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    Babi Yar: Aerial Photos

    What do the aerial photographs of the Babi Yar ravine show about the traces of the exhumation and burning of the remains in the mass graves?

    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.  

    The facts are:

    The deniers’ conclusion, based on one aerial photograph, is flawed. First, the deniers did 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.

    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]

    Where are the graves?

    Images or maps of Babi Yar drawn before the 1961 disaster show that the ravine was a huge, complex and many-branched geological form. The general area in which the Jews were massacred looks like the underground root structure of a tree seen in cross-section. Where, precisely, the graves were located in the various “roots” near the Jewish cemetery has always been problematic.

    There are several reasons for this.

    First, there were multiple execution sites which were covered with earth from the walls of the ravine, changing the appearance of the area.

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

    Third, the post-war antisemitism of the Soviets and a desire to cover-up the collaboration of the Ukrainians in the massacres in order to maintain the fiction that the Ukrainians always had been loyal Soviet citizens, created a blanket of silence that did not permit any further examination of the area. It was not until 1976 that a memorial even was allowed to be erected and it only commemorated “all Soviet citizens” murdered there. 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]

    Fourth, the landslide and flood of 1961 and the ravines later reconstruction obliterated any possibility that any further physical evidence would ever be found.

    Nevertheless, many have attempted to reconstruct where the graves might have been. Several maps were prepared over the years by various authorities (including one assembled based on the testimony of survivors),[3] that attempted to place the exact sites of the mass graves. Although these maps differ as to the exact locations of the mass graves, careful comparison of the area Ball selected to analyze on the Russian aerial image with other maps drawn more recently indicate that Ball’s small sample of the vast, complexly branching ravine does not match the areas on any of the three maps indicating where the bodies might be.[4] In fact, given the variations in the maps of where the mass graves might be and the dramatic change in the shape of the ravine today after the disaster when compared to the Russian aerial photograph, Ball’s whole exercise is tenuous at best.

    Further, the resolution of the aerial image, even the enlargement, does not permit anyone to state “with certainty” that the ravine had not been disturbed as much of the actual ravine lies in deep shadow. As it stands, the image proves no evidence for or against the use of the ravine as an execution site and the later exhumation and burning of bodies.


    Ball’s conclusions that the aerial image shows no disturbance in the Babi Yar ravine that is consistent with exhumations and mass cremation of the bodies is invalid. He did not analyze that area of the image where the mass graves are most probably located. Further, Ball cannot maintain “with certainty” that the ravine is not disturbed based on eyeball analysis of the image or its enlargement.


    [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] See “Babi Yar memorials” at 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.