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A Massacre in a Park, a Miracle Survivor, and a Stash of Hidden Letters

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KYIV—Barely anyone made it out of Babyn Yar alive. Out of the estimated 33, 771 local Jews taken to this park to be shot and discarded, maybe a handful survived. One of those was Nadia Elgart, and her survival was considered so remarkable that it was recorded on her gravestone in 1978: “Nadia Elgart, the woman who escaped from Babyn Yar on September 29, 1941 with her 6-year-old son.”

Babyn Yar is the Russian name imposed during Soviet times on the local park which the Nazis, who invaded Ukraine in June, 1941, turned into the site of an urban massacre.

It is estimated that some 15,000 additional Jews were captured and killed in other places around Ukraine’s capital city during those fateful September days. But by the end of the war, the Nazis had murdered about 100,000 people in Babyn Yar alone. Father Patrick Desbois, an expert on the genocide that occurred outside of concentration camps, called the massacre “Holocaust by bullets,” the opening volley of the German plan to exterminate Jews.

Today, as until the spring and early summer of 1941, grandparents amble about pushing strollers. Teenagers make out on cement benches. Youngsters slurp ice-cream cones. Some adventurers like to climb up and down the jagged, unkempt gullies which give the park an air of wilderness. Stately residential high-rises surround the green space.

Nadia lost 26 members of her immediate family in that park, including her parents, her sisters and her nieces and nephews. After their escape, her son Ilyusha was sent to an orphanage, and Nadia joined the Ukrainian partisans and fought the Nazis. She reunited with her son when he was 10, the family returned to Kyiv, and no one spoke of the war.

In 2017, Marina Vorobeichik, Nadia’s 48-year-old granddaughter, stumbled upon a stash of letters written by her grandmother, who passed away when Marina was only five years old. The Daily Beast is publishing excerpts from the letters for the first time in English here.

After the liberation of Kyiv, Nadia wrote to local authorities to denounce a maintenance man........

© The Daily Beast

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