The Jäger Report (2)
The Jäger Report (3)
The Jäger Report (4)
The Jäger Report (5)
The Jäger Report (6)
The Jäger Report (8)
The seventh blog of this series addresses the events that led to a temporary suspension of the extermination of Lithuania’s Jews after the massacres organized by Einsatzkommando 3 in 1941, and the fate of this Jewish community’s remainders. 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").
In parallel with the murder of the Jews another mass crime, for which the German Wehrmacht was exclusively responsible, took place in the autumn and winter of 1941 on the edges of Kaunas (Kowno). The camps there housed Soviet prisoners of war employed in work on the Kaunas airport Aleksotas, which was to be taken over by the German air force after completion. Food was so insufficient that in September 1941 about 300 prisoners per day died in the camps around Kaunas alone. In the months November and December about 60,000 prisoners died in the area of Reichskommissariat Ostland, an average of 2,190 per day. In September 1941 Kaunas eye doctor Kutorgiene noted the following in her diary (Wette, Jäger, p. 131, quoting from the diary of Dr. Elena Kutorgiene-Buivydaite, in: Wassili Grossmann/Ilja Ehrenburg, Das Schwarzbuch. Der Genocid an den sowjetischen Juden, Reinberg bei Hamburg 1994 pp. 619-673, p. 658; my translation):
From the Leningrad front transports with Russian prisoners are arriving. The wagons are full to bursting, many die along the way, many are close to death when they arrive. Hundreds are shot right at the railway embankment, as the Germans make short shrift of all who are week. A railway employee saw mounds of corpses of Soviet prisoners at the Kaunas station with his own eyes.
According to recent historical research a total of about 170,000 Soviet prisoners of war died on the territory of Lithuania, mainly in the autumn and winter of 1941 (Wette, Jäger, p. 131). The destruction of the Soviet prisoners of war was the second largest crime committed by Nazi Germany on Lithuanian territory, after the genocide of the Jews.
The less Soviet prisoners of war were available as workers, the more the Wehrmacht requisitioned Jewish workers from the Kaunas city commissariat. Thus the extermination activity of Einsatzkommando 3 was slowed down. As was already mentioned, there were selections of able-bodied Jews during the "Big Action" on 29 October 1941, among others.
The German civilian administration issued so-called Jordan passes – after the city commissar by that name – to those Jews who were to be used as forced laborers. To the Jews these were "life passes", as they meant a chance to survive for those sent to the "good site" during selections.
Like the Soviet prisoners of war before them, the able-bodied Jews had to work on the Aleksotas airport, from early morning until night, harassed and often beaten by the guards. However, it seems that they were not treated quite as badly as the remaining Soviet POWs, who according to a Jewish worker were killed in their hundreds every day, "weak as flies" and receiving even lower rations than the Jewish forced laborers (Wette, Jäger, p. 132).
The mass dying of the Soviet prisoners of war was one of the reasons why about 15,000 so-called working Jews managed to temporarily survive in Kaunas – contrary to Jäger’s intentions, as he pointed out on page 7 of the Jäger Report:
I can state today that the goal of solving the Jewish problem for Lithuania has been achieved by Einsatzkommando 3. In Lithuania, there are no more Jews, other than the Work Jews, including their families. They are:
In Schaulen around 4,500
In Kauen “ 15,000
In Wilna “ 15,000
I also wanted to kill these Work Jews, including their families, which however brought upon me acrimonious challenges from the civil administration (the Reichskommisar) and the army and caused the prohibition: the Work Jews and their families are not to be shot!
In May 1942 SS-Obergruppenführer Heinrich Müller, head of the Gestapo, saw the need of calling Jäger’s attention, in a secret radio message, to Himmler’s general instruction whereby "able-bodied Jews and Jewesses aged 16 to 32 years are until further notice to be exempted from special measures" (Wette, Jäger, p. 133, citing Funkspruch Müller an KdS Litauen, Standartenführer Jäger, dd. 18.5.1942, in: Peter Klein (editor) Die Einsatzgruppen in der besetzten Sowjetunion 1941/42. Die Tätigkeits- und Lageberichte des Chefs der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD, Berlin 1997, pp. 410f., Document 18; my translation).
Jäger decided that the male "working Jews" were to be sterilized "in order to prevent their reproduction". Jewesses who got pregnant were to be liquidated. Jäger issued a corresponding order on 24 July 1942. It has not been established whether and to what extent this order was carried out. However, the physician SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr. Karl Böhmchen is known to have acted as a "fanatical executor" of Jäger’s order in performing forced abortions (Wette, Jäger, pp. 139).
In Siauliai the Jewish Council, which was aware of Jäger’s order, established in March 1943 that there were twenty pregnant Jewesses in the ghetto. It decided to induce the women by pressure and persuasion into performing abortions. In the case of a woman in her eighth month of pregnancy the Council decided that a doctor was to induce a premature birth and a nurse was to kill the child (Wette, Jäger, pp. 139-140).
The German civilian administration in Lithuania and Latvia was not always indifferent to the mass killing of Jewish women and children. On occasion of the shooting of 470 women and children in the Latvian port city of Libau (Liepaja) and similar massacres in the surrounding rural areas and small towns, the Regional Commissar of Libau, Dr. Walter Almor, wrote a report on 14 October 1941 to his superior Hinrich Lohse, Reich Commissioner for the Eastern Territories, which contained the following statements (Wette, Jäger, p. 140, quoting after Klein, Einsatzgruppen, pp. 41f.; my translation):
Especially the shooting of women and children, who sometimes had to be taken to the execution site screaming, has been the source of general horror. The rather compliant mayor of Libau […] appeared personally before me and pointed out the agitation throughout the city. Also officers asked me if this cruel manner of executing even children was necessary. In any cultured state and even in the Middle Ages it was not allowed to kill pregnant women. Here even that was not taken into consideration.[…] I am of the opinion that this will one day turn out to be a serious mistake. Unless one also liquidates thereafter all elements participating therein. (Es sei denn, dass man alle dabei mitwirkenden Elemente auch anschlieβend liquidiert.)
The relationship between the German civilian administration of Kaunas and Jäger in the years 1942 and 1943 was marked by a conflict of interests. Whereas Jäger wanted to continue exterminating the Jews, the civilian administration thought in terms of war economy and wanted to exploit the Jews’ labor force. The latter interest prevailed in the Kaunas ghetto’s relatively quiet phase following the first murder wave in December 1941. In the summer of 1943 between 15,000 and 17,000 Jews were living in the Kaunas ghetto, of whom about 10,000 were working at 140 sites in and around Kaunas. In the summer and autumn of 1943 the war economy department of the Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt) went about to put an end to the ghetto’s civilian administration and convert the ghetto into a concentration camp under SS administration. A corresponding order concerning the whole Reichskommissariat Ostland (Reich Commissariat Eastern Territories) had been issued by Himmler on 21 June 1943. On 15 September 1943 the Kaunas ghetto including its production sites was taken over by the SS and re-designated a concentration camp.
Jäger was involved only in the initial phase of this transformation process, because on 2 August 1943 he was relieved from his duties as Commander of Security Police. His successor, Schmitz, supervised the exhumation and cremation of the corpses at Fort IX beginning in September 1943. On Christmas Day 1943 members of the working detachment managed to flee from the fort and reported to the Jews in the concentration camp that they had cremated 45,000 corpses from 15 mass graves (Wette, Jäger, p. 141).
The surviving Jews of Kaunas hoped that their usefulness for the war effort would guarantee their survival. However, a mass execution on 26 October 1943, which claimed 2,758 lives, showed how delusory this hope was. In the same month about 2,800 Kaunas Jews were deported to work camps in Estonia (Wette, Jäger, pp. 141-42). One of these camps was the Klooga labor camp, where about 2,000 forced laborers were shot in September 1944.
The remaining inhabitants of the Kaunas ghetto included the families of the working Jews. On 27 and 28 March 1944 the Germans undertook a particularly hideous operation. About 1,000 children and 300 elderly people were dragged out of their apartments and transported to the Auschwitz and Majdanek concentration camps, where they were killed. Most of the children’s parents were on forced labor assignments outside the ghetto, and when they returned in the evening they found that their children had been taken away (Wette, Jäger, pp. 142-143).
Between 7 and 12 July 1944, the concentration camp was dissolved. Many of the Jews still alive were deported to Auschwitz, to Stutthof or to concentration camps in Germany. Of the about 2,000 Jews who had hidden inside the camp and sometimes put up heavy resistance, many died when the SS burned down the concentration camp area and blew up the buildings (Wette, Jäger, p. 144). A French colonel who entered Kovno with the Red Army in August 1944 gave an account describing "heaps of corpses of men, women, and children in the streets and in ruined cellars". Photographs presumably showing some of these corpses are linked to in the blog June 22, 1941 (numbers 203, 206, 207).
The Vilna ghetto, according to the online chronology, was liquidated on 23 and 24 September 1944:
8,000 of the 10,000 surviving Jews were taken to Rossa Square. There, a selection took place. Those able to work were sent to labor camps, men to Estonia and women to Latvia. Some were eventually transferred to the Stutthof concentration camp. Between 4,300 and 5,000 elderly women and children were sent to Sobibor. None survived. Several hundred children and elderly men and women were sent to Ponary.
At the end of September 1943 Einsatzkommando 4a under Paul Blobel went about trying to destroy the evidence of the mass killings at Ponary within the scope of Aktion 1005.
A final massacre among Jews working in the "Keilis" and "HKP 562" factories at Vilnius took place on 2 July 1944. The aforementioned chronology describes it as follows:
Workers Aktion in Keilis and HKP 562. Immediately after the retreat of the Wehrmacht from Vilnius and the abandonment by them of the HKP workshops on 2 July 1944 the SS took 1,800 of the prisoners to Ponary and shot them. A small number of the workers remained in hiding until the Red Army entered Vilnius on 13 July 1944.
The ghetto at Siauliai (Shavli, Schaulen), also converted into a concentration camp, was liquidated in July 1944. The surviving inmates were deported to other concentration camps.
The Jäger Report (8)
Note, 13.03.2013: The following photos linked to in Part 3 of this series seem to pertain to the Kaunas concentration camp's liquidation in 1944, which is addressed in the present article:
Lithuania, Postwar, A corpse in a mass grave.
Vilijampole, Lithuania, Burnt bodies of murder victims in the ghetto, 18/12/1944.
Kaunas, Lithuania, Corpses.
Kovno, Lithuania, Bodies of Jews burned alive in the ghetto.
Kovno, Lithuania, Jewish children's corpses in the ghetto 30/08/1944.
Thanks to Jonathan Harrison for pointing this out.