Museum of the Occupation (Riga)

This page is contributed by Roland Binet (Belgium). © Roland Binet

See also his 10 November 2010 article in Le Monde.  English translation here.

Open Letter to the President of the European Commission


Mr President,

Dear Mr Barroso,

I recently visited the “Occupation Museum in Riga/Latvia where I had the opportunity to see your picture — taken during your visit of that museum in 2008 — displayed on one wall of the entrance hall.

That museum prides itself on having thus welcomed a number of well-known symbolic personalities. Your persona grata is all the more important now that the EU has become an unavoidable partner in the world and, furthermore, now that Latvia has become a full member state of the European Union.

This small museum is indeed remarkable. It depicts and illustrates, sometimes in a most harrowing manner, what the Soviet terror must have been like for the inhabitants of that country invaded by the USSR in June 1940, then, reinvaded by the “liberating forces” of the Red Army after the defeat of the Germans.  Without any shadow of a doubt, hundreds of thousands of Latvian patriots have known the anguish of repressive methods, slavery of the mind, deportation to the Gulag, forced exile in Siberia or other inhospitable places, or even death.

An extremely reduced part of the permanent exhibition allows us to have a very vague representation of the Holocaust in Latvia during World War II. On the sole and tiny wall devoted to the Shoah, a gigantic picture of the female members of a Jewish family partly undressed just before their execution by bullet is prominently displayed. It is a terrifying picture. On the left one sees a little girl so afraid of dying that she partly hides her face against the right arm and back of her mother.  This is a picture that is well-known to historians, taken in Liepāja in the dunes of Šķēde, the place of a gigantic massacre. In that section of the museum devoted to the Holocaust, one can also read the name of the Latvian SS leader of the Arājs Commando. As no other thorough information is displayed, one may and must infer that this man alone must be one of the principal persons responsible for the massacre of the Jews in Latvia.

I can understand that the part devoted to the Holocaust might be restricted compared to the decades of horror sustained by the Latvian people under Stalin, then Brezhnev, the NKVD, then the KGB.  After all, the murder of the Jews of Latvia only concerned 70,000 persons whereas the Museum states that hundreds of thousands of Latvian citizens suffered under the Soviet yoke.

Except that in Latvia, the Shoah caused the death of 90 % of the autochthonous Jewish population. In other words, only 1 Jew out of 100 survived WWII in that country!  A fact that would deserve to be said and repeated as that percentage of massacre – chiefly by bullet and wilful sanitary neglect – is one of the highest within Western Europe.


And, a bit naively, I ask myself the following question: would there be another underlying reason in what I consider – in proportion – such a modesty of display regarding the pain, losses and deaths that the Latvian Jews had to undergo during WWII?  This renowned museum conceived for a broad public of visitors largely ignorant of the bare facts related to the war is a showcase of the two “occupations” in fact.  But does it represent the reality in the matter of one of the most monstrous genocides ever committed?  And I am speaking here of the extermination of the Jews in a global Nazi undertaking of murdering whole segments of populations, of a magnitude and purpose extremely abyssal.  And another question: if the Occupation Museum in Riga were really a showcase aiming at giving an honest representation – to foreign visitors not really cognisant of the  terror experienced by the Latvian people as a whole during the Soviet and Nazi years of occupation -, does it fulfil its purpose ?

In order to judge in an impartial manner, one has to go back to different sources, be they testimonial, historical or governmental, in order to understand fully what really happened to the Jews in Latvia between 1941 and 1945, why and how they were exterminated?

The Latvijas Institūts of the Occupation Museum has this following statement on its website with regard to the possible participation of Latvians in the Nazi undertaking of massacring the Jews of Latvia:  “The Latvian Auxiliary Police Battalions and the Latvian Legion were involved in the Holocaust.  The murder of Latvian Jews was basically completed by the end of 1941.  The Schutzmannschaften Battalions were formed by the German authorities in late 1941 and 1942. (…).  It is also known that two battalions were involved in guard duties at the Warsaw Ghetto.” [1]

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia points out in a text available on its website, written by I. Feldmanis and K. Kangeris that: “No community can be judged on the basis of what individuals have done ».  Furthermore, one can read the following assertion: “The last document, the 10th, is one, which is most familiar to historians.  It has to do with the 1943 events in Warsaw, when the Jewish ghetto was liquidated.  That was an even, which had nothing whatsoever to do with Latvians.”[2]

Raul Hilberg has this to say about the possible involvement of Latvians at the time of the first massive round-ups of Jews in the Warsaw ghetto: “One needed reinforcements and one got them.  In July 1942, the 22nd and 272nd battalions were imported from Riga for the big round-up in the Warsaw ghetto…[3]

(Sir) Martin Gilbert: “That same day, July 22, the ghetto walls were surrounded by Ukrainian and Latvian guards, in SS uniforms, armed, and at twenty-yard intervals.  The round-up and deportation of Jews from Warsaw now began.”[4]

Emmanuel Ringelblum: Why could 50 SS (according to others even less) helped by some 200 Ukrainians and an even number of Latvians guards, proceed in such an easy way during that operation?”[5]


Hillel Seidman: “Thursday 23 July – Panic in the ghetto.  Everyone is suffering from despair.  The militia made up of Ukrainians, Latvians and Lithuanians encircle the housing blocks of the ghetto.  One of the militiamen goes inside the courtyard and orders that all inhabitants come down. Then, the Jews are placed by groups and they are led to the goods’ loading and unloading station, the Umschlagplatz.”[6]


Even more astonishing a website source entitled “Latvian Battalion in Poland and White Russia”, a site that glorifies the action of these Latvian battalions during WWII, states the following: “272. Daugavgrivas Battalion started to be formed by Pltn. K. Mangulis 1st July 1942 in Bolderaja (…) 25th of July, the battalion armed with Russian and Canadian guns, together with the 22nd Daugavas Battalion left for Warsaw where they arrived 31st of July. In Warsaw the battalion was to fulfill guard duty and during free time finish training (…) 26th of July 1942 at Warsaw arrived the 22nd Daugavas Battalion (…) In Warsaw the battalion filled guard duty until 6th of October 1942. [7]

As one can immediately ascertain by beginning with a few selected sources, there is an acute controversy in reference to the exact role that other armed Latvians than those belonging to the Viktors Arājs Commando may have played in the Nazi undertaking of liquidating Jews, in Latvia as well as in other foreign countries .  One can also note that official sources tend to “downplay” possible involvement.  “Guard duties” when one is referring to innocent Jewish victims being driven by force to an “Umschlagplatz”, sometimes shot on the spot when refusing or unable to move, and then forcibly put into death trains to Treblinka, are these in fact mere guard duties?

In order to ascertain and understand the possible participation of Latvians in the murder of the Jews, one should, first and foremost, hark back to the past of Latvia, that country that gained independence in 1919.  It was invaded by the USSR in 1940 in accordance to the secret clauses of the Non-Aggression Pact signed between (Nazi) Germany and the USSR, that infamous Agreement between two totalitarian states also called the “Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact”.  Just a few weeks prior to the invasion of Latvia by the Germans, the Soviet authorities  began – in their own cruel and inimitable manner – their game of political paranoia in Latvia too, deporting everyone deemed, suspected, denounced, or who could constitute a threat to the integrity of the communist party, to the Gulag and the exile villages in Siberia[8].  And, it is needless to say that in a country already heavily involved with Russia as part of its own past, newly independent, one could in fact comb on a large scale in search of real or so-called opposition to communism, the contestants did not lack in number. The years after the “show trials” in Moscow of 1937 were in fact years when paranoia was at its acutest not only Stalin’s but also within the obedient corps of the NKVD in its entirety.  Of course, this brutal repression, unfounded and on a large-scale for such a small country as Latvia, became the present and future seeds of a permanent discontentment among the suddenly enslaved population.

When the Germans invaded Latvia in 1941, they were greeted there as “liberators” by the local population.  In fact a very large picture of that kind is displayed on one of the walls of the Occupation Museum, with a caption in the style of “After one year of terror, the population greets the Germans as liberators.” For visitors coming from Western-Europe this is a shocking picture.  Yet, historically speaking, on the one hand Latvia did have German roots stemming from the period of the “Hanse” and, on the other hand, rather irrationally, the non-Jewish part of the Latvian population tended to be more lenient toward Germany than the USSR, whereas Germany had also been one of the signatories of the infamous Pact of August 1939, having thus allowed the Soviets free rein to take over that country.  A fact almost forgotten, historically speaking.

Another source of discontent toward the Jews is that that oppressed minority welcomed the arrival of the Red Army. There had always been a kind of sympathy or leniency in relation to Russia from that side because some of the initial leaders of the Soviet revolution in Russia were Jewish: Trotsky, Kaganovitch, and Zinoviev, among others.  And, in the mid-thirties when the Nazi propaganda spoke more and more vehemently about the Jewish-Bolshevist conspiracy, one may understand that many oppressed Jews looked toward Russia with a kind of longing.  Furthermore, for adherents to movements such as Hashomer Hatsair, the Bund, the left – even the Stalinist version of communism – was by far preferable to a dictatorship of the right practising discriminating rules with regard to their community and vowing to exterminate them “in case of a new world war” (cf. Hitler’s speech of January 1939 when he spoke of “ausrotten” – exterminate – in relation to the Jews).

When the Nazis attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, they rapidly progressed within the Baltic States.  Hundreds of thousands of Jews fled their homes and took after the retreating Soviet soldiers.  They were lucky because immediately after the occupation of the main towns and cities of Latvia, and in particular in Riga, the Germans appear to have given a carte blanche to the local population so that they might take revenge on the Jews who – for some gullible persons – were held responsible for collaboration with the Soviets and for the enforced deportation of thousands of innocent Latvians.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia claims that Soviet sources and present Russian authorities are responsible for having stated that Latvian SS units or other organisations were guilty of participating in the mass massacre of the Jews, in a text available  on its website, written by I. Feldmanis and K. Kangeris: “The ministry’s memorandum (i.e. the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of Information and Press Relations) is yet another attempt to describe the history of Latvia, and particularly of the Latvian Legion, as an issue of “national chauvinism” and “collaborationism”.  The document speaks to the emergence of pro-Fascist organisations, which supposedly emerged after World War I.  It says that the “Aizsargi” (Home Guard) organisation appeared and helped the leader of the Latvian Farmers Union, Kārlis Ulmanis, to stage his coup on May 15, 1934.  In the late 1930s, according to the authors of this document, the Home Guard, members of the Pērkoņkrusts (Cross of Thunder) organisation and other nationalists began to collaborate with Germany, which in June 1941 led them to be active participants in the destruction of the Latvian Jewish community.  Later, claims the Foreign Ministry, Latvian police battalions became involved in the slaughter of civilians, as did Waffen-SS units of Latvians.

These are claims that were made in the 1960s by Soviet propagandists, and today the Department of Information and Press Relations of the Russian Federation’s Foreign Ministry is still trying to accuse the entire Latvian Legion of war crimes”[9].


Yet, numerous other sources contradict that official Latvian point of view.

Yet, there are pictures showing us that as soon as July 2, 1941, self-proclaimed self-defence bands (pašaizsardzības spēki) or mere groups of civilians arrested and escorted Jews.[10]

What do others have to say on that subject?

Elmar Rivosh: “Latvian volunteers materialized from somewhere, wearing armbands with the national colours.  In groups of several men, sometimes accompanied by a German, they began to make rounds of people’s houses. The caretakers had to point out the Jewish homes.  They came in, searched, beat the inhabitants, confiscated valuables, and took away most of the men.”[11]

Bernhard Press: “Lithuanian Jews who had fled the Germans to Riga from Kaunas, Siauliai, Panevezys, and other cities had found shelter in the cellar of the Great Choral Synagogue on Gogol Street.  On July 4, 1941, Latvian policemen drove Jews from the neighboring houses into this cellar as well and set the building on fire.  Holy writings were torn up and thrown into the flames.  Guards with machine guns surrounded the synagogue and shot anyone who tried to escape.”[12]

Ella Medalye (one of the few survivors from the Rumbula Forest massacres): On the first day of the occupation (i.e. July 1, 1941, in Riga), late in the evening there was someone knocking at the door.  I opened the door.   In the corridor, there was a small band of Latvians on the landing, some adolescents aged 16/17 years old.  Our neighbour was leading them.  Him, I knew quite well, as on the very first day of our arrival in Riga, in that old house of 5 floors situated 13 Tomson Street, he always greeted me with great amiability, even removing his hat from far away.  Now, without ceremony, he swarmed into our apartment in a brutal and insolent manner, he ordered my husband to dress immediately and to follow them, allegedly for a labour task.  We said good-bye (…). I never saw him alive again.   After the war, I learned that my husband – as so many other young Jews who could have been likely to put up a resistance against the executioners – was led by the fascists to the Biķernieki forest  and executed that same night.”[13]

Iossif Rotchko about the murder of the Jews in the chapter “The Holocaust in Latgale: in Līvāni, Preiļi, Kārsava, Višķi, Dagda:

Pages 257/258: « On July 28, 1941 the first act of the tragedy befalling the Jews of  Preiļi was initiated.  During the morning, members from the self-defence militia gathered on the market place.  They were given weapons to proceed with the execution of the Jews.  The other armed policemen were in position to avoid that troubles might happen in the town, because all inhabitants were not in favour of that execution…”

Page 258: “The unfortunate (i.e. the Jews) were ordered to stop at a stone quarry.  They were ordered to take off their clothes and remain in under-clothes, then they were led to the edge of the pit by groups of 8/10 persons.  The executioners killed them by firing at their backs, as if they were afraid to look in their eyes a final time.  After all, they were neighbours.  The killers were conducted to the killing ground by carts driven by the farmers I. Prikulis, J. Litaunieks, as well as others…” [14]

Why was it possible that there were spontaneous or induced pogroms committed by Latvian civilians, policemen or self-proclaimed militiamen at the very beginning of the occupation of Latvia by the Germans, at the time when some kind of chaos or governmental vacuum was reigning over that country?  Was there anti-Semitism in that country prior to the occupation by the Nazis, a deep-rooted discontentment – or even hatred – that may have generated spontaneous or induced acts of such barbarity?  And why was there a participation of Latvians in some pogroms or mass killings even before the SS Latvian Legion was formed?

The « Latvijas Institūts » of the Occupation Museum states the following on its website: “There was widespread killing of Jews by the local population without German involvement.  There is no record of virulent anti-Semitism before the arrival of Nazi Germans.  The Nazi German policy was to make it look like Latvians were spontaneously killing their own Jews; they co-opted and manipulated individual Latvians to do so in their stead.  Jewish survivors, not knowing the command mechanism, oftentimes assumed that the Latvian collaborators were acting on their own »[15]

What have other voices to say on that matter?  Was there anti-Semitism in Latvia prior to the war and how large was the possible Latvian participation in the massacres?


Bernhard Press: In 1933, Hitler came to power.  In Latvia the leader of the Farmers’ Party, Karlis Ulmanis, became head of state in 1934 by means of a coup carried out by the army and the Aiszargi, a paramilitary organization.  He dissolved and banned all political parties;  His policy toward the Jews cannot be called anti-Semitic in the conventional sense, but he was intent on enriching the Latvians, especially the merchants, at the cost of the minorities, primarily the Jews and the Germans.  Numerous Jewish and German banks were taken over by the Latvian Credit Bank.  Jewish companies – for example, the Linen Manufacturing Company in Jelgava (Mitau) and the Buffalo textile factory in Riga – were nationalized, and the import of gasoline and wheat was taken out of Jewish hands and transferred to the state.  Import licences were now necessary to import goods from abroad, and these were granted primarily to Latvian merchants, whereas Jewish merchants were able to get them only at high prices or at second or third hand.  Jewish physicians lost their positions in the health-insurance companies.  President Ulmanis did not like the Latvian intelligentsia because it considered him a mere peasant, and he did not encourage this group’s anti-Semitism.  On the other hand, he did little to hinder it and strongly stirred up the nationalism of young people in the rural areas.”[16]

Boris Volkovitch in the part entitled “Anti-Semitism and the discrimination against the Jews” in the chapter entitled “The Jews of Latvia in the period between the two wars”:

Page 20: “The Latvian government was never able to restrain the anti-Semitic manifestations.  The anti-Semitic propaganda was spread by means of xenophobe press articles and the publication of anti-Jewish books and pamphlets.  Rightist news papers as for example Tautas Balss (the People’s Voice), Latvijas Sargs (the Latvian Sentry), Latvis (the Latvian), Zemgalietis (Zemgalian), Pērkoņkrusts (Cross of Thunder), Zilais Erglis (the Blue Eagle), Tautas Vairogs (the People’s Shield) as well as others led a war of ideological terror against the Jews, generally, and most particularly against the Latvian Jews.

Page 33 (of the part entitled “Some conclusions” of the same chapter): “The policy of discrimination practised by the government with regard to the minorities (and more particularly against the Jews) had negative consequences in numerous fields.  The discontent increased, among the younger generations chiefly (because of employment, career opportunities, the quotas in the higher educational establishments, etc.). The minorities retired more and more within themselves.  As regards the Jews, some went back to their roots and prepared themselves to leave Latvia for other countries (including Palestine).  Others placed their hopes in the Soviet Union, seeing in that country a protection against anti-Semitism and, still more important, against Nazi Germany.”[17]

(Sir) Martin Gilbert: “In the former Latvian city of Dvinsk (i.e. Daugavpils), more than sixteen thousand Jews had been trapped by the rapid German advance.  Hardly had German forces occupied the city, than all Jewish males between the ages of sixteen and sixty were ordered to report to the market place.  The Jews were then divided into groups, each with a German of a Latvian overseer and taken to different parts of the city to clear rubble.  Jews who tried to hide from these labour tasks were rounded up by zealous Latvians, members of a pre-war Fascist organization.”[18]

The Shoah Resource Center of Yad Vashem, (in a Reich Secret Document relating to the Einsatzgruppe A): « Even in Riga it proved possible by means of appropriate suggestions to the Latvian auxiliary police to get an anti-Jewish pogrom going, in the course of which all the synagogues were destroyed and about 400 Jews killed. As the population on the whole quietened down very quickly in Riga, it was not possible to arrange further pogroms.»[19] In the same “Geheimbericht” (Secret Document), one can read the following statement from an active German source at the time of the killings, but quoted by Léon Poliakov/Joseph Wulf: “After the terror of the Jewish-Bolshevist hegemony – some 33,038 Latvians were deported, arrested or murdered -, an extended  pogrom by the population would have been expected.  Indeed, only a few thousands Jews were spontaneously liquidated by the local population.  In Latvia it was necessary for the Sonderkommandos to execute cleansing actions helped by selected personnel of the Latvian Hilfspolizei (mostly people belonging to families that had suffered a deported or murdered member).”[20]

Leni Yahil: “In the Baltic states the SS availed themselves, intensively and entirely in a conscious way, of the heavy anti-Semitism which could be found in large strata of the population.”[21]


This view seems to be echoed in a passage taken from the “Anti-Semitism” chapter of Andrew Ezergailis’s monumental work on the annihilation of the Jews of Latvia: “One goal of the propaganda was to create a desire for revenge.  A special effort was made by Stahlecker’s men to enlist relatives of victims of communism in the killing teams.  For this purpose the propaganda apparatus was mobilized and agents were sent out to the countryside to find the kinsmen of the communist victims and cajole them into killing actions (…) the Einsatzgruppen leaders sought out the gravesites of victims of the communists as soon as they arrived in a locale; then they had the dead dug up and displayed the rotting corpses to the public.  Digging up graves was the major news at the beginning of the occupation.  An especially gruesome tale of an exhumation comes from Rēzekne.  A week after the German arrival, the SD men assembled all Latvian local police guards at the edge of a gravesite, and local Jews were made to dig up the pit.  They uncovered about thirty half-rotted corpses.”[22]

In an article published by the German weekly “Der Spiegel, the author lets Margers Vestermanis – then aged 80 years old, one of the 30 survivors born in Latvia still living in that country –, the founder of the Museum of the Jews of Latvia – express himself about these times: “Who committed all these murders during the first two months at the time when the German police force was not yet organised? “ He adds: “35,000 Jews have been liquidated exclusively during the first 100 days after the German invasion, of these 30,000 are to be held to account of the Latvian murderers.” [23]

Guido Knopp – a well-known German historian and author of historical documentaries on WWII – quotes what the Führer of the Polizei and Ordnungspolizei for Latvia had to say about the situation in that country, on December 23, 1941: In Riga, the massive massacres by bullets of the Jews of the ghetto are much talked about.  The major part of the population of Riga expresses its satisfaction and appeals to an uninterrupted liquidation of the Jews and, thus, to a liberation of the ghetto so that they can go and live there.”[24]

There is also an astonishing document dated December 11, 1941, quoted by Christopher R. Browning and that one can find in a facsimile version on the internet.  It refers to the written report that the German lieutenant Paul Salitter, a captain of the Schutzpolizei submitted to his hierarchy after having accompanied a train of Jewish deportees to Riga.  What did he write exactly? : “In Riga, there were approximately 300,000 inhabitants of which about 35,000 Jews.  The Jews were predominant in the field of business.  Their businesses were nevertheless immediately closed and shut down after the arrival of the German troops.  The Jews themselves were relocated in a ghetto on the Düna (Dvina) and the place was secured by means of barbed wire.  At this time, only 2,500 male Jews employed at different labour tasks are supposed to be in the ghetto.  The other Jews have either been sent elsewhere to accomplish similar tasks, or have been shot by the Latvians.  The Latvians hate the Jews, particularly.  Since the liberation and until now, they participated massively in the extermination of these parasites.  Yet, they have trouble understanding – as I had the opportunity to ascertain with the Latvian personnel of the railways – why the Germans bring their Jews in Latvia instead of exterminating them in their own country…”[25]

With regard to the tragic history of the annihilation of the Jews of Latvia, Andrew Ezergailis mentions – in the chapter entitled “Conclusions” – these two main points, among others: The history of the Holocaust in Latvia will not be complete until a full accounting is made of the murder of Jews in the small towns.  We still must determine how many killings centers were in Vidzeme, for example (…)  Finally, when the Germans entered Riga on July 1, 1941, did they make an exception to the standard practice of imposing a curfew and martial law ?  Did they in fact allow armed Latvians to roam at will through the city?  And if so, by what markings or other means of recognition did the Germans distinguish friend from foe?”[26]


As one can ascertain when reading the different accounts from survivors from the Holocaust and historical works, not only did the Commando Viktors Arājs participate in the murder of the Latvian Jews and the Jews deported in Latvia from countries of Western Europe.  There were thus pogroms, individual or mass killings, perpetrated by groups of civilians or by self-defence militiamen, by members of paramilitary organisations or movements close to the ideology of Fascism such as the Aizsargi (“defenders”, a nationalist-populist militia founded in 1919, numbering 68,000 members from all strata of society, the principal source of collaborators for the Nazis); there was also the Pērkoņkrusts organisation (strangely enough, a Fascist organization forbidden by the Germans in August 1941 and whose members merged with the Nazis).[27] There were further the Latvian men belonging to the Schutzmannschaften[28] and, finally the “Hiwis” (also called “Askaris”), these last being Soviet soldiers prisoners of war recruited by the Nazis in camps – among whom were Latvians POW’s – whose later military training took place in Trawniki in Poland (also a “KZ”, by the way), and whose reputation for cruelty and savagery is quoted by all historians or witnesses who ever had to deal with these “collaborators” bearing German uniforms.

This is what some historians stated about the “Trawnikis” (another appellation for these “volunteer” troops): “Following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Nazis encouraged Ukrainians, who were former soldiers of the Red Army and who had been captured, to join their cause. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians volunteered for service in the German security services, as well as Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians and others (…) The volunteer units were called “Trawnikis” or “Askaris” by the local population. The Germans called them Hilfswillige or Hiwis for short, and the volunteers themselves Wachtmänner. In Trawniki the Wachtmänner received abbreviated military training and exercises, including training for the deportation of  the Jews. Approximately 2,000-3,000 guardsmen passed through the training camp during the two and a half years of its activity. Some of them were organised into two battalions with four companies each, about 1,000 men altogether. The size of a company was 100-200 men.”[29]  

As one can ascertain, the role of the Latvian collaborators in the undertaking of extermination of the Latvian Jews is at least controversial; a number of sources mention an active participation, others – Latvian essentially – deny it completely.

What has a well-known Nazi-hunter to say about the matter of collaboration?  “The Germans would never have killed 6 million Jews without the help of hundreds of thousands of collaborators.  The Holocaust cannot be summarised by the anti-Semitic madness of the sole Germans and Austrians.  The whole continental Europe was associated in the process.  In all the countries that they invaded, the Nazis found cruel and zealous volunteers. (…) An important part of the murdered Jews in the three Baltic states were killed by Balts, not by Germans or Austrians.  Baltic citizens were by the way sent to foreign countries to take part in the genocide.  Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians went in particular to Byelorussia in order to kill Jews there.  Jews from central Europe were deported to the Baltic states where they were murdered.  These three small countries have thus greatly contributed to the liquidation of the European Jews.[30]

On May 19, 2005, a text on the actual situation in Latvia, written byVladimir Simonov, was made available on Internet:  “A short excursion in Riga with a good guide will only increase the confusion that a foreign observer might feel seeing the outburst of the Nazi spirit in that Baltic state.  Anti-Semitic inscriptions sometimes appear on the monuments of Jewish graveyards.  Carpets with swastikas are exhibited in shop windows.  One can see passers-by bearing metallic swastikas on the chest.  Demonstrating an astonishing historical amnesia, Riga becomes indignant with the alleged genocide committed in Latvia after the war and caused by a “totalitarian foreign empire”, but keeps silent with regard to the ethnic catastrophe in 1941.  During the brief period between the departure of the Soviet authorities and the arrival of the Hitler units, the Latvian nationalists had ample time to exterminate and rob thousands of Latvian Jews.  A monstrous genocide committed by citizens from Latvia against other citizens of Latvia.”[31]

What does the same Efraim Zuroff write regarding “the Nazi spirit” symbolised by the annual march held each year on March 16, near the Statue of Liberty in Riga, a march that honours the SS from the Latvian Legion, Latvian SS soldiers of whom some pictures are exhibited at the Occupation Museum (one can also buy a book on the Latvian Legion at the reception desk in the entrance hall).  A sight which, to foreign visitors from Western-Europe who grew up with an ingrained hatred of the Wehrmacht and the SS, is and remains utterly shocking: “In reality, Tuesday’s ceremony was in certain respect only the tip of a very dangerous iceberg that is attempting to rewrite the history books and create a false symmetry or equalisation of Communist and Nazi crimes.  And while the march was not organised by the government, it is obvious that there is strong support for its message among Latvian leaders.  Thus, for example, yesterday Latvia’s foreign minister Maris Riekstins issued an official statement in which he attacked my criticism of the march and attempted to equate the suffering of all the victims of the Second World War, as if there was no difference between those supporting Nazism and those opposing it.[32]

As for the Latvian SS Legion and the annual march on March 16 in their honour, the present Latvian authorities support the view that these SS units had nothing whatever to do with the extermination of the Latvian Jews, because in fact when these SS units were formed or conscribed according to the Latvian sources, most of the killings of Jews in Latvia had been done.[33] Yes, but one may perhaps take the opposite view.  The Waffen SS units were elite troops that nearly always fought in a harsh and organised manner and succeeded, very often, in containing the advance of the Soviet Army.  Might one, therefore, not come to the conclusion that SS combat troops – among which figures the Latvian SS Legion -, that did not kill any Jews directly, delayed the defeat of Nazi Germany.  And, inevitably, allowed thus that more Jews in ghettoes, small communities, death camps, in far-away countries (Greece, Italy, etc.) could be killed.  One has only to think of the extermination of the Hungarian Jews begun in 1944.  Were the Latvians fighting under SS uniforms against the USSR in fact not helping Nazi Germany to go on killing, killing and killing the Jews of Europe?

It seems to me, thus, that after the fall of the Iron Curtain associated with the fall of Communism we are now witnessing another Iron Curtain being erected with the purpose of giving a minimalist representation of the horrors suffered by the 70,000 Jews of Latvia victims of the murders committed under the Nazi regime; a Manichean vision that forgets to refer to the possible social and political underlying context leading to the war, a silencing process that seems to attribute the major part of that unprecedented catastrophe which happened in Latvia between 1941 and 1945 only to the Viktors Arājs Commando or other militias, a terribly withering process which I think, within limits, smacks  of history-rewriting as Efraim Zuroff stated, or, worse, revisionism.  And, unfortunately, the Occupation Museum in Riga is part of the alleviating process as far as the exhibits it displays in its permanent exhibition are concerned.

May I therefore ask you to distance yourself from that kind of moral support?  It concerns first and foremost, I think, our dignity as citizens of the European Union and our firm and enduring belief in humanistic values that cannot in whatever manner be muted as far as the crimes committed against humanity are concerned.

I thank you beforehand for your attention and kindness.

© Roland Binet – Belgium – European Citizen of one of the founding Member-States of the European Union.


As some of the witnesses’ accounts originate from authors who might be less known to readers experienced in matters relating to WWII, here are some clarifying biographical information about them:


« И ТЫ ЭТО ВИДЕЛ » (i ty eto videl/And You Saw It) by David Silberman, published by BOTA/Riga, ISBN 9984-19-970-3, can be bought at the Museum of the Jews of Latvia/Riga.  David Silberman was born in Preiļi in Latvia in 1934.  His family fled the native town just one day before the murder of nearly all its Jewish inhabitants.  Around 1958, David Silberman decided to collect testimonial material from survivors from the Holocaust.  This was realised clandestinely because the Soviet authorities frowned on activities and written works that made a differentiation between Jewish and Soviet (i.e. non-Jews) victims.  An activist for the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel, David Silberman was one of the leading persons to organise a hunger-strike in Moscow at the beginning of the seventies.  He underwent questioning by the KGB, a search of his apartment.  Finally, after the hunger-strike he was granted permission to emigrate to Israel.  He is now an American citizen and has many other books in Russian and English.  One of these – entitled “Like a Star in the Darkness”, ISBN 979-9984-280-6 – describes the story of Janis (Zhan) Lipke, a Latvian patriot who helped and saved around 50 Jews from certain death during WWII. This righteous man was honoured in Jerusalem where his name was inscribed in the “Golden Book” of the Jewish nation as  Righteous among the Nations (from the cover of his book and my personal contacts with him: Roland Binet)

« THE MURDER OF THE JEWS IN LATVIA 1941-1945 », by Bernhard Press, Nothwestern University Press, ISBN 0-8101-1729-0, can be bought on Internet.  According to the short biographical information on the back cover, Bernhard Press was born in Latvia in 1917.  He studied in Florence because of covert anti-Semitism in Latvia.  In 1951, he was accused of high treason and sentenced to 25 years in an arctic labour camp.  After being released in 1956, he emigrated to West-Germany.  He was an Honorary Professor of Pathology at the Free University of Berlin.

« MEMOIRS » by Elmar Rivosh, ISBN 978-9984-39-515-9; this book can be bought at the Museum of the Jews of Latvia in Riga.  According to the short biographical information on the back cover and footnote ˡ page 7 of his memoirs, Elmar Rivosh was born in Kreuzburg (Krustpils) in 1906, studies in Riga, later Paris.  He was imprisoned in the Riga ghetto, and he was the only one from his family to escape when he went into hiding with the help of Latvian benevolents.  Excerpts from the chapters “The Beginning of the End” and “It Begins” have been translated into several languages and widely circulated.  They are acknowledged as a remarkable testament to WWII.   The bulk of the text was written in hiding during the war and completed after liberation.  These chapters were sent to Soviet writers (V. Grossman and I. Ehrenburg) in order to be included in the “Black Book”.  The manuscript featured at the Nuremberg Trials of the key Nazi criminals.  The entire edition of the already typeset of the “Black Book” was never published at that time, it was destroyed when the Anti-Fascist Committee (in the USSR) was liquidated by the Stalinist regime.  (as is well-known, the “Black Book” was later published in Western-European countries and translated into many languages: Roland Binet).

« L’EXTERMINATION DES JUIFS EN LETTONIE 1941-1945 » (The Extermination of the Jews in Latvia 1941-1945), a conferences’ cycle, director of publication Rabbin Ménachem Barkahan, ISBN 978-9984-9835-8-5, published by the « Shamir Association », Riga/Latvia; translated from the original Russian but available in French at the Museum of the Jews of Latvia; this book received the support of the “Agence Exécutive” (Éducation, audiovisuel et culture – EACEA)  from the EU.  This remarkable book describes in a very thorough manner the social and political context in Latvia prior to WWII.  It details methodically, village after village, town after town, city after city, ghetto after ghetto, killing ground after killing ground, what really happened in Latvia and how the Latvian Jews were exterminated during WWII. (for anyone really interested in knowing the horrifying reality of the Holocaust in Latvia, this is an absolute must, and it is a pity it is not yet available in English or German: Roland Binet).

[1] Website: Latvijās Institūts of the Occupation Museum, text by V. Nollendorfs & U. Neiburgs (

[2] Website: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, taken from a document entitled  « The volunteer SS Legion in Latvia » (

[3] « La Destruction des Juifs d’Europe Tome II », by Raul Hilberg, translated from the French version, page 417.  The author refers to G. Tessin’s « Zur Geschichte der Ordnungspolizei », the footnote on page 417 states, too, that after the roundup, the battalions were transferred in October.

[4] « The Holocaust – The Jewish Tragedy », by Martin Gilbert, page 388; the author founds this assertion on Stanislaw Adler’s « In the Warsaw Ghetto 1940-1943: an Account of a Witness », Jerusalem 1982, page 270.

[5] « Chronique du ghetto de Varsovie » (Diary from the Warsaw ghetto) by Emmanuel Ringelblum, page322

[6] « Du fond de l’abîme – Journal du ghetto de Varsovie» (‘from the depth of the chasm – diary from the Warsaw ghetto’) by Hillel Seidman, translated from the Hebrew and Yiddish by Nathan Weinstock

[7] Can be consulted on Google under « Latvian Battalion in Poland and White Russia »

[8] In « The murder of the Jews in Latvia 1941-1945 », Bernhard Press writes the following on page 37: « in mid-June the KGB began a large-scale deportation action (…) 20,000 innocent victims from Latvia (…) were sent to Siberia, including about 5,000 Jews from Latvia… »

[9] See footnote 2

[10] Pictures at the Museum of the Latvian Jews in Riga, and pictures (between pages 280 and 281) in « L’Extermination des Juifs en Lettonie 1941-1945 », conferences’ cycle, publishing director Rabbi Menachem Barkahan.

[11] « Memoirs » by Elmar Rivosh, Riga 2008, pages 21/22

[12] Ibid footnote ‘6’ (Bernhard Press), pages 45/46

[13] « и ты это видел » (i ty eto videl- And you Saw It), by David Silberman, Bota/Riga, page 38

[14] « L’Extermination des Juifs en Lettonie 1941-1945 » (the Extermination of the Jews in Latvia 1941-1945),  conferences’ cycle, publishing director Rabbi Menachem Barkahan

[15] Ibid footnote ‘1’

[16] Ibid footnote ‘6’ (Bernhard Press), pages 29/30

[17] Ibid footnote 11

[18] « The Holocaust – The Jewish Tragedy », by Martin Gilbert, pages 157/158

[19]  , search under “The Holocaust” the chapter relating to the Holocaust Resource Center, then type “Latvia” under “Search by Keyword”, you access the “Shoah Resource Center,  then click on “Riga”: a feature text relating to the Einsatzgruppe A, (General Report up to October 15, 1941 –II –  Cleansing {of Jews} and securing the area of operation.)

[20] « Das dritte Reich und die Juden » (the Third Reich and the Jews) by Léon Poliakov/Joseph Wulf, page 148

[21] « Die Shoah » (the Shoah) by Leni Yahil, pages 792/793

[22] « The Holocaust in Latvia » by Andrew Ezergailis, page 104

[23]Der Spiegel”, 17/2005 dated 25/04/2005, an article by Walter von Mayr.

[24] « Holokaust », by Guido Knopp, page 62

[25] Paul Salitter’s report, quoted in page 90 of « Des hommes ordinaires » (“Ordinary Men”) by Christopher R. Browning ; the original facsimile report can be consulted on Internet under the search words  « Düsseldorfer Polizeigeschichte – Deportation von jüdischen Menschen” , and under  where under the heading “The International School for Holocaust Studies” there is a subject matter entitled “The Transport” Lesson Plan”, where in the text by clicking on “documents” of the “start by reading the documents”, one can access the English translation of the original German report by Lieutenant Paul Salitter.  I made a translation from my French version of that report

[26] See footnote 22, page 376

[27] Cf. Glossary in  « L’Extermination des Juifs en Lettonie 1941-1945 », cycle of conferences, publishing director Rabbi Menachem Barkahan, written by Grigory Smirine, Doctor in History

[28] Cf. footnote 1

[29] Gutman, Israel. Encyclopedia of the Holocaust ,Arad, Yitzhak. Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Dr. Robert Kuwalek, Majdanek Memorial ,Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw ; can be consulted on Internet under the search word « Trawniki », © ARC 2005, can also be consulted under , then under the heading “Aktion Reinhard Camp”, subheading “overview”, then at last “Volunteer Auxiliaries”

[30] « Chasseur de nazis » by Efraim Zuroff with Alexandre Duyck, pages 86/87

[31] Website of  ResistanceS/Belgium, can be consulted in French on the website , posted May 19, 2005

[32] Efraim Zuroff’s article in The Guardian » of March 18, 2010, entitled « Dangerous history-rewriting in Latvia ». Efraim Zuroff is the Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center-Israel Office

[33] An extended explanation can be read on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, see URL footnote 2

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