Central and Terminal Prisons of Riga
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.
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
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.
February 3, 1946
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
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
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
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
September 1944 the Aryan prisoners were evacuated to Germany on a
steamship, but the Jews who still remained were killed without
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
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
But history decided
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
(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
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
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!
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
In Strazdumuiza E. Zin,
from Liepaja, wrote the "Strasdenhof Hymn": "Mir seinen
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.
in Women's Roles (in the Small Riga Ghetto)
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.
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?
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
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Sundays people also came from the city barracks camps to the ghetto
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!
(Schlock) - Dedicated to My Only Son Arthur, Who Was Killed
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."
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.)
Cuwoe" (My Testament), Jakob Rassein
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.
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
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.
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.
was offered the chance to return to the ghetto s that my wound could
heal, I refused it.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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".
the names of your murderers, and I will not rest until I have had
revenge for you and all of my relatives.
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
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
do it, and we will!
my son, in eternal peace!
name has been indelibly woven into the Jewish people's chain of
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.
Wikipedia. Read more about Simon Dubnow by clicking
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
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
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
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
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
bowed heads we stand at the unmarked grave of the famous Jewish historian of the
twentieth century: Professor Simon Dubnow!
The Jewish City of Dvinsk (Daugpils) and Its Destruction
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)
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.
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.
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
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).
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).
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
Chowwei Zion (Lovers of Zion) movement and later on, Zionism,
had many adherents in Dvinsk, as did the Jewish socialist workers'
movement, the Bund.
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.
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)
was a great trade center and a meeting place for the merchants of
the Baltic countries.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
(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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
"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
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,
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 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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
families, those of Zalman Blumenau and Löwenthal, who had come from
saved. But they did not
stay in Sabile.
In Bauska, many Jews
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.
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
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.