Rumbula Viewed From The Riga Ghetto
from The Ghetto of Riga and Continuance - A Survivor's Memoir, (c) 1998, all rights reserved
by Alfred Winter
with permission of the family of Mr. Alfred Winter, may his memory be for a blessing

In Early October 1941, the Germans issued a decree that the Ghetto would be closed, or locked, by October 15, 1941 and that all Jews had to live in the Ghetto by October 25, 1941. Any Jew found outside of the Ghetto after this date was subject to arrest and prosecution. From that day on Jews could leave the Ghetto only by escort. Every day Germans, as well as Latvians, picked up the Jewish laborers at the gate of the Ghetto and returned them at night time. Some SS and army units kept the Jews right at the place of work and housed them in confiscated housing with up to 50 persons in one room. Mostly men were taken from work, until one day, the Germans wanted sewing machine operators. 500 women volunteered for this work and actually 250 women were taken and incarcerated in the womenís jail.

The Food supply in the Ghetto was nearly zero and many people had to go hungry. Many workers tried to smuggle food in to the Ghetto when they returned from work. This was nearly an impossible task because they were searched by Germans as well as Latvian SS at the Ghetto gate. To make matters worse, German police units took over. It had members that were the outcasts of the human race. Some Jewish carpenters were taken to Jungfernhof, which was about four miles from Riga, where they had to build some barracks and put up some tiers in stables and barns. Nobody knew at this time what the purpose of this work was.

In the second half of November, 1941, the Germans announced that some people would be removed from the Ghetto to stop the overcrowding. The persons who would be taken would be relocated in a camp away from the Ghetto and if families were separated, they would be able to visit each other once or twice a month. Some of the people in the Ghetto believed the Germans and welcomed it, because a health and garbage problem had arisen in the Ghetto. No date for the removal of the people was given. Finally on November 30, 1941, the removal of the people from the Ghetto started. On that day the workers left the Ghetto as usual, but they saw quite a few Germans as well as Latvian SS and police by the Ghetto. Also a number of city buses were by the Ghetto gate. When the workers returned to the Ghetto nearly half of the population had been removed and one part of the Ghetto was now completely empty. Ludzas Street was the dividing line. The returning workers had to stay in a certain section of the empty Ghetto. What they found was shocking. Here and there were bodies and in many places snow was covered with blood. Houses were ransacked and some clothing and walls were blood stained. They had to carry the bodies to the cemetery and saw that the heads of the dead were partially blown off. The SS must have used special, or dum dum bullets to kill the people. The Germans announced that only those people who resisted or refused an orderly resettlement were killed.

According to the Ghetto inhabitants, the Latvians and Germans SS, as well as German police and Latvian auxiliary police went from house to house and drove all inhabitants out. Those who resisted or could not move fast were beaten or shot on the spot. The houses in the section were searched from top to bottom and anyone who was found was killed immediately. People were collected on Ludzas Street and were formed into columns five abreast. Then they were marched out of the Ghetto the direction of Salaspils, under heavily armed guards of the Latvian SS. Anyone who could not keep up was shot and bodies lined the snow covered street. That was all they could tell the returning workers. Some still had families in the Ghetto and asked for permission to see them which was granted by the Germans. Nobody knew what had happened to the people who had been removed from the Ghetto. The majority thought they had been put in a camp near Salaspils, because it was known that there was a camp near Salaspils which had been used by the Latvian army during summer training. How many persons were killed in the Ghetto that day is not known, but it may be close to 500.

Prior to the removal of the people from the Ghetto, Latvian workers had put up a barbed wire fence on one side of Ludzas Street. It created a smaller section in the Ghetto. This section was emptied of all inhabitants and became later known as the Ghetto of the Latvian Jewish males. In this section had to move all male workers when they returned from work after the so-called first action after November 30, 1941. Each time a group of people were (or had been) removed to a place unknown, it was called an action. In this action about 13,000 to 15,000 men, women and children had to be removed from the Ghetto. Nobody knew where they had been taken and no one suspected that they had been killed. It was just impossible to think that something like this, on a large scale, would happen. It was known, though, that thousands of Jews had been killed by the Latvians in July and August, 1941.

Some Latvians approached Jewish workers on the outside of the Ghetto and told them they saw their families and they needed clothing and money. Since no one suspected anything, the men would give whatever they could to spare the Latvians, to help their families in distress. Other Jews who worked for the German army asked the German commanding officer to find out where their families were. They actually sent some soldiers out to find the Jews. When they came back, they reported that they could not find a camp of Jews in the vicinity of Riga and Salaspils. A few days later a group of Jews from Lithuania arrived in an all male section of the Ghetto. They told quite a different story and reported about mass murder in Lithuania. It put doubt in many minds but they could not believe that their families could have been killed.

Jews could only work now. All normal life, as well as religious and cultural life, came to a standstill. Animals still had protection under the law, but to be a Jew in Latvia meant that you are less than an animal. The only thing you can do is work and die. This was the attitude of the Germans and Latvians. Every day, every inhabitant of the small Ghetto had to go to work. It was nearly impossible to stay home; it was safer to be working for a German army unit. The SS sometimes picked up a group of workers and returned only half of the men or women to the Ghetto. The rest were never seen or heard from. Any Jews was willing to work for the German army because it was a chance of survival, and some food was made available for the workers. Also, they had a chance to make contact with some Latvians who were willing to help some Jews, for a certain price, and trade some food. This group of Latvians was only a small minority, but it existed. Many Latvians were afraid to help Jews because they endangered their lives in doing so. Under the German decree any person who had contact with, or protected a Jew, was liable to arrest and prosecution. The majority of those who helped a Jew did it for personal gain. Something was always wanted in return for the slice of bread given to a Jew.

After the great action on November 30, 1941, life in the Ghetto returned to a normal routine. Even so, people were very apprehensive and wondering what was ahead next. Some younger men who wanted to go in the smaller part of Ghetto were hindered by the guards. In the mean time, some Latvians told some Jews on the work commandos that all women and children have been shot. Those who heard this did not want to believe this and kept their mouths shout, while others spread the rumor. The majority were undecided what to do until they were woken up early on the morning of December 6, 1941. They could see very little in the dark but they heard a lot of noise and shooting. This was going on in the Ghetto were the women and children were. With the arrival of daylight, they could see that the SS were breaking down the doors and forcing the inhabitants out of the houses. Those who resisted were shot on the spot. The SS tried to form people in to columns to march them out in to Ghetto. It was a repetition to what had happen a week before. A week before people walk like lambs, but this time they resisted and a lot of beating and shooting was going on. It was snowing heavily and people had a hard time to walk on the street. All males in the small Ghetto had to leave for work and only few could hide and watch the massacre scenes that were going on across the barbed wire. The brutality of the German and the Latvian SS, as well the police forces, had no limit. They were going from top to bottom through the houses and forcing everybody, dressed or undressed, into the streets. Screaming, beating and shooting was going on unabated. It looked as if the world had come to an end. Everyone was taken, even those who have served the Germans. The eldest of the Jews, as well as the Jewish police (who had been protected before) were taken, and the entire Ghetto was cleaned out. They were marched in the direction towards Dvinsk. They actually marched into the Forest of Rumbuli, where they all were shot.

A couple of horse wagons that had to follow the columns of men has to pick up the bodies of the killed people and their luggage. In the afternoon when the Jewish workers returned to the small Ghetto, they were taken to remove the bodies that were lying around in that area which was once the big Ghetto. Here they could see the inhuman behavior of the Latvians an Germans. Nearly 900 men, women and children had been killed in the Ghetto because they resisted or could not move fast enough. This time it was far worse than the first action on November 30, 1941. Some of the clean-up people were shot by the police sergeant (Oberwachtmeister) Otto Tuchel because they did not move fast enough for his liking. Tuchel wad in charge of the guards in and outside of the Ghetto and one of the worst sadists and Jew haters the Germans had in their ranks. He competed with the Latvians and it is a question of who killed the most Jews. This time nearly 12,000 to 14,000 Jews were removed from the Ghetto and about 3,000 to 4,000 Jewish slaves were left alive. I would estimate that nearly 28,000 to 30,000 Jews were killed in the two actions alone. The exact number is not known because some Jews who had survived the massacre in other towns an villages came into the Ghetto of Riga and added to the count of the survivors.

A few days later an apartment block on Ludzas Street was enclosed with barbed wire. . The 250 women who were in prison, plus some other women who were held at the place of work during the action, were brought into the Ghetto and put into the apartment block, separated from men. Their total may have been close to 300 women. Close to 20% of the Jewish population (mostly men) of Riga had been killed prior to the two big actions. Therefore and estimate of 34,000 to 35,000 men, women and children of t he Jews from Riga, had been killed between June 30, 1941, and December 6, 1941, would be correct.

After the second action no one believed the Germans anymore and every survivor feared the worst for his family, despite assurances given by the Germans. Some drunken Latvians told a different tale than the Germans did. A few days later with the arrival of the German Jews, the reality began to sink in.

The mastermind of the mass likings was from the German side, an SS General, Jekeln, who stated in his trial after the war: Latvia was the right place and had the wager and willing people to eliminated the Jews. Anti-Semitism was so high in Latvia that no one had to convince the Latvian helpers that it was Hitlerís plan to kill the Jews. They would have done it without German help. His assistant was General Stahlecker, who was in charge of Einsatzgruppe A (Special commando) and commanding officer of the Security Police Ostland. Stahlecker was killed in January 1942 by Partisans. Next came Dr. Jur. R. Lange, who was the commander of the Security Police in Latvia. Lange was a sadist and killer like the world never had seen before. He committed suicide towards the end of the war to escape the hangmanís noose. Lange had, in the Security Police, many willing helpers who followed his orders to kill Jews. On the Latvian side was Major Arreis, the leader of t he Latvian SS, plus his helper Cucurs. (Arreis survived the war and is in a German jail. His helper Cucurs was killed in South America under unknown circumstances. ) Then there was the police chief of Riga named Stieglics who was a willing helper in the massacre. Also an army Lt. named Danscop and his gang were willing helpers. Man members of the Perconcrust and the Aisargi, plus auxiliary police out did the Germans when it came to atrocities towards the Jews. These murderous gangs did most of the killings in small towns with or without the assistance of the Germans. The Germans and Latvians did everything they could to demoralize the survivors of the massacres. They were completely cut off from the outside world and kept on a food ration which was too little to live on but not little enough to die a fast death. They had to work seven days a week and were the slaves of the twentieth century. Any infraction meant a beating and an instant death. Housing and leaving conditions were far below normal standards and up to 10 persons had to sleep on the floor in a small room. Quite a few people were in the age group of 14 to 16 years, and had to grow up over night to face a hostile word without their families. This was the beginning of the darkest hour for the Jewry of Europe.

The "large ghetto" had been cleared of Latvian Jews. Mr. Winter wrote that German Jews deported from the government district of Dusseldorf, Germany had spent the previous day and night in unheated and now frozen railroad freight cars on a railroad siding at Skirotava station. On the morning of December 15 they were marched through the cold and snow to the Riga Ghetto. Mr. Winter continues...

When they entered the houses their eyes split wide open by the sight what greeted them. But they had no time to grasp it because other people were pushing and were looking for shelter. Some ten to fifteen people were in one room and it was standing room only. After a while it calmed down and some people were taken out in order that everybody could sit down. Then it finally started to dawn on them, that something terrible had happened when they looked around. There was frozen cooked food on the table, blood stained clothing on the floor, and baby carriages with a bottle of frozen milk outside in the snow, overturned furniture and ransacked closets.

On the outer clothing, they could see that the former inhabitants were Jews because two stars of David were on the clothing but without the inscription (Jude "Jew") which they were wearing on the breast of their clothing. The former transport leader and group leader from Duesseldorf (a teacher from Neuss with the name Nussbaum) came around an took some people out because more houses had been opened up. When somebody asked him what was going on, he told them that he knew just as much as the rest of the deportees even though he had some authority. Authority he had, and if anyone in the Ghetto misused his authority, it was him. He was nearly one hundred percent in cooperation with the Germans, and he was open for bribes, from the first day on. While the new arrivals were considering their fate, a shot rang out. When they looked out of the window, they saw a woman lying in the snow who had crossed over to the other side of the street and had been shot by a Latvian guard. From that moment, the reality sank in that the resettlement was more than just a resettlement and that rough times lay ahead.