KAUEN (KAUNAS) (KOVNO) CONCENTRATION CAMP PART1/2
In the history literature of the German occupation regime in the Soviet Union, the Lithuanian city of Kaunas (Russian Kovno, German Kauen) is mostly mentioned if it comes to the transition to the genocide of the Jews. With the German arrival came in late June 1941 pogroms and mass shootings. From Kaunas with the death squads stationed there, commenced the killing of Jews from mid-August 1941, regardless of age and gender, and with the rapid ghettoising it refers to the momentous transformation of the 'Nazi Jewish policy' (NS-Judenpolitik) to simply exterminate the Jews. By the end of 1941 the Security Police (Sipo) and Security Service (SD), considered the 'Jewish question' in Lithuania after the murder of close to 140,000 Jewish men, women and children as 'solved'. About the concentration camp Kauen however, there is very little knowledge or reliable evidence. Sources of that time are few and far between, and the (now in many cases published) survivor testimony focuses primarily on the events in the ghetto. The reason for the establishment of concentration camps in the 'Reichs Commissariat Ostland' (RKO) which was already set up with a German Civil Administration under Alfred Rosenberg as 'Minister for the Occupied Territories' in the summer of 1941 and included the 'General Commissariat' Lithuania, it was Himmlers order (Befehl) on the 21st of June, 1943, in which the Reichsführer of the SS ruled the closure of the remaining ghettos, and that the not employable Jews were 'to evacuate to the East', [this is a typical German euphemism,sic] in other words, to have them killed. But actually it was already planned in the early phase of the occupation for the establishment of concentration camps in the region. In addition to increasing war production requirements at low cost, by the exploitation of Jewish forced labourers, it kept the enforcement of the 'Final Solution' in mind as well as the goal of sustainable security 'pacification'. Ghetto and concentration camp Kaunus served the Administration and their Civil Managers alike as instruments of destruction, terror and enrichment. For the prisoners these were places of death, crime and despair.
|Civilians looking at the massacre of 68 Jews in the Lietukis garage of Kaunas on June 25 or 27, 1941|
|A Lithuanian perpetrator (named the "Dead Dealer") of the massacre of 68 Jews in the Lietukis garage of Kaunas|
With the beginning of the war of annihilation against the Soviet Union, the Nazi leadership has seen an opportunity to realize their visions of 'Lebensraum in the East'. Before the planned 'Eindeutschung' (Germanization) was the sustainable 'pacification' of the conquered countries. These were measures already introduced in the Reich and continued slowly in occupied Poland by the segregation of unpopular groups, especially the Jews. It was primarily the responsibility of the Police led by Himmler, the SS and their Resettlement Apparatus, but also the efforts of other departments that worked in the same direction. The compiled policies of Rosenberg's Ministry Management towards the 'Jewish question' saw as a first step, the 'solution to the overall problem' a 'transfer into ghettos'. Similar intentions were followed by the Wehrmacht in the 'Ostland' as it happened in the summer of 1941 in some cities, that 'Jewish concentration camps' were established.
|Franz Walther Stahlecker|
|a) Reconstructed Ninth Fort|
|b) Remaining parts of the first Fort|
Like Jäger and his superior Stahlecker, both recommended (if not pushed) in the summer of 1941, at the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), for a spatial segregation of potential 'enemies of the Reich'. Stahlecker aimed at two things: Firstly, the definition of 'Jewish reservations', in other words, the establishment of a concentration camp in the Latvian capital Riga. This camp, he stated, should allow inmates who are sitting in a prison of the city as 'unsustainable in the long run' and despite ongoing releases and liquidations their number would not diminish , secondly, these individuals should economically be exploited. By the beginning of October 1941 the Commander of the Security Police and the SD (KdS) in Latvia, Rudolf Lange, proposed his own plan which combined various proposals and opinions of the Regional Sipo and SD Leaders for the establishment of a Concentration Camp. His main argument, was the problem of overcrowding and waste of resources in the prisons of Riga which could not be solved otherwise. Besides, there still lived in the city of about 23,000 Jews, the 'crowding [...] in a ghetto' with a view of the demand for housing in the city, the desired total registration of Jews as forced labour and the objective of preventing births' can only be an interim solution. Especially the last aspect speaking in favour for a concentration camp, because there, Jewish men and women could be housed separately, 'to prevent further multiplication'. [This assumption is a fallacy, sexual intercourse took place if separated by a non-electrical chain-link-fence within a KZ. I witnessed this performance in a POW camp at Regensburg-Germany 1945. Readers have to work it out by themselves, how its done, it certainly was not in the frontal position! This was also a common occurrence in the Soviet Gulag Archipelago, pregnant women were released earlier. HKS] Notwithstanding the reservations about the 'provisional solution' (Übergangslösung) it seemed like the type of ghettos the German occupation authorities had previously set up in Poland, here they were in the meantime indispensable. It was thought at first to be able to draw from the seemingly inexhaustible pool of Soviet prisoners of war, but the consequences of the German extermination policy towards this group were noticeable for their cause: The Red Army prisoners died in unimaginable numbers, of consequences in missing meals and general provisions. At the beginning of September 1941 the daily death rate in the prisoner of war camps in and around Kaunas, rose from 50 to over 300. The approximately 30,000 Jews in Kaunas, which had survived the first wave of murders had, up to 15 August1941 resettled in the area delineated in the Viliampole ghetto. Major projects such as the construction of the airfields for the Luftwaffe demanded that Jewish forced labourers were not only, as originally planned by the civil administration, used in ghetto workshops, but also in the city. According to Jäger, it had proven to raise the 'Arbeitsfreudigkeit' (Delight in working) in the ghettos to be appropriate to let the Jews initially work with their relatives. Moreover, and this aspect was due to the pressing shortage of civilian personnel at least a strong motivation, and offered the ghettos the advantage that important organizational issues, leaving the implementation of resettlement and the management of shortages in supplies, in addition to the countless instructions, to the Judenrat (Jewish Elder). These measures the Germans could maintain to 'sell' effectively as their 'Neuordnung' (New Reorganization) that gave the impression to the Jews they were safe, but not for long.
Although there was little social integration between the Jewish and Lithuanian populations of pre-war Kaunas, outbreaks of explicit anti-Semitism were rare. However, the arrival of German troops on June 23, 1941 unleashed an unexpectedly ferocious wave of popular violence. On June 25, Lithuanian gangs ran riot in Viliampole killing an estimated 1,000 civilians and decapitating chief rabbi Zalman Ossovsky. Two days later in central Kaunas, a group of over fifty Jews was driven onto the forecourt of the Lietükis garage and clubbed to death by the locals, with German soldiers looking on. Gruesome footage of the incident has subsequently been used in several Holocaust documentaries. On July 10, all the city's Jews were herded into the newly established Ghetto in Viliampole (Viljampo). Many were relieved by the move, thinking this would protect them from violence of the Lithuanian hooligans. However, regular 'actions', in which arbitrary chosen groups of Jews were rounded up and shot by the Germans, and became commonplace as the autumn of 1941 wore on. The enthusiasm of the local Lithuanian population for ant-Semitic excesses continued to astound even the Germans. Colonel Jäger of Einsatzgruppe A, the organisation charged with implementing mass killings throughout north-eastern Europe, notoriously reported that Kaunas, 'where trained Lithuanian volunteers are available in sufficient numbers, it is comparatively speaking a shooting paradise'.
[Germany invaded the Soviet Union beginning on June 22, 1941. Mobile killing squads known as Einsatzgruppen followed the German Army into the occupied areas. There were four Einsatzgruppen (A, B, C and D), which were in turn divided into smaller units called Einsatzkommandos and Sonderkommandos. Einsatzgruppe A, commanded by SS - Brigadeführer Walter Stahlecker, carried on mass executions of the Jewish population in Lithuania and other Baltic areas. Einsatzkommando 3 (a subunit of Einsatzgruppe A) operated in Lithuania. The deeds of Einsatzkommando 3 were set forth in an infamous document known as the Jäger report, which was dated December 1, 1941. In that document Karl Jäger, commander of Einsatzkommando 3, set forth totals of executions by location in Lithuania. The executions outlined in the report began on July 4, 1941, and totalled over 137,000.HKS]
Right from the start it was clear that those members in the [Jewish] community required by the Germans for work duty stood a good chance of surviving (for the time being), while the others were likely to be murdered. This placed Jewish Leaders, who controlled the issue of permits, in the unenviable position in deciding who lived and who died. Some argued that a refusal to issue work permits at all would be the only morally correct action to take, until the new chief rabbi Abraham Dov Shapiro decreed that an attempt to save some Jewish lives was better than no attempt at all. On October 28, the Jews of Vijampole were assembled by their community leaders so that several thousand of them could be selected for work duties by the SS. Of the 20,000 of them were taken away and shot within weeks, most were murdered in the notorious Ninth Fort just outside the city.
Despite frequent actions and arbitrary shootings Vijampole's surviving Jews attempted to preserve a semblance of normal life in the years that followed. The able-bodied continued to work in factories inside and outside the Ghetto, squares were ploughed up and used to grow vegetables, and a 35-piece Ghetto-Orchestra gave regular concerts. In April 1944, the Germans decided to clear the Ghetto of its remaining 8,000 inhabitants. The women were sent to Stutthof, the men to Dachau, where 75 percent of them perished. By the time the Red Army arrived in August there were no Jews left in Kaunas, save for the fortunate ones hiding in the surrounding forests.
|Buildings in Jurbarko street. This trunk road delimits the southern boundary of historic southern Vilijampolė.|
The handling of the 'Jewish question' particular in the early phase of German occupation regime in Lithuania and the unbalanced interplay between economic considerations and possible adverse economic consequences in the pursuit of murders by the SS and police units, often with the participation of the armed forces (Wehrmacht), the Civil and the Lithuanian Auxiliary Administration, was often incredulous. Jewish Men and women, old people and children in Jägers opinion, he maintained, that on the grounds of anxiety, they were a 'considerable risk factor for the troops in the rear'. As potential trouble spots alongside Jews there were other groups: In February 1942, Jäger asked his superiors of the KdS Lithuania, in Berlin, by recommending the creation of a concentration camp for prisoners of up to 3,000-4,000 not far from Kaunas. For the duration of the war there were people incarcerated, 'who had supported the Bolsheviks, no serious charges can be held against them, but at present a special treatment could not be justified'. A release of these prisoners from overcrowded prisons is, 'with regard to the safety of the rear army(rückwärtiges Heeresgebiet) is impossible'. About the Jews as prisoners in Jägers writings was also little mention of how the existing Kaunas ghetto should be dissolved, but he reveals that the objective is essentially the same as his Sipo colleagues in the 'Ostland': The camp can be 'a very lucrative operation', by forcing the prisoners to break down the large peat deposits in the area.
In their efforts to create concentration camps, the regional Security Police commanders were more guided by functional rather than formalistic considerations in this early phase of German rule of occupation. This corresponded in their task with the largely independently self-understanding acting SS officers and their own interests. Whether concentration camps, ' camps for Jews' or ghettos, it was important to them in their planned design, to have total control of safety and policing. (sicerheitspolizeiliche Kontrolle). With this objective, they followed the lead of their leadership, but the initiatives of Stahlecker, Lange and Jäger, did not receive a positive reaction from Berlin at this time. Firstly, the SS headquarters was not convinced of the economic viability of new camps. They did not approve of another haphazard proliferation of concentration camp systems that required an Administration and had to be fed. For the RSHA therefore, the establishment of concentration camps was out of question. Instead, Sipo and SD in the 'Ostland' in question, could under Stahlecker's direction set up only extended police prisons or work camps (Arbeitserziehungslager). Secondly, they raised the question of the crucial civil administration, who were sub-ordinate to the stationed Sipo and SD commanders in accordance with Hitler's instructions (Hitler-Anweisung), who would claim a decisive voice in dealing with the 'Jewish question'. When Rosenberg's first governors took up their new posts in the 'Ostland' at the end of July, 1941, they could only prevail through official channels of the Sipo and SD Departments, although they were responsible for the civil administration and the supervision of the ghetto, with its extensive labour and enrichment potential, while Stahlecker's men kept the overall security police control of all facilities in the ghetto.
|The 21st Latvian Police Battalion assemble a group of Jewish women for execution on a beach near Liepaja.|
|Construction of 9th Fort began in 1902, and it was completed on the eve of the First World War.|
Karl Jäger was the head of Einsatzkommando 3, a sub-unit of Einsatzgruppe A. Under his command, Einsatzkommando 3 took everyone off the trains after their arrival to the Ninth Fort, where, shortly after arrival, the Einsatzkommando shot them all. There were two separate shootings, on 25 November and on 29 November. In the 25 November shooting, 1,159 men, 1,600 women, and 175 children were killed. In the 29 November shooting, 693 men, 1,155 women, and 152 children were killed. It is not known who issued the orders for the murders of these people.
By November 1941, the Nazi regime had murdered very large numbers of people in mass shooting incidents, and the murder of 5,000 people, including large number of children, in two days would not have been unusual for the Einsatzgruppen. However, until the November massacres at the Ninth Fort, no Reich Jews had been killed in such massacres. Some Nazis who were quite willing to kill Ostjuden (Eastern Jews) hesitated when it came to the Reich Jews. Wilhelm Kube, one of the chief Nazi officials in Minsk, stated:
Among these Jews are front veterans with the Iron Cross first and second class, war wounded, half Aryans, and even a three-quarter Aryan ... In repeated official visits in the ghetto I have discovered that among the Jews, who distinguish themselves from Russian Jews in their personal cleanliness, are also skilled workers, who are perhaps five times as productive as Russian Jews ...
I am certainly tough and ready to help solve the Jewish question, but human beings who come from our own cultural sphere are something other than the native bestial hordes. Should one assign the Lithuania's and the Latvian's, who are even rejected by the population here, with their slaughter? I could not do it.
Consequently, it is believed issues of this nature related to the Ninth Fort murders, together with the 1,000 German Jews killed at Rumbula near Riga on 30 November, caused Himmler to temporarily (with certain exceptions) halt the mass killings of deported Reich Jews, until some means of slaughter other than mass shooting could be devised. Despite this, significant numbers of German Jews (approximately 4,300) were killed in Riga in February and March 1942, in massacres which included the Dünamünde Action. Important issues related to the Ninth Fort November killings remain in dispute among historians. In particular, it is unknown why Himmler should have (belatedly) objected to the murder of 1,000 Reich Jews at Riga on 30 November, when he apparently said nothing about the killings of 5,000 Reich Jews at the Ninth Fort on 25 and 29 November.HKS]
The war economic aspect of the 'Final Solution' from the beginning of 1942 moved closer to the centre of planning. Only five days after the Wannsee Conference Himmler advised the inspector of concentration camps Richard Glücks about his view 'of the Jews, who intend emigrating from Germany, a large number', Himmler mentioned 100,000 male and 50,000 female Jews, they have to be deported until the spring into concentration camps. 'Big economic tasks and jobs' Himmler's explained, will be demanded to his assessment in the coming weeks from concentration camp facilities. Nevertheless, it was difficult to enforce these new priorities in the existing system: In the concentration camps in the Reich, Jews were since 1933 considered as 'fair game', the camp SS in their treatment itself imposed no consideration, and also in the 'East' it was in dealing with Jews that they have only proceed on the criterion of economic-interests, if it could not be avoided.
Of particular importance emerged the transfer of East-West expertise in dealing with the 'Jewish Question' from those camps that had been established on Initiatives by regional SS and Police Leaders. During spring of 1940 Odilo Globcnik ordered to build in the Lublin district of the 'General Governments' dozens of 'forced labour camps for Jews' for a total of 70,000 prisoners. Similar camps were created since October 1941 in Galicia, by Friedrich Katzmann to build the 'thoroughfare IV '(Durchgangsstraße IV). Since late 1941, SS and police brought hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews into the death camps of Chelmno, Belzec, Treblinka Sobidor who had been deported first to Poland and temporarily subdued and left alive under a concentration camp-like regime. Other camps which at first operated in a regional function, like Plaszow, Lublin-Majdanek or Pionki were integrated as a main or secondary internments into the concentration camp system, after they had demonstrated in the eyes of the Berlin headquarters their usefulness. Between the occupied territories of the Soviet Union and Berlin, the exchange of information flowed sometimes very sparsely which did not help to improve existing problems. In May 1942, the Security Police and SD sites were instructed by Gestapo chief Müller of 'Ostland' via messages received, of 'special treatment' towards Jewish forced labourers that in the future 'in execution of a general arrangement'(Anordnung) by Himmler, able-bodied Jewish men and women aged from 16 to 32 years, should be absorbed and integrated into concentration camps or labour camps 'to be used in a controlled environment for useful purposes'.
; CONTINUED UNDER PART 2/2