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'More Jews were continually brought to be shot'

Names, testimonies of Nazis in Babi Yar massacre released 80 years on

Memorial center named after Holocaust’s largest mass grave identifies 159 perpetrators; ‘It is possible that on this day I shot between around 150 and 250 Jews,’ one testified

Bernhard Grafhorst (L) and Viktor Trill (R). (BYHMC)
Bernhard Grafhorst (L) and Viktor Trill (R). (BYHMC)

On the 80th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre in Ukraine, researchers on Wednesday revealed for the first time the names of dozens of perpetrators, and some of their testimonies.

Between September 29 and 30, 1941, Nazis and their collaborators murdered tens of thousands of Jews at the Babi Yar ravine just outside of Kyiv. Despite it being one of the largest single massacres of the Holocaust, the site and the event went largely ignored for decades and were overshadowed by the atrocities in the concentration camps, which were often better documented. Throughout the remaining years of World War II, more than 100,000 people were ultimately killed at the ravine.

The Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center set out to identify those who participated in the massacre, and estimated that hundreds of German soldiers, policemen, and SS personnel were complicit in the massacre.

The findings released on Wednesday listed the names of 159 Nazis who participated in the killings. They had testified at trial but were found not guilty, and the majority returned to lead normal lives after the war, the memorial center said.

“It is possible that on this day I shot between around 150 and 250 Jews. The whole shooting went off without incident. The Jews were resigned to their fate like lambs,” Czech-born Viktor Trill testified.

“After we got out, first we were issued with alcohol. It was grog or rum. I then saw a gigantic ditch [ravine] that looked like a dried out river bed. In it were lying several layers of corpses. The execution began first by a few members of our Kommando going down into the ravine. At the same time about 20 Jews were brought along from a connecting path. The Jews had to lay down on the corpses and were then shot in the back of the neck. More Jews were continually brought to be shot,” the testimony continued.

This a 1944 file photo of part of the Babi Yar ravine at the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine where the advancing Red Army unearthed the bodies of 14,000 civilians killed by fleeing Nazis, 1944. Einsatzgruppe C was responsible for one of the most notorious massacres, the shooting of nearly 34,000 at Babi Yar, a ravine northwest of the Ukrainian city of Kiev, on Sept. 29-30, 1941. (AP Photo, file)

Trill was an electrician and later became a commercial truck driver, the research said. In 1939, his hometown was occupied by the Nazi Wehrmacht and soon after began working for the Gestapo. In 1941, after arriving in Kyiv amid the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, he was instructed to participate in the second day of the Babi Yar massacre.

Trill was tried over the mass killings in 1967, but was acquitted over lack of “base motive” for his participation, the memorial center said.

SS commander August Hafner described his unit’s participation in the executions in a 1967 court hearing.

“The SS troops had a section of approximately 30 meters in length. [Bernhard] Grafhorst told me that the Jews should lie down close to each other. About 4-6 Jews lay down next to each other. So, they lay down until the entire bottom was filled. Then the same thing started again. Others had to lie on top of the already dead Jews. Within two days, 6-7 layers could have formed,” Hafner testified.

The Babi Yar killing site in Kyiv, Ukraine is made up of dozens of ravines and ditches where Nazi forces and their allies killed tens of thousands of Jews and non-Jews in September 1941. (Courtesy of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center via JTA)

Grafhorst, also identified by the memorial center, was a senior SS commander.

On Wednesday, the Ukrainian government will hold a commemorative ceremony and event at Babi Yar, attended by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, along with his Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog, and the president of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The BYHMC has been conducting research into the massacre for several years. So far, 20,000 previously unknown names of victims have been recovered and verified.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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