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"Before the war there were 80,000 Jews in Kiev..."

Before the war there were 80,000 Jews in Kiev, La Voix Juive, newspaper article 1943
La Voix Juive no. 7, Tunis, December 3, 1943

As Operation Torch began the November 1942 Allied invasion of Morocco and Algeria, German troops moved into Tunisia. From November 1942 through May 1943, the Jews of Tunisia came under Axis rule. Because of the precarious situation on the front for both the Allies and the Axis forces, the German rulers proceeded cautiously at first. Nevertheless, on November 23, they arrested the president of the Jewish community, Moïse Borgel and his predecessor, Felix Samama. After protests from French colonial officials, joined byflocal Muslim notables, the prisoners were freed.1

It was immediately clear to German officials that the "final solution"—already underway in Europe—should apply to Tunisian Jews, as well. Though local politics, among other factors, complicated efforts to impose anti-Jewish measures, the Germans nevertheless created a Tunisian version of the Judenrat in early December 1942.2 Authorities subsequently organized a labor camp system, in which some 5,000 Jews were imprisoned and forced to work under terrible conditions.3 In early May 1943, the Allies liberated Tunisia, and the Jews could finally breathe a momentous sigh of relief. 

At the end of 1943, a Zionist newspaper in TunisLa Voix Juive ("The Jewish Voice"), published a short report quoting a war correspondent for another journal. The journalist had learned first hand of the horrible massacre in Kiev, recently liberated by the Soviet Red Army. The article voices the shock at the magnitude of the Nazi crime (in general, and also in particular, at Babi Yar), and also testifies to Jewish solidarity that crossed the Mediterranean sea. The author of the brief report also called for a merciless destruction of everything German.4

Vichy France's top official in Tunisia, Resident General of Tunisia, Jean-Pierre Estéva, voiced his opposition to the arrival of German troops in Tunisia. Authorities in France soon persuaded him to change his position and cooperate with the German occupation.

The geopolitical location of Tunisia, however, along with the threat of the Allied forces, the reluctance of the Italians to side with anti-Jewish measures, and the refusal, by and large, of the local Muslim population to participate in the persecution of the Jews, combined to make German plans impossible. Especially the unexpected but steadfast Italian opposition derailed plans for comprehensive and systematic antisemitic legislation. 

For more on the history of the Jews and the Holocaust in North Africa, see Michel Abitbol, The Jews of North Africa During the Second World War (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989). See also the related items in Experiencing History, "Song of the Oppressed" and Gaston Guez, "Our Martyrs."

For an overview of the war and the Holocaust in Ukraine, including the Babi Yar massacre, see Karel Berkhoff, Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine Under Nazi Rule (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004); and Ray Brandon and Wendy Lower, eds., The Shoah in Ukraine: History, Testimony, Memorialization (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008).

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Before the war there were 80,000 Jews in Kiev…

Today there is not even one!

We have already briefly reported about the conditions in which the Germans evacuated the capital of Ukraine. We particularly shed light on the fate reserved for the Jews of this city.

We did not realize then that this tragedy was so great. This mind-blowing report reveals that we underwent a double tragedy related to us by non-Jewish survivors of the monstrous carnage.

The report was written by M. Paul Winterton, a war correspondent for the News Chronicle, who entered Kiev with the first forces of the Red army.

Upon their arrival, in September 1941, the Germans informed all the Jews of the city that they must appear in less than 24 hours in the village of Babyard [Babi Yar], close to Kiev, with all their possessions. The Russian Jews were horrified, and in a state of great fear of [the possibility of] the massive deportation to foreign land. These fears were unfortunately for nothing, because soon after they were stripped of jewelry and valuables they had brought, they were all machine gunned.

Afterwards, Russian prisoners dug large ditches, in which the Germans buried these unfortunate Jews, many of whom were not yet dead. The air was torn by shrieks and moans of the dying throughout the night.

That is not all! In recent months, pushed behind the Dnieper by the great [Soviet] offensive, the Germans sought to hide their crimes. They built crematoriums and forced the Russian prisoners to dig up the Jewish corpses and burn [them]. It was a terrible scene, during which several prisoners lost their minds, as the burning [of corpses] lasted for 45 days.

Mr. Winterton points out:

"These horrible secrets, which three Russian soldiers shared with me, at first seemed to be exaggerations. But later I realized that they were absolutely true. I myself saw in the ravine of Babyard, to which they led me, countless human fingers, skulls, pieces of brain, dismembered legs, tufts of female hair, which the Germans, in their hurry, did not manage to burn."

And the report ends with this terrifying conclusion:

"Before the war there were 80,000 Jews in Kiev. Today there is not even one!"

Compared to Kharkov, where 70,000 of our people were massacred, Kiev suffered from even more monstrous horrors.

After the Jews of Poland, the Russian Jews took the heaviest toll in this war.

There, gentlemen, here are the acts committed by men made of flesh and blood, by conscious men. Here are crimes on a grand scale, committed serenely, which defies all understanding.

There, the Germans! These are the same Germans who shouted through Goering's mouth and did everything to humanize the war. These are the same Germans who killed, looted, stole, massacred and bombarded open cities, strafed civilian populations, and are today hiding behind the strategy of despair. These same Germans are now crying and grumbling under the vengeful bombings that the Allies intensified in order to destroy this people and this cursed land.

No quarter to those bandits. No feelings! No mercy! The earth is still swarming with the breath of the dead! Europe is but a vast cemetery full of rotting corpses.

No punishment in the world is adequate for those barbarians without faith, law, heart, and soul! Not even billions of tonnes of bombs!

Continue, friends! Bomb! Bomb those murderers again! Strike them harder! Kill the gangrene! Liberate the world from this crime! The dead will never forgive!

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
La Voix Juive no. 7, Tunis, December 3, 1943
Page(s) 1
La Voix Juive
Tunis, Tunisia
Reference Location
Kiev, Soviet Union (historical)
Kyiv, Ukraine
Document Type Newspaper Article
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