When our troops started being victorious at the front, the fascists became enraged.
They started finding fault with us and with or without reason, and beat us with sticks.
Then it was of no importance if you had done something wrong or not, whether you were to
blame or not, whether you had done the work or not.
Once the gastruck stopped at the front door. We were summoned and told to get in the
truck. Podkaminer noticed the truck earlier and ran away through the attic. None of us
could know how they would use the truck, either as a transportation vehicle or as a murder
weapon. Podkaminer managed to disappear, but Ostrovsky, Kaper, Wilkes and I were taken to
the Syrets concentration camp.
About two months later Podkaminer was also taken there after someone betrayed him. The
fascists discovered that he had been wearing clean underwear and tried to make him say who
had given it to him. He did not say anything because he did not want to betray the family
who had hidden him. Boyarsky also was in the camp. He was the one who interrogated and
tortured Podkaminer, but he told nothing. All this took place in our hut. In the morning
they took Podkaminer to the Gestapo and that was the last we saw of him.
We found ourselves at the edge of an abyss, both figuratively and literally. The Syrets
camp stood just over the ravine that had a very peaceful and even slightly funny name:
Babi Yar. (In Russian, Babi Yar means the old woman's or grandmother's ravine) The ravine
was located in Syrets, a suburb of Kiev, and was one of the deepest ravines in the city.
It ran over two and half kilometers in length and more than 50 meters deep. At the bottom
was a little river, a tributary of the Pochaina, known since the times of Kievan Rus.
Today the words Babi Yar ring as ominously as Maidanek or Aushwitz or Treblinka... This
place, where people used to come to relax and be entertained, became the sight of the mass
slaughter of thousands of people. Over the course of two days, September 29 and 30, 1941,
according to the top secret report to the Commissioner of the Ministry of Occupation
Authorities the Jewish population of the city was executed there. 33,711 thousand people,
half of them women...
The location and geography of Babi Yar were conducive to the German's plans. The slopes
were steep and in some places even vertical. A direct road ran from here to the center of
the city. The residential area was separated from the ravine by a prison and a cemetery,
so there would be no witnesses to the mass murder. Here, they shot partisans, members of
the underground, Communists, members of the Komsomol, Red Army soldiers, railway workers,
members of the military. They shot the sailors from the Dnieper fleet. They shot
Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, Poles. They shot anybody, they deemed necessary,
systematically and deliberately.
Life in the Syrets camp was the same as it was near the Mariynsky Palace. Again they beat
us, tortured us, ordered us to lie down, then to stand up, then to squat. We were robbed
of our clothes and shoes, if they were considered worth taking, and left with only our
underwear. We were ordered to the Jewish barracks. I do not remember how many barracks
there were in all. No less than nine, I am sure, because Volodya Davidov, who was taken
for a Russian, was in number 9.
Yellow stars were not worn here because all the Jews were known and identified. We later
learned that in every Jew's identity card there was a permanent notation. There was only
one road out here for us... to Babi Yar.
After the first night in the barracks, we were lined up and given work assignments. Among
the guards were some people who had lived at 48 Melnikova. They recognized us. I was
registered here as an electrician as before. Kaper was registered as a carpenter and
Wilkes as a welder. We were sent to shops where there were benches for us to work on. I
went to the leader, Komarov, and asked him if he was a soccer player.
He was surprised and asked if I recognized him.
Certainly. I said, I am a big soccer fan.
Let's go he said I'll show you what to do. The machines should not stop. If something
burns out, replace it.
We stayed in the Syrets concentration camp for eight months, or maybe even a little
longer. Obersturmbahnfuhrer Radomsky and his assistant Reder set up a barbaric regime for
destroying people in every way possible. The operation was supervised by the interpreter
Rei, a Folksdeutsche who always walked around with his dog, Komandant Anton, who was Czech
by nationality, and the so-called sotniks and brigadiers. There were exceptions, like the
one sotnik who never touched anybody or the Brigadier Komarov. I later told about them in
They say that hope dies last. So I hoped that I would survive that hell and be able to
tell the truth about what I had seen and suffered through, though every day I believed in
this less and less.
Every day, irrespective of the weather, the wake-up bell rang at 5:30 and followed by
shouts to get up and go into the street for breakfast. For breakfast we were given a slice
of bread and two glasses of a cold beverage resembling coffee.They forced us to do work
that was completely unnecessary, like moving dirt from one place to another, just to keep
us busy. For lunch and again for dinner, we were given a gruel made from potato peels. It
was nearly impossible to survive on such a small quantity of food, the hard labor and
constant beatings. Many could not take it and died.
Almost every day new prisoners arrived. They were examined, lined up and transferred over
to Anton and his assistants. Their clothes, if considered nice enough, were exchanged for
food and drinks. Then, the half-naked prisoners were drilled and beaten, like we were on
our first day.
Those who had no profession suffered the most because at the general works the tortures
were considered the worst. For example if trees needed to be cut down, one of the
prisoners had to climb the tree and fasten himself to the trunk Then the tree was cut
down. If the prisoner was still breathing after the fall, they beat him to death. Many
people died every day. Every day there were replaced by new prisoners who soon met a
During roll-call, the camp overseer reported to the authorities anything that needed to be
reported. The smallest error was punished by a beating. The prisoner would get as many
beatings or lashes as he could stand.
Those, who still had relatives in Kiev, sometimes were given something brought by their
relatives. It was done at the risk of their lives because the guards could shoot them at
any moment. No relatives could come to the Jewish prisoners, since any Jew who had not
been evacuated had been shot. Only once Lidiya Stanislavovna Helinginskaya, Yasha Kaper's
mother's friend managed to bring him some food. She threw it over the electrified barbed
wire. If he had not been a Jew, she might have been able to take him out of the camp for a
short while. Such things did occasionally happen.
In the same area, next to our camp, was a camp for women that had about 300 inmates. The
female commandant was a woman who pretended to be a Russian actress, who was subordinated
to Anton. Even if she did not exercise any influence over him, she at least enjoyed his
protection. The different contingents in the camp were quite specific: criminals;
prostitutes; alcoholics. The fascists pretended that the work done in the camp was very
useful and even corrective. The women peeled potatoes, cooked, served meals, sewed, mended
clothes, made a type of shoe from cord. In theory for the prisoners, but none of us ever
received a pair and cleaned the area. Among them were also juveniles, young Jewish girls
whose parents had been shot. They were given the hardest labor. They loaded the carts with
stones and bricks and then they were harnessed to the carts instead of horses. They were
urged on with sticks and lashes. It was unbearable to watch how both the criminals and the
fascists taunted them simply because they were Jews. To make them easily identifiable
their hair was all cut off.
During the German retreat, there constantly appeared trucks carrying the women away.
Rumors were spread that they were being taken to Germany. No Jewish girls were among them.
They must have lost their lives in the same ravine were the sick and disabled were also
Once, about ten prisoners were sent to uproot trees, accompanied by a guard and the
overseer Komarov. As we worked, a truck came by occasionally to cart off the stumps. Since
it was outside the camp, we were carefully guarded. During a cigarette break, the truck
with Radomsky and his interpreter came by. I had quit smoking then since you had to trade
your bread ration for a cigarette butt. Since I could hardly move at all because of lack
of food and the hard labor, I used to take advantage of the breaks to rest. We were
talking with the policeman and his rifle stood at this side. Ten minutes later, a
messenger ran up to us and said that the overseer and I had to go to the sentry box. The
interpreter was a folksdeutsche who had lived his entire life in the Soviet Union. He knew
me from 48 Melnikova. I saw that he wanted to help me but could do nothing and had to
report to the officer that we had talked with the guard. Radomsky ordered us punished for
that. I was given 25 blows with a stick and Komarov a little bit less. During the beating
I bit my hands. Then the officer said that it was enough and we were led somewhere. I then
saw that we were approaching the ditch where they used to shoot the sick people from the
hospital-those who were no longer of any use.Komarov said Well, this is the end. I replied
I doubt it because you are a Russian and I am a Jew.
Then we came to the women's camp and were ordered to stop. We stopped and tried to guess
what the nazis had thought of. As it turned out, we were brought there because a shipment
of sewing machines had arrived and we had to unload them from the truck and take them into
the shop. In the end we were given some more blows with a stick on our head and sent to
work. I thought that I survived only by a miracle since they normally only took people
there to be shot.
After this I could not walk at all. When we reached the shop Komarov told the others that
it was necessary to hide me somewhere. He said he was stronger and received fewer blows
than me and I was in bad shape.
I was put under a bench. It was agreed that if the man on guard strikes a hammer on the
rail, it would mean that the bosses were coming. My fellow prisoners guarded me for about
2 weeks like this. I am very thankful to all of them. From then on, our life continued on,
if I can possibly say this, relatively normally.
Every morning four men made an inspection of the camp, checking for any attempts to
escape, though such attempts were usually foiled by the electrified barbed wire fence.
During such inspections, we would often come across a cat or dog who were killed by the
electric current. We used to take them back to the shop. I always shared my trophies with
There was also a kind of clothes market in the camp. Outgoing guards stole the prisoners'
trousers or coats and exchanged them on the city market for food. Sometimes we would take
our trophies to the market in the evening and get some food in exchange. Kaper had an
electric cooker in the workshop. He would cook something there and then bring it back to
the barracks for us. In the barracks there was also a cast-iron stove where we would fry
some potato peels if the girls in the kitchen gave us them.
On Wednesdays and Friday we were lined up on the camp grounds and announced that every
third or every fifth prisoner would be shot in front of the rest of the prisoners. The
prisoners were surrounded by soldiers with automatic guns with guards and policemen behind
them. No explanations or requests were taken into account. If there was no reason for the
shooting, Anton and his assistants invented them themselves. Radomsky used to shoot people
with his own hands. After that, those who survived were lined up and ordered to march
towards the barracks, singing the Ukrainian song Unharness your horses, pals or some
Radomsky was a real butcher. Once a young man, obviously a village boy, who had never seen
machines before stood at the door of the shop looking inside. Radomsky came up behind him
and shot him in the back of his head.
I remember how one house-manager was brought to the camp. He was sent here for 7 days
because the trash had not been removed from the house. In the next show, as those actions
were called, he turned out to be the third or the fifth in line and he was shot. A human
life was not worth a wooden nickel there.
Once one of the prisoners tried to escape. He managed to hide in the toilet in the yard by
hanging from the wooden bars under the roof and was suspended over the stinking pot with
his legs tucked in. They noticed his disappearance and started searching for him but could
not find him. He stayed there hanging above the pot for over an hour and a half. When they
finally found him all the prisoners were lined up. They wanted us to be present at his
execution so we would learn that there was no chance of getting out of the camp alive. It
was an awful scene and I tried not to watch. The sotniks and brigadiers were beating him
so hard that his flesh fell off in pieces. The supervisors of the general works were
especially enthusiastic at the task. They were real monsters. The man was beaten to death.