Buildings on Subačius street no. 47-49 in Vilnius


Two apartment buildings on Subačius street in Vilnius were witnesses of the classic eternal struggle between the good and the evil. During the Nazi occupation in Lithuania, this territory was turned into a Jewish labor camp. Usually, such labor camps were only a shortstop for most of the Jews, who had been killed soon after. However, the so-called good Nazi, Karl Plagge (1897-1957), unexpectedly made this labor camp a place for Vilnius Jews to escape this horrible future. Karl Plagge proved the importance of personal choice in the face of totalitarian regimes – he stuck to his moral obligations as a human being, refusing to become a totalitarian animal.

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Apartment buildings on Subačius street (nowadays no. 47 and no. 49) were built at the end of the 19th century. In 1898 Baron Hirsh financed the construction of these buildings to help poor Jews in the community. They lived in these buildings until 1941 when Nazi occupants evicted them and murdered in Ponary. In 1943-1944 these buildings were turned into forced labor camp H.K.P. 562 for local Jews.

However, 250 Jews who were forced to work here managed to survive, hide in the malinas (hiding places), and wait for the Nazi retraction from Lithuania. How did that become possible? Unexpectedly, thanks to Nazi officer Karl Plagge. In 1941 he was sent to Vilnius and was responsible for technical maintenance in his subdivision. Although since his youth Karl was attracted to Nazi ideology, in Vilnius when he saw horrible behavior with innocent people in the name of this ideology, Karl Plagge chose to stay faithful to his moral principles. So he began to help local Jews. He had a right to give working permissions for the best mechanics – these permissions were like a safety net for all the family of such mechanics in the ghetto.  K. Plagge gave more than 200 of them and most of them were not mechanics at all. Unfortunately, in 1943 the good Nazi realized that these permissions are no longer saving the lives of ghetto Jews, so he consciously managed to be appointed as the leader of the labor camp on Subačius street. After the final liquidation of Vilna Ghetto, he transferred as many prisoners as he could to this labor camp in order to save them from concentration camps abroad.

However, we have to keep in mind, that K. Plagge was only a German officer, he did not belong to SS divisions, so his possibilities to control the faith of local Jews were minimal and based only on his personal acts. In 1944 when the Soviet army reached Lithuanian borders, K. Plagge made his last visit to the labor camp and warn prisoners, that this labor camp will be liquidated by the withdrawing Nazis. And he was right. About 150 people from this labor camp managed to escape or hide in their own malinas, and thus they survived the last days of Nazi occupation. Unfortunately, there was a small number of such successful survivors – those, who were found were killed instantly. K. Plagge himself withdrew with his German officers towards West, lived through the Second World War, and after the war was on trial for participation in the Holocaust. But, as we already know, his case was special – many survivors testified and helped to justify him. Years later, the same Vilna survivors applied to Yad Vashem regarding naming Karl Plagge the Righteous among the Nations. This request received a lot of discussions and it took more than 50 years and many changes in our historical perception of that time, that Karl Plagge would be granted this name in 2005.


Today these buildings on Subačius street no. 47 and no. 49 have several commemorative signs. There are plaques with engravings in Hebrew, Yiddish, English, and Lithuanian, which tell the same story of these buildings. However, this story does not include a memorable history of Karl Plagge and his efforts to save local Jews. The reason for that might be simple – when these memorial plaques were hung Karl Plagge has not yet been announced as the Righteous among Nations.

This territory remained almost the same since 1944 when the labor camp had been liquidated. People, who were forced to work here had been killed, but buildings had not been demolished. During the Soviet occupation, these buildings were once again adjusted to living apartments. So for many years, the inhabitants of these buildings were not aware that every day they are walking on Jewish mass graves in the yard between two buildings.

The history of this place is represented in the documentary by Jaron Nisky called “The Good Nazi” (2018). It narrates a story about Jewish tragedy in Vilnius and the efforts of Karl Plagge in order to save them.  These stories are told based on archival sources and recollections of witnesses, who survived the Holocaust. One of them is a world-famous painter Samuel Bak, who survived in one of the malinas (hiding places) in these buildings.


Historical Jewish quarter in Vilnius, 54.679532, 25.285090

Jewish street in Vilnius, 54.679532, 25.285090

The place of previous the Great synagogue of Vilna (Žydų str. 3), 54.679901, 25.284511

The mausoleum of Vilna Gaon and his family (Jewish cemetery, Sudervė road, 28), 54.712898, 25.234477

A monument to Vilna Gaon (Žydų str. 3), 54.680137, 25.285079

Choral synagogue Taharat ha–Kodesh (Pylimo str. 39), 54.676070, 25.281575

Užupis synagogue  (Užupio str. 36), 54.681471, 25.298633

The Big Vilna Ghetto (Lydos, Rūdninkų, Mėsinių, Ašmenos, Žemaitijos, Dysnos, Šiaulių, Ligoninės streets), 54.676653, 25.284170

A monument to doctor Cemach Shabad, 54.677248, 25.284342

Pohulanka (now – J. Basanavičius street), 54.680145, 25.276134

A monument to Romain Gary (J. Basanavičius str. 14a.), 54.680145, 25.276134

The place of previous YIVO institute (Vivulskio str. 18), 54.678840, 25.265085

The old Jewish cemetery in Šnipiškės (Olimpiečių str. 1a), 54.690243, 25.291117

The Jewish cemetery in Užupis (Olandų str. 22), 54.688106, 25.307748

Printing house building owned by the Romm family  (A. Strazdelio str. 3), 54.675534, 25.292128

Writings in Yiddish on Žemaitijos street (Žemaitijos str. 9, 54.677785, 25.281711)

Vilna Gaon Jewish history museum. Tolerance Center (Naugarduko str. 10/2, Vilnius)

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  • Helen Thompson
    2022-10-22 at 11:44 pm  -  Reply

    I am just watching the documentary The Good Nazi on PBS America. It’s quite horrifying. I was in Vilnius a few years ago but did not know about this then . I hope to return one day.

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