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Nazis Establish the Ghetto in Riga, Latvia, 1941

On this day, in Jewish History: August 15, 1941,


“In mid-August, the Germans ordered the establishment of a ghetto in the south-eastern area of the city; this ghetto [consisting of several more concentrated ghettos] was sealed in October 1943, imprisoning some 30,000 Latvian Jews”[1] and about 20,000 German, Czech, and Austrian Jews. “The Germans also deported some 20,000 Jews from Germany, Austria, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to Riga”[2]. Incidents within the Ghetto were characterised by imprisonment, mass shootings, forced labour, starvation, exile, forced abortions and sterilization. “In the summer of 1943, the Germans deported some ghetto inhabitants to the Kaiserwald concentration camp, which had been established in March in the north of the city. Others were deported to Kaiserwald subcamps nearby. The Germans destroyed the ghetto in December 1943, and deported the last Jews to Kaiserwald. The surviving Jews in Latvia, from the destroyed ghettos of Riga, Liepaja, and Dvinsk, were concentrated in Kaiserwald and its subcamps”[3].


Riga was the political and cultural centre of Latvian Jewry. It had Jewish schools with Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian or German as the language of instruction. In 1935, Riga’s Jewish population totalled 43,000 Jews[4] -- approximately half the total number of Jews in Latvia, and 11% of the city’s population overall. On 1 July 1941, 9 days following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Latvia, the Nazis occupied Riga. Under Nazi occupation, the Germans issued a plethora of anti-Jewish legislation. Between July and October 1941, Jewish property was confiscated, and wearing the Star of David became compulsory for Latvia’s Jewry. Furthermore, Jews were not allowed to use public transport, walk on the sidewalk, nor were they permitted access to many public spaces, educational institutions or able to practice a profession (except for doctors). Ritual slaughter also became outlawed and Jews were limited to purchasing from only three stores where they were allocated half the food rations of non-Jews.


Between November 30 – December 8, 1941, the Nazis transported a large number of both Latvian and German Jewry from the Ghetto to Rumbula Forest. The Nazis massacred approximately 27,500 Latvian Jews in pre-dug pits in the Rumbula Massacre. “Suicides usually occurred immediately after arrival in the ghetto [as opposed to later]. Means of suicide varied. The means most frequently used was poison, such as an overdose of sleeping pills (…) several people jumped out of windows; some slashed their wrists and quietly bled to death. One family simply sat down in their courtyard one cold night, and holding each other tightly, allowed themselves to freeze to death”[5].


[1] https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/riga

[2] https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/riga

[3] https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/riga

[4] http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/ghettos/riga.html



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