Today in History: Sept. 30

The massacre of Kievan Jews at Babi Yar, near Kiev, Ukraine, concluded on this date 75 years ago. When the slaughter was over, 33,771 men, women, and children, civilians all, had been machine-gunned by the Nazi Sonderkommando soldiers in only two days. It set a record for speed combined with bloodthirstiness: other massacres resulted in more dead, but few took so little time to accomplish.

The ravine, a beautiful piece of Ukrainian countryside inside the city of Kiev, was a popular killing spot for the Nazis and collaborators. Later massacres of Soviet prisoners of war, and then of those accused of being communist, and then of the Roma population, followed; historians estimate that as many as 100,000 people were slaughtered on this one piece of otherwise quiet land during World War II.

It was not quiet 75 years ago today. The order had gone out to the Jewish population of Kiev on September 26 that each Jew was to report, with papers, to a specific street corner on September 29 at 8:00 a.m. and that any who failed to show up would be shot and killed on sight. The Jews in Kiev complied because the Holocaust was not yet a rumor (mass slaughters were starting to happen, but not in a seemingly organized fashion) and resettlement away from the war zone was what the Nazi government always promised. The Nazis always came through, just in the worst way possible.

Buses and trucks ferried the civilians away from the city center. The Nazis set up a series of stations for the Jews to walk through and drop off their documents, then their valuables, then their clothes. By the time any of them heard the machine gun fire off in the distance, they had already passed through several dozen yards of Nazi soldiers and officials and were naked. Some who tried to escape were beaten to death in front of everyone. The victims, men and women, elderly and children, were lined up naked in a row the length of a couple football fields and the Nazis shot them with machine guns from behind. The bodies slid down into the ditch. Another line would be assembled. They would be shot. Two days of this. Almost 34,000.

Kievans heard nothing. The hillside is a little distance from the city center. Every so often over the next few years, usually after another massacre, the Nazis would turn the ravine into several giant funeral pyres to clear the space for more dead.

There are monuments and memorials there now. A famous one, which I photographed (seen at top) in 1989, memorializes the dead “citizens of Kiev and prisoners of war” killed there in the same way (machine gun dozens of people at once from behind, watch the bodies slide down the hill) by the Nazis. It took the dissolution of the Soviet Union for a memorial that honors the dead Jewish population, the 33,771 killed in two days, to be erected. It usually gets defaced.

Trees line the hillside now. They were not there 75 years ago. They are beautiful.

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Hoover Dam was dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt on this date in 1935. Work had started in 1931, during the previous administration, but that president’s name was so unfondly remembered that even though the structure bears his name now, former president Herbert Hoover was neither invited to the dedication nor was his name uttered by any speaker that day. (Work on the dam structure itself was scheduled to start in October 1931, after the summer months had passed, but President Hoover ordered that the start date be moved up, to begin in the spring. Sixteen workers and other people who had moved into the area to help work died that summer of heat prostration.)

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Roberto Clemente hit a double off Jon Matlack of the New York Mets on this date in 1972. It was the 3000th hit of his career, the final hit and the final regular season at-bat of his career.

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The first episode of The Jerry Springer Show, the syndicated tabloid television show, was aired 25 years ago today. The show continues and 3891 episodes have followed.

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James Dean died on this date in 1955. He was 24. George Kirby died on this date in 1995.

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David Oistrakh was born on this date in 1908. Oistrakh performing “Clair de Lune” on violin:

Buddy Rich was born on this date in 1917. Truman Capote was born on this date in 1924. The late Elie Wiesel was born on this date in 1928. (He died in July.) Frankie Lymon was born 74 years ago today. Marc Bolan was born 69 years ago today.

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W. S. Merwin is 89 today. Angie Dickinson is 85 today. Len Cariou is 77. Marilyn McCoo is 73. Rula Lenska is 69. Victoria Tennant is 66. Barry Williams is 62. Fran Drescher is 59. Marty Stuart is 58. Eric Stoltz is 55. Trey Anastasio is 52. Monica Bellucci is 52. Kathleen Madigan is 51. Jenna Elfman is 45. Marion Cotillard is 41. Martina Hingis is 36. T-Pain is 31.

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