The three Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had four roles within the context of the Holocaust:
- Crime Scene
- Propaganda Podium
By the time World War Two began, the Baltic people had long-standing and deep cultural relationships with both Russia and Germany. However, while Russia had dominated, occupied and oppressed these countries for centuries, Germany had neither the imperialistic means nor intentions to conquer this area.
When the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic countries in the summer of 1940, many locals suffered terribly during the ensuing one-year long Stalinist terror. When the German armed forces moved in during the summer of 1941, they were initially welcome as liberators by many. However, Germany was also the country that abandoned the two northern Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia by handing them over to Stalin in a secret addendum to the Hitler-Stalin Pact.
Some inhabitants in the Baltic states were enraged enough to start pogroms against local Jews and any Soviet collaborator who had stayed behind. However, this sentiment was not nearly as widespread and deep-seated as in Ukraine. That country had a much longer and more dreadful history of suffering at the hands of Russian and Soviet imperialists than the Baltics.
The first Stahlecker Report mentions that instigating pogroms against collaborators and Jews wasn’t as easy as had been hoped, and drastic actions had to be taken to carry things along. In the same vein, Baltic collaboration with Germans, while existing, was in general also not as pervasive as in Ukraine.
Einsatzgruppe A had its main area of activities in the Baltic States. The two capitals of Latvia and Lithuania, Riga and Vilnius, as well as the Lithuanian city of Kaunas were also the largest crime scene of this formation. Ponary near Vilnius and Fort IX in Kaunas are local landmarks of wartime infamy, where huge massacres are said to have occurred. (See these entries for more details.)
With 240,410 recorded victims, Einsatzgruppe A has by far the most victims listed in these units’ Event Reports. If we use these figures, then the second most murderous unit was Einsatzgruppe B with almost a hundred thousand recorded victims less: 142,359. If all this is true, then there was little left of the Baltic Jews after the German occupation was over, which lasted until the very last month of the war.
The Baltic countries were reconquered by the Soviet Union only rather late in the war. By that time, the main thrust of Allied and in particular Soviet propaganda had shifted to Poland with its various claimed extermination camps (Belzec, Majdanek, Sobibór and Treblinka). Therefore, not nearly as much Soviet propagandist effort was made in the Baltic countries.
Several Jews claimed to have managed to escape from Fort IX and Ponary in Lithuania. They succeeded in reaching Soviet lines, and made depositions in this regard during the war, which the Soviets made maximum use of. (See the respective entries.)
At the Klooga Camp in northern Estonia, the Soviet staged a fake open-air incineration pyre at war’s end in an attempt to take photographic evidence of mass cremations of murdered victims. However, the scenes photographed only show a few (living!) people on a small pile of fresh wood. (See the entry on Klooga.)
During the Soviet era, there was a general lack of official interest or political will to focus on local Jewish victims of World War Two in the Baltics. Therefore, the search for mass graves started seriously only after the renewed independence of the Baltic states in the early 1990s. The case of Marijampole is indicative of how this was more an event for commemorative culture than for scientific data-gathering to get the story straight. (See this entry for more details.)