Friday, February 26, 2016

Keine Liquidierung: Eine Neubeurteilung

I. The Controversy Thus Far

Among the controversies inspired by the publication in 1977 of David Irving's Hitler's War was the reproduction in that volume of a page of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler's telephone log. In particular, the page cited by Irving, among other content, listed a series of notes taken by Himmler during or pursuant to a telephone conversation with RSHA chief Reinhard Heydrich. At the time of the call, Heydrich was in his office in Prague, while Himmler was at FHQ Wolfsschanze in occupied Poland, where Hitler was then spending a majority of his time.


The four lines in Himmler's telephone log pertaining to the conversation with Heydrich, at 1:30 p.m. on November 30, 1941, read thus:
Verhaftung Dr. Jekelius
Angebl Sohn Molotows.
Judentransport aus Berlin.
Keine Liquidierung.
Irving translated them as follows:
Arrest Dr. Jekelius
Alleged son of Molotov.
Jew-transport from Berlin.
No liquidation.
On the basis of this telephone note, Irving presumed that Hitler had interceded in the planned liquidation of a particular transport of Jews from Berlin. This, Irving claimed, proved that the extermination of Jews in areas under Nazi control was a project about which Hitler was perhaps ignorant, and upon learning of plans for wholesale extermination, he interceded to stop it.

Unsurprisingly, the response of historians to Irving's allegation has been uniformly negative. From initial responses from Martin Broszat and Gerald Fleming to later interpretations of the note from Christopher Browning, Richard Breitman, and others, the consensus has arisen, in contrast, that the note recorded a late attempt to prevent the shooting of a particular transport of Jews which, that day, was arriving in Riga, Latvia. On that same day in Riga, November 30, 1941, SS men and Latvian auxiliaries under the command of Higher SS and Police Leader Friedrich Jeckeln were undertaking the extermination of roughly half of the Jews residing in the Riga Ghetto, with the other half to follow on December 8. The best available evidence suggests that the roughly one thousand Jews from Berlin arrived in Riga either immediately before the "Action" or as it was under way and were shot with the Latvian Jews that same day.

Nevertheless, we are still left with several problems regarding this telephone note and its content and purpose. I.e., did the order originate, for whatever reason, from Hitler? Did it instead originate from Himmler or even from Heydrich? Regardless of the person from whom it originated, why was this order, presuming that it was a directive not to liquidate the Jewish transport from Berlin that had already arrived and been shot -- and I do think we must presume that (although perhaps, at a later date, I can address the alternate explanations) -- given in the first place?

Several scholars have offered plausible explanations of the latter point, not the least of which include conflicts of interest between the HSSPF and RSHA in Riga, specifically regarding the apportioning of some percentage of able-bodied Jewish men for labor, and ongoing protests, mainly from the civilian authorities in the Reichskommissariat Ostland, over the treatment of Jews in the east, including sometimes the raising of objections specifically over the matter of German Jews. However, explanations of who gave the order on November 30 have been less clear.

II. Enter Emil Finnberg

As far as I've been yet able to determine, the role of SS-Hauptsturmführer Emil Finnberg was first suggested to be essential to understanding the November 30 phone note by Peter Klein, in his essay "Die Erlaubnis zum grenzenlosen Massenmord," which was published in the 1999 volume Die Wehrmacht: Mythos und Realität, edited by Rolf-Dieter Müller and Hans-Erich Volkmann. Finnberg was in Riga in 1941 as a member of Einsatzgruppe A, specifically as adjutant to the head of Einsatzgruppe A Walter Stahlecker and then as chief investigator for BdS Riga. Later, Finnberg served in the SD office in Breslau. He survived the war and went on to give several depositions and undergo several interrogations. Perhaps most famously, he testified at the 1965 Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt.

To explain the November 30 phone note, Klein cites two statements from Finnberg -- one from 1960 an the other from 1961 -- in which Finnberg tells virtually identical stories about a disagreement between Jeckeln, who directed the liquidation of the Jews of the Riga Ghetto on November 30, 1941, and SS-Standartenführer Rudolf Lange of Einsatzkommando 2, who was with the SD in Riga.

The statement from 1960:
Im März 1942 hatte die damalige Oberführer Jeckeln in seiner Eigenschaft als [HSSPF] in Riga die Auflösung die Ghettos und die Beseitigung der Juden angeordnet. Dr. Lange, der damals Kommandeur der [Sipo] in Riga war, hat diesen Befehl abgelehnt. Daraufhin hat [Jeckeln] Judenschießungen durch die ihm unterstellten Polizeikräfte durchführen lassen. Ich weiß von dieser Angelegenheit, weil Dr. Lange eine entsprechende Unterstützung durch [Heydrich] haben wollte und über die Funkstation des BdS in Riga mit Berlin verkehrte. Da das Fernschreibnetz dem [HSSPF] unterstand konnte Dr. Lange ohne dessen Kenntnis keine Nachrichten nach Berlin durchgeben. Dr. Stahlecker war in diesem Zeitpunkt schon gefallen und ein Nachfolger nach nicht eingesetzt. (qtd. in Klein 933-34)
Translated:
In March 1942, the then Oberführer Jeckeln, in his capacity as HSSPF in Riga, ordered the dissolution of the ghetto and the elimination of the Jews. Dr. Lange, who was the then commander of the Security Police in Riga, rejected this order. Consequently, [Jeckeln] had the shootings of Jews carried out by his subordinate police forces. I know about this matter because Dr. Lange wanted appropriate support from [Heydrich] and communicated with Berlin via the radio station of the BdS in Riga. Since the telex network was under [Jeckeln], Dr. Lange could not get messages through to Berlin without his knowledge. Dr. Stahlecker had by this time already died, and a successor had not yet been appointed.
Next, the 1961 statement:
Zur Person Langes möchte ich noch nachtragen, daß ich einmal erlebt habe, wie er sich Jeckeln widersetzte. Stahlecker muß wohl gerade gefallen gewesen sein. Lange lehnte es ab, die von Jeckeln befohlene Liquidation des Ghettos durchzuführen. Ich habe davon erfahren, weil er nämlich zu unserer Funkstelle kam, um unter Umgehung von Jeckeln den Entscheid von Heydrich und Himmler herbeizuführen. Diese untersagten die Exekutionen, Jeckeln ließ sie trotzdem durch seine Kräfte durchführen. Danach war das Verhältnis zwischen Lange und Jeckeln äußerst gespannt, worunter die gesamte [Sipo] litt. (ibid)
Translated:
On the person of Lange, I would like to add that I experienced once how he resisted Jeckeln. Stahlecker must surely just have died. Lange refused to carry out the liquidation of the ghetto that Jeckeln ordered. I know about this namely because he came to our radio station to bypass Jeckeln by obtaining a decision from Heydrich and Himmler. This prevented the executions; Jeckeln still had his forces carry them out. Thereafter, the relationship between Lange and Jeckeln was extremely strained, under which the whole Security Police suffered.
Presumably, Lange took issue with the Berlin Jews being taken to Rumbula, so he went to Finnberg's office to use the radio and to contact Berlin and appeal to Heydrich and/or Himmler. By the time Himmler, who had left Berlin on the morning of November 30, arrived at Wolfsschanze, it was too late to intercede. The strong reprimand about acting outside of orders with regard to Reich Jews being settled in RKO issued by Himmler the following day, Lange's promotion to KdS two days later, and Jeckeln being summoned to meet Himmler in person on December 4 all indicate the fundamental interpretation of a disagreement between the RSHA and HSSPF being at the heart of the matter; Finnberg's testimony indicates the source of the complaint itself in Riga as Lange.

III. The Problems With Finnberg

Finnberg's account, however, is not without its problems. For one, the Rumbula Action was long over by March 1942, so at the very least, the matter of the date must be worked out. Moreover, Stahlecker was, in fact, not dead in November or December 1941, although he was by the end of March 1942, which requires that Stahlecker's absence at the time of the incident between Lange and Jeckeln be explained. On the face of Finnberg's statement, all that we can be certain of is that there was a massacre of Jews going on; Lange, Jeckeln, and Finnberg were all currently serving in Riga; Stahlecker was not there (perhaps dead); and his replacement, Heinz Jost, had not yet arrived.

Jeckeln arrived in Riga sometime after November 12, 1941. We know that he met with Himmler in Berlin on that date. Andrew Ezergailis, in The Holocaust in Latvia, puts Jeckeln's arrival in Riga on "November 14 at the earliest" (p. 241). By August 1942, he is reported in Belarus, heading up the anti-partisan Operation Malaria.

Lange would have arrived in Riga with Einsatzkommando 2 in late June 1941. He is in Riga until moved to Reichsgau Wartheland in January 1945, where he presumably dies.


Stahlecker headed Einsatzgruppe A, which was headquartered at Riga in September 1941 but had moved onto Krasnogvardeysk by the first week of October. Stahlecker would have returned to Riga more or less permanently when named BdS Ostland on November 8. Beginning the first week of December, he concerned himself mainly with KZ Jungfernhof. Sometime between the last trainload arriving at Jungferhof on December 10 and his death, on March 23 of the following year, Stahlecker went to the front, but it is unclear exactly when, and it is also unclear whether he returned to Riga during this period or how often. Ezergailis places him at Rumbula on November 30 (p. 254), but he seems to be alone in doing so.

Finnberg was attached to Stahlecker as adjutant and moved with him until Finnberg himself was promoted to the position of chief investigator in October 1941. By 1943, however, he is stationed in Breslau, as noted above, although the time of his transfer is similarly unclear.

We can consider November 14 to be the earliest possible date on which the events that Finnberg describes took place. Continuing, if we take at face value Finnberg's statement that Stahlecker was not there and his replacement had not yet arrived, then we can determine the latest possible date on the basis of Jost's taking of Stahlecker's post.


When Jost was interrogated in May 1947, he recalled receiving the command in April, but corrected his account on prodding from the interrogator to March 24 (the day after Stahlecker's death) and then to March 27. The interrogation definitely places Jost at the head of Einsatzgruppe A by April 7 (p. 4). Therefore, the events described by Finnberg would fall between November 14, 1941, and April 7, 1942.

However, in a later interrogation, in March 1948, Jost also provides important information about Jeckeln's whereabouts:

JECKELN ist sehr spät in das Baltikum gekommen, ich schätze dass es im Winter gewesen ist, so um den November herum, da war er zuerst in Riga bis er den Auftrag bekam diese Kampftruppen zu bilden. Ich glaube es war im January oder Februar. Und dadurch ist der den militärischen Dienststellen bekannt geworden. Vorher als er in Riga war, war er den Dienststelle nicht bekannt, weil Riga zivilverwaltetes Gebiet war und mit der Heeresgruppe Nord nichts zu tun hatte (pp. 6-7).
Translated:
JECKELN was very late coming to the Baltics, I guess that it was in the winter, so around November, because he was first in Riga until he got the job to form this battle group. I think it was in January or February. And thus, he became known to the authorities. Before, when he was in Riga, he was unknown to the department because Riga was governed by the civil authorities and had nothing to do with Army Group North.
Here our problems compound. Finnberg says the disagreement between Lange and Jeckeln occurred in March 1942, when Stahlecker was dead and not yet replaced -- which would limit the possible time to about a week. However, Jost, who is that very replacement, states that Jeckeln had left Riga by March and was now attached to Army Group North. Clearly one of them is wrong, but Jost seems in a better position to know the whereabouts of someone who, like him, was attached to the army, as Finnberg was not. It seems reasonable to conclude that Finnberg has the date wrong.

Klein answers some of these questions for us. He notes, e.g., that if it were March, as Finnberg stated, there could not have been the total liquidation of the ghetto happening at the same time because, by then, a policy had already been established to assign Jews to forced labor for one of several agencies or for the Wehrmacht. Further, Klein notes that the Dünamünde Actions occurred in spring, but this wasn't the event to which Finnberg referred because Lange himself had organized that action, and it wasn't a liquidation but a culling of Jews unable to work. Finally, Klein suggests that Finnberg likely mixed up the date because Stahlecker's absence was memorable; otherwise, the Einsatzgruppe leader would likely have intervened (pp. 934-35)

Therefore, the dispute between Lange and Jeckeln must have taken place between November 14 (Jeckeln's arrival in Riga) and February 28 (to put the date as late as possible according to Jost's interrogation). The events of mass shootings committed by the Nazis in Riga during this period were the following:

  • November 30: Rumbula I
  • December 8: Rumbula II
  • December 9: Riga Ghetto, 500 Jews who had hidden during the previous actions are killed
  • January 19: A transport of Czech Jews arriving via Theresienstadt is shot upon arrival.
  • February 5: A group of Jews is taken from the Riga ghetto and shot.
The next mass killings did not occur until March (Dünamünde). As noted, it is possible, perhaps even likely, that Finnberg conflated the date of Dünamünde with that of Riga and moreover conflated Stahlecker's mere absence with his death.

IV. The Final Piece of the Puzzle

The final matter to determine is which of the five above dates -- November 30, December 8, December 9, January 19, and February 9 -- is the date on which Finnberg's reported dispute between Jeckeln and Lange arose. The only plausible date among the five is the first because the latter dates either did not involve Lange or involved his participation without incident.

Taking the second point first, the December 9 incident did not involve the Security Police and thus did not involve Lange and his men; it was carried out entirely by the Schutzpolizei under the aegis of the Ordnungspolizei, which had been subordinated to the HSSPF before the invasion of the USSR.

Regarding the December 8 action, while these murders did involve Lange and his men, we know from testimony, particularly that of Viktor Arajs, one of the chief Latvian collaborators and leader of the so-called Arajs Kommando, that his own participation on that day was authorized by Lange, who was Arajs's primary contact with the Nazi occupying forces. Moreover, Andrej Angrick and Klein, in The "Final Solution" in Riga, report that Security Police were specifically deployed on December 8 to clear the ghetto and move people to Rumbula to be shot -- "probably a direct consequence of Himmler's criticism of Jeckeln" over the previous week (p. 154).

The January 19 incident, pointed out to me by HC blogmate Jonathan Harrison, as far as I've been able to tell, is attested only by Angrick and Klein, who cite no specific source regarding the incident (p. 261ff). Ezergailis does not report it at all; his list of transports to Riga, taken in turn from Riga survivor and historian Gertrude Schneider, reports that the transport arrived and was sent to the ghetto and to Salaspils. There is also limited evidence, primarily from SS-Hauptsturmführer Heinz Trühe, who served with the Sipo and SD in RKO, that the transport was killed using gas vans. In any case, the Czech/Theresienstadt transport was an RSHA transport, so there is little chance that Lange was not directly involved in how it was treated.

The February 5 incident was brought up to me by blogmate Jason Willis Myers, who pointed me to the relevant pages in Browning's Origins of the Final Solution (p. 397ff). Browning also cites Schneider here, and Schneider, for her part, places responsibility for the "action" firmly on SS-Obersturmführer Kurt Maywald, who worked directly under Lange and apparently also organized the Dünamünde actions. Therefore, we can consider the February 5 incident as having Lange's approval.

This leaves only November 30 as a possible date for the dispute to have arisen between Jeckeln and Lange.

V. Back to Wolfsschanze

Having established that Finnberg's testimony refers to events of November 30, 1941, we can consider some points in closing. Perhaps the most significant of these issues is why Lange would have been irked enough by Jeckeln's decision to shoot 1,000 Jews from Berlin alongside perhaps ten times that many from Riga to contact Heydrich on the matter.

After all, as my blogmate Nick Terry has pointed out to me, we know from the Stahlecker Report that men from Lange's Einsatzkommando 2 participated in the Rumbula shootings, so the question does arise regarding the basis upon which Lange would raise an objection. The explanation of a mere conflict between capacities is logical but seems a tad insufficient.

Lange was, in late November and early December 1941, concerned primarily with establishing the Salaspils concentration camp to receive Reich Jews. That Salaspils was not ready earlier was the primary reason that transports of Reich Jews originally planned to be sent to Riga were re-routed to Kaunas (where they were shot by Karl Jäger's Einsatzkommando on November 25 and 29). 

The final answer for why Lange took such issue with Jeckeln's decision only days later might be that offered by Richard Breitman in his book Official Secrets. He writes about the November 30 transport:
This transport included a number of decorated World War 1 veterans, who according to prior SS decisions, should have been sent to special camp at Theresienstadt for prominent or decorated early Jews. When Himmler found out about their presence on the train, he tried to cancel the killing, calling on Heydrich to intervene; but the action had already taken place. Himmler was furious at this breach of instructions and political insensitivity. (p. 83)
Breitman's version is bolstered by two key supporting pieces of evidence. First, as noted by multiple authors, the Kaunas transports shot by Jäger had also included decorated veterans; the well-attested complaint from Minsk of Wilhelm Kube, Generalkommissar for Belarus, that same week also noted this point. Finally, Christian Gerlach, in his landmark essay on Wannsee (pp.  770-71), notes that only then days earlier, Adolf Eichmann had issued a memo urging caution in deporting decorated war veterans; Gerlach notes further that, given consistent complaints to the RSHA on this point, this exemption continued into the subsequent year.

Were Lange aware that decorated veterans were among the thousand Jews that Jeckeln intended to have shot on Nov. 30, it is likely, given Eichmann's guideline, that Lange would take the matter to the RSHA. Assuming he was able to reach Heydrich and communicate his concerns, the latter could in turn inform Himmler, and the RFSS could issue his own directive: Judentransport aus Berlin / Keine Liquidierung. Finnberg provides the missing link between Lange and Heydrich.