The city of Kaunas, Lithuania, has nine 19th-century fortresses surrounding the entire city. Some of them were used as NKVD prisons after the Soviet Union’s invasion of the Baltic states in 1940. During the German occupation of the area, these prisons served to detain and presumably kill Jews from the Kaunas Ghetto and deported from Germany.
While the reports by the Einsatzgruppen mention the execution of 10,562 plus “thousands” more at Kaunas, Fort IX is not explicitly mentioned in them. The Jäger Report of early December 1941, however, tallies 3,420 Jews executed at Fort IV, 3,238 Jews at Fort VII, 16,013 at Fort IX, and 534 Jews killed at an unspecified fort. Some 5,000 of the Jews executed at that fort are said to have been German Jews sent to Kaunas allegedly for “resettlement,” but who were instead all killed on arrival, if we are to believe the orthodox narrative. The other victims are all said to have been Jews from the local ghetto.
The Jäger Report has several problematic features, among them that its data are not corroborated by the Einsatzgruppen’s Event Reports. Witness testimonies on the alleged exhumation and burning of corpses from the claimed mass graves of this execution site are highly problematic. They make a string of claims that are technically impossible. This is particularly true for the testimony of Alex Faitelson (see this entry for more details).
German wartime documents confirm that during the night from 25 to 26 December 1943, 63 Jews escaped from Fort IX. On 26 December 1943, eleven of them signed a declaration written in the classical style of Soviet propaganda. In it, they claimed that their group of initially 72 prisoners, shackled with steel chains, had been forced to exhume and burn some 12,000 bodies from 4½ mass graves between 1 November and 25 December 1943. Some 5,000 of them were German Jews, while 7,000 were from Kaunas. How they could know this is unknown. The signatories estimated that 9½ more mass grave had not yet been processed when they fled. Hence, a total of some 40,000 victims were presumably buried in all graves taken together – not the 16,013 listed in the Jäger Report.
Cremating an average human body during open-air incinerations requires some 250 kg of freshly cut wood. Cremating 12,000 bodies thus requires some 3,000 metric tons of wood. This would have required the felling of all trees growing in a 50-year-old spruce forest covering some 7 hectares of land, or some 15 American football fields. An average prisoner is rated at being able to cut some 0.63 metric tons of fresh wood per workday. To cut this amount of wood within 55 days would have required a work force of some 87 dedicated lumberjacks just to cut the wood.
Yet these eleven witnesses claim that their team of 72 prisoners had their legs chained together and merely removed corpses from graves, built pyres with wood, piled bodies onto the wood piles, burned them down, ground the cremation remains to powder, and mixed it with the soil. The firewood needed was just magically there.
One witness provided a description of the pyres allegedly used for these outdoor cremations. Around 300 bodies are said to have been placed on a pyre measuring 4 m × 4 m, hence covering a surface area of 16 m². This pyre was lit using explosive charges – which would have scattered body parts and wood all over the area.
Assuming a requirement of 250 kg of green wood per body, an average specific weight of 0.9 for the wood, a stacking density of the pyre of 1.4 (40% of free space for air and flames to go through), the volume of the wood would have been (250 kg/body × 300 bodies ÷ 900 kg/m³ × 1.4 = ) approximately 117 m³; plus another 8 m³ for the bodies (average weight due to severe decomposition: 26 kg), the pyre would have been (125 m³ ÷ 16 m² =) almost 8 meters high!
A Soviet investigative commission was not satisfied with the death toll claimed by the eleven signatories, hence they increased it to 70,000 in their report.