Once the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, they instituted the same genocidal policies against the Soviet Jews as they had done elsewhere. After they captured the city of Kyiv (Kiev) in late September, they rounded up nearly 34,000 Jews from the surrounding area and machine-gunned them in a deep ravine.

In the aftermath of the German takeover of Kyiv, the inhabitants of the city at first looked upon the Germans as saviors after the oppression of the Stalinist regime. In a move that was repeated over much of the Axis-occupied Soviet Union, the Germans misplayed their hand and turned the people against them in a matter of days. 

A few days after the Germans captured the city, a series of bombs exploded around the city killing German troops and civilians alike. The bombs were left by members of the NKVD, the Russian Interior Ministry, but the Nazis used a very familiar scapegoat. The bombs, they decided, were the work of the Jews. 

On September 28, the Germans posted notices all over the area. These read:

“All [Jews] living in the city of Kiev and its vicinity are to report by 8 o’clock on the morning of Monday, September 29th, 1941, at the corner of Melnikovsky and Dokhturov Streets (near the cemetery). They are to take with them documents, money, valuables, as well as warm clothes, underwear, etc. Any [Jew] not carrying out this instruction and who is found elsewhere will be shot. Any civilian entering flats evacuated by [Jews] and stealing property will be shot.”

The Jews believed that they were being deported to one of the ghettos that the Nazis had set up. That would be a fatal mistake. 

The area that they were told to report was called Babi Yar. (“Babi,” or “babyn,” means “old woman” while “yar” means “ravine.”) The German troops involved in the operation were from Sonderkommando 4a, Einsatzgruppe C. They consisted of SD and SiPo men, the third company of the Special Duties Waffen-SS battalion, and a platoon of the No. 9 police battalion. These units were reinforced by police battalions Nos. 45 and 305, and by units of the Ukrainian auxiliary police. They were supported by local collaborators.

On September 29, thousands of Jews arrived at the specified location; many arrived early to ensure themselves a seat on the train. After passing through the gates of a Jewish cemetery, they were told to leave their baggage. The rumor was that the Germans would send a luggage train to follow them.