Truth – Legends / The Ninth Fort
Some days before the Great Action, some two hundred prisoners of war were taken to the Ninth Fort, where they dug enormous pits on the western side of the fort. Head of the Gestapo in Kovno (Standartenf?hrer) SS Colonel Karl Jaeger ordered that all the prisoners be moved from the Ninth Fort to Kovno’s central prison – the “Yellow Prison.” On October 29, the Jews from the small ghetto were brought to the fort and held there throughout the night after the Great Action on October 28.
Air Force Major Kazys Shimkus was responsible for moving the Jews from the small ghetto. Tens of columns of hundreds of men, women and children, as well as the elderly, stretched from the small ghetto all along Zemaiciu Street and Zemaiciu Road until the Ninth Fort. The cells in the large building did not suffice. Half of the expelled Jews sat in the fort’s courtyard under the open sky and shivered with the cold and dampness. They were given neither bread nor water.
Eighty Gestapo men arrived at the fort, led by the chief Gestapo officer of Kovno, SS Colonel Karl Jaeger. They were accompanied by some fifty men of the first battalion of the Lithuanian police under Major Kazys Shimkus and his aide, Lieutenant Juozas Barzda. Jaeger ordered the two groups to take up the positions set aside for them. One section occupied posts all along the pits which had been dug there and placed heavy machine guns at these posts. Another section had to bring the Jews from the cells and the courtyard to the pits. A third section surrounded the fort from without, in order to prevent anyone from escaping.
The commander of the Kovno prison, Ignas Veliavicius-Vylius, who was also responsible for the Ninth Fort, has provided the following account:
“The Jews who were brought to the fort were not registered. Ten of those who escorted the Jews to the pits came to me from time to time in the courtyard of the fort and I would hand over groups of a hundred – men, women, children and the elderly, without being concerned with their family names. People were lined up in columns of four abreast and taken from the gate of the fort towards the pits. At a certain distance from the pits, they were told to take off their outer clothing and go towards the pits. They were then pushed into the pits and forced to lie down while being shot.
“The first groups lay in the pits which were full of water. Whoever did not obey the order to lie down, was beaten with sticks, the butts of rifles and thus forced to lie down in the pits. This scene of murder and shooting was horrible. The guards abused their victims. The more stubborn elements among the Jews were already beaten on the way. Throughout the day one could hear the sound of the victims' groans and shouting as well as the weeping of women and the cries of little children. The women carried their babes in their arms and held the hands of the older children. They crawled into the pits and lay down on the hundreds of corpses of those who had been killed earlier while awaiting their own end.
“At the same time, there was a sort of rally in the courtyard. Speeches were addressed to the waiting Jews calling on them to go to their death upright, with heads held high. There were others who shouted slogans to activate a revolutionary struggle for freedom. These demonstrations helped me to keep order, as some of the people were listening to the speeches while others, that is the majority, prayed, despite the sounds of weeping that did not stop. Every ten minutes another hundred were taken from the place.
“Towards evening, with the approaching darkness, the mass slaughter came to an end. The pits were full. The victims lying in the pits were not covered with earth. Among the dead, there were still children, men and women who had not died. They lay beneath the dead corpses and groaned. I saw many wounded men and women covered with blood, trying to crawl out of the pits in order to escape. But the guards caught them, beat them and forced them to return to the pits where they were finished off with bullets.
“When the murderers finished shooting the Jews, Jaeger’s Gestapo men and Shimkus’s police loaded the dead on trucks and took them away. On the following day, the remainders of their belongings were also taken, in order to distribute them among members of the Nazi party. The pits were later on covered with ash by the prisoners of war who were returned to the fort from the “Yellow Prison." The earth covering the pits did not rest for some time after that. Hundreds of the wounded lying there were moving about at death’s door.” (74; 261,262)
On October 29, 9200 Jews were killed in the Ninth Fort, of whom 2007 were men, 2920 women and 4273 children. The Germans described the action in their report of December 1, 1941, as a campaign to purge the ghetto of its surplus Jews.                                          
In the evening, Berl Freidberg came to see us. He was a close friend of my parents. When he arrived from Russia with his family in 1928, my parents took them in. They were with us for some time until they settled and could manage on their own. Berl had learned that my parents died in the Great Action and had come to console us. He did not speak to me but went into my cousin Schuster’s room. They talked for some time while I lay on my bed. There was only a door separating the rooms, which was at the moment hidden by my bed, and I heard every word of the conversation. Berl told us that he worked with Jordan’s group which was located at Rotuses Aikste Square in the municipality building. There SA Captain Fritz Jordan, who was responsible for Jewish affairs on the part of the municipal authorities and the ghetto, had collected the belongings stolen from the Jews expelled from the ghetto. Now, Berl said, his working group was occupied with assorting the belongings of the victims in the Great Action.
SS Colonel Karl Jaeger – head of the Security Services and the police in Lithuania, who was at the same time, commander of the EK3A group, and who together with his group, had executed the murderous operations against the Lithuanian Jews – defined his report of December 1, 1941, as an important secret official document, and wrote there among other things: "There are 15,000 Jews left in Kovno...I also wanted to dispose of all the Jewish workers and their families, but the civilian authorities (the Reichskommissar) and the army absolutely objected. They demanded that the Jews and their families should not be annihilated.” Jaeger continues: “The action in Kovno, where I had a number of partisans trained for this purpose at my disposal, could be considered a shooting display when compared with the tremendous difficulties which we had frequently to overcome elsewhere.”