The Jäger Report (2)
The Jäger Report (3)
The Jäger Report (4)
The Jäger Report (5)
The Jäger Report (7)
The Jäger Report (8)
The present blog is about the massacre by Einsatzkommando 3 of Jews deported to Kaunas (Kowno) in November 1941. Like in the previous blogs of this series, the information presented in this blog is mostly based on German historian Wolfram Wette’s biography of Karl Jäger (Wolfram Wette, Karl Jäger. Mörder der litauischen Juden, S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2011, hereinafter "Wette, Jäger").
On 25 and 29 November 1941 about 5,000 German, Austrian and Czechoslovakian Jews were shot in Kaunas' Fort IX. There executions are mentioned as follows on page 5 of the Jäger Report:
Nov. 25, 41 Kauen - F. IX 1159 [Jews] 1600 [Jewesses] 175 [Jewish children] (evacuees from Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt am Main) 2,934
Nov. 29, 41 " " 693 " 1155 " 152 " (evacuees from Vienna and Breslau) 2,000
These deportees had arrived on the following trains:
Date_Place of departure_number of persons
The deportees had been told that they would be "resettled" to Eastern Europe. Neither they nor the German railway men and policemen accompanying the transports had any idea of the fate awaiting the deportees at the place of arrival.
Hitler had in the first half of September 1941 authorized the deportation of German Jews to the occupied Soviet territories. Pursuant to this authorization a total of 19,836 Jews had been transported in October 1941 to the city of Łódź in the Polish territories annexed to the German Reich, where most of them either succumbed to the precarious living conditions or were transported to the Chełmno extermination camp. It was furthermore planned to transport about 50,000 Jews to Riga and Minsk. The deportation trains that arrived at Kaunas were originally meant to go to Riga. However, as the local ghetto were overfilled, some of the transports were directed to Kaunas on short notice.
As far as known Jäger had no instructions from Berlin or from his direct superior Stahlecker about what to do with the deportees. He must therefore have taken the decision to shoot them on his own initiative. This decision doesn’t seem to have got him into trouble, unlike the SS and Police Commander of Riga, Friedrich Jeckeln, who had murdered the occupants of a transport arriving from Berlin on 30 November 1941 along with about 24,000 Latvian Jews on 30 November and 8/9 December 1941 in the Rumbula Forest, in ignorance of an instruction of Himmler's (amply discussed in the course of the Irving-Lipstadt trial) whereby this transport was not to be liquidated ("Judentransport aus Berlin keine Liquidierung", according to a note of Himmler's about a telephone conversation with Heydrich). Jeckeln was reprimanded for "Eigenmächtigkeiten" (arbitrary actions) and "Zuwiderhandlung" (acting against orders) and had to present himself in Berlin for this purpose. The reason for the rebuke was the insistence of civilian and Wehrmacht authorities that Jews be kept alive as laborers for the armament industry. (Wette, Jäger, p. 127).
As there were no survivors from among the deportees processed by Jäger on 25 and 29 November 1941, information about their fate comes from local Jews of the Kaunas ghetto, from Lithuanian inmates who managed to escape from Fort IX, and from identification documents found in the deportees’ luggage, which had been stamped "evacuated to Riga" or "evacuated to the east". Dr. Elchanan Elkes, the president of the Kaunas Ghetto's Jewish council, described how he saw columns of Jews passing by the ghetto, who were obviously shouting where they were coming from (Wette, Jäger, pp. 127-128, quoting after Wolfgang Scheffler, "Massenmord in Kowno", p. 84, in: Scheffler/Schulle, Buch der Erinnerung; my translation):
Two yours ago there passed in front of our eyes, before the windows of our houses, many thousand Jews from southern Germany and Vienna who were taken with their luggage to Fort IX, which was some kilometers away from us. There they were killed with extreme cruelty. We later learned that they had been deceived. They had been told that they would be accommodated in the Kowno ghetto.
A Jewish child from Munich by the name of Alfred Koppel managed to emigrate from Germany to the United States in the spring of 1941 with the help of a children's assistance organization. His family was murdered in Kaunas. Koppel later collected the scattered reports about the murder of the Jews from the Munich area, and summarized them as follows (Wette, Jäger, page 128, quoting Al Koppel, Zuerst an der Reihe. Das Schicksal meiner Familie. Munich City Archive; my translation):
Upon arrival at Kaunas the crowd of people coming from the station was chased up a hill, a long, long way on foot to one of the forts on the hill. […] Finally the one thousand people of the Munich transport, having reached the menacing Fort IX, were chased with blows and under threats into the cells in the fort’s cellars. […] They languished for three days in these horrible cells in the fort's cellars. Then, on 25 November 1941, the prisoners were taken in groups of 50 to a pit in the area of Fort IX. My relatives were in one of these groups. […] When they arrived at the pit mother and Günther all of a sudden realized the whole dimension of the horror awaiting them. They saw the Sonderkommando squatting behind machine guns, ready to shoot them.[…]
An eyewitness by the name of Kulisch provided the following account of the massacre on 25 November 1941 (Wette, Jäger, p. 128, quoting from Dina Porat, "The Legend of the Struggle of Jews from the Third Reich in the Ninth Fort near Kowno, 1941-1942.", p. 382. In: Tel Aviv Yearbook for German History 20 (1991); my translation):
The Gestapo men and the Lithuanians ordered the people to line up in a row, in groups of 80 persons, and seemingly ordered morning calisthenics in the fort's yard. Then they made the people run in the direction of the pits. At the pits they beat the victims as soon as they tried to run away. Most victims were shot after they had fallen into the pits. The shots were fired from machine guns set up on the wooded hill by the graves. Those who did not run or ran in another direction were shot on site by those Lithuanians and Germans who had earlier grouped them together.
A German policeman who had himself taken part in the executions shortly thereafter told Breslau Cardinal Adolf Bertram which police units had carried out this massacre. Bertram recorded the following (Wette, Jäger, page 129, quoting after Scheffler, "Massenmord in Kowno", p. 84; my translation):
The execution detachment was made up of members of the SS and the Security Police and local Lithuanians. German soldiers had not taken part in the shootings in Kowno. All were clad in Lithuanian uniforms. The shootings had even been filmed. These films are supposed to prove that not the Germans but the Lithuanians had shot the Jews.
Whereas most Lithuanian Jews murdered by Einsatzkommando 3 died anonymously, the German Federal Archives managed to establish the names of many German Jews murdered at Kaunas. The online version of the memorial book Opfer der Verfolgung der Juden unter der nationalsozialistischen Gewaltherrschaft in Deutschland 1933-1945 (Victims of the Persecution of the Jews under the National Socialist Rule of Violence in Germany 1933-1945) includes a search engine in which names of German citizens of Jewish faith or descent who fell victim to Nazi persecution can be found according to various criteria (last name, first name, maiden name, date of birth, domicile, place of imprisonment, place of expulsion, country of emigration, place of deportation, country of emigration, place of death, departure place of deportation). A search for place of death "Kowno" turns up 76 pages with 3,782 names in alphabetic order. For each name the database contains date and place of birth, domicile, deportation place of departure and destination, deportation date of departure and date and place of death. Ernst Abeles, for instance, was born on 21 Juni 1895 in Chyse (German Chiesch) / Zlutice / Bohemia (present-day Czech Republic). He lived in Munich. On 20 November 1941 he was deported from Munich to Kowno, where he died at Fort IX on 25 November 1941.
All 3,782 names have been copied onto the HC forum’s thread German Jews killed at Kaunas Fort IX.
The Jäger Report (7)