KIEV, Sept. 27 - The mass murder on the outskirts of Kiev 65 years ago Friday has made the name Babiy Yar infamous and has come to be seen as foreshadowing the gas chambers and crematoria of the Final Solution.
Forced to undress, the Jews, most of whom thought they were being assembled for transport to a ghetto, were herded in groups -- men, women and children -- to the edge of a ravine. For 48 hours, the Nazis gunned down the crowd until at least 33,771 Jews -- the number recorded by the German executioners -- were dead.
"My grandmother had me in one arm and her passport in the other. She kept crossing herself and crying 'I'm Russian!" Raisa Maistrenko, three at the time and half-Jewish and now one of a handful of survivors still alive, told Reuters.
"A local policeman said everyone there was Jewish. He tried to hit me with his rifle butt. My grandmother protected me with her shoulder and we fell to the ground together."
Maistrenko, who later danced in an ensemble for 22 years, fled in the confusion with her grandmother to a cemetery, hid in bushes through the night before stumbling home after dawn.
"Time can heal wounds, but it should not erase them from our memories," President Viktor Yushchenko said as he launched two days of commemorations attended by Israeli President Moshe Katsav and 1,000 guests representing 41 countries.
The commemorations began Tuesday with the opening of an exhibit entitled "Forewarning the Future," featuring photos of naked and twisted bodies stacked at Babiy Yar. They continue today at the ravine.
Before World War II, about 175,000 of Kiev's 875,000 people were Jewish. Today official figures say there are 103,000 Jews in all of Ukraine, although the Jewish community says the number is several times higher.
"Every Ukrainian city has its own Babiy Yar," said Roman Levith, 73, who survived because his mother managed to get new passports with Ukrainian-sounding last names that fooled the Nazis. Six of his relatives died.
"I survived only because I don't look like a Jew," said Oleksiy Volikov, 72, who witnessed the Babiy Yar executions firsthand as a boy of 7. "People's bodies were thrown into the pit like dead chickens." (ap/rt/ez)