The Holocaust in Faces

From the Testimony of Hefer, a German Truck Driver, on the Extermination of Jews at Babi Yar in September 29-30, 1941

One day I was ordered to drive my truck out of town. I had a Ukrainian with me. It was about 10 a.m. On our way, we passed Jews marching in columns in the same direction we were going. They were carrying their belongings. There were whole families. The farther we drove away from town, the more people we saw in the columns. There were piles of clothes in a wide open field. My job was to fetch them.  

I stopped the engine nearby, and the Ukrainians standing around started loading the car with this stuff. From where I was, I saw other Ukrainians meeting the Jews who arrived, men, women and children, and directing them to the place where, one after another, they were supposed to remove their belongings, coats, shoes, outer garments and even their underwear. They were supposed to put all their belongings together in a pile.  

Everything happened very quickly: the Ukrainians hurried those who hesitated by kicking and pushing them. I think it took less than a minute from the moment a person took off his coat before he was standing completely naked. No distinction was made between men, women and children. The Jews who were arriving could have turned back when they saw those who had come earlier taking off their clothes. Even today I cannot understand why they didn’t run.

Naked Jews were led to a ravine about 150 meters long, 30 meters wide and 15 meters deep. The Jews went down into the ravine through two or three narrow paths. When they got closer to the edge of the ravine, members of the Schutzpolizei (Germans) grabbed them and made them lie down over the corpses of the Jews who had already been shot. It took no time. The corpses were carefully laid down in rows. As soon as a Jew lay down, a Schutzpolizist came along with a submachine gun and shot him in the back of the head. The Jews who descended into the ravine were so frightened by this terrible scene that they completely lost their will. You could even see some of them lying down in the row on their own and waiting for the shot to come.

Only two members of the Schutzpolizei did the shooting. One of them was working at one end of the ravine, the other started at the other end. I saw them standing on the bodies and shooting one person after another.

Walking over the corpses toward a new victim who had already laid down, the machine gunner shot him on the spot. It was an extermination machine that made no distinction between men, women and children. Children were kept with their mothers and shot with them. I did not watch for long. When I approached the edge, I was so frightened of what I saw that I could not look at it for a long time. I saw dead bodies at the bottom laid across in three rows, each of which was approximately 60 meters long. I could not see how many layers were there. It was beyond my comprehension to see bodies twitching in convulsions and covered with blood, so I could not make sense of the details.  Apart from the two machine gunners, there were two other members of the Schutzpolizei standing near each passage into the ravine. They made each victim lie down on the corpses so that the machine gunner could shoot while he walked by.

When victims descended into the ravine and saw this terrible scene at the last moment, they let out a cry of terror. But they were grabbed by the waiting Schutzpolizei right away and hurled down onto the others. Those who followed them could not see the terrible scene because it was obstructed by the edge of the ravine.  

While some people were getting undressed and most of the others were waiting their turn, there was a lot of noise. The Ukrainians paid no attention to the noise and just kept forcing people through the passages into the ravine.

You could not see the ravine from the site where people were taking off their clothes, because it was situated about 150 meters away from the first pile of clothes. Besides, a strong wind was blowing and it was very cold. You couldn’t hear the shooting in the ravine. So, I concluded that the Jews had no idea what was actually happening. Even today I wonder why the Jews did nothing to challenge what was going on.  Masses of people were coming from town and they did not seem to suspect anything. They thought they were just being relocated.

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