The Kaunas pogrom was a massacre of Jewish people living in Kaunas, Lithuania that took place in from June 25 to June 29, 1941 – the first days of the Operation Barbarossa and of Nazi occupation of Lithuania. The most infamous incident occurred in the Lietūkis garage Coordinates: , where several Jews were publicly tortured and executed on June 26. After June, systematic executions took place at various forts of the Kaunas Fortress, especially the Seventh and Ninth Fort.
The Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF), a national liberation organisation operating inside Soviet Lithuania, took control of the city and much of the Lithuanian countryside on the evening of June 23. Nazi SS Brigadeführer Franz Walter Stahlecker arrived in Kaunas on the morning of June 25 and held agitation speeches in the city to instigate the murder of Jews, initially in the former State Security Department building, but officials there refused to take any action. He later succeeded in convincing Algirdas Klimaitis to start the pogrom. Klimaitis controlled a paramilitary unit of roughly 600 men that was organized from Tilsit by SD and was not subordinated to the LAF.
Starting on June 25, Nazi-organized units attacked Jewish civilians in the Kaunas suburb of Slobodka (known to Lithuanians as Vilijampolė, a Jewish suburb hosting the world-famous Slabodka yeshiva). As of June 28, 1941, according to Stahlecker, 3,800 people had been killed in Kaunas and a further 1,200 in other towns in the immediate region. Some believe Stahlecker exaggerated his accomplishments. According to Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, there were Germans present on the bridge to Slobodka, but it was the Lithuanian volunteers who killed the Jews. The rabbi of Slobodka, Rav Zalman Osovsky, was tied hand and foot to a chair, "then his head was laid upon an open volume of gemora (volume of the Talmud) and [they] sawed his head off", after which they murdered his wife and son. His head was placed in a window of the residence, bearing a sign: "This is what we'll do to all the Jews."
There is controversy over who is primarily responsible for initiating the massacres, local Lithuanians or Nazi officials.
Lithuanians cite Franz Walter Stahlecker's report of October 15 to Heinrich Himmler. Stahlecker wrote that he had succeeded in covering up actions of the Vorkommando German vanguard unit and made it look like an initiative of the local population.
Other authors claim that massacres began even before Germans arrived. They point out that executions took place in the countryside and not just in the city of Kaunas.
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- Arvydas Anušauskas, et al., ed. (2005). Lietuva, 1940–1990 (in Lithuanian). Vilnius: Lietuvos gyventojų genocido ir rezistencijos tyrimo centras. p. 203. ISBN 9986-757-65-7.
- Zvi Gitelman (ed.) Bitter Legacy: Confronting the Holocaust in the USSR, ISBN 0-253-33359-8. Indiana University Press, 1998, p. 97.
- "Extracts from a Report by Einsatzgruppe a in the Baltic Countries". jewishvirtuallibrary. Retrieved 2008-08-06.
- Budreckis, Algirdas Martin (1968). The Lithuanian National Revolt. Boston: Lithuanian Encyclopedia Press. pp. 62–63. "Again for some unknown reason, Stahlecker exaggerates his statistics. The account by L. Shauss to the Soviet Extraordinary State Commission stated that in "the first pogrom on June 25–26, in the Kaunas suburb of Slobodka (Vilijampole), 600 Jews were killed on Arbarski, Paverski, Vilyuski, Irogalski streets."
- Oshry, Ephraim (1995). Annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry. New York: Judaica Press, Inc. p. 3. ISBN 1-880582-18-X.
- (Lithuanian)Bubnys, Arūnas (2003). "Lithuanian Security Police and the Holocaust (1941–1944)". Genocidas ir rezistencija (13). ISSN 1392-3463. "F. W. Stahleckeris, pasitelkęs žurnalisto A. Klimaičio tariamą partizanų būrį (iš tikrųjų A. Klimaičio būrys nebuvo pavaldus nei LAF’ui, nei Lietuvos laikinajai vyriausybei), birželio 25 d. Kaune pradėjo kelti žydų pogromus. Tame pačiame 1941 m. spalio 15 d. raporte generolas atvirai ir išsamiai aprašė savo suorganizuotas žydų žudynes: „[…] Netikėtai paaiškėjo, kad suorganizuoti didesnio masto žydų pogromą išsyk gana nelengva. Čia visų pirma pasitelkėme anksčiau minėtų partizanų vadą A. Klimaitį, kurį tuo reikalu instruktavo veikęs Kaune mūsų nedidelis priešakinis būrys. A. Klimaičiui pavyko taip parengti pogromą, kad aikštėn neiškilo nei mūsų duoti nurodymai, nei mūsų iniciatyva. Pirmojo pogromo metu, naktį iš birželio 25-osios į 26-ąją, lietuvių partizanai likvidavo daugiau kaip 1500 žydų, padegė arba kitaip sunaikino keletą sinagogų ir sudegino žydų kvartalą, kuriame buvo apie 60 namų. Sekančiomis naktimis tuo pačiu būdu buvo padaryti nekenksmingais 2300 žydų. Kauno pavyzdžiu panašios akcijos, tik mažesnio masto, vyko ir kituose Lietuvos miestuose, jos palietė ir likusius tose vietose komunistus."
F. W. Stahlecker, using a squad of so-called partisans commanded by journalist A. Klimaitis [in fact, Klimaitis' squad was not subordinate to either LAF or the Lithuanian Provisional Government], began Jewish pogroms in Kaunas on June 25. In the same report of 15 October 1941, the General openly and in detail described the organized massacre of Jews: "[...] Suddenly, it appeared that it was quite uneasy to organize a larger-scale, organized Jewish pogrom. First we utilized aforementioned guerrilla commander A. Klimaitis, who was instructed on that matter by our small vanguard group operating in Kaunas. A. Klimaitis succeeded in organizing the pogrom in such a manner that it revealed neither our given orders nor our initiative. During the first pogrom on the night of June 25th to 26th, the Lithuanian partisans eliminated more than 1500 Jews, burned or otherwise destroyed several synagogues and burned the Jewish Quarter, which had about 60 houses. During the following nights, in the same manner, they neutralized 2300 Jews. Similar actions, modeled on the Kaunas pogrom, just on a smaller scale, occurred also in other Lithuanian cities; they also included communists that remained in those areas"."
- Greenbaum, Masha. The Jews of Lithuania: A History of a Remarkable Community 1316–1945, Gefen Books, Israel, 1995, p.307