CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Sol Littman.

Toronto, Lester & Orpen Dennys, c1983.
194pp, cloth, $17.95.
ISBN 0-88619-037-1.

Grades 11 and up.
Reviewed by Neil Payne.

Volume 12 Number 3
1984 May

In May 1983, Helmut Rauca, a Canadian citizen, was extradited to West Germany to stand trial for war crimes, the first time for a Canadian.

This case opened many vital and emotional issues: has Canada sheltered war criminals, as is often charged? Should a Canadian citizen be surrendered to another country for trial? Why dig it all up again after nearly forty years? Wasn't a master sargeant rather a small fish to go after? Could someone so junior in rank have had authority over life or death?

Sol Littman is a community affairs specialist for CBC News. He conducted exhaustive research into the Rauca case for a television documentary. He also wrote "Agent of the Holocaust," which appeared in the July 1983 issue of Saturday Night magazine. This book, the author's first, is a direct result of that research.

Littman starts his account with the arrest and trial. Under Canadian law, the prosecuter had to show that there was sufficient evidence to bring charges under Canadian law if the incidents had happened in Canada. The defence first denied Rauca was in Kaunas (Lithuania) when most of the incidents occurred. Later they limited the defence to the argument that the new Canadian Charter of Rights guaranteed a citizen the right to remain in the country, so if Rauca were to be tried it must be in Canada by a Canadian court. The defence even conceded "'that if the depositions. . .are true, then (Rauca) must be punished.'"

Littman then tells the story of Rauca and life in Kaunas from 1941 when the Germans turned on the Soviets until the Russian army returned in 1944.

In 1941, Lithuania was under Soviet control as a result of the German-Russian non-aggression pact that split countries between the two. Germany had been quietly promoting a right-wing Lithuanian underground army to assist when they turned on the Russians. When war broke out, these partisans seized power between the retreat of the Russians and the arrival of the German administrators. They saw this war as a chance to punish the Russians and establish an independent Lithuania allied with Germany. Partly due to longstanding anti-Semitism in the area, partly to please the Germans, and partly to have a present and visible enemy to take out their frustrations on, the partisans committed wholesale slaughter of the Jews in their midst. After a few days of anarchy, the Germans arrived and took over control.

Helmut Rauca was an SS Master Sargeant, the senior SS person in Kaunas and the "Jewish specialist" in the local German administration. So he was responsible for the handling of the Jews in Kaunas. His mandate was two-fold and somewhat contradictory: exterminate the Jews as part of Hitler's grand plan and provide slave labour for the civilian authorities.

The documentation in the book shows convincingly that Rauca was in fact directly responsible for the deaths of 10,500 Jews whom he personally picked for execution, which in several cases he personally carried out. His responsibility is verified by eye witness (one, a lawyer, who kept an exhaustive diary), by his superiors, at their own war crimes trials, and by Nazi records many of which were signed by Rauca himself.

This book is not pleasant reading; it is a grisly, mind-wrenching account of wholesale horror. But it is fascinating and important reading. One of the author's purposes in writing the book was to demonstrate that we cannot afford to bury the past and leave these old men alone after so many years. The very existence of well organized groups of bigots denying that these things ever happened, prove that we must keep the knowledge of the Holocaust clear, if we are to prevent its happening again.

An important book. Very highly recommended for all high school, college, university, and public libraries.

Neil Payne, Kingston C. V. I., Kingston, ON.
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