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Survivor of Nazi Massacre Recounts Horror of Babi Yar

August 1, 1991 GMT

KIEV, U.S.S.R. (AP) _ Half a century ago, Raisa Dashkevich and 11 members of her family were herded by Nazi soldiers to the edge of a ravine called Babi Yar. Machine guns fired, and they fell.

In two days of slaughter, the Nazis executed 33,741 Jews at Babi Yar. But not Raisa Dashkevich.

She awoke in a pile of bodies, crawled out of the mass grave and survived the Holocaust.

Today, Mrs. Dashkevich will be at Babi Yar again, with President Bush and members of the Ukrainian family that hid her during the rest of World War II.

Babi Yar has long been a symbol not only of Nazi genocide, but of Soviet policies toward Jews. For two decades after the war, the site was unmarked, a calculated neglect that Yevgeny Yevtushenko denounced in a famous 1961 poem, ″Babi Yar.″

Yevtushenko and other intellectuals shamed the Soviet government into erecting a monument in 1966, but it bore no mention of Jews. It said only that ″people of Kiev″ had been executed.

This fall, the Ukrainian government plans to erect a 15-foot menorah at Babi Yar and Israeli leaders have been invited to a 50th anniversary commemoration on Sept. 29-30.

The Nazis lost count of their victims after the first two days. They kept killing Jews - and later Gypsies, Soviet POWs and others - at Babi Yar until the Red Army recaptured the Ukraine in November 1943.

″No one knows how many people died there,″ said Sergei Komisarenko, a Ukrainian deputy prime minister. ″Some say 100,000, some say 200,000, but it may have been more.″

Mrs. Dashkevich hid her Jewish identity even after the war. Friends knew the truth, but not even her second husband, David Zilman, realized she was a Babi Yar survivor.

″For 42 years, I didn’t tell anyone I was a Jew. My passport said I was Ukrainian,″ she said through tears.

Mrs. Dashkevich, who now wears a Star of David around her neck, is healthy and vigorous at age 75.

She and Zilman, her husband of eight years, say President Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms have allowed them to proclaim their Jewish identity and talk about Babi Yar without fear.

Still, she broke down repeatedly as she recalled the day her 3-year-old son and the rest of her family perished. Her first husband had been drafted by the Soviet army and later died in the war.


She was 25, living with elderly parents, three sisters, and their children - a household of 12.

After the Nazis occupied Kiev in September 1941, they ordered all Jews to assemble near a railroad junction with their valuables and warm clothes.

″We thought they were going to take us somewhere, like a ghetto,″ she said.

″From all the streets and alleys, people were coming in streams. Then we all flowed into one central street, a river of people that ended up at this Babi Yar,″ she recalled.

″We passed a barrier and we were being beaten and pushed by Germans, we weren’t going on our own. Dogs appeared, and Ukrainian police,″ she said.

By the time they heard the machine guns, there was no turning back.

″The dogs were barking, people screamed and you could hear everything. ... ″ she said. ″People were going crazy, their hair was standing on end, and these cries and the children - it was a nightmare that you can never convey in words.″

At the edge of the ravine, the Germans ordered the Jews to undress. Mrs. Dashkevich cradled her son in her arms. When the shooting began, she fell and lost consciousness but was not wounded.

″At night I came to ... shivering with cold,″ she said. ″My child was very cold against me, and I knew he was already dead.″

Nazis roamed with flashlights, shooting anything that moved. Somehow, she pulled herself through bushes to the top of the ravine. ″God helped me, no one else,″ she said.

Bloody and wearing only a slip, she wandered to a house. An old woman opened the door. ″She looked at me and I saw the horror in her eyes, and I passed out again,″ Mrs. Dashkevich said.

The woman tended her for three days, then sent her away for fear of Nazi reprisals. She sought refuge with a Ukrainian priest, Ivan Bondarenko, who had hidden Jews from pogroms before the 1917 revolution.

He took her in, gave her a false baptismal certificate and sheltered her throughout the war.

Bondarenko has since died, but his son, Ivan, and a granddaughter will join Raisa Dashkevich at Bush’s wreath-laying, together with a handful of the fewer than 20 known survivors and their rescuers.