Riga was the capital of independent Latvia from 1918 until August 1940 when the country was occupied and annexed to the Soviet Union, and became the capital of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. At early morning of Sunday 22 June, 1941 German troops attacked Soviet forces in Operation Barbarossa. By 29 June Riga was reached and with Soviet troops killed, captured or retreating, Latvia was left under the control of German forces by early July. Shortly after German forces entered Riga Einsatzgruppen (paramilitary death squads of Nazi Germany who were responsible for mass killings) together with Latvian auxiliaries hot several thousand Jews.
On July 21 Riga’s occupation command decided to concentrate the Jewish workers in a ghetto. By 25 of October, Riga ghetto was sealed by the Nazis in a small area in Maskavas Forštate, a neighborhood of Riga, Latvia. 30 000 Jews were imprisoned in the small 16-block area. The Nazis fenced them in with barbed wire. On 19 November 1941, working Jews were separated from the rest of the ghetto population and moved to a section in the northeast corner of the ghetto that had been cleared for the purpose. This area became known as the “Small Ghetto.”
At the end of November 1941, the Germans declared that they intended to settle the majority of the ghetto. They told to the inhabitants of the ghetto that they were simply being sent to a new camp nearby and to pack a 20-kilogram suitcase for the trip. On the night of 29-30, November the western section of the “Large Ghetto” was surrounded and the Jews gathered into groups of 1,000. At the morning about 13 000 Latvian Jews were shot by German killing squads at the Rumbula Forest, 8 km from Riga. Many people were killed on the ghetto streets or in their houses. On 8-9 December the approximately 12,000 remaining Jews from Riga Ghetto are killed in Rumbula.
Only about 4000 skilled male workers from the work commands left in “the small ghetto”, and about 500 women, who have been classified as seamstresses, survived the Rumbula massacre.
The first train with German Jews arrived in Riga from Berlin in the morning of 29 of November and they were immediately killed at Rumbula. Jews from Germany, Austria, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia began arriving in Riga on December 3, 1941. The Jews from the Reich were settled in the Riga Ghetto or in the nearby camps of Salaspils and Jungfernhof. About 15,000 to 18,000 people arrived on the German transports. In February 1942 about 500 Lithuanian Jews were deported to the Latvian ghetto from the Kaunas Ghetto.
By the end of World War II, fewer than 1500 of the Latvian Jews under the Nazi regime had survived, among them 400 hidden by their fellow citizens. In 1943 to 1944 the Nazis began to try and destroy evidence of their crimes. This included exhuming and burning some of the bodies of the victims in Rumbula, using Jewish prisoner as slave labor. Once the work was completed, the Germans then killed these prisoners.
Today Riga Ghetto Museum and Latvian Holocaust Museum are located in the historic area bordering the former ghetto. More than 70,000 names of Holocaust victims and a photo exhibition, focusing on anti-Semitic propaganda, the Holocaust in Latvia, the resistance movement and those who provided a safe haven, are set on a piece of land, covered by cobblestone taken from the streets of the former ghetto.
Riga Ghetto Timeline: