Pursuing the Escapees
On Sunday, December 26, 1943, when the guards came to awaken the cooks, they found the cells empty. This was immediately reported to the commander of the fort, SS Obersturmführer Rudolf Radif, who passed on this information to the Lithuanian Gestapo head, SS Obersturmführer and Police Colonel, Dr. Fuchs.
As told later on, the guards were arrested together with the Gestapo officers and police who were responsible for security on the night of December 25. The Jewish Council received information from reliable sources that an extraordinary committee, consisting of high-ranking Nazis from Riga and Berlin, had arrived to investigate the incident at the Ninth Fort. The escape was considered a serious failure on the part of the Kovno Gestapo and all possible steps were to be taken to catch the escapees. (All this was relayed by Tzvi Levin, a member of the Jewish Council in the Kovno ghetto and the liaison between AKO and Matzok, in his speech at the commemoration of the thirty-fifth anniversary of the escape from the Ninth Fort, held by the Organization of Lithuanians in Israel in January 1978).
The Kovno Gestapo was obliged to report the matter to Heinrich Himmler personally, immediately after the event. Himmler, head of the Gestapo and the SS, also functioned as the Minister of the Interior, and was the most important political figure after Hitler. He was also the instigator and executor of the “Final Solution” and particularly sensitive to such mishaps as the escape of prisoners from concentration camps.
."..the commanders of the camps had to report to Himmler personally, with regard to every prisoner who escaped. He demanded that he should be informed as to what was being done to catch the escapee and if he was indeed caught.” Moreover, Himmler announced that in future, those who were responsible for prisoners’ escaping would be severely punished and he also announced that dogs which had been trained for this purpose would be employed.”
In the Lithuanian state archives, there are a number of documents relating to the hunt for the corpse-burners who escaped from the Ninth Fort carried out by officials of the Security Service and the Lithuanian police. The following is a translation of some of these documents:
Radiogram No. 643
Rokishkis, December 26, 1943
To the Chief of Police, Rokishkis District
in connection with the searches.
On December 25–26, 1943, sixty-three Jews escaped from the Ninth Fort near Kovno. They escaped in a small Dynamo car which bears an Ostland number and many marks. The escapees wore Russian uniforms. Look for them by every means at your disposal, for their capture is extremely important.
* * *
26.12. 1350 
“SSd Kadrkun Nr. 651
a) Komando der Schutzpolizei
b) Fuhrer des Gruppenssicherungsbereits, Vilna
In connection with the searches for escaped prisoners of war, Note: My radiogram No. 643 of the 26. 12. 1943, Section A1. The following information should be added to the above-mentioned radiogram:
In all, fifty-nine people escaped, among them two women and three criminals (non-Jews). [The Germans called the partisans “criminals”].
Description of the Jewesses:
1. Slim, brunette, about forty years old, wearing a white sheepskin. She is probably wearing men’s pants, has only one [gold] tooth in her upper jaw.
2. Slim, average height, approx. twenty-five years old; wears a blue kerchief on her head and black shoes.
Sixteen men wearing dirty and tattered prisoners’ uniforms, with typical Jewish faces. One man aged sixty, with a white beard. Among the escapees, there is one man named Blum, from Warsaw, an accountant by profession, with a Polish wife, aged about thirty-five, and a child of twelve months, who live in Kovno. The three criminals are the Kurganov brothers, Russians from Kunishkiai. Their names are Arseni, aged thirty-one, Makari, aged twenty-eight, Vasili, aged twenty-one. The rest of the escapees are between twenty and sixty years old. All the escapees exude a specific smell. They are possibly wearing old German army uniforms. They should be sought for in Russian villages in particular.
Chief of the Lithuanian Constabulary
Major der SchP”
* * *
Police Headquarters tgo. 3446/43 IIa.
To the Chief of Police in Vilna
Attached is a copy relating to the fifty-nine Jews and three criminals who escaped. Orders should be issued immediately to the district police to look for the escapees vigorously.
I.A. u. I.V.
Rev.-Leutenant der SchP. und Adjutant”
* * *
Radiogram to all Police Forces in Lithuania instructing them to look for the escapees from the Ninth Fort.
After five of the corpse-burners were already caught the day after the escape from the Ninth Fort – Sashka Chailovski (the group leader) and Mishka the “Vagabond” from the first group and Israel Lochnitski, Mendl Chas and Tzale (Betzalel) Tzinman from the third group – and the necessary information was extracted from them about the course of the escape, the Gestapo continued the hunt for the escapees from the fort. On December 30, 1943, together with a company from the Independent Defense Forces, the Gestapo organized a joint search of the Babtai and Vandzhiogala forests. The next day, on the morning of December 31, 1943, the former commander of the Vilna Security Police, who had been transferred to the Gestapo in Kovno, SS Obersturmführer Rudolf Neugebauer, came with a small group to Vandzhiogala to search certain places again. In document no. 651 Major Krause reveals details of two women, which did not match the actual situation. This proves that the Gestapo did not have precise information. These were:
1. Roza Demantovitch, nineteen and not forty years old;
2. Batia Beder, sixteen and not twenty-five years old as stated.
Telegrams and telephone messages were sent to all units of the police and army throughout Lithuania to use all means to find and capture the escapees, some of these messages standing out from the others by their content:
December 26, 1943 – Message:
Notification of the alarm signal B.A.T.A. for police search:
It is necessary to capture another twenty-one of the Jews who escaped in the night between December 25–26, 1943 and the Russian prisoners of war, two of them women, three of them non-Jewish bandits (as the Germans called the partisans).”
Then come details of the women, as in document 651.
“The men are wearing used prisoner of war uniforms and are of Jewish appearance. One of the men is around sixty years of age, with a full white beard (the reference was to a fifty-eight-year-old pharmacist from Leningrad, Venetzian Borok, who in the fort would polish the gold teeth and dentures). Their terrible stench arouses special notice. The entrance from Kovno to Shavli should be checked in order to catch them in the area of the forest.
Notified by SS Sturmbannführer Domke, Kovno Security Police, December 26, 1943; received by Oberscharführer Traipl on December 26, 1943 at 15:00.”
“Telephone message no. 750.
From the Vilna Security Police to the Security Police, Criminal Police and heads of the police in Vilna District, December 26, 1943:
[A. Lileikis – 375.tif]
This month, on the night between the 25th and the 26th, sixty prisoners of war escaped from the Ninth Fort in Kovno where they were held, political commissars, most of them Jews. At present the direction in which they escaped is not known, but the assumption is that they went towards Keidan, Wilkomir and Koshidar. Some have already been arrested in Kovno. They escaped unarmed and in the clothes of prisoners of war, wearing peaked caps. Please make the most energetic efforts to capture them, check suspicious paths and places, and take every measure to stop them and discover the direction of their escape. Arrests should be notified immediately to the Vilna District Security Police.
Telephone message no. 750.
Head of District A. Lileikis.”
This telegram was signed by the Lithuanian murderer of Jews who was transferred from America to Lithuania, where he was to have stood trial for his murderous acts. Unfortunately the trial was deferred, due to his ostensible great age and state of health, until his death.
In monthly Report No. 12/43 on the situation in Lithuania between December 1 and 31, 1943, the commander of the Security Police (SIPO) and security service (SD) in Lithuania writes:
“Kovno, January 13, 1944, Confidential!
During the evening of December 25, 1943, sixty-four workers employed on campaign 1005-B escaped unnoticed from the Ninth Fort. During the hunt for them we managed to capture thirty-seven of the escapees, five of whom were shot and killed during the chase.”
Regarding this incident, the head of the Security Police and SD, SS Obergruppenführer Dr. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, in his urgent and confidential letter of January 12, 1944, had already informed Himmler that thirty-four of the escapees from the Ninth Fort had been captured and “can be rendered harmless” (meaning eliminated).