1 Execution site(s)
Izolda M., born in Kharkiv in 1933 to a Jewish father and an Ukrainian mother: "When my dad took me to escape, the people who helped us arrived early, because there was a curfew at 4pm. It was winter and at 4pm it was already dark. So, my dad took me to escape, and when the German with his machine gun left to go to the toilets, far from us, they lifted the barbed wire up and they pushed me out to the other side. Back then there were no young men, only old men. So, the old man took me by the hand and told me “my name is Kolia, grandad Kolia”. I named my first son after him. Then my dad told me “I’ll be there in two days, kitten”. And I cried, I told him “Dad I want to stay with you”. “I’ll be there in two days”, and I saw he had tears streaming down his face. It’s hard of course to go through all this. And we left, “go”, he said, “go while no one is there”, and we left. He took me up to Teatralnaia square, and I needed to go to Chernishevska street, where my aunt’s house was. But there were two Germans with machine guns on the street next to Teatralnaia square. We had already passed the synagogue. We had just walked through Pushkinskaia street. I was all dressed up in shawls and wearing breaches, and then the Germans pointed their guns at us." (Witness n°2985U, a Jewish survivor, interviewed in Kharkiv, on October 21, 2021)
"On December 26, 1941, the Germans circulated a sign-up sheet for those who wanted to leave for Poltava, Romny and Kremenchuh, stating that one could not take any belongings with them. The next day, covered trucks approached the barracks. The people, having understood the provocation, refused to get into the trucks, but the soldiers pushed them in and took them away from the camp. For several days, the ghetto inmates were taken from the camp by truck, or sometimes on foot, to the "Drobitskii yar" ravine, where they were shot.
A witness to the shooting from the village of Rohan, Anatasia O.: "Having heard about the shooting of Soviet citizens by the Germans on the morning of January 7, 1942, I went with my 11-year-old son and 11 other villagers to see what happened. We discovered a pit of a few dozen meters long in the ravine, 10 meters wide and a few meters deep. When we saw the bodies, we decided to return home. Many bodies were piled up in the pit. But we didn’t have time to go home because trucks with soldiers arrived and took us prisoner. The soldiers made us go up to the pit and one of them opened fire on us. When my son fell, I lost consciousness. When I came back to my senses, I was standing on the bodies. I heard the screams of women and children being taken to be shot. Their bodies were falling into the pit where I was. Being in the pit until 4-5 p.m., I could see the Germans bringing in new groups of people to be shot throughout the day. A few thousand people were shot in front of my eyes. They were Jewish citizens, men, women and children. When the killing was over, the Germans left. Moans and cries came from the piles of corpses. About 30 minutes after the soldiers left, I ran back to my house. My son and the other inhabitants of the village had been shot. […] The witnesses Chernenko-Nazvych, Daniil Serikov and Fyodor Kovrizhko, testified that in addition to shooting, the German invaders used poison as a means of killing, mainly on children. They then set fire to their bodies in the camp barracks.” [Act drawn up by Soviet State Commission (ChGK) on September 5, 1944; GARF 7021-76-844, pp. 5-10]
“After Kharkiv, there probably weren’t any more shootings. A gas van was used thereafter. They were only gassing. I was never involved in loading and unloading of the trucks. They were closed box vans with fixed constructions. Once I saw an unloading of such a van. I think, the unloading was executed at a brickyard outside Kharkiv. Me and some others were assigned to cordon off the area. The van backed up to a deep pit. I can’t say if it was a natural or articicial pit. The door was opened, and the gas truck tipping device started to work. In this way, the corpses, both men and women I’m sure, slid down into the ditch. I don’t know, who filled the ditch in at the end.” [Deposition of Viktor T., member of Sonderkommando 4a; BArch 162 5643]
“But, as I’ve already mentioned, I saw a gas van being used. I assume that it was before Christmas. The gas van left the yard of our office, loaded with about 20 Jews. At first the Jews were searched and had to hand over all the things they had in their pockets. According to my memories, only the coats had to be taken off. I cannot say which way the van was going, because I didn’t go with it. Nor can I say where the Jews that were taken away in the gas van,came from. I also do not know the place where they were taken to. The name of the driver was F.. I was shown a picture of F.. I think, it was the driver of the gas van I saw.” [Deposition Friedrich P., member of Sonderkommando 4a; Barch 162 5644]
Kharkiv is the second largest city in Ukraine and was the country’s capital from 1919 to 1934. Only a fortress initially, it was founded by Russian settlers in 1654 to protect the borders of the Tsardom of Russia. It grew to be an important city in the Russian Empire, which explains its predominantly Russian population well into the 20th century.
The first Jews in Kharkiv arrived in the 18th century after the Russian state permitted, in 1734, permitted them to come to trade. A small community settled in the 1780s and in 1799, Kharkov’s first Jewish cemetery was established. However, because the city was excluded from the Pale of Settlement, the Jewish community was not permitted to properly settle, in 1821 they were even banned from entering the city but regained this right in 1835 as the governor noticed a large loss of trade revenue. It was during the reign of Alexander II (1855-1881) and following his liberal reforms that the Jewish community started to thrive. They were allowed to build synagogues and communal institutions likes cheders (primary schools) and had many opportunities for higher education (in 1886 Jewish students constituted 28% of the university’s student body).
By the beginning of the 20th century, Kharkiv had a bustling Jewish population working in different domains, culturally and politically active. Ukraine’s largest synagogue was built there in 1913 and, during the Soviet period, the city became a vibrant Jewish centre with many Hebrew schools, social organisations, and political movements, notably the Zionist movement. Before the war, in 1939, around 130,000 Jews lived in Kharkiv, making up 16% of the city’s total population.
On October 23, 1941, the city fell under German occupation. Most of the Jewish population managed to evacuate before the Nazis arrived and they only registered about 10,271 Jews in Kharkiv in December 1941, although there probably were more that weren’t counted in the census. In November, buildings used by the Germans as their headquarters and offices were blown up. In reprisal, the Nazis took 1,000 people hostage and executed them. Most of them were Jews. As in most places under Nazi regime, Jews were forbidden to continue working in public institutions and had to wear armbands. On December 14, 1941, the Germans issued a decree ordering all Jews to gather two days later. It was said they were going to be taken to another town, but in reality, they were forced to go into the barracks of one of the city’s factories, the Kharkiv Tractor Plant, located on the outskirts of town. Some were shot on the way over if they couldn’t keep up. A group of about 400 people who were too weak to make it to the ghetto – elderly people, children and disabled – were imprisoned inside the synagogue, located on the Meshchanska street, in the centre of town, where they all died of starvation or froze to death. The ghetto was surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by armed Germans. Those who tried to flee were shot. People were crammed into the barracks that had no doors, no windows, no heat, or running water. Food was not supplied, and water was very limited. Many died of starvation or disease and the Germans forbade the evacuation of the bodies. Before the ghetto was liquidated at the beginning of January, the Germans massacred 437 mentally ill people, about 200 Jews among them, on Christmas eve. On December 26, some 500 volunteers were enlisted for labour in other towns only to drive them out of the city to be murdered and killed another 500 before the end of December. Between January 2 and 8, 1942, the entire population of the ghetto was executed. Each day between 200 and 300 people were taken in trucks to a nearby ravine, Drobytskyi Yar, to be shot. The shootings were conducted by Schutzpolizei. According to the Soviet archives, about 11,000 Jews were killed at Drobytskyi Yar. The isolated execution of those Jews who managed to hide but was found continued until the end of 1942. Besides the Jews, the civilians and POWs were also massacred at the place called Kholodna Hora (‘Cold Mountain’). Besides the shootings, 11,000 POWs detained in two camps died of hunger, disease, and inhuman detention conditions.
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