Truth – Legends / The Arrest and End of the Commander of the Ninth Fort

The description of the events after our escape from the Ninth Fort, and in general about the hunt for us, news of the arrest of the Gestapo and the Schutzpolizei (regular police) officers and the reports to Himmler, always brought a dubious smile to the lips of readers and listeners. Once, after I appeared on Army Radio, the producer said to me, “We did not want to cut you off in the middle of the story, but what you said about the arrest of the Gestapo officers and the interest taken by Himmler in the escape from the Ninth Fort is simply a figment of the imagination…”
But I believed it, because I believed those who gave me this information: I believed Chaim Yellin, I believed Tzvi Levin. Nonetheless, I searched the archives ceaselessly for decades looking for proof that the stories were true.
In June 1998, I flew to Vilna in connection with the publication of the Lithuanian edition of my book The Escape.  For two weeks I worked in the Central State Archives in Vilna. As a result of studying six thousand documents, I found a letter which later set me on the trail of a connection with the escape from the Ninth Fort and the arrest of the Gestapo officers at the fort. The letter was written on January 21, 1944 by Oberleutnant Willy B. Schell, commander of the services unit of the air force, stationed at Kovno. The letter is addressed to Obersturmführer Rudolf Radif, German Security Police, Kovno, Eastern Occupied Territories.
Schell became friendly with Radif when, together with his unit, he took part in the destruction of the partisan base in Babtai Forest on July 1, 1943. The letter by Schell to Radif was answered by Obersturmführer Rudolf Neugebauer of the Gestapo, and not by Radif. The hints in this letter indicated that I was on a trail that could confirm the information that Chaim Yellin had given me the day after the escape from the Ninth Fort: that the fort command had been arrested. It is interesting to note that Radif’s letter was prepared and signed by Obersturmführer Heinrich Schmitz, but corrected and signed by Neugebauer, who erased Schmitz’s signature. This proves that Schmitz, Radif’s superior officer, was also implicated in the failure and removed from his position and that Neugebauer replaced him.
In June 1999, in Germany, I found the documents I was looking for, one of which appears below:

Chief of Security Police & SD                                  
Berlin Yu-3 68, 12 January 1944  
Prinz Albrecht Strasse, 8
Telephone: 12    00    40
IV                 B               4                a-3                                                 
1456/41g(1344)
Adviser: Obersturmführer SS Eichman                                                      SECRET
Consultant: Hauptsturmführer SS Krishak

Urgent Letter
To the Reichsführer SS at present on the field staff.
Concerning: Escape of Jewish labour force from Kovno.
Reason:                                                                                                                    None
    
Sixty-four members of the Jewish labour force escaped from the Ninth Fort in Kovno on the night of December 25–26, 1943. The Wehrmacht and police were summoned and measures were taken, which led to success – as of today thirty-four escapees were seized and made harmless.
  
The escape itself was prepared by a small group of Jews inside the labor force. One Jew, working as an employee inside the Ninth Fort, prepared false keys and after the change of the guard, at about 22:00 hours, let the Jews out of the cell. The Jews sawed through a bar approximately five millimeters thick and then let themselves down utilizing a rope ladder, crossed the ancient rampart by means of a wooden stair. They then found themselves free. Having escaped from the fort, the Jewish escapees split into three groups. Amongst those recaptured is the organizer of the escape as well as the leading members of the group. The search for the remaining escapees is being assiduously pursued.
  
An investigation into those guilty revealed that Obersturmbanführer SS Radif and the gendarme chief Apelt carried out their tasks without due care and in a negligent manner.
Regulated and controlled the placement and watched over the prisoners, despite the fact that, only a little while previously, the commander in chief of the Security Police and SD in Ostland indicated very firmly to the commanders and operational commands of the spheres over which responsibility was held, the absolute need to ensure a sufficient degree of security, even if other tasks are not carried out. Both these men, on whom the responsibility was laid, were arrested.
  
I will present a final report.
 (Signed)   Kaltenbrunner.

Chief of Security Police & SD                                  
Berlin Yu-3 11, 3 February 1944                                                                              
Prinz Albrecht Strasse, 8
Telephone: (local) 12 00 40
 Long distance 12 65 21
IV B 4 1456/41g(1344)
Adviser: Obersturmbanführer SS Eichman
Consultant: Hauptsturmführer  SS Krishak.
                                                                                                              
Urgent Letter
To the Reichsführer SS at present on the field staff.
Re: Escape of Jewish labour force from Kovno.
Refer: Urgent Letter dated 12.1.1944
IV B 4 – 1456/41g (1344)

Concluding the matter of the flight of sixty-four thirty-seven Jews have been recaptured.
The fshrer of operational command 1005, Obersturmbanführer Radif and gendarme chief Apelt were arrested for negligence. In view of the fact that the investigation had been concluded, I replaced the arrest under guard with house arrest.
  
I request that the following decisions be made,
1) Is there to be an additional investigation by the SS and police judicial organs or
2) Must the matter be concluded as I see fit.
  
This is what I propose. In view of the fact that Radif and Apelt have been under arrest since December 1943, to allow an opportunity for others to acquaint themselves with the work of operational command, that the matter be closed.
  
As regards Obersturmbanführer SS Radif, he is an old and tried national-socialist, who was sentenced to nineteen months’ imprisonment during the period of the Ostmark struggle.
Gendarme chief Apelt has conducted himself in an exemplary fashion up to the present time and always made every attempt to ensure that the building work move forward.
                                                                                             
(Signed) Kaltenbrunner
Berlin NUE 17480 26.2.1944                                 
2330-Klo
To the Reichsfshrer SS at present on the field staff.

Regarding: The flight of Jews incarcerated in Kovno.
Refer:  Urgent letter dated 1.2.44
On the basis of medical records submitted by the army doctor to the chief of security and SD in Kovno and laid before me by the latter, I have approved the release from house arrest of Obersturmbanführer  SS Radif (because of the poor state of his nerves and heart illness) and gendarme chief Apelt. I request permission for this to be done retrospectively, at the same time recommending that there should be no further police judicial  investigation, and, taking into account Radif’s services during the years of underground activities in Ostmark (as an honorable mark – his eighteen months in prison), to close the matter.
                                                          
High Command for Reich security,
(signed) Dr. Kaltenbrunner

From the reports and the correspondence between the Gestapo in Kovno and Kaltenbrunner, Himmler and the SS judge attached to the leader of the Reich, it appears that those in charge of the method of murdering the Jews in the Third Reich faced a great problem. Those who were guilty of the failure in Kovno should have been put on trial and judged, but this would have revealed what the Nazis were doing – that they were engaged in destroying the evidence of their crimes – which meant recognizing the fact that they, the Nazis, had lost the war. This would reach Hitler, and then heads would roll. Kaltenbrunner understood this very well and did everything he could to persuade Himmler of the risk hanging over them. Kaltenbrunner began to equip himself with the necessary information to prove this to Himmler and persuade him to accept the plan he proposed.
On February 2, 1944 Obersturmbanführer Rudolf Neugebauer wrote to Kaltenbrunner about SS Obersturmbanführer (Rudolf, Rudi) Franz Radif:
“Radif is a simple and modest man, who has never been suspected of presenting himself as someone important. I can personally confirm that only now, during Radif’s interrogation, did I discover that Radif was charged during the struggle in the eastern district for his political views (Nazism) and spent eighteen months in an Austrian prison.”
Kaltenbrunner received a report describing how the escape took place: “After cutting through a rigid steel plate, five millimeters in thickness, the Jews from the fort climbed down a rope ladder and, with the help of a wooden ladder, escaped over the wall of the fort. Among the Jews captured so far are the organizer and some of the partners in planning the break-out.”
This information did not match the facts. Kaltenbrunner also sent a report to Himmler, to persuade him to agree to his plan and release the Nazis who had fallen victim to the Jews.
On February 29, 1944 the commander of the Kovno Security Police and the SD sent a medical certificate concerning the state of Radif’s health, stating that Radif suffered from a neurosis of the heart and a general undermining of the nervous system.
Kaltenbrunner wrote to Himmler on February 26 1944 that, on the basis of all the important reports that had been gathered, he was once again appealing to him in writing: “I hereby request your agreement and at the same time propose dropping the police and legal investigation."
On February 29, 1944 Kaltenbrunner received a reply to his latest report to Himmler. The reply was from the SS judge attached to the SS Reichsführer , SS Standartenführer Horst Bender. He informed him that the Reichsführer accepted Kaltenbrunner’s proposal and would inform Radif and Apelt that they were granted a special and exceptional pardon by the Reichsführer and that they were expected to excel themselves in the future.

SS Judge                                                                     
Field Staff 29.2.1944
attached to Reichsführer SS
and commander of German police
Diary No. VI – 166/44g. Be/Wi

Regarding: Escape of Jewish work force in Kovno.
Refer: Communication posted from there on 3.2.44 –
IVb 1456/41 g(1344) C.d.S. B-Nr. 1056/44
To the Chief of the Security Police and SD
Obergruppenführer  SS Dr. Kaltenbrunner

Berlin
Highly esteemed Obergruppenführer!
I have reported the above matter to the Reichsführer,SS. In accordance with your recommendation, the Reichsführer,SS considers that the time in prison undergone by Obergruppenführer SS Radif and gendarme chief Apelt is considered sufficient punishment for their failure to carry out their duties, but you are requested to make it plain to both, that the Reichsführer has shown special clemency and it is up to them, in the future, to show that they have deserved it.

Heil Hitler!
Your loyal
(Signed by another hand)    Bender
Standartenführer SS
Copy to
Herr Lt. Col. Suhanek
Situated in this same building
For information
(Signed by another hand) Bender
Standartenführer SS