KAUEN (KAUNAS) (KOVNO) CONCENTRATION CAMP-PART 2/2
Victims of the 'interim solution' to the 'Jewish question' as they were pursued by the German Occupation Organisations (Besatungsorgane) during the summer of 1941 within the ghetto were the survivors of Kaunas, of about 30,000 from the first pogroms and mass shootings. The conditions in the district Viliampole in which the ghetto should be established, faced the 'Committee for the relocation of the Jews', from the Council of Elders (Judenrat) under the guidance of renowned physician Elchanan Elkes, with overwhelming problems. There were the usual lack of housing and health problems right from the start. Situated in the north-east on the banks of the River Neris, the ghetto terrain offered not sufficient living space requirements to accommodate such a large number of people. The State Commissioner under the former mayor of Dachau, Hans Cramer, and the agency of Jäger shared the control and exploitation of the ghetto. Although the paramount importance of the civil administration they pursued in RKO was to exploit the remaining Jews as long as possible as a source of government as well as personal enrichment, but they also approved that Stahleckers men were free to conduct 'further measures'. This included not only sustained terror and systematic looting, conveniently for their own gains, overlooking the targeted and planned 'Final Solution', and the attempt to prevent the propagation of the Jews. [In Kaunas pregnancies were banned since mid-1942, on the pain of death, until the final stage of the history of the ghetto. But still the Elders succeeded, many pregnant women and newborns to escape the clutches of the guards, (see ibid, page 111 and 205, Hidden History, page 36) sic]
|Siauliai, Lithuania, 26-29.06.1941, A group of Jews before being executed in the forests'|
|A sign fixed on the barbed wire entanglement surrounding the ghetto, in both German and Latvian: “Those, who will try to climb across the fence or try to communicate with the ghetto internees, will be shot down without warning.”|
|Dr Elchanan Elkes of the Kovno Judenrat'|
During the ghetto's final days, Elkes desperately tried to convince the SS to spare the surviving Jews, warning them of accountability for their crimes. Unable to halt the murder of the ghetto's population, Elkes wrote: "My soul is scorched. I am naked and empty." When the ghetto was in the process of extermination, seeing that he could not save people any-more, doctor Elkes went on a hunger strike and refused to sort out people for their deaths. Elkes was sick and deported to the Kaufering near Landsberg (Germany) concentration camp, where he died of typhus in 1944. See also a poignant letter, of a deeply caring person for his Brethren's, written to his son and daughter>HKS<:
The need for Jewish workers increased further in the absence of other sources in the course of time, a fact to which even those who could not see other than a rapid implementation of the 'Final Solution' and continued pushing for it. Every day as Jäger reported in early 1943 on the basis of reports provided by the Elders, nearly 10,000 Jews were employed at 140 workplaces in and around Kaunas. Nevertheless with proven evidence of the economic usefulness, the continued existence of the ghetto and thus the survival of the Jewish majority in the long run could neither be secure in the Ghettos nor in the rest of the Lithuanian 'Ostland'. In the summer of 1942, the Civil Administration withdrew Elkes' Elders many of their functions, which made their efforts to the livelihood for the majority of them even more hopeless. Since the beginning of 1943 the rise in the 'risk of partisan participation' grew, and with that the German determination to take the last step regarding the 'Jewish question'. In early April 1943, in the forest of Ponar at Vilna, after it was said, they would be relocated to the ghetto of Kaunas, approximately 4,000 residents of the smaller ghettos were shot. There (in Kaunas)they feared the worst, especially for offences such as trafficking in Black Market, the Sipo more frequently than before, carried out death sentences. [Ibid, page 280-286, Arad, Ghetto, page 357-362. Rosenfeld, 'Mordaktion' page 139, sic]
|Two Jews hanging from a utility pole in Kovno'|
It is amazing that the RSHA in Berlin in December 1943, made enquiries, 'if not in the Latvian Salaspils aea a Concentration Camp existed'. It was reported from Riga, in reply, that a 'real concentration camp' did not exist throughout the 'Ostland', since the Security Police has assumed the initiatives and assumed management of the concentration camps, they had constructed only more police jails and labour education camps as in Salaspils with only 380 prisoners a significantly smaller number than in Pravieniskis near Kaunas. [Vermerksfragment Lange, O.D. Ende 1942, in: AHD 504-2-8, Bl. 168 BdS Ostland an RSHA IV-C 2 11.9.1942, in: ebenda, Bl.169, BdS Ostland an RSHA II, 14.12.1942 Bl. 199 sic]
|Jewish workers on their way back to the Ghetto after a day of forced labour'|
The first resistance movements were created as early as in late 1939 in occupied Poland. As the war progressed and the number of Nazi-occupied territories grew, so did the number and strength of resistance movements.
Throughout the war, regular formations of German army, auxiliary police formations (Ordnungspolizei) and their helpers (Schutzmannschaft or Hilfspolizei) would be used in anti-partisan operations.
Overall, the Germans were able to achieve military successes but were never able to end the partisan threat; the struggle of Germans versus the partisans can be described as a stalemate – eventually ended by the German military defeat in the regular war.
After the war, brutal German tactics used against the partisans were one of the charges presented at the Nuremberg Trials (see legality of the Commando Order and Hostages Trial).
against the Polish partisans.
THE CONCENTRATION CAMPS
The importance of Himmler's order of June 21, 1943 as a founding decree for concentration camps in the 'Ostland' reveals benefits not only in view of the previous plans but also certain independent measures that could be taken on site. Add to that the fact that the command of the Reichsführer SS was implemented only slowly in the subsequent period, and Jägers men sought in their reports to give the impression of an economic efficiency in the use of the 'Jewish question', yet it was the Civil Administration, the systematic, organized Jewish labour exploitation mitigated by forces of the Elders that achieved this. Only Arbetiskommandos in the ghetto workshops and in consultation with the Wehrmacht and private companies made this possible. It was one thing to fight Berlin regarding the competence over the 'Jewish question', another to meet the diverse economic demands and needs on site. As the work team leaders of the City Council attested after the war, it was with considerable tact in dealing with the German authorities and at least a modicum of consideration against vital interests of the ghetto, so that the quest for controlled war economy production should not end in chaos. As long as the City Council defended their own sinecures and not pursued Himmler's deputy on site with the necessary expertise, the ghettos remained largely the same. However, already in the late summer of 1943 began the preparatory work for the targeted 'segregation' (Aussonderung) as two years earlier. The sole criterion, able to work, was not necessarily the decision of life or death.
|Scene during the deportation of Jews from the Kovno ghetto. Kovno, Lithuania'|
|The Kovno ghetto, 1941–1944|
|Jewish partisans group operating in the forests near Kovno'|
Looking at the economic importance of the location of Kaunas and the close network and dependence on other existing camps, the SS had to go easy and step by step. A management report of the KdS Lithuania by the end of 1943, according to Goecke, he couched his intention thus: 'that for the time being in the interest of peaceful construction of the KL and the proposed external camp a premature removal of the Jews that are not fit for work is out of the question' and he personally reserved the right to the date of separation. Accordingly the Camp Administration changed their arbitrarily set method into a ' new reorganization in Labour Assignments'. By the end of October 1943 about 2,000 Jews were deported to work camps in Estonia and at the same time more than 700 children and the old were selected, and were probably deported to Auschwitz and murdered there. [In addition to his Testament, Elke speaks of deporting of 2,709 victims during the 'Action' of 26.10.1943 (Tory, Surviving, page 507) Dickmann, Ghetto, page 455, lists the number 2,758 and mentions manhunts in the ghetto. sic]. The Family Unit for those Jews now living in the more reduced area of the former ghetto was provisionally preserved, but the Jews that still remained in sub- and labour camps as part of the concentration camp of Kaunas, with about 4,000 forced labourers were, as previously recommended by Stahlecker and Jäger housed separately according to sex. After the 'Estonia Action' it was found that among the approximately 8,000 remaining Jews in the concentration camp, a significant proportion were children, elderly and the sick, who within the SS-Grouping analysis were termed as 'useless eaters'. Their protection was Elkes and his colleagues of particularly concern and dear at heart. Success in their efforts, could only last as long as Gloecke's men held back the targeted killing of 'non-fit Jews for work'.
|David Levin poses in a hiding spot outside of Kovno'|
|'Childrens school in the Kovno Ghetto'|
|Jews at the Ninth Fort awaiting execution'|
The concentration camp Kaunas falls in many ways from the scope of what can be considered a characteristic of this type of camp, it presents over longer distances the final chapter of the ghetto story. Most points at the end of the camp can be compared with similarities of others, managed by Himmler's SS and police apparatus of terror and extermination. With the approach of the Red Army, Gloecke's men began on 8 July, 1944, to round up the remaining Jews in Kaunas from their homes to deport them in trains and by vessels into the Reich territory and destroy the concentration encampment. As part of this 'action' there remained an estimated 2,000 people who were hiding in the Malines, and perished. Among the victims were many who burned alive in their hiding places, after the Germans continued their retreat out of the camp grounds and set it on fire.
|Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania. The completely destroyed Ghetto, 1944, in July 1944, the Germans blew up and burned down this Ghetto in search of Jews hiding there'.|
The Lithuanian-Jewish culture had been wiped out after the Holocaust. Currently, there are about 4,000 Jews living in the country. After the war it took a long time until it came to a reasonable examination of the crimes committed in Lithuania. Collaborators with the Germans in exile established a dense network of mutual aid, which promoted the re-evaluation of one's own role in the years between 1941 and 1945 according to the value measured by and during the Cold War. In the Federal Republic of Germany, it came in the late 1950s, and later in other countries, to the criminal investigations against perpetrators: Members of EK 3 (Karl Jäger committed suicide in July 1959 while in detention). The 'Roll Kommando Hamann' (Hamann, had killed himself in July 1945) as well as against members of the civil administration and Lithuanian helpers, enquiries were proceeded with. Concentration camp commandant Wilhelm Goecke had been killed in action in October 1944 in Italy. Against Helmut Rauca, who had at the end of October 1941 directed the selection of nearly 10,000 Jews at the 'big action' in the Kaunas Ghetto, was first detected in Canada, then in Germany, where he died in custody in 1983. The U.S. Department of Justice has since the 1970s led many de-naturalization and deportation processes against members of the Lithuanian Protection Battalions (Schutzmannschft). Further investigations of other participants in the murder of Jews in Lithuania are ongoing.
[The execution of the Jewish men in Gargzdai took place on June 24, 1941, prior to the first execution listed in the Jäger report. These killings in Gargzdai were the first mass execution following Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, and may be regarded as the start of the Holocaust. The group which perpetrated the killings is sometimes called Einsatzkommando Tilsit. Tilsit was in East Prussia, close to the border with the Soviet Union. Einsatzkommando Tilsit was not formally part of Einsatzgruppe A, but acted as an adjunct to it. The Tilsit unit was commanded by SS-Major Hans - Joachim Böhme, and composed of personnel from the Gestapo and Security Service in Tilsit, as well as police from Memel (led by Oberführer Bernhard Fischer-Schweder) and Memel Border Police. It committed mass executions in the area of the Soviet Union close to the border with Germany.
The killings by the Tilsit unit were reported to Berlin in the same "Operational Situation Reports" which reported the killings by Einsatzgruppe A. Report No. 12, dated July 4, 1941, states that Stapo (State-Police) Tilsit had so far carried out 200 shootings. These are evidently the shootings in Gargzdai. Report No. 14, dated July 6, 1941, lists the killings in Garsden (the German name for Gargzdai), as well as in Krottingen (Kretinga) and Polangen (Palanga). The Report lists these killings under the heading of Einsatzgruppe A, but states that "Tilsit was used as a base" for these "major cleansing operations." The Report sets forth that 201 persons were executed in Garsden, and gives a cover story to explain the Garsden shootings - that the "Jewish population had supported the Russian border guards." Similar cover stories were given with regard to the other two towns.
In Report No. 19, dated July 11, executions in additional towns are attributed to "Stapo Tilsit," including Tauroggen (Taurage), Georgenburg (Jurbarkas), and Mariampol (Marijampole). The author no longer found it necessary to give any supposed excuse for the executions.
In Report 26, dated July 18, a total of 3302 executions are attributed to "Police Unit - Tilsit," and these are set forth separately from Einsatzgruppe A.
Stahlecker later wrote a document dated October 15, 1941, known as the Stahlecker Report, which referred to a total of 5502 killed by State Police Security Service Tilsit.
The summary figures in Report 26 and the Stahlecker Report presumably include the 201 persons previously reported as killed in Garsden.
Scholars have more recently discovered in the archives of the former Soviet Union Report from Staatspolizei Tilsit to RSHA, July 1, 1941. This document was evidently used as a source for Operational Situation Report No. 14 (which was dated five days later), and also contains additional information. HKS]
Der Ort des Terrors Vol 8
C.H.Beck oHG, München 2006
Researcher/Author: Jürgen Matthäus
Institute for Research on Anti-Semitism-Berlin
Translated from German:
Herbert Stolpmann, Nov. 2013
HKS: My Initials, when expressing
my own opinion or other sources
a)Cultural Department of the
Federal Republic of Germany
b)The Foreign Office of Germany
c)Alfred Krupp Foundation