Jews where they shouldnt be: Dutch Jews in the Baltics
One of the difficulties of Holocaust research is finding out what happened to the deported Jews after moving through the various transit camps of Poland. It really requires reading on odd places and making connections over time. For example, a single reference to Dutch Jews in the vicinity of Wilna in 1943 could be mistaken or happenstance. If you find another such reference in a completely independent source, then you have a strong indication that something has emerged out of the obscurity.
Such a situation is the case with Dutch Jews in Lithuania. The following was spotted in Hermann Kruk’s diary from Wilna, page 518-519.
April 16, 1943 Today a rumor is circulating that there are about 19,000 Dutch Jews in Vievis….[later that same day] ….”Just now I succeeded in getting a Jewish sign from a Dutch Jew and a copy of the order of the Reichskommissar for the Occupied Netherlands about Jewish property.
Highly suggestive that Dutch Jews had just arrived in the area of Lithuania, but can we be certain Kruk was not just hearing rumours without substance?
Then we read in Rich Cohen’s oral history “The Avengers” about the reunion of Abba Kovner with a friend from Wilna called Lebke Distel. Page 196
From Wilna, Lebke had been sent from prison camp to prison camp, a death march, always one step ahead of the Red Army. In Kortla Java, he worked on the roads in the swampy country. At night he could hear shelling and rifle shots. He was then sent down the river Narva River to Suski, where he built the German railroad. The temperature dropped to twenty five degrees below zero; prisoners carried the dead to be counted and burned. The snow was to his waist in Koromej, where he was locked up with Jews from Holland and Kovno. He then marched west to a half-remembered foundry of red flames and smoke chimneys. He worked in the metal shop. One day a door opened and in walked his borther, which Lebke had last seen in Vilna. Their mother had been sent to Auschwitz or Ponar, her good hiding place given away by a Jewish policeman. Lebke’s feet were bloody in Tallinn, the snow-covered capital of Estonia
We have here another sighting of Dutch Jews tucked away in a somewhat mythologising book about Jewish resistence and Abba Kovner. I have yet to identify Koromej, but other place names seem near Estonia or Northern Russia.
However, there is no destination for transports ofDutch Jews from Westerbork except Auschwitz and Sobibor. If Dutch Jews did indeed end up as slave labour in Northern Russia they must have gone through one of those 2 transit camps. And if April 16 1943 is a sighting to be relied upon, then between 2 March and 9 April there had been 6 transports of Dutch Jews to Sobibor with around 7500 people. Presumably these are the only candidates to be winding up near Wilna in April 19 1943. These are the same Jews that a 90 year old Ukrainian is facing court in München accused of assisting their murder in Sobibor.
On a side note: Abba Kovner and colleagues were severely inconvenienced in July 1942 when they attempted a sabotage mission by the inordinate large number of Jewish work camps in the vicinity of Wilna. The Avengers, page 61-62.
Vitka was to blow up a German train as it made its way east, carrying soldiers and supplies to the Russian front. For two weeks, she had left the ghetto each afternoon and spent the night wandering alone along the train tracks, which passed through the forest seven miles south of Vilna. She was scouting for a place to blow up the train – somewhere far from the ghetto and far from the forest camps where the Jews were used as slave labor. The Nazis met each rebellious act with collective punishment, killing a hundred Jews for one dead German. The underground leaders did not want to give the Germans reason to blame the explosion on Jews. But everywhere Vitka went, she found Jews – draining swamps, breaking rocks, building roads
One can certainly see how annoying it must have been. The stubborn refusal of the Germans to exterminate Jews.