Remember Babij Jar

Publish date 16-11-2021

by Matteo Spicuglia

September 1941. Exactly 80 years ago. The population of Kiev, in Ukraine, had not yet got used to the arrival of the Nazi army: the new masters, who have been in the city for ten days, in place of the Red Army. The Soviets had withdrawn, but made no discounts, they undermined the buildings occupied by the Germans by blowing them up: dozens of dead, including soldiers and civilians. After the war it was discovered that the SS were aware of the real perpetrators, but did not take them into account. That attack became the deadly pretext to liquidate the presence of the city's Jews. The majority had already evacuated to the east, there were about 60,000 left, mostly elderly, sick, women and children. On the morning of September 27, the walls of Kiev city were lined with hundreds of posters. The message was very clear, under penalty of execution, he ordered the "Jews to show up on Monday 29 at 8 am" at the Russian and Jewish cemetery bringing documents, money, jewelry and clothes.

Most thought of a transfer, of war deportations, not of what would happen soon. In the place indicated there was something that escaped comprehension: no train to leave, only large piles of luggage and clothes. People came and were forced to leave everything. In the background, repeated bursts of machine guns, the violence of the soldiers, a doom. Impossible to rebel, try to escape. The writer Anatolij Kuznecov, an eyewitness to that madness, remembers the image of an old woman running, followed by a frightened child. She trying to calm him down, but to no avail. Two soldiers behind, the shots, grandmother and grandchildren killed in front of everyone.
That terror served to annihilate any possible reaction. The machine of evil could not jam, it would have to carry out what was planned. That column of innocent lives was thus led towards the Babij Jar moat, a deep chasm on the edge of the city. Here the Jews were stripped and then arrived in groups of ten on the edge of the ravine.

To tell what happened is Kurt Werner, one of the soldiers present: «Immediately after my arrival on the execution ground I had to go down with other comrades to this basin. It was not long before the first Jews were led us down the walls of the chasm along which they had to lie face down. In the basin there were three groups of shooters, 12 in all. The Jews were led running, all together, from above towards these shooters. The Jews who followed had to lie down on the corpses of those previously shot. The shooters stood behind the Jews from time to time and killed them with blows to the back of the head. I still remember today in what state of terror the Jews fell who from up there, on the edge of the abyss, could for the first time see the corpses on the bottom: many screamed loudly in fright. One cannot even imagine what nerve force it would take to carry out that filthy activity there. It was creepy ...

I had to stay down in the chasm all morning. There I had to keep shooting for a while, then I was busy filling the magazines of the machine gun with ammunition.
During this time other comrades were employed as shooters. Around noon we were brought out of the hollow and in the afternoon I, with others, had to lead the Jews to the hollow. At this time other comrades were firing down into the hollow. The Jews were led by us to the edge of the basin and from there they ran down the slope alone.

All the shootings of that day may have lasted until about ... 5 or 6 in the evening ».
In two days, in Babij Jar, 35 thousand died. Today remembering them means giving back to faces, stories, people like us at least the dignity of existing.

Matteo Spicuglia
NP August / September 2021

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