HKP 562 forced labor camp
HKP 562 was the site of an unusual forced labor camp in Vilnius, Lithuania, during the Holocaust. On Subačiaus Street (more accurate address – Subačiaus Street 47 and 49), the camp was officially owned and administered by the SS, but run on a day-to-day basis by a Wehrmacht engineering unit, Heereskraftfahrpark (HKP) 562 (Army Motor Vehicle Repair Park 562), stationed in Vilnius. HKP 562's commanding officer, Major Karl Plagge, was sympathetic to the plight of his Jewish workers. Plagge and some of his men made efforts to protect the Jews of the camp from the murderous intent of the SS.
The HKP camp was hastily erected in September 1943 when Plagge learned of the impending liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto and, with considerable difficulty, gained permission to move his Jewish workers and their families to a free-standing labor camp on the outskirts of Vilnius. The camp housed approximately 1,000 Jewish men, women and children. Due to the sympathies of Plagge, it was largely free of the abuse, hunger and brutality found in most slave labor camps in Nazi-occupied Poland. In spite of the generally benign attitude of the officers and men of the HKP unit, the SS did enter the camp on several occasions and committed atrocities. Most notable was the Kinder Aktion (an action against the camp's children) on 27 March 1944, during which the SS removed the vast majority of the 250 children living in the camp, who were then taken to their deaths.
As the Red Army approached Vilnius in late June 1944, the Wehrmacht prepared to retreat. On 30 June 1944, at a final roll call to which he summoned many of the Jewish workers and their family members, Plagge announced in the presence of an SS officer that he and his men had been ordered to withdraw to the west, and he had not been able to obtain permission to take the workers with the unit; the prisoners were to be relocated by the SS. "Sie wissen alle genau," said Plagge, choosing his words carefully, "wie sorgfältig die SS ist beim Schutz ihrer jüdischen Gefangenen" ("You all know how careful the SS is with the protection of its Jewish prisoners"). With this covert warning, over half the camp's prisoners went into hiding before the SS death squads arrived on 3 July 1944. The 500 prisoners who did appear at the roll call called by the SS were taken to the forest of Paneriai and shot. Over the next three days the SS searched the camp and its surroundings and succeeded in finding half the missing prisoners; these 250 Jews were shot in the camp courtyard. However, when the Red Army captured Vilnius a few days later, some 250 of the camp's Jews emerged from hiding. This group represents the largest single group of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in Vilnius.
- Wette, Wolfram (2005). Viefhaus, Marianne, ed. Zivilcourage in der Zeit des Holocaust. Karl Plagge aus Darmstadt, ein "Gerechter unter den Völkern". Darmstadt: Darmstädter Geschichtswerkstatt e.V. and the Magistrat der Wissenschaftsstadt Darmstadt. p. 111.
- Chronicles of the Vilna Ghetto: wartime photographs & documents - vilnaghetto.com
- Family Journey Website