mordekhai Weissman, whose Hebrew written diary about the “black years” was smuggled out and published anonymously in Israel, under the title “To my Brother in the State of Israel” (1957). At the trial Weissman was not accused of smuggling out his manuscript, but of keeping Hebrew newspapers and participating in a “Zionist circle.”
Kiev continued to be a center of Yiddish writers, many of whom had served terms of imprisonment under Stalin. Among them were Itzik Kipnis, Hirsh Polyanker, Nathan Zbara, Eli Schechtman, and Yehiel Falikman. Several books in Yiddish and translations in Russian and Ukrainian were published between 1960 and 1970. The Ukrainian authorities usually prevented Jewish cultural events from being held in the city. During the campaigns against “economic crimes” two Jews, B. Mirski and Shtifzin, who worked in a Kiev publishing house for art books, were sentenced to death (1962). At that time the local Ukrainian press indulged in almost undisguised antisemitic incitement. This campaign culminated in the publication of T. Kichko’s notorious “Judaism without Embellishment” by the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian Republic (1963). Though the book was later censured by the ideological commission of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party in Moscow, Kichko reappeared in 1968 with a new anti-Jewish book, “Judaism and Zionism,” and was rewarded by the authorities for his achievements in “antireligious education.” The refusal of the municipal authorities to erect a memorial in Babi Yar, after an exhibition of models for such a memorial was officially arranged in 1965, was ascribed to the popular antisemitic atmosphere prevailing in the city. Protests against this omission were voiced by Russian and Ukrainian writers (e.g., Y. Yevtushenko, V. Nekrasov, Ivan Dzyuba, and others). When an international poultry exhibition took place in Kiev in 1966, and Israel was represented by a stand equipped with exhibits and explanatory literature, tens of thousands of Jews from Kiev and all over the Ukraine streamed there. After the Six-Day War (1967), Jewish national feeling reemerged publicly in Kiev. The anniversary of Babi Yar became a rallying day for Jews, most of them young, who came not only to recite Kaddish but also to express their Jewish identification. Wreaths bearing inscriptions in Yiddish and Hebrew were laid and there were occasional attempts to make speeches, but on every such occasion the police intervened to remove the wreaths and silence the speakers. After one such gathering a young Jewish engineer, Boris Kochubiyevski, was arrested in 1968 on the charge of “spreading slander against the Soviet regime,” after he and his non-Jewish wife Larissa had applied for an exit permit to Israel. In May 1969 he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment with hard labor. At his trial Kochubiyevski made a passionate speech, declaring his Zionist credo. In summer 1970 an open letter was published abroad, addressed to the prime minister of Israel, Golda Meir, to UN Secretary General , and to various international institutions, signed by ten Jews from Kiev who claimed the right to settle in Israel. In August 1970 the same ten persons wrote a second letter to President Shazar, making it known that, after having been refused exit permits, they had renounced their Soviet citizenship and asked to become citizens of Israel.
Though most of Kiev’s Jews emigrated in the 1990s, Jewish life revived at the community level as the city became the seat of the Ukrainian chief rabbinate and a Jewish day school was opened. Dozens of different Jewish organizations are working in Kiev now.
Babi Yar, ravine on the outskirts of Kiev which has come to symbolize the murder of Jews by the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units) in the German-occupied Soviet Union and the persistent failure to acknowledge Jewish memory. On September 19, 1941, the advancing German army captured Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine. Within a week, a number of buildings occupied by German military and civilian authorities were blown up by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police. In retaliation, the Germans proceeded to kill all the Jews of Kiev. An order was posted throughout the city in both Russian and Ukrainian:
Kikes of the city of Kiev and vicinity! On Monday, September 29, you are to appear by 7:00 a.m. with your possessions, money, documents, valuables and warm clothing at Dorogozhitshaya Street, next to the Jewish cemetery. Failure to appear is punishable by death.
From the cemetery, the Jews were marched to Babi Yar, a ravine only two miles from the center of the city. A truck driver at the scene described what he saw:
I watched what happened when the Jews – men, women and children – arrived. The Ukrainians led them past a number of different places where one after another they had to remove their luggage, then their coats, shoes, and overgarments and also underwear. They had to leave their valuables in a designated place. There was a special pile for each article of clothing. It all happened very quickly … I don’t think it was even a minute from the time each Jew took of his coat before he was standing there completely naked…. Once undressed, the Jews were led into the ravine which was about 150 meters long and 30 meters wide and a good 15 meters deep…When they reached the bottom of the ravine they were seized by members of the Schultpolizei and made to lie down on top of Jews who had already been shot. That all happened very quickly. The corpses were literally in layers. A police marksman came along and shot each Jew in the neck with a submachine gun … I saw these marksman stand on layers of corpses and shoot one after the other … The marksman would walk across the bodies of the executed Jews to the next Jew who had meanwhile lain down and shoot him.
In the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, 33,771 Jews were murdered at Babi Yar. In the following months, Babi Yar remained in use as an execution site for “gypsies” (Roma and Sinta) and Soviet prisoners of war and Gestapo prisoners. Soviet accounts after the war speak of 100,000 dead. Research does not substantiate such a number. The true number may never be known.
In August 1943, in the face of the Red Army advance against German troops, the mass graves of Babi Yar were dug up and the bodies burned in an attempt to remove the evidence of mass murder. Paul Blobel, the commander of Sonderkommando 4a, whose troops had slaughtered the Jews of Kiev, returned to Babi Yar. For more then a month, his men and workers conscripted from the ranks of concentration camp inmates dug up the bodies. Bulldozers were required to reopen the mounds. Massive bone-crushing machinery was brought to the scene. The bodies were piled on wooden logs, doused with gas, and ignited. When the work was done, the workers from the concentration camp were killed. Under cover of darkness on September 29, 1943, 25 of them escaped. Fifteen survived to tell what they had seen.
Despite efforts to suppress the memory of Babi Yar, after the war the Soviet public at large learned of the murders through newspaper accounts, official reports, and belles letters. In 1947 I. Ehrenburg in his novel Burya (“The Storm”) described dramatically the mass killing of the Jews of Kiev in Babi Yar. Preparations were made for a monument at Babi Yar as a memorial to the victims of Nazi genocide. The architect A.V. Vlasov had designed a memorial and the artist B. Ovchinnikov had produced the necessary sketches. But since the Soviet antisemitic campaign of 1948–49, an effort was made to eliminate all references to Babi Yar. This policy had as an objective the removal from Jewish consciousness of those historical elements that might sustain it.
Even after the death of Stalin, Babi Yar remained lost in the “memory hole” of history. Intellectuals, however, refused to be silent. On Oct. 10, 1959, the novelist Viktor Nekrasov cried out in the pages of Literaturnaya Gazeta for a memorial at Babi Yar, and against the official intention to transform the ravine into a sports stadium. Far more impressive was the poem Babi Ya r written by Yevgeni Yevtushenko published in the same journal on Sept. 19, 1961.
No gravestone stands on Babi Yar;
Only coarse earth heaped roughly on the gash:
Such dread comes over me.
With its open attack upon antisemitism and its implied denunciation of those who rejected Jewish martyrdom, the poem exerted a profound impact on Soviet youth as well as upon world public opinion. Dmitri Shostakovich set the lines to music in his 13th Symphony, performed for the first time in December 1962. Russian ultranationalism struck back almost immediately. Yevtushenko was sharply criticized by a number of literary apologists of the regime and then publicly denounced by Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Pravda on March 8, 1963. The theme of a specific Jewish martyrdom was condemned. But Babi Yar would not remain suppressed. It again surfaced during the summer of 1966 in a documentary novel written by Anatoly Kuznetsov published in Yunost . Earlier that year the Ukrainian Architects Club in Kiev held a public exhibit of more than 200 projects and some 30 large-scale detailed plans for a memorial to Babi Yar. None of the inscriptions in the proposed plans mentioned Jewish martyrdom. One project was approved and monument erected in 1972.
Only after the collapse of the Soviet Union did the new Ukrainian government acknowledge the specific Jewish nature of the site and an appropriate rededication was held. By the 2000s plans were underway for the creation of a Jewish Community Center and an appropriate Jewish memorial on the site. No stranger to controversy, the new use of the site has been challenged by some as being too close to the massacre site and being built therefore on sacred soil.
In 1959 the Kiev municipality opened a new Jewish cemetery and decided to close the old one at Lukyanovka, near Babi Yar, which had been desecrated and partly destroyed during the Nazi occupation. Local and foreign Jews were allowed to transfer the remains of their relatives to the new cemetery if they defrayed the expenses involved. American rabbis arranged for the transfer of the remains of the hasidic rabbis of the Twersky family, and the president of Israel, Izhak Ben-Zvi, received permission from the Soviet head of state to transfer to Israel the remains and the tombstone of his friend Ber Borochov (1963).