Churbn Lettland: The Destruction of the Jews of Latvia
by Max Kaufmann

Part II

     << BACK   |   NEXT >>   EXHIBITION 


First-Hand Account

The Central and Terminal Prisons of Riga

The Central and Terminal Prisons were the two large Riga prisons within whose walls many thousands of Jews came to a tragic end in the course of three years. Besides these, which were not large enough, the so-called juvenile prison at the corner of Mateja and Krisjana Barona Streets was used for a short time as an annex.

The Terminal Prison was only for women, so initially only men were put into the Central Prison. Toward the end, after the liquidation of the Jewish women in the Terminal Prison, women were also brought to the Central Prison. In both prisons the Jews were separated from the Aryans and had their own wards.

According to the records, about 7,000 Jews were taken to the Central Prison in the first eleven days after the enemy's occupation of Riga. During the same period 1.500 women were taken to the Terminal Prison.

Because the Latvians, directed by their murderous staff headquarters on Valdemara Street, were constantly sending new people into the prisons, a whole group of prisoners was removed as early as the night of 4 July 1941 and "sent to work" in order to make space. They never came back.

SS General Friedrich Jeckeln stands in the dock during his trial for atrocities committed in the Baltic states.

Original caption reads, "View of the bench of the accused at a trial connected with the crimes of the fascist invaders on the territory of the Baltic republic. 1946."  Jeckeln's troops participated in the murder of 27,800 Jews, mainly from the Riga ghetto, between November and December of 1941.

Riga, Latvia
February 3, 1946

Credit: USHMM/Holocaust Encyclopedia

On 8 July 1941 the Latvians loaded about 775 men from the Central Prison into large trucks. They were driven to the Bikernieki forest. There they were ordered to line up in rows of three. Every third man was pulled out and shot on the spot. The remaining men had to bury the dead in the graves that had already been dug for them. After that they were taken back to prison. This action claimed the lives of many prominent Riga personalities (Widzer, Katz, Gurewitz, Praiß and others). The Latvian Ozols (from the Second Police Precinct) gave this action particularly strong support. Later, between 800 and 1,000 people were taken away every night, and they did not return to the prison. The murders were committed not only in the Bikernieki forest but also in Jugla, in the woods around Baltezers (White Lake).

The doctors who were brought to the Central Prison were locked up in a special cell and initially they were not sent either to work or to be liquidated.

A large number of women who had gradually filled up the Terminal Prison were told they would be put to work in a juvenile reform colony in Irlava. But in reality they, like the men, were taken in groups directly to the Bikernieki forest and to White Lake in Jugla and gruesomely murdered there. They were taken away early in the morning in the familiar blue city buses. Other women who put up resistance, for example Dr. Magalif's wife, who was very strong, were beaten ruthlessly. Later, at their place of execution, they had to strip naked and were then shot and thrown half-dead into the graves. The murderers kept the clothes and valuables of both the women and the men for themselves. I later found out that the Latvian Manfrids Liepins played an active role in this "women's action". Latvian women also worked in the prison (Ozolins, Markewitsch, Vitols).

During the first few days a Jewish child was born in the Terminal Prison, and it was later named Terminka. The mother was allowed to stay in prison for only a short time: then she too was sent to be liquidated. The Latvian women kept the child in the prison. I heard of al this through Mrs. Markewitsch, and so I sent food and children's clothing to the prison the whole time for the little one. I also tried to help many prominent women, but only a fraction of the things I brought reached them. As soon as a Jewish Committee was created I told its chairman, the lawyer Michail Eljaschow, about little Terminka. He went to a great deal of trouble to find a place for her in the ghetto. Unfortunately, not only her years but also her months were numbered, for she was killed in the first large-scale action.

The records show clearly that nobody was registered in the prisons until 11 July 1941; for this reason the number of people who were killed could not be reconstructed. Until 11 July 1941, the only prison warders were the Latvians. They alone were responsible for all the murders of thousands of men and women that were committed until that time, for they acted entirely on their own initiative.

None of the female inmates of the Terminal Prison could save themselves, but in the Central Prison some men in addition to the aforementioned doctors survived beyond 11 July /941. Some of them were assigned as specialists to do various kinds of work. After the Germans had taken over control of the prisons, all the prisoners were registered. Unfortunately, the number of Jews had already diminished drastically by that time, but with the help of the Latvians it was once again increased. The actual warders of the prisons were now the SD (the Gestapo's Security Service). Many Latvians worked together with them.

The Research Department for the Jews was in the hands of the Gestapo officer Alexei Danilow-Milkowsky and Lieutenant Colonel Zarins. The notorious, cruel Gestapo methods were used. When the Germans took control of the prisons, no actions were carried out initially: the people simply died of starvation. The daily ration consisted of 120 grams of bread and a bowl of hot watery soup. The doctors, about forty in number. now were forced to load coal at the Skirotava railroad station, but after that they were released. This was the reason why many of our doctors remained in the ghetto and the concentration camp, but unfortunately only a few of them survived.

In the meantime, the prison gradually filled up with Jews who had simply been arrested on the street for various "sins" (because they were not wearing their stars, and so on). Even Jewish members of the Red Army, including high-ranking officers, were put into prison (Nowosiolok, for instance). Sick and wounded men were dragged directly from the army field hospitals into cells where they then lay without treatment until they died. After the liquidation of the ghetto it was the turn of the "baptized" Jews (the Kalabus family and others) and those who had been living with Aryan identity papers (the lawyer A. Blankenstein and others). For a long time Blankenstein wore a crucifix in prison, but this did him no good at all. Foreign Jews with passports from Persia (Gluchowski), Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and the USA were also imprisoned, together with their wives and children. They too were killed. Even the aforementioned "Swedish group" (the lawyer Jewelsohn, Dr. Freidmann, F. Zacharow and others), who had tried to escape to Sweden and were betrayed at the last moment by an SD man, were put into prison. Folia Zacharow and the policeman Bruno Goldberg, who was a familiar figure in the ghetto, were separately imprisoned for a long time in a veritable cage. Later on they were killed.

After the large-scale "weapons incident" in the ghetto, many people were taken to prison from the ghetto and from their work stations. These were the last and best of our young people. My comrade Dreyer, who had been saved by chance, told me that after even a short time in prison he had not recognized people any more. They had long beards and could barely stand upright. Every day dysentery killed a huge number of people, but there was no help for it.

At this time the prominent industrialist Niemirowski was also in prison, and he was saved by an accident. The only Jew who lay in the prison infirmary for more than a year was the mentally deranged lawyer Liebesmann. To get bread, the Jews sold their last possessions to the prison guards, and for this reason they walked about dressed only in their underwear. Everyone tried to survive by any possible means. One day it was announced that if anyone had buried valuables in the ghetto and would voluntarily surrender them, he would be released from prison. Those who volunteered were driven with Gestapo people into the ghetto to dig up the malines (hiding places). Many valuables were dug up and handed over; but this was of no use at all, for nobody was released for doing so. The only lucky one to be released was the rag merchant Dubrow, but finally he too was killed in the Strazdumuiza action. As for the rest, the more or less strong people were taken out of the prison and sent in groups to the notorious "base" or to the front to clear minefields. None returned, for all of them were killed.

In September 1944 the Aryan prisoners were evacuated to Germany on a steamship, but the Jews who still remained were killed without exception.

The graves of the numerous dead are located, together with those of the people murdered in the Kaiserwald concentration camp, next to the wall of the Christian Mateja cemetery across from the Central Prison.

The Press in Riga During the German Occupation

Just after the German occupation of Riga, the Latvians published various flyers. At the same time they decided to publish a permanent daily newspaper in Latvia called "Tevija" (Fatherland). It was printed in Blaumana Street in the large and prominent Briva Zeme printing house, which had been founded by Dr. Ulmanis. This newspaper was written according to the pattern set by the old Latvian newspaper "Jaunakas Zinas" (The Latest News), with the difference that it was 100% German and National Socialist in its viewpoint. Every day, "apprentices" of the notorious anti-Semite Julius Streicher - who has now been hanged in Nuremberg - harangued the public with new tirades against the Jews. The Editor-in-Chief was Kowalewsky. The Jewish question took up a great deal of space in this newspaper, and the Talmud was quoted constantly. All kinds of things were published in the form of pamphlets. One of them announced that the leaders of the Jewish community, Mordechai Dubin and Rabbi Nurok, had been arrested and killed by the Russians, which was not the case.

It was said that in early 1942 Editor-in-Chief Kowalewsky traveled together with the head of the Propaganda Department Rietums and the Latvian Camptain Krecmanis to see Hitler in order to thank him for liberating Latvia from the Jews.

Initially only a so-called front newspaper was published by the Germans. It dealt mainly with military matters, but now and then it also made digs at the Jews. Then the "Allgemeine deutsche Zeitung in Osland" (General German Newspaper in Ostland) was set up. This was a newspaper with a larger format and it was printed in the printing house of the "Rigasche Rundschau" (Riga Panorama) in the cathedral square. Here too, there was no lack of Streicher's "apprentices", and the Jewish question was discussed intensively. There was also a Russian newspaper founded by staff members of the old "Tschornajy Sotnia" (Black Newspaper). The notorious Leri (Klopotowsky) worked very actively for this newspaper. It too was very preoccupied with the Jewish question. It was printed in the printing house of the old "Segodnia" newspaper. Here too they printed various appeals to the Russian population in those parts of Russia that had not yet been occupied by the Germans; the flyers were dropped from airplanes. I remember one flyer addressed to the population of the city of Leningrad that was supposed to be distributed there after the occupation. But there was never an occupation, and the flyers stayed in Riga.

Besides these daily newspapers, various brochures and the whole albums of propagandistic pictorial materials concerning the Soviet Union and the Jews were printed in Latvian. The authors wrote quite openly that they would not rest until the last Jew in Latvia had been exterminated.

But history decided otherwise!

Jumpravmuiza (Jungfernhof)

This place is not well-known; even we old inhabitants of Riga hardly knew of its existence. It cannot be found on the map. The only ones who really got to know it are the few remaining Jews from Germany and Austria, and they will never forget it. The Jumpravmuiza estate is located about five kilometers from Riga and used to belong to a German baron. Three kilometers from this estate lies the notorious Rumbula, the place where the German and Latvian murderers committed their crimes against Latvian Jewry.

After World War I (1914-1919) only two half-ruined houses and a barn remained standing in Jumpravmuiza. In the ghetto period some barracks were built there. Some of the people in the commandos who were forced to work for the ghetto there mysteriously disappeared.

"The Latvians laid the groundwork": that is what the chief murderer, General Jeckeln, said at his trial in Riga on 5 February 1946. But it was the Germans who really made use of the groundwork laid by the Latvians. They were the ones who started to transport Jews from Germany, Austria and other countries in Riga in order to exterminate them.

The first transport, on 3 December 1941, came from Nuremberg and Wurzburg (in Bavaria). On 4 December 1941 another transport arrived from Stuttgart and its surroundings (Württemberg). It included mainly children aged six and older, but also older people between 40 and 60 years of age. The others who had remained in Württemberg had been promised that their transport would follow. Thus entire families were separated. On 12 December 1941 a large transport from Hamburg arrived, which included many pregnant women. Reports show that later some transports arrived and then disappeared without a trace. People say that these were taken to the notorious Bikernieki forest in the middle of the night and executed there.

On 2 January 1942, after a long pause, another large transport consisting of older men and women arrived from Vienna; then at the end of 1942, the last collective transport of men, women and children of various ages arrived. These transports arrived in fast trains at the Skirotava station in Riga and were driven in trucks from here to Jumpravmuiza. Still other transports of German, Austrian and Czech Jews were sent either to the ghetto, which had been emptied by the extermination of the Latvian Jews, or directly to the forest to be executed there.

The deported German and Austrian Jews had a great deal of valuable luggage with them and were well-dressed; they had been forced to take all their possessions with them. They had also been promised that their luggage would follow them to the camp in which they were settled.

But in fact this luggage was immediately carted away by the Gestapo. Moreover, it was announced in the railroad station that everyone had to hand over his or her valuables: failure to obey this order would be punished by death. For this reason, most of those in the first transport from Vienna, largely consisting of older people, were already executed just behind Jumpravmuiza because valuables had been found in their possession.

Now thousands of men, women and children were quartered in rooms that could hold at most a few hundred people. In the barracks and stalls that had been prepared for the "guests", bunk beds were stacked six or eight high. Unfortunately, it was extremely cold during just this period, and hundreds of people froze to death every day. So countless people were carried every day into the notorious "death barrack" and buried or cremated. The sick people were dealt with on Saturdays in the forest; that is, they were killed.

In February 1942, 200 women were sent to the Riga ghetto and 600 men to the terrible Salaspils extermination camp. The women who survived by chance and are still alive today can be counted easily (Mrs. Springenfeld, Mrs. Kaplan); all the others were killed. On 26 March 1942 there was a "large-scale action" called the "Daugavgrivas cannery." The inmates were told they were to work in this cannery. In fact, thousands were killed in the action. We know in precise detail that this "action" was carried out in the Bikernieki forest with the help of the Latvians. Afterwards only 300 people remained of the total number of Jews who had been brought to Jumpravmuiza (about 6,500 people). The 300 were forced to do special farm labor for the Gestapo. The leaders of all these actions were the notorious SD men and murderers Richard Nickel (from Berlin) and Rudi Seck, who displayed the most bestial instincts. Murdering human beings was child's play for them. The notorious murderer and Gestapo chief Dr. Lange was a very frequent guest in Jumpravmuiza. Thus German and Austrian Jews died martyrs' deaths in a Riga suburb, bloody Jumpravmuiza. Incidentally, Latvian "volunteers" played the largest role in all the actions and the guard duty.

The fate of us Riga Jews is also bound up with Jumpravmuiza. Before our evacuation from Riga (the Kaiserwald concentration camp) to Germany, a so-called "potato commando" of 70 men was sent to Jumpravmuiza. It included very prominent Riga Jews such as Sascha Misroch, Grischa Genkin, Legow, Max Fainsohn, Milecki and others, as well as some from Kovno and Vilna. I was also chosen for this commando. However, because it turned out that 72 people were available for this commando, a Riga tailor named Schermann and I were put back in line. At first I was very unhappy about this. I believed that because I was being taken to the Kaiserwald camp as a hostage, it would be very dangerous for me to stay there. I did everything possible to get into the "potato commando" although it already had enough people, but I did not succeed. Later, however, it turned out that the "potato commando" had been taken to Jumpravmuiza and forced to work at the notorious Rumbula "base", where 32, 000 men, women and children of the Riga ghetto had been killed. They worked in chains and their work consisted of cremating corpses and removing all traces of the murders. The whole commando itself was killed there. Thus I was saved only through a marvelous coincidence.

Kworim Weinen (Graves Weep)

The old Jewish cemetery had already seen many generations. A few years before World War II, it was closed and a new one came in its stead.

The broad branches of centuries - old trees protected its kworim (graves) with their rich and splendid gravestones.

Tall, completely wild grass grew over earlier graves. The only person who remained faithful to the old cemetery was the ancient kworesman (gravedigger) R. Chaim. On holidays the old cemetery still sometimes had visitors. Then the Jews who lived nearby would gather there to pray in the small temple or visit their relatives' graves on the anniversaries of their deaths. Otherwise the old Bet Hakworois was fajosemt (abandoned).

Only when the Germans arrived did it come to life again.

It was the Germans who dragged Jews into the prayer house, not to pray but to be burned alive.

Thus the prayer house disappeared, as did the old kworesman R. Chaim.

A new tkufa (era) had begun.

The old Jewish gravediggers of Riga were "lucky" because the old Jewish cemetery was integrated into the ghetto. Thus it became part of the ghetto and was awakened to new life.

Initially it had to accommodate only individuals. This phase lasted until the "ten bloody days".

But then the number of dead rose not merely into the hundreds, but into the thousands. It became crowded for all the victims whose numbers increased every day.

The graves were dug deep, very deep. Each body was placed directly above the last one.

In addition, there were also completely new guests, guests from abroad - that is, the German Jews.

The number of the living was still large, but only a few of them were to survive, and thus it became necessary to make room.

A solution was found: the graves of the old Jewish Riga were destroyed so that new kworim could be dug in their place.

On a dark night in 1942 a loud and unfamiliar sound startled me out of my sleep.

Had something happened? Did the murderers now want to kill us all at once?

I listened hard, went to the window, and heard the noise was coming from the direction of the cemetery. Then it quieted down again. I lay down and tried to go to sleep once more. But I couldn't, and I shifted from one side to the other.

Suddenly a new detonation and a bright flash came from the cemetery!

What had happened? The enemy had blown up the graves with dynamite and thus destroyed our "old Hereafter".

I wept to myself quietly so as not to wake up my child who was sleeping next to me and had worked hard the day before.

I saw my mother's face before me. Weeping, she turned to me and said: 'Oh, my only child who is still alive, pity me! Our enemies give me no rest even in the grave! Bet rachmim, cry out to the Lord! Habet min haschomain urej...! (Look down from Heaven and see!)"

The cemetery was blown up on three successive nights, and each time I felt as though a piece of my heart was being torn out.

Kworim weinen...kworim weinen...

The old, overgrown cemetery wall had lost its function, for it had stopped separating this life from the one beyond. How many tales this silent witness of our great tragedy could tell! It is spattered everywhere with the blood of our martyrs. Our best people were shot against it.

It had heard the whistle of the fatal bullets and the singing of our "Hatikva". Our brothers and sisters died with this hymn on their lips!

Art in the Riga Ghettos and Concentration Camps

From the moments the Germans occupied Riga, as well as later on the initial phase of the ghetto, art lay completely dormant. All of us were so full of cares that we had no thoughts left for it. But, after a time, when everything had calmed down and ghetto life began to stabilize, a measure of vitality flowed back into art and culture. This is a law of nature.

The readers of this book, especially those who themselves lived in the ghetto at that time, will probably be surprised to see me begin this section about art with the name of Mapu.

Mapu, a poor boy from Kovno, was transported with others from that city to the Riga ghetto. Completely penniless and in rags, he now went from house to house performing his "art".

He had no voice to speak of, only a great deal of expressiveness. And with this talent and his Kovno ghetto songs, which he had brought with him, he moved us all to tears. His "Azoi mus sein, azoi mus sein" (It has to be, it has to be) and similar songs have remained in my memory just as vividly as Fyodor Chaliapin's "Don Quixote" or "Faust."

The poor boy always had to work in commandos doing hard labor; he always had to serve some punitive sentence or other in the bunker, and finally he was sent to work in the punitive Wolf & Dering commando, which was building the Kaiserwald concentration camp. From that point on we lost sight of him, and we never saw him again.

The famous opera singer Jakob Joffe, who had later been the cantor of the large synagogue of Lodz, did not sing initially except for the occasions when he prayed and sang "Jaale tachnuneinu meerew" (Let our evening prayer rise) and "Min hameizar korasl Jo" (I have called to God in my distress), which was composed by our Riga cantor Rossowski. This singing was unforgettable. The words seemed to come not from his voice, but directly from his heart.

He too came to a tragic end. He escaped from a barracks camp, but was caught and executed. I no longer remember today whether he actually performed in the ghetto.(3)

Cantor Serensen sang folk songs and later composed one himself. He also wrote the text for it. In Kaiserwald his song "Bombes, bombes falt arop" (Bombs, bombs are falling down) was very popular, as was his song "Es gehen Kolones, es gehen Korbones" (Columns are marching, victims are marching).

Like many others, I was very impressed by the concert given by the pianist Herman Godes. At that time, he was still very young; in my opinion he will have a great future.

Roschmann and his staff (Gymnich and Buchholz) also came to the concert. He had even taken along his big dog. When "Roschko" came in, the representative of the German ghetto, Leiser ordered everyone to stand up. He offered him a seat. But because Roschmann refused to sit next to Jews, he and his staff stayed standing at the door. But we noticed that he showed great interest in this concert.

Professor Metz (violin) and Temko (cello) gave two large concerts. Professor Metz invited me to the first one, and dedicated it to the memory of the composer Rubinstein, who had been a Jew converted to Christianity. In his introductory words he reminded us of Rubinstein's career in Petersburg. Petersburg - through his words, my thoughts too went back to the beautiful years of my youth in that city. The concert was full of solemnity. At the express wish of Professor Metz, nobody applauded. The applause was expressed only by our tears.

This concert was attended even by Professor Gurwitz (father of the well-known pianist Horowitz), who did not participate in the cultural life of the ghetto in any other way. Because he was married to an Aryan woman, he was sent to the ghetto fairly late, and now he worked in a plant nursery.

Now and then Mrs. Chana Taic charmed us with her folk songs, which she had brought with her from Paris in earlier times.

The Reich Jewish ghetto was no less active in organizing artistic performances. We were completely enchanted when Mrs. Biran (from Prague) sang "Madame Butterfly" in her sweet voice. The saxophonist Jonny was very popular because of his song "Mama", and a Czech Jew sometimes provided excellent entertainment with his patter. He was later hanged by Blatterspiegel at Spilve.

The climax of the season was a performance of the play "Jeremiah", which had been organized with great effort by the Jewish representative, Leiser. Considering the circumstances, the stage design was very good. A genuinely talented actor, Diesendorf from Vienna played the leading role.

But the period of all these cultural offerings did not last long, because of the liquidation of the ghetto.

The artist Schelkan, who had not performed in the ghetto, tried to comfort the broken hearts in the barracks camps somewhat through his art. The folk songs he performed in his lion's voice (schaagis ari) moved us deeply, for they were so appropriate for the time. The songs "Litwische Stetele" (Lithuanian Towns) and "Der Becher" (The Pitcher) were always in his repertoire. The first one reminded us, the "half-Litvaks", of earlier, happier times. And "The Pitcher" with its enchanting text by the great poet Frug always made a deep impression.

Frug's text is based on the following legend: a pitcher stands in the sky, and all Jewish tears fall into it and are collected there. When this picture is full, the Messiah will come. Now we really had to ask whether so many tears had still not filled it up. But perhaps the tears in this pitcher were drying up again? These words were so much more relevant to our time than the one in which the poet had written them. Yet, in spite of the incalculable number of tears shed in recent years, the pitcher had still not been filled up!

But it's only a legend, after all!

Numerous artists entertained us in the barracks camps with a great variety of performances (Aronsohn-Arnow, Kocer, Scheftelowitz, Schalith, Gustav Joffe, Sperling-Tschuzoj, Salomon Ostrowski, Gottlieb, Foma Fomin, Brandt, Schapiro and others).

The engineer Kostia Kaplan, who had learned "magic" in Vienna, offered us true marvels of this art.

The popular songs that were very often sung during that period were "Habeit min haschomaim urei" (Look down from heaven and see), "Ich bin rot und du bist schwarz" (I'm red and you're black), which was composed in the Daugavpils ghetto, and "Am Prager Tor" (At the Prague Gate). The "Paplaken Italians' Song" was composed in the Paplaken turf-cutters' barracks camp.

There were a few cantors, truly talented people, from Cologne and Hannover in the Reich Jewish ghetto.

The arrival of the Vilna Jews considerably expanded our repertoire of ghetto songs. We could hear the women from Vilna singing in Kaiserwald, the HKP, the Daugavpils factories, the AEG and in other barracks camps.

Their ghetto songs and folk songs were marked by a particular beauty and depth. the songs "Panar", "Vilna, Vilna", "Zog nit, as du gehst den letzten Weg" (Don't say this is your last journey), "Genzelech" (Goslings) and others are always moved to tears.

We will always remember the names of Betty Segall, Paikele from Vilna, and Faigele Broido.

In Strazdumuiza E. Zin, from Liepaja, wrote the "Strasdenhof Hymn": "Mir seinen Strasdenhofer Bürger, a naje Europa bojen mir..." (We're citizens of Strasdenhof, we're building a new Europe...)

Riwotschka Basma from Vilna, who was especially gifted with artistic talent, worked in the "Women's Cloister", the AEG. In her appearance and presentation she reminded us vividly of the famous Russian writer Pushkin. It was grotesque and tragic that she could find time only in the latrine to write the texts and music of her songs, which went directly to our hearts.

Her composition "Die fraie fojgelech un mir" (The free birds and we) stayed in our memories for a long time.

Because this chapter seems to be the most appropriate for it, I would like to mention here that in the summers of 1942 and 1943, soccer teams were organized in both ghettos. The captain of our team was Glaser, and the captain of the German ghetto's team was Scharf. Boxing matches were also organized. The boxers were Haar, Nachke and others. The young people amused themselves playing handball and table tennis.


Men in Women's Roles (in the Small Riga Ghetto)

The reader will certainly be struck by this title and will perhaps expect a light-hearted satire. But after thinking more deeply about the following lines he will be convinced of the tragedy it implies.

Men in women's roles!

The men really did begin to take on the roles of women. This transformation was not surprising because there were very few women, and so the men were forced to take their place. Even the men who had never known what cooking meant (including me) were forced by circumstances to learn it. But before one could cook, there were many other difficulties to overcome. The first problem was how to acquire the necessary food. The next question was what to cook, and the next was where to get wood to make a fire. In the beginning, when there were still fences and old wooden buildings in the ghetto, this was relatively simple; but after this possibility was exhausted it became extremely difficult to make a fire. And if one thing was achieved, then the next one was certainly lacking. A bit of salt, pepper, or onions - where to get them?

In our home it was m son who did the housework. How and where he had learned this art remained a constant mystery to me. He had lost his mother in the ghetto at the tender age of sixteen, and in the good old days at home he had certainly never paid any attention to these things. Apparently he had inherited this talent, for his mother had been a splendid housekeeper and was known in Riga for her excellent cooking.

I was the one who went shopping. First I would get the rations we were officially entitled to, which were very meager. Often the bread had not been baked properly; moreover, we received many "good things". For example, the fish was never fresh and always stank.

There was always a lot of activity in the Reich Jewish ghetto, where the main food-distribution warehouse was located, on Ludzas Street next to the Command Headquarters (Four times as many people lived there as in our ghetto.)

Unlike us, they received their food from the Economic Authority of the Gestapo. In their ghetto one could nearly always see barrels full of large stinking fish heads. The stink was noticeable as soon as one entered the ghetto. Vegetables too were often delivered there in a barely edible condition. But in spite of all this, the German Jewish ghetto and in ours, there was meat only once a week, and it was only horsemeat. So we only shuddered "Brrr" when we picked up this meat. Of course all this was only a supplement to what we scrounged at our work stations or bought from those who had smuggled food into the ghettos at great risk.

There were various places to shop. The most important one was the Lithuanian market (see the chapter on the small ghetto). Though I speak here of a market, the reader should not imagine one in the normal sense of the word. The people stood around in this market, and they had in their pockets or hands a cigarette or a pack of cigarettes, onions, some salt, and so on. A person had to be very careful when buying or selling, for woe betide him if the guards came upon him and found anything. If that happened, one's life was on the line. The "Litvaks" (Lithuanian Jews) also traded in secret at their homes, and in view of the circumstances some of them did so on a large scale. The best-known traders were the Lithuanian Jews Gedalie and Sane. Who among us does not know these two names? We believed Gedalie to be a bit foolish, but in business matters he made fools of us. He preached his own philosophy and even tried to convert us to it. For Purim, Gedalie and Sane even managed to bake the triangular Hamantaschen pastries.

Besides these two traders there were also butchers. Of course they too were not butchers in the normal sense of the word. They were people who worked in the slaughterhouse work crew and took back with them whatever scraps of meat they could get a hold of. My meat provider was the well-known Riga meat dealer Dumesch. For a time I bought meat from him, until one day it came out that he had always given us horsemeat instead of beef. But this didn't matter - we were satisfied with that too. There were also special providers of spleens, udders, and liver. We made various dishes using them.

As I have already already mentioned, my son was a veritable artist in the kitchen. His puddings and other dishes were famous in our building, and everyone came to confer with him on how and what to cook. Everyone would ask, "Arthur, what are you cooking today?" Very often, just as everything was read to eat, a message would come: "The Commandant is walking through the ghetto." And as the reader already knows, one of his specialties was to scrutinize the kitchens and cooking pots so that he could draw his conclusions. In this case there was only one thing to do: throw the food, together with the cooking pots, into the latrine. After that, one had to go to bed hungry and on the following day there were many cares, for new dishes and new food had to be scavenged.

A small number of men went to the women's ghetto or to the Reich Jewish ghetto to eat there. But this was always connected with difficulties. In the first few months the food problem was the most difficult, but later on it became easier through our connections with the city. In any case, there were no starving people in our ghetto, for nobody let the others down.

Of course the gwirim (wealthy people) could afford more; they included the drivers and those who worked the HVL (Chap and Nehm), who had the opportunity to scavenge and bring in more than all the others.

On Sundays people also came from the city barracks camps to the ghetto to shop.

In addition to the worries about food, we were also busy with other housekeeping tasks. We had to wash the laundry, sew,, and so on. In a word: men in women's roles!

Bloody Sloka (Schlock) - Dedicated to My Only Son Arthur, Who Was Killed

"Ojb ich fun Merder-hant a tojt farlecter
Wel faln haint cu morgn ojf der erd,
Un du west zajn der lid, wos iz der lecter
Fun all idn ojf der welt.
Zolstu di tojt-klole fun unz milionen,
Wi gift cezein iber folk un land
Un blut-NEKOME, far die merder monen
Un oncindn ojf der welt NEKOMO-BRAND

(If I, fatally wounded by a murderer's hand,
Fall dead to the ground this morning,
And you become the last Jew
Of all the Jews in the world,
Spread the death-curse of us millions
Over peoples and countries
And call for VENGEANCE for spilled blood
And light the FIRE OF VENGEANCE in the world.)

"Meine Cuwoe" (My Testament), Jakob Rassein

I am writing this chapter on the fourth anniversary of the murder of my only son. As I write "my memoirs", each chapter has put my nerves under extreme strain, because remembering these events has once again set them very vividly before my eyes. So the reader will surely understand that I can manage to write down the experience only with shaking hands.

On Sunday, 18 April 1943, an order was given in the ghetto: "All work crews must report to the Reich Jewish ghetto." My son and I also obeyed this order, for together we made up a work crew. For a long time all of us stood lined up in the ghetto and waited for the "lords and masters" to arrive. At last we saw our Commandant, the chief murderer Roschmann, accompanied by his permanent adjutant Gymnich. Schulz and Kassel, the leaders of the Jewish workers in the ghetto, also arrived. Every work crew was reviewed, and then individuals were selected for a special commando to be sent to Sloka. This time it was our turn: we too were selected to be sent to Sloka. We were ordered to report for Sloka at eight o'clock the following morning. Because from the start I had the feeling that this commando would bring us bad luck, I tried all day to be released from it. Unfortunately, I had no success; we had to report there the next morning.

The German head of the Labor Authority, Seliger, checked all of us once again and appointed the Jew Schwabe to be the column leader and a certain Kagan to be his assistant. Comrade Sandler was chosen to be the doctor. We were handed over to Latvian guards, and with them we got into a small steamship bound for Sloka. After a long trip we arrived in Sloka. From this point we had to walk quite a distance to a forest. There a number of large barracks, surrounded by barbed wire, had been prepared for us. The head of the guards, a Latvian, stepped forward and made a long speech. He explained to us that we would be used for turf-cutting here, and that there were enough bullets and wide fields for those who refused to work or took "other liberties". We realized immediately who we were dealing with, and that nothing good awaited us here.

The next morning we began to cut turf at various locations. My son and I worked together. At that time he was seventeen years old, and he dug very hard, standing in water up to his knees. I had to carry the turf from a conveyor belt into the field. Later I worked at a machine that cut the turf. In spite of the hard physical labor, the rations were very meager; we felt hunger from the first few days on. The young people tried to form relationships with the local civilians, but unfortunately they had no success. the accommodation was also wretched. All of us slept on a large wooden pallet. Soon there were many sick people and many injuries due to the work. I too nearly lost a hand as I worked at my machine. Because of this injury I was excused from my work and remained in our barrack.

When I was offered the chance to return to the ghetto s that my wound could heal, I refused it.

On 20 May 1943 the Commandant of our ghetto, Roschmann, came to Sloka together with his adjutant Gymnich and the SD man Mygge. They inspected the entire work camp, and on this occasion they discovered that my son and the Mordchelewitz brothers were hording fat. Because all the members of the work crew were working, nobody was present at this inspection. A short time later the three of them were taken away, and the murderers immediately placed my son and the Mordchelewitz brothers off to the side next to their vehicle.

They were ordered to take off their shoes, and from this moment on the "guilty ones" knew they were going to be shot. The Mordchelewitz brothers tried to escape. The guards ran after them and shot them. By contrast, my son behaved like a hero. He was much too proud to beg for mercy. He was killed immediately with a shot to the back of the neck.

When everyone came back from work in he evening, the mood was very low. My son had been the work crew's favorite, and his death was deeply mourned.

The doctor, Comrade Sandler, undressed him, wrapped him in linen cloths and buried him on the spot in the presence of the whole work crew. A small funeral ceremony was held and Kaddish was said over their common grave.

For a long time, as long as the commando was stationed there, the grave was tended and visited by everyone. On the day after their murder, their names were announced in the ghetto on a wall poster.

Recently, after my liberation, people told me that a Jewish woman had dropped a small note - a kind of testament - as she was walking her final journey. In the note she requested that its finder give it after the war to a surviving Jew. In short words she wrote: "I know this is my last journey. I beg you to take revenge on the murderers!"

I too know, my precious child, that you and all the others had the same thought in the final minutes of your lives: and for this reason I will fulfill "your testament".

I know the names of your murderers, and I will not rest until I have had revenge for you and all of my relatives.

I have already had the opportunity to confront one of your murderers, Max Gymnich, in front of German and English examining magistrates. I was present for hours at his interrogation. And I am on the trail of the second of these executioners. The female murderer Kova (from the Kaiserwald concentration camp) has already been hanged (after the Mauthausen trial).

We know with certainty that many of our Latvian murderers are still walking about free in Germany and other countries, with the possessions they have stolen from us, and that they enjoy the protection of the right to asylum. They feel very safe, because they believe that there are no more surviving witnesses on earth. Indeed, we returned from the concentration camps weak and sick: nonetheless, we will not rest and will summon up the last remains of our strength until the testament of that Jewish woman and all the other murdered people has been fulfilled.

We must do it, and we will!

Sleep, my son, in eternal peace!

Your name has been indelibly woven into the Jewish people's chain of martyrs!

Professor Simon Dubnow and His Final Journey

I have set myself a difficult task: writing a chapter dedicated to our great historian of this century, Professor Simon Dubnow.

Although this is not easy for me, I have to do it nonetheless, because apart from the fact that his last journey is bound up with the churbn of Latvia, I am one of the few survivors to have the great honor of seeing him – if not in his final hours, then at least in the final days before he died.

Professor Simon Dubnow was born on 23 September 1860 in the city of Mstislawl (Mogilew under the Russian government). As a young man he left the tschertha-osiedlosci (the Jewish Pale, or area reserved for Jews)  and moved to Petersburg. There, in the former capital of Russia, he started as a young man to work for the Jewish journal “Woschod” (Sunrise). Later he moved to Odessa.

--Photo from Wikipedia. Read more about Simon Dubnow by clicking here.

There, in the former capital of Russia, he started as a young man to work for the Jewish journal “Woschod” (Sunrise). Later he moved to Odessa. There he decided to dedicate his life to Jewish history. For this reason he was attracted to Vilna, great Jewish Vilna, the Jerusalem of Vilna. In this city he found the right place for himself and the right surroundings for his work (Dr. Zemach Schabad, Dr. Wigodski and others). From that point on, life in Vilna was closely bound up with Dubnow’s scholarly studies. Wherever he could, he promoted his newly adopted home city and tried to attract the greatest Jewish public figures to it.

Later on, before World War I (1914), he went to Russia and remained there until the outbreak of the great Bolshevik October Revolution. Then he moved for a short time to Kovno in Lithuania. He finally found a permanent place to do his work in Berlin. There he wrote his well-known ten volume history of the Jewish people and his history of Hasidism.

Professor Dubnow explained the riddle of how Judaism had survived for thousands of years by means of his theory of its wandering centers (Palestine, Babylon, Persia, Spain, Poland, Russia, America, and once again Palestine).

Furthermore, he argued that the influence of religion on Judaism had weakened greatly in recent times, and he ascribed this fact to the secularization of Jewish culture. Accordingly, Professor Dubnow was criticized for having underestimated the significance of the Jewish religion as a factor in the preservation of Judaism.

When National Socialism in Germany forced Dubnow to look for a new place to settle, he chose Riga, the capital of the small Republic of Latvia.

In the beautiful Riga suburb of Mezaparks (Kaiserwald) he created a new Jewish intellectual center, and the Professor’s white villa, nestling deep in the forest, was well-known to all the Riga Jews. In time his house became a veritable place of pilgrimage. In addition to the intellectual greats of Riga (Dr. Nurok, Dr. Landau, the Sobolewitz brothers, Rosenzweig and others), the rest of the famous Jewish intelligentsia could also be met in his home.

His extensive library, which filled an entire room, contained boks in German, English, Hebrew, Yiddish, French and Russian. There one could find encyclopedic writings and research on particular epochs of Jewish history. But this whole wealth of books was only the small remainder of what he had once possessed, for he had previously sent various manuscripts and works to the Jewish University of Jerusalem and the IVO (Institute of Jewish Studies) in Vilna.

On his desk there always stood a picture of him with his daughter and grandchildren (the wife and children of the leader of the Socialist Party or Bund, Ehrlich).

Although he had no catalogue of his library, he knew precisely where each book was located. The extensive correspondence he carried on with people all over the world was punctually read and answered by him every day.

It was in Kaiserwald, which later on was so bloodsoaked for us, that he wrote the first three volumes of his memoirs. In the third volume he dealt with the outbreak of National Socialism. Although the old professor worked constantly, he still had time for everything, and if you asked him how he managed to do it, he would answer: “Only idlers are always too busy, whereas busy people always have time for everything and everybody.”

He traveled repeatedly to Vilna and its “IVO house.” He wrote to a friend: “This old Jewish city is poor in gaschmajs (material things) but rich in ruchnies (spirit).” (as quoted in the collection Vilna, published in New York.) He visited Vilna for the last time in 1934.

A short time after that he lost his life’s companion, Ida Yefimovna. She was buried in the new Jewish cemetery of Riga. Her grave was in the first row of the women’s section. But the murderers didn’t let these dead rest either; like all of the other graves, hers too was desecrated and destroyed.

In the winter of 1940 he was visited by the Jewish writer Camil Honig. In the name of Jewry living abroad he offered Professor Dubnow the opportunity to move to Sweden.

“I certainly won’t leave my people at this difficult time,” answered the professor, went into his library, took down several manuscripts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and said “Future historians will have a very difficult task, because who knows how much historical material will be destroyed through the destruction of the largest Jewish centers. Perhaps this will be the most tragic part of Jewish history after the churbn (destruction) of the Second Temple. It is possible that the number of victims will be so great that for a long time we will not be able to think clearly. Nonetheless we should avoid panic. A historian  who studies the pages of Jewish history will realize the following: the deepest meaning of our history is hope, which becomes a reality again and again, for tyrants will always drown in their own blood. I am convinced that Germany will be destroyed, just as sure as I am of the fact that snow melts in the spring. Perhaps the Jewish kibbutzim (communities) in Euorpe will be destroyed for years, but we still have a powerful Jewish community in the United States of America, in Latin America, and in other English-speaking countries. Palestine may go through a great crisis in the comng years, but I hope that the jischuw (settlement) there will grow and flourish. We definitely need Palestine for our continued existence; even the non-Zionists need it. In the English-speaking countries we have to become proficient in the English language, but we should not neglect Yiddish. American Jewry will have to grow spiritually and understand the great task that fate has bestowed upon it.”

Today, seven years later, we clearly realize the truth of his prophetic words.

The Germans occupied Riga and began, together with the Latvians, to destroy the Latvian Jewish community. The old professor was hidden as well as possible, but the Gestapo heard his existence and he was arrested shortly before the opening of the ghetto in September 1941.

His age and his imposing appearance did not prevent the murderers from beating him. They were interested in the manuscripts he had written in Riga and demanded that he hand them over. But he had hidden these manuscripts, and he said he had left them in Kaiserwald, which he had left months before. He was released, but arrested again later. Thanks to the head of the Jewish Council, the Vienna Jew Schlitter, he was released again and this time was put into the ghetto, now a broken man. For this, Schlitter was arrested by the Gestapo and later killed.

In the ghetto the old professor received a small room in the shelter on Ludzas Street. But even there he was not idle; he started to write an article about the ghetto, using the same mechanical pencil that he said had served him for thirty-seven years. During the days he spent in the ghetto – days that were already counted – he once again created a small Jewish intellectual center. In the first action, on 30 November 1941, he was transported to a second shelter on Blech Square, and later in the second action, on 8 December 1941, he was taken to the house on 56 Ludzas Street. The families of the Jewish policemen lived there. People said that Professor Mintz’s wife had also been brought there.

The Latvian murderer Danskop went into this house to search it and asked the old professor whether he too was a member of the Jewish policemen’s families. When Dubnow replied that he was not, Danskop forced him to join the rows of people that were marching by at that moment.

A great uproar immediately broke out in the house, and a Jewish policeman – a German Jew who had earned an Iron Cross, whose name is unrecorded – ran after the rows to save him, but it was already too late.

The great historian now made his last journey. In Rumbula near Riga he died a horrible death as did nearly all the Jews of Riga.

The man who had written the history of Jewish suffering himself became a Jewish martyr.

The great scholar and historian of our age is no more!

The great son of his people is dead!

With bowed heads we stand at the unmarked grave of the famous Jewish historian of the twentieth century: Professor Simon Dubnow!

Latgale (Lettgallen)

a) The Jewish City of Dvinsk (Daugpils) and Its Destruction

As I write the following chapter about the life and the downfall of the city of Dvinsk, I do so with special, loving care. In Dvinsk I received my first impressions of my infancy and boyhood. My spiritual development, the beginnings of my intellectual education - this city gave me both. Through its freshness and liveliness, it introduced me to the culture of Judaism, but it also gave me my first relationships with the rest of the world. When the hammer blows of history destroyed it, perhaps humanity as a whole did not lose anything special, but I lost the scene of my youth.

Dvinsk (Daugavpils, Dünaburg)

On the right bank of the Daugava (Düna, Dvina) River, where the roads go from east to west, there once stood a large, beautiful Jewish city named Dvinsk. In my time, before World War I (1914), it had 100,000 inhabitants. More than half of them were Jews. The Jewish part of Daugavpils grew from year to year and had well-known figures in every area of endeavor. Daugavpils was known as a cultural bridge between East and West.

In those days it had a Jewish school in which instruction was given in Russian; there was also a gymnasium (college-preparatory school), a Commerz (a commercial school whose director was Sacharow), a trade school, and a secondary school which graduated many gifted and educated individuals. There were also some college-preparatory schools for women (Brojerska and others) that were attended by Jewish girls. The Jewish trade school of Dvinks, which was located in a suburb, had very modern equipment and trained a large number of good craftsmen.

The Dvinsk Jews played a large role in the great revolutionary movement of 1904-1905. There were many victims among them too, and the graves of those who fell for the revolution lay in the first row of the Jewish cemetery.

Dvinsk was characterized by its beautiful public gardens (e.g. Dubrovinska on Alexander Boulevard, which was later alled Tarelotschka) and enchanting spots for summer picnics (Stropa and Pogulianka).

As I write down my memories of this city, my rebes (religious teachers) Barmazel and Melech-Mojsche also come to mind. The latter had a long beard, and we boys once glued it with wax to the table while he was asleep. I would also like to mention some outstanding munchosim (public figures) of Dvinsk at that time: Menachem and Robert Wittenberg, Jakob Sachs, the engineer Jakob Mowschensohn, Garkawi, S. Gurwitz, the lawyer Jakobsohn, Friedland and others. The Friedlands were related to the prominent families of Baron Schmelke Horowitz, Baron Löwenstein, and Parnas in Austria (Galicia).

The doctors practicing at that time included the fine Talmudic scholar Dr. Schapiro, Dr. Israelsohn, Dr. Kretzmer and others. The pharmacists Luntz, Polack, Wolow and Fain had excellent professional expertise.

The Chowwei Zion (Lovers of Zion) movement and later on, Zionism, had many adherents in Dvinsk, as did the Jewish socialist workers' movement, the Bund.

The volunteer fire brigade in their smart uniforms, headed by Wittenberg and the engineer Mowschensohn, consisted largely of Dvinsk Jews. Becomimng a member was considered a great honor and was quite difficult to achieve. I can still remember the following outstanding members: Milkow, Prezma, Gandler, B. Rafalowitz, Rappoport, Grein, S. Gutkin, Jawitz and others.

There were also some Jewish clubs and a Jewish theatre in Dvinsk. Here I would like to mention that the Jewish artist Michoels (Wofsi), who is very well-known today in the Soviet Union, especially in Moscow, was born in Dvinsk.(4)

The city was a great trade center and a meeting place for the merchants of the Baltic countries.

It also played a role in the field of religion. It had many large and small synagogues. Talmud toras and yeshivas (religious schools). Moreover, outstanding religious figures such as the world-famous gaonim (leading rabbinical scholars) R. Majer Simche (Kahn) and the Rogazow gaon (Josif Rozin) lived there. Both of them wrote numerous works of religious philosophy. For example, the Rogazow gaon wrote a scholarly philosophical book entitled The Revelation of the Mysteries. The well-known Jewish writer Bialik declared on the occasion  of his visit to Dvinsk, that the gaon was the equivalent of two Einsteins. Both gaonim knew the entire schas (Talmud) by heart.

Here I would also like to mention my grandfather (Schachna Kaufmann), who was regarded as a great religious figure and also knew a significant part of the Talmud by heart. He often carried on Talmudic disputes with the gaon R. Maier Simche. Twice a day, morning and evening, he taught the schiur (Talmud) in the synagogue.

During World War I, when the enemy encamped outside the city for a long time (in 1914), most of the Jewish population left Dvinsk. Only the gaon R. Maier Simche remained faithful to it even i the most difficult times. After the war, the Rogazow gaon returned to Dvinsk from Leningrad, but a considerable proportion of the population either remained in Russia or moved to Riga or abroad.


Daugavpils (1918)

Daugavpils-Dvinsk was part of Latvia and was the country's second-largest city. The face of old Dvinsk had changed completely, and now only between 15,000 and 18,000 Jews lived there, most of whom had been born in the countryside. The following Jews served on the city council: the Kopilowski brothers, Hurwitz, Meiksin, Lewin and others. In order to give Daugavpils a Latvian character, on Dr. Ulmanis' orders a huge building called the House of the People was built in the market square, and a gigantic bridge over the Daugava called the Freedom Bridge, was built in the center of the city.

Both gaonim died shortly before the outbreak of World War II; they were buried in Daugavpils. Their graves stood as symbols in the old Jewish cemetery, and every Jew who wanted to pour out his heart to someone visited them. Today the old Jewish Dvinsk exists no more, nor do the holy graves of the gaonim, for in the last terrible war they were leveled to the ground.


Fascist Germany's declaration of war caused a great panic among the Jews, not only in Daugavpils, Latgale's capital, but throughout Latgale. Events developed so rapidly that no time remained to make any decisions. The city of Kovno, only 170 kilometers distant from Daugavpils, was already occupied by the enemy. A short time later Daugavpils itself was bombarded by the enemy, and on 28 June 1941 the Fascist German army occupied it. There were battles only in the suburbs of Stropa and the well-known spa Pogulianka. Now the enemy pressed forward, on the one side toward Rezekne (Rositten), and on the other toward Krustpils and Riga. In the meantime, the fairly small number of Latvians in occupied Daugavpils did not yet know what to do with the Jews. They waited for directives from Riga. Riga fell to the Germans on 1 July. Immediately afterward, Daugavpils received from the murder headquarters of Latvia. the Aizsargu house, its guidelines on how to deal with the Jews. In the meantime, all was quiet in Daugavpils until 2 July, when the general large-scale action against Latvian Jewry began.

On 2 July 1941 came the first order: "All men must report to the marketplace!" At once a large crowd assembled. Sick men were dragged from their beds. People saw the prominent Daugavpils citizen Magaram, who was half-paralyzed, carried there on a stretcher. They had been sure that only the healthy men would be recruited for labor and that the sick ones would be exempted. Until the arrival of the Latvian Aizsargi and the Germans, the Jews stood all day in the marketplace. Later the first shots were fired there. The first victim was a certain Leiser Goldberg, because he was not standing in his row properly. The second was a Mr. Maier Maierowitsch, who had tried to speak to his wife. Now all the Jews were taken to prison under heavy guard. On the way, they were subjected to harassment and beatings.

The prison was surrounded with machine guns. A very few Jews were separated from the others and transported to the woods at Stropa to be executed. The others stood for a long time in the prison courtyard. The Latvians demanded that two Jews volunteer to be sacrificed for the whole community; if this did not happen, all of them would be killed. The prominent Daugavpils rabbi Fuchs and the equally prominent Daugavpils magid (quasi-rabbi) volunteered. This made a deep impression on all the assembled people. The Latvians now took the two of them out of the crowd, made them stand aside, and took all the others into the prison. There the circumstances were terrible, because before the Germans took it over, complete control lay in the hands of the Latvians, who exercised it with especial sadism. To everyone's surprise. Rabbi Fuchs and the magid were released. They received permission to bring food to the prisoners.

The collection point for all the food that was contributed was the Planow house of prayer. The prisoners' relatives had to bring the food there to be handed on. Every day from that time on, one could see Rabbi Fuchs, the magid, and a fourteen-year-old boy whom they had taken on as a helper pulling with their own hands a wagon full of provisions down Daugavpils Street to the prison. As they did so, they were only too often jeered at and beaten by the local people. Gradually this abuse became so violent that they had to be admitted to the prison infirmary. They stayed there for a long time. After they recovered, they too were taken to the Daugavpils ghetto.


Jewish Dvinsk was burning! First the large Choral Synagogue was set aflame by the Latvians. A young man named Elka Lakus died in the conflagration. Soon the remaining small Jewish houses of prayer were also burned down. Only the large and prominent Beth-Midrosch and the Planow house of prayer of the gaonim were spared. The Beth-Midrosch, in which the gaon R Maier Simcha used to pray, was used by the Germans as a warehouse for provisions. The Rogazow gaon’s Planow house of prayer, where in my youth a minche (afternoon prayer) could be said at any time, was converted into an old-age home for Aryans.

Individual Jews who had in the meantime managed to make their way to Daugavpils from the countryside told terrible tales about the atrocities committed against them by Latvian young men and members of student fraternities. Some of the Jews had been killed in horrible ways.

At the end of July a new regulation was announced: "Every Jew must wear a yellow star." Non-compliance was punishable by death. The Daugavpils Jews differed from the others in that they had to wear three stars: one on the left knee, the second on the chest, and the third on the back. Nobody knew why the Daugavpils Jews were more "privileged" than the Jews of Riga.

The fate of the men in the prison was terrible. The authorities promised to send them to work, but what then happened was that they were sent away and never returned. They were executed near the prison in the well-known Eisenbahngarten (railroad park). Of course all this did not take place on a single day, and in order to conceal this from the outside world, individual prisoners were even released from prison.

In the meantime, the Germans had settled down in Daugavpils. They established the notorious Gestapo and an area command headquarters. Now they took over the civil administration including the Latvian prison. There the number of Jews had already shrunk considerably. From that time on, the Jews worked in all the German units, even Gestapo headquarters, which set up workshops and shoemakers' and tailors' shops. Jews also worked in the field command headquarters and later in the city command headquarters as cleaners, boilermen and so on. Women, men and teenagers worked. The rations in the city were very bad, for none were provided regularly. People had to scavenge something edible for themselves through the units they worked for. Some units set up barracks camps so as to exploit the prisoners twenty -four hours a day. These Jews lived under heavy guard in special buildings that they were not allowed to leave. All contact with the outside world was forbidden on pain of death. The sani, punishment was decreed for reading newspapers or speaking to Aryans.


The few Daugavpils Jews were now moved into a ghetto. Among them was the well-known physician Dr. Kretzer, who immediately committed suicide.

The ghetto was set up outside the city, across from the huge, ancient Daugavpils fortress on the other (Kurzeme) side of the Daugava River. Cavalry barracks with large stalls for horses were still standing there from the time of the Russian czar Peter the Great. Besides the Daugavpils Jews, the Jews from the countryside were also taken to this ghetto on foot. Because there was not enough room for everyone, the Fascist German murderers hit upon the following solution: they asked the "surplus" new arrivals to volunteer so that they could receive better housing. A large number of women, children, and men as well volunteered. Thereupon they were taken to the Pogulianka spa on the opposite bank of the Daugava. All of them were killed on the shooting range there next to the forest, which in my time was called Peski (Sand). The executions were carried out in the same way everywhere. The unfortunate people were forced to take off all their clothes, they were pushed into the already-dug graves, and then they were shot with machine guns.

At this time Rabbi Fuchs was also taken to the ghetto. The magid had died in the prison infirmary. The Rogazow gaon’s wife and old Rabbi Leib Platinski from the small town of Viski, who was at that time the rabbi in the Daugavpils suburbs, were also in the ghetto.

A Jewish Committee was created. Mosche Galpern was appointed chairman, and the other members were Mischa Mowschensohn, Dr. Dannemann, Mrs. Landau. Mrs. Edelstein and Mrs. Mowschensohn Sr. Mr. Pasternak was elected Police Prefect (Chief).

From 7 to 9 November 1941, the anniversary of the Russian Revolution, large-scale "actions" were carried out in the ghetto. On 7 November the entire ghetto was surrounded by thousands of Latvian policemen. A tremendous panic broke out, for the Gestapo people ordered the workers who had red passes to line up in rows. These workers said their farewells to their wives and children and went to work. At the gate stood the leader of the whole action, the notorious Latvian Schover, who frisked every individual. In the process a young man named Kozba and a young woman named Galpern were pulled out of the row. These two were beaten to death on the spot by the murderers. When the rows of workers came back in the evening, the ghetto was a ghastly sight! There was a deathly calm, and no living being could be seen. Blood, more blood, and still more blood! Some people had hidden in a chimney, and ten women who had been knifed to death were found on the floor. Three men who had hidden in the latrine pit were saved. It was found out later that the whole ghetto had been transported in green trucks to the other bank of the Daugava and bestially' murdered there. The procedure was always the same, beginning with the victims being forced to strip naked.

The only people who managed to escape before the ghetto was liquidated were Rabbi Fuchs and the wife of the Rogazow gaon. They were taken by a Russian to a small town (Braslava) on the Polish border, but were later killed there. Nor did the rest of the ghetto exist much longer. It was liquidated on 1 May 1942. The Jewish Committee was killed together with the Jewish police force. The only person who accidentally survived was Mrs. Landau, who happened to be working in the city at the time. During the ghetto's existence two women were "officially" hanged there and one was shot. The first was Miss Mascha Schneider, who had been selected together with her grandmother for an "action" in Pogulianka. She was already lying completely naked in a ditch and waiting to be murdered. Suddenly she began to scream. "It's a mistake, I'm not a Jew!" The people genuinely believed that it was a mistake and released her. Then she lived for quite a while in Daugavpils using identification papers that made her seem Aryan. When the Jews went to work, they always encountered "pretty Mascha", sometimes even in the company of German soldiers. The Gestapo got wind of this, and she was arrested and quickly brought to the ghetto to be hanged. Then all the ghetto inmates, even the children, were herded together to watch Mascha's execution. Her body remained hanging in the ghetto for a long time, because the murderers wanted the Jews who were in barracks camps in the city and seldom came to the ghetto to see her hanging there.

The second woman, who was shot, was the wife of the tailor Mejerow. She was in the ghetto with five small children and was suspected of trading. The Jews had to give up their last possessions for a piece of bread, and it often happened that the Latvians took the gold and didn't give anything in return. There was no higher authority to which one could complain or apply for redress. Mrs. Mejerow too was executed in the presence of her five children and the rest of the ghetto.

The third woman was Mina Gitelson. It was said that she had resisted the business manager of the Hotel Kontinent, where she worked, when he tried to molest her. He then lodged a complaint with the Gestapo, in which he claimed that she had traded. She was taken directly from the hotel to the ghetto and hanged. Everyone was forced to witness the death of this woman too. Her body hung from the gallows for three days.


After the liquidation of this ghetto a smaller one was set up in the city. All the Jews of Daugavpils, as well as the rest of the Jews who had been herded in from Latgale, were crowded into a single house (which had belonged to the Klingmans) in the city center on Riga Street across from the Catholic church. Seven children who had happened to survive were also taken there.

Once again the Jews worked in the workshops of the area command headquarters and also in those of the Gestapo. A short time later a transport to Riga was decreed. Nobody believed this would take place, so many committed suicide on the way. Later another small transport was sent, and then finally the last transport, consisting of the sixty workers of the Gestapo workshops. All of the transports arrived "safely", the first two in the Kaiserwald concentration camp in Riga and the last one in the notorious Lenta barracks camp of the Riga Gestapo. This final transport included the remains of the "youth of Daugavpils", the aforementioned seven small children. The few Daugavpils Jews who are still alive today come from these three transports.

"Daugavpils is free of Jews!" was the inscription on the signs one saw when entering the city .

Gone is the great and beautiful Jewish Dvinsk, gone forever! The great Beth-Midrosch has been transformed into a dance hall, and the Planow house of prayer is still an old-age home for Aryans.

This was the end of the Jewish community of Daugavpils, once famous and known throughout the world.

b) Rezekne (Rositten) and Its Surroundings (Zilupe, Ludza, Kraslava, Preili etc.)

The small town of Rezekne, in which about 7,000 Jews lived, suffered great destruction because of the enemy's attacks. In the very first days after it was occupied, a Gestapo presence was established. But the local population did not even wait for the commands of the "conquerors"; it began its "work" immediately on its own initiative. All the Jews were locked up in the town prison and they had to go to work from there. A short time later a small group was taken from the prison to the Jewish cemetery of Rezekne. The local rabbi, R. Chaim Lubotzki, also received an "invitation" from the Gestapo. Instead of reporting to the Gestapo, he went directly to the cemetery. People said that he first went into the mikwe (bathhouse), and then put on his coat and talith. At the cemetery he met his children, among others. He comforted all those who were present and read a chapter of the Psalms. Then he turned to the German and Latvian murderers and assured them that there was no help for it, they would lose this war, whatever happened. Moreover, because of the destruction of Jewry, God's vengeance: would come down on them. Just as he turned toward his children to bid them farewell, a shot was fired. He ended his life with the words, "Schma..." from the prayer "Hear, 0 Israel". All of the others who had been taken to the cemetery were also killed.

It was said that a certain Simka Bersin defended himself with an axe when the Latvians tried to arrest him. He was very strong and with his axe he killed three men. After being overpowered, he was beheaded with his own axe.

Many of the Rezekne Jews were taken from the prison to the Viping forest. There, on Mount Zemena, they died a terrible death. They were thrown into the graves still half-alive, and the local Russian people said that the earth above the graves had continued to move for three more days.

In mid-1944 a commando of thirty men was taken from the Central Prison of Riga to the Rezekne prison. It was bound for the 1005 commando, or base commando. They worked in chains and had to burn the corpses and then clear away all the traces. After they had finished their "work", they themselves were murdered. People told me that my schoolmate lcchok Misroch was among those who died there.

The following incident shows the local people's attitude toward the Jews. A butcher whose shop was in the central market across from the prison grabbed a small Jewish child and literally tore it to pieces, in order to show the peasants who had gathered in the marketplace how to deal with the Jews.

Of all the Jews who were in Rezekne during the German occupation, only two men survived (Israelit). These two men had been hidden by a local Pole.

The roughly 350 Jews of Zilupe were assembled and led by the Latvians to the bridge about two kilometers outside the city. There all of them were killed without exception. Among those killed were the rabbi and the prominent Dreyer, Feinstein, and Aron families. The only person who resisted was David Deutsch, and for this reason the murderers beat him savagely and buried him half-alive. The prominent Lazer family was killed on the road to Tukums. They were burned alive in a synagogue. The children died in various other actions.

The small nearby towns (Pasinie, Polizk, Alt-Sloboda, Kupres, Vilda and Rundan) were not spared by the Latvian expeditions. Only a few of the Jews living there had the opportunity to flee to Ludza and find shelter in its ghetto.

In Ludza the Latvians set up a small ghetto for about 300 persons in the synagogue, after killing many Jews. However, the inhabitants of this ghetto were transported to the Daugavpils ghetto. Only a very small fraction of them arrived; the others were killed on the way there. Some of the Jews in the towns of Karsava, Varaklani and Vilani were killed by the Latvians on the spot: the others were taken to the Daugavpils ghetto. This remainder was joined on the way by the remaining Jews from Preili and Viski.

During a rest stop in Aglona, next to the world-famous Aglona cloister, they were met with blows by the local population, and many of them died a martyrs death next to this Catholic holy place.

Nor were the few Jews in Malta (Weinstock and others) forgotten.

Kraslava, the city that had become known because of the famous sculptor N. Aronsohn, of whom the Kraslava Jews were very proud, was also not spared in the general destruction.

In the first few days after the occupation the local people, supported by a Latvian expedition from Riga, treated the Jews with extreme cruelty. All the Jews, young and old, were assembled in the large firemen's square (Pozarne). The wealthy Jewish citizen Zalman Rabinowitsch was arrested separately and also taken there. In front of the assembled community he was hanged at the door of the fire station. Most of the remaining Jews were shot with machine guns and burned on a pyre. Isroel Elzofon's wife, a dentist, was picked out of the crowd and taken separately to the Augustover forest. There she was hanged on a hill across from the Latvian heroes' memorial.

The rest of the Jews were forced to walk to Daugavpils. Among them were the three old people Lee Federmann, Zlate Lin and Jankel Laufer. Because of their old age they could no longer keep up, so they were taken to the Daugavpils prison. On the way, this column met the surviving Jews from Dagda. The two groups were joined, and all of them were killed in the well-known spa Pogulanka near Daugavpils. People said that the Latvian mayor of Kraslava, Briedis, and an unskilled laborer in the militia, Petersohn, were especially active in this operation. In addition to the "work" they accomplished in Kraslava, they went along to Daugavpils just to see with their own eyes the destruction of the Jewish community of Kraslava.

The only ones who managed to hide in a peasant's home was Mrs. Scheine Dinermann and her daughter, her daughter's child, and her son-in-law Barkan.

Neighbors betrayed this hiding place to the Gestapo, and the whole house was surrounded. In panic, Mrs. Dinermann lost her head and started to scream uncontrollably. Her daughter, seeing the onset of the catastrophe that awaited them all, tied her mother's mouth shut and thus inadvertently suffocated her. The refugees were not found: they sought refuge with a Polish priest and so were saved. People told me that a small child of the Zislin family was taken in by a Pole and thus survived.

On the road between Daugavpils and Rezekne lay the small Rusoni railroad station and, 17 kilometers further on, the small town of Preili, where about 1,800 Jews lived. This prosperous and fruitful region had seen the formation of a large merchant community (including Potasch, Kaufmann, Lechowitzki, Kop and others). In this little town the Jews had established a small religious center.

When the Germans occupied Preili on 28 June 1941, all the Jews were herded together into the marketplace and divided into groups according to the streets where they lived. The inhabitants of Daugavpils Street and Rusonu Street were shot the same day, the others in two actions on 4 and 8 August 1941. It was Latvians who committed these murders! Before the murders they picked forty Jews out of one group, forced them to put on clown-like masks, and led them through the streets singing. Later they were taken to Baltus-Znutenu and murdered there.

The Jew Skutelski, helped by Schachtner, set fire to his house, which had been entered by the Gestapo. But both of them also died in the flames, because people grabbed them and threw them into the burning house. Some of the Jewish inhabitants – Schaffer, Simon Chagi with his wife and child, Samuel and Montik Ostband, and Hacker with a child - had hidden in a ditch in the woods with the help of an Aryan. Hacker and the child died in this ditch. All of the others were able to stay there for a long time, but later on they too were betrayed by Latvians.

Zalman Glavin and Grischa Starobin also hid in the woods until 1943, but then they were discovered by Latvians and shot. Of the entire Jewish population of Preili, only nineteen people survived: seven of them now live in Riga. Of those who fled at that time to Soviet Russia, the ones who returned were Minna and Schloime Silbermann with their three children Moische and Jechiel Zemel (both of them were invalids), and Schaje Skutelski (Dr. Skutelski's brother), who had survived first the Riga concentration camp and then a German concentration camp.

Zemgale, Kurzeme and Vidzeme

a) Liepaja (Libau)

"A window toward Europe!" This was the idea of the Russian Czar Peter the Great. In order to create this window, Czar Alexander III built Liepaja, the largest harbor on the Baltic Sea, and provided it with strong fortifications.

Liepaja played a significant role for Russia as a harbor for imports and exports, especially for the export of grain from Ukraine. Through the construction of the Liepaja-Romner railroad with a branch line to Moscow-Rybinsk a direct connection was created with Ukraine. Before World War I the largest Jewish export firms, such as Dreyfuß (France) and Brodski (Ukraine), had branch offices in Liepaja. The export of lumber to England, which lay almost exclusive!) in Jewish hands, was partly routed through Liepaja and Ventspils (Windau). Thus the Jews played a significant role in the development of this great Russian harbor, and in the natural course of things a very wealthy Jewish center developed, which later gradually declined under Latvian rule. The huge Liepaja fortress, which bore the name of Alexander III, was also built by Jews. Until the beginning of World War II about 14,000 Jews lived in Liepaja. Today Jewish Liepaja exists no longer, and the once-prosperous institutions and great synagogues have likewise disappeared.

Right at the beginning of the war, the Jews of Liepaja were the first to have the "luck" of being occupied by the enemy (on 29 June 1941). Because the fighting took place in the city itself, a large part of it was destroyed. As early as the third day after the German occupation, the Latvian population began to "visit" the Jews. After receiving their first directives from the "murder staff' in Riga, they began the arrests, which claimed many victims. Civil administration was quickly taken over by the victors, and a Gestapo was set up. Dr. Zitkus became the police chief, later succeeded by Dietrich. The SD leader was the notorious murderer Kigler, assisted by Hanke, Kraf and others. With their help the first action began on 23 July, and it cost about 4,000 Jews, mostly men, their lives. Dr. Schwab, who was very prominent in Liepaja, died an especially gruesome death. They gouged out one of his eyes and tortured him until he himself begged to be killed.

The Jews were arrested and gathered together in the Women's Prison of Liepaja. There the Latvians carried out strict body searches and took away all valuables. Every evening small transports of Jews were sent to Skeden behind the military harbor, where they were bestially murdered. In August 1941 the Jewish population was forced to wear the yellow Star of David and was allowed out on the streets only from 10 a.m. until noon and from 3 to 5 p.m. They were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks. The synagogues and all other Jewish institutions - such as the moschav-zkejnim (old-age home), the Talmud thora (religious school) and the Jewish club - were destroyed by rampaging crowds. Some of the Jews in the small towns of Aizpute (Hasenpoth), Pavilosta and Grobini were killed on the spot, and the very few who remained were taken to Liepaja.

On 16 December 1941 the second large action took place, which cost 350 Jews their lives.

Before this action a decree was announced which forbade people to leave their apartments. The Jews were taken out of their apartments by Latvians wearing green armbands and driven in trucks to the prison. From there they were taken at night in sledges to the shooting range at Skeden and shot there. At one point some of the Jews ran away from the sledge during this journey. Thereupon a new order was issued to the effect that the Jews had to remove their shoes and outer clothing; when they arrived at their destination they had to take off the rest of their clothes and were shot entirely naked.

There were a few small actions later on, in which mainly women and children, as well as men who were unable to work, were killed.

Like the Jews everywhere else, the Liepaja Jews also had to work in various units. The SD set up workshops where the Jews worked under the direction of David Zivsohn. Although Zivsohn managed to make contact with the partisans, he paid for this with his life, whereas his friend Josef Mandelstamm escaped. Of course the Liepaja Jews were also subjected to much harassment by the local people. Their number declined fairly rapidly, and on 1 July 1942 only a very small group (850 persons) was taken to the ghetto in the old city center of' Liepaja.

There too, many of them (Chawersohn, Neu and others) lost their lives. The Council of Elders, in the ghetto was headed by the Liepaja wholesale merchant lzrail Israelit and the lawyer Kaganski (both of whom were killed). Dr. Weinreich managed the out-patient clinic. Dr. Barar and Dr. Isaaksolm the dental ward. The ghetto commandant was Patrolman Kerscher.

On the day before Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement, 8 October 1943) the ghetto was dissolved and the remaining inmates were taken in cattle cars to Riga, guarded by eighty Latvian volunteers.

In the Riga ghetto a certain Zinn hanged himself. The prominent mill owner Moritz Zinn from Liepaja, his wife, son and daughter were killed in Riga.

The doctors Plotkin and Baron were also taken from the Kaiserwald concentration camp to the base (place of execution).

My other accounts of ghettos and concentration camps include the fate of the Liepaja Jews.

                                                                        b) Jelgava (Mitau)

Jelgava, once the capital of Duke Jacob and the province of Kurzeme, is about 50 kilometers distant from Riga. Here too, the Jews played a significant role in building up a large trading center (L. Hoff, Jaffet and others). It was thanks to them that after World War 1 the city once again flourished and large department stores were established (Desenick, the Hirschmann brothers). Jelgava was also famous for its old secondary school, which had educated many great Jewish personages coming from all parts of Latvia. The leaders of the Zionist movement in Latvia all came from Jelgava.

The splendid Jelgava Palace, built by the Italian architect Rastrelli, was destroyed in World War I and subsequently restored by the Latvians. Here the Gualeiter Freiherr von Medem established his residence. But after the final struggles of World War II nothing remained of this work of art, or indeed of Jelgava as a whole.

"Jelgava is judenrein (free of Jews)!" This was the sign one saw immediately when driving into the city. The Germans and the Latvians had made sure of this in the very first month after the German occupation, July 1941. The city's Jews were killed in gruesome ways. Many of them were forced into the synagogue and burned alive in it: others, such as Dr. Lewitas, were shot dead in the cemetery. The Disencik and Hirschmann families' end was especially tragic: they were forced to dig their own graves beforehand (Berner). The Latvians dragged the school director Bowschower and his child into the marketplace for a public execution. According to reports, the local Latvians Weiland, Petersilins, Kaulins, Dr. Sprogis and Leimand, as well as the returned Baltic Germans Colonel Schulz and Hollstein, took part in ail of these atrocities and murders.

c) Tukums, Auce (Autz), Ventspils (Windau), Sabile (Zabeln) etc.

In Tukums, the entire Jewish population, together with the small remainder of surviving Jews from Kandava and other small towns, was driven into the large synagogue. The synagogue was set afire and everyone in it died a horrible death, including Rabbi Lichtenstein together with his whole family. The gypsies of the city and its surroundings were killed in this action together with the Jews.

In Auce (Autz) as well, no Jew remained alive. Only a physician, the son-in-law of the industrialist Klein, tried to hide together with his child. But he too was discovered by the Latvian murderers. He begged them to at least spare his child, but all his pleading was in vain the Latvians shot both him and his child.

The murderers also rampaged in Ventspils (Windau), as they did everywhere, and killed all the Jews who lived there. They intended to spare the old city physician Feitelberg, but he declined and was killed in the same way as his co-religionists. The railroad doctor Dr. Friedmann and his family were allowed to live for about two months longer. Then they too were killed, together with the well-known "Tante Anna", whose status as a Jewish convert to Christianity did not help her at all.

Thus Ventspils became judenrein!

In Sabile (Zabeln) the entire Jewish population of about 500 people - men, women and children - were driven into a new house that had just been built by Perelmann. From this house they were then transported to a forest five kilometers away and gruesomely murdered. Rabbi Kahn of Sabile and his family were killed in this action. According to reports, the Latvians Mazais Berzins and Egon Goss participated in these atrocities. Only the two daughters of the Jew Wulfahrt, who were of mixed birth, survived in Sabile. They had to he baptized immediately. Their father was also murdered.

Two other families, those of Zalman Blumenau and Löwenthal, who had come from Russia, were saved. But they did not stay in Sabile.

 In Bauska, many Jews were castrated.

 About 2,500 Jews lived in the province of Vidzeme, mostly distributed among the towns of Cesis, Valmiera, Valka, Rujene, Gulbene and Sigulda. Some lived in even smaller towns and in the countryside. Only a very few of all these people were able to save themselves, because the Latvian "heroes" murdered them immediately, on the spot.

 Those Jews who had fled from Riga and had been arrested during their escape remained in the Valmiera prison for a long time. All of them were killed.

The Diner family from Cesis (wife, son and daughter) and a Mrs. Kaiser (née Barkan in Marienhausen) in the countryside were able to save themselves.








Home       |       Site Map       |      Exhibitions      |      About the Museum       |       Education      |      Contact Us       |       Links






Copyright © 2008-9. Museum of Family History.  All rights reserved.  Image Use Policy.