Bill Lawrence's 1972 Account of Babyn Yar

The full post can be read here.

From Six Presidents, Too Many Wars (pp. 92-95):

Our guide on this tour was Pavel F. Aloshin, chief architect of Kiev and the man charged with rebuilding those parts of the city that had been destroyed in the 1941 fighting and to a lesser extent in the surprisingly swift recapture of this Ukrainian capital on November 6, 1943.
Aloshin, who said he had first heard the story of Babi Yar from a boastful German architect, told us how on September 28, 1941nine days after the German Army took Kievall Jews in the city had been told to report to the Lukyanovka district.
The Jews, who confidently expected evacuation but not death, were told to bring with them their most valued possessions they could carry. These Kiev Jews obviously disbelieved reports they had heard of German atrocities, and they came to the Babi Yar area bearing their valuables. They expected evacuation, but instead were ordered into the ravine, where they were directed to give up their valuables and also to remove parts of their clothing. Then, according to the story told Aloshin and now repeated to us, the helpless Jews were directed in groups to mount a platform where machine guns were fired at them. Their bodies, he said, were tossed into the ravine and buried there, including some who had been wounded but not killed.
There were other correspondents besides me who were skeptical and we asked the Soviet authorities if there were any witnesses still in Kiev who might provide testimony about some of the crimes alleged against the Germans.
On the following day, we were escorted back to Babi Yar, accompanied by Mr. Aloshin and Mikola Bojan . . . There we heard stories about the destruction just recently of the disinterred bodies of the Jews and of their possessions, stories related by three former POWs who said they had taken part in these events. The witnesses were Efim Vilkis, Laonid Ostrovsky, and Vladimir Davidoff.

Vilkis, an Odessa-born Jew who had worked as a freight loader in Kiev, was the principal witness, but Ostrovsky and Davidoff interjected remarks from time to time that confirmed or added to the account that Vilkis gave to the foreign correspondents.

Vilkis said that he has been a prisoner of war in a German concentration camp just across the road from Babi Yar. On August 14, 1943, he said, all prisoners in his camp were lined up and 100 of them were selected by the German authorities for an undisclosed task. Many of them feared they were about to be killed when the Germans herded them across the road and into the ravine of Babi Yar. The POWs, he said, were told to strip themselves to the waist, to remove their shoes and hats, and then were shackled together with leg chains. All three men showed wounds on their legs they told us had come from the shackles placed there by the Germans.

Vilkis said they worked at digging in the ravine under the command of SS troops headed by a major general whose name he did not know. The initial digging of several days uncovered nothing, but they were directed to dig in another place by a German officer whom Vilkis said claimed to have participated in the original shooting of the Jews. Now they began to uncover bodies.

As the work of disinterring the Jews continued, Vilkis said, other prisoners were sent to an old pre-war Jewish cemetery nearby and told to return with stone grave markers. These markers, he said, were used to form crude stoves. According to Vilkis, the prisoners then carried the bodies of the Jewish men, women, and children they had dug up from the ravine and placed them on the marble foundations. More than 100 bodies comprised each layer, then there was a layer of wood, and another layer of bodies.

When the first stove was filled, Vilkis said, gasoline was poured on the firewood and the bodies, but the fire that was started did not burn well because of the lack of draft.

Vilkis told how the Germans then sent another group of prisoners back to the Jewish cemetery, this time to tear down and bring back the iron railings around the graves. Back in Babi Yar, these railings were used as grates on which the bodies were placed, thus providing the draft needed to make the fires burn more efficiently. 
Even so, said Vilkis, each pyre took two nights and one day to burn, and the destruction of the evidence continued from August 19 to September 28, 1943.

For the POWs impressed into such labors, Vilkis said, it was a horrid, gruesome experience, and some became ill and others went mad during the long days of work. The ill and the mentally deranged were killed by the Germans as a warning to other prisoners not to become ill themselves. Every day, he said, three to five prisoners were shot.

Vilkis gave us what seemed at the time a highly melodramatic story of how some of the prisoners, including himself, had escaped.

When the corpses of the original Babi Yar victims had been burned, and most evidence of the crime had been destroyed, Vilkis said the prisoners then were directed to build still more crude stoves.

It was clear, he said, that the Germans now meant to silence by death the men who had carried out the body-burning operation in Babi Yar. So an escape plan was hatched.

Vilkis said that in going through the clothing of the disinterred Jews, the prisoners had found a few keys including one that a prisoner who had been a locksmith before the war was able to use to open the door of the dugouts in which they were housed at night and also to loosen their leg shackles.

By this time, the number of prisoners working in Babi Yar had been increased to about 300, and they made their break for freedom on the night of September 28, breaking out of the dugouts in groups. German sentries outside fired their machine guns into the escaping prisoners, Vilkis said, and he had found a hiding place in a cement factory not too far away. There they remained in hiding until Red Army troops crossed the Dnieper River and came into Kiev on November 6.