As the Wehrmacht broke into the Baltic states as well as eastern Russia they were accompanied by killing squads – the Einsatzgruppen. Their task was to ‘deal’ with the communist officials and other ‘enemies of the Reich’ – principally the Jewish population. Their murders began immediately. Most of the Jewish rural population of Lithuania, the southernmost Baltic state had been shot within a few months.
The groups also played a role in encouraging local anti-semitic groups to join the murders:
Franz Walther Stahlecker the commander of Einsatzgruppe A reported to Berlin on his groups activities during the early part of Barbarossa:
Following our orders, the Security Police was determined to solve the Jewish question with all possible means and determination most decisively.
But it was desirable that the Security Police should not put in an immediate appearance, at least in the beginning, since extraordinarily harsh measures were apt to still even German circles.
It had to be shown to the world that the native population itself took the first action by way of natural reaction against the suppression by Jews during several decades and against the terror exercised by the Communists during the preceding period.
One of the best documented incidents happened in the city of Kovno. It is a shocking episode, partly because it was a public event and there are various accounts of it from both German and Latvian sources. And there are photographs. But it is just one massacre among thousands that were happening at this time.
Laimonas Noreika was a resident of Kovno:
I can’t remember whether we left work early that day (my elder brother Albertas and I) or whether we went home at our usual time. Opposite the Kovno cemetery at the corner of Greenwald St and Vytautas Boulevard there was a small garage, which serviced light vehicles. A large crowd had gathered alongside the perimeter fence of the garage yard. So we also went over to see what was happening. I keep asking myself whether I just imagined it all but I know I did not.
Those horrific events have been burned onto my memory and will remain there until my dying day. In the middle of the yard, in broad daylight and in full view of the assembled crowd, a group of well dressed, spruce intelligent looking people held iron bars which they used to viciously beat another group of similarly well dressed, spruce, intelligent people. It was obvious the yard also served as a horse stable as animal droppings were littered everywhere.
The assailants yelled the word “norma” (move it) repeatedly as they relentlessly battered the Jews until they fell to the ground and began gathering feces. They kept hitting them until finally they lay inert. Then, using a hosepipe for washing cars, they doused them with water until they came round following which the abuse would start all over again. And so it went on and on until the hapless victims lay dead. Bodies began to pile up everywhere. I stood next to the fence and watched it all until finally, my brother Albertas pulled me away…