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The reaction by the Nazi occupiers to the explosions and fires set off by the Soviet NKVD in downtown Kyiv on Sept. 24, 1941, was to randomly arrest 1,600 Jews and execute them. If that mass execution had been the only revenge, it would be considered a major war crime. But it was just the start.

On Sept. 26, a meeting took place in Kyiv attended by the top SS commander in Ukraine, Friedrich Jeckeln; the leader of the SS's Eisensatzgruppe C, Otto Rasch; the leader of the SS's Sonderkommando 4a, Paul Blobel; and the German Army's Commandant of Kyiv, General-Major Kurt Eberhard. The meeting decided to organize a 'gross Aktion,' the execution of 50,000 Jews.

Eisensatzgruppe C was a SS special task force assigned to the German Army for the invasion of Soviet Ukraine. Its orders were to arrest, interrogate and execute members of the Soviet elite and to kill Jews. It also had the task of organizing the German police on the occupied territory. It had various commando companies, including Sonderkommando 4a (Sk4a), which was ordered to direct the massacre.

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