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Martin Weiss

Martin Weiss (born February 21, 1903 in Karlsruhe) was a Nazi official and de facto commander of the Vilna Ghetto. He was also the commander of the notorious Nazi-sponsored Ypatingasis būrys (Lithuanian special SD and German Security Police Squad), which was largely responsible for the Ponary massacre where up to 100,000 Jews were shot to death.

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Early life

He was born to a well to-do Protestant family. Weiss followed his father's steps and received education in plumbing and heating installation. He was an apprentice in his father's shop. In 1923–1927 Weiss lived in South America, helping his brother to establish a farm. After his father's death in 1928, Weiss took over the family business. Two years later he was married. Weiss and his wife had three children.

Nazi career

He was not particularly interested in politics and joined Reiter SS, a branch of Schutzstaffel (SS) that focused on horsemanship and equestrianism, in 1934. In 1937 he also joined the National Socialist German Workers Party. When Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, he was drafted into the Wehrmacht. Because of his SS membership he was placed in a Waffen-SS mechanical supply unit and was sent to the Battle of France. In August 1940 he returned to his home town and resumed the family business.

In spring 1941 he was drafted again. He was assigned to Einsatzkommando 3, part of Einsatzgruppe stationed in Bad Düben. In October 1941 he was assigned to work in the Office of the Commander of Security Police (Sicherheitsdienst or SD and Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei or Sipo) in Vilnius, Lithuania, then part of the Reichskommissariat Ostland (the German name for the Nazi civil administration of part of the occupied Eastern territories of the Third Reich, occupied during World War II. Ostland was the name given to the German occupied territories of the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), eastern parts of Poland, and Western parts of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia). Weiss held this position until July 1944. He was responsible for all aspects of the repression against the Jewish population of Vilnius, which is estimated to have been around 50,000 in the wake of the Holocaust. Despite his low rank of technical sergeant, he was in charge of the Vilna Ghetto and nearby Lukiškės Prison. He also chose victims to be executed in Paneriai (Ponary), a suburb of Vilnius, and reported the numbers to his superiors.

Weiss was noted by the inmates of the ghetto for his merciless cruelty and frequent beatings. In one instance he shot a man on the spot for trying to bring a few potatoes and a bit of fish through the ghetto gates. There are reports of other German soldiers willing to pardon a Jew, but being afraid to do so knowing that Weiss would certainly not approve such an action.

Convicted of war crimes

In February 1950, a court in Würzburg found him guilty of war crimes and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

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