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On the Threshold of the Holocaust

Anti-Jewish Riots and Pogroms in Occupied Europe: Warsaw – Paris – The Hague – Amsterdam – Antwerp – Kaunas


Tomasz Szarota

In the early months of the German occupation during WWII, many of Europe’s major cities witnessed anti-Jewish riots, anti-Semitic incidents, and even pogroms carried out by the local population. Who took part in these excesses, and what was their attitude towards the Germans? Were they guided or spontaneous? What part did the Germans play in these events and how did they manipulate them for their own benefit? Delving into the source material for Warsaw, Paris, The Hague, Amsterdam, Antwerp, and Kaunas, this study is the first to take a comparative look at these questions. Looking closely at events many would like to forget, the volume describes various characters and their stories, revealing some striking similarities and telling differences, while raising tantalising questions.
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Chapter 4 Kaunas/Kovno


From an independent state to a (forcedly established) Soviet republic

The Lithuanian Activist Front in Berlin and the Underground at home

At the onset of the Second World War, Kaunas (referred to by its Jewish population as Kovno) was the capital city of Lithuania. A temporary capital, as it were, for the Lithuanians considered Vilnius – which had been seized by Poland (and was referred to as Wilno in Polish) – to be their traditional and proper capital as noted in their Constitution. The anniversary of seizure of Vilnius by General Lucjan Żeligowski, 9th October 1920, was commemorated by the Lithuanians as a national day of mourning. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were only established in the spring of 1938, following an ultimatum from Poland. Before this occurred, demonstrations under the banner “Vilnius is ours!” were held in Lithuania, whereas crowds exclaimed, “Leader, lead us to Kowno [i.e. Kaunas]!” in Poland. In 1939, Poland and Lithuania clearly endeavoured to come to agreement and reconciliation, but ultimately failed to arrive at a political and military alliance.295

The Third Reich did not observe the emerging Polish-Lithuanian rapprochement passively. Endeavours were taken to incite the Lithuanians to stand up against Poland and regain Vilnius. A few days before the war broke out, Colonel Kazys Škirpa, the Lithuanian envoy to Berlin, arrived in Kaunas and tried to persuade the Lithuanian Government to take steps to this effect. A Germanophile, Škirpa was envoy to Warsaw in 1938 but...

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