“The removal from Ukraine of surplus agricultural products to provide the Reich with supplies is possible on condition that the internal consumption in Ukraine should be reduced to the minimum. This will be achieved through the following measures: 1. The destruction of the unnecessary mouths (Jews), and residents of big Ukrainian cities…”

Niurnbergskii protsess [Nuremberg trials]: Collected materials in 7 volumes – Vol. 1, p. 714.

On October 24, 1941, Nazi German forces captured Kharkov.   Kharkov was the largest Soviet city occupied by Nazis during World War II. The city laid in ruins with no running water, electricity or food – everything was destroyed.  The majority of Kharkov’s residents evacuated, but almost half a million people remained.  Throughout the next two years of occupation residents of the city endured hunger and fear; some people died, others were killed. The fate of Jews was different – Kharkov’s Jewish population, the third largest ethnic group (after Ukrainians and Russians), ceased to exist.

On December 5th, 1941, Nazis began taking a population census of Kharkov.  A special clause in the announcement made by Kharkov’s City Council required Jews to register by completing a separate yellow form. This is where the name “yellow lists” comes from.

Each form had a price: white forms, for the general public cost 1 ruble, and yellow forms for Jews cost 10 rubles. Additionally, Nazis required the superintendent of each building to complete a form, detailing the identities and nationalities of each tenant. This information was later matched and verified to the individual forms. All paperwork was required to be completed within 3 days.  According to archive records  10,271 Jewish people registered.  This number did not encompass the entirety of the Jewish population.  Some Jews attempted to hide, some had no valid passports, some used bribery to register on the white list, and others bluntly risked their lives and did not comply with the order.

On December 14th, 1941, all of Kharkov’s Jews, including newborn children, were ordered to relocate to barracks located 15 kilometers from the city’s downtown at the site of Kharkov Tractor Plant (a large manufacturing factory).  For three days a human river of freezing people moved to the eastern outskirts of the city. Some people froze to death along the way, many old and weak were shot on the spot. Those who survived were crowded into barracks.

The winter was very harsh – temperatures during the day remained steadily below negative 15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit).  The barracks had no heat, no toilets, and doors and windows were broken.

barracks Thus Kharkov’s Jewish ghetto was created. Once in the ghetto, there was no way out.

Killings began immediately by special SS-units  (killing squads) assisted by the local police.

People were taken in groups four kilometers away from the ghetto to a ravine known as Drobitsky Yar. Some were driven there by trucks while others were forced to walk in the bitter cold.  For all of them the ravine was final destination. Many were stripped naked in search for valuables before been shot.  By some accounts, kids were pushed over the cliff and buried alive to save ammunition. Those who could not move (old, ill and handicapped) were shot in the barracks. By the spring of 1942 it was all over. The Jewish ghetto ceased to exist.

documentary_-_grave_1 documentary_-_grave_2
Drobitsky Yar from Soviet documentary of 1943.

On August 23, 1943, the Soviet Army recaptured Kharkov. Soviets began to work to identify the victims and document the murders.  One of the killing sites identified was Drobitsky Yar.   Soviet military pathologists estimated the number of Drobitsly Yar victims to be 16,000.

Shortly after the end of World War II the topic of Jewish genocide was marginalized and misrepresented in the Soviet Union. The subject became taboo and stayed that way for decades.  The events that occurred in Drobitsky Yar and many other Yars were concealed from public.