An Exclusive Interview With A Survivor From The September 1941 Babi Yar Massacre



November 6, 2013 – San Francisco, CA – - The Holocaust began in the summer of 1941 when Hitler’s Nazi armies invaded the Soviet Union. Hitler’s mobile killing units of the “SS Einsatzgruppen” (Operational Units) “SS Einsatzkommandos” (Operational Commandos) executed about 800,000 Soviet Jews between the beginning of July and the end of December 1941. The killings continued in 1942, 1943 and 1944. One of the most notorious atrocities occurred in Babi Yar, ten days after the German army occupied Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. In just two days, on September 29 and 30, 1941, that is, the SS killed 33,771 Jews. This figure was mentioned in an internal and secret SS report dated October 2, 1941.

Very few Jews survived the Babi Yar massacre. Three of those survivors are still alive today and I interviewed one of them. His name is Vasily Mikhailovsky. He still lives in Kiev where he was born in 1937.

“My mother died when I was born,” he says. “My father was a soldier in the Soviet ‘Red Army.’ He was captured but he escaped from captivity and came back to Kiev. The woman who used to clean the streets near our apartment told the Nazis that my father was a Jew and that he was living in that apartment. One day before the Babi Yar massacre, my father was taken away by the Nazis and killed.”

“The same woman who used to clean the streets told my nanny on September 28: ‘You must bring this small Jewish boy to Babi Yar tomorrow morning.’ My nanny was a Ukrainian woman named Anastasia Fomina. She could not read well, but she was a very good nanny.”

“Before the Nazis occupied Kiev, my father sent us away from the city – my brother Pavel and me, my grandmother as well as Anastasia. But for some reason the train was stopped nearby Kiev. My nanny and I went back to Kiev to take some clothes. When we returned to that train we noticed that it had already left. My brother and grandmother had left had Kiev just in time, so they survived.”

“It was nice weather that day…”

“It wasn’t cold on the day when we went to Babi Yar – on September 29, that is. In fact it was nice weather and the sun was shining. Anastasia took some of my clothes. We were not precisely told where to go, but we saw crowds of people moving in a certain direction. All of them were Jews and they came from different regions. It was a steady stream of people, but nobody seemed to know exactly where they were heading for. It was just like a demonstation in the (Communist) Soviet Union – people just take to the streets and walk in one direction, so there was nothing strange about it.”

“There were Nazi posters ordering all the Jews from Kiev to go to the corner of Melnika and Docterivsky Street, near the Jewish cemetery,” Vasily Mikhailovsky says. This is in the northern suburbs of Kiev; there was also a railway station nearby and the rumor was spread that the Jews would be “relocated” or “evacuated.” Not far away was a ravine known as “Baby Yar.”

Vasily Mikhailovsky: “‘All Jews must take warm clothes, identity papers money and valuables with them,’ the posters said. There were a lot of people, grandparents, small children, babies, fathers, mothers and so on, and they were all moving in one direction. There were also horses carrying bundles of clothes and packages. People were in a nice mood, actually. It was fine weather. When I was tired, my nanny put me on one of those horses. It was carrying toys for children. I even took one of those toys, but it belonged to someone else. Anastasia said: ‘No, you can’t take it.’ The Nazis had demanded that the Jews had to take their valuables with them.”

“Some bombs had exploded in Kiev a few days earlier. Somebody asserted that the Jews were guilty. The Nazis said: ‘We’ll take all the Jews out of Kiev, and maybe we’ll bring them to Palestine.’ (A British mandate at the time.) Therefore, many people were optimistic until the moment when we came to the place where the Nazis and Ukrainian policemen were standing in two lines. Angry German sheperd dogs were barking. So when we came between these two lines, the Germans were just laughing and making bad jokes. Some dogs attacked people, biting them. Ukrainian policemen were also very unfriendly. Anastasia was bitten by a German sheperd dog who even took away one of our packets. I began to cry.”

“My Ukrainian nanny saved my life…”

“There were three locations. The first location or place was where they take all the identify papers, valuables and money away. The second location is where all the clothes are taken away from the Jews. The third location is the place where the executions take place. Before you enter this area, there was a kind of wall, not a real one, though. A narrow road, a narrow gate had been created. There was no way out. You could move in one direction only. Crowds of people were behind us, and these people weren’t able to move quickly. Women and children began to cry. And there were a lot of children. They were pushing me and my nanny towards the narrow gate. I hit my head against the barrel of an antitank gun. My head was bleeding now. Right before this moment my nanny understood somehow, she felt at least, that the Nazis were going to kill us, that we were going to die. When I fell down she was already very nervous and tense, but she suddenly produced her Ukrainian passport and showed it to a soldier.”

“At that time my name wasn’t Vasily Mikhailovsky. My real name was Cesar Kats, a Jewish name. The name of my mother was Cesar, also a very Jewish name.”

“Someting touched that soldier’s heart when he saw us and Anastasia’s Ukrainian passport. He allowed me and Anastasia to leave this place of doom. Maybe, he felt remorse in his heart. I was small and I was crying. My head was bleeding, too. Anastasia put a hat on my head so that my Jewish hair would not be visible. Anastasia looked very Ukrainian herself. So when she showed her Ukrainian passport to that soldier this man realized perhabs that a mistake had been made. Maybe he assumed that I was Anastasia’s son. It was indeed a miracle. I don’t know if he was a German SS soldier, but he was among the soldiers who were lined up on both sides.”

“So we immediately left this place. We could not go back to our apartment because there was still that lady who cleaned the streets and who had betrayed us to the Germans. She would do so again, if we would show up in our apartment. So for almost two weeks we were walking and hiding in several places in Kiev, asking for food from different people. Then someboy told my nanny that there was a home for homeless children and orphans. She brought me to that orphanage. She changed my name to Vasily Fomin – her own surname was Fomina – and she did not mention my Jewish surname Kats.” (Fomina is a female surname, Fomin is a male surname.)

Until Kiev was liberated from Nazi rule in November 1943, “Vasily Fomin” was hidden in two different orphanages. “One year after the liberation of Kiev a Soviet family came and adopted me as their own son. This was the Mikhailovsky family. This is how I got the surname Mikhailovsky.”

Today, Vasily Mikhailovsky is a grateful man. He knows that his Ukrainian nanny saved his live. He was also saved by Nina Gudkova who ran a shelter for homeless children in Kiev during the occupation. He and his wife still live in Kiev where they feel quite safe – fortunately. But he also realizes that anti-Semitism can easily be revived by extremists living today – by radical Muslims or neo-Nazis, for example. “Of course, if normal people, if society will be against it, struggle against it, I think it will not break through. But people should take a very active stand against it. There are some cases of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, but other people and other organizations raise their voice against these manifestations and that’s just fine.”

Emerson Vermaat is an investigative reporter in the Netherlands. Website:


Die Ereignismeldungen UdSSR 1941. Dokumente der Einsatzgruppen in der Sowjetunion (Darmstadt, Germany: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2011), p. 615. (“Das Sonderkommando 4a hat in Zusammenarbeit mit Gruppenstab und zwei Kommandos des Polizei-Regiments Süd am 29. und 30.9.41 in Kiev 33771 Juden exekutiert.”)

Lily Hyde, Ukraine: Holocaust Witnesses Record Their Stories, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, August 10, 1998,


©2013 Emerson Vermaat. All rights reserved.