English / The Special Unit – “Ypatingas Burys”

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The Special Unit -  Ypatingas Burys

The Ypatingas Burys were the most notorious of all the Lithuanian units assigned the task of murdering Jews. It comprised 200 men who had already volunteered to murder Jews during the first few days of the German invasion. They were chosen for the task since they were already experienced killers and had a reputation for wanton cruelty.

The Ypatingas Burys was responsible for murdering most of the Jews of the Vilnius region at the mass murder site at Panerai. They were, in fact, the ones who selected the location and carried out the killings there. They began rounding up Jews and murdering them at the site even before the arrival of the German Einsatzkommando 9, which had been specifically trained for this task.

Panerai was a wooded area outside Vilnius and had originally been used by the Soviet as a storage site for fuel tanks. The Ypatingas Burys considered this a suitable site for mass murder and this was to be its principal purpose for the next two years. During the first few days of the German invasion, they murdered 300 local businessmen and intellectuals who they had previously rounded up and imprisoned in jails nearby. When the German Einsatzgruppen soldiers arrived they found this murder site and a group of enthusiastic accomplices on hand to carry out the gruesome task.

The Ypatingas men virtually never left the site at Panerai. The victims were brought to the site by another unit connected to the Ypatingas Burys, who ferried the victims in groups to the site from Lukiskiai jail in Vilnius. After suffering torture and abuse at the jail, the victims were transported to Panerai and murdered, following which the unit would immediately return to the jail to bring the next group.

According to estimates, the Ypatingas Burys murdered nearly 100,000 people, most of them Jews and buried their bodies in three large pits. The combined German – Lithuanian force operating in Panerai was composed of three separate sub-units:

1.      A unit responsible for transporting victims to site from Lukiskiai jail. This consisted of local Lithuanians working in cooperation with the Ypatingas and a small group of German Einsatzgruppen members. When larger operations were carried out, soldiers of the Vilnius battalions assisted them in transporting victims to the site.

2.      A unit responsible for guarding the site to prevent curious bystanders from accidentally straying into the killing area. This comprised mainly Germans who guarded the site perimeter against uninvited visitors, especially German soldiers and officers not involved in the killing activities.

3.      A unit which carried out the murders composed almost entirely of Lithuanian members of the Ypatingas Burys. Very few Germans actually participated in the murders since there was no shortage of local Lithuanian volunteers. The Einsatzkommando men usually attended to the planning and coordination of activities and also served as drivers.

The commanders of the Ypatingas Burys were Lieutenant Juozas Sidlauskas; Lieutenant Balys Lukosius; Second Lieutenant Balys Norvaisa and Staff Sergeant Jonas Tomas. They were subsequently replaced as commanding officers by Lieutenants Mecis Butkus and Antanas Granickas (see list of murderers in article on “Panerai’).

Thousands of Jews were abducted off the streets and from their homes, either at random or according to lists of names drawn up by the murderers, and imprisoned at Lukiskiai jail in Vilnius, from where they were then transported to Panerai and murdered. Later victims included Jews rounded up in the ‘Vilnius Ghetto’ actions as well as those outside the ghetto and individuals caught with forged identity documents. The task of catching Jews and transporting them to Lukiskiai jail was carried out principally by four groups:

1.      The “Khapunes.” These were Lithuanian volunteers who during the initial period following the invasion abducted Jews off the streets and from their homes and handed them over to the authorities for transfer to Lukiskiai jail. They received payment for each Jew brought in.

2.      The Lithuanian battalions (see above).

3.      Lithuanian civil police under the command of police commissioner Iskauskas. Lithuanian police played an active role in kidnapping Jews and also assisted battalion soldiers during killing actions in the ghettos. 

4.      The Lithuanian security police, “Sagumas”, under the command of Aleksandas Lileikis and his deputy Kazys Gimzauskas. This unit’s main task was to find, detain and hand over hapless Jews to the killing squads. It also attended to the gruesome task of managing Lukiskiai jail and savagely torturing the bewildered victims held there prior to their transportation to the killing site. So sadistic was the torture inflicted on prisoners that many died or went insane.

Local Gestapo and German security officials also assisted in rounding up Jews and transporting them to the jail. Often, when the jail was overcrowded, Jews were taken directly to the killing site at Panerai. Ypatingas members joined German soldiers in looting substantial quantities of victims’ clothing and valuables. Out of the 200 Ypatingas members, only a few were caught and executed following the war. The others fled Lithuania together with retreating German troops and even continued to work at labor camps inside Germany itself.

Most of the mass murders at Panerai were carried during the period July through December 1941. An average of 300 people a day were murdered by the Lithuanian group which worked in teams of 20-30 men in each shift. At the end of 1942, the number of regular murderers at Panerai was reduced to around 50-60. Those who left joined other killing squads and continued to murder Jews at various sites throughout Lithuania, including the Ninth Fort at Kaunas.

As mentioned earlier most of the Ypatingas members never faced trial, even by the Soviets and, like thousands of other Lithuanian murderers, they still remain at large. The former Saguma chief Lileikis and his deputy Gimzauskas were both deported from the United States but by the time Lithuanian authorities finally approved indictments against both men, Lileikis had died and Gimzauskas was pronounced unfit to stand trial. The Lithuanians have no interest in prosecuting mass murderers since such an act would reveal the historical truth regarding the active participation by thousands of Lithuanians in the genocide of Lithuanian Jewry. 

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