1 Execution site(s)
Benjamin S., born in 1932: “Once the Soviets had occupied the town  the synagogues were closed, and the shop owners – no matter the nationality – were deported. I didn’t go to school anymore. The colonel and his wife suggested we go to Moscow with them, but they told us to not warn anyone else, especially not our Jewish friends. But my father refused and warned them all. We found out later that the German army was very close. That is when we decided to leave. We had to walk to the East, for about 300km, until we managed to get on a truck with the retreating army and then a train. We managed to get a place in the cattle carriage along with other mixed-nationality refugees from Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus. We were all taken south.” (Witness n°31, interviewed in Daugavpils, on May 7, 2019)
“In the area of Sredniaia Pogulianka, situated 5-7 kilometers north-east of Daugavpils, where in September-October 1941, 3,000 civilians, mainly of Jewish nationality, the elderly, women and children, were shot. Their corpses were thrown into a grave 100 x 4 meters, 3 meters deep. In the spring of 1944, in order to hide their bloody evil deeds, [the Germans] dug up all the corpses from the graves and burned them in bonfires next to the graves, which witnesses described. […]
The main period of mass shootings of civilians in the area of the village of Pogulianka was July-August 1941 and November 1941. During this period, 12,000 people were shot, among them the elderly, women and children. The investigation discovered eight graves in the area, one of them 120 x 4 meters, 2-3 meters deep; five round ones, with diameters of 10 meters, 3 meters deep; and two graves 60 x 4 x 3 meters. In order to hide the evidence of their bloody deeds, the German authorities ordered the corpses dug up and burned on pires, which was done in March-April, 1944 (the burning lasted for more than two weeks)” [Report done by the Soviet State Extrarodinary Commision (ChGK) on December 3, 1944; GARF 7021-93-23, p.51-52]
“One day in early July, all free Jews and their families were ordered to move to a ghetto. The ghetto was set up in the former Latvian barracks, located across the Daugava River from the fortress. On the opposite side there was a camp for Russian POWs. [...]
More Jews periodically arrived in the ghetto. They came from outside. They were housed in the open-air ghetto. Once the ghetto was too overcrowded [...] the shooting began. Between August 15 and 20, 1941, the first shooting took place. These shootings did not take place in the ghetto. The following happened: Between August 15 and 20, 1941, probably on August 18, 1941, Germans in uniform arrived in the camp. I saw them in the ghetto yard. I was there myself. From what I could see, there were about 30 Germans in uniform, including the one I later recognized as "Tabbert." One of these uniformed Germans spoke to the Jews in the ghetto courtyard, (they were from outside the city), and explained to them that they would be transferred to a second ghetto for better housing. For this reason, the Jews, I estimate that there were 2,000 of them, were taken out of the ghetto. There were two doctors with them. These two doctors came from Daugavpils and were not among the Jews who were to be transferred. However, these two doctors were obviously included in the group in order to arouse the belief among the Jews remaining in the ghetto that this was in fact a simple transfer to another ghetto. Later I heard from people outside the ghetto [...] that all these Jews [...] were killed in Pogulianka. I also heard from a Jewish man who, during the Aktion in Pogulianka, was able to survive by throwing himself to the ground and pretending to be dead [...] then he left the execution site and returned to the Daugavpils ghetto. [...] » [Testimony of Abraham Blachmann given in Dortmund on October 22, 1965; BArch 162-4897]
Daugavpils is the second-largest city in Latvia. It is located on the banks of the Daugava River in the southeastern part of the country. From 1772 to 1917, Daugavpils belonged to the Russian Empire. Jews first began settling in Daugavpils in the second half of the 18th century, and by 1805, approximately 800 Jews lived in the city. In 1812, Jews were banned from permanently residing in Daugavpils, but this legislation was abandoned. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the city’s Jewish community grew much larger and prospered economically. Jews were well-represented in commerce, industry, and manufacturing, as well as artisanal crafts, tailoring, and shoemaking. Yiddish was the predominant language of Daugavpils’ Jewish community, and there were multiple Jewish educational institutions in the city, including several cheders (Jewish elementary schools), a Talmud Torah school, and an industrial school. The Jewish community also possessed many synagogues and at least one yeshiva. According to the 1897 Russian Imperial census, there were approximately 32,400 Jews in Daugavpils.
By 1914, about 60,000 Jews lived in the city, making up nearly half of Daugavpils’ population. Although World War I was a time of great hardship for the Jews of Daugavpils, the interwar period was a time of renewed prosperity. Following the creation of an independent Latvia in 1920, six new Jewish schools were established in the city. In 1935, four years before the start of the Second World War, 11,106 Jews lived in Daugavpils, making up 25% of the city’s population.
In 1940, the Soviet Union invaded Daugavpils and the rest of Latvia. On June 26, 1941, Nazi Germany occupied the city during Operation Barbarossa. On July 7, Latvian Self-Defense units (local anti-Jewish militias) and the German police arrested 1,125 Jews, most of whom were male. Most if not all of these Jews were killed in the railroad public garden, next to the prison, as Walter Stahlecker, the commander of Einsatzgruppe A, reported on July 16, 1941, that his units had murdered 1,150 Jews in Daugavpils. Ultimately, July was a terrible month for the Jews of Daugavpils. In addition to mass murder, the Nazis and local auxiliaries burned most of the city’s synagogues and Jewish religious institutions to the ground on July 15, 1941.
The Germans and their Latvian collaborators established the Daugavpils ghetto in mid-July 1941 and enclosed it on July 31. It was one of the three largest ghettos in Latvia together with the ghetto in Riga and Liepaja. The ghetto was located inside an old fortress that was built during the days of the Russian Empire. It housed the city’s local Jewish population and those of surrounding villages, including Rwzekne, Subate, and Kraslava. The ghetto’s Judenrat (Jewish council) was formed on July 30, 1941, and some Jewish skilled workers worked outside the ghetto for the Wehrmacht as forced laborers. When the Daugavpils ghetto was enclosed on July 31, it housed approximately 11,000 people native to Daugavpils, as well as people from Griva, Preili, Vishki, Livani, Dagda, Kraslava and other nearby shtetls.
The mass extermination of the Daugavpils Jews started in late July and mid-August 1941, when two major shooting Aktions were conducted. The mass shootings occurred in the town of Pogulianka, which is about 3km (1.9 mi) from Daugavpils. The Latvian auxiliary police escorted the Jews to multiple mass graves, while German Security Police carried out the shooting. Although the total number of Jews killed during these two Aktions remains unknown, estimates range from 800 to 3,000 victims.
From August 15 to 20, 1941, a larger massacre took place. The German Security Police carried out a selection in which they divided Jews into two groups: those who were useful workers for the Nazi occupation and those who were unemployed. The unemployed Jews were marched to Pogulianka, shot, and buried in mass graves. About 3,000 people were killed. That same month, 400 children from the ghetto’s orphanage, as well as its staff, were murdered. From November 7 to November 9, 1941, all of the Daugavpils ghetto’s Jews who were not needed as workers were killed in a massive Aktion at Pogulianka. The German Security Police and Lithuanian auxiliary police killed between 3,000 and 6,000 people. By December 5, 1941, only 962 Jews lived in the Daugavpils ghetto.
The Daugavpils ghetto was liquidated on May 17, 1942. 500 Jews were driven on trucks to Pogulianka and killed, while 350 to 400 Jews were kept alive as forced laborers. Some Jews tried to escape from the ghetto, although these attempts largely failed. In October 1943, the remaining former residents of the ghetto were either killed or deported to Riga, from where they were again deported to the Kaiserwald and Stutthof concentration camps. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that the death rate in the Daugavpils ghetto exceeded 90%.
In March and April 1944, the Germans ordered the Pogulianka shooting site to be surrounded with barbed wire, and signs were hung warning against entering the site in order to proceed to the elimination of traces of the crime. The graves themselves were covered with tarpaulin. For two weeks, the bodies of the victims were cremated. Afterwards, all the local residents who had participated in the burning were shot.
Between August and September 1941, about 10,000 people, civilians and POWs were massacred at the military training field called ‘Zolotaia Gorka’. The Jewish victims brought from the ghetto were also executed at this location. In all, the Soviet commission discovered 30 mass graves with 250 corpses in each of them.
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