Riga Ghetto

"So all forests aren't like this,
I stand and shriek in Rumbula-
A green crater in a midst of grainfields.

Every man who has entered me
Becomes my tongue,
My flame.
You come in me and shriek!
--Ojars Vacietis

Riga was an integrated town, where Jews did not reside in a particular section. The decision had to be made about the location of the Ghetto, because a lot of Gentiles had to be moved. Maskavas suburb was selected, it was one of the poorest neighborhoods in Riga with 19 percent of the Jews already living there. In Maskavas suburb lived 19,087 Latvians, 12,342 Russians, and 9,805 Jews. The twelve blocks were designated for the ghetto, so about 7,000 Gentiles had to be moved out. The Jewish population started settling in the ghetto from mid August of 1941, but mainly began on October 10, when a fence around the Ghetto was put up. Eventually it became a double barbed wire fence where trespassers were shot on sight. The Jews had to find their own homes in the Ghetto, often it meant sharing a house or a room with another family or two. The notices about the final transfer to the ghetto which was to take place on October 25, 1941, were published and posted in German, Russian and Latvian. On October 23 a notice appeared:

"All Jews living within the boundaries of Riga City who as yet have not moved to the ghetto must do so before October 25, 6:00 p.m. Those who do not observe this directive will be most severely punished."

Latvian police were responsible for carrying out the registration and counting of Jews within the city. They as well started killing the Jews before the German's command. Latvian police would come to an apartment building, find out where the Jews lived, and drive them out to the forest, and those men were never seen again.

The Jews were not allowed to bring anything into the Ghetto except personal items, clothes, and simple household furniture. In the Ghetto the Jews were squeezed into foursquare meters per person. 29,602 people were squeezed into sixteen blocks of Maskavas suburb where only 13,000 had lived.

The Security Police had collected big amounts of valuable belongings that belonged to the Jews, which they couldn't take with them into the Ghetto. The goods were sent back to Germany to enrich the SS accounts. Some apartments that the Jews owned were spacious, so often Germans occupied it, after the Jews would leave their homes.

There was a hospital in the ghetto, of course, with very scarce medical supplies. People were worried about the upcoming winter. They did not know that they would not see it. They went on with their lives: schools were opened, and soup kitchens were instituted. People only hoped that the workers would still be needed, leaving the ghetto functioning.

On November 27, 1941 the Jews in the ghetto were told that they would be shifted further east. By the next day certain streets would be evacuated, and Jews were to get ready for the long journey. They did not know that the journey was to the Rumbuli Forest where 15,000 of the ghetto residents were to be killed. The Latvian population had a full view of the inhuman distraction of the thousands. A small separate ghetto only for younger men was established. On December 8th, the same horror was repeated. This time 10,000 deaths took place in Rumbuli Forest. The mission to terminate all Latvian Jews, with some exceptions, had been completed.

The Germans were not the only ones who wanted to exterminate the Jews. Jews had been discriminated against for centuries, the Latvians finally had the power to act out their hatred of the race. The Jews could not trust anyone, especially the local authorities and government. If they had known this perhaps they may have seen the truth earlier, but unfortunately they had faith in humanity.

Sources: Dobroszycki, Lucjan and Gurak, Jefferey. The Holocaust in the Soviet Union. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1993; and Ezergalis, Andrew. The Holocaust in Latvia. Washington D.C.: The U.S. Holocaust Museum, 1996.
  • The map of Riga's Ghetto
  • The numbers of Ghetto Inhabitans