Jeckeln's preparations in and outside Riga did not proceed swiftly enough to accomodate the schedule of transports from Germany. The civil authorities also raised some obstacles. So five convoys of German Jews from Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna, and Breslau were diverted from Riga to Kowno, where Einsatzkommando 3 and Lithuanian auxiliary police had of course already massacred tens of thousands of Lithuanian Jews in several of the forts surrounding the city. Between November 25 and 29, the Jews from the five transports were liquidated en masse in Fort 9.
In Riga, on or around November 27 there was a meeting of SD and Order Police commanders at the Order Police headquarters. The Latvian auxiliary police were also represented. This meeting established the schedule for the ghetto operation of November 30 and parceled out roles for all the participating police organiztions. On November 28, the SS and police authorities ordered the removal of as many as four thousand adult male Jews whom they considered capable of labor and sent them into a separate section of the ghetto, which they barricaded off. They also separated three hundred female Jewish workers and sent them to a prison. Some other groups were quickly added, so that the total number destined for the small ghetto may have reached five thousand. Most of the Jews from the ghetto, however, were ordered to assemble on November 30, allegedly for resettlement to a new camp, Salaspils, nearby. They were permitted to bring luggage with them, a ruse to sustain the notion of resettlement.
A transport of about one thousand Jews from Berlin arrived in Riga on the evening of November 29. They were left overnight at the railway siding and marched to the pits in the early morning. They became the first victims at Rumbuli, but their liquidation was a mistake of sorts. This transport included a number of decorated World War 1 veterans, who according to prior SS decisions, should have been sent to special camp at Theresienstadt for prominent or decorated early Jews. When Himmler found out about their presence on the train, he tried to cancel the killing, calling on Heydrich to intervene; but the action had already taken place. Himmler was furious at this breach of instructions and political insensitivity. On December 1, he sent out a radio message to Jeckeln: “The Jews resettled into the territory of the [Reich Commissariat] Ostland are to be dealt with only according to the guidelines given by me and the Reich Security Main Office acting in my behalf. I will punish unilateral acts and violations.”
We further append the previously cited excerpts from Messrs. Irving and Browning particularly for the benefit of new readers and others who might be confused by the complex task of collating information from as many as two separate threads:
It was Heydrich and the fanatical gauleiters in the east who were interpreting with murderous thoroughness Hitler’s brutal decree that the Jews must ‘ﬁnally disappear’ from Europe. Himmler’s personal role is ambivalent. On November 30, 1941 he took his train over to the Wolf’s Lair for a secret ‘bunker’ conference with Hitler, at which the fate of a trainload of 1,035 Berlin Jews was evidently on the agenda. A page from the Himmler ﬁle in the Moscow archives lists the Reichsführer’s appointments for that day. He received SS Sturmbannführer Gunther d ’Alquèn, a Goebbels journalist, from midday to one p.m. (to ‘report on trip to SS Police Division and Death’s-Head Division’); he worked for an hour (‘gearbeitet’), received General Dietl for a half-hour conference about an SS brigade on the Murmansk front, and lunched until four p.m.with Hitler (‘Mittagessen b.Führer’). Himmler’s all-important telephone notes, recorded on a different sheet, show that at 1:30 p.m. he spoke by telephone from ‘the bunker’ – that is, Hitler’s bunker – to Heydrich and dictated the explicit order that the Berlin trainload of Jews was not to be liquidated.*
The extermination programme had however gained a momentum of its own. The Goebbels article had been taken as a sign from the highest level. In fact, nobody needed any orders or written authority. There could be no clearer proof that the former Führer-State had become a state without a Führer. Five thousand Jews, including the trainload which had left Berlin three days before, the seventh to leave the capital city, had already been plundered of their valuables and shot to death in pits at Skirotawa, a few miles outside Riga, by nine a.m. that same morning, November 30.
The different roles of the SS, the army, and Hitler’s headquarters in this massacre are now well documented. The 1,035 German Jews, expelled from Berlin by train, had arrived outside Riga that morning in sub-zero temperatures, and they were shot out of hand even before the trucks loaded with four thousand Jews from Riga arrived and met the same fate. When Colonel Walther Bruns, a local army engineer-officer, learned a few hours earlier that he was about to lose his Jewish work-force he weakly protested to the city’s German mayor Hugo Wittrock and to his SS Stabsleiter, Werner Altemeyer, a baby-faced young SS officer with ash-blond hair and grey-blue eyes – then drove out to witness the liquidations in progress for himself. Four years later he still recalled the coarse yelling of the gunmen; he could still see in his mind ’s eye one of the victims, a ‘raving beauty’ in a ﬂame-red blouse.
On the day after the shootings, December 1, Himmler again telephoned Heydrich at about one p.m., this time explicitly about the ‘executions at Riga.’
Somebody – and this can only have been Hitler himself – had reprimanded Himmler, because that same day, he sent not one but two radio messages to his SS police commander at Riga, SS Obergruppenführer Friedrich Jeckeln, warning of punishments for any further arbitrary and disobedient acts (‘Eigenm ä chtigkeiten und Zuwiderhandlungen ’) which contravened the guidelines laid down ‘by myself or by the Reichssicher- heitshauptamt on my orders’ on how to deal with the Jews who were being ‘out-placed to the Ostland [Baltic provinces ].’*
Himmler ordered Jeckeln, the recalcitrant mass-murderer, to report to his headquarters forthwith; their interview took place on the fourth, and for many months the multiple shootings of German Jews halted.
Gerlach also argues that no general destruction order could have been given before mid-December because only 6 of 41 transports of Reich Jews were liquidated immediately upon arrival before Hitler's December 12 speech. What Gerlach omits mention of, however, is that only 2 of the next 39 transports between mid-December and the end of April were liquidated upon arrival. A significant reduction in the number of transports subject to liquidation following Hitler's speech of December 12 is hardly convincing evidence for the Hitler Grundsatzentscheidung ['basic decision'] that Gerlach has claimed for that date.
Gerlach has provided much new evidence concerning a flurry of activity related to Nazi Jewish policy in December 1941. If the scenario he provides for this flurry of activity is unpersuasive, what did happen that month? I have argued that Hitler solicited the preparation of a plan for the Final Solution in mid-July 1941 and approved the resulting outline in early October. In the following month initial steps were taken: the deportation of Reich Jews and death camp construction began, Jewish emigration came to an end, and various officials of the Foreign Office and Ostministerium joined a widening circle of initiates. Until late November the deported Reich Jews were interned in ghettos in Lodz and Minsk. Then, suddenly, on November 25 and 29, 1941, all five transports from Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Vienna, and Breslau to Kovno were massacred at Fort IX. Did this occur as the result of a local initiative, as Gerlach has intimated? Or was it the point at which the Nazi regime officially crossed the threshold between deporting and murdering German Jews not just in conception but also in practice? I would suggest the latter interpretation.
As Gerlach's own research has shown, the deportation and killing of Reich Jew killings in Kovno gave rise to complications and complaints. Therefore, as the first transport of German Jews destined for Riga was arriving on November 30, Himmler telephoned, from Hitler's headquarters, to Heydrich in Berlin with the message: "Jewish transport from Berlin. No liquidation." Such an intervention, I think, suggests that prior to this telephone call both Himmler and Heydrich, as well as HSSPF Friedrich Jeckeln in Riga, understood that these transports of Reich Jews were to be liquidated; there would have been no occasion for a message to the opposite effect if it was not needed to countermand existing policy. This intervention was too late, however, and the Berlin transport that arrived in Riga in the midst of the ghetto liquidation was immediately massacred.
The following day Himmler discussed "executions in Riga" with Heydrich. Moreover, he sent Jeckeln an angry radio message on December 1, 1941, that was intercepted by the British: "The Jews resettled into the territory of the Ostland are to be dealt with only according to the guidelines given by me and the Reich Security Main Office acting in my behalf. I will punish unilateral acts and violations." And on December 4, 1941, Himmler met with Hitler in the morning and Jeckeln, recalled from Riga, in the afternoon. Given Himmler's insistence that German Jews in the east be treated only according to his guidelines and the lack of any repercussions against Karl Jager for the Kovno massacres (similar to those threatened against Jeckeln), I think this episode and the surviving documentation indicates that the five Kovno transports were liquidated on Himmler's directive and the first to Riga was liquidated simply because Himmler's new policy was not countermanded in time. Given the complications that emerged, Himmler temporarily retreated from killing German Jews, and thereafter, with just two exceptions, the winter transports to Riga that completed the first wave of deportations were lodged in the recently cleared Riga ghetto or in the nearby camps of Jungfernhof and Salispils. It would appear, therefore, that early December 1941 was not the date of a decision by which the Nazi regime sealed the fate of German Jewry but rather the date at which the murder of German Jewry was briefly postponed when the Himmler-sanctioned executions at Kovno resulted in too many complications.
Our concern first and foremost is the establishment or otherwise of the crime itself. Before the question 'how did it happen?' should first come 'But - did it happen?' Only then could one deign to discuss the merits of the quoted texts.