Jewish genocide remembered in Latvia

One of the darkest days in Latvian history is commemorated July 4: Jewish genocide memorial day.

The Nazi occupation of Latvia brought the atrocities of the Holocaust with it. The first mass murders of Jews began in 1941 with the largest actions taking place in Rīga, Daugavpils, and Liepāja, as well as in other smaller towns.

The day will be marked by numerous remembrance events, including at the site of the former Great Choral Synagogue in Rīga, scene of one of the greatest atrocities of all when on July 4, 1941, five of Riga's six synagogues were burned down (the sixth - on Peitavas Street - was spared probably only because a fire would be too dangerous in the closely-packed buildings of Old Rīga).

Most of the witness testimonies claim that those who carried out the burning of the Riga Great Choral Synagogue were locals dressed in civilian clothes, led by the notorious Viktors Arājs; some German officers present also watched over the process. Historical sources in the post-war period differ as to how many people were inside at the time, but whatever the number, all met the same appalling fate simply for being Jewish – and many more such crimes were to follow.  

According to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia:

The first mass murders of Latvian Jews started in July and continued until September. Groups of Jews were ordered to be shot in Riga, Daugavpils and in many smaller towns. Recent research shows that all these actions were organised by the German authorities but usually carried out by Latvian auxiliaries without direct German involvement.

In September, the remaining Jews in Riga were herded into a fenced-in ghetto in the city's Moscow Suburb and forcibly kept there under guard.

From the Riga Ghetto, under the direct supervision of Friedrich Jeckeln, about 25,000 Jews were driven on foot to Rumbula Forest, on the outskirts of Riga, and murdered there in two operations— on 30 November and 8 December 1941. Latvians performed guard duties; Jeckeln's SS men shot the victims."

About 3000 Jews from Liepāja were murdered between 15 and 17 December. This was practically the end of the mass annihilation of approximately 70,000 Latvian Jews.

To see how the Holocaust unfolded in a typical small town away from Rīga, we recommend viewing this short 15-minute documentary, with English subtitles, from LTV outlining the fate of the Jews living in Valdemārpils. We also have this summary of the documentary.

If you are in Rīga, visits to both the Occupation Museum and the Rīga Ghetto Museum are recommended to learn more.

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