Correction Corner: Bodies NOT seen by American journalists at Babi Yar
The bizarre assertion that bodies were seen by American journalists at Babi Yar is made by a group of somewhat erratic bloggers can be read here. The post begins with the perfectly reasonable observation that American journalists did see some dead bodies in a rather frightful Soviet exhibition at Klooga, Estonia. But then tries to claim by pointing to an archived news report from 1943, that American journalists also saw dead bodies at Babi Yar. In order to disprove this I will reproduce the entire article that they point to below (in fairness a journalist did say he saw some fingers). In contrast to the claims of the Holocaust Controversies blogging team, the scepticism of William Lawrence regarding a massacre at Babi Yar during his visit is an established fact: “[William] Lawrence had been sceptical that a massacre had taken place at Babi Yar. Years later, he said his doubts evaporated when he arrived at the camp near Lublin [Majdanek, 30 August 1944], Lublin” .
Why this scepticism might exist can be easily understood when viewing the photographic materials produced by the Soviet Special Commission of 1943. I reproduce a few of these photos and the rest can be viewed offsite here. I should add I have quite a bit of material regarding Babi Yar, problems with its documentation and twisted path of its genesis, but I won’t be presenting it at this stage – although as always the case, there is certain to have been some level of executions at various points during the occupation.
The photograpth above is one of the materials taken by the Soviets shortly after liberation in September 1943. The relevance will become clear in the 1943 Associated Press report below. Supposedly 100 Jewish Soviet POWs lived in this dugout while they burned the 50 000 victims of Babi Yar, August 1943. They escaped by fashioning a key for the lock of the dugout out of a spoon, although how a lock or door fitted on that dugout is not clear; personally I would have used the spoon to dig my way out.
A rather unusual series of photographs appeared in Germany in the early 1960s in the context of war crimes investigations, from the camera of deceased soldier-photographer Johannes Haehle. This photo supposedly shows us the scene where the 34 000 Jews have all been shot over two days. A pioneer battalion presumably has just dynamited the walls of the ravine and a little bit of landscaping is taking place over the top of theses 34 000 dead Jews – that must surely exist?
Quite what the photo above really represents or how it was produced is a mystery to me – but as far as hiding traces of crime they seem to have done superlative job. The bodies stayed thus buried until August 1943 where the herculean exhumation and combustion was undertaken, as will be described in the article below. Immediately after this effort was complete, upon liberation and almost 2 years after the original event, the scene looked like this.
Small wonder William Lawrence was a little less than impressed.
Below the line I post the article that convinced Holocaust Controversies blog American journalists saw dead bodies at Babi Yar. Quite why they chose this article and not the article by William Lawrence, I do not know since it would be readily available from the NY Times online archive. Maybe because of excerpts from the article like this:
On the basis of what we saw, it is impossible for this correspondent to judge the truth or falsity of the story told to us. It is the contention of the authorities in Kiev that the Germans, with characteristic thoroughness, not only burned the bodies and clothing, but also crumbled the bones, and shot and burned the bodies of all prisoners of war participating in the burning, except for the handful that escaped, so that the evidence of their atrocity could not be available for the outside world. If this was the Germans’ intent, they succeeded well, for there is little evidence in the ravine to prove or disprove the story.
Ouch! But this was back in the day when you could say, like Assistant Under-Secretary Reginald Leeper did, “As a general rule Jews are inclined to magnify their persecutions” and suffer no payback for it. Negative press notices like that perhaps explains why the Soviets put in more of an effort at Klooga.
 Buried By The Times, by Laurel Leff, page 284.
‘Try to Hide Jew Killings’ Nov 29 1943
Nazis Burn Bodies, Story
by Eddy Gilmore
Kiev, USSR (Via Moscow) (AP)
About five miles outside Kiev to the south not far from the Dnieper river in a place called “Babii Yar” (Witches’s Ravine). There, the Russians say, between 60,000 and 80,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis and their bodies later burned.
I have been there, but I’ll let the story tell itself.
We first were escorted there by Prof. Pavel Aloshin, the chief architect for the reconstruction of the Ukraine. He had been here during the whole time of the German occupation.
We got out of our cars and walked over a trench which the Germans had thrown up to defend the highway when the Red army drove upon Kiev from the south. Beyond the trench was a ravine about 40 feet deep, about 100 feet wide and about a half mile long where it ran into a deeper, wider ravine.
Aloshin did not know why it was called “Babii Yar.”
“In September, 1941.” he said “thousands of jews were brought here. Their clothes were removed and in small groups they were mowed down by automatic gunners. Then they were buried. Recently they were dug up and burned by the Germans wanting to destroy all the evidence.”
We asked him how he first heard of the slayings and he said he heard about it from a German architect who bragged about the mass murders.
We asked him if there remained any Russians in Kiev who witnessed the slayings.
“No I don’t believe there were any Russians who saw them,” he said.
Pretty soon a crowd of peasant women and small boys began to gather. We asked them if they saw the shootings. They said they knew about them but did not see them.
We walked into the ravine with the professor.
“I don’t know what we’ll find.” he said, “because not long ago the Germans came out here as the Red army was advancing and burned the bodies on huge stoves.”
Alsohin said the digging up of the bodies and the burning was done by Russian war prisoners, some of whom went crazy after the grisly business was completed.
“One of these went about Kiev screaming, ‘I can’t live any more. The earth is moving.'” he said.
We walked along the ditch, which seemed to be just sand. Here and there were such things as fingers without hands. At another place there was a half burned shoe with flesh inside. there were several bones about. We also uncovered lots of broken burned spectacles. There were several pairs of broken false teeth.
We went back to the city. Finally the authorities took us back to the ravine. A commission was holding an investigation prior to making a report to the central committee investigating atrocities.
We were introduced to three men, all Jews, who reported that they were formerly Red army soldiers who had been captured in Kiev and later brought here to burn bodies. They were Efimir Vilkis, 33; Loenid Ostrovsky, 31, and Vladimir Davidov, 28.
They said they were captured when Kiev fell to the Germans and were put in a concentration camp.
Vilkis did most of the talking. he said that on Aug. 14 1943, he and the other war prisoners were rounded up and brought to a huge dugout near the ravine. There were about 100 soldiers with him, including Ostrovsky and Davidov. About five days later the Germans marched him and the others into Babii Yar and given them shovels told them to dig in the soft sand.
“We dug and began to come to bodies.” Vilkis said. “There were hundreds of them. They made us take large tongs and drag these bodies up here. The Germans then made a layer of wood and then a layer of bodies and poured gasoline over them and set them on fire.”
Vilkis said hundreds of bodies were burned in this manner. Asked how many he himself dragged to the fires, he said he guessed about 4,000 or 5,000.
After the bodies were burned, Vilkis said, with the others nodding ascent, the Germans used huge crushers to crush the bones and destroy the evidence.
About Aug. 28 he saw the Germans building a new pyre. The word got around among the prisoners and they assumed that they were to be shot and burned.
We began trying to figure out some way to escape and the best way seemed to be to make a key to fit the lock on our dugout door,” he explained. One of the prisoners was a former locksmith and he made such a key from a spoon.
A few nights later Vilkis said he and the other prisoners unlocked the dugout door, rushed into the ravine and escaped.
The other two men corroborated Vilkis’ story. They were dressed in civilian clothes. They said they planned to rejoin the Red army as soon as proper papers were filled out. The Germans took their identification cards and Russian citizenship passports, they said.
The Russian conducting officers asserted that the three Jews we had just talked to were about the only ones left in Kiev. In walking about the city, we found the assertion apparently true, despite the fact that Kiev had a very large Jewish population before the war.
The officials said that some left before the Germans arrived, of course, but that as many of them were unable to get away.
That is the story as we heard it of Babii Yar.