Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 1 Joerg G. Fiebelkorn Karl Plagge - Letters of a Conflict A report based on the documents from HKP 562, published by the Vilna Jewish Museum, on the de- nazification trial of Karl Plagge and survivors memoirs. Foreword Having experienced the end of WW II and the years after as a child, with growing curiosity to history in my school-days, I became deeply interested in military history when I joined the Federal Armed Forces of Germany in 1962. All the senior officers then had served in Hitler's Wehrmacht and there was always the question what they had suffered, done or seen at that time. Some of them had served with the "Waffen SS" - the front-line formations of the SS. Catchwords like "Oradour" and "Partisan War" could not be avoided. After 25 years of service at numerous (General Staff-) appointments I retired and started a private business. It was coincidence, which brought me into contact with the history of Karl Plagge1, Major in the Wehrmacht and commandant of a vehicle repair unit - HKP 562 - in Vilna from 1941 to 1944. I cannot remember any time I have looked through lists of names and dates with such fascination as it happened to me when I got the "New documents" about the Heeres Kraft- fahr Park 562, 1943 - 1944 from Irina Guzenberg in Vilna into my hands. Although there are only three letters from February 1944, a work report of March 1944 and otherwise nothing but lists (mainly roll-calls and name lists 1943 - 44), the compendium reveals a lot about the circumstances at HKP. Until then there were the memoirs of the few survivors, letters, which Karl Plagge - the commandant of HKP 562 - had written after the war and there were the declarations of the witnesses at Karl Plagge's denazification trial, but no original document of the HKP. Out of the letters and lists arose several questions and looking through the hundreds of e- mails that have been exchanged within the Plagge group2 and led by the questions, things became clearer to me. The arguments for the description of what had happened around the three letters became all the way better. 1 Michael D. Good: "The Search for Major Plagge", available at www.hometown.aol.com//michaeldg/ 2 "The Plagge Group" was initiated by Michael D. Good, the son of the survivors of HKP 562 William and Pearl Good. Via internet in the group survivors and people interested in the fate of Karl Plagge came together. All group members contributed in one or the other way to the research on HKP 562 and Major Plagge. Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 2 It is my aim to describe the other level of the story, which was not visible to the survivors. It is said at many occasions that there were the questions of Plagge's role and motivation in running HKP 562 different to other slave labour camps, which of course could only be sug- gested or derived from secondary sources. Of the survivors we have the extensive memoirs of Samuel Esterovicz and his daughter Pearl and many personal tales, which reflect of course a very personal view of what had happened in the camp at Subocz street. The file of Plagge's denazification trial in 1947 reflects the view on the HKP 562 by witnesses in a situa- tion, where one righteously could have doubts about the "complete" truth in the declara- tions. I also had my reservation about the motifs of the witnesses at the trial. But now the new documents give a direct (although limited) insight into what was going on in Vilna be- tween Wehrmacht and SS and what were the reasons for Plagge's organization of HKP. After examination of the new documents I am convinced that in fact from 1943 onwards, with setting up the Subocz street camp, Major Plagge had to fight for the life of as many haunted as possible - men, women and children - and all he fought for, was to protect "his" labour- ers. His arms were administrational tricks (as other than happened in many other cases, he could not bribe the overall corrupt SS - aside of possibly some furniture and furs). The shield he used was the meticulously set up organization. Anyone who played against the SS was in personal danger on the long run - even generals of the Wehrmacht were not safe before the revenge of the SS and Nazis (Major General Lin- demann, wanted for participation in the plot on Hitler on 20th July 1944, was shot by the SS in the Berlin flat of my mothers godfather). Therefore I have compiled the documents of the Vilna museum with materials collected by the Plagge group to draw an image, which might enlighten Karl Plagge's actions and his motivation. Quite often my arguments are supported by citing of the enormous e-mail correspondence in the "Plagge Group". All mails - far more that 1,000 - are to be found at the archive of Dr. Marianne Viefhaus - TU Darmstadt. 26/05/03 Background The history of the Jews of Vilna and their fate under the Nazi rule is documented by the Jew- ish Museum in Vilna and published aside many others by Irina Guzenberg. In autumn 1943 the majority of the Vilna Jews had been killed, when the two Ghettos were "dissolved" and only those Jews survived who could gain employment for the Wehrmacht. Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 3 September 1943 "At disbandment of the Jewish Ghettos in Vilna V.P./East/562 achieved by immediate protest at the superior SD-Command in Riga / Superior Leader Piffrader/ that ca. 500 Jewish special- ist labourers shall be preserved for V.P.E. 562 for vehicle repair tasks. The pre-condition was set up that these were to be employed in a closed concentration camp. As the motivation and effectiveness of the Jewish labourers is essentially dependent of the fact that not only the men but also their wives and children can remain in Vilna, by expressed accordance by the SD the associated women and children were held back as well and trans- ferred to the work camp Subocz street. At this time are 1243 Jewish persons are in the work camp. Out of these are 499 men, 554 women and 190 children." These are the words of Major Plagge in his letter to the Army Lodging Service Vilna, written February 17th, 1944. There is no reason to question the truth of his words, as they were writ- ten in a critical moment and had to stand proof to any investigation by the SS. It was his personal initiative to have succeeded in setting up an "own" work-camp for the Jews, employed at the vehicle park, not only for them but also all-in for their "families", counted at wife and two children. This led to many pro-forma families, if someone had none and also to the creation of new jobs at HKP, if there were additional family members to res- cue. "The park employed for example Jews as haircutters, shoemakers, tailors, and cooks. Jewish women and girls worked as cleaning workers and garden workers. Additionally, there was a Jewish doctor for the observation of the civil workers' health. Naturally the park wasn't allowed to employ such people and Mr.. Plagge could have gotten in serious trouble by doing so...... These people were camouflaged to the outside as professional workers of the motor vehicle 3 Repair Park " . It must have been absolutely clear to anyone in the military community in Vilna, what hap- pened to all those Jews, who had no job at one of the work-shops, the Spanish hospital or the headquarters in Vilna. The killing in Ponary had carried on since summer '41 and as even the Jews in the Ghettos knew about, it would be more than implausible, if the knowledge about the mass killing in the forests would not have spread to the Wehrmacht4. In his 1947 testimony - "Vilne under Nazi Oppression", Page 23, Moses Feigenberg wrote: "The HKP camp was established on September 17th, 1943 and had employed up to 1500 workers (families included). At the beginning of September 1943, the chief of HKP, Major Plagge, found out that the Ghetto of Wilno would be soon liquidated. He was a cultured and benevolent man who wanted to rescue his Jewish workers. Thus he then organized a work- camp for his workers, named Jewish Work- Camp HKP. He established the camp in the two big Jewish buildings on Subocz 37." Searching the literature about similar work camps, this seems to be the unique one, where "the motivation and effectiveness of the Jewish labourers" was based on the integration of 3 cited from: Lawyer Alfred Stumpf, declaration in lieu of an oath, Plagge denazification file. Here are a number of other cases, wherein Plagge supposedly accepted people into the camp beyond the techni- cal specialists, namely Dr. Wolfson and his father. 4 "The Jews would die in the concentration camps, that was what we knew when we wouldn't protect them anymore." Lawyer Alfred Stumpff, declaration in lieu of an oath, Plagge denazification file. Stumpff served with HKP only from June to October 1942! Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 4 family members. Anywhere else the tools for "motivation" to work under German rule and supervision were snappish dogs, whips, guns and terror. The survivors have asked the ques- tion repeatedly, how this was possible, but had no answer: "The rules for bringing in Jews into this labour camp were obviously different, and it is here that another great point should be chalked off for Plagge's pro Jewish activity. A lot of older 5 people and children were allowed to be taken along." That is how the HKP camp in Subocz street became the last major refuge6 of what was left of the Vilna Gaon after the extinction of the ghetto. "Into the ensuing dismal days filled with the fear for our lives there came a sudden ray of hope: tidings came to the ghetto that Major Plagge, the chief of H.K.P. 562, had succeeded, 7 after lots of requests ( he even had to go to Berlin to achieve this ) to contrive a work camp for the Jews working in his establishment. The authorities designated for this camp the build- 8 ings of the so-called "cheap housing" on Subocz street." It must be taken into consideration that the allowance by the SS to take the families into the work camp possibly was nothing but aimed on having a tool to blackmail the labourers by threatening the women and children. Such intention would fit into the picture of the SS, being ready for any thinkable vicious plan. But we will see later that brutalities executed against the families of the prisoners had a contrarious effect. The assumption of such intentions can be dismissed, as the allowance was given on the demand of Major Plagge, who was well known to be fair to "his" labourers. There were families in the Kailis work camp as well. But Kailis was set up to concentrate all the furriers from Lithuania. It can be assumed that in these families the women normally co- operated in fur-making and therefore were "of use" for the Wehrmacht. Jewish women had not been employed in vehicle repair or other mechanical jobs, therefore Plagge's argument of "motivation" was unique. 5 cited from William Begell, e-mail to the Plagge group, dated 13 June 01 6 The other refuges were the "Kailis" work camp, where the labourers were reduced step by step, the Spanish Hospital with some 40 Jewish labourers and a small group, which was detached to work at the SS headquarter. 7 This was a widespread rumour among the prisoners, but no document has been found about such travel. At least Major Plagge had been very active to convince his superior headquarter about the need for several hundred civilians to run the HKP. He relates to his protest at the SD headquarters in Riga in his letter to H.U.V. 190 8 cited from Samuel Esterowicz, Memoirs. Translated from Russian and edited by Pearl Esterowicz Good, available at www.hometown.aol.com//michaeldg/ Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 5 The Camp - February 1944 HKP and the Subocz Street camp was set up in a strict organisation. Everything was aimed at productivity: repair of military vehicles, conversion of vehicles to generator gas, production and repair of uniforms and the repair of other minor military equipment. Everybody was at- tached to a dedicated job, all labour was set up in a professional work flow. Plagge looked with great diligence on order and strict obedience. Actually he was running a production site of some complexity and size: It consisted of the headquarter and the subordinate military organisation of 250 men - mostly skilled specialists in all kind of vehicle repair. They were non commissioned officers, men of the reserve army at an age, at and above their forties, electricians, locksmiths, welders, blacksmiths, mechanics as well as shoemakers, carpenters and tailors. They all ran their workshops and had attached a number of civilians - who were designated as "specialists" and skilled labourers. The civilians were trained on the job for their task, many of them had never done manual labour in their life before9. "we were allowed to bring to HKP, under one family "coverage," 3 people, my grandmother, my mother, and myself. I was the "professional" because I had worked in the ghetto machine 10 shop for a couple of years before that time." The broad variety of "specialists" included even such professions like roofers, turners, farm workers and masons, hardly useful in vehicle repair11. "Initially, there was not a lot of work for the prisoners. Some of them were woodworkers and 12 cabinetmakers, so Plagge set up a wood working shop and had them make furniture." The number of civilians in the single workshops was shifted from one to the other according to the workload and availability of spare parts and materials13. To keep HKP with all its differ- ent labour busy was only one of the daily organisational challenges of Plagge's headquarter. In total some 1,250 soldiers and civilians were working in HKP, some 250 children lived there also. It was the initiative of Major Plagge, to invite two private companies to set up their tex- tile work shops in the buildings in Subocz street. In doing so, the women were now employed "for Wehrmacht purposes" in the uniform production, tailor shops and knitting rooms, some were employed in the kitchen and others put to work cleaning the blocks. There was a rea- sonable medical service and a chemical laboratory - the latter quite unusual and hardly needed for vehicle repair, but another hint on Plagge's initiatives to find additional employ- 9 "Her father was a fairly skilled worker, but Mira says that many of the HKP Jews were not skilled but brought to the workshop by Plagge." Memoirs of Mira Trocki, available at: hometown.aol.com//michaelDG/ 10 cited from an e-mail by (survivor) William Begell to the author, dated Tue, 12 Jun 2001 11 see "documentation "The H.K.P. Jewish Labour Camp 143 - 1944" by Irina Guzenberg, published by Vilna Jewish Museum 2002, page 188. 12 cited from an interview, held by Michael D. Good with (survivor) Harry Sheres on 10. June 2001 Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 6 ment in his unit. And to keep the workshops in a good shape (there were a lot of repairs needed in the houses and premises which had been neglected for years) out of a total of 490 labourers a construction and repair team of up to 120 men - inclusive a construction bureau - was on duty for a broad variety of work to keep the workshops warm in the cold winter and to keep the area clean14 - a work force surprisingly strong compared to the number of labourers in the vehicle workshops. For several years Plagge had been the technical manager of an industrial company - the Hessenwerke in Darmstadt. Therefore, from the view of sheer indus- trial productivity a ratio of 360 "productive" labourers to 890 in "support"-jobs, more or less inefficient to vehicle repair (see Plagge's letter and his arguments) it is allowed to assume another than only productivity oriented motivation of Major Plagge. The documents recently published by the Jewish Museum in Vilna show that there were de- tailed work descriptions and lists of specialists needed for each job assigned. Plagge also planned meticulously for the future, not only to expand the space of workshops considerably by construction of a "large production hall"15, but he also had ordered the establishment of training courses for the Jewish workers and the rigging of class-rooms for apprentices to cover the anticipated need for more labourers. The single work report of a construction team we have as an example gives a valid indication for a typical German engineers work flow organisation inside HKP. In fact, Plagge was running a large factory of some productivity and - as documented by the "Wehrwirtschaftsaussenstelle Vilna" - of considerable value to the economic needs of the Wehrmacht. But there was the other aspect to Plagge's camp at Subocz Street: Unlike most Nazi run factories with slave labour, HKP had integrated both the labourers and their families completely into the work flow. Where others just whipped the slave labourers to the job and did not give a damn on how they slept and survived, aside of integrating the families Plagge had provided for heated rooms, food at least to survive, a minimum medical care16 and most significantly he educated his men to treat the prisoners as human beings17. Anyone who violated his rules of behaviour was immediately detached to a front-line unit as it was the case with a younger sergeant, who was discovered attacking and kicking a Jewish prisoner and who defended himself with the argument that the Jews were all enemies. Plagge made 13 see documentation as above. The shifting of the labour force relates to the documented lists of "daily number of workers", in particular as given on page 53, 55 and 57. 14 see documentation as above, page 101, "Work Report" (translation in English see attachment) 15 see documentation as above, page 101, "Work Report" No II. 16 see documentation as above, page 69 "Report on Medical Personnel..., pointing out 5 med. doctors, 3 dentists (out of which 2 were not fully trained) and 5 nurses. Compared to the numbers on the sick lists, pages 143 ff., the staff can be called "reasonable" 17 "..a German soldier named Berger who had been assigned to our automobile repair ... exclaimed while watching the Jews being driven to their deaths: " What this scum perpetrate here in the name Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 7 him understand that he might fight the "enemy" at the front against the Russians, where he could carry a gun. Indeed, the sergeant - in spite of threatening Plagge with his membership in the "Allgemeine SS" - was moved to the front18. "...everybody knew of Plagge’s HKP. He became famous for his fair treatment of his Jewish workers and for his constant fights with the SD, SS, and Gestapo to keep his working force in- 19 tact." In unison survivors tell that there was no pressure at the job. Although the working times from 6 to 6 with an hour pause were surely in excess of what would have been allowed by a union, the speed of labour was comparatively low. This describes the typical pace of a logis- tic establishment, which in the case of HKP was dominated by mostly elderly rank and file members. Of course these men, working hand in hand with the prisoners or being even de- pendent on their work, made the prisoners follow their example. Typically the labourers were frankly asked by the drivers of vehicles being repaired at HKP, not to do the job too fast20, as they were not interested to go back to the battle too soon. This attitude was accepted by the men of Plagge's unit, comrades of the drivers, and of course by the prisoners who were "compensated" by the drivers for "sabotaging" the timely repair with food. Such impressions of sabotage by the prisoners were not in contradiction to Plagge's intention to show off a busy, active unit, as the more important argument was the quality of work he delivered in addition to the files and reports about the labour being done. Everybody was aware of the life-saving need of work: At any inspection by external authorities, the speed of work, of the German sergeant as well as of the prisoners, would rise significantly as can be seen in every military unit in the world. The consistent testimony of survivors about the differences of the outer image and the true goings-on in HKP 562 give one more hint to Plagge's cleverness and success in convincing his superiors and the SS of the HKP's importance to Germany's final victory. Plagge also took care of a myriad of details. We see examples such as the large and dili- gently painted road sign directing visitors to the HKP workshops21 (something like the visit card of his unit), the tidiness of workspace and camp (always a decisive factor in inspection reports due to the normal ignorance of higher ranks to technical requirements and complica- tions), the distribution of work, the availability of spares down to shovels for the construction team, the timber for his carpenters, the textiles for the tailor shops, the ovens and water sup- of the German nation - centuries will not suffice for us to cleanse ourselves!" cited from S. Estero- wicz, Memoirs 18 see denazification file Karl Plagge - case witnessed by Lawyer Alfred Stumpff - Declaration in lieu of an oath 19 cited from William Begell: "MAJOR PLAGGE - HKP - VILNO 17 September 1943 - 30 June 1944" 20 cited from William Begell, e-mail to the Plagge group, dated ... 21 see documentation as above, photo on page .. Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 8 ply, the roll-calls, the reports and overall high quality production. HKP could be called a mus- ter unit, run by an engineer of the best tradition, to whom accuracy, order and clean work is self evident. Major Plagge criticised inferior work and wastage of materials explicitly and on the spot22. But also the care for the labourers was part of the same attitude and Plagge used the order in HKP and the carefully worked out work flow, the precisely kept and differentiated names and employment lists and organisation of HKP and the civil labourers as a shield. No one in HKP should even look as if he or she was superfluous or underemployed. That is why reports like the one we have from the construction team were diligently completed and even children were integrated into the production as early as possible. Even they should become indispensable wheels in the HKP production machine. Any SS inspector should be con- vinced by the perfect image of a well organised and versatile vehicle repair park. They should be convinced that everything in HKP was aimed only towards the "final victory" of the Wehrmacht. Exact reports, professionalism in every detail and high motivation on the job were the tools to demonstrate the sense and effectiveness of Plagge's management of HKP and to blind the inspectors at the same time. This task brought a lot of troubles to Plagge. On the one hand, he was the one who had to care for hundreds of details in the work shops and camp to cover the discrepancy between the number of labourers - men, women and youngsters - demanded by HKP and the real need for the work to be done. On the other hand there was always the threat from the SS to draw off the civil labour force, at least anyone in the camp, who just gave the slightest im- pression of being unable to work23 - by age, health or education. Therefore Plagge had set up the organisational details, and that is why he was keenly interested in the careful use of materials, without which the prisoners would be unemployed. As the SS was generally cor- rupt24, there were also some jobs to be done in HKP, which definitely were not for the Wehrmacht, but clearly for civil - SS - purposes: furniture and fur coats. Plagge had to be careful in all directions - he had to be aware that any word from him could be reported to the SS. The Lithuanian guards were complete slaves of the SS, they were selected for their job especially for their anti-Semitism, agitated by the rumours that all Jews had co-operated with the Reds in the time of the Soviet occupation. Formally all labourers in HKP were prisoners of the SS and literally owned by the SS. As such, there were creatures like the SS Scharfuehrer (sergeant) "Golosheyka" Richter25, who 22 cited from Michael D. Good, interview with Harry Sheres, www.hometown.aol.com//michaelDG/ 23 see footnote 40! 24 The incredible extension of bribery, corruption and drawing of personal profits within the SS is de- scribed by Prof. Eugen Kogon in his documentation "Der SS-Staat", Europäische verlagsanstalt, Frank- furt am Main 1947, page 290-306 "Das Drohnendasein der SS" (The Drone Livelyhood of the SS) 25 not to be mistaken with Obersturmbannfuehrer ( SS LtCol) Richter, the last Area Commissioner of Vilna, successor of Hingst and Neugebauer. Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 9 infested HKP and the blocks on Subocz Street with a sharp eye for any chance to harass and intimidate the civilians and also to retaliate for Major Plagge's "frivolity" - in the eyes of the SS - to save 1200 Jews, the majority useless women and children - of the final extinction of all Jews of Vilna, to the last one. The public and demonstrative execution in the HKP camp of the Zalkind family was such an example for the never ending zeal of the SS to kill anyone at any opportunity. Yes, this is a "dark spot" in the Plagge story. Following his letters (to Mr. Greisdorf), his declaration at the denazification trial, his family background, his education, the description by the survivors it is to be assumed that he was a dominantly intellectual, led in his doings by traditional patterns of thinking. This would imply that in the Zalkind tragedy he could do nothing, as the Zalkinds had offended the camps rules: They were caught on the escape, which was known to be threatened by the death punishment. Here Plagge had no chance to interfere, the execution was also a threat to himself under the motto: "keep a better eye on our prisoners!" The dramatically developing scene when the child turned up was un- foreseeable. This is the picture of a man, who carefully appreciated his possibilities, but not in his personal favour, but in the overall interest of the prisoners in total. In such situations tragic is inescapable. Plagge's muster unit was a permanent offence to SS ideology. Unfortunately for the SS, Plagge and his fabulous Vehicle Repair Park was under protection of the Wehrmacht, al- though a rather vulnerable haven, as the SS and SD had demonstrated at the case of Ser- geant Schmidt, who had helped Jewish resistance fighters and was shot after military trial for the faked accusation of being corrupt. This case was well known and remembered in the Vilna military community. Schmidt's case demonstrated that anyone under any suspicion of the SS could be court-martialled for any offence. The military courts didn't hesitate to take as truth without questioning any accusations from the SS26. It was thanks to the generosity of German military judges in decisions on death sentences - some 20,000 throughout the war27 - that members of the Wehrmacht unsympathetic to Nazi ideology were continually threat- ened. From the point of view of the SS, Plagge consistently gave false and exaggerated numbers of labourers required for his HKP operations. Even in terms of the Wehrmacht he 26 "The longer the war lasted, the more the military courts became instruments of terror: The judges were not independent, sentences were not derived from the single case and in many cases were fixed already in advance. Only the formalities of justice were used. Tens of thousands were sentenced to death and executed, more than in all other countries taken together" cited from B. Hirsch, Vice Presi- dent of the German Bundestag in: Deutsches Sonntagsblatt "Urteile ohne Recht und Moral", 30.08.96 27 An overall evaluation of these files had been successfully denied by the same military judges, who rose in post-war Germany to high and highest positions like: Dean of the juridical faculty, chancellor Adenauer's chief of staff or Prime Minister of a German federal state. Aside of the existing 90.000 files of military trials another 40.000 have been destroyed deliberately after the war. Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 10 violated the strict and clear rules to treat Jews as enemies everywhere and at all times28. These were capital offences and in terms of the military courts good enough for a death sen- tence. "The chief of H.K.P. 562, Major Plagge, would come to encourage us after these events. Ob- viously embarrassed about the latest "achievements of his fellow Germans", he told us, among other things: "Regrettably, the war has destroyed moral values as well as the material 29 ones" . The Letter from the SS Commandant30 Following an inspection of HKP in January 1944 by the commandant of the Kowno concen- tration camp, ObStubaF Goecke and a discussion with Major Plagge, Goecke insisted by letter on a "burden"31 of administrational work at the HKP headquarters, which was - in Goeckes eyes - not fit to make up correct files for the HKP and the civil firms labourers ac- cording to the demands of the SS. The paperwork and personnel, needed for the accounting of 1.200 prisoners according to SS standards was considerable. There was the complicating fact that within HKP were workshops of private firms, which produced for the Army and Air- force as well, but were their own organisational units. Plagge had invited the uniform firms to establish their production sites inside of the HKP camp and taken over the task to shift the women employed at these two firms between HKP and the firms jobs according to actual workload32. This "unauthorised" personal action of Plagge was fully in line with the Wehrmacht's traditional philosophy of task oriented decisions, leaving to the local responsi- ble officer all the freedom to employ his resources in favour of the overall task. However, this was not acceptable to the SS and conflicted with her aim of total and permanent control of her prisoners and her overall aim to extinguish the Jewish race as soon as possible. "The news we gleaned about the events in the surrounding world foreshadowed the inevitable defeat of Germany and with it the certainty of the Germans having to pay for their monstrous crimes. The news also told us, however, that the Nazi policy of 28 "Therefore none, not even the slightest connection between an officer and a member of the Jewish race is allowed." cited from General Schmundt, Chief of Army Personnel Affairs, decree from October 1942, wherein a clear-cut anti-Semitic pose of German officers is demanded. 29 cited from Pearl Good, Memoirs (see footnote 3) - about Plagge's reaction on the "childrens action." Also compare with the decree of Gen. Schmundt (footnote 15) 30 see the attached English Translation of the original, as in the documents from Vilna. 31 Goecke presumably refers to the many hand-written amendments on the roll-call lists as can be seen on the documents published by the Vilna Museum. 32 Survivor Molly Kadan remembers in an interview: " She worked in both the carpentry shop, the laundry and the kitchen.", available at hometown.aol.com//michaelDG/ Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 11 general extermination of the European Jewry continued to be carried out as merci- lessly as before, enveloping ever more countries (Southern France and Hungary)."33 Thanks to Plagge's employment policy - he even thought of the support of the air defence units in Vilna by "his" prisoners34 - and his diligent organisation, Goecke could and did not question the number of prisoners working in and for HKP directly. So he used the "burden for the offices" of HKP by administrational work as a valid argument to demand by written instruc- tion - he could not give orders to a Wehrmacht officer - an immediate review of the system of roll calls and reports. He "proposed" that HKP and the private firms should each report sepa- rately for their demand of labour35. Goecke demanded "immediate action" - which he under- lined by sending SS sergeant Richter with the letter and the newly prepared lists. He thus expected the new lists "immediately" i.e. one or two days later. SS officer Goecke somehow mistrusted the beautiful set-up at Plagge's HKP36, supposing some deals between Plagge and the uniform manufacturers out of his direct control and against his never ending zeal to get hold of any "unuseful" worker for Ponary. And although camouflaged by the bureaucratic language, the mistrust of SS-officer Goeke is seen in the threatening undertone in his letter to Plagge. It was a clear "affront" to Major Plagge and therefore the proof for the mistrust, to send a low ranking SS-sergeant, Richter, to control the handling of the name-lists at HKP and the uniform works. Plagge's reaction is dated 9 days later, showing that he had neglected the demand for the "immediate action" as requested clearly by camp commandant Goecke. To follow Goecke's instructions would have deprived Plagge of the freedom to decide about the internal em- ployment of the women in the camp on his own - a severe danger to his well organised scheme to keep off a too close insight of the SS into his management and also a threat to productivity, because such reports would reveal immediately that in fact there were more women in the camp than needed for the production. His next move was aimed at first to trade for time by diverting things into an administrative problem with the need for the involvement of as many authorities as possible, and then to outflank the intentions of Goecke and the SS. On the one hand his rank as a major was not high enough to bluntly decline Goecke's in- struction, on the other he saw a chance to keep things running as they were by forwarding the instruction - superficially a simple administrational matter - to the local Wehrmacht office, which was in charge of checking the invoices of the SS for release of prisoners and ordering 33 cited from Pearl Good, Memoirs 34 see letter of Major Plagge to HUV 35 For the understanding of the organization please see the attached graphs. 36 The SS had confidants in the Subocz street camp: "Collaborators were (in HKP and all the ghettos ...) a routine and obvious event and occurrence. Even a young man, such as I ... was not only aware but fully knowledgeable of the Averbuchs and others who were working for the Germans. .... It was a natural occurrence." cited from an e-mail to the author by William Begell, dated May 15, 2003. Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 12 the money to the SS - the Army Lodging Service - using Goeckes letter to start a major and time consuming administrational affair. In his letter to the Army Lodging Service (HUV) - re- markably without copy37 to Goecke, which would have been self explaining in a truly sheer administrative case - here it can only be interpreted as an attempt, not to inform Goecke too early about his intentions. Plagge argued straight away with the HKP's task of logistic support to the Army and the subsequent need for highly motivated civil labour and proposed a simple move: complete rent in total of the whole Subocz street camp inmates by the Wehrmacht administration. In this way the accounting and administration of the prisoners could be simpli- fied and HKP relieved of substantial paper work - which would solve the initial problem and would answer Goeckes demand.38 It can be taken for granted that at that time nobody in Vilna or the Wehrmacht staff there was in any doubt about what would be the fate of anyone superfluous in the Subocz street camp in the eyes of the SS39. "... if for other reasons for the SS the employment in Vilna appears less important than at another place" writes Plagge in his letter to HUV and his intense arguments at this point are only ex- plainable, if we take into consideration his awareness that the women would be killed at Ponary. Next attention has to be drawn, to whom the letter of such importance40 was sent: The ad- dressee of his proposal was just a low ranking warrant officer, independent of Plagge in his task to check and pay the invoices, but in a support function to HKP. If Plagge as a Major was not in a position to reject Goeckes demands, how could he expect that the warrant offi- cer41 of HUV would be in a position to counteract to Goecke? The only explanation can be the logic, after which Plagge deliberately used HUV as a time-gaining detour for his applica- tion. The leader of HUV must have immediately recognised the true meaning of Plagge's pro- posal. The mutual stalking of the SS and Plagge regarding the dispute about handling of the HKP prisoners was known by many minor clashes between SS and Plagge's men42. Now 37 as the letter was documented in the unit's "letterbook", it would have had a "copy to" note, if such copy would have been sent to Goecke. The note in the letterbook was essential to protect Plagge against accusations of being dormant. 38 For the understanding of Plagge's proposal see the attached graph. 39 Oskar Schoenbrunner describes in his memoirs, how he met SS Sturmfuehrer (lieutenant) Neuge- bauer drunk in the officers club (1943) until he told in detail about the killing at Ponary. see MSG 2, Vol. 2822 Bundesarchiv – Militärarchiv Freiburg, page 7 40 The importance is clarified by listing the letter in HKP's letterbook. Also the length - unusual for military issues at that level - points to the importance given to the case by Plagge. 41 Such administrational institutions were led by officers of the special "Intendantur"-branch, ranking below regular officers. 42 Rescuer Oskar Schoenbrunner describes similar incidents. The witnesses of Plagge's denazification trial reported cases, when Jews were retrieved from the SS by Wehrmacht men at gun point. See also footnote No 12. Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 13 Plagge demanded that he should be responsible for the account of the prisoners and sign with his name the number requested. At least HKP, a permanent installation of 250 soldiers plus 1250 civilian - men, women and children - day by day contacted by all kind of military personnel coming and going with the trucks and vehicles on repair or conversion at HKP, was one of the main objects aside of all the other more or less important offices and head- quarters in Vilna. Plagge's proposal brought the officer in charge of the Army Lodging Service into an incon- venient situation: to follow the proposal would have posed him right in front to the SS - a po- sition in which nobody would feel comfortable. So he looked for excuses to deny the proposal and as reasons he found that he was not entitled to having the men to do this additional ad- ministrative work and secondly, but decisively he indicated that the administration had no one to run the guard at Subocz Street. Well, this was visibly a fake argument , the guards were Lithuanian policemen and they would have carried on, only under the supervision of the Wehrmacht - logically Plagge's unit. The Army Lodging Service did, what all administration levels are doing in questionable or such cases which would enlarge their responsibility - the proposal was answered by as "not being entitled" and "we suggest you forward the case to our superior office". This was unwill- ingly well done, as this could only be the aim of Plagge - to mark up the case on a decision level, which could not be neglected by the SS. In addition, time had been gained, the answer was written on 21st of February and by pointing to the superior headquarter as being the cor- rect addressee, some more days or weeks were available to find a way to outmanoeuvre Goeckes demand. As long as there was no final decision on the case initiated by Plagge, he could neglect the dangerous change of procedures. A minor slip-up in the answer to Plagge (by mentioning that the superior office could possibly arrange the "take over of the work camp" - a term, Plagge had not used in his letter to HUV) shows us in writing the true point of discussion - it was not the reorganisation of some pa- perwork, but a frontal attack on the SS - the "take over" of the Subocz street camp and all the prisoners by the Wehrmacht, depriving the SS of their prey. March 1944 From here on onwards we have no documents about the further development of the ex- change of arguments. But the daily reports as found in the documents mirror the terrible ac- tion that was taken briefly after Plagge's attempt to outmanoeuvre the SS: A few weeks later in the raid on 27th of March the SS snatched and killed those, who were not listed belonging Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 14 to the workshops or construction team - 200 children of Subocz street and a number of women, who seemed to be not really employed: "Harry's mother was killed after the children's action in March of 1944. She had been working in the mending shop when the action started. Not knowing what kind of action this was to be, she left her workplace and hid. However she was discovered and since she was not at the workplace where she was supposed to be, she was taken with the children and Harry never 43 saw her again." Remarkably they raided the camp, when Plagge was absent44. "The "children's aktzye" shook the camp to its very foundations. The air was filled with 45 moans of the disconsolate mothers, people moved around the camp like shadows." On the daily lists for the following 2 weeks we find the simple remark "not worked"46 - the prisoners were not driven to the workshops, at least interpretable as a gesture of sympathy by Plagge and his men. There is no written evidence of a correlation between the two cases, but according to the manifold witnessed actions of the SS it can be assumed that Goecke started the children's action in the concentration camps within his area of responsibility more or less working for the Wehrmacht, as a demonstration of his overruling power. Goecke didn't need an order "from above" for his actions, if he only wanted to demonstrate his "pre-emptive obedience" to Nazi ideology. May 1944 The Wehrmacht had started the last major initiative at the Eastern Front in the summer of 1943 at the battle of the Kursk salient. 4000 German tanks had attacked the well prepared Soviet defences and came to a grinding halt. The counterattack caught the Germans on the wrong foot and since then the front was closing in to Vilna slowly but quite visibly to every- one. In the spring of 1944 it was only a question of time, when the Soviets would overrun Vilna. The prisoners of Subocz street started to look for hideaways for that case early and 43 cited from Michael D. Good, e-mail to the Plagge group, telephone interview with Harry Sheres, dated June 21st, 01 44 "We later found out that this only happened because Major Plagge was on leave in Germany, and was not there to object" Memoirs of Mark and Anna Balber, available at "hometown.aol.com//michaelDG/" and: "The Balber's trust in Major Plagge's power is really touching - they thought that if only Plagge was not on vacation he could have saved the children from the "Ak- tzye" which was also taking place simultaneously in the Kaunas ghetto." cited from Pearl E Good, e- mail to the Plagge group, dated 3 Jul 2001. 45 cited from Pearl Good: Memoirs 46 "I did not return to work after the Kinder Aktzye. I did not go to the Apells either" cited from Pearl E Good, e-mail to the Plagge Group, dated 21 Jan 2003 Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 15 immense covert activities started, malines - even a tunnel out of the camp - were dug and built within Subocz street blocks for as many people as possible. "Working diligently, the men blocked off the farthest room in the basement by a brick wall and excavated an underground passage to gain access to this isolated space. For this we had to chisel a large hole through the stone foundation of the house. The shaft leading to the crawl-space we camouflaged by covering it with an earth-filled flat wooden box. We fastened wires to two sides of the box. By pulling on the wires we could raise the earth-filled box. The needed materials - cement, boards and so on, we stole from the Germans. The car battery we needed for illumination we ac- quired by the same means."47 Looking on the drawing of the blocks48 and the malines in there, the blocks must have been hollowed like a rabbit's burrow. "When the news of the advancing Russian army reached us some began building hid- ing places in the cellars, under the roof, just any place they could think of, fearing that the Germans would shoot us before retreating."49 In the end possibly 400 or more found shelter in these malines. All this was done in buildings in which were some of the workshops and where the German soldiers were at least present throughout the day. The many contacts between the soldiers and prisoners and their pres- ence on the spot make it implausible that Plagge's men did not recognise any of the prepara- tions in the camp. At least the Germans themselves were thinking about what would hap- pen, when the front comes nearer. The SS would have been very interested in knowing about these activities. The survivors speak about the need to hide the malines from everyone except the few who were to hide there. First there would have been too many, who would try to get into the maline and secondly, those rejected from entering could give notice to the en- emy, hoping to save the own life. 1st of July 1944 The summer offensive of the Red Army against German Army Group Centre had started on May 1, 1944 and the closing in of the Soviets must have been audible in Vilna for days or even weeks, as the thunder of the hundreds of artillery pieces can be heard in the summer 47 cited from Pearl Good: Memoirs 48 Drawing provided by Michael D. Good. The original is drawn by architect Gary Gerstein.(see attach- ment) 49 cited from Boris Greisdorf: Escape-HKP story 1956 Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 16 nights on a distance of more than one hundred kilometers50. At the rear headquarters and logistic installations of the German Army Group Centre in Vilna the hectic activities accom- panying the defensive operations must have been visible to everyone. The drivers coming with their vehicles for repair from the front would have told about the goings-on, so that no- body in HKP and the Subocz street camp was really unprepared for decisive changes. The Jews, still employed at the SS headquarters, forwarded to the camp the information they necessarily picked up there. There had also been a radio in the camp, used to listen to the BBC51. From there the prisoners knew already that the Germans had killed all Jewish prison- ers on their retreat.52 Without any doubt there must have been growing a tremendous tension in the camp about the coming events, possibly the inescapable death to all. It is the scene which all survivors of HKP remember similarly: On Saturday, 1st of July 1944 Major Plagge appeared in the camp and called together whoever was around. With him turned up the SS-Sergeant Richter. Plagge informed the prisoners that the situation de- mands to move HKP west and the prisoners will be moved out of the camp under the "care" of the SS. His words are well remembered: "Major Plagge warned us that the German army was leaving Wilno and our camp would be evacuated westward in connection with the nearing of the Russians. To emphasize his warning Major Plagge informed us in his speech that we would stop being a H.K.P. work camp and would be entirely in the hands of the S.S. - he then carefully commented: „And you all know full well how well the S.S. takes care of their Jewish prisoners“.53 It has been stated that Plagge left the prisoners simply to their fate, when he got the order to move HKP out of Vilna. But remembering the activities the months before his declaration to the prisoners - and as far as we know now the warning of Sergeant Grammer - get an addi- tional meaning: not only "run for your life" but also now "hide where you can" - knowing well that there were hideaways. It was foreseeable for Plagge weeks before July '44 that he would have to leave with his unit well before a Soviet attack on Vilna. It was foreseeable that 50 I remember the late summer 1944, when I was with my mother, sisters and brothers evacuated from East Prussian Gumbinnen to a village, a hundred km to the West. Here in the nights and on si- lent evenings the far away growling of the front, still 150 km East, was a permanent background noise. 51 The extensive reporting of BBC about the situation is documented at many places, f.e. as audio documents at: WWW.gimarc.com/1941.html: Reel George Productions - Jan. 19, 1943 Russian Front News (1:13). Even in POW-camps existed radios: http://www.merkki.com/powwow.htm 52 "According to the British Radio station BBC, before retreating the Germans had shot without mercy all the Jewish inmates of the camps." cited from Pearl Good, Memoirs 53 cited from Pearl Good, Memoirs Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 17 the Wehrmacht would not allow any transport for civilian labour54: Due to the successful of- fensive trucks as well as rail-transport were extremely short to the Wehrmacht on the Eastern front during the summer of 1944. The logic conclusion to Plagge must have been the only way he found. That was to keep HKP running in Vilna under his command as long as possi- ble and warning the prisoners at the latest possible time. In the best case he would have held on, until the SS, belonging to the "rear area formations", would have had to leave Vilna as well. Leaving Vilna too early would have left too much time for the SS to search Subocz street. Warning the prisoners too early would have revealed the prisoners preparations to hide to the SS guards. Once ordered to leave Vilna, he could not argue that the task of his unit would become impossible without the civil labour, as his unit consisted of 250 men al- ready, for which - last but not least - he was responsible as the commandant. He did not have the financial resources to buy transport or bribe the SS. HKP was ordered to a new location in France55. Major Plagge could not assume to get westward more that 1000 Jews safely right across Europe. Plagge held his speech on Saturday, and the first escape of the prisoners was made on Sat- urday evening. On Sunday his unit packed up and moved out on Monday. Then the camp was searched by the SS from Monday to Tuesday and all those who could not hide or run were killed. About one half of the Malinas was detected. Thereafter the SS did not turn up any more. "Discovering that a large percentage of inmates did not appear at the inspection, the Germans started a search of both buildings and those discovered there, (numbering about 200) were shot immediately in the yard. The Germans mobilised the sur- rounding gentile population for burial of the corpses, after which they lifted the guard and abandoned the camp on Tuesday, July 4th."56 Not belonging to the front-line troops, Gestapo and SS as well as all other Nazi-organizations had good reasons to leave Vilna at the earliest possible moment. Already the next day, the camp was left for pilferage by the Gentiles and Vilna was swept by the retreating Wehrmacht. Actually in these days the German Army Group Centre disintegrated under the Soviet on- slaught. 54 "..in his speech warning his Jewish workers in July of 1944, Plagge said that he wanted to take the HKP workers with him along with his unit. He said he had asked the administration in Vilna and then in Kaunas (Harry thinks that he said that he actually went to Kaunas to make this request) but was turned down. As a result, Plagge said that the workers would no longer be under his protection, but rather would be under the direct jurisdiction of the SS. He said this with an SS officer standing right next to him." cited from Michael D. Good, telephone interview with Harry Sheres on June 18 th, 01 55 On 6th of June the Allies had begun the invasion in Normandy. In the denazification trial Plagge reported that he and HKP 562 went into captivity to the Allied forces in France. 56 cited from S. Esterowicz, Memoirs Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 18 The brief interval between the retreat of Plagge and the retreat of the SS gave as little time as possible for the SS to search the camp. The sequence of action and timings demonstrate that Plagge and his men, conforming a rather immobile logistic support unit, kept on in Vilna right until the complete rear organization disappeared and fighting in Vilna started. Any other commanding officer of such a unit, who would have been interested only in the safety of his men, envisaging the speedy attack of the Soviets, would have made any attempt to leave Vilna days earlier, like many other military installations. June 1947 With the destruction of the Nazi regime in Germany not all those disappeared, who were responsible for and involved in the Nazi terror. The dreams of the German opposition to es- tablish a government of democrats and punishment of all those who carried guilt for terror and murder had already vanished. The Allied occupation regime had swiftly recognised that they needed specialists and experienced administrators as well as those who knew how to run German factories as well as the courts, hospitals, schools and universities. Particularly the juridical organization was crucial. The simple "by chance" fact that in Nazi-Germany judges were not necessarily members of the Nazi party (calling tradition they pretended not to be biased), made the Allies believe the German judges were not culpable - a tragic error. Those, who in 1933 were with the first to expel Jews from their courts and chambers, who were responsible for thousands of terror sentences not in the name of law, but in the name of the Nazi ideology and "the peoples healthy judgement" were now in charge of trials, wherein they had to judge about the responsibility of Nazi party members for terror, crime and sup- pression. "Aside of the widespread interest then to brush under the carpet as much distress as possible, the extremely strong personal continuity between courts and juridical administration of the 57 young German democracy and of those of the Nazi regime offers an explanation ...." In June Plagge was called to a denazification trial58, as all Germans, who had joined the Nazi party before 1933. At that time several witnesses could be found, not only his employer be- fore the war, Mr. Hesse, who declared that he had employed Karl Plagge also, because he needed someone in his factory trustworthy to the Nazi organizations and to avoid an official NS-party supervisor in his factory. But as a clear demonstration of his humanistic conviction, already in 1938 Karl Plagge became the godfather of Hesse's son Konrad, although the wife 57 to the role of Nazi-judges in post-war Germany see H. Daeubler-Gmelin: "Rehabilitierung und Entschädigung von Deserteuren" Ansprache Februar 1997, published under: www.spd-tuebingen.de 58 see original documents (Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden 4.3.1, Department 520 / Spruch- kammer / Dl / Plagge, Karl) and transcripts in English as provided by Michael D. Good Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 19 of Mr. Hesse was rated by the notorious Nuremberg Laws a Jew. Becoming the godfather was an official act and everywhere were denunciators - at least the clerk, who noted the god- fathership in the official "family book". Openly Plagge as member of the Nazi party demon- strated his close relation to a "half Jew" or "non Aryan" against the wordings of the Nurem- berg laws59. All other witnesses, without exception, men of his military unit HKP 562, declared that Plagge had employed many more people and their families in HKP and given them shelter in Subocz street, than were needed. The witnesses pointed out that Plagge against the threat of the SS had protected "his" labourers and that he had tried to obstruct the attempts of the SS to draw away and kill the Jews in Subocz street as far as he could. Of course there might have been some bias with these witnesses, as any anti-Nazi behav- iour of the unit's commander would throw a favourable light on their own reputation, which was really helpful in Germany under the Allied Commission. But two facts - aside of the memoirs of the survivors - could contribute to the finding of the truth: First - there is not the slightest contradiction in the declarations of the witnesses, second - on the last day of the trial Mrs. Maria Eichamueller, unknown to Plagge until then, appeared and declared that she was in search for Karl Plagge on behalf of Jews from Vilna, who lived in Ludwigsburg by now and who wanted to find and thank Karl Plagge for the help they had received from him. Being found by the few survivors of the HKP prisoners, they contacted Karl Plagge. He was invited by the Greisdorf family for a visit. We have letters60, written by Karl Plagge after the several days long visit at the Greisdorfs. Remembering the situation in 1947 it is unrealistic to assume that a survivor of the Holocaust would invite to his home anyone, of whom he would not been convinced to be someone to trust, a friend. We have heard from many of the Jewish survivors of HKP that they do have positive remembrances of Karl Plagge; indeed many credit him with having saved their lives. A German commandant of Jewish prisoners, who carried only a minimum of guilt for the kill- ings and atrocities, hardly had dared to set a foot into a DP-camp in 1947. Although the court accepted Plagge's actions as being in favour of the Jewish prisoners, he was rated a "fellow traveller" of Nazism by the court and sentenced to a fine of 9,100 RM, a 59 "However, in 1936, my father was confronted with the question as to whether he should separate himself from his non-Aryan wife or whether he would accept being excluded from all public offices, associations and clubs. My father decided for his wife. This caused the loss of his “friends” and “ac- quaintances” with the exception of the two friends mentioned above, i.e. Plagge and Gunther." cited from: Konrad Hesse, letter to Michael D. Good, dated April 2001 60 originals (deposited by Lazar Greisdorf to the Jewish Gaon Museum in Vilnius) and English transcript provided by Michael D. Good, available at www.hometown.aol.com//michaelDG/ Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 20 rather negligible sum at the time, but a slap in Plagge's face, compared to the many high ranking Nazis, which escaped any punishment. "The help offered by the deported Jews in Ludwigsburg shows that the person in question par- 61 ticipated in an uncommon manner in the saving of lives of persecuted people." Looking on the Nazi ideology, which consisted in it's core of Anti-Semitism and had called the Jews the eternal deadly enemies of the German race, which was aimed at the complete ex- tinction of every Jew, it is illogical to rate Plagge a "fellow traveller" and simultaneously con- cede him to have saved the life of Jews. The summary of these two statements does not make sense, but there are reasons for the conclusion of the court. First, Karl Plagge had asked for this rating by himself and secondly, the plea of Karl Plagge helped the judges out of their dilemma to find a sentence for something unwanted in those days: The recognition of the simple fact that it was possible to help the threatened, to protect the haunted and to act against the Nazis, the SS and Gestapo without being shot on the spot. This fact was denied by all those functionaries and true fellow travellers of the Nazis, it could not and was not con- ceded to be true. The full inconsistency of the sentence is displayed by the last words of the denazification court: "Resulting from the belief that the anti-national-socialistic motive of his actions is not proven, that probably his human attitude was more important, the chamber finishes the trial with the categorisation of the person in question into group 4 of the fellow travellers or hanger-ons. The reason is that he has to be seen through his attitude as a nominal member of the NS movement." Karl Plagge himself felt guilty and in his letters to Mr. Greisdorf he clearly says "I have done only, what was allowed to me" - not more. But he had done far more than the majority of the Germans under Nazi rule, he had exploited the limits and in doing so he enabled the survival of at least some 200 men, women and children. "As was mentioned by me before, it was thanks to the endeavours of Major Plagge, who was guided by his desire to protect his Jewish workers, that the dwellers of H.K.P., numbering over 1000, were able to avoid, at least temporarily, the fate of those Jews who remained in the ghetto. Not surprisingly, therefore, Major Plagge, our protector (who, in addition, according to those who had personal contact with him, was a man of the highest moral character - as we also as- 62 certained later) was much beloved and respected by us". 61 cited from the decision of the denazification court (see footnote 20) 62 cited from S. Esterovicz, Memoirs, www.hometown.aol.com//michaelDG/ Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 21 Attachments (all translations by the author) Translation of the Letter SS ObStubaF Goecke to HKP 562 (Handwritten: 59) Copy Concentration-Camp Kauen Command HQ FileNo.: Work.Deploy. 16/2.44-AU. The 8th of February 1944 Subj.: Deployment of Jewish Workforce Reference: verbal meeting on January 13th 44 Attachments: 3 Applications To V.P./East/562 Vilna. Referring to the meeting on the occasion of the review of the places of employment with Major Plagge about the offset against the Jewish labourers working for company REITZ attention is invited to the following: It cannot be dismissed that the prisoners employed at the companies Reitz and Herbert Meier are a burden for the offices there. Still it must be welcomed and acclaimed that V.P./East/ successfully strives to employ productively elsewhere those prisoners, which are not employed in the vehicle work- shops. But as it is otherwise not acceptable that the accounting of the labourers of V.P./East and the companies is done between them, it is invited to renew the application for release of labourers for the vehicle workshops of V.P./East/ at this headquarter on the attached forms. On this application only those prisoners are allowed to be listed, which are actually employed there. For the companies Reitz as well as Herbert Meier the information is needed by V.P./East/ which and how many labourers are em- ployed for these firms in the repair shop and knitting room respectively, as for these separate applica- tions by the firms must be handed in. The remaining rest of labourers is to be distributed by percentage to the three employers, as it is here prisoners, which are detached to run the camp functions and whose costs the three have to share. At this opportunity it is invited to send SS-Unterscharfuehrer Richter (Golosheyka?) together with the as well attached applications to the companies, as so the applications can be belaboured in total after reception. Immediate execution is invited. sig. G o e c k e SS-Obersturmbannfuehrer and Camp Commandant For correctness of the copy.: (hand-written signature) Captain and Adjutant Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 22 Translation of Major Plagge's letter to H.U.V. 190 Vehicle Park (East) 562 ___Letter Book No 12069/44 O.U. the 17th February 1944. Subj.: Employment of Jewish Labourers. Ref.: Letter from Concentration Camp Headquarter Kauen File: Work. Deploy. 16/2.44-Au. dated 8.2.44 to V.P./East/ 562. To Stamp: Army-Housing Administration 190 18. FEB.1944 Vilna. At disbandment of the Jewish Ghettos in Vilna V.P./East/562 achieved by immediate protest at the superior SD-Command in Riga / Superior Leader Piffrader/ that ca. 500 Jewish specialist la- bourers shall be preserved for V.P.E. 562 for vehicle repair tasks. The pre-condition was set up that these were to be employed in a closed concentration camp. As the motivation and effectiveness of the Jewish labourers is essentially dependent of the fact that not only the men but also their wives and children can remain in Vilna, by expressed accordance by the SD the associated women and children were held back as well and transferred to the work camp Subocz street. At this time are 1243 Jewish persons are in the work camp. Out of these are 499 men, 554 women and 190 children. To get the at first unemployed women post-haste to productive work, these by consultation with the War-Economy Extern HQ Vilna / Capt. Klipfl/ were brought to employment as well. For this purpose 311 women were attached to (Fa. = firm) Reitz Uniform works and (firm) Herbert Meier, which have to perform assignments for Army- and Air Force clothing offices. Within the work camp appropriate rooms were provided, where those firms have established their machines and installations for the repair of blankets, coats, stockings etc. During month November the Concentration Camp of V.P./East/562 in the wake of regulation valid for all C.C. in the East released by the SS_Economy Main Administration - Office D 2, Oranien- burg-Berlin was taken over administratively and sub-ordinate to C.C. Kauen. From this time on all prisoners are distributed and charged on application to the pertinent offices, in this case V.P.E. 562 and accounted at Marks 4.- for a specialist, Marks 3.- for an assistant worker, M 3.- for a female spe- cialist and M. 2.50 for an assistant female worker. The invoices as have handed in by now were for- warded for balance and control respectively to H.U.V. 190. please turn By letter dated 8.2.44, which is attached in copy, C.C. Kauen now asks by now for separate applications for those labourers in the vehicle work shops and those employed at the firms, whereas the firms have to hand in the applications themselves. At this procedure the park sees a danger insofar, as the SS is now in a position, to control the female labourers at will and transfer them in case even to a non-local work-site f.e. in the C.C. Kauen. This case could materialise particularly then, when by lack of materials the firms operating in the work camp have only a need for a lower number of labourers than the existing, or if for other reasons for the SS the employment in Vilna appears less important than at another place. Hereby not only the principle would be broken that strictly the male specialists of V.P.E. 562 in the interest of their motivation will stay with their wives, but also the cantonment Vilna will be de- prived of most valuable labourers. Therefore the park proposes the following: H.U.V. 190 in Vilna requests all male and female Jewish labourers existing in the work camp at the SS-Economy Main Administration and controls the distribution of these forces to the single users of Army and Air Force in Vilna, whereby the firms Reitz Uniform Works and Herbert Meier, Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 23 producing for the Army- and Air Force clothing offices will be kept included. Also V.P./East/ 562 claims it's specialists at H.U.V. 190 and accounts about the dues with this. A principle decision is invited, if shall be acted according to the proposal of V.P.E. 562. 1 Attachment Plagge Major and Park Commandant Translation of the answer of H.U.V. 190 to Major Plagge: Army Lodging Administration 190 Vilna, the 21st February 1944 FileNo: 27 d__________________ Subj.: Employment Jewish Labourers Reference: Your letter dated 17.2.44 letter book No. 12069/44 Stamp: "Draft" To Vehicle Park East 562 Vilna To the proposal as made in the letter mentioned above, the administration cannot concede, as the nec- essary labour force is missing. It is invited to contact in this respect the War Economy Forward office in Vilna, as this has a better overview on the employment of certain Jewish labourers at the different demand holders of Army and Air Force, as well as private firms. As the case may be this authority could set up contacts on the take over of the work camp. hand-written name tag Remarks: Plagge had "upgraded" his proposal by inserting the letter into the official letter book of his unit. This letter book was kept at all units to document important written material. The letter book also served Plagge as a document to demonstrate at any time his intentions, which were aimed officially only on highest possible productivity of the HKP! The "War Economy Forward office in Vilna" was the superior office to HUV 190 . The head of HUV 190 simply ducked away. His last sentence gives clear evidence what was the true topic of the discussion: the "take over" of Subocz street by HKP, doubtlessly to get rid of any SS- guards, -controls and creatures like SS-sergeant Richter. The word "take over" (Übernahme) also clarifies that the "missing of labour force" included the men to guard Subocz street. In February 1944 the Wehrmacht was on retreat at all Russian fronts, the invasion of France was expected daily and every man, able to fight was needed in the front-line units, or - like Plagges men - highly needed as specialists, who were not meant to be "wasted" on dull guard jobs. (Here I remember my early days in military service, when briefly I had to guard an ammunition depot....) Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 24 Charts to illuminate the organizational background to the three letters ObStbFhr Goecke to HKP 562 Major Plagge to HUV Answer to Plagge by HUV SS-Headquarter 1: Existing organization as discussed between Oranienburg Plagge and Goecke on January 13, 1944 this section was not under direct control of Goecke delivered money Concentration Camp Kaunas requested and paid for workers of HKP, UR and UM controlled number Uniformwerke Guards Reitz HKP 562 requested Concentration Workshops and paid for Uniformwerke Camp Vilna workers Meier Subocz Street kept and reported name files This "organization" of course gave some Wehrmacht or working for Wehrmacht additional administrative work to HKP. So he asked for a "better" solution. SS 2: Goeckes idea of a new organization Concentration Camp Kaunas guard and allot to HKP, UR and UM request and pay for workers on separate files Concentration Camp Vilna report name files HKP 562 Uniformwerke Uniformwerke Subocz Street Reitz Meier The setup becomes much clearer, Plagge would have been relieved (!) of admin work and Goecke would have had better control of workers Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 25 3. Plagge's proposal for a new organization: SS Headquarter Army HQ Berlin Wehrmacht Oranienburg Admin. Branch Wehrmacht Army Chain of Command Wehrwirtschaftsaussenstelle KZ Kaunas proposed by HUV 190 Vilna "Rent" of all workers in Subocz Street HUV 190 Vilna HKP 562 KZ Vilna Subocz Street Uniformwerke Plagge's Aim: Hermann Reitz "flexible distribution of all Meier workers in Subocz Street according to material and working for workload" Wehrmacht Gary Gerstein: Drawing of the malines in Subocz street Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 26 Translation of Work Report to HKP The 1st of March 1944 stamp (upside down): registered as incom- ing (?) REPORT about the construction works performed by the construction office in the work camp V.P.East 562 in the month of February 1944 ----------------------- The compilation of the performed construction works is as such: I. Barracks construction: 1. Covering of a part of the roof ca. 180 m2 2. Finishing of the interior dividing walls - 52 m2 - including the filling of saw dust. 3. Finishing and fitting in of door frames - 3 pieces. 4. Finishing of 3 doors. 5. Installing & lining of 2 ovens. 6. Insulation of exterior walls with oakum / left-overs ca. 180 m2 Levelling of surface in front of the barrack. Earth moving predominantly in frozen soil ca. 100m3 / ca. 30%/ II. Production Hall: Debris moving / predominantly frozen/ from a surface of 1200 m2 / prepared for the construction of a large production hall / up to a distance of 50 - 60 m & piling up of ca. 60 m3. III. Sewers: Laying of sewers in a depth of maximum 3.5 m in frozen ground including ex- cavation, laying, and refill / 6 inch concrete pipe/ 51 running meters. Installa- tion of gutters & their attachment to the main sewer - 2 pieces. IV. Waterline: 1. Disassembly of old water pipes, their repair & re-connection in the two staircases of the block, wherein are the special workshops / fire protection measures/. 2. Waterlines up to the chemical laboratory. Total waterline installation 70 running meters 3. Dirt-waterline from the chemical laboratory and from the kitchen with con- nection to the exterior sewer. V. Repairs: 1. One brick wall /10 m2/ removed in the locksmithery & debris removed. Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 27 2. One door opening in the wall /110 cm thick/ broken up in the barber shop & the projection of the door whitewashed. One door frame & one door mounted. One plank-tambour established & the door opening painted both sides. 3. In the floors & staircase chambers new lodging rooms installed inclusive laying of floors, doors, windows & ovens & whitewashing of walls and ceilings with sand and clay - in total 46 m2 living space. 4. Complete overhaul of ruined rooms with debris removal 28 m3 from the 5th floor down. a/ covering of ceilings with poured ware insulation b/ windows installation & glass fitting, c/ floor laying, d/ repair of doors & fittings. For the training courses of the youth a surface of 56 m2 was repaired. 5. 32 ovens in the living rooms were repaired, 3 new ovens installed. 6. Cleaning from soot & conservation of all smoke channels & the herewith connected opening & renewal of chimneys. 7. Repair and fitting of 24 doors & 35 windows in the living quarters. VI. Cleaning Works: Cleaning of the courtyard surface all around the work shop & living quarters of frozen debris & garbage after completion of repairs with moving of ca. 70 m3 up ti a distance of 100 m. Cleaning of the area of garbage /45 m3/ with moving to a distance of 100 - 150 m Remarks: The report was not written by a German, but obviously by some educated prisoner, who had learned a "higher society" Austro-German. (Does anyone remember, who was in charge of these reports?) The report is not written by a trained construction worker / engineer. The details of work are described quite pictorial, but not in the manner, a trained bricklayer, locksmith, engi- neer or architect would do. It looks like another argument for the fact that Plagge em- ployed non-specialists on specialists jobs. The report is written with great diligence - formally and by language. It shows that it was one of Plagge's demands to deliver as exact work reports as possible, as only in this way he could justify the number of people employed in the "construction office". In this con- text the remark under point II. about " prepared for the construction of a large production hall" is of interest: It demonstrates that Plagge intended to extend his workshops and capacity inclusive the need for a suitable work force. Salomon already pointed to the "training courses of the youth" , whereby Plagge tried to justify the existence of children in the camp. Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 28 SS-confidants in HKP e-mail from William Begell to the Author: Re: Joerg's Paper and Simon's complaints Date: Thu, 15 May 2003 10:04:56 -0400 From: BillBegell@aol.com To: MichaelDG@aol.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com CC: PearlEGood@aol.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Dear All Collaborators were (in HKP and all the ghettos and probably other camps) a routine and ob- vious event and occurrence. Even a young man, such as I (I was 16 at that time in HKP) was not only aware but fully knowledgeable of the Averbuchs and others who were working for the Germans. They came and went from the camp as they pleased. They showed off their pistols, they had good looking girl friends and plenty of money which they flashed. For camp inmates, these people were a target of some envy, same disdain and much fear and hatred - - a mixture of feelings. It was a natural occurrence, as I said before. Thus, it is, in my opi- nion, perfectly normal for all of us, in historical retrospect, to mention these people, to judge them and to discuss them, regardless how they affect different feelings and adversely reflect the entire camp population. So be it! Bill e-mail from Lazar Greisdorf to the author: Re: Spies Date: Sat, 17 May 2003 13:36:52 -0700 (PDT) From: Greisdorf Lazar <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: email@example.com Hello Joerg, I appreciate your reluctance to use the term "spies". However, I see no advantage in this to anyone. Terrible things were done by these spies and collaborators. I watched as my grand- father Hirsh Greisdorf was led away by two young Jewish policemen to the assembly point from where he and thousands of elderly were taken to Ponar and murdered. I knew a man here in Toronto who literally sold two yellow i.d. cards (gele shaynen) which he managed to acquire for his parents, because he knew that they would not survive no matter what docu- ments they had. My uncle Lew (Leibl) was beaten black and blue a number of times by both German and Jewish guards at the gate, for trying to smuggle food into the ghetto. Two men in our building in HKP were pointed out to me, who's job it was to wander about the streets of Wilna, to sniff out Jews who were living under false documents on the outside. Also, from a brief conversation a few days ago with my cousin Avreml Klok who lives in De- troit, I learned that he remembers the name Dreyzin as one of the known spies in HKP. There is not enough "perfume" in heaven or on earth to hide the stench of people like that. However, it must be remembered under what circumstances these people lived. They were desperately searching for a short-term advantage, to extend their lives for another few days or months. I would have been very surprised if there had not been such people, ready to do desperate things under desperate circumstances. Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 29 The search for short-term advantages is nothing new. It is being practiced in the board- rooms of large and small corporations throughout the world today. These advantages are called by various names; the most popular recently, are called stock options and shareholder value. And it should be remembered that these goodies are sought after by people who are neither hungry nor in fear for their lives. Zai gezunt. (I am sure you can figure out what this means, without any knowledge of Yid- dish.) Lazar. Literature: Samuel Esterovicz: Memoirs, www.hometown.aol.com//michaelDG/ Pearl Good (Perella Esterovicz): Memoirs, www.hometown.aol.com//michaelDG/ Karl Plagge, Denazification File, www.hometown.aol.com//michaelDG/ William Begell: Testimony to Yad Vashem, www.hometown.aol.com//michaelDG/ Irina Guzenberg: The Plagge Group: Archive Armin D. Steuer: "Dem deutschen Volke" Eugen Kogon: Der SS-Staat See Letters of Conflict Part II below Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 30 Letters of a Conflict - Part II. (Karl Plagge - A Struggle for Life) "I have never been afraid of Major Plagge of ever taking out a Luger and killing me on the spot. This was not the case with the German SS or Gestapo." This is the brief summary about Major Karl Plagge by survivor William Begell, given in his speech at the Darmstadt Technical University on October 6, 2002. Having finished the work on the “letters of a conflict” end of May 03, there was still some doubt, whether there are more sources to be surveyed for possible further information about Karl Plagge and his actions in Vilna. Somewhere it was suggested that Plagge had been on a search-list of the OSS immediately after the war. This could have been a plausible course, as officially Plagge had been some- thing like the commandant of a concentration or at least slave labour camp. Anyone who was not familiar with the rather complicated relations between SS and Wehrmacht in Vilna, must have seen Plagge as the responsible man for the Subocz Street camp. Having been in such a position, the OSS had all good reasons to put Plagge on their “wanted” list. Since the Plagge group had been so successful in using the internet, it was my first idea to contact the US-adminstration and simply ask there for help. Unfortunately the post-war files of the OSS seem to be held by the CIA and for understandable reasons and probably in the context of the parallel political situation in summer my attempts to get further into the CIA than the lengthy questionnaire about myself with which they answered my requests ren- dered rather futile. As usual Marianne was the one who took the more successful approach: long before she had the intention to contact the Central Information Board about war criminals in Ludwigsburg, where all files of post-war cases of crimes against humanity are to be found. And she found, what we were searching for: More information about Karl Plagge and the situation in Vilne. We have several documents: A summary about the most important men in Vilne by the Central Board (Doc.Sum) The questioning of witness Jehoshua Rosenfeld about the SS personnel in Vilna, (Doc.JR) including Goecke and Golosheika Richter. The questioning of Elias Gurewitz (Gurvicz?) about the SS – important, because Gurewitz worked throughout 1942 – 1944 for the SS HQ as a plumber. (Doc.EG) Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 31 The questioning of attorney Stumpf, who was the adjudant to Plagge in 1942 (we know him from the denazification file). Stumpf was accused to have taken part in the Kinder-akzye, but he had never been member of the SS and was at the time sta- tioned in Paris. (Doc.AS) The questionning of Karl Plagge in the case of Zwi Klejnberg against the Baden- Wurttemberg adminstration for compensation for false imprisonment (Doc.KP) and last but not least the Questionning of Karl-Heinrich Proepper, member of the "OT", who ran a warehouse for vehicle spare parts in Vilne and therefore was in contact with Plagge and in even closer contact with the SS. (Doc. KHP) Of course for me it was the most important question, wether these sources would strengthen the image of Plagge as I had tried to paint or wether the conclusions drawn in the “Letters of a Conflict” would be wrong. To cut it short, at least they must be amended in one or the other point, some are supporting the appreciation of Plagge. A careful look into the last days of the Subocz street camp must be taken, as we now have information, which to a certain amount are in contrast to the former assessments. Surprisingly I received a list of three people from the “Deutsche Dienststelle”, which were given as somehow having been in contact with HKP. I wrote to all of them as they had offi- cially given their readyness to be contacted by me. Unfortunately only one answered – Mrs. Mueller, who turned out to have been the secretary of Plagge’s paymaster. She had married Mueller after the war. She was about 19 years old, when she came to Vilna and remembers very little about the time, except the warm treatment of her house-lady. She remembers Plagge as a very serious man and that he had visited the Muellers after the war and had discussed the denazification trial with her husband. But no details are known to her as she wrote, except the hurry, in which she and some other secretary was burning all the papers and documents of HKP before they left Vilna. There were some more contacts – f.e. to Mr. Rejshewski in Israel, a survivor from the Kailis camp, to Mr. Arnold Kerr and Meir Shapiro, who also had been briefly in Kailis, but all of them could not give other than already known information. Only via Simon Malkes we were informed about the “Swirsky-case”. As far as known to us until now, the father of Mr. Swir- sky had studied in Darmstadt at the same time as Plagge and they both knew each other. Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 32 Once, when the Swirskis were caught by the SD having smuggled some food, Plagge saved them. Details will be asked by Dr. Paldiel. There are two events and one aspect to concentrate at: The corruption, which was common all over the SS. September 1943, when the Ghetto was dissolved and Plagge could save 100 Jews from being killed at Ponary and June 1944, when the Germans fled from Vilna. Corruption It is already mentioned that the SS was generally susceptible to bribes. All remarks about this fact came from the side of survivors, while former SS-men demand strongly that the SS was "clean" - a fact which was repeatedly claimed at the post-war courts. Not only in the Buchenwald concentration camp as described before the SS could be bribed. We now have an excellent witness for the widespread corruption and self-enrichment within the SS in Vilna. Karl-Heinrich Proepper gives enough evidence for this. Proepper - a car salesman and former civil pilot, unfit for military service - ran a vehicle spare part warehouse within the "OT63" in Vilna. As he was dependent on local work-force, he employed some Jewish "spe- cialists" - just like Plagge. Out of his insight into the SS organisation and most of the SS per- sonnel he must have co-operated very closely with the SS. To his warehouse belonged some trucks, with which he had to pick up spares in the factories in Germany. As these trucks drove to Germany empty, they were used for private mail: "These offices (of the SS and SD64) contacted me .... and asked for transportation of their packets, cases, suit-cases and baggage from time to time, what I evidently did. I posted these items mostly in Danzig, Koenigsberg and sent them to their addresses. Especially the SD (Security Police) used this service quite often. Meanwhile I also rec- ognised, what one or the other of these offices was sending and - curiosity may be excused - saw that in these pieces of luggage were items of highest value, such as: gold, gold-roubles, diamonds, watches, valuable porcelains, carpets, cameras etc. etc. This curiosity paid off in so far, as from now on I knew something and could "paint the town red" where I had to keep silent until then. 63 OT: Organisation Todt, civil organisation for technical services 64 inserted by the author Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 33 ...Being asked for further persons, for whom I had transported luggage from Vilna to the Reich, I declare that within the coming times it were all members of the SS in Vilna." Two results can be drawn from Mr Proepper's testimony - everybody within the SS was stealing - all of them could be bribed and blackmailed. It is important for our case, because otherwise the rescue of at least a hundred Jews cannot be fully explained: September 1943 The witness Elias Gurewitz, being asked about the SS in Vilna said: "The following names of members of the Gestapo in Vilna are known to me: .... "Dietz, master sergeant (3 stripes), responsible for the administration, short but sturdy figure, age 53, took part in WW I, hobbled due to an old war-injury, told me that his home had been bombed. 110 Jews had been hiding in Rudnitzka No 6. They were detected and brought to the Gestapo prison. Kammermacher, the Jewish leader of the Jewish work forces at the Gestapo and Kolis, the leader of the Jewish work force at HKP (about 1300) asked Major Plagge of HKP for help. He sent a request for 200 labourers for an express re- pair job to the Gestapo. On this Dietz handed over all 110 prisoners, which otherwise certainly would have been shot." The same (?) SS-sergeant "Dietz" was described by witness K-H Proepper as follows: "When being confronted with the name Dietz of EK (Einsatzkommando) III, I declare that I have transported luggage for him .... into the Reich. Thereby it became known to me that a package of 2 kg of gold, diamonds and the like was included. This pack- age I have mailed on his order to Berlin-Schoenwalde." (Proepper indicates that this was the private address of Dietz) Although Dietz had not been described by Elias Gurewitz as a "killer", he must have had spe- cial reasons to follow Plagge's request. Normally the SS did not "obey" to Wehrmacht orders, but here it can be assumed that both came together: Plagge's compelling authority and some bribes from Kammermacher and Kolysh. At another opportunity we already heard of such a case, where Plagge took over a hundred people from Kailis, following a request of Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 34 Kolysh and with the full knowledge of SS-sergeant Richter, the supervisor of Subocz Street. Here again we have a testimony for the swift and successful help, rendered by Plagge to save people in direct threat to their lives. Certainly at the same time the SS was mainly occupied with the sweep up and killing of all the other inmates of the Ghetto. Therefore Plagge could dare to pretend an "express repair job". But still there was the danger that SS-sergeant Richter might have the idea to control the case and look for the "repairs", which needed 200 people immediately and must have been of a size not to be overseen. Proepper met similar difficulties in performing his job as others: repeatedly men of his work- force, which were trained on the job "disappeared" - being taken and killed by the SS or SD. He complained at the SD headquarter and was turned down by Bruno Kittel65: ".. and it was indicated quite frankly that I had nothing to complain, I shouldn't be- come impertinent.... This I reported to the commandant of HKP 564, Captain Plagge, who was promoted to Major in 1943. Mr. Plagge is a civil engineer. Since I had talked about with Captain Plagge, the conditions became slightly better, liquidations - as far as pertaining to my labourers - stopped and I could continue my job." In other words, it was thanks Plagge's influence that "the liquidations stopped". 1st of July 1944 The information given in the "Letters of a Conflict" about the end of the Subocz street camp has to be amended. Until then we had the testimonies of the denazification trial in 1948 and the remembrances of the survivors. Out of that and being without any exact information I had assumed (following the fact that Plagge and the HKP went into captivity in France) that HKP had been ordered from Vilna to the invasion front in France. A central point of my ar- gument was somehow derived from here: The timing of Plagge's speech. We learn from Plagge's testimony in April 1956 two things of importance: that HKP was or- dered to move only a few hundred kilometres West to East Prussia and secondly, that on 3rd of July he returned to Subocz street, only to hear the shooting there and to be stopped in entering the camp: Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 35 "When in summer 1944 the HKP received the order, to move to East Prussia, we in- tended to take the Jews (of Subocz street - author's remark) with us. In the midst of the clutter during the evacuation I got information that a mob-up commando of the SD would be in the camp and that there would be shooting. When I drove there, en- trance was denied to me. Only later I learned to know from a Jew that a part of them managed to escape." When I read this statement, immediately I asked myself, why Plagge did not mention his attempt to save the Jews in Subocz street in the denazification trial. He also did not mention it to Dr. Alfred Stumpf: "With Major Plagge I met after the war at several occasions. I had searched for him after the war, because I wanted to help him in his denazification trial. Plagge had told a lot to me about his experiences with HKP until the end of the war. But he never mentioned that in July 1944 or at another time about 1.500 inmates of the HKP-camp in Vilna were liquidated. Also about a children's action in the Kailis work-camp in May 1944 nothing is known to me"66 Could it be that Plagge gave false information about what had happened? Why did he only talk about his futile trial at Subocz street 8 years after the denazification trial? Having gone through all the possibilities, the only valid explanation to me is the following: If HKP was ordered to move to East Prussia, the distance was as such that Plagge could hope to take the labourers with him - he even had reasons for that, as in the Reich there were no slave labourers available. Also the technical problem for the transport of a thousand people was less difficult than for a move to France. We should not forget that still in 1944 most of the German Wehrmacht moved on their flat feet - that was the normal speed of mili- tary movements - also the Red Army's movements were at least dictated by the speed of the infantry. A march of the prisoners in Subocz street from Vilna via Kaunas to Gumbinnen - a traffic node in the East of East Prussia - was a distance of less than 200 km. " Of course most of the HKP Jews would make it to Prussia if permitted to do it slowly, we were not starving or exhausted, but July 3rd would probably have been too late, that was the day marked for our 'evacuation' "67 Chart of East-Prussia to Vilna: 65 Witness Proepper (Doc.KHP) says about the fate of Kittel: "With reference to Kittel I state that it is said he drove on a mine during a guerrilla action, whereby both his legs were torn off. In his rucksack many golden items were found. Whether Kittel is dead I cannot say." 66 Stumpf was questioned, because Rosa Zusman-Schufian had notified, a certain SS-officer named "Stumpf" had been the responsible leader of the children's action. 67 Pearl Good, answering to this question in an e-mail of October 29, 2003 Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 36 GUMBINNEN - now Gusev Could there have been a realistic chance for the prisoners in Subocz street that they would not been liquidated as all the other Jews in the concentration camps on the retreat of the Wehrmacht? We know that on one side the SS ruthlessly tried to eradicate all traces of their murder. The knowledge about had even come to Vilna as described in Samuel Esterovicz' testimony. But on the other hand there were a lot of cases - especially to the end of the war - where prisoners of concentration camps were marched to other camps out of the reach of the Russians. Without any doubt Plagge knew about the zeal of the SS to escape with as much pilferage as possible. And of course he knew their weakness of character, being open for bribery. Unfor- tunately here one man turned out to be different: Jehoshua Rosenfeld, characterising the SS-men in his testimony, described Goecke as follows: "Goecke, SS-Lieutenant-Colonel and commandant of concentration camp Kowno, came from Karlsruhe (150 km south of Darmstadt) ( an acquaintant named Hoff- meckler, leader of the Jewish camp-orchestra, has visited Mrs. Goecke in Karlsruhe), about mid 40, medium high, very good looking, claimed for himself, the enemy's ra- dio called him the mass-murderer with the glacé kid gloves, has come from the KL Mauthausen to Kowno, his personal behaviour in the camp is not to be objectionable, was well acquainted - if not even friendly - with the Ghetto-inmate Hoffmeckler, as he himself as well was a music-lover, the foundation of the camp-orchestra was his ini- tiative (has f.e. at the camp-police action selected those camp police men, who were members of the camp orchestra, before they were brought to fort IX by the Ge- stapo). Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 37 Goecke has liquidated the camp. An offer made to him by Dr. Elkes, to save the camp until the Russians would approach and receive for that 1 million Dollars, he rejected with the remark, he could not betray his uniform. Up to which extend Goecke would be responsible for the "Elder and Children's Action" in his time, I cannot say, as his participation was his allowance that the Gestapo executed them. In late autumn 1944 I have read myself in the "Schwarzes Korps"68, Goecke supposedly had been killed in Italy." So Goecke was determined to kill all Jews on the retreat of the Wehrmacht and SS. Actually we have the testimony of Proepper to this point: "On July 1 1944 came the order from Kaunas (The commanding SS-office), to dis- solve the office until 3rd of June. The order was as such: 'The external office Vilna is to be dissolved with immediate effective, all charts, files etc. are to be destroyed. All prisoners in the local prison are to be liquidated at once. The other Jews in the secured house in the ghetto are to be brought to the special treatment ("Sonderbehandlung") as well. If there are any incidents, the ghetto is to be blasted. Execution must be reported. signed Schmitz SS captain' Dr. Richter (SS-Major Richter and chief of the SD) gave the liquidation order at 6 a.m. In the afternoon, when I was loading the baggage into a wagon at the station, someone of the SD told me that the secure house of the ghetto was blown up and the torn bodies of the Jews were thrown through the air." Under these circumstances Plagge had no chance to get through with any idea to use the general clutter for the evacuation of the Jews in Subocz street. Why did he not mention this earlier? Remembering the word in his letters to the Greisdorfs, it is my deep conviction that he was ashamed about his failure to help in a decisive situation. He must have been convinced that all his attempts over the last years, all his tricky man- agement of HKP, all his arguing against the SS and last but not least all the risks he had taken, had rendered futile at the end: The prisoners were all killed! He must have had ac- cused himself for that: "I did only, what I was allowed to do" - these words have got the true tragic content since we know, what must have moved him, when he recognised at the gates of Subocz street the ongoing killing. It can be assumed that he was ashamed. There- fore he did not mention the two most inculpatory cases, in which he was unable to interfere 68 "Schwarzes Korps" (Black Corps) was the name of an SS-newspaper Karl Plagge - Letters of a conflict JF May 2003 38 or act against - the children's action and the disbandment of Subocz street - even to Dr. Stumpff - the lawyer, who contacted him for help. Up to and until the end of his denazifica- tion trial he must have assumed that all prisoners of Subocz street were killed, only at the end of the trial he heard from Mrs. Eichamueller - the unexpected witness - that there are survivors! Immediately he wrote to the Greisdorfs and contacted them. Only now he recog- nised that his attempts to save life were not completely futile. And now he could speak about what had happened.
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