Latvia is one of the Baltic states and from 1940-91 was part of the Soviet Union. The Latvian republic was formed in 1918 when the principalities of Livonia and Courland (which had been incorporated into the Russian Empire during the 18th century) were joined with the province of Vitebsk. Prior to World War I, there were about 190,000 Jews in Latvia (about 7.4 of the population). During the war, many Jews were expelled to the interior of Russia, and by the end of the war, the Jewish population had been reduced to about 80,000. By 1935, the population had grown back to about 94,000 (about 4.8 of the total population).
Latvia was occupied by the Germans during the first weeks of the German-Soviet war in July, 1941. About 75,000 Jews fell into German hands. It is estimated that not more than 3,000 survived the Nazi massacres. In addition to Latvian Jews, about 20,000 Jews from Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany were deported to Latvia, of which only about 1,000 survived the war. The murder of the Jews in Latvia was carried out in three principal stages: (i) the first was from July to October, 1941, when about 34,000 Jews were killed (most from provincial towns); (ii) the second stage was from November to December, 1941, when most of the Jews living in the ghettos of the major cities were killed, including 25,000 from the Riga ghetto shot to death in the Rumbula Forest; and (iii) the third stage was from January to July, 1942, when most of the deportees from other countries where killed in various locations around Riga.
The depravity of the Nazis in the Riga area is illustrated by the following quote from an article by Stephen Tyas entitled Allied Intelligence Agencies and the Holocaust: Information Acquired from German Prisoners of War in the Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Volume 22, Spring 2008, P.10:
"An April 25, 1945 bugged conversation in which Brigader General Walter Bruns describes a massacre in Riga has been widely quoted. During the Autumn of 1941, Bruns was stationed in Riga with a bridge-building unit of the Army Group North. On November 30, 1941, Bruns visited an execution site outside the city in the Rumbuli woods. The first victims of the day were 1,035 Berlin Jews, who had been brought directly from their train upon its arrival in at Riga and shot before 9am. More than 20,000 Latvian Jews from the Riga ghetto followed, marched out over the course of that day to be shot. In the recorded conversation, Bruns described what he saw: 'When I arrived those pits were so full that the living had to lie down on top of the dead; then they were shot and, in order to save room, they had to lie down neatly in layers. Before this, however, they were stripped of everything at one of the stations--here at the edge of the wood were the three pits they used that Sunday and here they stood in a queue on and half km long which approached step by step--a queuing up for death.' Bruns observes with surprise that although these Latvian Jews 'saw what was going on' only as they came near, the waiting victims surely had heard the shots long before they were able to see anything. As German Jews continued to arrive in Riga over the course of that winter, they were housed in the ghetto--which was now emptied of Latvian Jews. In another bugged conversation Lieutenant Colonel Erfurth, an army administrative officer, remarked: 'I always disliked seeing the Jewish women from Germany who had to clean the streets in Riga. They still kept on speaking German. It was revolting! That should be forbidden, and they should not be allowed to speak anything but Yiddish.'"
After the war, about 13,000 Jews who had been refugees and exiles in the Soviet Union returned to Latvia along with about 20,000 Jews from other parts of the Soviet Union. In 1970, there were about 37,000 Jews in Latvia, but by 1987, about one-third had emigrated to Israel.
Encyclopedia Judaica, CD-Rom Edition, Keter Publishing
Gutman, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, P. 849-52
Copyright © 1998-2008 Edward Victor