Invasion of Ukraine is a reminder of Babi Yar | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Invasion of Ukraine is a reminder of Babi Yar 


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drew international attention to a ravine in Kyiv remembered as the site of a massacre during the Holocaust. 

There, Nazis shot and killed tens of thousands of Jews in a matter of days after deceiving them into gathering at Babi Yar under the pretense of resettlement. In early March this year, eyes across the world turned to what is now a memorial, after a Russian missile strike hit nearby.  

According to multiple media reports, the site was not directly damaged by the strike, which hit a communications tower. The Times of Israel reported a spokesperson for the memorial said the monument at Babi Yar was unscathed. Buildings in the Jewish cemetery at the memorial complex were damaged, however.  

The New York Times reported a damaged building had been expected to serve as a museum. 

Today, a menorah-shaped monument stands at the site. But the story of the massacre at Babi Yar dates back to 1941, shortly after the German Army occupied Kyiv. 

In late September that year, the German military posted notices directing Jews to assemble with belongings, such as their documents and valuables, accounts of the event say. The posters suggested the Jews who gathered would be resettled. Those who did not gather, the notices said, would be shot. 

But the notices were a false pretense.  

Instead, archival news articles explain, the thousands of Jews who gathered were told to undress and march into the ravine, where they were killed with machine guns. The shootings took place over a period of two days, beginning on Sept. 29, 1941. That year, the date was roughly the time of Yom Kippur. 

Deaths from the massacre are estimated to be more than 30,000. Over two years, 100,000 people are estimated to have died at Babi Yar. Among the deceased were some with Milwaukee ties. The late philanthropist Fannie Kesselman told the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle in 1992 that she learned one of her grandparents was among those killed in the massacre. 

The site has been described as a mass grave. But years after the massacre, Babi Yar had a different look. Apartments and businesses were later constructed in the area, reports say. 

The story of Babi Yar has been told in different media over many years. A 1960s poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, for instance, noted that, at the time, the site did not have a monument. A witness, Anatoly Kuznetsov, described the killings in a documentary novel. 

The initial official recognition of the victims did not acknowledge the antisemitism interwoven with the murders. News reports say a plaque posted at the site said more than 100,000 citizens of Kyiv and prisoners of war were executed there.  

Monuments have since been added. In 2021, marking the 80th anniversary of the event, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy attended the installation of a modern artwork called the Crystal Wall of Crying at the site, the New York Times reported. 

Archival news articles say Jews in Kyiv visit Babi Yar during the Days of Awe – the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – to lay flowers at the site. Babi Yar also attracts visitors from around the world, including some from Wisconsin, Chronicle reports show.