• Search

    Babi Yar: Aerial Photos

    This post is also available in: Français Español العربية فارسی Русский Türkçe

    What do the aerial photographs of the Babi Yar ravine show regarding the exhumation of human remains and the burning of these remains?

    Holocaust deniers claim:

    An aerial photograph of Babi Yar taken by the Soviets on September 23, 1943—about one week after the end of the “alleged” mass cremations—shows no evidence of any disturbance in the area.  

    For example, John Clive Ball, a Canadian Holocaust denier, claims that the photograph shows “no evidence that 325 people were working in the ravine finishing the cremation of 33,000 bodies just one week earlier, for many truckloads of fuel would have had to be brought in, and there are no scars from vehicle traffic either on the grass and shrubs at the side of the Jewish cemetery or in the ravine where the bodies were supposedly burned.”[1]

    The facts are:

    The deniers’ conclusion, based on one aerial photograph, is flawed. First, the deniers do not analyze the area where the mass graves are probably located. Second, without the image being subjected to analysis with sophisticated equipment, the photograph does not prove, one way or the other, the existence of the exhumation and burning operations in Babi Yar.

    Geography and photography of the site:

    Images or maps of Babi Yar drawn before the 1961 Kurenivka mudslide, which drastically altered the ravine’s landscape, show that it was a huge, complex, and many-branched ravine. Due to the complexity of the ravine and the mudslide that changed it, finding the precise location of the graves has always been problematic.

    Aside from the mudslide that altered Babi Yar, there are several other geographic and forensic reasons why the exact location is difficult to determine.

    First, there were multiple execution sites. The Nazis made sure these sites were covered with earth from the ravine’s slopes, changing the appearance of the area.

    Second, in 1943 the Germans dug up the mass graves and cremated the bodies, reducing thousands of bodies to ash and chips of bone, which they reburied. Nevertheless, the Soviets located and dug up several of the mass graves in 1944 and forensically examined their contents. Unfortunately, they did not document the precise location of the mass graves.

    Third, the post-war antisemitism of the Soviets, and a desire to cover-up the Ukrainian collaboration in the massacres created a forensic silence that did not permit any further examination of the area. It was not until 1976 that Soviet’s even allowed a memorial at Babi Yar. The memorial, however, said nothing about the fact that 33,000+ Jews were murdered there by the Nazis. Rather, the memorial only commemorated “all Soviet citizens” murdered at Babi Yar. Only after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, was a memorial erected that specifically recognized the murder of the Jews of Kiev.[2]

    Nevertheless, many academics have attempted to reconstruct where the graves might have been located. Various authorities have created maps outlining the potential grave sites (including one assembled based on the testimony of survivors).[3] While academics still differ as to the exact locations of the mass graves, the three most complete reconstructions prove that Holocaust deniers focus their attention on only a small subsection of the Babi Yar ravine, a subsection where the bodies were less likely to be buried. For instance, Holocaust denier John Clive Ball cites as evidence only a small photographic sample of the vast ravine; his photographic sample does not match most recent academic maps based on testimony and evidence. In other words, recent studies have shown that Ball’s aerial photographs are too limited to accurately account for the most likely places where the mass graves would probably have been located.[4] Based on the evidence, Ball’s photographic analysis is extremely suspect. Aside from map reconstruction, the actual resolution of the aerial image taken by the Soviets does not permit anyone to state “with certainty” that the ravine had not been disturbed. Even when enlarged, much of the ravine lies in deep shadow on the photographic image. As it stands, the image proves no evidence for or against the use of the ravine as an execution site.


    The conclusions of Holocaust deniers regarding Babi Yar—that aerial photography shows no disturbances consistent with mass execution—is misleading. Denier’s like Ball have not actually analyzed the area of the ravine where the mass graves were most likely located, according to recent academic reconstructions of the ravine. Further, due to the low quality of the aerial photograph, even when enlarged, Ball cannot maintain “with certainty” that the ravine was not disturbed.


    [1] John Clive Ball, “Air Photo Evidence” at http://archive.org/details/Air_Photo_Evidence (“Chapter 10: Babi Yar mass Executions-1943”) (select PDF).

    [2] The Soviets hid Ukrainian collaboration in order to portray the Ukrainians as loyal Soviet citizens. To see pictures of “Babi Yar memorials”, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babi_Yar_memorials.

    [3] All three maps and the aerial image can be seen at “That’s why it is denial, not revisionism: Part V: Deniers and Babiy Yar massacre (3) at http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2006/08/thats-why-it-is-denial-not-revisionism.html.

    [4] That’s why it is denial, not revisionism: Part V: Deniers and Babiy Yar massacre (3) at http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2006/08/thats-why-it-is-denial-not-revisionism.html.