Clutching her two-week-old son in her bare arms, a young mother stared down into a ravine where a mass of naked corpses lay tangled together.
She stood among countless other Jewish women and children stretched along the edge of the gorge as far as the eye could see.
All had been forced to strip before being marched to this godforsaken place and they knew that in a few moments they would form part of the grotesque human collage below.
Recalling the scene years later, at his trial, one SS commander spoke of the ‘indescribable wailing’ echoing across the valley.
Between September 29 and 30, 1941, an estimated 33,771 Jews — almost all women, children, or elderly people — were herded to the canyon, 150 metres long, in the Ukrainian city of Kiev, where they were summarily slaughtered, then covered with soil and rubble
As a team of Nazi assassins moved along the line with their fast-action pistols, the mother was despatched with a single bullet to the back of her head.
We will never know whether her baby was murdered in the same way because, to save ammunition, the soldiers sometimes beat small children to death or left them to be crushed under the weight of fallen bodies.
What we do know, thanks to a meticulous investigation involving a former Scotland Yard war-crimes expert, is that this newborn innocent was the youngest victim of the Babyn Yar Massacre.
This month marks the 79th anniversary of that act of evil, one of World War II’s worst, yet shamefully forgotten, atrocities.
Between September 29 and 30, 1941, an estimated 33,771 Jews — almost all women, children, or elderly people — were herded to the canyon, 150 metres long, in the Ukrainian city of Kiev, where they were summarily slaughtered, then covered with soil and rubble. The wounded were buried alive.
Over the years, fragments of the story of this abomination have emerged. But until now they have never been fully pieced together.
A day later, Russian PoWs cover the bodies. Some historians believe it signalled the true start of the Final Solution, the plan devised by Heinrich Himmler and authorised by Hitler to exterminate the entire Jewish race
This major new investigation, details of which were revealed to me this week, has recreated events in graphic detail.
The mass execution was choreographed with chilling insouciance by SS commander Paul Blobel, who carried out his orders — to exterminate every Jew in the Nazi-occupied parts of the Soviet Union — with ill-disguised pleasure.
Driving past the scene with a superior officer a few weeks afterwards, he gestured towards the clumps of earth covering the bodies and nonchalantly remarked: ‘Here lie my 30,000 Jews.’
Although this monstrous man (who was eventually convicted at Nuremberg and hanged for crimes against humanity) had overseen massacres of lesser magnitude before, the scale of Babyn Yar was of a different order.
Some historians believe it signalled the true start of the Final Solution, the plan devised by Heinrich Himmler and authorised by Hitler to exterminate the entire Jewish race.
Before that, the Nazis had executed able-bodied Jewish men but largely spared their womenfolk and children. What happened at Babyn Yar sent out the message that no one was to be spared.
When Hitler heard how easy it had been to murder so many Jews without the outside world hearing of it, he was encouraged to accelerate the extermination plan.
As of September 1941, Babyn Yar was the largest Nazi mass-killing on the Eastern Front — but the very next month it was surpassed by the shooting and burning of 50,000 more Jews in the Black Sea port of Odessa.
Even today, many people remain unaware that the Holocaust began not in death camps such as Auschwitz but in a Ukrainian ravine, and that the Nazis first used machine-guns, not gas chambers, to exterminate Jews.
For in 1943, when the Germans were in retreat from Russia and their high command saw defeat was inevitable, they ordered Blobel to destroy evidence of the massacre by exhuming all the bodies and burning them on giant pyres.
As tens of thousands more had by then been murdered in the same place — not only Jews but Roma gipsies, Soviet prisoners of war and Ukrainian nationals — this task took a month to complete.
It was carried out by prisoners from forced labour camps — many of them Jews — who were themselves executed afterwards to preserve the secrecy of the operation.
To dispose of the bodies quickly, Blobel devised a method of piling them on iron frames in layers, interspersed with firewood.
After the war, Stalin and his Communist successors were reluctant to remember the annihilation of Jews during the war, preferring to glorify the heroic struggle of the Russian people. So they perpetuated the cover-up.
Pure evil: A mother, cradling her child, is shot. Even today, many people remain unaware that the Holocaust began not in death camps such as Auschwitz but in a Ukrainian ravine, and that the Nazis first used machine-guns, not gas chambers, to exterminate Jews
The ravine was filled in and landscaped to create a park where Kiev residents now play sports and have picnics, the younger ones quite unaware that beneath them lies one of the world’s biggest makeshift graveyards.
While some commemorative monuments have belatedly been sited at Babyn Yar since Ukraine gained its independence, none conveys the enormity of the massacre or its historical significance — and none is substantial enough to honour the victims’ memory.
This new project, funded by wealthy benefactors under the auspices of the Babyn Yar Memorial Center, will give the genocidal atrocity due prominence.
It draws heavily on the expertise of Cambridge-educated war-crimes sleuth Dr Martin Dean, a former consultant to the Metropolitan Police, who is helping to piece together the full story.
He has discovered details such as the route the victims took to Babyn Yar and the precise location of many shootings.
After almost 80 years, the investigation will also provide thousands of families with the missing details of how their relatives died.
Already the identities of some 18,000 Jews murdered over those two September days have been confirmed. Of these, the fate of 907 had previously been unknown.
But the team have uncovered more than just names. Much new biographical material has been found: the victims’ ancestry; where they lived and worked; how they struggled to survive after the Nazis stormed into Kiev.
This wealth of new material will be showcased in a museum