The Holocaust in the “East” and in the “West”
On 1 December 1941, SS Standartenführer Karl Jäger, chief of the German Security Police in Nazi-occupied Lithuania, drafted for his superiors a nine page report detailing the activities of his unit, Einsatzkommando 3, comprising the mass-murder of the overwhelming majority of that country’s Jewish population, with operations extending into Byelorussia and Latvia.
The fourth of five original copies of this report survived the war, and was recovered by Soviet forces in Lithuania in 1944 following the withdrawal of the Germans. The report remained unknown to Western scholars until 1963, when it was made available by Soviet authorities to the West German war-crimes prosecuting authorities. Published in a 1988 German compilation of sources, and re-published in English as Klee et. al. Those Were the Days, The Holocaust as seen by Perpetrators and Bystanders (Hamish Hamilton, 1991), the report is also available in both languages in a full digital version, originally created by the Holocaust History Project and now preserved by phdn.org. Further details on the transmission and historical use of the report can be found on Holocaust Controversies.
The Jäger Report is at once both a highly valuable resource for Holocaust education, but also – due to its provenance and purpose – a challenging document which poses important questions for both student and educator. When teaching and learning the Holocaust (especially in the West) we are perhaps most familiar with those primary sources that come to us from the victims and survivors of those camps that lay in Poland and in or around the German Reich, and which have been preserved by a worldwide network of museums, educational charities and private individuals. In recent years the human link between the ageing generation of survivors and school and college-age students has been re-enforced by speaker programmes, and valuable opportunities for school pupils to visit sites of Nazi atrocity, principally the camps of Poland and Germany.
The understanding in schools of how and where the Holocaust happened, and the circumstances and contexts of mass murder, has perhaps inevitably been shaped by geography, geopolitics and also by representation in memoir, documentary and historical fiction and dramatization. The patterns of persecution of Jewish populations in Nazi-occupied Western Europe – from restrictions on daily life through to enforced registration, round-up and deportation, culminating in enslavement and murder – are well established in teaching and learning.
American and British veterans’ direct encounters with the Holocaust largely centred on the liberation of the German concentration and slave labour camps in April 1945, such as Dachau and Bergen-Belsen and their networks of satellite and sub-camps, and in the management of refugees in the post-war period. The best known account of the individual Jewish experience in Nazi occupied Europe remains Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl.
In film and television the events of the Holocaust in Poland have received the most attention, whether in documentaries such as Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985) and Laurence Rees’s Auschwitz, The Nazis and the Final Solution (2005), and also in cinematic representations, such as Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993), Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002) and most recently in László Nemes’ Son of Saul (2016).
Geopolitical factors have also helped to shape the Western popular understanding of the Holocaust. The rapid deterioration in East-West relations following the end of the Second World War in Europe limited access to sites connected to the Holocaust on Soviet territory, and also to documentary evidence. Scenes of Holocaust atrocity in the states of the former Soviet Union were not easily accessible until the 1990s. In addition, the Communist authorities’ approach to commemoration had been to emphasize all civilian dead as having being Soviet citizens, often excluding references to Jews even at sites where they were the principal or sole victims of atrocity.
While many of the locations of atrocity in Germany, Poland and elsewhere in central Europe have become significant centres of memorialisation and remembrance, with hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, there is no such general cultural familiarity in the West with the locations of Nazi genocide on former Soviet territory, such as Babi Yar (Ukraine) or Ponary (Lithuania).
The distinct chronology of the Holocaust on former Soviet territory, and its exceptionally broad distribution, encompassing thousands of sites of incarceration, forced labour and mass killing, poses further challenges in terms of education and awareness. While very large numbers of Jews in occupied Soviet territory were concentrated in ghettoes, such as those at Wilna and Kaunas, before being transferred to killing sites, it is also the case that many others were murdered in a constellation of localised actions. Many of the Jews in occupied Soviet territory were murdered close to their homes – often within a 4-5 km radius, as Jäger himself noted in his report.
Of these smaller locations, many are only recorded, if at all, by local monuments, and others are perhaps already lost to living memory. Yad Vashem’s comprehensive list of sites of murder and suffering (including GPS coordinates) will help to mitigate the risk of their obliteration from memory, and yet the contours and phases of the Holocaust in the East remain poorly understood relative to events in Central and Western Europe. Only when we make more use of evidence relating to the Holocaust in the East in teaching and learning will this imbalance be rectified.
Using the Jäger Report to help us to understand the Holocaust in the East
Between early July and late November 1941 Einsatzkommando 3 carried out the mass-murder of Lithuania’s Jews, which was part of a broader campaign of extermination across all Soviet and Soviet-annexed territory that came under German occupation. The deployment of these mobile killing squads, following the German Army into Soviet territory, was integral to the SS’s plans for the racial and political re-ordering of the East, to be achieved through the murder of Jews, Communists, Roma and any who opposed occupation.
The mass killings of Lithuanian Jews detailed in the Jäger Report were carried out at close range by firing squads, and took two main forms. In many instances the victims were held in ghettoes such as that at the Vilijampolė district of Kaunas, before being taken to central locations, such the historic Kaunas Forts (principally numbers IV, VII and IX), or from the Wilna locality to Ponary (Paneriai), which had been converted to sites of mass execution. However, in other instances, especially in August and September 1941, the mobile killing squad (Rollkommando) of EK 3, led by Jäger’s deputy, the Baltic German Obersturmführer Joachim Hamann, itinerated between towns, killing the Jewish populations and others that had been concentrated from each locality.
The Jäger Report helps us to understand a number of dimensions of the Holocaust that we could not gain solely from the study of events in Western and Central Europe. The first of these relates to chronology. Studying the actions of the Einsatzgrüppen in Soviet territory, particularly in the months covered by the Jäger Report, highlights the sheer scale and intensity of murder by shooting that followed immediately in the wake of the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. As Browning notes (Origins of the Final Solution, p. 244), by December 1941 between 500,000 – 800,000 Jews had been murdered on Soviet territory, to which total Jäger’s EK 3 contributed well in excess of 130,000 victims.
Other than those actions perpetrated by Lithuanian militias without direct German supervision, the great majority of the killings listed in Jäger’s report was carried out by the Rollkommando of 8-10 German security police supported by 60-80 Lithuanian volunteers. According to Jäger’s report, responsibilities were rotated, with around 20 at any one time involved in the shootings, and the remainder involved in guarding and escorting the victims. The rotation of responsibilities hints at the growing concerns within the SS leadership about the psychological effects on its police and security units of murdering by firing squad, which was one of the factors behind the increasing recourse to the use of gas, whether in mobile vans or, especially in Poland, through stationary facilities and extermination camps.
The Jäger Report illustrates not only a step-change in the scale and scope of mass-murder on Soviet and Soviet-annexed territory, but also the degree to which local commanders sought to improvise and take the initiative, often correctly assessing the direction of policy from Berlin, but also on occasions drawing criticism for overstepping the mark in terms of expanding the category of those to be killed. The growing scale and frequency with which Jewish women and children were killed in Lithuania from July and August 1941 enables us to the see “at ground level” the rapid shift from the mass murder of predominantly adult males to a genocidal campaign that encompassed entire families, and therefore entire communities, most likely at the instigation of Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, and other members of the higher SS leadership.
The murder of five transports of almost five thousand German and Austrian Jews in Kaunas Fort IX on 25 and 29 November 1941 shows the intersection of the fates of the German and Eastern Jews in the months before gassing facilities were widely operational. (Browning, Origins of the Final Solution, p. 376.) It was perhaps with an eye to the complexities of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws (and also to the possibility of being called to account) that Jäger described one of his victims as being a “Reich German who converted to the Jewish faith and attended rabbinical school.” The killing of a German woman married to a Jew is also noted at Mariampole on 1 September. Browning observes (Origins of the Final Solution, pp. 305-6) that Jäger’s murder of these German Jews who were scheduled for “resettlement” appears to have been undertaken on his own initiative, which illustrates how the scope and pace of the Holocaust was determined by local decisions as well as by directives from Berlin. Similarly, the shooting of a Jewish American man and woman, at Kaunas Fort IX on 2 August 1941, seems unlikely to have been approved from above, especially given that the USA was still officially neutral, even at the time when Jäger wrote his report.
Examples of Jewish resistance can also be found in the report. As more than 2,000 Jewish men, women and children were being led away at Zagare on 2 October 1941 “a mutiny arose, which was immediately put down; 150 Jews were shot immediately…” Other events described in the Report as Jewish acts of resistance were in fact provocations orchestrated by the Germans, such as that of 30 August 1941, in which a shooting incident attributed to the Jews was used to justify their expulsion from Wilna Old Town and their concentration in newly designated ghettoes. This accounts for the Sonderaktion (special action) undertaken by EK 3 on 2 September, in response to “German soldiers shot at by Jews” which resulted in 3,700 deaths. (For details see Chronicles of the Vilna Ghetto.)
The Jäger Report also helps us to understand the inter-agency conflicts that were an endemic feature of Nazi rule in Eastern Europe, often pitting the security police, with their brief for racial re-organisation through forced relocation and mass murder, against civil administrators, the army and armaments officials, who contested among themselves access to, and control of, Jewish labour in the ghettoes. Jäger finishes the statistical section of his report by noting that his intention to kill the 45,000 Lithuanian Jewish workers and their families that remained in the ghettoes at Schaulen, Kaunas and Wilna was thwarted, at least for the time being, by “strong protests on the part of the civil administration (the Reichskommissar) and the Wehrmacht.”
While the report is overwhelmingly concerned with accounting for the sequential annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry, it also offers broader insight into the racial and political priorities of the SS in the occupied Soviet Union, and of the Nazis’ attitudes to others who had no place in the new Ostland. The single largest category of non-Jewish victims was recorded as “Communists.” This presents some definitional problems, as within this category some of the victims are more narrowly defined as Politruk (Commissars) whose murder had been formally authorised by the Army High Command on 6 June 1941, and others as “NKVD agents”, while the identities of the great majority receive no further elaboration. This raises the question as to whether their targeting was, at least in part, due to pressure from the local nationalist (and fiercely Anti-Semitic and Anti-Communist) militias which had independently initiated the murder of the Jews before EK 3 had taken control, and on which the Germans were heavily reliant.
The mass murder of psychiatric patients is also noted on two occasions – an overt extension of the supposedly clandestine policy that was already underway within the boundaries of the Old Reich, a campaign in which techniques of killing by poison gas were also being refined. Compared to the “Aktion T4” programme inside Germany, which by this time had become a matter of growing public controversy, the murdering of entire psychiatric hospitals could be undertaken with brazen speed and force in the occupied territories.
Small numbers of Soviet POWs were also killed by EK 3 within the timeframe of the report, although this does not appear to have been a significant feature of this unit’s operations, assuming the accuracy of Jäger’s figures. The shooting of a Roma family on 22 August at Dünauburg reminds us that this community was also subject to extermination on racial grounds. Jäger’s report also includes examples of punitive and reprisal killings against non-Jews for specific activities – for example the mayor of Jonava who was shot at Ukmerge on 1 August for supposedly having ordered the burning of the village. The specific justifications that were given for individual killings in these categories is perhaps indicative of the Nazis’ concern to avoid alienating those Lithuanians sympathetic to the occupation.
The final one and a half sheets of Jäger’s report are dedicated to observations regarding the clearance of prisons (“which as far as hygiene was concerned, defied description”), which he deemed to be “one of Einsatzkommando 3’s most important duties.” According to Jäger, on average each town had over 600 prison inmates, many of whom he considered to be the innocent victim of false denunciations for Communist sympathies, such as teenage girls who had apparently applied to join the Communist Youth League “in order to gain work.” On the occasion of the inspection of Jonava prison, Jäger carried out a a very public division of the inmates into three categories: “criminals, Communist officials, Politruks and other riff-raff (Gesindel)” who were shot (in some cases following a whipping); those serving shorter sentences who appear to have continued their detention; and the “quite harmless” who were released after a public homily, translated simultaneously into Lithuanian and Russian, that included the line “If we were Bolsheviks we would have shot you but as we are Germans we are giving you back your freedom.”
Jäger’s narrative digression here offers us the German occupiers’ perspective on the bitter ethnic and political tensions that pervaded Lithuania in the convulsive months surrounding the Soviet withdrawal and the German invasion. In June 1940, following the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the USSR had occupied the Baltic States, including Lithuania. The repression of Baltic nationalists by the soviet security forces led groups such as the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) to mobilise and radicalise Anti-Semitism into the Anti-Soviet cause, in anticipation of German “liberation.” The deliberate identification of the Jews with the Soviet invader and the repression of the NKVD, was not simply left to local sentiment, but was actively promoted by Kazys Skirpa, a politician in German exile since 1940, and intensified in the months leading up to the German invasion. (Browning, Origins of the Final Solution, p. 270.) That Anti-Semitic groups – not only in Lithuania, but also across the western fringes of the Soviet Union – felt confident to begin mass killings in anticipation of the approach of German forces, and well before the Einsatzgrüppen could assert their control, helps to account for the speed and scale of the murders. (For further examples, see Klee et. al., Those Were the Days, p. 91 and passim.) Without the bitter mix of ethnic and political tensions in Lithuania in 1941, Jäger’s to ability harness active local support to kill in such large numbers would doubtless have been inhibited.
Jäger remained as Chief of Security Police in Lithuania until September 1943, after which he was redeployed to a similar role in the Sudetenland. Although Swiss by birth, he remained in West Germany after the War, and worked in agriculture near Heidelberg until his arrest in April 1959. He committed suicide in Hohenasperg prison on 22 June 1959, while awaiting trial, leaving a suicide note in which he denied responsibility for mass murder, diverting blame to the Lithuanians, and to Hamann, who himself had committed suicide on 13 July 1945.
The murder of Jews in Lithuania continued until the German evacuation in 1944, and included further mass killings of children and adults, and deportations to camps such as that at Stutthof in German-occupied Danzig-West Prussia, where further killings occurred until the collapse of the Reich. EK 3 was, of course, far from being the only German unit involved in the Holocaust in Lithuania.
The structure of the Jäger Report
The Jäger Report is a nine sheet document, six of which are tabulations of killing activities, beginning with the date (usually a single day), the location, the composition of the victims (differentiating between male and female, and from August stating whether children were included) and then a total.
While the report does enable the reader to track the movements of EK 3’s killing squads, and to produce cumulative totals (which are given at the end and beginning of each sheet), it is not purely linear in its chronology, reflecting the shifting geographical priorities and focus of EK 3 at various points, and possibly the interpolation of figures that may not have originated directly from German personnel.
The report can be understood as having five sections:
The first section runs from 4 July 1941 on Sheet 1 to 29 November 1941 on Sheet 5, concentrating principally on killings in Kaunas, Mariampole, Panevezys and Rasainiai. References to the killing of children begin to appear around 18th August.
This is followed by a record of killings of Jewish men, women and children in the Pogulanka forest at Dünauburg (Daugavpils in Lithuanian), where a ghetto was located in the old fortress citadel. The killings occurred between 13 July and 21 August but, unlike the first section, without daily totals. Given that this series of shootings accounted for 9,585 victims, I have tabulated it separately even though the original document treats it as a continuation of the first section. The killing of 573 “Active Communists” is also recorded in this total, but with no further elaboration.
The third section (bottom of Sheet 5 and Sheet 6) is focused on killings in and around Wilna beginning on 12 August and ending on 25 November. The section begins with a summary of killings from 12 August to 1 September, but the remaining entries are all for separate dates. The dated entries for the Wilna killings differ from those in the first section as they are almost exclusively concerned with the mass murder of Jewish men, women and children, averaging over 1,000 for each occasion.
The fourth section (Sheet 6) records the deployment of elements of EK 3 to Minsk between 28 September and 17 October 1941. Killings at five locations are detailed, and totals are given for men, women and children, but no individual dates are given.
In Sheets 7 to 9 Jäger details the residual Jewish population held in ghettoes, and then reflects on the logistics of collection, transportation and murder. His account ends with EK 3’s role in prison inspections, and particularly that of Jonava.
The statistics contained in the Jäger Report
The Jäger Report has been extensively quoted in Holocaust literature because of the richness of its data, including dates, locations, totals and the categorisation of victims, including women and children. However, there are instances where the Jäger Report’s details are less comprehensive, thereby diminishing its precision and clarity.
For example, on 26 and 27 November 1941, no sub-totals are provided for the nearly 3,000 men, women and children killed at Kaisadorys and Prienai. (In the table above I have created a category to take account of instances when the killings were reported in this manner.) The same applies to the entry for “mopping up” in Georgenburg (Yurburg), from 25 August to 6 September, where 412 men, women and children were killed.
Accurately totalling the killing of women and children is problematic in instances when the killings were not directly carried out by EK 3 personnel. The final entry in Jäger’s list is the addition of exactly 4,000 Jews killed in “pogroms and executions” prior to EK 3’s takeover in the locality. As this figure is undated and without any reference to any specific locations, its inclusion within Jäger’s total seems slightly anomalous. (In the table above I have treated this figure as referring to Jewish males, but uncertainty remains over the composition of this group of victims.)
The total of 137,346 deaths at the foot of the Jäger report is a widely quoted statistic that truthfully conveys the scale of the murders, but it is arithmetically problematic. There are several instances in the report where the component figures do not tally with the totals: the Alytus total for 13 August over-counts by one to 719; the Kaunas Fort IV total for 18 August over-counts by nine to 1812; the slightly confusing entry for the Dünauburg prison shootings on 22 August appears to under-count by 1 to 21; the entry for Wilna on 12 September under-counts by 100.
My conclusion in the table above counts the total for the report as being 137,439, of whom 135,383 were specifically recorded as being Jewish. (For an alternative adjusted figure of 137,437 see the Holocaust Controversies site.)
Using the Jäger Report in teaching and learning
“Is this everybody who died in the Holocaust on that day?” This is a question that I was asked by a pupil when I first used the Report as a learning resource with my GCSE class. Without giving them any contextual information about the document, I sliced up the killing records horizontally and tipped the strips of text out on to a large desk around which the class was arranged. I gave them little in the way of further instruction but they began to read to each other the now randomized details of killing and began to reassemble them date by date. I then guided them more closely by asking them to go online to identify the Lithuanian place names, none of which was familiar to them. By gradually adding further information, and allowing the class to start drawing inferences from the material, we began to tentatively reconstruct the evidence in front of us.
To read, line by line, the destruction of the Jewish communities of Lithuania across the Autumn of 1941 is a sobering experience. It is (self-evidently) a document generated by mass murderers that reduced annihilated communities of men, women and children to rows and columns of statistics. How do we avoid perpetuating the objectification of the victims for whom Jäger’s neatly typed rows and columns are such a grotesquely unfitting memorial? The only two individual names that appear are those of Jäger himself, in the form of his signature, and of Joachim Hamann. When using the report in teaching and learning I am torn between the imperative of communicating the scale of the destruction, with the need to ‘restore’ – even at some token level – individual and familial identity.
Below you can find a plan for a lesson (or series of lessons) using both the Jäger Report and contextual evidence for Lithuanian Jewish life from the online collections of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).
Objective: Contextualising Jewish life in Lithuania before June 1941.
Task: Using the USHMM’s collection of photographs of Lithuanian Jewish life prior to 1941, create a visual display showing examples Jewish family, economic and associational life. The Yaffa Eliach Collection is particularly compelling in its detailing of Jewish life in Esiskes (Eysisky in the Jäger Report). Several hundred other photographs exist showing Jewish life, just one example among many being the Kaplan family of Kaunas (Kovno).
Objective: Understanding the scale and pace of the destruction of the Jewish communities of Lithuania, and other victims, July – November 1941.
Task: Using the Statistics from the Jaeger Report, interrogate the data to show
-the cumulative statistics for the mass murders of Jews in Lithuania
-the shifting ratio of male/female and adult/child victims in the Jewish communities of Lithuania
-the relative scale of the killing operations in various locations
-victims other than the Jewish communities
Objective: to understand the importance of witness and memory
Task: using the recorded testimony of survivors of the Holocaust in Lithuania, in the collections of the USHMM, explain how a museum can help to preserve memories of the events detailed in the Jäger Report.
Suggested resources from the USHMM interviews:
What questions would you ask in such an interview?
-C. R. Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution, The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy (Arrow edition, London, 2005).
-E. Klee., W. Dressen & V. Riess, Those were the Days, The Holocaust as seen by the perpetrators and bystanders (English language edition, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1991).
-The website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
-The Jäger Report (unabridged text in German and English) from pdhn.org
-Holocaust Education Education & Archive Research Team
-Holocaust Controversies Blog
A Note on place names:
In this document I have used the place names in their Germanised forms as they appear in the report.
Wilna is also known as Vilnius and Vilna; Kaunas/Kauen as Kovno; and Dünauburg as Daugavpils.