Kaunas Ghetto

In 1939, there were about 40,000 Jews living in Kaunas, which corresponded to about one third of the population. During the first Soviet occupation between 1940 and 1941, all Jewish institutions and organizations were closed. A week before the German invasion, large-scale deportations of Jews were carried out to the Gulag camps far away in the Soviet Union. The Germans occupied Kaunas on June 24, 1941, and this triggered strong Lithuanian nationalist sentiments that culminated in pogroms against Jews in Kaunas and other Lithuanian cities. Jews were blamed for being responsible for the soviet occupation and hundreds of Jews were openly murdered by Lithuanian nationalists. This was pogroms without German interference.

The most famous and perhaps most violent pogrom took place on June 27 at Lietuki’s garage in Kaunas. More than 60 Jews were murdered by Lithuanians with iron pipes. The massacre took place openly in front of passive spectators and German soldiers who photographed the incident. The bodies were then left for public viewing and the Lithuanian national anthem was played as a kind of tribute to the pogrom. The Germans subsequently assumed control of these manifestations of violence but had nothing against ”spontana” actions against the Jews. Several Lithuanians volunteered in subsequent murderous actions against the Jews. Thousands of Jews were imprisoned and murdered in the fourth, seventh and ninth fort outside Kaunas. An estimated 10,000 Jews were murdered in June and July 1941.

In August, the nazis established a jewish ghetto in the Slobodka district (Viljampole) and isolated it from the surroundings with barbed wire fences. It was forbidden for the inhabitants of the ghetto to move between the ghetto and the rest of Kaunas without special permission. In October 1941, what came to be called the Die grosse action (The great action) began. This meant that in the next two and a half months, about 9,000 Jews, half of them children, were murdered in the ninth fort. The next one and a half years remained relatively quiet in the ghetto as no major killings were carried out. This did not mean that life in the ghetto was a pleasant existence, but the actions that took place were more sporadic and rare. The inhabitants of the ghetto were forced to work mainly in the German war industry. In mid-1943, the Nazis began dismantling the ghettos of eastern Europe. But the ghetto in Kaunas was restructured and instead became a concentration camp and was called KZ Kauen. It was still considered too important for the German war industry.

The camp did not begin to close until July 1944 when the Red Army approached Kaunas. For five days the camp/ghetto was cleared of Jews and the ghetto was set on fire to force out the Jews who were hiding. About 3,500 Jews were murdered, but a hundred managed to escape to nearby forests where some joined party groups. Those who had not been murdered or fled were deported to Dachau and Stutthof. Kaunas was recaptured by Soviet forces in 1944. At that time, there were about 500 Jews left in the area who managed to hide from the German actions. Another 2500 survived the war in the Nazi concentration camps.

Current status: Partly preserved/demolished with monument (2010).

Address: 2 Linkuvos gatve, Kaunas 48005.

Get there: Car.

My comment:

There are dilapidated and abandoned old wooden houses still there from the Second World War. Kaunas has a lot to offer for those who are interested in the Holocaust and are often forgotten in this context. All focus is undoubtedly on the larger and more famous ghettos such as Warsaw and Krakow. Kaunas is a moderately large city that has not yet fallen victim to the commercialism that prevails in, among other things. Warsaw and Krakow. The proximity to Vilnius (about ten miles) makes Kaunas a perfect city to visit where the Holocaust has not yet become a business idea.

Follow up in books: Arad, Yitzhak: Holocaust in the Soviet union (2009).