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THE HOLOCAUST IN LATVIA
by Andrew Ezergailis
The Historical Institute of Latvia  Riga.
Published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Washington, DC

1996

Historians of the Holocaust in Latvia face two formidable barriers. They need to break through the fog that the propaganda agencies of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union created. Both, for their own reasons, were intent on misleading the world about the killing of the Jews in Latvia. The Holocaust historians had an opportunity after the war to double-check Nazi propaganda about the events in the West, which the historians could not do about the events in Soviet-controlled lands. This means that the whole first phase of the Holocaust—what we could call the pre-Wannsee phase—still has to be studied and many of its details confirmed. A primary duty of the new historians will be to cut through the obfuscation, regardless of what the source is, and go to the primary documents, which, with the demise of the Soviet system, have started to become available. The Holocaust must be confronted as it really happened. Neither the high revisionism of Arno Mayer and Ernst Nolte nor the low variety of the total deniers is acceptable and neither correspond to the East European truth.

This is the first comprehensive study of the Holocaust in Latvia. Ezergailis describes the people and units. German and Latvian, who participated in the murder of Jews. He begins with the early murders at the time of the German entrance into Latvia and details the killings in the large cities and small towns of Latvia. A whole chapter is devoted to the Rumbula massacre of November 30, and December 8,1941, when most of the Jews of Riga were killed.

Ezergailis rejects all forms of revisionism and stands with the judgment of Nuremberg. The mass killing of the Jews began in June 22,1941, the day the Nazis crossed the frontier of the USSR. The author has marshaled evidence and arguments to show that the Fuhrerbefehl came earlier rather than later. The Einsatzgruppen entered Latvia with an unambiguous order to murder the Jews. The author most specifically rejects the argument, of German provenance, that the decision to kill the Jews came only in 1942, after the Wannsee conference and the German defeat at Moscow. The trail of blood and of paper shows that the order to the kill Jews of Latvia came from the head of the SD, Heydrich, to the Einsatzgruppe A leader. Brigadefuhrer Walther Stahlecker and his commando leaders.

The judges of Nuremberg failed to see that a significant role in the murder of Jews also was played by Eastern European natives (the Einheimische as the Nazis called them). Ezergailis, In his detailed work. fills in this hiatus left by the Nuremberg judgments. He argues that the killing of the Jews of Latvia was done in an organized, even over-organized manner. Documents show that Heydrich ordered Stahlecker to create pogrom conditions, to give an impression that the natives were wreaking revenge against the "Jew-Bolsheviks." After the failure of the pogrom policy. Ezergailis shows, the Germans had no alternative but to rely on propaganda and organization.

The central part of Ezergailis' work details the activities of the Arajs SD Commando, the Latvian unit that Brigadefuhrer Stahlecker organized for the killing of the Jews of Latvia. Although numerous other Latvian auxiliary police units played a role in the killing of the Jews, the major murderers were the men of the Arajs unit.

From the historiographical point of view, especially significant is Ezergailis' discussion of Stahlecker's letter of August 6,1941, which to date has not received sufficient attention in the Holocaust literature. The letter illustrates a conflict between the SD and the civilian structure— the Ministry of the East. Upon arriving in the Baltic, the Reichskommissar of the Ostland, Hinrich Lohse issued guidelines for the treatment of the Jews-instructions ordering the Jews to be concentrated and used for labor. Stahlecker, who had been killing Jews since June 22, wrote an angry letter attacking the guidelines as misconceived and outdated, ending the letter with a handwritten note: "I consider it desirable, before issuing any basic statement, once more to discuss these questions verbally, especially since it is safer that way, and since it concern-is fundamental orders from higher authority to the Security Police, ones that should not be discussed in writing. Brigadefuhrer."

Andrew Ezergailis received his Ph.D. from New York University, and since 1964 has been a professor of history at Ithaca College. He is a foreign member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences and received a Dr. habil. hist.. degree. His works include The 1917 Revolution in Latvia and The Latvian Impact on the Bolshevik Revolution. His studies on the Holocaust have appeared in Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Anti-Semitism in Times of Crisis, The World Reacts to the Holocaust (David Wyman, editor), The Nationality Papers, and numerous Latvian-language periodicals in Latvia and elsewhere.


THE HOLOCAUST IN LATVIA, 1941-1944

Andrew Ezergailis

DESCRIPTION: Pushing aside the curtain of deceit carefully woven by both Nazi and Soviet propagandists, Andrew Ezergailis' The Holocaust in Latvia mines previously inacessible documentary archives to produce the first comprehensive narrative picture of this little-known chapter of the mass murder of Jews in the Baltic. It breaks a path for a new generation of Holocaust investigations that explore the events in Eastern Europe. Ezergailis' book turns a spotlight on the people and units, German and Latvian, who participated in the killings. The author begins with the early murders at the time of the German entrance into Latvia and details the killings in the large cities and small towns there. A whole chapter is devoted to the Rumbula massacre of November 30, and December 8, 1941, when most of the Jews of Riga were killed.

The Holocaust historians had an opportunity after the war to double-check Nazi propaganda about events in the West, which the historians could not do about the events in Soviet-controlled lands. This means that the whole first phase of the Holocaust--what we could call the pre-Wannsee phase--still has to be studied and many of its details confirmed. A primary duty of the new historians will be to cut through the obfuscation, regardless of what the source is, and go to the primary documents, which, with the demise of the Soviet system, have started to become available. Ezergailis rejects all forms of revisionism and relativism and stands with the judgement of Nuremberg. The mass killing of the Jews began on June 22, 1941, the day the Nazis crossed the frontier of the USSR. The author has marshalled evidence and arguments to show that the Fuehrerbefehl came earlier rather than later. The Einsatzgruppen entered Latvia with an unambiguous order to murder the Jews. The author most specifically rejects the argument, of German provenance, that the decision to kill the Jews came only in 1942, after the Wannsee conference and the German defeat at Moscow. The trail of blood and of paper shows that the order to kill the Jews of Latvia came from the head of the SD, Heydrich, to the Einsatzgruppe A leader, Brigadefuehrer Walther Stahlecker and his commando leaders.

The judges at Nurmeberg failed to see that a significant role in the murder of Jews also was played by Eastern European natives (the Einheimische as the Nazis called them). Ezergailis, in his detailed work, fills in this hiatus left by the Nuremberg judgements. He argues that the killing of the Jews of Latvia was done in an organized, even over-organized manner. Documents show that Heydrich ordered Stahlecker to create pogrom conditions, to give an impression that the natives were wreaking revenge against the "Jew-Bolsheviks." After the failure of the pogrom policy, Ezergailis shows, the Germans had no alternative but to rely on propaganda and organization.

The central part of Ezergailis' work details the activities of the Arajs SD Commando, the Latvian unit that Brigadefuehrer Stahlecker organized for the killing of the Jews of Latvia. Although numerous other Latvian auxiliary police units played a role in the killing of the Jews, the major murderers were the men of the Arajs unit.

From the historiographical point of view, especially significant is Ezergailis' discussion of Stahlecker's letter of August 6, 1941, which to date has not received sufficient attention in the Holocaust literature. The letter illustrates a conflict between the SD and the civilian structure--the Ministry of the East. Upon arriving in the Baltic, the Reichskommissar of the Ostland, Hinrich Lohse, issued guidelines for the treatment of the Jews--instructions ordering that the Jews be concentrated and used for labor. Stahlecker, who had been killing Jews since June 22, wrote an angry letter attacking the guidelines as misconceived and outdated, ending the letter with a handwritten note: "I consider it desirable, before issuing any basic statement, once more to discuss these questions verbally, especially since it is safer that way, and since it concerns fundamental orders from higher authority to the security police, ones that should not be discussed in writing. -- Brigadefuehrer"


"This massive study...spares no detail ....Ezergailis is no youngster and he spent many years gathering the facts and writing the text. He has complete command of the literature and the trial records. His research took him to many archives. Needless to say, he could read the Latvian sources with full understanding. He is painstakingly objective and he tries to the utmost to be precise.

"What he wrote is limited in scope but not minor in importance. Latvia affords a window to the critical topic of the initiation of the final solution. The Jewish victims there were not only local inhabitants but also deportees from the Reich. The Riga massacres in the late fall of 1941 were, after Odessa and Kiev, the largest in Europe. More important, however, must be our recognition of the fact that Ezergailis represents the next wave of Holocaust research: the indepth exploration of a particular aspect or territory. In that sense he is a pioneer and his work serves as a model."
Raul Hilberg


"In a courageous and revealing study Andrew Ezergailis explores the role of Latvian anti-Semites and its contribution to the destruction of Latvian Jewry during the Holocaust....In sum [he] forces us to reconsider the entire question of how and why events like the Shoah are not only possible but became realities."
Sander L. Gilman


SERIES : Published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC
SPECS : xxi + 465 pages, 8 illus., 8 maps, glossary, bibliography, index, 6 3/4 X 9 1/2 PUB-DATE: Sept. 30, 1996
KIND 1 : cloth
ISBN 1 : 9984-9054-3-8
PRICE 1 : $49.95

PUBLISHED BY THE HISTORICAL INSTITUTE OF LATVIA

You may order from the Museum's Shop.
Telephone: (202) 488-6144 FAX: (202) 488-0438

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