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Preparations to Turn the Ghetto
into a Series of Separate Labor Camps

- Conflict between the S.A.[a] and S.S.[b] concerning the management of the Ghetto. - S.S. - the new ghetto “owners”. - The first steps of dividing up the Ghetto into separate labor camps. - How they recruited for the first small labor camps in the provinces. - Founding a Jewish authority to select the people for the camps (the “Kazernirungs Commission”).

[Page 148]

In the Summer of 1943, the Ghetto went through a very strained atmosphere. They received tragic messages from the Ghettos in Vilna and Riga, where the occupying regime energetically conducted the liquidation of the Ghettos. They transported most of those Jews to specially established labor camps. This news robbed the Kovno Ghetto Jews of the bit of, so-called, tranquility which they had until then.

Over the past months, the Jews in the Kovno Ghetto lived in conditions that were relatively more favorable than the Jews in Vilna and Riga. After a while, those Ghettos took the remaining surviving Jews out and transferred them to labor camps. Since almost all the Kovno Jews still lived in the Ghetto, their situation was privileged by comparison to their brothers in Vilna and Riga. But this short tranquil pause ended for the ghetto Jews in Kovno, and the sky above the Kovno Ghetto was slowly starting to be covered with thick clouds.

[Page 149]

Changes for the worse began for the Ghetto with a conflict between the old bosses of the Ghetto, the representatives of the German civil management, headed by the Kovno City Commissar, S.A. Brigade Fuhrer, Hans Kramer, on one side, and on the other side, the representatives of the S.S., the new pretenders over the opinion makers of the Ghetto settlement.

The changed German strategic situation on the Eastern Front after the catastrophic defeat near Stalingrad and the possibility of a future retreat from the occupied Soviet areas, among other reasons, forced the “Jewish-desk” in the Nazi party to prepare proper preconditions for the liquidation of the remaining surviving Jews in the few Ghettos of “Estonia.” For this purpose, the Ghettos had to first be quickly converted into labor and concentration camps for all those Jews still alive to date.

The Nazi experts on the Jewish question knew very well that transporting the Ghettos to separate labor camps, with extremely strict regimes, would give them easier entry to conduct their plan designed to exterminate the remaining Jews in the occupied eastern areas. In the high Nazi spheres, it turns out, they believed that the extreme S.S. men were more suitable to conduct this operation, than the “moderate” S. A. people.

The old bosses of the Ghetto, the S.A. people, gained great material advantage from the Ghetto. Therefore, for this S.A. clique, losing power over the Ghetto meant losing a source of bribery, theft, and various other schemes, which they had in quantity, thanks to the Ghetto. Because of this, they did not easily want to give up their positions. In addition to the many tangible reasons, it also gave them the possibility of sitting in the quiet hinterland and not having to go to the Front. Therefore, a miserable struggle developed, which reached as high as the Central Party sphere in Berlin, over the question of management of the Ghetto. After a long stubborn fight, the S.S. finally came out victorious, and the Kovno S.A. people had to take leave of their warm benches.

Truth be told, during this dramatic struggle between the two blood brothers from the brown-executioner-family, the Jews were interested in having the former ones remain, as this had already translated into Jewish blood. They preferred falling under the tail of the S.A. people, rather than the evil and strict S.S. men, from whom new and heavy decrees were awaited. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out the way the Jews wanted.

In the beginning of September 1943, a tall S.S. functionary, S.S. Major, Wilhem Goecke, appeared in the Ghetto, and hastily took over the administration of the Ghetto from the City Commissariat. With his appearance in the Ghetto, the new ghetto boss created great confusion among the Jews. In a sense, the Jews felt that with his arrival in the Kovno Ghetto the “seven good years” were over and the Ghetto was stepping into a difficult period.

In the Ghetto they received news that Goecke was the executioner of Jews at a large massacre and the “high echelons” gave him a proxy to act according to his own vision. Thus, the Jews interpreted his arrival in the Kovno Ghetto as a sign that the Ghetto is on the eve of liquidation.

Additionally, at the start of September of this year, the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto took place. The largest portion of Jews were taken to Estonia for forced labor in the local camps. The older, weaker, adults and children were exterminated in Ponar, and the remaining few thousand Jews were resettled in a few labor camps near Vilna. The atmosphere in the Kovno Ghetto clearly became tense.

From his external physiognomy, Goecke immediately commanded fear in the ghetto Jews. He was a real tall Prussian-type, with wide shoulders, always in military style, a stretched-out body, a sad head, and a pair of deep penetrating eyes. Moreover, he started taking the management of the Ghetto into his own hands.

[Page 151]

Seeing a refined Jew-killer with a large amount of “singular-Nazi intelligence,” it turns out that Goecke decided that this time he would achieve his goals regarding the Ghetto “through the soft path,” which meant that before all else, he would establish a certain trust between himself and the Jews. He started on this path by enlarging the food distribution for the Ghetto. The former ghetto boss, the City Commissar, would simply steal the meager food-allotments for himself, despite being designated for the Jews. He might also throw in a hundred grams of bread a day per person for the Jewish population, and from time to time some rotten potatoes. But, Goecke ordered not only the established food distribution for the Jews, but he also cozied up to the Jews, so to speak, not to offend. And he even designated additional distributions of food products for the hard-working population.

Aside from the enlargement of the official distributions, he also didn't bother the Jews when they brought food products into the Ghetto, which they would buy illegally in the city during their work time. Superficially, at the start he made the impression that the new bosses of the Ghetto are not worse than the old ones, but, on the contrary, in certain details, for example, individual distributions, they were even better than the others. But very quickly Goecke started to betray himself with his new steps regarding the Ghetto.

He quickly started moving ahead to prepare the conditions to transform the Ghetto into a concentration camp. During the relocation of the largest portion of ghetto Jews to special Jewish labor camps, Goecke started his plan. He first renovated a large military building near the Kovno Aerodrome. This building was formerly a camp for Soviet prisoners of war. He ordered the Jewish Work Office to conduct the renovation of this building, as soon as possible. Although the ghetto Jews supposed that the newly renovated camp would be for them, there was no confirmation about this from the Ghetto Commandant.

[Page 152]

Secondly, before his arrival, the situation in the Ghetto was that over 5000 Jews worked together with Christian workers in about 200 city workplaces spread-out over-all corners of the city. This was excluding the Aerodrome where about 500 Jews worked. According to Goecke's plan, quick steps were taken to liquidate the distribution of Jewish workplaces and at the same time establish 5-6 large workplaces for Jews in the Kovno suburbs. During the establishment of the work positions and labor camps for Jews, Goecke hoped to achieve the following goals:

  1. the Ghetto with its compact load of about 16,000 souls would be divided up over a few labor camps, each one separated from the other.
  2. Jews being taken out of jobs where they worked together with non- Jews, removed the opportunity for the Jews to meet Christians – a factor which took on a terrible meaning for the Jews.
  3. having the labor camp near the work site itself, avoids having to transport the Jews from the Ghetto to the city to work and return, and
  4. and this is the main thing! At the appropriate moment, when the time came to liquidate the remaining Jews, it would be much easier to achieve, in the case when the Jews would find themselves in small, isolated work camps under a strong regime, rather than when a larger number of Jews would be concentrated in a ghetto, where the Jew had comparatively much more freedom of movement than in a labor camp.
According to Goecke's order, from day to day they closed more and more labor brigades in the city. The Jewish workers from the liquidated brigade would automatically be transported to the workplace especially established for Jews near the military commissary organizations[c] in the Kovno suburb of Shantz.

In addition to everything, these phenomena had a negative economic impact on the ghetto Jews. While working in a smaller workplace together with Christians, Jews had opportunities to exchange their last bit of clothes for food products. By forcing the Jews to work only in an environment of Jews, with no contact with non-Jews, it took away their opportunity to subsist. Therefore, the economic situation in the Ghetto started to sink very rapidly, and the largest portion of Jews started living worse than before.

[Page 153]

In the time approaching the summer of 1943, before the Ghetto was transferred to the authority of S.S. Major, Goecke, the ghetto population was recruited to three Jewish work camps in the Lithuanian provinces: 1) in Keidan – near the construction of that Aerodrome, with about 500 Jews, 2) In Palemun – in brick and peat-work, with about 300 Jews, and 3) in Kashedar – in peat and forest work, with about 300 Jews.

The recruitment for these labor camps was conducted by the authority of the Elders Council in the following way: every time it was necessary to recruit a specific number of Jews for the designated labor camp, lists of suitable candidates were put together for the camp. The following criteria were formally used during the assembly of these lists: first, single young men and women; second, families without little children, and third, it was commanded that only physically healthy and skilled people be considered to send to the camp.

The Jewish ghetto leaders weren't too meticulous about following the previously mentioned, straightforward guidelines. In ghetto life there was no shortage of connections and immoral phenomena, like corruption, influence, etc. So, we must truthfully say that, in fact, the lists were mainly made up of those who were standing on a lower rung of the social ladder in the Ghetto. These helpless and unprotected folk were the same obligated resource for the forced relocation to the labor camps.

To make people available for a possible earlier establishment of the labor camp, the lists would always be marked with a much larger number of people than was necessary for the camp.

[Page 154]

Practically, the recruitment for the labor camp would take place like this: a few days before the deadline to send the Jews off to the camp, unexpectedly, the noted persons would be detained mainly at night by the Jewish Ghetto Police. They would be held in the Ghetto Jail, until being transported to the camp. During these days and nights, the Ghetto would experience huge strain and upset. Those not yet detained dreaded that they would be detained, and the already detained would, through their friends and acquaintances who were free, apply various lobbying attempts to free themselves.

During recruitment time, many young and skilled single persons who were then the most suitable candidates for the labor camp, took pains to hide themselves somewhere in a hideout, so as not be found in their homes when they came to look for them. They would manage to do this until the transport to the labor camp would already leave and it was clear that the danger of being sent away to a camp was finally over - this time.

Just before the departure of the human transport to the camp, higher officials from the Elders Councils together with a Jewish medical commission, would come into the Ghetto Jail and finally decide who must go to the camp. In these closing hours, the area in and around the Ghetto Jail would buzz like a beehive. Those who would even have the slightest chance not to go, would try to use it in these same last minutes.

The climax of these painful and tragic ghetto events would heighten in that moment when they would begin transporting the people from the Ghetto Jail to the camp. A special convoy of Germans, Lithuanian partisans or Ukrainian Vlasovites [Soviet deserters] would come to pick up the Jews. Friends and acquaintances of the Jews selected to go to the camp came together around the two Ghetto Jails, where they held the collected people, and with wailing, like at a funeral, they escorted their dear ones. Horrible scenes would play out by the departure of the people. Cries, screams, hysterical episodes from women, etc., all mixed together and created a shivering picture of Jewish “life” in the Ghetto.

After the departure of the Jews for the labor camp, for a certain time there was a feeling of mourning in the Ghetto because of the departure of the people. But, the arrival of more evil decrees and problems pushed aside the prior happenings. The Ghetto would “live” with the new evils and afflictions. And it continued like this without an end.

[Page 155]

When Goecke took over the leadership of the Ghetto, it became clear to the entire ghetto population that his aim would be to transfer the entire Ghetto to the labor camps in stages. So, to regulate such a painful process to ghetto life, the top representative from the ghetto collective, the Elders Council, established a Kazernirungs Commission[d] which dealt with all the issues about transferring Jews from the Ghetto to the labor camps. Those active In the Kazernirungs Commission were Police Chief Moshe Levin, Dr. Valsonok, Engineer Ratger, David Ratner[e] N. Markovski (liberated in Dachau), P. Margolis.[f]

The Kazernirungs Commission quickly got into its work. An entire “staff” of workers was set up under its authority. The work of the Commission took place through the day and night. First, the Kazernirungs Commission drew up a plan how to divide the entire ghetto population. Depending on family condition, workplace, work skills, age, profession, etc., special categories were established to orient them to which work camp this or that Jew would eventually become quartered.

Aside from the people selected by the Elders Council, the Kazernirungs Commission also dealt with the representatives of the illegal social groupings in the Ghetto, like from the Communist, Revisionist, and Zionist streams. The task of the members of the Kazernirungs Commission was to defend the interests of their people regarding the quartering.

Since that time, the importance of the socially active elements continued growing, mainly because of their activity regarding the departure from the Ghetto to the partisans in the forest. The Kazernirungs Commission strongly considered their wishes and desires.

Aside from the ghetto Jews who had some loyalty to the social streams, at the first quarterings they were protective of those partisans who had good relations with the leading functionaries of the Jewish ghetto organization. Therefore, during the recruitment for the labor camps, the above-mentioned regular Jews, who built most of the buildings for most of the ghetto population, became exposed to the discretion of the Kazernirungs Commission.

True, the ghetto Jew formally could complain to the Elders Council against the decisions of the Kazernirungs Commission. Truth be told, such complaints would rarely ever be taken into consideration. The Jew who was designated for a labor camp had to fulfill the orders of the Kazernirungs Commission, willingly or unwillingly.

The first real assignment of the Kazernirungs Commission, under orders from Goecke, was the quick preparation of a list of 3000 ghetto Jews, to establish a Jewish labor camp for peat and forest labor in Ezheretshai.[g]


Original footnotes:

  1. S. A. Shturmabteilung = Assault Division Return
  2. S.S. Schutzstaffel = Protection Squads Return
  3. H.V.M. -Heeresverpflegungsmagazin=Army catering magazine, and H.B.A.- Heeresbekleidungsamt= Army Clothing Office. Return
  4. In the Kovno Ghetto, the transfer of Jews from the Ghetto to special Jewish work camps was called “Kazernirn” from the German word “Kazerneh”-Kazarmeh, which means quartering the Jews in Kazarmes or barracks at the labor places. The authority which had to do with these issues, was called: “Kazernirungs Commission”. Return
  5. About all of these see “Persons who were involved with the Partisan-movement.” Return
  6. See “Labor Office” Return
  7. A village settlement near the town Sapitshishok, about 40 km from Kovno. Return



Relocation Action to Estonia

- Preparations for recruiting 3000 Jews for the labor camp in Ezsheretshai. [now: Ezerelis] - The mood in the Ghetto on the eve of the relocation. - The arrest of the Jewish “wood-brigade.” - The first day of the Relocation Action. - The situation in the Ghetto when they began catching Jews. - The fate of the people who were taken out. - The day after the events of October 26th.

[Page 157]

As we saw in the previous chapter, the Ghetto Commander, Goecke, ordered the Elders Council to prepare a list of 3000 Jews for a new labor camp in Ezsheretshai, near Kovno. The Kazergirungs Commission, together with the Elders Council, worked at “full speed,” to finish the list of suitable candidates for Ezsheretshai as fast as possible. That was in the middle of October 1943.

The Elders Council trusted Goecke's explanations that the 3000 ghetto Jews were really needed for Ezsheretshai. The Elders Council then made all the preparations for the Jewish labor camp to be set up on a healthy basis. For that purpose, in Ezsheretshai, they planned to prepare associates from the various ghetto institutions of, for example, the Labor Office, Social Office, etc., just like in the Ghetto. This would establish a Jewish structure which would serve the camp population.

The recruitment of people for Ezsheretshai was not a secret for the ghetto Jews. Unlike the prior recruitment for labor camps, when they viewed it as a misfortune, now many Jews did not take it as tragically. Some Jews in the Ghetto knew that, first, they would sooner or later fall into a labor camp anyway, and second, the camp in Ezsheretshai was not worse than the other labor camps

Both the efforts of the Elders Council to set up a bit of order, as well as the “assurance” of Goecke to establish living conditions at the peat forest work in Ezsheretshai that were not any worse than in the Ghetto itself, significantly neutralized the fear of becoming destined for the new labor camp.

True, some ghetto Jews did want to remain in the Ghetto, rather than go to Ezsheretshai. But, as mentioned, it was not considered a great tragedy.

Regarding the Ezsheretshai issue, it didn't even enter their mind to disregard such a tragic demand.

The atmosphere in the Ghetto became quite strained like always before such happenings. It was as if the ghetto Jews intuitively felt that a great danger was approaching them, when it became clear that in the coming days, they had to prepare themselves for the recruitment to the new camp.

Dr. Elkes once again spoke to Goecke, to finally convince themselves of the truth of the explanation from the Ghetto Commandant, that the Jews will be relocated to Ezsheretshai and not anywhere else. He conveyed “assurance” that it is only about going to the Ezsheretshai camp.

Finally, Goecke communicated to Dr. Elkes, that the departure of the people to the new camp would take place on the 26th of October.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, the 25th of October, as they were loading wood not far from the train line, Jewish workers from the “wood-brigade” who worked in Alexot[a] noticed that there were many wagons with barbed-wire windows standing at the station. When the Jews tried to find out for whom these wagons were waiting, they received an elusive answer.

[Page 159]

Although the Jews from the wood brigade never suspected anything evil, a few hours before finishing work and going back to the Ghetto they saw Gestapo men come and order them to end their work and climb into the trucks, which they had brought with them. From the beginning the Jews thought that it was about an inspection by the Gestapo of the illegally purchased food products. But there was no inspection. The Jews couldn't figure out what was happening here. They saw that the Gestapo people were taking them in the direction of the 9th Fort, from where no one returns. Thus, as they drove by the Ghetto, the people cried and screamed to the ghetto Jews that they are taking them to the Fort. Even in the Ghetto, no one knew what happened to the people from the “wood-brigade.”

During the night between the 25th to the 26th of October, after a stop at the Fort, the petrified Jews were all returned to the Ghetto in the morning, where, as we would later see, the collection of the people had already taken place.

Thereafter, it became clear that the Gestapo took the workers from the “wood brigade” to the Fort, because they feared that the Jews who noticed the prepared wagons, would tell what they saw upon their return to the Ghetto. In this way, however, the ghetto Jews would not have any suspicion that the wagons were possibly prepared and designated for them.

The Gestapo preparations for the next day didn't remain totally secret in the Ghetto. Tuesday evening the Jewish brigade workers from the labor brigade, H.K.P.[b] as well as those from the “Power Office”, Kauen[c] came back from work and brought the confidential news that through the aforementioned German service positions, the Gestapo ordered a larger number of trucks for the next morning. This gave them serious cause to be suspicious that on the next morning, a day of only painful and difficult experiences would begin for the Ghetto.

[Page 160]

A few Jews had already prepared a hiding place to disappear until the rage would pass, but almost the entire population helplessly allowed themselves to be carried along with the flow of their fate. During the night, many ghetto Jews prepared a backpack for every adult family member with the most necessary items, to be prepared for any eventuality.

Once again it was a night of sadly famous sleeplessness in the Ghetto, when no one was sure if he would still be in the Ghetto the following night, or if he would be dragged somewhere to be killed. In the early morning, the familiar strengthening of the guard around the Ghetto Fence was clearer proof that nothing good would happen in the Ghetto.

In the early morning of Wednesday, the 26th of October, all the ghetto Jews were already awake and prepared for a difficult experience-filled day. Very early a published order from the Elders Council announced to the ghetto population that the Elders Council received an order from the regime to collect 3000 Jews for work in Ezhershtai. In the decree, it was unknown that there were lists already prepared of those Jews who were chosen to go to the new camp. The Elders Council called on the ghetto population to carry out the instructions exactly. The Ghetto Police would be coming into the homes to take the relevant people designated to go to Ezereshtai. At the end, the Elders Council said some comforting words to those Jews who came out to go to the camp, wishing them luck in their new “home.”

They didn't allow the Jewish city workers out to work that day. In the early morning hours, groups of Jews were already congregated near the houses and, with great nervousness, awaited the upcoming events.

At around 7-8 am, a strong guard force of German police, Gestapo, and civilian dressed Lithuanians from the Lithuanian Security Police, started to enter. The Jewish Ghetto Police with the prepared lists of persons designated for Ezhershtai, went around through the ghetto homes to collect and escort the designated persons.

[Page 161]

Many people who were expected to be on the lists were at first found at home because of the following reasons: first, no one knew if he was or wasn't on the list; second, the preparedness of escape by the majority of the ghetto Jews was paralyzed, as they believed what was previously said - that they were really going to Ezhershtai, a place near Kovno. And third, at that time, the total number of hiding places in the Ghetto was very low and Jews simply did not have a place to hide.

When entering a house to take people away to the camp, they would allow them to pack up only the most necessary items, which they would transport to the assembly point near the Ghetto Gate, on Varniu Street.

By lunch time, many ghetto Jews started doubting whether the assembled persons were really going to Ezshertshai. There was the assumption that from the Ghetto the transports were not going to the Nieman port where they should have gone in the case of travel to Ezshershtai, but rather the people were being transported to the Aerodrome.

From hour to hour the atmosphere in the Ghetto took on a more panicked character and each one tried to hide wherever possible, to avoid falling in among those collected according to the prepared lists. Therefore, the process was slowed down.

The Kazernirungs Commission received news from the Jewish Ghetto Police that they were almost at the end of the prepared lists but were still missing many people, because many were hiding. So, with great speed, they started creating new lists, not keeping within any guidelines, so long as they fulfilled the demand of the regime to recruit the needed number of Jews. But even these quickly-put-together lists did not help much because the people became more difficult from hour to hour.

The Gestapo, which conducted the Action, still waited for such an opportunity to carry out their piece of “work.”

[Page 162]

At around 2-3 o'clock in the morning, the Gestapo, together with staff of the Ghetto Commandant, Goecke, saw that about 1000 were missing. At that time, they let a large gang of sworn-in Vlasovites [Russian turncoats] into the Ghetto, who were hiding somewhere in the neighborhoods of the Ghetto since the morning. They were given a command to encircle the large block houses, where hundreds of Jews lived and, without selecting, chased all the Jews out to the street.

With wild murderous enjoyment of pogromists, the Vlasovites tore into the Jewish homes and let loose with their loaded rifles, guns, and hooligan curse-words. They threw themselves on men, women, and children, healthy and sick, young, and old, without exception, and chased them to the assembly point by the Ghetto Gate. There they were packed into trucks which would transport them from the Ghetto.

After chasing the Jews out of the large block of houses, the houses in the neighboring streets were attacked, and from there they also started chasing the Jews to the trucks. The bacchanalia of these wild murderers lasted a few hours. By that time, a horrible panic and pogrom atmosphere ruled the Ghetto. People started hiding themselves wherever they could. They ran like crazy from one corner to another. The screams and wailing were heard from those who were being dragged by the Vlasovites. These murderers also looted the Jewish houses which they attacked.

In this way, approximately 500 men were caught by the Vlasovites in a few hours.

As night fell and the needed total of Jewish victims was collected, the Gestapo camps and Police, together with their “colleagues,” the Lithuanians and Vlasovtites, slowly started leaving the Ghetto. On the streets of the Ghetto, it took a long time to see any human being. The ghetto Jews waited in deathly fear for what would come next.

[Page 163]

When it became clear that the Action was over, the hidden Jews slowly started to climb out of their holes. The Ghetto looked like a scene after a horrible pogrom. In many houses whole families were missing and a few individual persons were transported out of the Ghetto. In total that day there were 2700[d] Jews.

As was later explained, they brought the Jews from the Ghetto to the Kovno Aerodrome. The S.S. and Gestapo were already waiting for them, and at the head, the infamous leader from the Big Action, Captain, Rauca.

The following “arrangement” ruled at the Aerodrome: as soon as a truck with Jews arrived, the Nazi murderers would encircle the transported Jews and conduct a selection. The children were immediately taken away from their parents, anyone daring to say anything, and resist would be beaten murderously. The older and weaker men and women were divided separately.

The younger and healthier men and women were loaded in the nearby cattle wagons, 100 persons in a wagon. The loaded wagons were immediately encircled. The little wagon windows were lined with barbed wire. The crushing and screaming in the packed wagons were exceptionally great. People were squashed like herring in a barrel. There was no talk about eating or drinking. The Jews even had to unload their human needs in the same wagon.

The entire look of the Aerodrome was reminiscent of the horrible familiar pictures of the extermination Action. The laments and screams of the painfully-torn-apart family members were heartbreaking. It rained down on Jewish heads from all sides from murderous beatings from the thieving S.S. and Gestapo people.

According to later clarified information, they took the children, older and weaker men and women and transported them to Auschwitz, where they were gassed and burned. The number of victims that were then exterminated could not be determined.

[Page 164]

The division between the male and female skilled workers only started late in the evening. The Jews in the wagons saw that they were being transported somewhere. However, they didn't know where they were being taken.

Going over the railroad bridge, where there was a work position for ghetto Jews,[e] the people from the wagons threw out little notes on which they wrote to the Jews in the Ghetto, that they are being taken in an unfamiliar direction. Such notes were also thrown out near Keidan, where there was a Jewish labor camp. While they went through Shavl, the Shavl ghetto Jews who worked not far from the train comforted the Kovno Jews that they are being taken not for extermination but for work in Riga.

It was heard that a few days later the division arrived in Estonia and the Jews were settled in the work camp around Vayvara (near Narva) and around Klooga, where they had already found Jews, dragged from the Vilna and other Ghettos.

The largest portion of the Jews dragged from Estonia died from the hard punitive labor and from the inhuman living conditions.

In July 1944, when that Soviet summer offensive took place, the Nazis quickly started evacuating the eastern labor camps. After many rounds, about 4000 Jews from the camps around Vayvara were evacuated to the concentration camps in Germany. Because of the fast advance of the Soviet troops, the Hitlerites had not yet managed to evacuate the remaining Jews from the camps around Klooga. In the beginning of August 1944 these Jews were shot and laid out, ready to be burned on the pyres. The murderers hadn't yet managed to burn the victims because the Russian forces reached the site and found the shot Jews there, all prepared for burning on the pyres.

[Page 165]

A few dozen Jews did manage to get out of that mass slaughter and hide out in the Estonian forests. The largest number of them however, died as they fell into the hands of the Nazis, or died of hunger or disease. A few persons managed to overcome all these horrible experiences and were liberated exactly two months later.

Those evacuated toward Germany also shared the same fate as all the other Jews trailing into German concentration camps where survival to liberation was the exception.

As night passed after such a nightmarish day, the next morning the Jews themselves did not go to work in the city. Near the collection point by the Ghetto Gate from where they caught the Jews to send them in the trucks, there was a mountain of bags of Jewish clothes. At first the Jews wanted to take their clothes with them but seeing that they are not being taken to Ezsheretshai, as was discussed, rather to some unfamiliar place, maybe even to be killed, no one even thought of taking clothes with them. Later, these remaining clothes were taken by the Social Office.

The first thing in the morning, each one ran to reach their friends and acquaintances who were transported out the previous day. Those remaining in the Ghetto cried for those transported out and with dread some of the ghetto Jews awaited their own difficult unclear future. Now everyone was sure that after the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto, the turn to liquidate the Kovno Ghetto would also come. They had the conviction that the future existence of the Ghetto is only a question of a few weeks, or maybe a few days. They only wanted to have a break, if only for a few quiet days, to catch their breath.

The same day, that is, Thursday, the 27th of October, Goecke ordered the Elders Council to clear out the large housing blocks on Varnius street and the little housing blocks on Mildos Street in a few days. The Nazi murderers didn't allow the remaining ghetto Jews to even grieve. Hundreds of families were forced to leave their homes and search for new accommodations somewhere, entirely unexpectedly.

[Page 166]

The picture in and around the large housing blocks looked horrible after the previous Relocation Action. Feathers from torn bedding mixed with broken furniture, household items, and the like were strewn about. Everything together gave witness to the pogrom by the Vlasovites. In addition, everyone was still forced to do the urgent clear out of the district. Jews from these ghetto districts carried necessities on themselves, like housewares and quartered themselves in other areas of the Ghetto. All looked like mourners who had been condemned; tomorrow, or the next day, their turn would come. And the painful gnawing question that didn't stop for even one minute - what next?

In a few days after the Relocation Action to Estonia, Goecke, in a conversation with Dr. Elkes informed him that starting from the 1st of November 1943, the Kovno Ghetto would be converted into a concentration camp[f]. What kind of a fuzzy meaning would this conversion of the Ghetto into a concentration camp have for the ghetto Jews? At that moment, it was not yet entirely clear. In any case it was reason to expect that this meant a change for the worse – not for the better… and, unfortunately, that is actually what it was.

Learning this, the atmosphere for the ghetto Jews changed. There was no purpose to go to work, because anyway the Ghetto will finally be liquidated. So, Goecke “succeeded” in getting the Jews to calm themselves after the previous events and convince each one that they should go to work punctually, like before. And, if not, he would apply stronger sanctions on the ghetto population.

From the tragic events of the Relocation Action to Estonia, the ghetto Jews made the following important conclusions:

First, whoever had the smallest chance to leave the Ghetto to go to the partisans in the forest, or to familiar Christians in the city, or in a village, should not wait even one day longer. Now is the last moment to do it; if not, it would be too late.

Second, whoever dies not have the opportunity to leave the Ghetto, should quickly start building a “malina ,” that is, a well masked hideout, where they could hide themselves during such horrible days as those of the 26th of October. Their experience showed that those who were hidden in a hideout somewhere during the Relocation Action, remained peacefully in the Ghetto. That is why, since then, a feverish building of “malinas” began– a movement in which many ghetto Jews were caught up.


Original footnotes:

  1. A Kovno suburb near the Aerodrome. Return
  2. H.K.P. Heereskraftfahrpark Return
  3. The Nazis changed the name Kovno to Kauen. Return
  4. On the day of the relocation-action they estimated that over 3000 persons were transported. The error was clarified by counting the people at the selection at the Aerodrome. Return
  5. A division of the German company “Demog.” Return
  6. Formally called: K.L. Kauen. Return


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