Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Einsatz Group A
Einsatz Group B
Einsatz Group C
Einsatz Group D
[ OSR's #8 - #195 ]
The Massacres in Kovno
Reports and Eyewitness Accounts
Franz Walther Stahlecker
Franz Walther Stahlecker was born in Sternenfels, Austria on the 10 October 1900. He was trained as an administrative jurist, and he joined the Nazi Party and the SS on the 1 May 1932. His SS number was 73041 and his NSDAP number was 1069130
He served in the police and in 1934 he became chief of the police in the Wurtemburg region. He then transferred to the Sicherheitsdienst main office, and in 1938 he was appointed the head of Einsatzgruppe Wien during the annexation of Austria to the Reich.
In Vienna he was appointed head of the SD for the Danube district based in Vienna, where he was Adolf Eichmann’s superior and played a leading role in the Nisko project.
He was promoted to the rank of SS-Standartenfuhrer and became Head of the SD in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and was involved in the student demonstrations in October 1939, in which the Germans opened fire and killed the Czech student Jan Opletal.
In 1940 Stahlecker was sent to Norway to serve as Kommandeur der Sicherheitspolizei (KdS). In 1941, prior to the Nazis invasion of the Soviet Union, Stahlecker was among the Senior SS and Police officers who met at Pretzsch on the Elbe, where Heydrich outlined the role of the Einsatzgruppen in Russia.
Stahlecker, who had risen to a Brigadefuhrer was appointed as the commander of Einsatzgruppen A, which was active in the Baltic States and the region west of Leningrad.
Einsatzgruppen A was one the bloodiest mobile killing squads, and Stahlecker’s reports to Heydrich recording the number of Jewish men, women and children were presented at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg after the Allies defeated the Germans.
He was fatally wounded on March 23, 1942 in a battle with Estonian partisans at Krasnowardeisk, and he died on a hospital train. His body was taken back to Prague where Reinhard Heydrich gave the funeral oration, which was held at Hradcany Castle.
Extracts from a Report of Einsatzgruppe A Covering the Period from 23 June 1941 to 15 October 1941
Report by Franz Walther Stahlecker to RSHA Berlin
Einsatzgruppe “A” after preparing their vehicles for action, proceeded to their area of concentration as ordered on 23 June 1941, the second day of the campaign in the East.
Army Group North consisting of the 16th and 18th armies and Panzer Group 4 had begun their advance the day before. Our task was to hurriedly establish personal contact with the commanders of the army of the rear area.
It must be stressed from the beginning that co-operation with the armed forces was generally good, in some cases, for instance with Panzer Group 4 under General Hoepner, it was very close, almost cordial. Misunderstandings which cropped up with some authorities in the first days were cleared up mainly through personal discussions.
At the start of the eastern campaign it became obvious for the security police that it’s special work had to be done not only in the rear areas, as was provided for in the original agreements with the High Command of the Army, but also in the combat areas, and this for two reasons – on the one hand, the development of the rear area of the armies was delayed because of the quick advance and on the other hand, the undermining Communist activities and the fight against partisans took place mainly within the areas of actual warfare, especially when the Luga sector was reached.
To carry out security police tasks, it was desirable to enter into the larger towns together with the armed forces. We had our first experiences in this direction when a small advance Kommando under my leadership entered Kovno together with the advance units of the armed forces on 25 June 1941.
When the other larger towns, especially Lepaya, Yelgava, Riga, Tartu, Tallin and the larger suburbs of Leningrad were captured, a Kommando of the Security Police was always with the first army units.
Above all, Communist functionaries and Communist documentary material had to be seized, and the armed forces themselves had to be safeguarded against surprise attacks inside the towns, the troops themselves were usually not able to take care of that because of their small numbers.
For this purpose the Security Police, immediately after capture, formed volunteer detachments of reliable inhabitants of all three Baltic provinces who carried out their duties successfully under our command.
As an example it may be mentioned that the armed forces suffered considerable losses through guerrillas in Riga, on the left of the Dvina River: on the right bank of the Dvina River, however, after these volunteer detachments had been organized in Riga, not a single soldier was injured, although members of these Latvian detachments were killed and wounded in fighting against dispersed Russians.
Similarly, native anti-Semetic forces were induced to start pogroms against Jews during the first hours after capture, though this inducement proved to be very difficult.
Following our orders, the Security Police was determined to solve the Jewish question with all possible means and determination most decisively.
But it was desirable that the Security Police should not put in an immediate appearance, at least in the beginning, since extraordinarily harsh measures were apt to still even German circles.
It had to be shown to the world that the native population itself took the first action by way of natural reaction against the suppression by Jews during several decades and against the terror exercised by the Communists during the preceding period.
Wilhelm Gunsilius - Report by a German Photographer
“At the beginning of the Russian campaign on the morning of 22 June 1941 I was transferred with my unit to Gumbinnen. We remained there until the following Tuesday, 24 June 1941. On that Tuesday I was ordered to transfer from Gumbinnen to Kovno with an advance party. I arrived there with the head of an army unit on Wednesday morning (25 June 1941).
My assignment was to find quarters for the group following us. My job was made substantially easier because we had already pinpointed a number of blocks of houses for our unit on an aerial photograph of Kovno that had been taken beforehand.
There were no more significant clashes in the city. Close to my quarters I noticed a crowd of people in the forecourt of a petrol station, which was surrounded by a wall on three sides. The way to the road was completely blocked by a wall of people.
I was confronted by the following scene: in the left corner of the yard there was a group of men aged between thirty and fifty. There must have been forty to fifty of them. They were herded together and kept under guard by some civilians. The civilians were armed with rifles and wore armbands, as can be seen in the pictures I took. A young man – he must have been a Lithuanian – with rolled-up sleeves was armed with an iron crowbar.
He dragged out one man at a time from the group and struck him with the crowbar with one or more blows on the back of his head. Within three quarters of an hour he had beaten to death the entire group of forty-five to fifty people in this way. I took a series of photographs of the victims.
After the entire group had been beaten to death, the young man put the crowbar to one side, fetched an accordion and went and stood on the mountain of corpses and played the Lithuanian national anthem. I recognised the tune and was informed by bystanders that this was the national anthem.
The behaviour of the civilians present (women and children) was unbelievable. After each man had been killed they began to clap and when the national anthem started up they joined in singing and clapping.
In the front row there were women with small children in their arms who stayed there right until the end of the whole proceedings. I found out from some people who knew German what was happening here.
They explained to me that the parents of the young man who had killed the other people had been taken from their beds two days earlier and immediately shot, because they were suspected of being nationalists, and this was the young man’s revenge. Not far away there was a large number of dead people who according to the civilians had been killed by the withdrawing Commissars and Communists.
While I was talking to the civilians an SS officer came up to me and tried to confiscate my camera. I was able to refuse since in the first place the camera was not mine but had been allocated to me for my work, and second I had a special pass from 16th Army High Command, which gave me authorisation to take photographs everywhere.
I explained to the officer that he could only obtain the camera if he went through Generalfeldmarscall Busch, whereupon I was able to go on my way unhindered”.
Testimony of Laimonas Noreika (Lietukis garage massacre witness)
“I can’t remember whether we left work early that day (my elder brother Albertas and I) or whether we went home at our usual time. Opposite the Kovno cemetery at the corner of Greenwald St and Vytautas Boulevard there was a small garage, which serviced light vehicles. A large crowd had gathered alongside the perimeter fence of the garage yard. So we also went over to see what was happening. I keep asking myself whether I just imagined it all but I know I did not.
Those horrific events have been burned onto my memory and will remain there until my dying day. In the middle of the yard, in broad daylight and in full view of the assembled crowd, a group of well dressed, spruce intelligent looking people held iron bars which they used to viciously beat another group of similarly well dressed, spruce, intelligent people. It was obvious the yard also served as a horse stable as animal droppings were littered everywhere.
The assailants yelled the word “norma” (move it) repeatedly as they relentlessly battered the Jews until they fell to the ground and began gathering feces. They kept hitting them until finally they lay inert. Then, using a hosepipe for washing cars, they doused them with water until they came round following which the abuse would start all over again. And so it went on and on until the hapless victims lay dead. Bodies began to pile up everywhere. I stood next to the fence and watched it all until finally, my brother Albertas pulled me away…”
Excerpt from testimony given by Colonel L. Von Bischoffshausen
However, when I asked what was happening I was told the “death dealer of Kovno” is at work and he would make sure that all “traitors and collaborators” received a fitting punishment for their “treachery.” When I drew closer I witnessed a display of brutality that was unparalleled by anything I saw in combat during two world wars.
“Later on at staff headquarters, I discovered that my superiors knew about the killings of Jews. They were appalled but at the same time they made it clear that such acts constituted spontaneous retribution against Jewish traitors and collaborators for their mistreatment of Lithuanians during Soviet rule. Such horrific acts were therefore an internal matter which the Lithuanians had to resolve on their own, without outside interference.
The next day, armed men could be seen on the streets escorting groups of around forty to fifty men, women and children, all of whom had just been driven out of their homes. On seeing me, a woman rushed over and falling to her knees, she begged me to rescue her. Within seconds the guards pounce on her and dragged her back into the group she had left. They told me the people were being taken to jail but in fact they were all taken outside town and executed.
I remember the anger and resentment my report aroused amongst the officers and servicemen in my unit. They too considered such events an internal Lithuanian affair. I also subsequently learned that our military high command expressly prohibited army personnel from intervening in any way in such incidents as these were matters that came under the jurisdiction of the appropriate security services.”
When I asked the sergeant from the medical corps who was standing near me what it was all about, he explained that the dead were Jews whom the Lithuanians had abducted off the streets and led into the square to be killed. I knew nothing about the persecution of Jews back then.
“Upon approaching the scene I saw that fifteen people were severely wounded; the rest of those lying on the ground were already dead. I was an amateur photographer and took two shots of this bizarre “event” from my vantage point on top of the roof of my car. Before I could take any more, an officer appeared and said I was not allowed to photograph such events. He took the camera off me but luckily I managed to discreetly remove the film from it as I was handing it to him.
The pictures I took clearly show five Lithuanians with implements in their hands beating Jews who were lying on the ground. Also visible are several members of the White Armband Volunteer Patrol. They dragged victim after victim into the yard where the other Lithuanians set upon them and viciously beat them to death.
Viera Silkinaite – Lithuanian Eyewitness
Viera Silkinaite was interviewed by the BBC as she witnessed the brutal massacre at the garage:
“A man was being beaten, he was from a group of Jews. I could also hear Lithuanian spoken and swearing in Russian. I then realised that something serious was going on.
Some people stayed and watched, they screamed “Beat the Jews, beat the Jews.”
Those Were The Days - by Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen, Volker Reiss, published by Hamish Hamilton, London 1991
The Nazis – A Warning From History – BBC TV Programme 1997
Prague – In the Shadow of the Swastika – by Callum MacDonald and Jan Kaplan, published by Quartet Books 1995
The Field Men by French L. MacLean, published by Schiffer Military History, Atglen PA 1999
The Destruction of the European Jews, by Raul Hilberg, published by Holmes and Meier, New York 1985
The Final Solution by Gearld Reitlinger, published by Sphere Books 1971
USHMM "Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto" Bulfinch Press 1997.
Latvian Legion by Arthur Sigalis, published by R. James Bender 1986
Wiener Library – Nuremburg Trial Reports
Holocaust Historical Society
Copyright. Victor Smart & Carmelo Lisciotto H.E.A.R.T 2009