The Jäger Report (2)
The Jäger Report (3)
The Jäger Report (4)
The Jäger Report (6)
The Jäger Report (7)
The Jäger Report (8)
The present blog contains accounts of massacres organized by Einsatzkommando 3 in the Kaunas (Kowno) ghetto and the killing of mentally handicapped people by this unit. 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").
The extermination of sick ghetto inhabitants
On 26 September 1941 there was a massacre in Fort VI at Kaunas that especially targeted sick ghetto inhabitants. It was carried out by the 3rd Company of Police Battalion 11 under the command of Captain Alfred Tornbaum and Lieutenant Iltmann. This massacre was mentioned as follows on page 4 of the Jäger Report:
Sept. 26, 41 Kauen 412 Jews, 615 Jewesses, 581 J children 1,608
(Sick or suspected of carrying epidemics) [This information is missing in the THHP translation – RM.]
The next exterminatory operation took place on 4 October 1941 and claimed 1,845 victims. Jäger’s report mentioned it as follows:
Oct. 4, 41 Kauen - F. IX 315 Jews, 712 Jewesses, 818 J Children (punishment operation because a German policeman was shot at in the ghetto) 1,845
The Kaunas Jews called this massacre the "Small Ghetto Action". One of the eyewitnesses was the already mentioned Jewish ghetto policemen Jehoshua Rosenfeld. He recalled the following (Wette, Jäger, p. 116, my translation):
In the night of 3.10. to 4.10.1941 I was on night duty in the second Jewish police station, which was opposite to the Small Ghetto.
At this point I wish to briefly mention that the Big Ghetto and the Small Ghetto were separated from each other by the Panerus street. The Big and the Small Ghetto were connected by a footbridge across the Panerus street. In the twilight we heard shots. When we left the station, we saw that men of the 3rd Police Company had surrounded and partially entered into the Small Ghetto. The policemen who had entered the Small Ghetto took the Jews out of their apartments and collected them in a square. After selecting those able to work, who were taken to the Big Ghetto via the already mentioned footbridge, the remaining 600 not able to work were brought to Fort IX. As the road leading to Fort IX. could be well seen from the ghetto, I think there is no doubt about the direction of the march. […] As confirmation that the 600 from the Small Ghetto were shot at Fort IX I would like to mention that Jewish working detachments (the detachment working at the Gestapo) had to sort the clothes of those killed the next day. This was reported by members of this working detachment when they returned to the ghetto in the evening. It was the detachment led by Lipzer. Here I may mention that Lipzer himself perished in the liquidation of the ghetto.
The killing was again carried out by members of the 3rd Company of Police Battalion 11, who furthermore set fire to the entire hospital complex, causing all patients, doctors and nurses to perish in the flames. Joheved lnciuriene provided the following account of this killing, to which her own family fell victim (Wette, Jäger, page 117, quoting from lnciuriene, Joheved, "Rettung und Widerstand in Kaunas", in: Bartosvicius/Tauber/Wette, Holocaust in Litauen, pp. 201-217 (p. 207); my translation):
In this operation, unlike in the previous one, all those taken to Fort IX were shot. The hospital for contagious diseases was set on fire; the patients, the doctors and the nursing personnel perished in the flames without exception. Only those Jews who had a so-called "Jordan pass", which the Gestapo issued to specialized workers of use to them, were allowed to move to the Big Ghetto over the footbridge crossing the Panerus street.
Jewish ghetto policeman Jehoshua Rosenfeld also saw the Kaunas ghetto hospital burst into flames. His description was the following (Wette, Jäger, p. 117, my translation):
[The hospital] was a former three-story elementary school in the middle of the Small Ghetto, which was far taller than the one-story houses around, so that one could clearly see the fire. In the hospital, which had previously been nailed shut, both the windows and the exits from the ground-level floor, all patients as well as the nurses and the doctor on duty (Dr. Davidovich) were burned. The persons who tried to jump out of the upper stories' windows were shot by the police marksmen spread out around the hospital as soon as they appeared by the windows.
The killings on 4 October 1941 were also described by Rosa Simon, the wife of a paper wholesale trader from Frankfurt who had emigrated to the Lithuanian capital in 1933 (Wette, Jäger, p. 117, quoting from Simon’s report dated 6.12.1958 with the title Erinnerungsbericht über die Tragödie der Juden in Kowno, kept in the Hessian State Archives, Wiesbaden, Germany; my translation):
The Jews were collected like a herd of cattle, brought to the fort and shot with machine guns. We saw the sad procession with despair in our hearts and could only shout ‘Shma Israel’. On the same day our hospital, filled with patients, doctors and nursing personnel, was set on fire and burned. Can there be anything more cruel?
Murder of mentally handicapped people
Two entries in the Jäger report mention the killing of mentally handicapped persons.
One of these entries, on page 3, translates as follows:
August 22, 41 Aglona Mentally ill: 269 men, 227 women, 48 children 544
About this massacre Jäger sent a more detailed report to his superior SS-Brigadeführer Stahlecker, the commander of Einsatzgruppe A, with the following information (Wette, Jäger, p. 118, citing Operational Situation Report USSR Nr. 88 dated 19.9.1941, my translation):
On 22.8., 544 mentally ill from among the inmates of the Aglona madhouse were liquidated with support from the Lithuanian self-defense. 10 men, who can be considered healed with defect, will be released after sterilization to be carried out by the head of the institution Dr. Berg. After this measure the madhouse no longer exists. The further use of the nursing personnel (about 150) to care for the troops or to install a hospital shall be clarified in communication with the local field command post.
At his interrogation by officials of the Landeskriminalamt Baden-Württemberg (the crime investigation bureau of the German federal state Baden-Württemberg) in June 1959, Jäger provided a self-apologetic account of these killings, in which he portrayed himself as the savior of those mental patients that had been allowed to live, increased their number while reducing the number of those killed, and tried to make believe that all mental patients had been adult males. On pages 24 and 25 of the interrogation record, the following claims of Jäger’s are reproduced (my translation):
Upon further question which places I can remember where Hamann with his detachment carried out shootings of Jews, I can mention the following:
The number of people shot, dates or exact times of shootings I can no longer provide. I assume that I read the names of these places in event reports prepared by my office and signed by me.[...]
Except for Aglona I never saw the shooting sites at these places myself. About Aglona I still know that there was a madhouse there with about 200 mentally ill – as far as I can remember. Why I came to Aglona and when this was I can no longer say. I consider it possible that I had knowledge of the intended shooting of this sanatorium’s mentally ill and drove there for this reason. It may also be that I touched this place on occasion of another service trip. I can remember with certainty that when I arrived in Aglona I only found a doctor and a nurse with a remainder of 20 to 30 mentally ill. Of the sanatorium installations themselves and the location of the buildings I no longer have a memory. I only remember that the nurse and the doctor were in a hall with the mentally ill. The doctor stated upon my question that this remainder of 20 to 30 patients were light cases, which could be cured. I thereupon stated that these patients would not be shot. As far as I can remember they were mentally ill Lithuanians, only men, I saw no women and children. Whether there were Jews among them I don’t know, it is possible.
The other entry in the Jäger report about the killing of mentally ill people, on page 4, refers to the massacre at Marijampole on 1 September 1941 and translates as follows:
Sept. 1, 41 Mariampole 1,763 Jews, 1,812 Jewesses 1,404 Jewish children, 109 mentally ill, 1 fem. German national who was married to a Jew, 1 fem. Russian 5,090
The "Big Action" on 29 October 1941
The larges massacre among the Kaunas Ghetto's Jews was described as follows on page 5 of the Jäger Report:
Oct. 29, 41 Kauen - F. IX 2007 Jews, 2920 Jewesses 4273 Jewish children (cleansing of superfluous Jews from the ghetto) 9,200
The Jewish ghetto policeman Rosenfeld was eyewitness to parts of this operation. According to this witness Jäger himself was present at the "selection" of the victims, which was mainly carried out by SS-officer Helmut Rauca of EK3, called the "Butcher of the Ghetto" by the ghetto’s inhabitants. About the preparations for this huge operation Rosenfeld reported the following (Wette, Jäger, pp. 119-121, my translation):
Then came the Big Action. On Thursday, 23.10.1941, Rauca, Stütz and Jordan had come to the Council of Elders and demanded that until 28.10.1941 they be given a list of 8,000 persons also meant for resettlement to the Lupin [Lublin] area. On the same day the Council of Elders sent the Germans its rejection. Thereupon on Friday, 24.10.1941, Jordan went alone to Elkes and transmitted the order that on 28.10. in the morning all ghetto inhabitants were to gather in the Democrats Square. This order was issued threatening that those who remained in their apartments would be shot. In the Democrats Square the entire population had to deploy in groups of one thousand according to the labor detachment they belonged to. According to my recollection there were more than 30 such columns. I know this because the Jewish police, of which I was a member, was in charge of the deployment. The Elders, the ghetto police and the ghetto employees with their relatives formed the first group, which could pass complete without being bothered. Upon remonstration I now again remember that there followed the airport detachment with all members – about 5 to 7 columns of one thousand.
The selection whose commencement I described began at 10 hours. It was essentially carried out by Rauca. Of the groups of one thousand moving forward five abreast he uninterruptedly selected those able to work to the right and those not able to work to the left, without taking into consideration family membership or other human bonds. This went on until 15 hours. At about this time Rauca and his Gestapo people went away, obviously because the selection target had been reached. The remaining 5 or 6 columns of one thousand thereupon passed Lieutenant Iltmann, who however selected only few persons, about 30 very old and infirm. Captaim Thornbaum did not take part in the selection, he only walked around all the time supervising his people. Head Constable Blaszke with a detachment of his people searched the houses for people who had remained behind or were in hiding.
For about half an hour or an hour in the morning Jäger was also present. He only stood there and watched the procedure. I had not yet seen Jäger until then. Lipzer, who knew him well because he led the working detachment for the Gestapo office buildings, told me that this was Jäger. The person that Lipzer described to me as Jäger I remember as having been huge and strong. He wore an SS-uniform with a peaked cap. His rank insignia I can no longer clearly remember. […] I still know that Jäger was an SS-Standartenführer.
Jordan was also present at this action. He walked around all day and stood nearby Rauca. He did nothing himself. Also present was Hauptscharführer Stütz. Stütz also only supervised. Furthermore the city commandant Kramer was present at the time when Jäger was also present. He and Jäger were talking. Of the other participants, namely the entire 3rd Police Company and the Lithuanian guards company under the command of a Lithuanian air force lieutenant, I cannot provide anyone’s name.
Those selected were first brought through an opening especially created for this purpose in groups of hundreds to the Small Ghetto, where they had to spend the night. The next morning we could watch those selected being led to Fort IX. From there shots could be heard the whole day and the whole night.
The Jewish boy Solly Ganor, who on 28 October 1941 had made it through the selection with his whole family, could watch the death march of the 9,000 meant to die the next morning from the window of his ghetto apartment (Wette, Jäger, page 121, citing Ganor, Solly, Light one Candle, New York 1996, translated to German by Sabine Zaplin as Das andere Leben. Kindheit im Holocaust, Frankfurt a.M. 1997, pp. 107f.; my translation):
The horrible scream from Fanny [Solly’s sister] woke me up the next morning. I sat up in my bed and still saw how she tried to hold on to the window sill. Then her knees gave in and she fell to the ground. We rushed to the window. In the grey light of dawn we saw an endless column of people walking up the hill in the direction of Fort IX. A human queue kilometers long. This had nothing of the cruelty of the many bloody scenes that I had seen so far, and yet it was a thousand times worse. An unexplainable force drew us to the ghetto fence, where others had already gathered. Armed Lithuanians were lining both sides of the road as far as the eye could see, ready to shoot whoever tried to flee. It is impossible to describe the lamentations of those who recognized their relatives. The column was so long that the death march lasted from the break of day until noon. But we didn’t stand it for long and stumbled away before. […] Although Fort Nine was several kilometers away we heard the unmistakable rattling of machine guns.
Of the thousands killed that day a single person survived to tell the story of the massacre to posterity. His name was Kuki Kopelman, he was 13 years old and a friend of Solly Ganor’s. His mother, Vera Schor, was a famous pianist and his father a known chess player. Days after the massacre Kuki appeared at night at his friend Solly’s place in a coat that was much too large for him and issued a strange smell. He told Solly what had happened after the participants in the death march had arrived at Fort IX (Wette, Jäger, pp. 122-24, citing Ganor, as above, pp. 118, 119, 126; my translation):
German and Lithuanian guards stood at the gate with dogs who tore at their leash, growled and barked. We were chased through the gates. In the yard stood trucks with running motors. Sometimes they misfired, and that sounded like shots. A young German officer addressed us. "You will be taken to work camps in the east. Now you will first take a shower, and then you will receive working clothes. Undress and place your clothes here." He spoke in a civil tone, and despite all we knew about this place of horror we let ourselves be convinced by him. But any however small shimmer of hope was gone when we heard the long machine gun salvo and the screams. The Germans had also heard it, for now they turned their rifles on us. "Fast, you Jews! Undress and to the showers!" shouted an officer. "What you hear there are only the misfires of the trucks." But nobody moved, nobody seemed capable of moving a muscle. Quietly the officer went to an elder men close to him, lifted the Luger and shot him in the face. A head burst, and brain spluttered into the dirt when he fell to the ground. Suddenly all were undressing. When you are close to death each minute is precious, as if the next second would bring deliverance. Finally we all stood there naked, covering our private parts with the hands and trembling in the cold.
At the order of an officer the Germans and Lithuanians attacked us. "Run, run, you Jewish pigs", they shouted and hit us with sticks and rifle butts. The dogs attacked the slower ones and tore flesh out of their legs and buttocks. In wild panic we started to run, the guards and dogs after us. One could see how the bodies were steaming when they chased us around the wall. Then we turned the corner and saw dozens upon dozens of machine guns set up around an open field. They were firing into an enormous pit. I heard how they were screaming therein. I went almost mad with fear. I wanted to stand still, run away, flee, but a mass of wildly rushing bodies surrounded me like a straitjacket.
Germans and Lithuanians with their sleeves rolled up and red faces were loading and shooting into the crowd. Yellow flashes came from their rifle muzzles. A haze of blue smoke carried across the field. It was a scene of hell. Hoarse shouts, shrill screams of women, yelling children and babies, barking dogs. It stank of sweat and piss and shit. I saw a bearded man standing by the pit, his fists lifted up to the sky. "Jews!" he shouted. "There is no God! There’s a devil up there!" Blood ran down from his body, and they were shooting at him all the time, but he remained standing there and screamed at the sky. We had reached the pit. Thousands of corpses lay there, one upon the other, they were twisting and screaming and begging the Germans to finally put an end to it. It was hell, hell.
Kuki was dragged into the pit and buried alive there, squeezed between the many corpses. He gradually managed to free himself and drag himself out of the pit. The murderers were sitting in the fort and getting drunk. Kuki found the pile of clothes left behind by the condemned, took out a huge coat and fled to the fields in the direction of the Kaunas ghetto. He finished his account with the following remark:
You cannot imagine how glad I was to be back in the ghetto. I could have kissed every crooked house, every dirty cobblestone. It was good to be back home, no matter how bad it was there.
Jewish ghetto policeman Rosenfeld made the following observations after this operation (Wette, Jäger, page 124, my translation):
The clothes of the persons shot in this operation at Fort IX were brought with trucks to Kowno to the Gestapo office building. There, like after the previous operation, the Gestapo working detachment had to sort the things. On hand of identification documents, photographs and other personal belongings found on this occasion it was clearly established that these belonged to persons who had been affected by the big action.
There is no photographic evidence to illustrate the horrors described by Kuki Kopelman, the lone survivor of the massacre at Kaunas’ Fort IX on 29 October 1941. Other massacres committed in the occupied Soviet territories by Nazi mobile killing squads were, however, photographed by the killers themselves or by bystanders who were with the killers. Thus there are photographs from shootings at Sdolbunov, Ponary, Liepaja and Ivangorod. The blog Photographic documentation of Nazi crimes includes photos from the Sdolbunov and Liepaja killings (numbers 1.1.18, 1.1.19, 1.1.66, 2.2.2), a photo showing an open mass grave by the Podolian town of Proskuriv (number 2.1.1) and another showing a scene from a mass shooting near Mogilev on 19.10.1941 (number 2.3.16), among other photos taken during or after mass shootings. Some such photos are also shown in the blog What it was like, about the liquidation of the Zloczow ghetto in April 1943. The blog Photos from the German East includes photos showing shooting victims in the Bikernieki Forest near Riga and a mass execution in the area of Einsatzkommando 8. The blog June 22, 1941 includes links to three photographs from the Yad Vashem photo archive captioned as pertaining to the Kamenets-Podolsk massacre on 27 and 28 August 1941:
Kamenets Podolskiy, Ukraine, Bodies, August 1941.
Kamenets Podolsk, Ukraine, Bodies, August 1941.
Kamenets Podolski, Ukraine, A pile of corpses.
These photos provide a faint idea of the kind of hell that Kuki Kopelman witnessed on the morning of 29 October 1941 at Kaunas’ Fort IX.
Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names contains no information about the ultimate fate of Kuki Kopelman. However, it contains the following information about Muma Kopelman, the boy’s father:
Muma Kopelman was born in Russia (USSR) in 1891 to Salomon and Sheindl. He was an agent and married to Wera nee Schor. During the war he was in Russia (USSR). Muma was murdered in Kowno, Lithuania. This information is based on a Page of Testimony (displayed on left) submitted by his brother.
The Jäger Report (6)