Thursday, September 20, 2012


Kaiserwald was relatively shielded as a suburb of Riga. Since theliquidation of the ghetto, the Jewish columns that were previouslymarched daily through Riga to their places of work, disappeared from thecityscape. Nevertheless, it was the city's population which noticed thaton the outskirts of Riga a camp was being built, since the closure of the ghetto which was a long and ongoing process, they knew. Thethousands of ghetto residents were driven in several stages on foot to Kaiserwald. Surrounded by barbed wire the camp and its surroundings was heavily guarded, but it was visible from a distance. The Riga rail way station Skirotava, a shunting yard, some distance from the camp, where Transports of prisoners arrived, were taken by the SS along a secondary road (Landstraße) towards Riga. The prisoners had limited opportunity to communicate with the outside world or had any real contact. Whether the writing of letters to relatives in Kaiserwald was possible has not been established.
Direct contact with the outside world was only made possible during work outside the camp. The diverse use of Jewish commandos in the area of the main camp were mostly led by Wehrmacht soldiers and civilian workers and guarded by Volksdeutsche (Ethnic Germans). The civilian workers were usually local construction or skilled trades-men, who were strictly prohibited to maintain conversations and other contact with the prisoners. Despite these restrictions, the inmates succeeded to run a barter system with Latvian workers. "Rachel brought from the Latvians at times, this and that, one or the other thing into the camp, in exchange for a piece of clothing, gloves, and sometimes a bit of jewellery that she got from my mother, and exchanged it for bread" .Finally, information about the German-Russian front and the partisan battles near
Riga filtered into the camp. However, the contact with partisans could only be taken up when outside work assignments had been allotted. They[the partisans,sic] provided the prisoners with additional information about the course of front line positions and tried to help them with their escapes. This made it possible for some prisoners that fled from Kaiserwald. The SS responded always to escapes with more permanent punishment roll calls and and a large-scale search operation. [Ibid, page 155-158. Rabinovici reported that it was possible for some women of the commando "Anode", to join the partisans. sic]
 Method of "Punishment Roll Call at Attention" at KZ Dachau, 28 June 1938 (Strafstehen auf dem Appellplatz)

Besides partisans there were also civilian workers at the work details, who helped in the escape of prisoners: An elderly Latvian woman worker who encouraged the engineer Sholom Kobliakow to flee and gave him her address. The flight was successful in July 1944. For fear of the draconian penalties of the occupiers, the woman granted him only briefly shelter. Kobliakow lived as vagrant for several months in Riga until he finally was able to leave the city and defected to the Soviet troops. He survived. Especially in the last phase of the existence of Kaiserwald several successful escapes from the main camp and its satellite camps are reported. The approaching of the front and the imminent evacuation left the overcrowded main camp in complete chaos. There was simply no staff to pursue fugitives. In addition, there was an increased willingness of the Latvian population to help fleeing Jews. Whether the provision of contact addresses, granting of accommodation or the supply of food and different clothing other then their "striped pyjamas", without the help of Latvian civilians it would have been unthinkable to survive. The helpers faced always the risk that the hidden Jews could be discovered, or a denunciation that would have resulted in an arrest and subsequent detention into a concentration camp. [see: Margers Verstermanis, Savior in the land of the stooges. On the history of helping Jews in Latvia during the"Final Solution ", in: Wolfgang Benz/Juliane Wetzel, Berlin
1998, pp. 266-272, sic]

Memorials to Latvian’s residents who Sheltered Jews 
The first one is a plaque to Anna Alma Pole who gave her life for her actions. During World War II, Anna Alma Pole saved seven Jews allowing them to hide in the cellar of her house in Riga. The woman’s daughter
Margarita Kestere undertook to provide food; each day, she used to bring it over from across the River Daugava in a children’s pram. In 1944, someone had reported on Anna Alma Pole to the German occupation institutions for helping the Jews to hide, and on 24 August 1944 the house was searched. During the search, six Jews were killed, and Anna Alma Pole was arrested and taken to the Central Prison, were she was tortured to death.

The remaining inmates in the main camp were assigned after registering to a work detail inside or outside the camp. If this classification did not immediately take place, the men or women were allocated during roll calls to the remaining free workplaces or to other commandos, whose composition changed frequently as a result of new arrivals, deaths, disease-related illnesses and redistribution of prisoners according to their skills. In contrast to the satellite camps, the prison workers employed outside the camp came back daily to the main camp. The obtainable strength by numbers in Labour Units was also significantly lower than that of a satellite camp. Permanent housing and guarding therefore probably was not goal-oriented enough. The assignment of prisoners was often according to their qualifications. Here prisoners were selected with technical skills and reported to a specific commando. The commandos were characterised mainly by their different working conditions. Most sought after of the skilled inmates were work assignments outside the camp, because the guards were often members of the Wehrmacht or Latvian foremen, who as a rule would not mistreat or abuse their workers. In contrast, the prisoners of internal detachments were constantly exposed to the terror and harassment by the camp SS and their trusties.

The use of Labour in the camp took place in small workshops and offices of the Administration Department[ I ] in the the front of the camp. In the actual prison camp, only the medical staff at the prison infirmary [10] would women and men work. In addition, there was behind the prisoner camp, a few yards outside of the terrain, a small commando called the "Anode" [11]. In the clothing store, located in the administrative area [1], men and women were employed, they sorted the contents of suitcases and bundles of newcomers and inventoried each item. Sometimes the prisoners were likely to find food in the clothing that they smuggled back into the prison camp. Next to the clothing store was a small dressmaking room in which the prisoners repaired and mended during day and night shifts, dresses and clothing removed from luggage of new arrivals, or those that had been been deceased. The repaired pieces were then further treated in the laundry, which was also working in two shifts. The management of the clothing store and the tailor shop was the responsibility of SS Sergeant Hirsch, who abused the prisoners: "Because of a damaged needle in my sewing machine I got blows from him, so I went around for weeks with a swollen face", reported former inmate David P. but still, Hirsch kept "his" Jews away from base selections (removal of buried corpses) and made pretty sure to tell them, "that thanks to him they were not taken to these dreadful assignments". It is most likely that Hirsch was only occasionally present in person at the clothing store and laundry. The actual guard who took on a supervisory position was an SS man whom the prisoners called "Hans" and never would beat or mistreate prisoners. His office was right next to the magazine of the clothing store. The prisoners themselves wore civilian clothes during working hours. Food that the prisoners found in the suitcases could, if Hirsch was absent, be used for their own personal use. "Hans" even tolerated children to be hidden and closeted away during upcoming "actions". "While I was playing softly, my mother came rushing in, and told me to climb between clothes and mattresses and sit quietly. Suddenly I heard in the dressing room, the heavy footsteps of German soldiers [...] and "Hans" said, "There's nobody but dirty clothes out of the infirmary, which must be burnt". '[ibid, page 157f sic].

Plan of Main Camp Riga-Kaiserwald, the exact division of 
the camp is unclear".
In one barrack near the separation fence to the prison camp was a separate area, with the locksmith,  lacksmith and shoemaker. Apart from doing their usual functions in these workshops, the prisoners were doing additional repair work or helped with repairs to the headquarters buildings and barracks. In the same part was the office of the "Labour Input Unit" where the inmates took over writing activities. In the prisoners' kitchen and the SS- kitchen there was also a team, which prepared the food and handing it out to the inmates.
The cleaning of the headquarters was performed by a women commando. This posting was very unpopular because the women there were in constant contact with the camp staff. Specifically only for the SS personnel in the main camp near the headquarters, there was a barbershop. Every morning a guard brought the barber, the prisoner Maurice F., to the barbershop and took him back at evenings. Due to its more beneficial activity in the camp, he was spared from selections. In a small part of a barrack near the administration area, there was a dental clinic, the dental surgeon Tscherfas ran and directed this Department, it included two dentists and eight to nine dental technicians. In another hut, near the shower and disinfection barracks, worked the large woman commando "Anode". A small commando of the "Anode" was right behind the men's camp, a few meters outside the concentration camp, adjacent to a forest. These were under the supervision of the General Electric Company (AEG) of Riga. The women working there unloaded wagons and carts, which were equipped with batteries. Then they dissected the batteries into tiny pieces. The workers returned after completing one day's chores completely dirty from dust and burns caused by battery acid on the face and back of their hands to the detention centre.

Every day after morning roll call, the work details left the camp under heavy guard. Working commandos further away were taken by trucks to the site, closer by they marched on foot to work. A very popular posting among prisoners was the clothing factory for Field Uniforms of the German Air Force in Riga. There, they were doing light work such as sorting and repair of the returned clothing. Some even completed clerical duties resulting from completed work, preparing invoices and shipping documents. Here the prisoners received generally slightly better food than in the main camp. The outside commando assigned to the "Tanklager" of the OT (Organisation Todt), about 70 to 120 prisoners worked under the direction of the political prisoner Hans M. from Düsseldorf.
Different sized groups of male and female prisoner did heavy work in laying railway tracks and road construction in and around Riga. They carried heavy rails and embedded them in prepared trunk lines. The longer the track was laid, the more arduous was the daily way back to the camp. Wind and weather made no difference all the prisoners did various works: They carried stones and rocks, heavy sacks of lime (Kalksäcke) from point A to B, and mixed concrete. There were cases in which prisoners leaned against the concrete mixer [...] fell asleep standing up and then collapsed.
Briefly, there was a team that cleaned the villas of SS members in Riga, where they were in direct contact with Latvian and German SS. Josef Katz, a former prisoner, reported that every day a young girl left the camp to clean Sauers Villa.[Sauer was commandant of the Kaiserwald concentration camp, sic]
Another desirable commando was working during nights, loading and unloading cargo vessels at the port of Riga. Many men volunteered for this commando because it was an opportunity to escape the evening roll call and the nightly selections in the camp: "They [the SS, sic] dragged people out of their beds and taking them away, it was [not] a coincidence, it was night, the SS men did not look who was young or old, strong or weak. who came under their hands, just took them away, to avoid this, I went to work for the night on the ships". [Statement Rachmiel T., 20.11.1975, in: BArch Ludwigsburg, B 162/2987 page 2816f. sic]
After the evening return of all the prison commandos, additional further work from February 1944 was enforced for inmates within the camp: "carrying of stones or by pushing tip lorries on the run for the intended horticultural facilities" as well as the repair of barracks and roads were among the usual activities of an inmate until nightfall.

Daily roll calls, but also "special mustering" (Sonderappelle) at anytime, day and night were used for the selection of incapacitated prisoners. The main objective of forced labour of the camp and its satellite camps at Kaiserwald were purely economics, which guaranteed supplying the troops at the front with food and clothing. Nevertheless, the inability to work and the resulting extermination of the concentration camp inmates were considered inevitable and an acceptable fact. Resulting labour shortages were balanced by training new incoming workers. The dwindling war economic importance of forced labour in the Baltic States from 1944 took away the ability, but not the right of Jewish prisoners to exist and caused a worsening of prison conditions and an increased of selections and subsequent elimination.

The first major selection took place even before the admission of Jewish prisoners into the concentration camp of Kaiserwald. On November 2nd 1943 about 2,000 elderly, sick and children were rounded up in the ghetto and deported to Auschwitz or shot in the woods near Riga. Only those ghetto residents able to work for the SS, were registered and sent to work assignments. Some prisoners who were working in a satellite camp where they had already been living in the days of the ghetto's existence managed to protect their children from the great action (Große Aktion) and smuggled them into their sub-camps. Similar cases are known to have taken place at Kaiserwald, even though upon arrival of new Transports, mostly children, next to the old and weak were segregated immediately. In some isolated cases registration of children into the concentration camps under the administration of Kaiserwald did take place.
Mass grave in the Bikernieki Forest near Riga 

Other selections continued in the main camp (Stammlager). This took place in the second half of 1943 once a week during roll calls and were initiated mostly by Brüner and Wisner. They were supported here by the prisoner functionaries Abel, Bruhns and others who walked from barrack to barrack and "pre-reviewed" prisoners, "women whose face Brüner did not like somehow, or wore glasses, had pimples on faces, even an injured finger, he had them removed out of the ranks and destined for elimination". They were left behind while all other prisoners with their work commando left camp and marched to their sites. Most of the [condemned] were moved a short time later after evening roll call and locked into a barrack until the next morning taken to the execution site outside the camp. In addition to these selections during roll calls the spontaneous actions without any forward knowledge were most feared among the prisoners. These took place during daytime or at night. A previously arbitrarily compiled group of male prisoner had to strip to the waist and run past the present camp SS. With a gesture of the hand by the commander as a signal to the staff whether the passing individual would be of further use or to be killed was a normal practice of his. Similarly feared was the brutally expelling of prisoners out of their barracks at night. "Those who could not run fast enough, were beaten and being singled out for extermination". Thereby the camp-SS got rid of unwelcome inmates who were not sick, weak or old. The deportees apparently still fought fiercely on the way to be shot. The former camp barber relates: "After accompanying a truckload of inmates, an SS man came up to me in the barbershop with a completely scratched face. He said he had to guard the selectees on the trucks and was attacked by a woman". [Statement by Maurice F. on 3.5.1980, in: ibid B162/26148, pp166.sic]
In the satellite camps during 1943, such selections probably did not took place. The sick and weak, if they stayed away from the labour input, were moved back to the main camp (Stammlager), treated in the local hospital and replaced by able-bodied prisoners from the camp. Despite regular selections out of the Revier (hospital) as well as out of the prison camp, the number of those segregated in 1943, compared to the following year, had been relatively steady, there was a good reason for this: First, prisoners at the time of their admission were found to be in a relatively stable mental and physical state. Secondly, the participation and use in labour work assignments offered some protection against the random actions of the camp SS. Only the hard winter and resulting food shortages not only due to a rising prison populations and the strenuous manual labour related to the constant physical and mental disintegration and fatigue of the prisoners. The number of incapacitated inmates increased and created an overcrowding of the hospital, which necessitated the establishment of another woman infirmary in the camp and a increase of a variety of selections to separate prisoners for eventual "disposal".

A Latvian guard leads Jewish women to the execution site 
Another significant aspect of the increase in the selections and extermination was, that in January 1944 the Red Army launched a major offensive, which pushed the German troops more and more on the defensive and forced them to retreat. On the one hand it was now time to obliterate the traces of mass executions committed on Jews in the Baltic States committed from the years 1941/42 and to cover up the genocide. On
the other hand, preparations were made on a long term basis for the evacuation of satellite camps and the main camps. This entailed the elimination of an estimated 30.000 to 40.000 corpses of Jewish victims in mass graves and the necessity for the liquidation of all the other weak, the sick, the elderly and children, in other words, people who appeared a hindrance due to their condition for a smooth and rapid evacuation.
With the so-called de-earthing of the mass graves at Riga, began at the beginning of 1944. In Kaunus, though located further south-west, it began already in the fall of 1943, when traces of the mass graves had
been removed. A major role in the recruitment of labour to open the graves in and around the forests of Riga played the members of Sonderkommando 1005B headed by Walter Helfsgotts. The real work, digging up and burning corpses should be done by prisoners from KZ Kaiserwald and the supervising work guaranteed by the Sonderkommando. After the opening (Enterdung) of the respective mass grave was completed, the
Sonderkommando was obliged to kill the Jewish prisoners that had now become confidants and witnesses of the activity performed., and that people had been murdered, buried now exhumed and cremated on "funeral pyres" or in pits.
One of the cremation pits used to burn the victims of the gas chambers
in Auschwitz. These "burning pits" were used mainly in the summer of
1944, when the extermination was going at such a rate that the furnaces
couldn't handle the number of corpses

Kaiserwald announced in the camp a new work detail, for which strong, young men could join voluntarily. With it came as a lure the promise of better food and clothing. "We prisoners were not clear at that time,
that this convenient assignment, meant practically a death sentence for us. Initially it was presented as an improvement in our situation, so that I almost had reported voluntarily to take part, just in time to
find out, that quite a few groups with volunteers had never returned, but it also came to be known, what the real purpose was of this 'commando base' <"(Stützpunkt)". All the "Stützpunkt" segregated men were shot after the performance of their work. Further information were obtained from members of the guards, who were present at the "Stützpunkt" and later In a drunken state talked about the shooting of the work commandos in the surrounding woods. Threats by Kapos and SS members, to send unpopular prisoners to the "Stützpunkt", were a clear indication and sufficient evidence of the whereabouts of those thatnever returned. [Statement Werner N. 24/04/1980, in Ibid, B162/26148, pp. 268, sic]

1.Jewish women about to be shot 
2.Another image, of same group, about to be shot 
3.Immediately following the shooting the
man on the right is the "kicker", responsibly
for shoving the bodies into the pit.
4.Women forced to disrobe and then to pose 

Voluntarily, nobody would come forward for the new commando. Thus, in the subsequent period at irregular, in ever-shorter intervals selections were performed in which 40 to 50 prisoners were led to the "support point"(Stützpunkt) almost daily. The compiling of a commando was carried out in a variety of ways. Either the men were pulled out immediately from the ranks during roll calls, or names from a prepared list was read out of noted inmates who according to the Camp Administration had been guilty of alleged offences or the camp staff had noticed a negative attitude of them. Prisoners were always aware that a de-earthing (exhumation) project had been scheduled, as soon as trucks arrived in the camp loaded with drums of gasoline, buckets, shovels and steel plates. Moreover, it was not allowed for the selected "support point"
team to take any personal belongings with them. The remaining people in the main camp noticed that no one ever returned from this commando. In the spring of 1944, the Camp Administration went as far, in addition to young and strong men, to recruit older prisoners in the infirmary, some sick and injured and even Muselmanns [concentration camp term to describe camp prisoners that were on the verge of death, sic] for this undertaking. For these "support point" waiting men a purpose-built barrack at the nearby mass graves was erected. After a prisoner was able to escape from the Sonderkommando, the "support point workers" were chained together at their feet. [like a chain gang, sic]
With special emphasis the SS pursued in 1944 the liquidation of the Old, the Weak and Children, first in the main camp and in time at the satellite camps. Major actions became more frequent in the spring of 1944, which targeted the search and hunt for pre-determend segments of inmates with the aim to separate them from any others. These also included the eviction of all patients in the infirmary. In March/April 1944 a "Child Action" (Kinderaktion) took place, during which all the children under the age of 14 fell victims in the main camp and in most satellite camps. Until then parents tried to take their children with them while on a working assignment during the day and not leave them alone in the camp. However, the children were tracked down by experienced camp staff, and taken away. On the day of the "Children's Action" all prisoners had to assemble at the parade ground. Children, which had been recorded on a list, their names were read out and had to step forward: "In front of me stood Günther Horn, 12 years old. > Do you still stand here, you bastard<? (Stehst du immer noch hier, du Sauhund) One of the henchmen yelling at him and pulls him away from his father's hand, standing next to him. Then the young boy slowly walks before the SS man to the other boys standing on the side. "[Ibid, pp183, sic] Other children who were not on the list, were selected through a personal assessment by Dr. Krebsbach, Wisner and Brüner. "When it was clear that these children should be taken away, their parents stepped forward and requested if they could go along with the children. All selected [including parents, sic] were then loaded onto trucks and taken away". Gertrude S. estimates the number of deportees amounted to hundreds of children and parents. A week or two later, there was a secondary selection to apprehend children, who had previously kept hidden. In a parallel operation at the satellite camps, the staff from Kaiserwald was brought in for the segregation of children and brought them back into the main camp: None were ever returned. In July 1944, the SS tried again to find the last children who were still alive. Wisner was among them, who found three children hiding in a pile of coal. Then he let their mothers emerge during roll call and bring with them their children to be shot in the surrounding forests. [Judgment Wisner, in: ibid B162/26150.pp621, sic]
On July 28, 1944 the so-called "Krebsbach Action" took place. The lead in this operation were mainly conducted by SS members Krebsbach and Wisner who had the prisoners standing in columns of five. Prisoners related that woman detachments had to parade naked before the accused. The men were ordered to walk back and forth in front of the SS personnel. Who was not fast enough, was discarded by a particular hand signal from Wisner and Krebsbach which determined the death sentence. A former inmate described the performance: "Not to attract attention from fear, I was not wearing my glasses, I probably looked very scared, and the fact that I had left them behind, I opened my eyes rather wide, I was noticed by Wisner. He said to me: "I'll do nothing to you, but what do you make such big eyes"? The selection, which lasted all day, fell victim to deportation of up to 1000 men and women, mostly elderly and infirm. The ones rejected were even taken away during the selections. The "Krebsbach action" was directly related to the planned closure of the sub-camps by the summer of 1944. The same procedure was carried out in satellite camps by SS-Personal from Kaiserwald during the months June / July 1944. A former inmate of Spive reported: "The prisoners had to jump over a table. Those who could not make it, were led out to the waiting vehicles". [Statement Calelzon B. 7.9.1973, in ibid B 162/2985, page 2049, sic]
Prisoners, that wee not eliminated after the large scale selections of summer 1944 in the camps, the SS shipped them by vessels from Riga either directly via Danzig to Stutthof or brought them back to Kaiserwald. Those prisoners that could not be transported were loaded onto trucks a few week later and shot in the woods of Riga. [Statement Bochur S. 27.12.1973, in ibid, page 2049, sic]

continued under Part 5

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