Besides being good craftsmen and very talented skilled workers, the Jews made up the largest proportion of merchants in the large cities and small towns. Latvian companies in all industries were also highly developed by the Jews (Milman, R. Kaplan, the Hoff brothers, K. Misroch. R. Feldhuhn and others). The export and import of raw materials and finished products was in Jewish hands (Berman, Rosengarten, Schalit etc.) because of their good connections with the outside world. The Jewish bankers, for example the Lewstein brothers, Schmulian and Epstein (from Liepaja) were also well-known abroad. Large and small banks were founded with Jewish capital (the Nordic Bank and others). The founders of the Nordic Bank were Leiba Minsker, Ber Lewitas, Rabinowitz, Kirschbaum and others. Leading positions were held by Saul Hurwitz and Silitzki.
After Latvia became independent, it was the Jews who introduced it to the world and more or less got it off the ground. Latvia's good economic standing was created by the Jews alone. The Latvians themselves are an industrious farming people. For years they were subjugated by the German barons and had no talent for trade. Only a few Latvians became manufacturers, with the help of the Latvian government (1935), which endeavored to create a purely Latvian industrial sector. This effort, however, cost the Latvian government quite a bit of money. The country's currency was also created by the Jews (Friedman). The Jews played a large role in cultural life. It was Jewish professors who occupied the lecterns of the university and the polytechnic college. Moreover, there were many physicians who had an international reputation (Professor Wladimir Mintz, Dr. Idelsohn), musicians (Professor Metz etc.) and numerous other scholars and artists. Jews also played a huge role in the legal profession and the drafting of all the laws of Latvia. In this area they were supported by the Jewish lawyer Oskar Osipowitz Grusenberg of Petersburg. In Riga itself there were many extremely talented Jewish lawyers.
Jewish religious life was very vigorous. There were Jewish schools that gave instruction in Yiddish and Hebrew, as well as a few yeshivas and Talmud toras (Talmudic colleges and schools). In all the large cities and small towns of Latvia there were splendid synagogues and houses of prayer.
BesIdes the two goanim rabbis (Talmudic authorities) - the Rogazow rabbi (Josif Rozin) and Meir Simcha (Kahan), who both lived in Daugavpils and whom the reader will get to know in the chapter "The Jewish City of Dvinsk" - there were many other great rabbis. In Riga it was Mendel Zack, in Jelgava Owcinski, in Liepaja Polonski, in Zilupe and later in Friedrichstadt it was Paul, in T ukums it was the old rabbinic dynasty of Lichtenstein.
All of the names cited above are associated with the publication of various works of religious philosophy. Also well-known were the rabbis Kilow (Riga), Jemin (Vilani), Donchio (Ludza), Schub and Klatzkin (Kraslava), Placinski (Viski) and many others. Only a few of them died a natural death; all the others died as martyrs. Rabbi Kuk ZeI, who died in Palestine, was also born in Latvia.
Jewish religious life in Riga was strengthened thanks to the arrival of the world-renowned Lubavitcher rabbi (Schneiersohn). The deputy Dubin enabled him to come from Russia. In his Riga residence on Pulkveza Brieza Street one could meet many Hasidim (pious ones) from Latvia and the rest of the world. Shortly before the war he moved to America together with his whole family. His son-in-law Gurarie also followed him, and later on so did Chodakow.
Jewish liturgical singing was cultivated in all the towns of Latvia. The creator of music for the synagogue was Rozowski. World-famous singers graduated from his school (Hermann Jadlowker among others), and his compositions are known throughout the world. After his death, his position at the synagogue in Gogol Street in Riga was taken over by Hermann Jadlowker. Fortunately, he emigrated to Palestine before the outbreak of the war. Cantor Rabec (now in Africa) and Abramis were also very popular and well-known in Riga. Cantor Rabinowitz was active for a long time in the great choral synagogue of Daugavpils. Several important singers graduated from his school as well. After his death his place was taken by Friedland. Cantor Schloßberg was also born in Latvia (Ilukste) and thus bore the name of "Leibele lIIukster". Among the most significant conductors of Riga are the Jews Pisecki, Sklar and Abramis Jr.
In Daugavpils and Riga there were also well-equipped trade schools, whose graduates included leading professional craftsmen.
In Riga there was a splendid Jewish club with a permanent Jewish theater; there were also two other clubs, which bore the names of our great Jewish poets Bialik and Peretz. There were also numerous clubs in the provinces.
The Jewish university students had their own fraternities (Hasmonea, Vetulia). The Jewish polytechnic society was also very well-known in intellectual circles, and the Oze (health services) and OPE (education) organizations were active throughout Latvia.
There was a daily Jewish newspaper called "Frühmorgen" (Early Morning), edited by LatzkiBertoldi (Palestine) and Dr. Hellmann. One of its co-workers was the writer HerzMowschowitz. A monthly illustrated journal, "Jüdische Bilder" (Jewish Images), published by Jakob Brahms, had a large circle of readers not only in Latvia but in the Jewish world as a whole. The artist Michal Jo, among others, worked for it. The Russian press with all of its well-known newspapers such as "Segodnia" (Today) and "Segodnia Wietscherom" (This Evening) was actually in Jewish hands. The owners were Jakob Brahms and Dr. Boris Polak. The aforementioned newspapers had the Jewish co-workers Michael Milrud (Editor), Boris Oretschkin, Lecturer Weintraub, Professor Lasersohn, Anry Gry, the Machtus brothers, Lewin and others. All of them without exception wrote well. The owner, Jakob Brahms, was known for his excellent lead articles. The large modern printing house tor these newspapers, Rita, was also under Jewish ownership (Kopelowitz, now in Palestine).
The Zionist movement was especially well-received in Latvia.
The Nurock brothers, who were rabbis, and the lawyer Trohn were the veterans of the movement, and they participated in the first Zionist congress in Basel (Switzerland).
Later on, the revisionist Zionist movement (Betar) began in Riga in the person of Wolf Jabotinsky. He had founded his party on 17 December 1923 in Riga after his lecture at the Trade Union Club in Kenina Street. The other founding members were Aron Propes and the engineer Michelsohn. After a time they were joined by Dr. Jakob Hofmann, Benia Lubotzki and Moses Joelsohn.
A socialist Zionist movement (Poalei-Zion) also existed in Riga. The Jewish socialist party, Bund, also exerted a strong influence on Jewish working people. The Bund party was most strongly represented in Latgale.
The Mizrachi and Agudat Izrael parties had a decisive influence on the religious life of Jewish Latvia.
The Jewish Communists were also active, largely illegally until the introduction of the Soviet system. Thus many of them were incarcerated in the prisons of Riga and Daugavpils, and their names - Breger, Maitlis, Cipe, Rafael Schäftlin, Cenciper, Nochum Rappaport, Bubi Tuw, Isak Kohn and others - were very familiar there. After the establishment of Soviet power in Latvia, many Jews were appointed to responsible positions. For example, Dr. Joffe Jr. became the People's Vice-Commissar (Deputy Minister) of Health Services. The blind Professor Schatz-Anin also played an important role.
In the Latvian Saeima (Parliament) there were always Jewish representatives, such as Fischmann, the rabbis Morduchai and Aron Nurock, Morduchai Dubin, Professor Lasersohn, Dr. Meisel and Simon Wittenberg.
Rabbi Morduchai Nurock was even appointed once by President Cakste to form a Latvian government. Deputy Dubin also exerted a great deal of influence on governing circles (Dr. Ulmanis).
Until 15 May 1934 - that is, until Dr. Ulmanis seized state power - national cultural autonomy officially existed. The head of the Jewish division at the Ministry of Education was first Dr. Landau and later Chodakow. Morein had a position at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Samunow at the Slate bank.
In the beginning, the Jews in Latvia did not do badly. But in the final years (from 1934 on) various anti-Semitic currents arose, thanks to the proximity of Fascist Germany. These currents originated in the well-known Latvian Perkonkrusts (Swastika) organization. There were also various restrictions on Jews in trade and education.
After the Soviets set up their first bases in Ventspils and Liepaja in 1939, many wealthy Jews (Owsey Misroch, Felix Glück, Adolf Kaplan, Orelowitz, Kopylow, Bazalkin, Schmulian Jr., Elia Scher and others) sold their businesses within a year and emigrated abroad. In this way they saved their lives. Still others, such as Dr. Polak, Jakob Brahms, the industrialist Rafael Feldhuhn and others, who happened to be abroad at the time did not return to Latvia.
The establishment of Soviet power in Latvia then changed the situation of the Jews in general, The Jewish population of Riga increased to more than 50,000 as Jews moved in from the provinces. The larger merchants in the provinces did not wait for their businesses to be nationalized, but moved to the large cities before the Soviets could notice them. Likewise, the Jewish intelligentsia of the provinces, whose professional skills were no longer wanted, found work in the large cities. On 14 June 1941 the Soviets began a large-scale resettlement of the bourgeoisie to the Russian interior. This involved about 3,500 Jews in Riga and about 5,000 in Latvia as a whole, which amounted to 5% of the entire Jewish population. The list of resettled individuals reveals that many very wealthy people, for instance Misroch Sr. and Schmulian Sr., were able to stay, whereas small citizens such as craftsmen who were satisfied with the Soviets, or even people who were devoted to the Soviets and held responsible positions, were resettled. Only 1.25% of the entire Latvian population was affected. It is worth noting that the Latvians spread rumors to the effect that the resettlement lists had been drawn up by the Jews, which was absolutely untrue, since a far larger percentage of the Jews than of the Latvians was affected. The false accusations were only a pretext to retaliate against the Jewish population.
introduction of the Soviet system in Latvia, the economic situation of
the Jews changed as well. For a short time the wealthy individuals
such as factory owners still had the possibility of transferring their
fortunes to foreign countries and selling their movable property. The
immovable property, however, was nationalized. The small and
medium-sized merchants were able to hold on to their businesses and
workshops until the outbreak of the war. During these years it was
possible for them to earn a great deal of money, but already people
were no longer interested in money in itself; instead, they invested
in valuables and other material assets.
During this period the Jews, like others, had more property than ever
before. Although the number of Jews in Latvia at that time was only
about 94,000 - that is, 5,500 fewer than before - the Jewish community
nonetheless entered World War II from a very strong economic position.
The Germans March into Riga
The Latvians fought on all fronts; they shot from the roofs and attics of their houses at the units of the Red Army that were in retreat. In the meantime, German planes could already be seen dropping bombs on the city's outskirts. On the radio we heard that Kovno (the capital of Lithuania) had been occupied by the Germans. The Lithuanian partisans were fighting just as the Latvians were. Every person one met had just one question: "What should we do?"
There was no official evacuation, but a few trains were standing in the station. Understandably, they were stormed by a crowd of people, but for most of these people it was impossible to leave by train. Moreover, people said that the enemy was bombarding the trains, railroad stations and railway tracks, so it was impossible to get through. The city of Daugavpils, they said, was already occupied by the Germans and so only the stretch toward Valka-Pskow-Leningrad was open. Many Jews who got no seats in the trains came back from the railroad station. Others halted trucks and begged the drivers to take them along. On the way, many drivers demolished their vehicles on purpose and then disappeared. A large portion of the civilian population was also taken along by the retreating Red Army. Women with their children sat on the tanks that were rolling away. Some of the Jewish young people who had worked for the Soviets decided to leave on foot. Many of them were stopped on the road by the Latvians and then handed over to the Germans; others died during this march.
There were also many Jews who did not want to part from their possessions, which they had worked so hard to acquire. Though the reasons for staying were extremely varied, there was one thing nobody could imagine: that the destruction by the Germans and by the local population would be so merciless. We knew, of course, that we could expect no good from the enemy.
As for me, escape was entirely out of the question. At the time, my son was in the hospital with a broken foot and I had to bring him home from there, since everything was falling apart. Because he was confined to bed, we had to stay in any case. Only a few Jews came to Riga from the provinces of Kurzeme and Zemgale, which the enemy was already starting to occupy. By this time the number of Jews in Riga had already decreased by 10,000 through the evacuation. Thus when the German army marched in, there were still more than 40,000 Jews in Riga. On the night of 29 June 1941, strong pressure from the Germans could already be felt in the city. The Red Army withdrew in a totally disorganized way toward the province of Vidzerne. The soldiers were tired, hungry and thirsty. We put out pails of water on the street for them, we collected food from the neighbors and threw bread to them. But this was only a drop in the bucket!
In the meantime, the Germans were bombarding the city. The bombs were dropped near the old city center, where the bridges were. But the bridges had already been blown up in the previous few days by the retreating Russians. St. Peter's church, known to us all, which had the highest steeple in the city topped by a rooster, burned down. It was not set aflame by the Soviets, as Latvian propaganda would have it (even photos of this fictional deed were distributed); it has now been determined that it was destroyed by the German military forces.
The day of transition, 30 June, was very quiet. All one could see was individual Red Army soldiers who had been left behind. There were no people on the streets, only tanks on various street corners, whose task was to cover the Red Army's retreat. In the meantime, the Latvians prepared to greet the enemy. The red-and-white Latvian flag was brought out of storage; people also had flags bearing the swastika ready. The Perkonkrusts organization was already working out the plans for our destruction, having no doubt that the enemy would approve of them.
On 1 July the German army forced its way
into the city. The Latvians greeted the enemy with flowers, wearing
their Sunday best. All the houses were decorated and ornamented with
flags, The radio broadcast the old Latvian national hymn, "Dievs
Sveti Latviju" (God Bless Latvia), and also the Horst Wessel song.
All of this made a very strong impression on the Latvians, and they
were convinced that now a new era of independence would begin. But all
this was only a well-prepared prelude on the part of the Germans.
Power was never officially handed over to the Latvians; moreover, the
playing of the Latvian hymn was never again permitted. On the same
day, 1 July 1941, the Latvians announced on the radio that all
nationalistic Latvians should register immediately for the struggle
against the internal enemy (the Jews). The gathering point for this
action was the headquarters of the Aizsargi (Guards). This was the
home of the professional associations. There, weapons and
red-and-white armbands were distributed to everyone who registered,
without exception. Every group was assigned a district that it was
supposed to "deal with". The call to nationalistic Latvians is
associated with the name of the Latvian Captain Weiß.
After the German occupation of Riga, Jewish life came to a virtual standstill. On the first day, no Jews went out onto the streets, and there were no incidents.
In the early morning of 2 July I received a phone call to tell me that one of my brothers and his son-in-law had been arrested. I immediately got in touch with my friends and closer acquaintances and found out that the Latvians had begun to arrest Jewish men in the city. They were going from house to house and dragging out my fellow Jews. These were brought in groups to the police headquarters, police stations and prisons. The captors were Latvian youths in civilian clothing armed with weapons and wearing red-and-white armbands. Of course there was no lack of beatings and looting. Many people were even shot dead in their homes (e.g. Gogolstraße 7). That same morning the telephones belonging to Jews were cut off. It was dangerous to go out into the street, but people did not feel safe at home either. All the Jewish tenants of our building gathered together in the apartment of our neighbor Dr. Magalif to discuss the situation. We could think of no way out and were forced to accept our fate.
The next day it was my turn. Armed Latvian youths forced their way into my apartment. They plundered whatever they could find, and took me and my son, who was still sick, away with them, along with the other Jewish tenants of the building. Then they led us all together to the police headquarters, or prefecture. On the way we were joined by more and more Latvians who walked alongside us and beat us mercilessly. They shouted, "Jews. Bolsheviks!" and jeered, "Stalin's unconquered army is in retreat!" As we passed the monument to the great Latvian poet Blaumanis. I saw my friend the lawyer Dr. Singel. He had been so badly beaten that he was covered with blood. He was accompanied by heavily armed guards. He signaled to me with his hand, as if to say, "My fate is sealed." And indeed he was murdered the same day.
Trucks stood ready at the canal near the
prefecture to take us to the prisons. As we walked into the courtyard
of the prefecture, it became clear to me that a catastrophe was
breaking in on us.
The large prefecture building was full of Jews. Screams were heard from every direction, so horribly were the Latvian murderers tormenting their victims. Their sadism knew no bounds.
Old and sick people were brought into the courtyard without underwear, totally naked. People who had formerly played an important role in society now stood there beaten and bleeding. They were dragged around by their beards. Young women who had been brought in were stripped naked in the courtyard and thrown into the cellar rooms of the prefecture to be used for orgies. Venerable old Riga Jews were dragged here, doused with water, and beaten; their captors jeered at them the while. Moreover, they sought out Jews with especially full beards and forced them to polish the Latvians' shoes with them. This was so-called Latvian culture!
So far, no uniformed German had yet appeared in the police headquarters. I stood in the courtyard all night with my son and my neighbor Osia Pukin, since there was no room in the prefecture itself. We did try to go upstairs, but it was impossible. This was lucky for us, because only this saved us from certain death. All of those who were upstairs ended up in prison and were shot. Many friends and acquaintances passed by me; among others. I saw my good friend Preiss. The next morning we were taken out of the courtyard to work. My son and I had to fill up the trenches opposite the Polytechnic College. On the way there, we were beaten again. It was unusually hot and we were tormented by thirst, but of course we didn't dare ask for something to drink.
Thus we were chased until late
evening from one task to another. Once again we spent the night under
the open sky in the prefecture courtyard. The next day we had to load
tires from a large warehouse onto trucks. The well-known Riga jeweler
Widzer worked with us. He was moaning and weeping because he had lost
his son. After we had finished loading the tires we returned to a
large room in the prefecture in which there was a piano. The Latvians,
who clearly were sadists, held truncheons in their hands and made us
do drills; for instance, they forced us to sing and play the piano.
They ordered some of the Jewish singers to sing Nazi songs that they
didn't know. Finally they forced all of us to sing the
"Internationale". None or us knew why we were being
forced to sing this particular song. They explained to us,
again with their truncheons, that this
would be the last time we sang it. I felt my strength leaving me and
feared I would be unable to stand the further tortures
the Latvian murderers.
sympathy was for my young son, but of course I was unable to help him.
Fortunately, at this moment my neighbor Pukin appeared, accompanied by
a German soldier. The soldier requested that my son and I be released
so that we could work as decorators at the field commander's
We now left the house of martyrdom with relief and went to the command headquarters across the street from the City Opera. I was recommended to Spieß (Sergeant Major) Lockenfitz as a capable craftsman. He was convinced of my ability and gave me various instructions. We also received a pass that protected us from the Latvian henchmen.
My wife's joy at our return was of course indescribable. She told us many things she had heard in the city during our absence. She had not reckoned on us returning at all. She herself could still move about unharmed, as she looked very Aryan. Many of her stories seemed totally unbelievable, but unfortunately all of them were later confirmed.
From my balcony I saw the burning of the great synagogue on Gogol Street and of the OldNew synagogue and the Hasidic houses of prayer in the Moscow suburb. The synagogue on Stabu Street was not destroyed until later. The flames claimed victims everywhere, because Jews were driven into them to die. Thirty Jews and Rabbi Kilow were killed in the synagogue on Stabu Street. The holy torahs (holy scrolls) were dragged out of all these synagogues, defiled and burned. Many Jews, dressed in their prayer shawls and talith, flung themselves into the flames to save the torahs. All of them were killed.
The only synagogue the murderers left
standing in Riga was the large, well-known Peitavas synagogue in the
old town center. It was spared only because it stood in the midst of
apartment buildings. But its interior was demolished like the others.
In the meantime, the Latvians had moved the staff of Perkonkrusts (Swastika) to the house or the banker Schmulian on Valdemara Street. We knew that this murderers' den was the home of notorious Perkonkrusts members such as Arajs, Cukurs, Teidemann, Razum and Freimanis. Moreover, they attracted a considerable portion of the Latvian intelligentsia from the student fraternities to their side. Many of these people, who have hundreds and thousands of murders on their conscience, are living today out in the world in total freedom. They have simply made use of the right to asylum that is guaranteed by the great democracies. At that time, Riga alone did not satisfy their bloodlust, so they organized gangs - here too with the help of the Latvian intelligentsia. These gangs moved from city to city, from town to town, in order to kill the Jewish population there in the most bestial way.
The cellar rooms of the former home of the
banker Schmulian were quickly transformed into prison cells. Now
countless Jewish women and men were brought there either to be shot
immediately or transferred from there to regular prisons.
I myself had to work, together with my son and my friend Pukin, in the field headquarters. Every morning we went to work together, carrying our pass, which protected us from the Latvians. One time, as we were walking through the beautiful Wöhrmann Park in Riga, the Latvians drove us out of it. Nor can I forget how once during the first few days, as we rode in a streetcar, the woman conductor could not get over her outrage. She was beside herself with fury over the fact that a Jew would dare to do "something like this" at all. She immediately rang the bell to stop the streetcar and we were literally thrown out.
In addition to my work as a decorator, I was also used at the headquarters as a cleaner, furnacestoker, and sweeper of the sergeant major's room and office. This sergeant major, who was regarded as the master of the house, was a very decent and sympathetic person. During the time I spent there, a large work crew of Jews was occupied mainly with bringing wood into the cellar and managing the transport and storage of the furniture stolen from Jewish homes. A Latvian artist named Pudelis pointed out to the commandership the Jewish homes that were most worth looting. My home also fell victim to these thieves. During my absence the Germans went to my home together with Pudelis, stole all the objects of value, and had them brought to the headquarters. They were immediately used to furnish the private rooms and office of General Bambergs. For nearly two years I now had to clean my own Persian carpets, but what was I to do?
In the field headquarters, we soon got to
know the gendarmerie administration, which in those days protected us
from the Latvians in emergencies. Later on, the Jewish workers at
the headquarters received certificates
stating that it was not permitted to use them for other work or to
confiscate any further items from their homes. Nonetheless, one day
the Latvians dared to go to a house in Mateja Street to arrest and
imprison eighteen people who worked with us. This incident was
reported to the sergeant major. Moreover, the Latvians had destroyed
the work passes that he had signed and stamped with the field
commandership's official stamp. He flew into a rage and decided to
free "his Jews" immediately. To this end, he and some of his
soldiers drove, heavily armed, to the prison. He had with him a list
of the imprisoned Jews and ordered the Latvians to release them at once. All
of them were released except for a barber. "Where's my face-polisher?"
the sergeant major called out, and he did not relent until the barber
was brought in too. On this occasion he noticed an old Jew. "That's
my rabbi," the sergeant major now said, and thus freed twenty-five
instead of eighteen persons. Unfortunately, such people were not left
in their positions for long; they were replaced with others who had
In the meantime, in the city the Jews' situation had worsened. Both the Gestapo and the Wehrmacht (army) were continually confiscating more and more furniture in order to furnish their own quarters. Without deliberation or planning, they took what they needed from Jewish homes. During these actions, people were often simply brought out and murdered on the street. This happened, for example, on the other side of tile Daugava to the lawyer Heidemann, the leather manufacturer Rosenthal, and a number of others. They were shot most cruelly on Uzvaras Laukums (Victory Square).(1)
Because the Germans were still busy with their military affairs, power was still in the Latvians' hands. Nobody whatsoever thought of feeding the Jews. They were pulled out of the lines standing in front of the food stores if they were recognized as such. The atrocities against them were unending. For example, one day a vehicle full of armed Latvian volunteers drove to 9 Kalnu Street in the Moscow suburb. All of the building's Jewish tenants were forced to leave it immediately and taken to the old Jewish cemetery. Here they were locked into the synagogue and burned alive in it. Similar actions were also carried out in the new cemetery. The Jews who worked there were rounded up together with Cantor Minz, who was well-known in Riga, and his family, locked into the prayer house and burned alive. The bones of these martyrs have now been found and given a solemn burial.
The only Jews who were treated somewhat
better by the Latvians and were not arrested in the initial phase were
the members of the Jewish Latvian Freedom Fighters association. But
that did not last long either.
In the context of these notes I must relate the following experience. In mid-July 1941 I passed the house at 52 Krisjana Barona Street on my way back from work. /\ group of prisoners from the Red Army was being led past it. They were barefoot, ragged and starving. Latvians wearing red-and-white armbands were escorting them. At their head marched a young German wearing an armband with the swastika, At this moment, a poor Jewish woman holding her child by the hand came by. She was carrying a loaf of white bread, and out of sympathy she made the child give it to a Russian. When the German saw this, he shot the Jewish woman, the little girl and the Russian on the spot. The Latvians cheered!
At the same time I remember another incident that happened five years later. In mid-July 1946, on the same street in front of the same house, we were passed by a group of German prisoners. Someone threw a full bottle from a top-floor window, and it fell on a prisoner and killed him immediately.
Thus the innocent blood that had been shed before was now avenged!
The following experience also belongs
here. At that time a Jewish woman worked at the field headquarters
together with me and the others. Her name was Ellis and she had been
born in Hungary, She was a professional chanson singer and piano
player at the well-known Riga night club Alhambra. Now she worked as a
cleaning woman at the headquarters, mainly in the rooms of the
commander, Captain Fuhrmann. He noticed her and decided to save her.
He had Aryan identity papers issued for her. Later on, when the
situation grew dangerous, he sent Mrs. Ellis to Vienna with a letter
of recommendation that got her a job as a singer on the radio. By
chance, the all-powerful Minister of Propaganda Goebbels heard her on
the radio in Berlin. He realized that when she sang in the style of Zarah Leander, she performed the songs better than the famous Swedish Zarah herself. With great delight, he now told the people around him
that he had found a "genuine" German Zarah and would soon make it possible to listen to her in Berlin. The new "German" star was now
invited to come to Berlin. She was asked to report directly to the
great Goebbels, who would organize a concert for her with a
select government audience, The director
of Radio Vienna was in despair, for he knew all about this star who
was not quite "kosher". What to do? It was decided that "Zurah" would
be declared ill. Thus the "German" Zarah was saved, and today she is
walking around freely in Vienna with Jewish identity papers.
The Latvians' cruelties worsened from day to day. They would simply round up Jews on the street and force them to do all kinds of work; they not only beat them mercilessly but murdered many of them.
For example, one group often Jews who were repairing a damaged bridge over the Daugava in an Organisation Todt (OT) work group were simply thrown into the water, where they drowned.
The looting of Jewish homes became more and more frequent. The owners were not only robbed, but many of them were killed on the spot. The Latvian murderers even went as far as to simply hack off the fingers of living people merely to gain possession of their rings.
If apartments were needed, the Jewish tenants were thrown out on the spot without being allowed to take a single thing with them. There were two methods: either the people were arrested and taken to the murderers' headquarters at the Perkonkrusts center, or they were put into prison. Nobody returned alive from either of these places.
One day Lecturer Weintraub came to me in despair. He had had bad luck: after making a lecture tour in America he had returned at the worst possible time. Now his apartment too had been taken away from him, and he stayed with me for a few days. Shortly after that he tried to commit suicide, but was saved. On his second attempt he succeeded.
Many Jews were driven by their desperate situation to commit suicide. The Friedmann family killed themselves by gas poisoning (both husband and wife were doctors).(2) The Well-known jeweler and circus entrepreneur Tabatschnik and the shoe dealer Fraenkel also died horrible deaths.
Terrible news came from the prisons (see the chapter on the Central and Terminal Prison). There was no longer any medical help for Jews. All of them were thrown out of the city hospitals. Even the Bikur Cholim Jewish hospital (Milman Foundation) on Maskavas Street was cleared out by force. Later on, an SS field hospital was set up there.
The press was full of inflammatory
articles against the Jews, and leaflets illustrated with the most
fantastic pictures were distributed (see the chapter 'The Press in
Riga During the German Occupation").
At the end of July the Riga field commandership was changed into a city commandership. All authority for civilian affairs was also set up. Its director was Nachtigall, a Reich German. He was the one who signed the first regulations concerning the Jews. Regulation One banned them from public places. Jews were no longer permitted to use city facilities, parks and swimming pools. The second regulation required Jews to wear a patch in the form of a yellow star (mogen David). It had to be about 10 centimeters wide and be sewn onto one's clothing on the left side of the chest. Violations of this regulation were punishable by death.
But the Jews of Riga wore their stars with pride!
Another regulation decreed that the Jews
should receive 50% less food that the Aryans; and they could obtain
even these reduced rations only at the risk of their lives.
Buoyed up by their victories on all fronts, the Germans decided to gradually take over civilian rule entirely and thus organize everything according to their own pattern.
Calm and composed in their typically German way, they began to do so in August 1941, The Latvian language was recognized as the country's second official language.
In order to cope with these extensive organizational tasks, they summoned the Baltic Germans to help them. The latter had previously been called on by Hitler to leave the Baltic countries. These anti-Semites were now the ringleaders of every measure. The Baltic German Altmeyer took over the city government. He signed every order to confiscate apartments and so on. In mid-August all the Jews in Riga were registered. This took place at two locations in the city center and one in the Moscow suburb. I had to register, together with my family, in Cesis Street. There, all the Jews were badly beaten by the Latvians.
This registration was carried out in order to determine how many Jews were still living in Riga after the many murders in the city and the executions in the prisons (see the chapter on the Central and Terminal Prisons).
In the meantime, further regulations were decreed:
1) The Jews had to wear a second yellow
David) in the middle of their backs.
One could now see the Jews walking to work, one behind the other and marked with two yellow stars, in the gutters of tile streets of Riga next to the sidewalks. Of course there were alI kinds of accidents due to cars and the like.
At first we were very downcast by this
treatment, but we soon grew accustomed to it, as
as to the jeers of the local people.
The Gestapo arrived during the first few days after the Germans' entry into Riga.
Officially it took over all the prisons on 11 July J 941, but on this date the prisons already contained a significantly reduced number of Jews. The Latvians had made sure or that!
A Jewish work group was forced to remove the furniture from Jewish homes. The first confiscation took place in the large house of the Nesterows in Andrejs Pumpurs Street. After that, not only all the Jewish homes but also all the Jewish shops on Ausekla Street in the Vorburg district were occupied.
The Gestapo offices were set up in the former Ministry of Agriculture building on Raina Boulevard. Not only Germans but also Latvians and Russians were employed there. A special division with an examining magistrate was created for Jewish affairs, and the well-known Gestapo methods were introduced. All too soon, the cellar of this building became well-known to us Jews. Anyone who entered it could reckon with his death; at the very least, people were sent from there to prison, which also meant the end - that is to say, death by starvation.
A large black flag hung next to the swastika flag on top of the beautiful city administration building across the street. The Gestapo administrative offices were located there. Later on, the Gestapo headquarters for all of Latvia were set up in a former museum building at the corner of Kalpaka Boulevard and Alexander Boulevard. It was full of the loyal pupils of the monstrous criminal Himmler.
Their names were: Dr. Lange, Krause, Mügge, Kaufmann, Roschmann, Deiberg. Nickel, Jenner and many, many others. All of them shared the blame for the mass murders of the Jews. The reader will hear more about them later.
The Police General of Ostland, General Jeckeln (reportedly Himmler's brother-in-law), had his residence in the former Saeima (Parliament) building on Jekaba Street, formerly know as the Knights' Hall.
Now Jews died horrible deaths in this palace of "chivalry" too.
On 5 February 1946 after the liberation, when General Jeckeln and six other generals were hanged by the Soviets on Uzvaras Laukums (Victory Square), we surviving Jews felt tremendous joy.
The trial of Jeckeln was held in the building of the former Latvian Association, now known as the DOKA (House of the Red Army), in Merkela Street. In response to State Prosecutor Zawialow's questions he replied: "The number of Jews brought to Latvia from abroad is just as unknown to me as is the number of Jews killed in Latvia. Even before we Germans assumed power, so many Jews had been exterminated by the Latvians that a precise number could no longer be determined."
When he was asked, "Why were Jews brought to Latvia from abroad to be exterminated'?", he answered: "Latvia was the appropriate venue for these murders."
We survivors are only too familiar with
the "appropriate venue" which the Latvians created at that time!
A special Bureau of Jewish Affairs was also set up in the prefecture. The business at hand was the introduction of the Nuremberg Laws, which dealt with the issue of mixed marriages and the children produced by them. Men and women in mixed marriages were forced to divorce their spouses. If Aryan husbands refused to divorce their wives, the wives were sterilized. This murderous operation was performed on many Jewish women.
All of these prefectural matters were in the hands of the Latvian Captain Stieglitz.
Besides the prefecture, a Field Commissioner's Department was established. It was headed by Field Commissioner Drechsler. On the first anniversary of the conquest of Riga he delivered a great eulogy to the "loyal Latvians" in the State Opera House.
All of the later regulations against the Jews were connected with Drechsler.
After a special ministry had been founded for the eastern territories (Ostland) by the notorious Jew-killer Rosenberg, the equally virulent anti-Semite Lohse was appointed Commissioner of Ostland. As a reward for their loyalty and devotion to the Hitler regime, the Latvians were granted their own administration. A small puppet government headed by the Latvian General Danker was created. In my opinion Danker, who was half-German, felt more sympathy for the Germans than for the Latvians. The directors - that is, ministers - in his government were well-known Latvian public figures. The former Latvian President Kviesis, now deceased, occupied an important position, as did the well-known Valdmanis. The former was Director of Justice, the latter Attorney General.
These "loyal servants" not only
contributed a very great deal to the great Jewish catastrophe, but
also poured oil on the fire whenever they could so as to make our
situation eyen more difficult. This is how the so-called "liberal
Latvian intelligentsia" behaved during that period.
The situation of the Jews worsened from day to day. There was no longer anyone who could defend our cause. All of the socially important Jewish public figures of Riga either had been murdered or were in prison. At this time my comrade A. Pukin and I were friends with the lawyer Eljaschow. At that time, many members of the Jewish Latvian Freedom Fighters' Association were still at liberty, because some of the Latvians still respected this organization. But when it came to looting, even they were not spared. Every day when I visited the lawyer Eljaschow I saw that another piece of his furniture was missing, taken away by the Latvians since my last visit.
My comrade Pukin and I persuaded Eljaschow - by taking full responsibility for his decision to head the Jewish community of Riga. His wife, who was also a lawyer and very intelligent and clever, reinforced our efforts. We based our request on the fact that he, as Chairman of the Jewish Latvian Freedom Fighters' Association and a well-known public figure, would have a certain amount of influence on the Latvians. He accepted our suggestion and also persuaded the no less capable Blumenau (the older of the Blumenau brothers) and the universally respected Grischa Minsker to work with him. Both of them had also played a large role in the ' Freedom Fighters' Association. Now these three men made a genuine effort to improve the Jews' situation, using all their possibilities - but unfortunately without any success. They were not officially recognized by the Latvian administration, and they had no access to the German authorities.
I myself once tried to arrange an audience for them with Fuhrmann, who was the commander at that time, at the German Field Headquarters, where I was working. And Fuhrmann promised me to grant them an audience. When they arrived I had to lead them through the back door of the courtyard, but even so they were not received. Fuhrmann explained to me that he could not risk it.
In the meantime, a regulation was passed
regarding the creation of a ghetto. An official representative body
for Jewish affairs was appointed and recognized. The three
aforementioned persons (Eljaschow, Blumenau and Minsker) were now
joined by Kaufer (of the Zasulauks Manufacturing Co.) and Dr.
Blumenfeld, and later on by a Vienna Jew named Schlitter, who had
easier access to the Germans. These men wore wide blue-and-white
armbands with a large Star of David on their left arms. These insignia
gave them the right, among other things, to use the sidewalks and the
According to the regulation, "a ghetto in which all Jews have to be quartered must be established in Riga by 25 October 1941". The site of this ghetto included the left side of Maskavas (Moscow) Street, going from Lacplesa Street to Jersikas Street and ending with Zidu (Jews') Street next to the old Jewish cemetery. From there, the boundary extended along Lauvas Street to Liela Kalnu Street; then from the right side of Liela Kalnu Street along Daugavpils, Jekabpils, Katolu, Sadovnikova and Lacplesa Streets back to Liela Maskavas Street.
The creation of the ghetto now moved the Jewish center to the Moscow suburb, A large schoolhouse at 143 Lacplesa Street was assigned to the Jewish Committee.
In the garden and the courtyard of this house one could meet an endless procession of Jews who had been thrown out of their homes, together with their last remaining belongings. The pharmacist Katzin (owner of the Golden Series) greatly helped these unfortunate people. Many Jews also came to find out about the regulations concerning them and to hear news from the city center.
The Jewish Committee created various authorities, including a Billeting Department, which was headed by Mrs. Blumenfeld (Peka). The Legal Department was headed by the lawyer Finkelstein, and economic affairs were the responsibility of Robert Schlomowitsch and many others.
The surviving Jewish intelligentsia and all the significant Jewish public figures now tried as actively as they could to alleviate the great misery of their co-religionists.
To enable the Jews to receive at least the 50% food ration allotted to them, shops were set up especially for them in the Moscow suburb. The first shop was opened in Sadovnikova Street under the direction of Levius (who had previously owned a clothing shop). Later the number of these shops increased significantly. The fact that now all Jews were forced to shop in the Moscow suburb eliminated the danger that they might have to stand in lines together with Aryans.
Food was handed out in exchange for special food stamps that were checked off in a food distribution register. The food stamps and the book were yellow and bore the title "Zids" and "Jude" (Jew) in large letters. Of course everybody stood in long lines in front of the shops, and thus the question arose of whether the Jews had the statutory right to stand on the sidewalk. It was decided that the Jews had to stand in the gutter next to the sidewalk!
In the meantime, a barbed-wire fence was
erected in great haste around the new ghetto. Because one fence was
deemed insufficient, a second one was erected as well. The first
fenceposts were driven into the ground at the corner of Maskavas and
Lacplesa Streets, and from here the work proceeded rapidly. A few
large buildings were left out of the fenced-in area, contrary to the
law regarding the ghetto. This was a disadvantage for us. For example,
on Katolu Street a large comer building was excluded because it housed
the Svetlanov brothers' knitwear factory. A carpentry shop at 22 Maza
Kalnu Street, just inside the ghetto, was excluded: so were a small
chemical factory in Ludzas Street near Lauvas Street and a lumberyard
on Jersikas Street. A small wood-processing factory belonging to
Aryans on Blech Square, which was so bloody for us, was also excluded
from the ghetto. The Aryans who worked there now received special
passes that gave them access to the ghetto. All of these factories
were once again closed off from the ghetto on all sides with
additional barbed wire so that the Aryans could have no contact with
us whatsoever. Later the house on Maza Kalnu Street was handed over to
the Jews and included in the Large Ghetto.
In a space where previously a few thousand people had lived, tens of thousands of people were now forced to exist. This neighborhood had been inhabited mostly by Russian workers who were adherents of the old Orthodox Church (Staroobriadcy). It had traditionally been regarded as the Russian center. Now, even though because of the ghetto the Russian inhabitants were offered better and more comfortable apartments in the citym they did not want to part from their neighborhood. For them it was a tradition to have their splendid Orthodox churches near their homes.
The housing issue in the ghetto was one of the most difficult problems to solve. At first, six square meters were allowed per person; later, this space was reduced to four square meters. Every inch of space was utilized. Great struggles were fought in order to get an apartment. Both the Wehrmacht and the Gestapo had requisitioned the best houses for the Jews who worked for them. The Jews exploited their connections with the units they had worked for, and thus received better apartments. The Jewish Committee member Minsker finally put an end to this preferential treatment by forbidding people to come to the Billeting Department together with Aryans, including even high-ranking military officers, in connection with housing affairs.
My colleague Snejer and I received two small rooms for ourselves and our families in the large building at 2 Maza Kalnu Street. My comrade's father-in-law Borkon, a lawyer from Daugavpils, also lived with us.
The days until our move to the ghetto were already counted, and gradually people began to prepare for the move. One must imagine this move to be roughly similar to the Jews' exodus from Egypt (Isaiah - Mizrahim). Everything happened bchipozoin (in haste). We were not allowed to take along large pieces of furniture, only at most our beds, small cupboards and the like.
Now people packed only the essentials, and everything else was left behind. Some people sold their things for practically nothing, and still others were paid nothing whatsoever for them. The Latvians allowed nothing at all to be taken out of certain houses.
The streets leading to the ghetto were jammed with small wagons carrying household goods. The Russian population moved in one direction toward the city center, the Jews in the opposite direction into the ghetto.
Not only did the professional movers demand high prices from us, they also look things away from us. In some cases they even took off with all of our belongings. But whom could we complain to? Nobody was responsible for prosecuting such incidents.
To "relieve" us further, the Latvians posted guards on Daugavpils Street and other streets: they took away everything they could from us and beat us mercilessly besides.
All of our weeping and screaming did not help us.
The hours were numbered and the ghetto had to be locked up.
On Saturday, 25 October 1941 we were locked off from the whole world. We were completely surrounded by enemies and felt as though we were in the lion's jaws.
But we Jews had already experienced so many difficult times and great losses in our history. and had emerged as the victors again and again. So we thought to ourselves on this 25 October as well: be the sacrifices ever so great, we'll come through, no matter what!
Today I sit in Germany. which we cursed so bitterly, and record the churbn of our people. But in my spirit I already see a new, healthy generation that has been tried in battle! We have lost millions of people, but in the course of time we will perhaps replace them after all.
At this point I want to remind my readers of the words of one of our martyrs who bravely called out to the enemy as he faced certain death - the rifles had already been aimed at him:
"Don't think the Jewish people will be destroyed with my death; the Jewish people lives and will live forever!" (Herbert Machtus)
Our martyrs went to their death singing the Jewish hymn, the "Hatikva".
Od jisroel chaj!
Jewish people lives!)
As soon as the ghetto was locked, the following decree was issued: "Anyone who goes too close to the barbed wire will be shot without previous warning." On the very first night there were two victims on Jersikas Street. They were women, and when they were shot they fell directly onto the barbed wire, since the fence was so close to the narrow sidewalk that one practically had to touch it. After this incident the Committee immediately passed a regulation on travel inside the ghetto. Gaps were made in the fences of all the courtyards so that people could pass through them everywhere. At night our guards would disturb us with a lot of unnecessary shooting.
The Latvian guards wore Latvian military uniforms, and at first they even had the old Latvian insignia on their caps. They wore green armbands, and for this reason we called them bendeldicke (armband wearers).
The guards occupied a small yellow wooden house at the ghetto gate, and from the courtyard of this house they had access to the Jewish Committee. The Latvian guards were reinforced by a few German Wachtmeister (police patrolmen) from Danzig. These were the real leaders and gave the orders.
In the first few days, the returning work crews entered the ghetto directly through the ghetto gate. Later, so as to monitor us more closely, they made us first go through the guardhouse courtyard. Here we were searched very thoroughly and beaten very cruelly. Many of us wiII never forget this narrow entrance to the courtyard. There too we had victims to mourn.
After only two days, on 27 October, a Czech Jew was brought from the prefecture, shot immediately in the guardhouse courtyard and buried there. The poor man had gone to the prefecture to find out his future fate, and had been sent directly to the ghetto.
The Committee worked very intensely and meetings were held continually, since there was a great deal to do.
There was no housing for the Jews who had come from the city at the last minute. Some of them even had to be housed in the Committee's rooms. Inspectors (Friedmann etc.) were appointed to monitor housing affairs.
A home for the older people was set up on Ludzas Street, and a second one was set up next to Blech Square. Professor S. Dubnow had also been assigned a room on Ludzas Street.
The Labor Authority was headed by representatives of the Field Commander's office, the Aryans Stanke and Dralle. It too was working at full capacity.
The intermediary was the Jew Goldberg from Rujene; he had taken on a very difficult job.
It was decided that the ghetto would receive food only according to its work perfomance. Now everyone had to work, so that the already reduced rations would not be decreased eyen more.
A further decree
of the Field Commander was that all Jews had to register their
valuables, money, and movable and immovable property within the
country and abroad. Property worth more than 100 DM was confiscated
and became the property of the occupying forces. Of course this decree
made us seek ways and means to save whatever we could. At night and in
the early morning people worked in attics and dug secret hiding places
in cellars and within walls. We hardly knew how or where we could hide
something most safely. Of course it was easier for those who had a
garden or similarly convenient places available to them. In the
meantime, Soviet money was exchanged. Ten rubles were now worth one
A Jewish police force was set up, and the Riga jeweler Michael Rosenthal took on the job of leading it. He tried to maintain discipline and acted in a very decent and correct manner. For support he chose some of the intelligent young men, who literally sacrificed themselves for the common good. Of course it happened from time to time that they had to come and get people and put them into work crews, causing dissatisfaction; but after all, this was only done in our own interest, and the well-being and order of the ghetto required these measures.
Besides Prefect (Police Chief) Rosenthal the following comrades were on the police force: Berel, Bag, Wazbutzki, Soloweicik, Schatzow, Berner, Ginzburg, Landmann, Gutkin and others.
The reader will hear more later on about the German Jew Wand, who was also on the police force. In any case, all of them risked their lives during these difficult times in order to help us. The members of this police force wore uniforms. They wore blue caps with the Star of David.
In the cellars of the Committee the former Saeima deputy and lawyer Wittenberg collected holy objects and other valuable antiques (Talmuds, Torahs, and so on). He also founded and headed the Bureau of Statistics.
In one single outpatient clinic, the physician Dr. Josef tried with all his might to alleviate our sufferings. During the ghetto's short lifespan our doctors performed virtually superhuman feats. Because there was no room in the clinic for all the patients, they treated other patients at home, voluntarily and free of charge. One could see Dr. Mintz and Dr. Kostia Feiertag going to visit their patients day and night. And the other doctors were no less committed.
There were plenty of medicines in the large ghetto: Every individual had supplies of medicine and besides, the ghetto did not exist for very long, so the supplies were sufficient.
After the first
few weeks it became obvious that the sanitation conditions were
catastrophic. The city government refused to pick up any kind of
refuse. Thus we were forced to dig huge pits in the courtyards so that
garbage and other refuse could be disposed of. The result was that,
although it was winter, the air was heavy, bad and polluted. If the
ghetto had existed any longer, an
epidemic would inevitably have broken out. Probably this was our
enemies' final goal!
In the early morning hours, while it was still dark, the work crews had to assemble in Sadovnikova Street and some of the side streets. From there they marched, accompanied by a representative of their respective work stations, to do the tasks assigned to them. The largest work crews, which I will report on later, were those assigned to the Field Headquarters, the Billeting Department, the Gestapo, HVL, Knights' Hall, the Army Vehicle Park (HKP) and many others.
Besides these work stations, many people also worked in the ghetto itself. Before the ghetto was closed, a large work crew was sent to Jumpravmuiza to build barracks for the new arrivals (see the chapter on Jumpravmuiza).
The intelligentsia among the Jewish women set up a large ghetto laundry, in which people worked very hard. Mrs. Singel, Mrs. Trubek and others worked here under the guidance of the wife of Dr. Eljaschow the lawyer.
Over time, even a Technical Authority was set up. Its first task was an attempt to set up a public bath. In the meantime, the committee was very busy setting up certain training courses. I too submitted a project for training workers to do weaving both by hand and with mechanical looms. I also wanted to set up an adjoining knitting workshop. I proposed that the engineer IlIia Galpern (of the textile factory) be the technical director. Because of the short lifespan of the ghetto, none of these many plans could be implemented.
Among other things, the Jews now had to work as janitors, and people who had formerly played a grand role in society could now be met on the streets holding brooms in their hands. Because of the food distribution system, a great many people had to work in the shops newly opened by the Economic Authority.
Of course those who worked in the work crews outside the ghetto tried to scavenge food for themselves somehow; but it was extremely difficult to smuggle food into the ghetto as they returned.
My son worked in the Kassel construction crew, but only for a very short time. They were renovating a huge building (which was no longer part of the ghetto) on the left side of the ghetto gate. It had been assigned to the guards. This work made it very clear that the liquidation of the ghetto came very suddenly and that nobody had expected it. The Labor Authority had issued a limited number of special yellow working papers to specialists. Some craftsmen who were judged excellent received a special certificate marked "WJ" for wertvoller Jude (valuable Jew).
All too soon, a sad piece of news reached us. About thirty young girls and two young men had been sent to work in Olaine near Riga. After they had done their work, the Latvians took them to a nearby woods, shot them and plundered all their possessions. This incident caused extreme consternation in the ghetto and practically caused a panic. Moreover, on 14 November 1941 three women who had worked in Knights' Hall had been simply taken away and shot on the beach. Their boss, General Jeckeln, had by pure chance walked past the kitchen where they were working and seen that they were smoking. This was enough for him to order their immediate execution. One of these women was the wife of A. Tukazir, who had owned a wine business.
The next day the entire work crew at Knights' Hall was arrested, together with the Oberjude (head Jew) Folia Zacharow. For about twenty-four hours their fate was completely uncertain, but then they were released.
Every day news came from the work stations about people being arrested or taken away. For example Gorew-Kalmanowitsch, the former technical director of the "Frühmorgen" (Early Morning) and "Segodnia" (Today) newspapers, was arrested at his work station in the furniture work crew on Gogol Street. It was said that this arrest had been ordered by a former errand boy at "Segodnia", Danilow-Milkowski, who was then working for the Gestapo. All of us Jews knew him only too well. He ordered Gorew to explain to him exactly where he had hidden his possessions. He was told the addresses of various Aryans and went to them immediately, but nobody handed anything at all over to him. He did not attain his goal until he went to these people again, this time together with Gorew. Although he had promised to release Gorew, Danilow had him taken to prison, where he was shot.
There were also
suicides. For example, Mrs. Chana Meisel poisoned herself, her two
daughters Minna and Rasik, and her small four-month-old grandson.
Now people slowly grew accustomed to life in the ghetto, and in spite of all the difficulties they did not give up their hope for better times.
The Committee also dealt with the question of schooling. Some teachers from the Sabiedriska college-preparatory school were already teaching small groups in the Committee's building. In the meantime, the issue of heating became especially urgent during the harsh winter of 1941 . If the ghetto had not been closed so soon, this would certainly have led to a catastrophe.
To cover various expenses, the Committee levied a tax. An extraordinarily large amount or money was collected, but it was confiscated by the Gestapo even before the ghetto was liquidated.
Later on, many people said that the Committee had certainly made mistakes, because with such a large sum of money they ought to have managed to annul the gzeire, or command to liquidate the ghetto.
There were no houses of prayer in the ghetto. People prayed in the private quarters of Rabbi Zack and at various other places (Abrahamsohn, Katolu Street).
There were also
several attacks in the ghetto. For example, on the first Friday night
we received a "visit" in our house at 2 Maza Kalna Street. Drunken
Latvians and members or the German Wehrmacht (army) had climbed
over the ghetto fence. They robbed and beat us. Because our police
force was completely unarmed, their intervention did no good
whatsoever. Of course the people in the building were extremely
agitated. Because the front door was locked, the attackers broke a
window and climbed in through it. They brutally assaulted the
defenseless women. Later, a rumor arose that German deserters were
hiding in the ghetto.
In our small apartment, my wife proved her great skill as a housewife and arranged everything as comfortably as possible with the few belongings we had left. Food was distributed in very small amounts, and people began to hoard it for future consumption. Already even potato peelings were being used in various dishes, and the new "ghetto specialty", liver paste made from yeast, could be found everywhere.
In their free time our friends and acquaintances often gathered in our room. Because some of the men were already missing, most of the time there were more women. All the important current affairs were aired. Among the people who came - all of them later died, unfortunately, were Mrs. Pola Galpern, Zilla and Roma Pinnes, the lawyer Juli Berger, (Prince) Rabinowitz, Moritz Lange and his wife Beate, Simon Jakobsohn, Mrs. Chaikewitz, Dr. Prismann's wife and others. Many good acquaintances of ours also lived nearby (Mrs. Mila Jakobsohn. Dina Genina, Dolgicer and others).
On the last Saturday before the ghetto was liquidated, my comrade Folia Zacharow invited my wife and me to his mother's room for a tscholent (Saturday dinner) with all the pitschewkes (trimmings). A large company had come together (Prefect Rosenthal, the Ritow brothers. ivlrs. Seligsohn, Abraham Lazer and others). Except for Ritow and me, not one of these people is still alive today. My wife and I often visited the ghetto representative, the lawyer Eljaschow, in Sadovnikova Street. During the very last week of the ghetto, this great pessimist was looking at the future with a bit more hope. The reason he gave for this optimism was some conversations he had had with the authorities.
All of these hopes and suppositions were wiped out by the arrival of Minister Rosenbergs, because he ordered the ghetto to be liquidated. At this time there were more than 32,000 men, women and children in the ghetto. The large ghetto had lasted for exactly thirty-seven days.
With an aching heart I now begin the chapter on the ten bloody days.
Although these events took place six years ago, they are as firmly fixed in my memory as though they had happened only yesterday. And they will remain just as unforgettable for everyone who survived them.
Even today it is incomprehensible to me that Boira-Oilom (God) could sit on his kiseihakowed (throne of honor) and look down upon our great catastrophe. Why didn't the earth open up and swallow the murderers of our precious family members?
Why didn't the sun grow dark when it saw the mass murder of our beautiful, pure, innocent Jewish children?
The ten bloody days and other similar events will remain an indelible mark of shame not only for the people that claims world culture for itself, but also for the Latvian people.
The world had never before experienced the sadism and the animalistic instincts which came to light at that time.
And today all of these murderers dare to demand "just treatment" and "recognition"!
humankind is only too ready to forget - but we Jews can never and will
On 27 November 1941, a Thursday morning, a large printed announcement was put up in Sadovnikova Street in the ghetto: "The ghetto will be liquidated and its inmates will be evacuated. On Saturday, 29 November, all inmates must line up in closed columns of one thousand persons each. The first ones to go will be the inhabitants of the streets near the ghetto gate (Sadovnikova, Katolu, Lacplesa. part of Maskavas Street and others)."
The announcement included various further regulations which I can no longer remember today. The decree hit the ghetto like a bolt of lightning, and total chaos broke out. Sadovnikova Street was swarming with people, and the work crews that had been standing there were not let outside until later on.
People stood stunned before the momentous announcement and kept trying to puzzle out the meaning of the words "liquidated" and "evacuated". Nobody could imagine that behind these two terms something dangerous and catastrophic was concealed. It was decided that Vilanu Street and half of Liksnas Street had to be emptied of their inhabitants by the evening of 28 November. All the inhabitants of this block were driven into the interior of the ghetto. Work on the new fence around the diminished ghetto was begun immediately. The two streets looked as though a pogrom had taken place there. They were strewn with belongings that had been thrown out, and feathers from burst bedding were flying around everywhere. There was only one topic of conversation: the evacuation and preparations for the journey.
The larger work crews were told they had the possibility of staying in the newly-formed small camp and rejoining their families later.
women were registered as seamstresses and sent "to work" at the
I now conferred with my wife and my older brother about what I ought to do. We decided that I should go to the barracks camp so that I could later have the possibility of helping my family through my connections with the outside.
My son was to remain with my wife to give her support. On Friday evening I went once more with my wife to Dr. Eljaschow. In his room we met many acquaintances. I told him of my decision, and he also thought it was good. Of course nobody really knew the right thing to do
I spent the last evening with my family at home. My wife made supper using the best food supplies we still had, and we talked till late that night. We agreed that if we should be torn apart, each of us would send his address in a letter to the Abe Ziw family in Palestine immediately after the war.
We didn't sleep all night, and in the early morning hours I went one more time to my many relatives to bid them farewell, as though I already suspected I would never see any of them again. I had to go to work, and I now said farewell to my wife and my son. For a long, long time we stood there, our eyes filled with tears. My dear wife tried to comfort me by saying repeatedly that we would certainly meet again soon.
I went to work,
and my son accompanied me for a short distance.
Very early on Saturday morning, 29 November 1941 the columns of people to be resettled assembled on Sadovnikova Street.
Our work crews, which were also standing there, did not know for a long time whether they would be let out at all.
The first resettlement column had to stand next to the ghetto gate. Its leader was Dr. Eljaschow. He was wearing his elegant black fur coat with a blue-and-white armband. The expression on his face showed no disquiet whatsoever; on the contrary, because everyone was looking at him he made an effort to smile hopefully. At his side one could see:: Rabbi Zack, who was somewhat shorter. Many well-known citizens of Riga were in the columns. for example old Wolschonok with his blind brother, Lewstein the banker, and many other prominent figures from our midst.
SA members in their brown uniforms kept arriving continually: among them were Altmeyer and Jäger. The Latvian murderer Cukurs got out of a car wearing a leather coat, with a large pistol (Nagan) at his side. He went to the Latvian guards to give them various instructions. He had certainly been informed in detail about the great catastrophe that awaited us. The guards had been strongly reinforced, and large amounts of schnapps (liquor) had been delivered to them.
After long conferences, the work crews were sent to their work stations, but the resettlement columns were ordered to go home. Of course this order caused tremendous joy in the ghetto, and people were already saying that the whole evacuation had been canceled.
In the meantime, at our work station we were full of anxiety. So we sent a soldier to the ghetto to find out what was going on. He returned with reassuring news. Nonetheless we tried to get permission to go home earlier, as an exceptional favor. At three that afternoon we got back to the ghetto. We stood at the large gate, but we were no longer allowed to go in. Accompanied by the Latvian guards, we were taken to our new barracks camp.
As we walked past the ghetto fence we saw that the ghetto was in an uproar. I saw many acquaintances, whom I greeted from afar.
The barracks camp was already full of people who had arrived from the ghetto in the course of the day. One of them was my son with his baggage.
My wife had not wanted to leave me alone. At that moment I was not at all happy about this new solution, for I had wanted my wife to have him with her for support. I looked for an opportunity to discuss the matter with her once more.
A ruined building in Vilanu Street was assigned to our work crew as our shelter.
We started to
settle in anew.
(Look down from
heaven and see!
Suddenly, late that evening the bloody evacuation began. Thousands of uniformed Latvians and Germans, all of them absolutely drunk, streamed into the ghetto and began to literally hunt down the Jews! It was a hunt to the death! Like wild animals they broke into the Jewish apartments and searched everywhere, from the cellars to the attics.
People tried to hide, but these" wild beasts" dragged and tore everyone away from the most secret hiding places. They beat us and shot wildly in all directions and drove the defenseless and wounded Jews out of their houses.
They tore children away from their mothers. They grabbed them by the feet and threw the poor little children out of the top-floor windows. Like tigers, the murderers ran from house to house and from room to room.
They ordered people to get dressed as fast as they could and take only the bare essentials with them. Shuddering mothers looked at their small children whose hands had been broken and who could only moan in pain.
The columns of people were driven from one side toward Sadovnikova Street, and from then: they were forced to march toward Maskavas Street. From the other side, the commandos wen: also moving toward Maskavas Street down Ludzas and Lauvas Streets.
The columns of people were closely surrounded by Latvians, but each column was led by a German. Mounted policemen were also present. The large blue city buses were used to transport sick and weak people. They took people out of the Linas Hazedek hospital and the shelter on Ludzas Street. These vehicles drove back and forth all night and all morning.
The ten Jewish drivers of the ghetto were also mobilized to transport the sick people. Only one of them, the driver Zamka, was lucky enough to come back. He too reported ghastly and nearly inconceivable events.
All the vehicles and columns of people moved down Maskavas Street toward the big Kvadrats rubber factory. This was during the night of 29 November 1941, the tenth day of the month of Kislev.
A bloody night, a bloody morning!
Blood flowed in the streets, and in every street lay people who had been shot dead.
Blood, blood everywhere!
Everyone was driven forward toward Salaspils. There, at the Rumbula station near the forest, the Germans had already prepared graves. It was said that Russian prisoners of war had been forced to dig these graves.
Men, women and children were ordered to strip naked in the bitter frost. They had to stand this way for a long time. They were beaten terribly, their gold teeth were pulled out, and finally they were pushed to the edge of the graves to be shot. Many women fainted from fright before they were killed. Small children were thrown alive into the graves.
Many who were merely wounded threw themselves voluntarily between the dead in the open graves in order to die with them. Women and men embraced in farewell in the face of death. The luckless ones stood there in their thousands and had to wait their turn, watching their brothers and sisters being shot.
Vehicle followed vehicle. When one was empty, the next one arrived. The adults' hair literally stood on end, and the children were stiff with horror.
The religious Jews said their vide (prayers) before the schchite (slaughter).
Quietly and calmly they said a prayer to God: "Eil rachum wchanum!" (God, have mercy!) and submitted willingly to death.
The earth still
heaved for a long time because of the many half-dead people. The
Germans had taken over the watch. Did they perhaps fear that the
murdered people would rise from their graves?
The bloodbath was ended on Sunday, 30 November. The partial evacuation was stopped, and only the murderers moved through the ghetto, still shooting.
The Jews crept out of their hiding places and whatever holes they had found and looked around them to see whether the Latvian and German gangs were still there.
Ludzas Street in the center of the ghetto was full of murdered people. Their blood flowed in the gutters. In the houses there were also countless people who had been shot. Slowly people began to pick them up.
The lawyer Wittenberg had taken this holy mission upon himself, and he mobilized the remaining young people for this task.
Back and forth drove the hearse, collecting all the corpses and taking them to the old Jewish cemetery. Those who were already half-dead were also taken away and died on the way.
Blood flowed like water!
Large common graves were dug in the old Jewish cemetery. Certainly more than a thousand murdered people were buried in each of them, and it was no longer possible to record exactly who was among them.
The Latvians also brought Dr. Freidmann's family to the cemetery. His wife and his child, although they had been shot, were still alive. Only here were they shot dead, and after that Dr Freidmann himself was forced to bury them.
Bernhardt, the son-in-law of Maikapar (owner of a cigarette factory), was also brought to the cemetery from the city, where he had hidden with his wife and children near Baltezers (White Lake) in Jugla. He had been betrayed by an Aryan woman who was after his property. He and his family were shot. Only he was Jewish, for his wife came from a well-known Karaim family. The same fate overtook Bernhardt's mother and his two sisters.
The Aryans who lived in the surrounding houses cold-bloodedly watched all of these events in the ghetto. Of course the news of our great catastrophe was immediately circulated in the city.
Through this operation, all the inhabitants of Sadovnikova Street and all the streets near it (Katolu, Daugavpils, Jekabpils, Ludzas and Liela Kalna Street, as well as part of Maskavas Street) had been exterminated.
This bloody night
and the following morning had swallowed up more than 15,000 men.
women and children!
On this bloody Sunday as always, we were driven out of our new barracks camp to our work stations in the darkness of early morning. Because our camp was in the furthest-back part of the ghetto, we didn't know what had happened in the front part.
Through the fence we saw the columns of people departing; we heard weeping, screaming, and shooting, but we could not find out any details.
Completely distraught and half-dead with fear for our family members, we began to work. My son came to work with me. To gain certainty and reassurance, we exploited our acquaintance with German soldiers and sent some of them to the ghetto to have a look. Not even these soldiers were let in; they only told us about many horrible things they had seen from a distance. Now we tried at least to gain permission to leave our work station as soon as possible. Finally. at two p.m., this permission was granted.
We reached the ghetto gate at Sadovnikova Street. From afar we noticed that the place looked deserted. Countless things lay scattered in the streets. Our work crew was hailed and we were ordered to pick up everything that was lying around the gate and to bring it in. We carried all of these things into the large, recently renovated building that had been prepared for the ghetto guards.
In the course of our work we discovered in one package, wrapped in rags, a four-week-old child. It lay there perfectly calm and quiet and had probably been tom from its mother by one of these murderers. Even today I still see the baby's shining eyes before me. The Latvian who was guarding us took the child with him, and certainly it suffered only too soon the same fate as all the other Jewish children.
When we returned to our camp, we found many new people who had managed with the greatest difficulty to reach safety there that morning. A Latvian guard and some officers of our Jewish police force were standing by the passage that led from our barracks camp to the ghetto.
All those who
tried to reach safety in our camp received extraordinary support from
the Jewish policeman Wand. He helped wherever and however he could,
and because of the great credit he thus earned we forgave him later on
for many a mistake he had made.
Many of us, including me, tried to make some kind of contact with our people in the ghetto, which was very difficult. In any case we had by then found out what had happened there. Some members of our commando were also deployed to bury the murdered people. In the meantime, my son had managed to get into the ghetto. He returned very soon with an unspeakably sad piece of news for me. My wife had been one of the victims of the great catastrophe that had hit all of us.
Now people told me the following story: in order to bring a few things to us men in the camp, my wife had left the house early in the morning in the company of her friends Mrs. Trubek and Mrs. Abram and her neighbor Mrs. Schneier. At the corner of Ludzas and Liksnas Streets, they came upon a column of people that was passing by and were pulled along with it. But others reported that the guards had taken the things away from the women and shot them on the spot.
When I heard this dreadful news I fainted; it took me a long time to regain consciousness. Weeping, my poor boy comforted me. Despite his youth he already understood that we had lost not only a wife and mother but also the best comrade of our lives. In her, a very refined, exceptionally decent, and unusually intelligent and clever human being had left us. Through her outstanding character she had set an example for everyone.
For a long time I
simply could not believe she was dead: I was convinced, as was
everyone else who shared the same fate with me, that our loved ones
had been evacuated.
The next morning we had to go to work again. At our work stations we tried to make contacts so as to find out more details about the "evacuation". Not only from our work crew but also from various other places, the Jews began to send schiluchim (messengers) to find out the whereabouts of the "evacuated" people.
An Aryan woman who visited me assured me that all of them were in a camp in Salaspils. The ghetto inhabitants who still remained were also taken there. A comrade from our work crew named Buwitz looked for the "evacuated" people, together with our gendarmes from the field headquarters, near the Kvadrats factory. From him we also heard that many Jews had been seen in Jumpravmuiza - men, women and children. Because nobody was allowed to go near them, once again nothing definite could be found out. Later it turned out that Jews, but only German Jews, had been brought there (see the chapter on Jumpravmuiza).
In the meantime, it had become somewhat easier to go back and forth between the ghetto and our camp. I myself met Grischa Mincker and his wife (Chaikewitz) of the Jewish Council in the camp; however, they returned to the ghetto only a short time later.
The greatest calm now reigned in the ghetto, and we could move back and forth without hindrance. Everyone was preparing for the resettlement that was scheduled for Monday. Nobody could believe that anything so horrible could really have happened to the first columns of evacuees; if it had, we would surely have heard about some kind of resistance on their part. So all of us sent along our greetings to those who had already been resettled.
I went to say my farewells to the few relatives and acquaintances of mine who were in the ghetto.
My wife's friends received me with tears in their eyes, for they knew she had been murdered in the ghetto. At their place I met Mrs. Eva Lewenstein, Mrs. Blumstein, Roma and Zilla Pinnes, Mrs. Raja Lulow (her husband George had been arrested and then murdered) and Mrs L. Misroch. The latter is the only one who is still alive today. I met only the women of the Schatzow (Salmansohn) and Lange families (Moritz Lange had been shot in front of the house he lived in). Of my own family I found only my sister, Mrs. Rebekka Hurwitz, with her children. Her son worked together with me and later died in Buchenwald. I also visited Mrs. Kaplan (Garabetow), who was then seriously ill, Mrs. Singel and Mrs. Stern.
Many of us went to the ghetto to bring things back from there. But I no longer wanted to cross the threshold of my apartment there. I gave up everything, for I could not look again at the room which my dearly beloved wife had left forever.
By this time my neighbor Borkon (a lawyer from Daugavpils) had also died.
The second evacuation began on Monday, 8 December 1941 (the eighteenth day of the month of Kislev). The same procedure was followed as in the first one, only it was somewhat calmer and there were fewer victims. Once again the blue buses drove back and forth, and the columns of people marched in the same direction. A German marched at the head of each column, but otherwise these processions of misery were surrounded by Latvians on foot and on horseback. If anyone fell behind while marching, he was beaten with truncheons and shot. These beasts had evidently still not been sated by the blood that had flowed the previous week.
On these days too I went to work with my son.
At the work station I organized an expedition that was to find out in which direction the columns of people were marching. Together with the driver Becker from the headquarters, whom I paid well for this, I put together a work group to gather wood. In a truck we drove through Salaspils toward Ogre. As we approached the Kvadrats factory we encountered the first evacuees. We slowed down. They were walking quite calmly, and hardly a sound was heard. The first person in the procession we met was Mrs. Pola Schmulian (wife of the wholesale lumber dealer and sister of Mrs. Baruchsohn). Her head was deeply bowed and she seemed to be in despair. I also saw other acquaintances of mine among the people marching: the Latvians would occasionally beat one or another of them with their truncheons.
From afar I also saw two other columns, which were drawing closer to the Rumbula railway station. There they halted. In this way, the organizers wanted to create the impression that from there they would be transported to points further on. But in reality they were herded in groups into the forest and slaughtered.
On the way I counted six murdered people who were lying with their faces in the snow.
The murderers showed their "compassion" for the bitterly weeping small children by stopping, some of the sledges, emptying them, and roughly throwing the children into them. I can still hear their thin, weeping little voices today!
We drove on.
At the edge of the road, hidden by a small wood, stood two trucks and between sixty and eighty soldiers. They were soldiers of the German Wehrmacht. Only a short distance past the wood we saw machine guns set close together in the snow. As far as I could judge, they reached from Rumbula to the banks of the Daugava River, about three kilometers away.
When I saw this, I instantly realized that a great catastrophe would occur here.
However, our driver, Becker, explained as a professional military man that these were merely preventive measures to keep people from escaping. But I held on to my suspicion, which was later confirmed.
Everything I had seen proved beyond a doubt that the German Wehrmacht was deeply involved in these mass murders.
We drove on, in order to examine the whole route. Next to the church in Salaspils stood a large camp, but it was for Russian prisoners of war. They told us they knew nothing at all about the Jews.
On the way back we chose another route. When we returned with all of these news to our comrades at the field headquarters, they were of course overcome by dread.
In the meantime, the ghetto bled on. The resettlement claimed new victims, and again the action lasted a whole day, for that was how long the German and Latvian gangs rampaged through the camp, looting and murdering.
Before this barbarism was over, a large number at people managed to reach safety in a house at 66 Ludzas Street and in another corner of Liksnas Street (which was later an outpatient clinic). How and why their efforts succeeded is a riddle to me even today. The group mostly consisted of women and children.
We finally saved a group of about one hundred people that same evening by bringing them into the cellar of the field headquarters. Among them were Mrs. Kamenkowitsch with her boys, my sister-in-law (B. Kaufmann) with her daughter, Mrs. Dworkin, the large Pukin family, and others.
After we had happily settled all of them in, we held a short religious service and said Kaddish (the prayer for the dead).
According to later reports, the liquidation in Rumbula proceeded in exactly the same was as the previous action.
As I have already mentioned, the columns of people were delivered to the railway station in order to keep up the illusion, and from there they were taken in groups at night to the graves that had already been prepared for them.
Once again they were forced to strip naked, then pushed into the graves and shot. Every individual piece of clothing had to be put in a specially designated place. This fact shows the cold-bloodedness and precision with which our murderers went about their business.
Whether men or women, all were was overtaken by the same fate! Even the small children were shot in groups and thrown into the graves, some still half-alive.
This action cost us about 11,500 people. Only three women managed to escape from these two bloodbaths.
On Tuesday, 9 December 1941 the ghetto experienced the tenth bloody day.
As usual, all the work crews left the barracks camp in the very early morning to go to their work stations.
And now the same cruel game began anew. At nine o'clock Germans and Latvians, led by SA men, stormed into the camp. There was a second rounding-up of the Jews. Once again the Jews tried to hide in attics and cellars, once again the beasts searched through hiding place after hiding place, shot, looted, and pushed everyone they found into the blue buses that were standing ready. Once again they drove back and forth continually, this time not toward Rumbula but toward the Bikernieki forest. There the same kind of mass murder was perpetrated.
Our barracks camp was not spared further murders, and thus our new shelter was once again baptized by Jewish blood.
When Dr. Kretzer, who lived in Vilanu Street, saw all of our misery, he tried to commit suicide, but he was saved.
Shortly before twelve o'clock, just as a new column was to be sent to be exterminated, the SA man Jäger showed up among the murderers. He pulled out his watch and announced, "You're in luck! It is now one minute past twelve. The action is over."
That is how monstrously cynical the SA people were then, and in the great trial that is now going on in Nuremberg they denied having participated in any way in the bestial actions of those days.
That bloody Tuesday had claimed about five hundred victims.
During the bloody ten days we lost more than 27,000 people - men, women and children!
A special ghetto was established for the women who were still alive and those who were returning from the prisons. The children were also quartered there. The women’s ghetto consisted of a complex of houses at 68 - 70 Ludzas Street and on Liksnas Street. It was said that ninety of the so-called seamstresses (many women had registered as members of this profession) were missing when the group came back from the Terminal Prison.
The Economic Authority also took up its activities again. First one shop and then several more were opened. We received food from the area commissary, which was in fact our "host". The wages we were supposed to receive from our employers were paid to the area commissary.
The Labor Authority was set up at 72 Ludzas Street. Its head at that time was the German Stanke, who had also personally taken part in the liquidation of the large ghetto. He was assisted by the Latvian Dralle, whose name will certainly be known to many Riga Jews who used to patronize the Jewish Club. Dralle’s father had been employed there for a long time as a waiter.
Incidentally, now that I am on the subject of the Riga club, I do not want to miss this opportunity to commemorate my good friend Leo Woloschinski. He was the club’s business manager and died a horrible death in July 1941.
The aforementioned Dralle often beat and tortured us. The Jewish representative at the Labor Authority was a certain Kassel, and he had an assistant named Meisel (formerly an employee of Lui Thal). The office manager was Mrs. Wischnewska. Later on we received work booklets, which also served as passes. These booklets bore the inscription "Jew" in large letters. The employer had to record in them the hours we had worked.
The outside guard duty
was in Latvian hands, but inside the ghetto there was also a
special company of guards (at 66 Ludzas Street). It consisted of
German policemen from Danzig. Initially the chief of this group
was the German police officer Hesfer. Besides him, the murderers
Tuchel, Neumann, Kobello, Karasik and others remain unforgettable
to us, for all of them had countless human lives on their
conscience. The reader will hear more details about them soon.
In the beginning, the living conditions in the small ghetto were appalling. Between ten and fifteen people had to live in one small room. They had to sleep on the floor, and in addition there was the cold, which we felt very intensely. Because of the unhygienic conditions all kinds of illnesses due to uncleanliness naturally spread. The situation in the women's ghetto was exactly the same.
The men’s opportunities to visit the women's ghetto were limited; they had to have special permits to do so. The entrance to the women's ghetto was guarded initially by Jewish policemen and then by women. At this time the mood was extraordinarily depressed, for people had lost all trust that they would be safe in the ghetto, and they began to consider how they could manage to be transferred to barracks in the city. This plotting became a virtual obsession! (see the chapter "Barracks Camps - Small Concentration Camps"). This obsession led to attempts to escape from the ghetto and from the work stations. Among those who escaped were Tevia Gurwitz and his son and Herz Bersin (of the Bersin brothers' family). Pretty Mrs. Dworkin (of Liepaja) also disappeared from my work station at the field headquarters: unfortunately, she was later caught and shot.
After many people had managed to be transferred to barracks in the city, the living conditions improved. The newly created Billeting Department was headed by Brandt and Margolin.
We went to work while it was still dark and came back in the late evening. No matter how hard the work was, we were still afraid every time to return to the ghetto. At the work station, people were still busy trying to find out whether the liquidation of the large ghetto had really been a resettlement or not. Schiluchim (messengers) were sent back and forth.
The Jews who worked at the Gestapo headquarters often came across clothes marked with the Jewish star that had been delivered there. There were also many old Latvian passes that had belonged to Jews. Through Aryans we knew, very sad news reached us from the city. All of this implied that there was something suspicious about the "resettlement".
A rumor arose in the ghetto that a card from the artist Rachel Raschina had come by post from Daugavpils, saying that the resettled Jews would be sent further on. Unfortunately, this was not the truth.
And so in the course of time we were forced to realize that we had really lost our loved ones forever! But we didn't believe it yet, because we simply didn't want to believe it.
Later, one of the three women who had saved themselves returned to the ghetto: it was Mrs. Hamburger. She said she had been only wounded but had lain in one of the graves nonetheless. In the night she had climbed out, hidden under the mountains of clothes that were lying around, and risked fleeing at an opportune moment. Unfortunately, she was killed some time later. The second woman went insane, and the third, who was hidden by a minister, is now said to be back in Riga.
In the meantime, the
three hundred people in the turf-cutting work crew returned from
Sloka. They had not heard anything about the liquidation of the
ghetto or the mass murders connected with it.
The Latvian guards lived in the large ghetto, which was now completely deserted. They looted whatever they could for themselves. Actually they were still stationed there in order to protect the large amount of Jewish property that remained. The Latvian Danskop, one of these guards, was known far and wide for his acts of murder and his unparalleled sadism.
A special commando was assembled for the work of clearing out the large ghetto. No Jew was allowed to take even the smallest thing there for himself. The head of this commando was Aismann, a Jew from Daugavpils, whom the murderers especially trusted. He kept excellent watch over his workers and appealed to them for God's sake not to take anything for themselves.
Of course we tried repeatedly to get back into the empty ghetto from our camp so as to get back some of our belongings or things we had hidden. These efforts claimed victims every day. Danskop, Hesfer and Tuchel had an especially large number of human beings on their conscience; for them, a Jewish life was worthless.
In order to curry favor with the authorities, Aismann did not hesitate to do any evil deed. He even went so far as to betray Jewish hiding places. He also engaged in various other evil actions. We regarded him as a traitor and were very afraid of him. Thank God that his fate overtook him soon. Tuche! ordered him to come to the old Jewish cemetery to discuss a matter involving gold, and shot him there. His death brought us only joy; if this murder had not taken place we would certainly have killed him ourselves.
All of the things taken from the Jewish houses were sorted and prepared for sale to the Latvian population. Even German units went to the ghetto to get what they needed. Our field headquarters also sent trucks several times to fetch furniture and other useful items. I know that eyen the general in charge of the field headquarters, Dr. Bamberg, took some of these things for himself and sent them to Germany.
I do not doubt for a second that many Jewish valuables still lie buried today in the earth of the former large ghetto. But nobody knows about them.
Only too often,
when someone tried to dig up the things he had hidden he found
things that had been buried by someone else. Looking for
places) became a virtual mania.
In the early morning of Saturday, 13 December 1941 the first transports of German Jews to the ghetto arrived at the Skirotava station. Jews had already arrived on 3 December, but they had been sent on to Jumpravmuiza (see the chapter on Jumpravmuiza). The first transport was from Cologne. All of these unfortunate people still had elegant luggage, which they had been allowed to take along. But in Riga they were told at once that they didn't need to worry about their bags any longer because they would be delivered to them directly in the ghetto. Every piece of luggage bore in colored script the name of its owner, the evacuation number, and the city from which it had come. "Isaac" had been added to the men's names. "Sarah" to the women's. The suitcases and boxes, which their owners were now waiting for in the ghetto, never arrived, for they were delivered directly to the Gestapo (see the chapter on the Gestapo barracks camps).
The Jews reached the ghetto that same afternoon. There was severe frost, and we were just coming back from our work stations. Men, women and children arrived.
In a state of complete
collapse, with their faces protected from the cold with scarves,
in columns and rows of five, without luggage or carrying a handbag
at most, they made their entrance.
They were assigned a part of the large ghetto. The guards who accompanied them were Gestapo people wearing skull insignia.
In the course of a month, transports of Jews came from Vienna, Hannover, Bielefeld and Hamburg; combined transports came from Bavaria and Saxony. Czech Jews who had previously been in Theresienstadt arrived from Prague.
Among the new arrivals there were even some Aryan women who were married to Jews and did not want to part from their husbands and children.
I can no longer remember how many people were brought in, but I estimate that it was between 15,000 and 18,000. In everyone of them you could see the difficult years they had just lived through. Among them were many pretty young women.
When they arrived in the ghetto they were lucky, because they were assigned the apartments and things left behind by our "resettled" people. This was a great help to them. During the first few days they received no rations at all, so they had to live on the supplies they could still find in the apartments.
When we went to work in the morning, the children were already standing by the fence and calling out to the work crews that were marching past them: "Uncle, bread, bread!" They whined and wept. Even though we ourselves were very short of bread, we still gave them our last remaining pieces. Then we scavenged bread at our work stations, and in the evenings we brought it with us to the waiting children. Our commando (at the field headquarters) collected and gave an especially large amount.
At this point I recall my comrade Lewinsohn, who did an extraordinary amount for the children although he had two children of his own. It was fairly difficult to get the bread over the fence, and sometimes it even cost lives; for if the guards saw us, we were chased, beaten and even shot at.
The German Jews were under the command of the Gestapo. After their arrival the ghetto swarmed with Gestapo people.
Our small ghetto was
separated from the larger one by barbed wire, and officially there
was no connection of any kind between the two.
In time, the German Jews began to organize themselves. Each group had its representative. The Cologne group was headed by Leiser, the Prague group by Steuer, the group from Hannover and Vienna by Fleschel, and so on. Leiser was also the chief representative of the Jewish Council in the Reich ghetto and kept this post until the liquidation. In contrast to us, the German Jews wore only one star, inscribed "Jew", on their chests.
Because they didn't want to twist their tongues around the difficult Latvian street names, they re-named the streets. The ghetto was now German and was going to have German names. Of course they could not rename one street Adolf-Hitlerstraße and another HermannGöringstraße as the city of Riga had done, so they re-named the streets after their groups' cities of origin. Ludzas Street became Leipzigerstraße, and others became Kölnerstraße, Wienerstraße and so on. The only street that kept its name was Maskavas Street. It was not used at all any more, because the posts of the barbed-wire fence stood directly next to the houses.
The passageway to Ludzas Street was called the Prager Tor (Prague Gate). Whole housing complexes were also re-named: Sachsenhaus, Pragerhaus and so on. A small house was named Jägerhaus, or Hunting Lodge.
The German Gestapo set up a ghetto command headquarters at 56 Ludzas Street. A German Jewish police force was also created. Its chief was the German Jew Frankenberg. This police force still tried to advocate the view that "the law is the law", which under the circumstances was quite useless. By contrast, our Jewish police force only tried to exploit all the regulations to our advantage.
Each group had its own administration, supply system, and a section of the labor authority. The central labor authority, however, was responsible both for the German Jews and for us; but the Germans had an extra representative on it, a man from Cologne named Schulz.
At the end of December. the "man-eater" Krause became the commander of both ghettos. We found out that before the war he had been a police detective in Berlin. The Gestapo man Max Gymnich from Cologne was appointed as his functionary and assistant. These two murderers acquired a large and dangerous dog to lend them support.
A prison for inmates from both ghettos was set up in the area where the Hannover group was quartered. When it became too full, an annex was set up in the courtyard of the command headquarters. All too many of us got to know this prison. The smallest misstep, even a suspicion, was enough to land one in it. Once there, many people disappeared forever.
In the beginning the German Jews did not yet have to work outside the ghetto: instead, they were assigned to clear out the apartments of the people who had been "evacuated". Women also worked at the delousing stations under the supervision of the Gestapo man Buchholz.
The German Jews were given their first rude surprise by the Latvian Danskop. He shot eighteen young girls whom he unjustly suspected of having stolen things from Jewish houses. Of course this incident caused the greatest consternation in the German ghetto.
The first outside work crews, consisting of women, came into the city to shovel snow. There had just been heavy snowfalls, so hundreds of pretty Jewish women, "adorned" with their Jewish stars and wearing only rags on their feet, had to clear away the snow.
In the city center, where I too was working, the German soldiers watched from the windows of the command headquarters how "their women" were being forced to work. A certain expression of dissatisfaction and sympathy could be seen only on the faces of the older men in the units.
These poor, hungry women received bread from us.
In the course of time the German work crews merged together with ours, and all of us went together to work outside the ghetto.
Large sewing and knitting stations and technical workshops were set up for the older women and men in the former shelter on Blech Square. Some of the people also worked there for the Wehrmacht. Many Jews worked in the ghetto itself.
Whole mountains of old kitchenware. including many samovars, could be seen on Blech Square. These things had been collected for re-use, There was even a ground-floor apartment at 2 Kalna Street whose rooms were full of silver objects, including many objets d'art and valuables.
The children in the German ghetto received schooling again as soon as possible: there was no lack of talented teachers. Kindergartens were set up for the smaller ones.
Even in the very
crowded ghetto, each person continued his own family life.
At the end of 1941 and the beginning of 1942, our mood was quite subdued. America's entry into the war (on 11 December 1941) and the situation of the Germans outside Leningrad, where they were making absolutely no progress, worsened our situation considerably. It was aggravated by the extraordinarily cold winter (all of the motor vehicles got stuck). It was hard to recall a similar winter, and it weighed heavily on the victors' psyche.
On New Year's Day Hitler made a huge political speech, as he did every year. In his speech he expressed not the slightest doubt about a final victory, and heaped scorn and mockery on his enemies. He devoted a considerable part of his speech to us, his "bloody enemies".
He said he would wreak a special vengeance on us, who were to blame for this war, and he would make sure that in the future a Jew in Europe would be a rarity. He carried out his plan for us by having the bones of six million Jews ground up in the special machines of highly developed German technology.
Nor were we forgotten by Goebbels, Rosenberg and their cronies. Even the radio reporter Fritsche flung new filth at us almost daily and even threatened us with the sword.
Through these speeches we knew we could not expect much good from now on. Every one or us had to rely on his own attempts to save himself by any means available. Unfortunately, this was practically impossible, because we would have had to depend on help from the native population, but we could not trust them in the least. Because all of us had hidden in their homes things they wanted to possess, all of us feared they would betray us for that reason alone. They were already going so far as to bring poisoned food to the work stations for those who had entrusted their last remaining possessions to them. My Aryans gave me and my son presents of food which we didn't touch, although we were half-dead from hunger.
This was the atmosphere in which the year 1942 began!
The long. hard winter of 1942 brought us great hardship. There was a great shortage of fuel. Initially we were still permitted to have a small amount of wood that had been left behind in the Large Ghetto by the "evacuated" people, but this soon ran out. So we had to try to scavenge some fuel at our work stations. Now as we returned from our work crews, most of us carried a piece of wood together with the food he had received or scavenged.
All of us were dressed fairly warmly, for we still owned clothes from the good old days. But one day as we returned through the ghetto gate, all of our winter clothes were simply taken away from us and we had to walk on, only scantily clothed, in the severe frost.
Then a new regulation decreed that all warm clothing, furs and the like had to be handed in. Sabotage meant death! What were we to do? I too still owned a fur coat. But by that time my son had already tom it apart without asking my permission, burned part of it and thrown the rest into the latrine. He said, "I won't give up this fur coat to my mother's murderers, even if I have to pay for it with my life!" Now we had to walk around freezing miserably for a long time until we had once again scavenged protective clothing for ourselves.
One day as we came home from our work, we found a group of photographers and reporters from Germany at the entrance to the ghetto. They had shown up expressly to get material for illustrated journals. They sought out the ugliest and most ragged people from our ranks and forced them to make grotesque faces besides. Later we saw in a journal the picture of our comrades, captioned: "Typical faces of the Riga ghetto"!
Commandant Krause became more brutal from day to day. He implemented with extreme strictness his decree that bartering was punishable by death. This measure claimed its first victims in the German ghetto. But that did not prevent anyone there from continuing to chilifn, as they put it. And in fact if a person wanted to go on living at all, there was no alternative to scrounging or bartering his last remaining possessions.
Smuggling something into the ghetto always involved the greatest danger, because if even the smallest thing was discovered in a body search, the Commandant immediately issued a death sentence. He then carried out this sentence personally by shooting the person at the wall of the Jewish cemetery (see the chapter "Kworim Weinen").
Because the Labor Authority was not yet operating at full capacity, Dralle went from apartment to apartment to get people for work crews. Those who had hidden and were found by him were beaten soundly.
The most difficult work crew at that time was the "cable crew". They had to lay cables in the frozen earth. The foremen of that work crew beat us more than the others.
Because the sanitation conditions were extremely bad, it was decided in mid-January to enlarge our ghetto up to Maza Kalna Street. Our work group at the field headquarters was quartered in a house of its own at 55 Ludzas Street. It took a fairly long time for us to put it more or less into order. As we cleared it out we found all kinds of valuables left behind by the "evacuated" people.
I too fixed up a small inner room in the house for my son and me. Next door to us lived the sign-painter Levi with his two talented sons and the typewriter dealer and mechanic Abramsohn, who also had his son with him. Later we were joined by Professor Gurwitz. Nearby a certain Mr. Klein (from Auce), whom we called Dziadzia (Uncle), had set up a shelter for himself and his nephew. At that time Klein was the leader of our work crew. The pharmacist Jeletzki and Dr. Sandler (from Ludza) lived with them.
In the evenings all of us gathered together to discuss the general political situation. I was the radio commentator. Because I worked in the apartment of our commandant, who was also a senior official of the court-martial, I had the opportunity to listen to the radio when nobody noticed. Listening to foreign radio stations was punishable by death. Generally I first allowed myself a stroll to Moscow and then to England, where I listened to the extraordinarily good and clear reports of Lindley Frazer. Of course I didn't miss the broadcasts of the German Fritsche and the speeches of the great German Führer.
Because of my reports, they always waited for me impatiently in the cellar of tile field headquarters. Once the whole thing nearly went wrong, because I had forgotten to tune the court-martial official's radio back to the German station. Of course he noticed it and reminded me of the punishment that had been decreed for it. I promised to strictly obey the regulations regarding this activity in the future, but of course I did not do so.
It was practically impossible for us Jews to obtain a newspaper. Possessing newspapers and other written material was punished by death. Nonetheless, one or the other of us would occasionally dare to stealthily smuggle printed matter into the ghetto.
Of course the rumors that circulated at the work stations in the Wehrmacht quarters and the civilian units reached the ghetto as well and spread through it rapidly. As one can imagine, many fantastic stories were told. We called these fantastic rumors "JWA" news, meaning "the Jews want it that way". Unfortunately, JWA news were often only wishful thinking. As a radio commentator, I could of course tell the difference between what was true and what was false in the JWA news.
Because our enemy's
prospects were at that time already diminishing drastically, many
false reports circulated.
There were many expert craftsmen among the new arrivals: shoemakers, tailors and so on. They were quartered in some wooden houses in Ludzas Street and Maza Kalna Street in the ghetto. The women had to go to the women' s ghetto. I still remember vividly a thin blond retarded boy who was among the men and came to a sad end. Once Tuchel saw him delousing himself while working, called him, went with him to the cemetery wall and shot him there.
The Kovno Jews showed their capability very soon by being the first ones to begin trading. Shortly after their arrival they were sent to work at an airfield next to the Kvadrats factory. Although they could not speak the language at all, they nonetheless managed to form trade connections with the Aryans there. The first thing they bought and brought into the ghetto was saccharin. I have to admit that we Latvian Jews were not capable of doing this. In the beginning they went from house to house selling it; but later they sold the things in their rooms, and in time they created a direct market. I will provide further personal details about them later on (see the chapter "Men in Women's Roles").
At first we found this trading very strange; but because we realized very soon that it was useful for our ghetto, we tolerated it.
After the Kovno people had been sent to work alone for some time, they were gradually merged into our groups, so that we all shared the same fate.
Only a few people from this Kovno transport survived.
Although the German Jews seemed alien to us from the first moment on and remained so. We felt close to the Lithuanian Jews immediately, from the first day to the last.
As early as January 1942 the command headquarters became very active in the German ghetto.
The first barracks camp of about 900 people was set up in Salaspils. Only strong men were selected for this camp. There they had to work under very harsh and inhuman conditions. The Gestapo chief Dr. Lange could be seen at least once a week in the new barracks camp. By his own account, he had been a school friend of Horst Wessel. Every time this crafty murderer visited the camp, blood flowed. He punished every small misstep immediately and without further inquiry by shooting the person on the spot. Very many people were also hanged in Salaspils. Executions of this kind were always carried out in the presence of the camp's inmates. The SS man Richard Nickel, who "worked" nearby in Jumpravmuiza, also proved to be a good shot.
The barracks camp ended with the return of sixty to seventy living skeletons to the ghetto in the summer of 1942. All of the others had died and been buried in the woods of Salaspils.
Concerning Salaspils I would also like to mention that since the beginning of the war it had been the site of large prison camps (stalag) for Russians. After the prison camps were liquidated, large numbers of Russians with children from the occupied territories were quartered there. All of them died of the cold and starvation.
There was also a forced-labor camp in Salaspils for Aryans who had been convicted of either political or ordinary crimes. Our Krause was its commander for a long time, and there too he made sure that much blood was shed.
A selection for a second barracks camp in Daugavgriva (Dünamünde) was made in the German ghetto. Only older men and women were selected for this camp: they were told they would work in a canning factory. Each group had to provide a certain number of people. The group leaders did not care if parents were separated from their children or wives from their husbands. Only through the protection of the powerful could a person escape such a fate.
This transfer or action was staged on a day when I was not working. From my window in Ludzas Street I could look right across the street at the courtyard of 25 Ludzas Street, where the people were gathering. It was snowing as these pitiable people arrived there with their few belongings. Refined elderly Jews stood there in rows often and waited calmly and quietly for the truck that was supposed to pick them up. Chairs were even brought for those who were unable to stand for a long time. Two large trucks accompanied by Latvian volunteers drove back and forth. The German Jewish policemen kept order and helped people climb into the trucks. The round trip for each truck lasted between thirty and thirty-five minutes, which I measured precisely by my watch. This length of time would never have been enough to reach Daugavgriva. Later it became known that the "transfer" to eternity had taken place that every night in the woods of Bikernieki.
The children and relatives who had been left behind believed the whole time in the existence of the factory in Daugavgriva. The commandant was even so polite as to have it announced that everyone had settled in well at the canning factory and that in the summer they would return to the ghetto.
In this case too, they let the Latvians carry out the extermination. This and many other similar deeds will remain an indelible disgrace for the Latvian people.
In the ghetto, people even talked about a second transfer to a barracks camp in Daugavgriva, but I didn't know anything about it personally.
The first transfer had
claimed the lives of more than a thousand Jewish men and women.
When the sorting of the collected property of the Jews "evacuated" from the large ghetto was finished, the area command headquarters decided to distribute all of these things for giveaway prices to the Latvian population as a reward for their service.
As we went to work in the gray light of early morning, we saw long lines of Latvian women who had come to shop for blood-soaked Jewish clothing and other things. These shameless people stood in line for hours. The whole bargain sale in the ghetto lasted for months. Thus it is certainly no exaggeration when I say that every Latvian household owns the bloody belongings of Jews.
Nor was the Jewish cemetery left in peace!
Because the space available there was no longer sufficient and the demand for it was very great, it was decided to blow up the old graves (see the chapter "Kworim Weinen").
One day an acquaintance, Stanislaw Przedborski, visited me at my work station. He was living in the city with Aryan documents that identified him as Polish, and he told me various news items from there. Among other things, he said that a Polish Jew named Raft, from Warsaw, had been murdered in his apartment. He did not live much longer in freedom himself, for he was killed very soon. His wife (nee Minsker) lost her life in the ghetto.
Once again a savage hunt began in the city for the Jewish women who had Aryan husbands. If any of them had become widows by that time, they were brought forcibly into the ghetto at once. From the prisons we heard that there too Jews had been killed again. People said that the woman Communist Stecklow had been among them.
Three Jews - one of them was named Eliasch - were shot because of sabotage in Milgravis (Mühlgraben), near the filling station. They had poured sand into the gasoline tanks. In the ghetto, the two Cfas sisters were shot, and for disseminating "false" rumors a certain Mr. Skutel (a former employee of the Abe Ziv Company) was hanged.
In the women's camp there was now a Jewish women's police force in addition to the policeman Goldberg, who was succeeded by Weitz, Mrs. Margolin (from Kovno), Mrs. Nathan, Mrs. Purmel and later on Mrs. Krieger served in this women's police force. Their main task was to staff the work crews and supervise the sanitation facilities.
After the ghetto had
been expanded twice, the Billeting Department appointed a
custodian for each house. These posts were received by many
well-known Riga figures such as Oziasohn, Akselrod (from
Latfin), Manuchowitz (from Liepaja), Botwinkin, Brandmann, Scheps
(who had worked at the Feldhuhn Company), Schulmann, Belinki,
Günzburg, Zelionker, Jakobsohn, Segall, Lewinsohn and Dordik.
Now I would like to report on the medical assistance in our ghetto, beginning with its establishment and ending with its liquidation (1941 - 1943). The first out-patient clinic was set up in the building of our ghetto administration on Liksnas Street. Initially only a small room on the second floor was available for it. For a long time the senior consultant was Dr. Volpe, Dr. Blumenfeldt also played an important role.
When the ghetto was enlarged, the out-patient clinic received a specially equipped building of its own.
Dr. Magalif brought in most of the medicines; he had collected them in the large ghetto. Later the essentials were scavenged at the work stations, and thus the ghetto was really well supplied with medicines of all kinds. In this regard, another great source of support was the SSP (Sanitation Collection Point) commando. Its leader and the doctors who worked there. Dr. Jaworkowsky and Dr. May, also made continual efforts to acquire medicines that might be needed.
Professor Mintz continued to hold a leading position in the out-patient clinic. From the beginning, he worked with the others without regard for his old age; in fact, he virtually sacrificed himself. His nephew, Dr. Mintz the surgeon, also did a great deal for us. Unfortunately he worked for us only briefly, as he died of tuberculosis while still very young. Dr. Blumenfeldt died of the same disease.
Other doctors in the ghetto were: Dr. Viktor Kretzer, Dr. Gitelsohn, Dr. Pewzner, the Jawitz brothers, Dr Berniker, Dr. ThaI, Dr. RogalIin, Dr. Kahn and Dr. Volpert. The latter also worked some of the time as a mechanic. Later, Dr. B. Jakobsohn (a nose, ear, and throat specialist) served as senior consultant.
In the women's ghetto only a small room was available to serve as an out-patient clinic. Dr. Joseph (from Vienna) and Dr. Michlin worked there. In this narrow space they even had to perform operations several times (the women were forbidden to bear any children, on pain of death). In accordance with the commandant's orders, the children who were born "accidentally" received a lethal injection immediately. I can only remember one woman who died there; it was Mrs. Berta Schatz. She left behind a pretty daughter of fifteen or sixteen, who died in the concentration camp, as I found out later.
The first-aid attendant in the clinic was Mr. Kaufert. The female first-aid attendants who worked there were Saca Klebanow and Anja Gerber.
There was never a lack of patients. That was ensured by the difficult times and the excessive work. The nursing staff faced tremendous difficulties. Incidentally, I have no doubt, though I can't prove it, that our doctors had received certain instructions from the Germans on how they were to treat their patients.
Nonetheless, all of the doctors helped us as much as they could, and it was a very simple matter to get from them a certificate of inability to work. They had no reason to rejoice when the German Jew Dr. Aufrecht became their senior consultant. This was at the time of the "weapons incident", and the German ghetto was supposed to be in charge of us.
In 1943 a hospital was set up on Maza Kalna Street as well. Dr. Jakobsohn was a patient there for a long time, but he survived. Some major operations were performed in this hospital.
Doctors also worked in the work crews, including Dr. Blatt, Dr. Goldring, Dr. Solomir, Dr. Davidsohn, Dr. Rudov, Dr. Goldberg, Dr. Günzburg and others.
Later, more doctors from the provinces joined them, but they were in the ghetto for only a very short time (Dr. Weinreich, Dr. Gurwitz and others).
In time a dental clinic was also set up. Dr. Tumarkin worked there as senior consultant; Dr. Tscherfas also worked there, as did the dental technician Iwnowitz.
The dental technician Joselsohn (from Liepaja) worked in the German ghetto. There were able dentists in the barracks camps: Noim (Jr. and Sr.), Bemiker, Scheinensohn and others.
Before the liquidation of the ghetto, all of the doctors were assigned to various barracks camps (see the chapter "Barracks Camps - Small Concentration Camps").
It is difficult for me as a layman to judge the performance of individual doctors correctly, but I can certainly say one thing and it is probably everyone's opinion: that all of the doctors sacrificed themselves for us, and in the history of our ghetto they can claim a special debt of gratitude.
Sadly, only a few of them survived.
Old Professor Mintz died doing hard labor and wearing prisoners' clothing in the Buchenwald concentration camp. Dr. Solomir, Dr. Gittelsohn, Berniker, Dr. Kretzer, Dr. Pewzner and others also lost their lives. I know nothing about the fate of Dr. Joseph; in any case, since my liberation I have heard nothing more about him. The dentist Dr. Tumarkin had an especially terrible death: before he died he lost his sanity. The dentists Berniker and Scheinensohn are also no longer alive.
And now I come to the subject of medical services in the German ghetto. I know little about it as such, but I do know this much: that from the beginning to the liquidation, the Jew Dr. Aufrecht worked there as senior consultant. Several Jewish doctors were his assistants. I was told that he had a very arrogant manner and no understanding of our Jewish affairs at all. He was a man of coarse character and middling intelligence; being a willing tool, he always had support from the commandants Krause and Roschmann.
In the summer one would see the little doctor, wearing his glasses and an elegant white suit, in the company of the murderers. A well-equipped out-patient clinic was set up for the German Jews at 40 Ludzas Street. Nurse Cartun worked there as an assistant, and she really did a great deal of good for the German Jews. Our brothers were well supplied with medicines by us Latvian Jews.
Dr. Aufrecht played an especially evil role when people were sent from the ghetto to the Kaiserwald concentration camp. He tried to send mainly Latvian Jews there.
But he came to a bad
end at last. After the liquidation of the ghetto he went via the
Lenta barracks camp to the Stutthof concentration camp and then to
Lauenburg, where he was shot by the Russians after the liberation
on account of "hard-hearted treatment of the Jews".
The hard winter of 1942 went by quickly, and the spring sun shone again! The saying that a hard winter is followed by a lovely spring and a hot summer proved true in the year 1942. By then we had grown convinced that the war would not end so soon, nor would our imprisonment.
No sooner had the sun melted the snow than we started thinking about our gardens. Initially people cultivated small plots, but later on they planted fairly large gardens in every free space. This work was directed by Zachar Margolin from Kovno.
The produce was used primarily for the hospitals and only secondarily for the inhabitants of the ghetto.
We too - that is, the inhabitants of our building - planted a shared garden.
Gradually people settled in and adjusted to the prevailing conditions. By now our young people had made the acquaintance of the young people of the German ghetto. There were very few women in our ghetto, and few men among the German Jews. In time, older people from our group began to form friendships in the German ghetto. For this reason, they sometimes spent their free time there. In the beginning, many of us whose wounds were still too fresh judged harshly everyone who sought distraction in the German ghetto. But in the course of time they too realized that life goes on, regardless of all good and bad occurrences. The only thing that was blameworthy was that some individuals really did not understand that they had to keep a necessary distance.
It was not easy to get into the German ghetto from ours and vice versa. For this we needed a special permit from our office, issued by the representative of the Jews, Leiser. But the German Jewish policemen often turned a blind eye if a person knew them or bribed them. Besides, the secretary of our ghetto administration, Boris Kaplan, was always very obliging in this regard.
The "spring season" was opened in the German ghetto with the shooting of the Czech gynecologist Dr. Ranzel. In the course of a house inspection Krause came to his room in Wienerstraße (Maza Kalna Street). There he found not only Dr. Ranzel but also his wife and daughter. When Krause noticed that the wife was smoking, he punished her immediately with a slap in the face. The doctor, a former Czech officer, slapped him back, whereupon Krause drew his revolver and shot him on the spot.
In another incident, Krause got into a verbal exchange with a Latvian guard and swore at that man coarsely. The Latvian lifted his weapon threateningly in order to shoot him down. Krause was saved from death only because the German Jewish policeman Haar, who was standing nearby - a very strong man who used to be a boxer - tore the weapon out of the Latvian's hand and gave him a powerful shove besides. Of course Krause now took an interest in the man who had saved his life and rewarded him by making him the chief of the German-Jewish police force.
We Jews were also very grateful to Haar and proved it to him in a way that the reader w ill learn in the chapter on Kaiserwald.
In this chapter I would like to tell about the economic life of our ghetto. Robert Schlomowitz was the first director of the Wirtschaftsamt (Economic Authority). Later, after the "weapons incident", when KöIIman was no longer in favor and thus was not eligible for the position of ghetto representative, he took over as director of the Economic Authority.
The larger the ghetto became, the more shops were opened to distribute food. The workers in these shops included Schmulian, the engineer Schloßberg, the Kraskin brothers (all of whom used to own lumber businesses), Feitelsohn (from Bauska), Meilach, Lat, Piter, Isaak Tankelowicz (from Livonia) and others.
Schlomowitz (a brother of Robert's), Judelowitz (from Lodz and Jelgava), Vogel and others worked as meat distributors.
The food for the shops was received from the central warehouses at the corner of Ludzas and Liksnas Streets. The managers of the central warehouses were Schmemann (from Liepajal) and Leibsohn.
All food acquisition was in the hands of Karaimski.
All of the goods allotted to the ghetto were brought in by our own drivers. Liowa Neuburger and Moisej Soloweitzik were responsible for the transport department.
The larger barracks camps also got their food allotments from the main warehouse. But our drivers. accompanied by Latvian guards, brought the smaller camps their allotments.
Very modest amounts of food were distributed in exchange for food stamps. One can imagine how poor the quality of the food was. The only meat available was horsemeat.
Lette Broders (who had owned a textile factory) was the quartermaster for the area commissary. Every day he drove with Köllmann into the city in a horse-drawn carriage, accompanied by a Latvian guard, to take care of all the business matters there.
The Economic Authority was also in charge of a laundry set up by the Technical Authority. The laundry workers included Zujuni, Kaplan, Grauzutis, Gutmann and Marianowski. The latter two were the directors.
A barbershop was set up at 51 Ludzas Street, where our Riga barbers Feldhun, Matros, Schidlowski and others worked. The business manager was initially the engineer .Jakobi (Varonis) and then Scher, who had been an insurance agent and later the schamesch (sexton) of the synagogue on Gogol Street.
In contrast to the Germans' clothing warehouse, ours was extremely meager. It was managed by a certain Mr. Balsohn. The rags that had been collected there, some of which were assigned to us, were processed in our tailoring shops, which had also been set up by the Economic Authority. A large number of Latvian and Lithuanian Jews worked there. For a short time the tailor Kukla was the director of these workshops.
Joselowitz headed the newly set-up shoemakers' workshop. The lawyer Finkelstein, who had learned this trade, worked among the Latvian and Lithuanian shoemakers. No new leather was available, so they had to use old shoes and leather clippings which we sometimes received from the area commissary.
We paid nothing for the
food and services we received in the workshops.
The Technisches Amt (Technical Authority) proved to be particularly useful from the first to the last day of its existence.
There the engineer Antikol had taken on a leading role. Not only was he a very skilled craftsman, but he also knew how to adapt to circumstances. He initiated a number of measures that made our life in the ghetto much easier.
This industrious engineer began to build and renovate, starting with nothing and without any kind of outside support. He had recruited excellent colleagues such as the engineer Zaslawski, the architect Schneider, Botwinkin, and the talented teacher Lat as business manager. All of them understood our desperate need and tried to alleviate it. Their first task was to set up a bathhouse as soon as possible, for we needed one desperately. Its opening day was a genuine holiday for us.
Although the room available for it was very small, nonetheless a fairly large number of people could be served in a day. Everything connected with the bathhouse was taken care of by the engineer Levi, the pharmacist Purmel, Weißbein (director of the Jewish theater) and others.
Our women also used the bathhouse. They came in groups from their ghetto, accompanied by their policewomen. Now and then we also had other "customers" from the German ghetto. The bathhouse also served as a delousing station. We felt that the short time we were allowed to spend bathing was a true paradise, and none of us could find enough words to express his delight to the bathhouse directors.
In the summer of 1942 the Technical Authority set up cold open-air showers for us as a further amenity, and in the summer of 1943 this facility was even expanded.
In the large workshops of the Technical Authority various objects were produced not only for us but also for the area commissary.
Young people were recruited for this work (by Pukin) in order to give them the opportunity to learn a trade. In time, a kind of vocational school developed.
After the ghetto had been expanded twice, the Technical Authority also renovated and repaired the apartments. The harsh winter of 1941/42 had caused a great deal of damage to the empty houses. Water and sewage pipes had burst almost everywhere.
An out-patient clinic and a hospital were also set up.
The German ghetto also laid claim to the engineer Antikol's diligence for various technical tasks. He could often be seen there, accompanied by his co-workers, helping our German brothers.
He set up a special kitchen for his large staff of helpers.
In June 1943 the Technical Authority received its first blow: its workers were arrested in the "weapons incident".
The next blow was that Sauer, the commander of Kaiserwald, sent his people (including Mister X) one Saturday to take away all the machines. This occurred a short time before the final liquidation of the ghetto.
In any case, we survivors will always remember the Technical Authority and the engineers Antikol, Zaslawski and others with the greatest gratitude.
When we found out
after our liberation that these people, who had been so devoted to
us, had all died, we felt genuine pain.
Gradually we began to lose heart. All our hopes had been pinned on the spring offensive that was to clarify our situation. Spring was almost over, and there was still no movement on any front.
The only offensive that was being made was in the ether. All the warring parties waged war by means of the radio. This duel of words greatly excited us as well. Incidentally, our "the Jews want it that way" news also provided an abundance of material for this type of struggle.
But the offensive did begin anew all, at the last moment, and it was made by the Germans. German military forces pressed in on Moscow from all directions. In the military reports or the one side we heard the names Oriol and Kursk- Wiazma; in those of the other. StarajaRussa and even Schlüsselburg near Leningrad.
From these reports we realized that the situation was very bad, but probably worst of all for us!
Nonetheless, life in the ghetto went on. They began to move workers into a barracks camp for turf-cutting. Nobody was keen to do this work, for everyone still remembered the thirty-two girls who had been shot in Olaine.
To fill the barracks camp, they recruited mainly convicted criminals and people who were serving prison sentences.
The ghetto was expanded a second time. A large piece of the old ghetto was added to it.
The Linas Hazedek hospital (financed by the Sobolewitz Foundation) was separated from the ghetto complex and taken over by the SS as a field hospital. Now wounded SS people stood on the balconies jeering at our work crews as they marched past.
The German police officer Hesfer, who had been in charge of the guards, also left the ghetto. But before he left he shot a young man named Dworkow who had dared to enter the German ghetto without permission. Hesfer's successor was not a bad human being.
Our police chief Wand appointed the German Jew Schneider to be his deputy.
Poß had taken over the directorship of all of the offices.
A child was born in the Schloßberg family (who had owned a dairy) in the ghetto, and initially it was concealed for a time. He received the name Ben-Ghetto (son of the ghetto).
The summer of 1942 cost us a great many human lives. However, I can only recall a few of their names: only Fait and Sapugo are still in my memory. Fait, a giant in terms of physical stature, was hanged because of a shoot-out in the ghetto, and Sapugo was shot because one time he had scavenged nails.
Three women from Cologne had their heads shaved. They had large placards inscribed "We traded" hung around their necks and had to stand there like that until all the columns had marched past them.
Although the sight of them made a deep impression on us, we continued to trade nonetheless.
A transport of sixteen persons was sent to Ugale in Kurzeme, where they were forced to do hard labor in the Dombrowski lumberyard. We heard nothing more about them during the entire ghetto period, and we assumed they were no longer alive. But at the end of 1943 they turned up again in the Kaiserwald concentration camp. Among them was my comrade Smitzkowitz. Only Paul Edelmann was missing: he had been shot while trying to escape.
Incidentally, people from the ghetto bunkers were also used for medical experiments. Strong, healthy men were chosen, and they did not return from these selections.
The SS man Mügge made
himself very unpopular in the ghetto after he became the economic
director of the SD. He too had human lives on his conscience.
(Columns are marching,
The work crews began to gather for work at six o'clock in the morning. The Latvian Jews had to stand in rows on Vilanu Street, the women in the women's ghetto, and the German Jewish men and women on Pragerstraße.
In the beginning our exit gate was on Vilanu Street. Later, after the German Jews arrived, we joined their columns at the Prague Gate and then walked down bloody Ludzas Street. After some time, to "simplify" our route, we made a virtual round trip through Lauvas and Liela Kalnu Streets.
The Jewish representatives of the Labor Authority stood at the various exit gates. For us it was Kassel and Meisel, for the women it was the policewomen, and for the German Jews it was Schultz from Cologne. The latter was usually accompanied by some dubious characters who simply beat people up when they felt like it. The groups' representatives were also present.
In both winter and summer, Kassel had his traditional walking stick in his hand. He and Meisel always treated us decently.
As we marched through the ghetto gates, the leaders of the columns carefully mustered each column, comparing it with their notes, before it was finally permitted to depart for work, We went to our work stations without guards. Only a representative of the work station, an Aryan, had to pick us up and bring us back. Thus he bore the entire responsibility for us. When we returned, the column leader had to register our departure at the work station,
Sometimes the people sent by the work stations to pick us up were young women or teenage boys. Whichever it was - what a heavy guard for our entire column!
Jews worked everywhere. Even private companies would occasionally call for individual specialists from the ghetto.
In 1943 my son and I worked in a workshop (Aizkars Company) that I had originally founded. Our commando was called "Father and Son".
After our columns had been combined with those of the women and then with those of the German Jews, all of us marched to work together.
The column leader went first. Sometimes there were two leaders, one for the Latvian Jews and the other for the German Jews. The Aryan escort marched beside us. Everyone carried a large bag and his mess tin around with him.
One could clearly see the work crews' condition deteriorating from day to day. The neglect, dirt, and wear and tear increased constantly. Our appearance certainly made a bad impression in the city, but we thought to ourselves: the others are the ones who should be ashamed of it!
And now the work crews marched!
The first ones to be seen were the Jews of the field command headquarters with their column leader Pukin, who was later succeeded by Klein. Buwitz always pushed his way toward the front, because he liked to play the role of work-crew representative.
The next was the work crew of the Heeresverpflegunslager (Arym Rations Warehouse) or HVL This work crew consisted of especially strong and healthy young men who were exceptionally good at "finding and scavenging". Glaser was their representative. This work crew was a great source of support for the ghetto.
After them marched the work crew for the Billeting Department, led by Jakobson (of the yacht club), who was tall and strong. There were many Jewish intellectuals in this troop (Dr. Solomir, the lawyer Jewelsohn and others), but as time went on they became fewer and fewer in number.
The next ones to go to their work stations were the subdivisions of the field command headquarters: the Soldiers' Home I and Il work crews and the bordello work crew (which had to take care of the cleaning, heating and so on in the bordellos).
Dr. Davidsohn, Wachtel, Gordon, Mrs. Gerzik, Abram and others were in the aforementioned work crews.
A new work crew was formed: the slaughterhouse work crew, which consisted of German and Latvian Jews. Among the German Jews were Rabbi Ungar from Cologne and the schamesch (sexton) of the Cologne synagogue. Among the Latvian Jews were Dumesch, R. Schub and many others.
The NSDAP work crew included A. Lazer, A. Tukazir, the agronomist Kodesch, Sch. Kan. Paul Scherman and others.
A large work crew consisting of young German Jewish girls, the Pharmazia work crew was the next in line. It included the yellow-haired Lissie from Berlin, who was a familiar figure in the ghetto. My son and I had the good fortune to march out together with this work crew. In this group there were also a few shoemakers who worked in private workshops and a certain Mr. Raskin, who worked al the former Albrecht Company.
The next work crew, which went to the Railroad Command Headquarters, worked in two shifts. The leading personality in this group was Zeitlin (of the banking house).
Next we could see the Heereskraftpark (Army Vehicle Park) or HKP work crew, led by the strict German Jew Zalaman. A former captain in the German army, he knew how to lead his "regiment".
The Piensamniecibas (Dairy) work crew was next with Abe Ecin and Tewia "Milky" Bermann of Riga. I too worked here for a short time together with my comrades Atlas, Michelsohn, Schloßberg and others. We will not forget the pretty Liesel from Cologne, who also worked there.
This work crew was deployed at the Egg Division and the casein factory, where Westermann, Gersohn, Kassel, Raicin and others worked.
Thus practically the entire ghetto was on the march, for one work crew followed another.
Next was the Dental Station work crew. Its proud leader was Dr. Noim. He was followed by the dentists Dr. Wigdortschik Jr. and Dr. Frisch and by the dental technicians M. Katz, Straschun, A. Michalischek, Drabkin, Feldmann, A. Tabak and others.
The Sanitätssammelpunkt (Sanitation Collection Point) or SSP work crew included Golombek, Ch. Kan, Dr. Jaworkowski, Bubi Kramer and others.
Another work crew had to work at the Pulvertornis (Gunpowder Tower) across from Basteja Boulevard,
The forced-labor crew for Skirotava (the railroad dispatching station) was led by Chait, who had been a merchant of upholstery fabrics.
The railroad work crew included the Leikin brothers and others.
The War Ministry work crew was led by Sobolewitz, followed by Friedmann. Ziga Blankenstein and others.
The Sixth Regiment work crew was led by Natan Kagan, then by Hirsch Polanski, and later by Dannenhirsch (Makabi). This work crew included many craftsmen - shoemakers, tailors and the like - all of whom worked in the barracks of the old Latvian Sixth Regiment.
The Hotel Rome work crew was led by E. Borkum.
The Rosenberg staff unit included almost exclusively intellectuals, whose task was to sort books. Even in the former offices of the newspaper "Segodnia" (Today), the type-setters were Jews.
Next was the Knights' Hall work crew, which was initially led by Zacharow and later by Zeligsohn. This group included Beliak, the Levin brothers, Minsker, Artur Kaufmann for a time, and others.
The SS field hospital's work crew was assigned to our former Bikur Cholim hospital. There were many other work crews.
Now came the work crews that worked inside the ghetto.
There was, for example, the large "66" work crew, which worked in the area commissary at 66 Ludzas Street. Hofschowitz marched at the head of it like a general. Those who followed him included Professor Metz, Dubrow, Vogel, Mischa Gurwitz, Bermann, Meisel, Mrs, Kassel, Grikpetz and many others, as well as a large group of watchmakers, including Preiss, Benjamin, Eidelstein. Boris Slawin, Glück, Brün, Harry Gottlieb, Kupcik, Buchbinder and others.
The delousing work crew worked not only in the ghetto but also at 34 Gertrude Street.
Besides the work crews listed above there were also numerous others, in which women, men and teenagers were forced to work.
I have already written a great deal about these work crews in previous chapters of my book. Here I would like to go into more detail about only one area, namely the treatment that was suffered only too often by the members of our work crews.
Once a Jew was brought from the ghetto to the First City Hospital to repair a tin roof there. After working for a long time, he slid off the roof because of his weakened condition and fell into the courtyard. German and Latvian doctors who were nearby saw him lying there half-dead, but nobody found it necessary to help him in any way. Finally a nurse decided to help him, but she had to give up her intention at once, because the doctors who were standing around reproached her bitterly for it. The only thing that happened was that the accident was reported to the ghetto by telephone so that a car would come to take him away. What was finally taken away was only a corpse.
An eyewitness told me about this incident. All kinds of accidents happened at the work stations. Some of them even resulted the amputation of a leg (as in the case of Schloßberg) or the loss of other limbs.
On another occasion the
Jewish policeman Blankenfeldt was killed by a car that hit him as he
was on his way to work in the city. His corpse was brought back to
the ghetto, and here the patrolman Albrecht spoke the following
cynical words about the incident: "This is the only Jew who has died
a natural death."
In contrast to the Reich Jewish ghetto, cultural and religious life seemed to be quite dead in our ghetto: but it continued to exist unofficially.
I can no longer remember whether ordinances or prohibitions were also passed against culture and religion. I don't believe they were. In any case, we had already experienced such an endless number of hardships, everything Jewish had been so destroyed and besmirched to the last remnant, that we were simply frightened to provide any occasion for new acts of malice and repression.
Therefore we prayed in silence and studied in silence.
There was an unofficial house of prayer on Liksnas Street, and people still gathered in some private homes for religious services as well. For example, people prayed at the home of the lawyer Wittenberg and in the evening after the Maarew (evening prayer) they studied a blatt Gemore (page of the Talmud).
Besides the host, the participants of these discussions of the Talmud usually included Dubin's son and his brother, GoIowtschiner, Feinstein and his sons, Borchovik and many others. On the holy days our cantors prayed (see the chapter "Art in the Riga Ghettos and Concentration Camps"). In the house I lived in, there was also a house of prayer in the room of our "custodian" Feinstein, who had formerly been a schochat (ritual slaughterer) and a maschgiach (supervisor in a yeshiva, or Talmud school).
We had saved the holy writings (sifrei toras) from the large ghetto, and later on when the transports to the barracks camps and concentration camps started, we secretly took them with us to these places.
There were also some rabbis in the ghetto. I hadn't known them as rabbis in Riga. for they were actually Talmud students. They had to go to work just as we did, but they were put into work crews that left them free on Saturdays and holy days.
Before Easter, matzos were baked in an oven built specially for that purpose at 57 Ludzas Street, in a house just across the street from the field command headquarters. and these were distributed to everybody. We had our ghetto administration to thank for that. Of course they were baked in secret, and our Jewish policemen made sure that nothing was discovered.
There was a "secret
school" for those children who still remained. One of the few
teachers was Mrs. Fiks. It was very difficult to acquire books,
but the children were at least quite well taken care of as far as
food and other necessities were concerned.
In the ghetto for the Jews from the Reich, religious life was expressly permitted. Through a friend, Mr. Bloch from Cologne, I received an invitation to a religious service, the kabolas Sabbat (Saturday evening prayer) in the synagogue of the Cologne group.
I was absolutely astonished to find myself in a real synagogue. It was in a large hall in Kölnerstraße, across from the old Jewish cemetery, and was richly equipped. A beautiful oroin-koidesch (holy ark) with an ornamented poroiches (curtain) was in it. Various inscriptions in Yiddish and German hung on the walls; some were in the Cologne dialect, which I could not understand at all. The walls were also decorated with embroidery done by the women. The whole room was extremely clean and quiet.
Bloch introduced me to the prominent members of the German Jewish community. He started with Leiser and went on to all kinds of other public figures, nearly all of whom had titles.
There were also many women, even young women, in the synagogue. The Cologne cantor was determined to display his artistry. I was very impressed by the prayer "Lcho doidi", which was sung by everyone, men and women together. Finally Bloch the gaabe (head of the community) proposed that the cantor sing a German Jewish folk song in honor of the guest. The text of the song included exceptionally beautiful words that were appropriate to the time, but unfortunately his rendition of it was very poor. The performance was more jeckish (pretentious) than Jewish.
Shortly thereafter I was once again invited to the synagogue to participate in the Kol Nidrei on Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
A large crowd had gathered and everyone was weeping. But I missed a clear feeling of "this is ours".
For the larger and smaller children there were children's schools in the Reich Jewish ghetto. The necessary teachers were available. Sometimes lectures were held on very interesting topics. The number of people who were interested in such lectures was much greater in the Reich Jewish ghetto than in ours.
I could tell various stories about the individuals who were active in the cultural life of the Reich Jewish ghetto, but after so many years of terrible experiences it has become too difficult for me.
Now the reader will be astonished when I report that there was a Catholic church in the ghetto. Fleschel, the representative of the Hannover group, was a Catholic. and as such he sometimes celebrated a mass for the Jews who had converted to Catholicism, playing the role or a priest.
The early autumn of 1942 was a time of military victories for the Germans. Although the Russians put up strong resistance, the Germans were moving closer to Moscow and Leningrad. In the south they were pushing towards the Black Sea and the Caucasus, and from Ukraine they were marching toward Stalingrad.
Our situation was sad indeed. Because of the continuous acts of murder we were losing more people every day. We tried to make contact with the outside world in the hope that it could still rescue us.
At this time there arose a "Swedish group" whose intention was to escape to Sweden. Now events unfolded as follows: a certain Mula Srago worked together with his mother and his sister Raja at a work station of the Wehrmacht, the Frontleitstelle (Front Regional Headquarters). Through her work Raja met a traveling non-commissioned officer of the Luftwaffe (air force). He treated her very well and gave her food for herself and her family several times, so she came to trust him. Later he even offered her the opportunity to escape to Sweden. It was agreed that this would be paid for in gold and jewels. The other people who were to escape to Sweden were to be transported in small groups of three to four. The first group consisted of Raja, her mother and her brother; the following groups were to include the lawyer Jewelsohn, the singer Kristal, Dr. Freidberg, Abrascha Lewi, Folia Zacharow and others. All of them had already paid for their passports.
But later it turned out that the helpful non-commissioned officer was a Gestapo agent. As the first group stepped onto the steamship it was arrested by Commandant Krause. Srago resisted and was shot immediately by Krause on board the ship. His mother and sister were taken to prison and died there. The others - Jewelsohn, Kristal, Freidberg and Zacharow - were also arrested and taken to prison (see the chapter on the Central and Terminal Prisons). Lewi, however, managed to hide for a long time under another name.
A second group, known as the "Spanish group", had also formed, consisting of the jurist Bora Kaplan and two other people. They worked in the Billeting Department and there they met a Spanish officer of the Blue Division who promised to take them to Spain. They did reach the Spanish border, but when they tried to exchange money there they were arrested by the Gestapo, brought back to Riga, and put into prison there.
People said that a certain Günzburg (a film entrepreneur) had been a member of this group. As far as I know, he is living today in Belgium under another name .
In the difficult days of the month of Ellul we wept a great deal. But finally the Schimchus Tora holiday arrived. It happened to fall on a Sunday on which I had to work. As I came back at noon with my son, I saw from afar that columns were marching in the ghetto. I started to tremble and didn't know what to do. Should we go back into the city and hide? I was convinced that this was a new resettlement operation.
But when I reached the gate and asked our Jewish policeman what was going on, he explained that nothing dangerous was happening, it was simply a money collection. Because I had great trust in "our boys", I went calmly into the ghetto.
Our building's custodian told me that everyone had to march forward in closed columns to the Jewish cemetery. Everyone was to take with him his money and valuables, because there they would be handed over in the presence of the Commandant.
My son look along five DM and left, saying, "I'll give them kadoches (misery)." But I stayed home. People told me that Commandant Krause was standing by the cemetery with his assistant Gymnich and others. Our representatives Kollmann and Wand were also there. !\s they marched past, the columns threw only their "small change" into the baskets that had been set up.
When the Commandant noticed this, he motioned to Kölmann to come to him and made him stand with his face toward the cemetery wall. There he had to stay, tormented by fear, until the collection procedure was over.
That evening, when the take had been counted up at the command headquarters, it was of course concluded that it was much too low. Thereupon the Commandant summoned our representatives and informed them that if any money or valuables should still be found in anyone's possession, they too - that is, Kölmann and Wand - would be put to death. The deadline for the second "voluntary contribution" was set for three days later.
Kölmann and Wand, who realized at once that the situation was serious, called in the prominent members of our ghetto so that they could discuss the situation with them and immediately draw up a list of wealthy people who were in the ghetto. All those on the list were forced to make a contribution consisting of paper money, gold rubles and valuables. Large wooden boxes were used for this collection and the contents were then handed over to "Herr Kommandant".
Moreover, part of the total was used to buy a solid-gold cigar case for the Commandant, which was then filled with gold coins and jewels. This was intended to "soothe" him somewhat. Three persons, including Wand, handed it over. Later the rumor arose that Wand had intended to keep the cigar case for himself, but the presence of the other who had prevented him from doing so. People also said that only a fraction of the entire collection had landed in the SD coffers, and that a far larger part had remained with the "prominent figures". In any case, by paying well we avoided a gzeire (affliction). We were satisfied, and the Commandant \vas even more so!
After the columns returned from the money collection, our policeman Damski was standing at the Prague Gate. He turned to the people passing him and said, smiling, "That's what you stupid boys get for going into the German ghetto and pretending to be well-to-do!"
Nonetheless, the order to give up our money claimed some victims later on; it was discovered that certain people had money, and they were shot on the spot.
After people had been talking about it for some time, about 350 Jews - men, women and children - arrived on 25 October 1942 from Lithuania. Among them were some very well-known people. The new arrivals were taken from the railroad station directly to the Spilve barracks camp (see the chapter "Barracks Camps - Small Concentration Camps"). This arrival caused great joy among the Lithuanian Jews in the ghetto, for some of their relatives were among the new arrivals.
On 31 October 1942 the ghetto's peace was disturbed yet again; this happened on a Saturday. That morning, as I was getting ready for work and was already half-dressed, my neighbor knocked on the door. saying, "Everyone has to report to Vilanu Street for roll call." My son and I tried to guess what this might mean. I rushed at once to the attic to hide my little hoard of money and our remaining valuables in the sand that was lying there for protection against air attacks. I kept behind a few gold coins (which were sewn into our clothes) for my son and me, in case we might need them. My boy, who was looking out of an attic window, noticed a great commotion on Ludzas Street. He didn't want to come down from the attic at all; instead he wanted to hide on the roof, which was already covered with hoarfrost. With great effort I finally convinced him to follow me to the columns that were forming in Vilanu Street.
On the way there we met many armed SD men wearing the skull insignia. They were swarming through the entire ghetto, hunting people down, breaking down locked doors and searching all the apartments.
They even stormed into the hospital on Maza Kalnu Street and dragged Friedman the policeman, who was ill, out of it. All of Vilanu Street was full of people. They had lined up as usual in their work crews. We were very frightened and totally unable to determine what was going on. From afar we saw that the police station was surrounded by a cordon of SD men.
Now it was announced that all the work crews should march to work. This relieved the tension somewhat. Armed SD men were standing directly at the ghetto exit at the corner of Vilanu and Ludzas Streets. They were led by the SS man Gymnich. The SD men now pulled the older people out of the columns that were marching by and made them move to the side.
That morning I had not had time to shave and thus looked older than I was. In my fear, I made my way to the very middle of the work crew so as not to be seen. My son, a tall boy with broad shoulders, tried to hide me by moving in front of me. In this way we passed the first gate successfully. I will never be able to forget how my friend Abrascha Sluckin looked as I walked past him! He stood at the side among those who had been selected out: he was wearing a summer coat and looked very wretched after a long illness. He was pleading with Gymnich and trying to explain to him that he was the column leader and had to go to his work station. Gymnich simply pushed him back with a blow of his fist. Some of the other people who had been forced to step to the side tried to slip away unnoticed, but the SD men beat them with their guns.
Among the people who had been set aside I also saw Dr. Noim, Günzburg and many others.
On Ludzas Street we met the Gestapo leaders Dr. Lange, Kaufmann and our Commandant Krause. As we marched past the Reich Jewish ghetto I noticed that it was completely calm. AI that point all of us realized that the entire catastrophe had come down on us alone!
Now we had to pass through the second gate on Ludzas Street. There the same procedure took place. Some of the older people tried to argue that they were skilled craftsmen and had to get to their work stations, but this did them no good. Our column got through without any losses.
When we arrived at our work station, what we had just experienced reminded us of the "twelve bloody days". We were absolutely unable to calm down, and at midday we sent a soldier from the command headquarters to find out what was going on in the ghetto. He came back with the news that at that moment (12 noon) things were once again quiet here. But we were still nervous and finally managed to get released earlier than usual.
As we came back into the ghetto we noticed that our policemen were no longer there. In their place were newly appointed German Jewish policemen who had been stationed along the ghetto fence. They were wearing new armbands bearing the letters OD for Ordnungsdienst (Order Monitoring Duty).
\\'e also noticed that a large printed announcement had been put up. Because we were marching fast we were unable to read it. Hardly had we entered the ghetto than we realized what had happened there that morning.
On Friday afternoon a roll call of the police had been scheduled, as always. At the last moment it had been canceled. That same evening, the roll call was ordered once again for Saturday morning. As all of the policemen were gathering for this purpose in the courtyard of the command headquarters, Police Chief Wand, Kassel and Meisel from our work crew appeared. The Commandant, accompanied by high-ranking officers, also appeared and gave a speech whose gist was that he no longer trusted the police. Wand, Kassel and Meisel had to step aside, the other policemen were surrounded by SD men, and each of them was searched. When this was over, a march toward Blech Square in the German ghetto began.
The senior policeman. Anatoli Nathan, marched at the head of the group. Initially he and the others seemed not at all uneasy. But as they arrived at Blech Square on the Maskavas Street side, they already had a dim feeling that something was about to happen.
Suddenly Nathan shouted, "Run, boys, let's try to save ourselves!" At that moment everyone began to run, and hidden machine guns began to rattle as they shot at the defenseless men. Some were wounded immediately and hung on the fence of Maskavas Street. Only a few three people - managed to escape. One of them was young Genkin. Though his foot was shattered and bleeding profusely, he dragged himself into the Reich Jewish ghetto and hid there. He sought shelter in a house that was being renovated. SD men who were looking for him found his trail and ordered the people who were working there to hand him over at once. The workers claimed they hadn't seen anyone, whereupon the SD people arrested a man who lived there, together with his wife and children. After the escapee had been found and arrested, the couple was shot and the children were released. Genkin himself was of course shot dead. Before this happened, he had written a last message (zawoe) in blood to his sweetheart in the German hospital.
The fate of the other two policemen who escaped was also sad, and I will tell more about them later on.
After this "work" was finished, the SD people left the ghetto.
The older men who had been forced to step aside that morning - 108 in all - had been transported in large blue buses to the Central Prison. I know that at the last moment two or them, Georg Steingold Jr. and Sr., managed to save themselves, so that in fact only 106 people were taken away. They were killed the same night in the Bikernieki forest.
missing page 67
...the sole intention of making our lives easier. They included some of our best young men and we were extremely proud of them. They were true heroes who always fought for us bravely and went heroically to their death.
We Jews who were saved will never forget them and will always hold their memory sacred!
The deaths of Blankenstein and Safro were especially tragic, for unfortunately both of them had just joined the police force the previous week. By contrast, Hofschowitz, Berner, Weitz, Gutkin, Smitzkowitz, Perecmann, Dolgiver, Abraham and Harrik had given up their positions in the police force and thus saved their lives.
Of the forty-two men who died, I still remember the following names:
I. Nathan, Anatoli
3. Liwschitz, Boris
6. Schabelstock, Ch.
8. Schatz, Schmaja (Kovno)
9. Lewit (Kovno)
12. Blankenstein, Ziga
14. Safro, Senia
18. Glaser, Mojsche
22. Blumenthal, Georg
25. Kölmann, David
26. Dubin, Simon
27. Goldberg, Naum
28. Gurewitz, Sascha
30. Mayer (German emigrant)
31. Blumenthal (jurist)
32. Daniski, Meilach
The ghetto was plunged into mourning. Through this action we had lost our best young men and many from "old Riga".
Now we waited for the public hanging of the men who had been arrested, according to the posted announcement of the command headquarters. But even after some time had passed we still knew nothing definite about the incident, for nobody had been brought into the ghetto as yet.
Later people said - I myself was told this in confidence by an Aryan - that on 28 October a truck had been stopped behind the Kvadrats factory on the road to Daugavpils. The truck driver was a Latvian. In the truck were some Jewish youths from the ghetto who intended to join the partisans. When the Gestapo stopped the truck, the Jews threw hand grenades at them. A real shoot-out broke out. Three of the four Gestapo men were killed at once. The fourth, who was slightly wounded, disappeared together with the truck and the driver.
Some of the Jews were also killed; but Eljaschow, who was badly wounded. came hack to the ghetto, where he soon died.
Thus 150 people had been shot in reprisal for the death of the three SD men, fifty for each of them. The arrests spoken of by the command headquarters had never taken place. They had served merely as a means of intimidation.
It was said that our
boys in the truck had been betrayed by the Latvian driver.
The distance between the Latvian Jews and the German Jews continued to grow. In the ghetto, people started to clearly feel the German Jews' power. Some of us claimed that the visits, close relationships and confidential conversations that had been cultivated between our ghetto and that of the Reich Jews, were the cause of our misery during that period.
The release of our police chief Wand remained a continuing mystery to us, whereas the release of Kassel and Meisel, who were in the work crews, seemed justified. The stupid conversations Wand had had with the Commandant during the last police roll call had greatly shaken our trust in him.
All of these things created a hostile attitude toward the German Jews, and we often thought, "So this is the thanks we get for trying as soon as they arrived to help them cope with all their difficulties." But others were of the opinion that our many relatives and our large ghetto itself had been destroyed because they had come and consequently more space was needed.
The German police implemented strict measures against us. Our custodians had to report to them every day whether any inhabitant of their respective houses was missing. Every individual was responsible for the presence of his neighbor.
An intense search was mounted for the two policemen who had gone missing from Blech Square. As we learned later, these two men had first hidden in the Reich Jewish ghetto and then returned to our ghetto through the fence that evening.
After a short time the policeman Israelowitz went, in disguise, to the city with a work crew. Damski was hidden by us in the ghetto for a fairly long time. Both of them had been involved in the "weapons incident".
At that time some people were brought into the ghetto from the barracks camps and work stations on account of various "crimes" - for example, the whole OT (Organisation Todt) commando. They were later released. These arrests were caused by the flight of a certain Wolfowitz. I was unable to find out whether Wolfowitz was one of the young men whose truck had been stopped on the road to Daugavpils. In any case, he had had something to do with the weapons incident.
The leader of the Pulvertornis (Gunpowder Tower) work column was also arrested. One day, as he was going to work on Valnu Street, he was noticed by a Latvian who had formerly been his comrade in the Communist Party's youth group Komjaunatne. The treacherous Latvian could hardly wait to denounce him to the ghetto command headquarters for membership in Komjaunatne. For this reason he was arrested and taken to prison. This event had nothing to do with the weapons incident.
At the end of the year we received a small pleasure: the notorious murderer Tuchel was badly wounded in a house on Grizinkalns (Griesenberg) during a search for a Russian parachutist.
Some time later our columns saw him, quite frail, near his apartment in Avota Street (in the house that had belonged to the Galant brothers). as they marched by.
Blood calls for blood!
The year 1942 was coming
to an end. Another year gone by! A year full of pain and suffering,
and the end was still not in sight!
The year 1943 began against the background of the Allied armies' victories on all fronts.
Of course this fact colored the traditional New Year's Day speeches of the leading German statesmen and the Führer. In their various addresses, they even confirmed the "temporary" defeats that had taken place. But they went on to say that the present situation was only a prelude to the great endeavors being planned by the German general staff. New weapons (the V1) were announced which would totally transform the whole conduct of the war and would surely lead to the final defeat of the Allies. Nor did they forget us, "those who were to blame for the war". The war they had declared against us would be pursued to the end (they had been right on this point), and so forth.
But there was tremendous dissatisfaction among the German people. Members of the general staff already foresaw the great catastrophe that was facing Germany. Slowly a fire was starting to smolder which in the following year flared up brightly in the form of a putsch (attempted coup). This attempt was, however, very ruthlessly suppressed by Hitler and his "faithful" and cost the lives of many key officers such as van Stauffenberg, Witzleben, von der Schulenburg and others.
The key Allied leaders - Roosevelt, Stalin, the English king and Churchill - also declared in their speeches that the war would be pursued to a victorious end. They hoped that "perhaps" this year would already bring freedom for all the peoples of the world.
For those of us who were sitting in the ghettos and experiencing our tragedy, these were merely comforting phrases. The promise that our misery would perhaps end in the year to come could not help us. Even then, only a few thousand out of tens of thousands of Latvian Jews were left, and they too were growing fewer from day to day.
Only the reports from the front were like camphor shots that kept us alive. We lived on the defeat at Stalingrad; we lived on the defeat of the German military forces led by General Rommel in Africa. We knew we no longer had much time in this life, but still we wanted to see the destruction of those who had destroyed us.
nafschi im Plischtim!
That was the only thing we heard! We pushed all our cares aside. We still didn't know any details. The Germans reported that Stalingrad had been occupied. The Russians reported the contrary.
Finally came the day of mourning ordered by Hitler to mark the defeat at Stalingrad. Whole newspaper pages were devoted to the heroes who had fought so "bravely". The generals who had been taken prisoner were retroactively appointed General Field Marshals (as had happened to Field Marshal Rommel).
The new Field Marshal Paulus, who was later forced to march with his victorious soldiers in the grandiose parade in Moscow, had quickly changed his opinion of Germany.
For us these days of mouming were days of joy, although our situation in itself had become even harder.
"Perhaps" we would yet be liberated this year?
That was our first
month of 1943.
Our situation, which had grown very tense during all these events, began to calm down again.
The eight o'clock evening curfew was once again canceled, and it became easier for our people to enter the Reich Jewish ghetto.
In general. apathy prevailed. People didn't want to take responsibility for the future and lived only for the moment. Those who still had some money or other hidden valuables. or had earned any money, lived prodigally. People indulged themselves in whatever luxuries were available, and ate and drank the best.
On this subject I would like to emphasize that in other ghettos (Warsaw, Lodz, Vilna) there were two categories of people: the fed and the hungry. By contrast, in our ghetto nobody had to go hungry - we made sure of that.
It was a great blunder on the part of the young men to take everything they could get their hands on to the German women in the ghetto, for this convinced them that "the Latvians are rich, the Latvians have more than enough"! Through this kind of talk, which was repeated constantly, these views gradually filtered through to the people at the command headquarter, who naturally drew the logical conclusion.
During this period foreign Jews were also brought from the city into the ghetto (Gurwitz). A large proportion or the foreign Jews were arrested in the city and taken to prison (see the chapter on the Terminal and Central Prisons). An Italian from the Orient Halvah Company, an Aryan, had to stay in the ghetto with his Jewish wife. though only for a short time.
The winter, which in contrast to the previous one was short and mild, nonetheless brought us many cares. The main problem was a great shortage of fuel. If we brought fuel into the ghetto it was taken away from us by the police, partly for themselves and partly for the bathhouse.
At the end of the winter there were great changes in our command headquarters. "Bloody" Krause disappeared and was replaced by Eddi Roschmann, who had a fairly low rank (Unterscharführer). He was said to come from Steiermark in Austria and to be a jurist by profession. When we heard this news, of course we all gave a sigh of relief, for naturally we expected that a man so well-educated, a jurist from a good family - in contrast to Krause. the detective from Berlin - would be incapable of committing the same crimes. Unfortunately, we were very much mistaken in this opinion.
Krause, a psychopath and a sadist, acted suddenly and spontaneously, handing down his verdicts without a detailed examination of the situation and executing them immediately: Roschmann, the jurist, deliberated for a long time, investigated thoroughly, and thus pulled more and more people down to their destruction. Because of his character he also especially enjoyed disentangling the very twisted threads of the weapons incident. Now, through him, a small and hardly noticeable fire developed into a brightly burning blaze that later claimed many, many victims.
In fact, Krause had not altogether disappeared from the ghetto. He was appointed Commandant of the large Salaspils extermination camp, but he was still "temporarily" in the ghetto every day, gathering information about everything.
Roschmann delivered his first report of the day to Krause while the latter was still sitting in his car. Was Krause perhaps still partially responsible for the ghetto as well?
As soon as Krause entered the ghetto, the streets near Command Headquarters were blocked off by the police so that nothing unforeseen could happen.
Before Roschmann took over his position, Krause crowned his departure from the ghetto with renewed bloodshed. One winter evening the Commandant left Command Headquarters, accompanied by his "Adjutant" Haar, and started walking toward our ghetto. This disturbed us at once, and we waited for the result of his visit. Soon it became clear that Krause had gone directly to 14 Vilanu Street and used hand grenades to murder the policeman Damski, who had hidden there. It remained a riddle to us how he had found out about Damski's hideout at all. Rumor had it that the German Jewish policemen were to blame.
While Damski was in hiding, his comrades had advised him either to look for a hiding place with Aryans in the city or to make contact with the partisans. He had not managed to do either of these things.
Right after his murder certain people were arrested, but they were soon released. Later the guards managed to arrest those comrades who had really helped him and hidden him. There were three men, including Herbert Machtus (a journalist for the newspaper "Segodnia") and Willy Kohn.
Their stay in the ghetto prison was not long. A few days later they were led to the place or their schchite (execution). They made their last walk with their hands in chains, accompanied by Haar, Perl and others. Behind them walked the murderer Krause with his gun cocked.
The streets were blocked off, as was always done in such cases. According to the rumors, Machtus said to the Commandant at the wall of the Jewish cemetery, where the execution took place: "Bloodhound! Don't think that the Jewish people will be destroyed through our execution!" Then all three of them sang the "Hatikva". With our national hymn on their lips the martyrs went to their death.
The loss of
Machtus and the others made a horrible impact on us. I myself had
known Machtus for many years. At that time he was still a student in
the Hasmonea fraternity and was a very good friend of
At first we heard practically nothing from the new Commandant. There were some arrests but no executions - until one day he signed and carried out the death sentence against seven people. Now he had tasted blood, and his sadistic and murderous instincts emerged from this moment on, just as Krause's had.
Accompanied by his comrade Gymnich and his big dangerous dog, he often strolled through the ghetto unannounced. Entirely unexpectedly he entered apartments, inspected the kitchens and looked into the cooking pots. As soon as people heard he was walking through the ghetto they had to immediately throw into the latrine all the food they had laboriously gathered at so much risk.
On these walks he amused himself by shooting cats or pigeons with his gun. And if a bullet hit a Jew instead of a cat or a pigeon, that didn't matter to him!
He even monitored the hospital to see whether individual Jews really were "legally" excused from work. He dealt with the Reich Jewish ghetto in exactly the same way.
Only too often, the Commandant and Gymnich were standing at the ghetto gate when the work crews returned. There they monitored us, beat us and frisked us. If even the smallest thing was found on one of us, that unfortunate individual was instantly sent to the bunker and from there to the cemetery wall.
As soon as the commandos approaching the gate saw the two murderers standing there, everyone simply threw away as soon as possible whatever he had on him in the way of food or money. Thus mountains of things that belonged to "nobody" piled up. They were collected by the German Jewish police, and nobody ever saw any of it again.
The wounded SS men who could clearly see this happening from the windows of the Linas Hazedek hospital directly adjacent to the ghetto gate remembered the people who had thrown things away, in order to report them. Of course those who had been denounced then paid with their lives. This is what happened to two German women, for instance, who had hidden under their clothes two kilos of butter which they had acquired for their small children by trading. For this they were shot.
At this time Lewenstein (Lulow's son-in-law) was arrested at his work station for trading and was imprisoned forever. Also at that time, the leader of the Knights' Hall work crew Seligsohn, was brought half-dead from his workplace back to the ghetto. He died soon after that. The reason for his death was that he had been observed from the windows of General Jeckeln's residence speaking to a Russian prisoner of war.
Spring began, as always, with a selection of people to work in the turf-cutting barracks camp The first group was sent to Sloka on 18 April. A large number of people, including my son and me, were in it. Alas, after one month I came back alone. My son and two of his comrades were shot there (see the chapter "Bloody Sloka").
Turf-cutting work crews were also sent to Olaine, Plotzen and other places. Commandant Roschmann paid visits everywhere. During one visit to Olaine he shot our comrade Karp and others on account of five eggs.
After the murder of my son I worked in the ghetto. At that time many teenagers and old and weak people who could not be recruited for any work were in the ghetto.
I proposed that a department for manufacturing rolls of blackout curtains be set up in the workshops of the Area Commissary. My intention was to occupy a few hundred people with this easy work. Wand supported my proposal strongly, because he saw in it a good opportunity to find an occupation for the old people.
head of all the workshops, also supported my proposal, but he was
arrested a few days later, as I was
about to start. Thereupon the Labor Authority proposed that
take over the job
of directing the workshops. The German Jew Baum had his eye on the
same position. But our representative, Kassel, refused to permit a
German to be the director in places where Latvian Jews worked. I
declined the position, for under no circumstances did I want to have a
leading position in the ghetto. Fortunately Hofschowitz was released
from prison a few weeks later, and I could then begin setting up my
section of the blackout-curtain workshops in the Reich Jewish ghetto.
Weapons in the Ghetto; Plan of the Riga Ghetto
The desperate situation in the ghetto did not last long. Shortly after all of those arrested because of the resistance movement had been taken off to prison, including those from the barracks camps, the blockade in the ghetto was lifted and thus "normal" life resumed.
At this time a Jew who was arrested in Valdemar Street in the city center used a gun to resist arrest. For this, the arrested man's whole barracks work crew of eleven people was thrown into prison, together with their column leader Lippert (from Liepaja).
Three women from Kovno who had traded in chickens and gold were also shot in the ghetto.
A young fellow named Joelsohn from Daugavpils worked in the commando at the SS field hospital. Because he had made contact wit the partisans, he was arrested. Before being seized, he too tried to shoot his attackers with a gun and killed some of them.
In the meantime we had a small celebration in the ghetto. A brith (circumcision ceremony) was held in secret at the Kovno rabbi's apartment. My acquaintance Anja G. had also given birth to a child, but on the commander's orders the baby was given a lethal injection.
There were arrests in the German ghetto too. In this case it was some women who had had close relationships with Aryans and had also written letters to their homeland. In the meantime the Hannover group's representative Fleschel, a Jew of the Roman Catholic faith, had died. His funeral was quite impressive, for he was the only Jew to receive a coffin.
The guests who had come from Kovno visited their relatives in the ghetto every Sunday, coming in groups from their barracks camp at Spilve. Some of the Kovno people were also sent to the barracks camp at Spilve from the ghetto.
News came from the city that the Latvians had set up an SS legion commanded by the Latvian general Bangerskis to support the Germans.
Attempts to flee were made repeatedly. We heard that there had also been a great uprising in the Warsaw ghetto which was connected with the ghetto's liquidation (the removal of its inhabitants).
And now it was our turn; according to a posted announcement, the ghetto was to be liquidated and concentration camps were to be built. The German Jews, as well as many of our Latvian Jews, saw a connection between this order and the weapons incident. But this was not the case, because this was a plan designating the Riga concentration camp for the Baltic countries as a whole, which had been worked out a long time ago in Berlin. Riga itself was the first ghetto to be emptied, and the others were to follow.
The departure of the first transports to Kaiserwald in July 1943 and the news we received from there very soon afterwards created a sense of desperation and even panic in the ghetto. So Max Leiser, the ghetto representative, convened a general assembly to calm down his coreligionists and give them a more detailed explanation. The assembly was held in the courtyard of the "Prague building." We Latvian Jews attended this meeting as a group. Leiser spoke in the name of "Herr Kommandant" as well as for himself, saying that the "powers that be" were dealing "very leniently" with us in view of all that had happened, and that some of us would be sent to Kaiserwald and other newly built camps.
About Kaiserwald he said: "Kaiserwald is neither a Paradise nor a Hell." (Here I would like to mention that I later reminded our ghetto representative of these words of his in the Stutthof concentration camp.) He added that he hoped everything would in time become better at Kaiserwald.
In the name of the Commandant he told us that if the number of fugitives from the ghetto continued to increase - as it had been doing recently, especially from the Latvian ghetto - three relatives or neighbors of each individual fugitive would be arrested in their stead.
In the meantime, the first victims had arrived from Kaiserwald for admission to the ghetto hospital. Their appearance and their clothes shocked everyone. But the transports to the barracks camps continued, and everyone tried to avoid being sent to Kaiserwald. Finally new barracks camps were built and the old ones were enlarged.
As I thought over the difficult situation, I decided to have myself assigned to barracks camps in the city if at all possible. I managed fairly soon to be assigned to be the Billeting Department, and until the final liquidation of the ghetto I only entered it two more times.
A small group of Jews had been taken to Estonia to clear the front there of mine fields. The members of this group had been taken out of the bunker; they included Klein (from Auce) who had been arrested after a wedding ring had been found on him.
Because young people who were then in prison could be traded for older people and sick people, our Latvian Jewish ghetto leaders drew up for the first time a list of more than twenty-eight people they thought could be traded. This was not done out of malice but only to prevent even greater evil from happening. The list included Seligsohn, Galler (from...Segodnia'), Schloßberg, Zelionker, Lemkin and Stoller.
I would like to add a few words about Lemkin. A cinema entrepreneur, he had made contact with the Perkonkrusts organization as early as 1938. In the ghetto we already thought he was insane, but we tried to get rid of him nonetheless. The trade now made this possible, and he died as a result. His two brothers, who were also in the ghetto, were very decent and worthy men. In the meantime, another ghetto inhabitant had truly gone insane. He walked around all day wearing tfilim (religious implements) and reading prayers from a prayer book. After his arrest he was first taken to the bunker and then to the cemetery wall.
On the Day of Atonement a large transport arrived from the Liepaja ghetto, including the ghetto's representatives, the lawyer Kaganski and Israelith. The new arrivals were quartered in Vilanu Street in the ghetto, which was already half-empty.
At the time a German Jewish emigrant named Kohn turned up among those released from prison. People said of him that he was involved in dubious dealings everywhere. He came to a bad end.
The small number of work commandos who still lived in the ghetto had to march to work in the city until the last moment.
transport to the concentration camp came soon, as did the day of
the general liquidation of the ghetto.
On 2 November 1943 the ghetto came to an end. In the morning, while the few work crews were on their way to work, Ukraininan and the Russian wlasowcy (volunteer soldiers) moved in on the ghetto. They surrounded the entire complex, and the Jews were driven out of all the houses into the streets. The same thing happened to the sick people, who were simply dragged out of the hospital without the slightest concern for their condition. All the women and children had to leave their apartments without taking their things with them, and were beaten besides. Then everyone was driven together into the streets, and the houses were searched to see if anyone had hidden in them.
Now high-ranking Gestapo officers, who had carried out the entire action under the direction of "Herr Kommandant" and Dr. Lange, the Commander of the Security Service, began to sort the people who had been assembled. It was said that Lange was in the best of spirits on this occasion. His jokes consisted of calling out to the weak and ill people: "Faster, faster to Palestine! Cast a last look at your weapons warehouse!" and similar remarks.
In the sorting process, some people were sent to stand in line on the left and others to stand on the right.
"Mi lchaim umi lamowes?" (Who is going to live, who to die?)
Commandant looked into each person's face. Those who he didn't
like were sent to the left (that is, they were selected for the
other world). Of course all the older people, children and
teenagers had to go to the left. Thus several thousand people
were selected, and they were sent in heavily guarded trucks to
the railroad station. From there they were sent to the notorious
Treblinka extermination camp in Poland. Among these pitiable
people were Professor Metz, Professor Gurwitz, the lawyer Grey
Those who remained were sent, group by group, to the Kaiserwald concentration camp and other barracks camps (Strazdumuiza, HKP, Spilve, ABA and so on).
Only a clean-up commando led by Hofschowitz remained in a house that was part of the area commissary in the ghetto (at 66 Ludzas Street). It included sixty people, including Dr. B. Jakobsohn, Dr. Kretzer, Funkelstein, Brandt, Vogel and others. Later, when this barracks camp too had to be moved to the concentration camp, Funkelstein escaped. Vogel also disappeared suddenly, which meant he had been killed.
My liquidated Billeting Department commando, including me, was quartered in the women's ghetto after the ghetto had been dispersed, since everything was already closed down there. The whole ghetto looked terrible; the streets were full of things that had been thrown out of the apartments.
Two days later we were taken to the Kaiserwald concentration camp.
During these final days, our ghetto representative Wand died a mysterious death. He was found murdered in a cellar at the corner of Liksnas and Ludzas Streets. It was said that his death was connected with the police incident.
After 702 days the ghetto's existence was over.
They had been 702 blood-soaked days!