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Concentration Camps: Vaivara

Vaivara was a concentration and transit camp in northeast Estonia. It was apparently established in 1943 as a camp for Soviet prisoners of war. From August 1943 until February 1944 it was the main branch of 20 forced labor camps located throughout Estonia. Some 20,000 Jews from Latvia and from the Lithuanian ghettos of Vilna and Kovno were brought to Vaivara, where they were kept before being sent on to the labor camps. For that reason, Vaivara wasconsidered a transit camp.

In addition, as a concentration camp, Vaivarahoused 1,300 prisoners at a time. These prisoners were mainly Jews, with smaller groups of Russians, Dutch, and Estonians.

The camp commandant was SS - Hauptsturmfuhrer Hans Aumeier. The camp was directed by Hauptscharfuhrer Max Dahlmann, Hauptscharfuhrer Kurt Panike, and Lagerfuhrer Helmut Schnabel; the chief physician was Franz von Bothmann. The entire administrative staff was made up of SS totenkopfverbande (Death's - Head Units). The camp was guarded by an Estonian SS unit.

The prisoners worked from morning to night at different types of hard labor, such as constructing railways, digging antitank ditches, quarrying large stones and pounding them to gravel, and felling trees in forests and swamp areas where they stood up to their knees in half - frozen water. The daily food ration received by the prisoners consisted of seven ounces (200 g) of bread with margarine or ersatz jam, ersatz coffee, and vegetable soup.

After their labor and at night, the prisoners huddled together in wooden huts with very thin walls. Each hut was divided into five sections, with 70 or 80 prisoners in each section, sleeping in triple-tier rows. Water was inadequate, and washing was allowed only infrequently. Consequently, lice and disease were rife in the camp. The sick and the weak among the Jewish prisoners, and all the old people and children who could not work, were killed after Selektionen. The first Selektion was held in the fall of 1943 on the parade ground of the camp: 150 Jewish men and women who had been found unfit for labor were transferred by truck to the nearby forest and shot. In the second Selektion about 300 Jews were taken out to their death, in particular those suffering from typhoid. In twenty other Selektionen, held approximately every two weeks, about 500 Jewish prisoners were killed. In one Selektion, the children, who until then had been kept together in a special hut, were killed. Many scores of other prisoners were killed and wounded by the blows and punishments of the SS. As the Red Army approached, several hundred of the remaining prisoners were taken from the Vaivara camp westward to Saki.

In 1968, Lagerfuhrer Helmut Schnabel stood trial, and was sentenced to sixteen years' imprisonment; the following year his sentence was reduced to six years. Hans Aumeier sentenced to death in Kraków and executed on December 22, 1947.

Sources: Yad Vashem; Gutman, Israel. ed. Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. Vols. 1-4. NY: Macmillan, 1995; What-Means.Com