Testimony of Dina Pronicheva about the Annihilation of the Jews in Babi Yar on September 29-30, 1941: Part I
My name is Dina, Dina Mironovna Vasserman. I grew up in a poor Jewish family, was raised under Soviet rule in the spirit of internationalism and, thus, it is no wonder that I came to love a Russian boy, Nikolai Pronichev, married him, [and] lived with him in love and happiness. In that way I became Dina Mikhailovna Pronicheva. My [internal] passport identified me as a Russian.
We had two children - a boy and a girl.
Before the war I was an actress at the Kiev Young Viewers' Theater. My husband left for the front on the second day of the war and I was left with our small children and a sick old mother.
Hitler's troops occupied Kiev on September 19, 1941 and from the very first day started to rob and kill Jews.… We were living in terror. When I saw the posters on the city’s streets and read the order: “All the Jews of Kiev must gather at Babi Yar,” about which we had no idea, in my heart I sensed trouble. A tremor shook my entire body. I understood that nothing good was awaiting us at Babi Yar. So I dressed my little ones, the younger one [the girl] who was 3 years old and the older one [the boy] - 5, packed their belongings into a small sack, and took my daughter and son to my Russian mother-in-law. Afterwards, I took my sick mother and, following the order, she and I started out on the way to Babi Yar.
Hundreds, no thousands, of Jews were walking the same way. An old Jew with a long white beard walked next to me. He wore a talis [prayer shawl] and tefillin [phylacteries]. He was murmuring quietly. He prayed the same way as my father did when I was a child. Ahead of me a woman with two children in her arms walked along, while the third child clung to her apron-strings. The sick women and elderly people were taken by carts, on which bags and suitcases were piled up. Small children were crying. The older people who had difficulty walking were sighing in a barely audible way, but they silently continued their path of sorrow….
Russian husbands accompanied their Jewish wives.
Russian wives accompanied their Jewish husbands.
When we neared Babi Yar, shooting and inhuman cries could be heard. I started to grasp what was going on, but said nothing to my mother.
When we entered the gate, we were ordered to hand over [our] documents and valuables, and to take off our clothes. One German approached my mother and tore her gold ring off her finger. Only then did my mother say [to me]: “Dinochka-you are Pronicheva, a Russian. You should save yourself. Run to your little ones. You should live for them.”
But I could not run. All around were standing Fascists armed with submachine-guns, Ukrainian [auxiliary] policemen, and fierce dogs ready to tear a human apart. Furthermore, how could I leave my mother alone? I hugged her, burst into tears, but I could not leave her.
My mother pushed me away from her, crying: “Go quickly!”
I then approached a table where a fat officer was sitting, showed him my passport, and said quietly: "I am a Russian."
He looked closely at my passport, but at that moment a policeman came running up and muttered: "Don't believe her, she is a kike. We know her…"
The German told me to wait and to stand aside.
Each time I saw a new group of men and women, elderly people, and children being forced to take off their clothes. All [of them] were being taken to an open pit where submachine-gunners shot them. Then another group was brought….
With my own eyes I saw this horror. Although I was not standing close to the pit, terrible cries of panic-stricken people and quiet children’s voices calling “Mother, mother…” reached me.
I saw all this, but in no way could I understand how people were killing other human beings only because they were Jews. And then I understood that Fascists are not human beings, but beasts....
Yitzhak Arad (ed.), The Destruction of the Jews of the USSR during the German Occupation (1941-1944) (in Russian), Jerusalem 1991, pp. 107-111
Testimony of Dina Pronicheva about the Annihilation of the Jews in Babi Yar on September 29-30, 1941: Part II
...I saw a young woman, completely naked, nursing her naked baby when a policeman came running up to her, tore the baby from her breast, and threw it into the pit alive. The mother rushed there after her baby. The fascist shot her and she fell down dead…
The German who ordered me to wait brought me to some superior of his, gave him my passport, and said to him: "his woman says she is a Russian, but a policeman knows that she is a kike."
The superior took the passport, examined it for a long time, and then muttered: "Dina is not a Russian name. You are a kike. Take her away!"
The policeman ordered me to strip and pushed me to a precipice, where another group of people was awaiting their fate. But before the shots resounded, apparently out of fear, I fell into the pit. I fell on the [bodies] of those already murdered…. During the first moments I couldn't grasp anything - either where I was or how I got there.
I thought that I had gone mad, but when people started to fall on top of me, I regained consciousness and understood everything. I started to feel my arms, legs, stomach, [and] head to make certain that I had not even been wounded.
I pretended to be dead. Those who had been killed or wounded were lying under me and on top of me - many were still breathing, others were moaning…. Suddenly I heard a child weeping and the cry: “Mummy!” I imagined my little girl crying and I started to cry myself.
The shooting was continuing and people kept falling. I threw bodies off of me, afraid of being buried alive. I did so in a way that would not attract the attention of the policemen.
Suddenly all became quiet. It was getting dark. Germans armed with submachine-guns walked around, finishing off the wounded. I felt that somebody was standing above me, but I did not give any sign that I was alive, even though that was very difficult. Then I felt we were being covered with earth. I closed my eyes so that the soil would not get into them, and when it became dark and silent, literally the silence of death, I opened my eyes and threw the sand off me, making sure that no one was close by, no one was around, no one was watching me. I saw the pit with thousands of dead bodies. I was overcome by terror. In some places the earth was heaving - people half-alive were [still] breathing.
I looked at myself and was terror stricken - the undershirt covering my naked body was soaked with blood. I tried to stand up but was unable to do so. Then I said to myself: “Dina, stand up. Get away. Run from here, your children are waiting for you.” So I stood up and ran, but then I heard a shot and understood that I had been seen. I fell to the ground and remained silent. It was quiet. Still on the ground, I started to move quietly toward the high hill[s] surrounding the pit. Suddenly I felt that something was moving behind me. At first I was afraid and decided to wait for a minute. I turned around quietly and asked: "Who are you?"
I was answered by a thin, scared child’s voice: "Auntie, don't be afraid, it's me. My name is Fima. My last name is Shnaiderman. I am 11 years old. Take me with you. I am very afraid of the dark.
I moved closer to the boy, hugged him tightly, and started to weep silently. The boy said:
"Don't cry, Auntie."
We both started to move silently. We reached the edge of the precipice, rested a little, and then continued to climb further, helping each other. We had reached the top of the pit and were standing, about to proceed in the direction we thought best, when a shot rang out. By instinct we both fell to the ground. We kept silent for several minutes, afraid to utter a single word. When I calmed down, I moved close to Fimochka, took shelter at his side, and asked him quietly: "How do you feel, Fimochka?"
There was no answer. In the darkness I felt his arms and legs. He was not moving. There was no sign of life. I rose a bit and looked into his face. He was lying with closed eyes. I tried to open them until I realized that the boy was dead. Apparently the shot that was heard a moment earlier took his life.
I caressed the boy’s cold face, bidding him farewell, then I stood up and started to run.
Only after making sure I was far away from that terrible place called Babi Yar did I allow myself to walk upright, to a hut that could barely be made out in the darkness….
Yitzhak Arad, ed., The Destruction of the Jews of the USSR during the German Occupation (1941-1944), Jerusalem 1991, pp. 107-111 (in Russian).
From the Memoir of Raya Dashkevich:
…On September 29, 1941 all the Jews of Kiev were ordered to come to the corner of the Melnikov and Degtyaryov Streets and to bring with them their money and valuables. Failure to comply with the order would be punished by shooting. A large column gathered, which included my family the Koguts, including 6 children and 7 grandchildren. I stood at my father’s side and held my three-year old little brother Petenka in my arms. We were shot right at the precipice of Babi Yar. My father fell down and then my older sister Sima. People fell like small stones thrown by some hand. I don't know when I was shot but I regained consciousness at night in the ravine. There were dead bodies all around; streams of blood were flowing on all sides. I was only wounded and started to climb from under the pile of bodies, which surrounded me on all sides. Soon I got out and started to crawl, not knowing where I was going. Several times I lost consciousness, but revived and crawled forward again until I saw lights from some house. After I knocked, an old woman opened the door and I passed out.
Samuil Gil, Their Blood is Speaking Even Today , New York, 1995, pp. 100-101 (in Russian).
From the Memoir of Valentin Bubnov:
…The blowing up of Kreshchatik [the main street of Kiev] served the German occupiers as a pretext to carry out murder operations against the Jewish population of the city of Kiev: five days later, i.e., on September 29, 1941 [sic, the order was posted on September 28], they made clear their response to Kreshchatik….
On that unfortunate day all the Jews from our courtyard who did not want to leave [the city] gathered in the courtyard. My parents were standing, embracing each other and crying. I did not understand why they were shedding tears. I was told that my mother was going away for a short time to Novograd-Volynskiy, to my grandparents. An open suitcase was standing between them; I tried to put my toy gun into it, hoping to go with my mother. But nothing came from this, and I too burst into tears, remaining with my inseparable nurse Marusya, who also was shedding many tears. My parents were among the last to leave the courtyard. I never saw Mama again. Father came back in the evening, looking totally exhausted and old. He did not tell me anything but I instinctively felt that something terribly irreparable had happened. However, I gradually became used to the idea that my mother was in Novograd-Volynskiy, that she would return soon, and that we would be together once more.
On that terrible day people got ready for a long trip. Lacking any information, not knowing about the situation of Jews in Germany itself or in the occupied European countries, people thought they were going to be taken far out of the harm’s way.
On Yom Kippur eve about 100,000 [sic] Jews of Kiev left their homes. Crowds of people with children sleeping in their arms [either walking] or in carts, weeping, supporting the elderly by the arm, in streams slowly and mournfully poured into that river of death, surrounded on all sides by anti-tank barriers, barbed wire, the wall of the Jewish cemetery, and by Germans and local policemen laughing loudly.
Further on, further on all hell broke loose….The doomed ones were forced to take off their clothes and were robbed of their valuables. Their papers were destroyed on the spot and, in groups of 30-40 people, they were pushed onto a narrow ridge above the steep mountain. The children were thrown down alive. Many people lost their mind or had their hair turn grey on the spot. The moans and weeping did not stop for three days. The machine- and submachine-guns were not silent for three days in a row. The bodies were falling to the bottom of the ravine. At the end of the day the bodies were covered by earth. The executioners did not manage to murder all of the people in one day so the [temporary] survivors remained behind barbed wire for the night. They were executed during the following days….
From the Diary of L. Nartova, a teacher from Kiev:
September 26, 1941
….Today there is some special activity on the street. Many people are crowded around the orders that were posted a short time ago. All the people are anxious. I go out to the street and read: “All kikes must come to the cemetery, taking with them all their valuables, fur coats, warm clothes. etc.” What does this mean?
September 28, 1941
My neighbor knocked on my door in the morning and said: “Look at what is going on in the street.” I rushed to the balcony and saw people moving in a continuous line, filling the entire street and the sidewalk. Women, men, young girls, children, elderly people - entire families were going. Many were taking their belongings by cart, but most of them were carrying their belongings on their shoulders. They were walking in silence. It was terrible. It lasted for a long time, for the whole day, and only toward evening did the crowd of people start to thin out. They continued to walk [that way] the next day again and so on for several days…
September 29, 1941
I went out to the balcony. I saw a crowd of Jews, guarded by four policemen, going along the street. They were of different ages, but mostly elderly. They were walking slowly and with such pitiful faces that it was difficult to look at them. All of them looked ill. Three women were carried behind them on wheelbarrows. Their legs were hanging out and striking the pavement. Oh, how terrible it is to live here, how difficult it is to watch this scene. I wanted to run away. I got dressed, and went out to the street just at the time when they were even with our house. They were ill or crippled and policemen were guarding them.
I happened to meet a little girl … who also could not take her eyes off them. She asked me: "Auntie, are they Jews? Where are they being driven? Are they going to be killed?"
Her eyes were opened wide. It was obvious that such a possibility could not enter her head. Into whose head of ours could it? Yesterday I was told by people living in Podol [a largely Jewish Kiev neighborhood] about Jews who gathered for the whole night with their rabbi, how he calmed them and prepared them for [their imminent] death, and how in the morning they went to say farewell to their Russian friends before they were killed….
TsGAOOU, 1-22-347, copy YVA M.37/43