VAIVARA - ESTONIA CONCENTRATION CAMP PART 1/2
The camp Vaivara, an industrial estate in north-east of Estonia in the district of Ida Virumaa, about 190 km east of the present-day Estonian capital Tallinn and about 30 km west of the border town Naeva a concentration camp was built as one of the last, at a time when the German leadership had only two primarily interests: for one part the elimination of the European Jews and with that the closure of the still existing ghettos would be resolved and the other objective, at the same time the exploitation of Jewish labour which became very important. The Reich Leader SS Heinrich Himmler ordered on 21 June 1943, the resolution of the remaining ghettos in the Baltic States, employable Jews had to be deported, among other works in the oil production of Estonia. On 19 September 1943, the Vaivara concentration camp was built, which should initially be inhabited and accommodate only Jewish workers as forced labourers in the oil-shale production.
Since 1941, the exploitation of the Estonian oil shale was in the hands of the Oil Baltischen m.b.H ( Baltöl ) , a subsidiary of Continental Oil Company ,which were both under the 'General Plenipotentiary for the Production Plan of the Chemical Industry', and it's chairman (Vorstandsmitglied) of IG Farben, Carl Krauch . The company was in 1943 after the German retreat from the Caucasus in 1942, faced with the fact that the extraction of oil had become a priority , while at the same time the labour shortage increased. The Baltöl, until then, had worked mainly with Soviet prisoners of war , these were gradually withdrawn by the Wehrmacht with the approaching front in securing defensive earth works and other tasks. The Baltöl on the other hand needed labour to produce for the war economy, Himmler had access to the reservoir of concentration camp prisoners and Jewish ghetto inhabitants. Through the establishment of the camp at Vaivara Himmler presented Baltöl with an available Forced Labour to produce for the war economy and exposed at the same time a larger Jewish population for working to its deliberate destruction. Both served its main policy objectives .
On 19 July 1943, all Sections of the German Occupation Departments in Estonia (civil administration , army , SS and police organization) were at a meeting at the commander of the security police in Tallinn , Dr. Martin Sandberger, who presented the first plans for the camp , Organisation Todt ( OT) and Baltöl were also involved. The Task Force Russia - North OT , and Baltöl was made responsible with the construction of production facilities and accommodations. Yet the camp would be under the control of the SS Economic-Administration (WVHA) in Berlin, the local supervision was led by the SS-Administrator in Riga, but initially operated under the the defence commissioner of Baltöl, SS-Sturmbannführer Wossagk , and acting under the Inspector of Security , Hilgenfeldt , to build the camp. 2000 Jewish prisoners were already planned to arrive in late July in Estonia and were meant to be sectionalized to the Baltöl production facilities at Kohtla , Viivikonna , Slanzy and Kiwiöli . Different plans and opinions came rapidly to the surface: neither sub-camps at Kohtla, Weski , Jana or Gorodenka commenced with their construction until September 1943.
Vaivara differed from most other concentration camps in that it did not consist of a large main camp and smaller satellite camps. Several of the ' Labour Camps ' and sub-camps were just as large if not bigger than the 'main camp' (Stammlager) of Vaivara . Moreover, it was in many ways a kind of complex situation : There were two employers , Baltöl and OT, [i.e. Organisation Todt,sic] which employed a very diverse workforce. Less than one-sixth of them as a workforce with Baltöl were Jewish concentration camp prisoners , besides them there were Soviet prisoners of war and Forced- as well as Free Civilian Workers (Zivilarbeiter) from a number of different countries that were housed in separate camps , but often in the same places . In Azeri , for example, there was a ' (Ostländerlager) ' camp for French, Spanish , Dutch, as well as Jewish inmates. In the small town Klooga there were camps for evacuees from Russia -North , one for Russian Forced Labourers , a sub-camp of Vaivara, and one for the 20th Unit (Einheit) of the Waffen-SS Division. These camps were operated by different institutions: The concentration camp by the SS , the prisoner of war camp by the Wehrmacht and the satellite camps for the remaining workers of OT and Baltöl by a civil administration , all had their own guards. The different administrative structures and the close proximity of each other, often led to internal friction.
|Vaivara Concentration Camp|
The SS staff of Vaivara was mainly recruited from other concentration camps . The commander , SS -Hauptsturmführer Hans Aumeier came from Auschwitz, where he was officer in charge of security (Schutzhaftlagerführer). SS camp physician was Dr. Franz von Bodmann , during his illness in December 1943 he was temporary replaced by Dr. Eduard Krebsbach from KZ Riga-Kaiserwald . A dental clinic under Franz Mang was established in Kiviöli . The Administrative Main Office (WVHA) presented relatively few SS-personnel, in overall total the number rose from 17 in October 1943 to 45 by February 1944. These included leaders (Führer) , sub-leaders (Unterführer), four female guards (Aufseherinnen) and four civilian employees . In the small camps only a camp leader and a medical orderly were stationed, the latter acted partly as a camp leader . In some cases, the running of the smaller camps were not passed over by the OT to the SS , but remained under the semi-civilian OT administration. This was probably due to the devastating hygienic conditions and the resulting health problems, particularly typhus epidemics, where medical orderlies played an important role. Desinfector was Erich Scharfetter , who was used in various camps as needed. From January until March 1944 Bodmann had ten of the Wehrmacht medical orderlies made available to him. While the SS personnel muster remained rudimentary, the hierarchy of the prisoner functionaries was fully formed : there was a camp leader , block leaders , capos for work units , camp police , prison clerks , inmate doctors and nurses.
Due to the difficult situation to obtain accurate records and files, it is not possible to determine and identify exactly the camp leaders of all sub-camps. Documents of the camp Vaivara remained only in a very fragmentary form, to read the report entries of the SS doctors, they mention the names of camp leaders only in cases of illness, and then you come to the issue of the limited knowledge to be gained from inmate testimonies. Many former prisoners had to go through various camps after the expiration of one year, or less, to another and different location, sometimes in rapid succession, which makes the memory re-call difficult. During a 1946 investigation a survivor mentioned a 'Doctor Genz-Starfette ' who did not exist, but it is to decrypt the contraction of the medical orderlies of Wilhelm Genth and Erich Scharfetter . Similarly, it is unclear who was at which time the camp leader of Klooga, claimed by a group of former prisoners in the immediate post-war period as Armin Rutenberg which proved to be incorrect.
Characteristic of the Vaivara camps were the constant changes , probably due to work priorities, which resulted that sub-camps were quickly occupied or closed down accordingly, and entire groups of prisoners were moved from one camp to the other. As rapidly as this happened, camp leaders would take with them, their 'own' team of detainees and prisoner functionaries . In the course of one year , while Vaivara existed , changes were made , for example, effecting Kurt Pannicke who was transferred as a camp leader from Vaivara to Narva , then to Azeri , then continued to Goldfields and in the summer of 1944 to Lagedi until he left Estonia by ship together with a prisoner transport. Guarding the camp were the Units of the Estonian protection team, the 287th Battalion and the Russian 290th (Schutzmannschaftbattaillon) [In the investigation files of the Estonian Security Police , there are also references to members of the 35th Police Battalion that had operated there and traded with prisoners. [Ref : ERA , R 64/I/165 . sic] Both Units reported to the Commander of the Order Police and Camps and stood under the direction of the SS and Police Leader in Estonia, Heinrich Möller . The ratio of guards to inmates was originally to be one to ten , but in practice it was partly one in twenty. The policemen brought the prisoners also to work areas , in some cases, the OT also took over the guarding functions.
|Divisional insignia of 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian)|
The majority of the prisoners were deported in the summer and fall of 1943 from the Lithuanian ghettos of Vilna (Vilnius) and Kauen (Kaunas) to Estonia. A survivor remembers that she arrived in Vaivara already on 6th of August 1943. In many cases, they were entire families , former prisoners often describe how their loved ones, one after another perished in the camp system . At the end of 1943, a small group of German and Czech Jews came into the Vaivara camp-system , which had been deported already during September 1942 in two RSHA transports from Theresienstadt , Frankfurt and Berlin to Estonia. [For details to these transports see : Ruth Betina Birn. ' The security police in Estonia. A study of collaboration in the East ' . Paderborn 2006, page 171 ff. sic ] . Other smaller groups of prisoners came from Riga in the summer of 1944 from Hungary. [25 female prisoners from Germany , who were brought to Kiviöli in November 1943 , were probably forced into prostitution. The SS-camp doctor had taken steps to monitor them, to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. See: Monthly Report SS-camp physician , 29.11.1943 , in: EAM , D 152/2/40 . (In Kiviöli were a number of German departments , consisting mainly in manufacturing facilities and adjoining sub-camps) . sic]
|KIVIOLI - KL - Vilna Jews|
MAIN- AND SUB-CAMPS (STAMMLAGER UND AUSSENLAGER)
The camps were mainly concentrated in the oil-shale bearing areas in the north-east of Estonia , Administration and the Commandant were in the main camp at Vaivara . By October 1943 the following sub-camps were established: Klooga , Narva , Soski , Auvere , Kerstowa , Ereda , Jöhvi , Kuremäe , Port Kunda , Kiviöli and Viivikonna . In the surviving records , however, the details of Baltöl mentioned factories with Jewish labour, do not tally with documents kept at Vaivara that these were used by them and sub-camp did not exist in those places . Kohtla -Järve for example, was one of the centres of the oil shale production and construction , and Baltöl held 1163 Jewish workers in Kohtla- Järve and 858 in Kohtla for use by the OT , but there are no corresponding sub-camps in the monthly reports of the SS doctor or in witness's statements . It stands to reason that prisoners were marched from the sub-camps Erda or Kiviöli to Kohtla- Järve , survivors remember the long and arduous marches they had to do to their workplaces . The ' Plant IV ' the Sillamäe-Baltöl probably corresponded to the sub-camp Viivikonna-Baltöl . Some camps served other purposes than oil shale-mining : Klooga in the west of Tallinn was thus the only larger camp just outside of the oil-shale area , which produced Betonminen ( mines in concrete casing ) for the Navy. The occupants of the camp outside Narva (east of Vaivara ) worked in large part for a defence system of the 'Panther position ' . The prisoners in the sub-camp of Narva in Hungerburg had some other smaller camps like Kertsowa , Putki , Soski , Pankjewitza , Petseri , Ülenurme and Kudupe , working in forests , rail or general construction projects that were not in direct contact with oil production.
|At the Klooga concentration camp, Soviet soldiers examine the bodies of victims left by the retreating Germans. Klooga, Estonia, September 1944.|
WORKING AND LIVING CONDITIONS
The SS doctor in his reports repeatedly pointed out that the hygienic conditions in the camps at Vaivara were catastrophic . This was caused initially by the first forced and rapid construction of the camp, even if adequate accommodation , sanitation or water supplies were available, there was hardly any improvement. The Baltöl-Administration saw the problem in terms of security : Fetching water at the fountain offering an attempt ' almost an incentive to flee ', or it would not be possible to separate the Jews from the 'Local Population '(Einheimischen) . Baltöl had issued strict rules for the separation of Jewish and non-Jewish forced labourers. The prisoners recalled to have been covered by dirt (Schmutz) , lice and vermin. At Goldfields for example, after the evacuation marches, all the prisoners had lice . Permission to swim in the lake was considered a perk. Documents from Vaivara show a picture of strict order: An infirmary , numbered blocks, as well as rooms marked with numbers and centrally managed of items in clothing and wooden shoes for the prisoners.[There is a pre-conceived notion that KZ-prisoners were issued with Dutch-type Clogs, in fact what they wore were mainly PANTOFELL and/or upper shoe leather stapled to wooden soles, all Russian POW's on our Estate arrived in them, HKS]. The inmates remembered , however , that still lacked on everything: clothing , shoes , blankets, and medicines. In many camps , there were no fixed accommodations or even barracks , so that the prisoners were housed in Nissan-Huts or the so called 'Barrel Tents' (Tonnenzelten) - inside them, the ground floor tended to be soggy and filled with water after melting snow.
The work, especially in the oil-shale mining , was very hard and too heavy for the Jewish prisoners ,[Most of them were Intellectuals and Business People not used to physical labour,sic] which is apparent not only from memory and witnesses , but also officials of the Baltöl, who had commented on the subject. Baltöl did not consider the Jewish workers assigned to them as satisfactory replacement for the Soviet prisoners of war , many of the Russian POW's had been professional miners . The Jewish prisoners , weakened by malnutrition and the cold, they were only considered at a 50 percent of the labour power output compared to prisoners of war or civilian workers . The management of Baltöl was therefore not interested on further allocation of additional Jewish inmates and rejected the Hungarian Jews deported to Estonia. Accountability Reports of the OT to the SS indicates an eleven- hour working day . An inspection report of the ' General Plenipotentiary for the Allocation of Labour ' show the concentration camp inmates as lazy , recalcitrant workers , who lived a comfortable life on construction sites. [ Report to Baltöl and OT , 4.7.1944 , in: ibid , R 187/1/30 . '4 Jews just sat and were idle [... ] . No. 85 was cheeky when I asked for his number [ ...] . 2 Jewish women came strolling in slow steps, chatting away, [ ...] comfortable talking ' . sic] This representation does not only contradict the testimony of former prisoners , but the report writer himself stated indignantly that although most of OT- foremen (Civilian Employees) had portrayed the Jews and prisoners of war as diligent workers and protecting them .
Some camps were located in swamps , so that the prisoners had to be working in water. Exhaustion of the prisoners and the often long distances contributed to a considerable drop in labour performance, they had to travel in wooden shoes or inadequate footwear to their workplace . The only Unit, which was somewhat productive seems to have been the work of crafts-men and their working commandos. The Baltöl Management on the 30 September 1943 had already directed their attention mainly on the composition of units and accepting only craftsmen . Many German Civilians which had settled near the camps had shoes, boots and clothes made by them.
|Corpses of inmates from Klooga concentration camp stacked for burning.|
|Preparing a meal for labourers at Auschwitz in a standard German Army Field Kitchen, three members in uniform seem to be foreign individuals.|
One element of the inmate population were the 'Shtaken', members of the former underworld of Vilna, which were judged very differently by the witnesses. In general, the Inmate-Functionaries behaviour was evaluated as negative by prisoners. While speaking positively about most doctors and nurses, the camp elders, however, were classified very differently. Especially SS-Hauptscharführer Kurt Panicke, camp leader of Vaivara, Narva and Azeri had a number of minions used as prison functionaries, and especially his Camp-Elder who was accused of embezzlement and theft. Former inmates reported that there had been a lack of solidarity within their community. Equally critical remarks can be found about the camp-police. The surviving prisoners also differentiated between the individual members of the SS, some of which were regarded as harmless, as well as members of the OT and SS.
CONTINUED UNDER PART 2/2