Himmler Orders Liquidation of All Ghettos in Occupied Soviet Territories

On June 21, 1943, Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler issued the following order: “All Jews who may still be found in ghettos in the Ostland must be confined in concentration camps…. All non-essential inhabitants of the Jewish ghettos are to be referred to the East…. The reorganization in concentration camps is to be completed by August 1, 1943.” The practical intent of this order was the elimination of all surviving Jews in the occupied Soviet territories. However, in keeping with his long-standing policy, Himmler wanted to exploit the Jews´ labor as he spilled their blood. Thus, the able-bodied were to be put to work in the concentration-camp network, while the “non-essential” were to be “referred to the East,” i.e., murdered. The order was evidently coordinated with Hitler. Two days before it was issued, Himmler discussed the matter with Hitler and wrote afterwards, “After my lecture on the Jewish question, the Fuehrer expressed the view that the evacuation of Jews should be implemented in a radical fashion over the next four months.” Thus, a series of ghettos was liquidated: Bialystok in August; Vilna and Minsk in September; and, Riga in November. For reasons that are not clear, two ghettos in Lithuania-Kovno (Kaunas) and Shavli (Siauliai)-were left intact until mid 1944. Almost no Jews remained in the occupied Soviet territories.