On the night 29-30 November, about 12,000-15,000 Jews from the Riga ghetto were taken to Rumbula forest and shot by the Sonderkommando Arajs, one of the bloodiest killing teams of the WWII, named after Viktors Arajs, a Latvian SS-Sturmbannführer. On December 8, the remaining Jews were also killed there. The total number of victims is not known precisely. The German officers told later that they used 25,000 bullets, one bullet per victim. Brigadenführer Walther Stahlecken spoke of 27,800 murdered people. Of all those who were taken to Rumbula, only 3 managed to escape. One of them, Margers Vestermanis, is the director of the Riga Jewish Museum now. He co-wrote the article about Riga ghetto at deathcamps.org:
On 19 November 1941, working Jews were separated from the rest of the ghetto population and moved to a section in the northeast corner of the ghetto that had been cleared for the purpose. This area became known as the “Small Ghetto.” On the night of 29-30 November, the western section of the “Large Ghetto” was surrounded and the Jews gathered into groups of 1,000. The Jews had been told that they were simply being sent to a new camp nearby and to pack a 20-kilogram suitcase for the trip. Some people who had heard about the “resettlement” and interpreted this in fact to mean the physical liquidation of the Jews, decided to commit suicide. The next morning the groups were taken to the Rumbula Forest, 8 km from Riga, and shot. Large pits had been prepared for the purpose. Many people were killed on the ghetto streets or in their houses in the course of the Aktion. The drunken Latvian policemen, commanded by Herbert Cukurs, a famous former Latvian pilot who in 1933 flew over Africa and during the war was a German auxiliary police officer known as “The Butcher of Riga”, killed all the elderly Jews from the old people’s home. On that day, and continuing on 8 and 9 December, the entire population of the “Large Ghetto” was murdered, including most of the members of the Ältestenrat, the historian Simon Dubnow, and Rabbi Manahem Mendel Zak, the Chief Rabbi of Riga. In total, 27,800 Jews were killed in the Rumbula Forest in these Aktionen. One of the few survivors was Frida Frid-Mikhelson:
“Our column was divided up and everyone was ordered to undress… The Germans kept prodding us with their rifle butts closer and closer to the pit… Jews were already walking there one at a time, and vanishing behind the precipice – one could only hear the rattle of automatic rifles…I ran up to the officer who was in charge of the execution…He hit me in the head with his pistol, and I fell down. I was right next to the pit where the dead were being thrown. I pressed myself to the ground and tried not to move. A half hour later I heard someone shout in German: `Put the shoes here!’ By this time I had already crawled back a little. Just then, something was being thrown at me. I opened one eye slightly and saw a shoe lying next to my face. I was being covered up with shoes…Shots resounded quite close to me, and I could distinctly hear the last cries of people, the moans of the wounded who were thrown alive into the common grave. Some died cursing at their executioners, others died remembering their children and parents, others read prayers aloud…
… By evening the shooting had stopped… I decided to crawl out from under the pile of shoes… I crawled over to another pile – it was men’s clothing… I put on someone’s trousers and jacket and tied a big kerchief around my head… I came across a blanket cover, wrapped myself in it and began to crawl…”
Frida Frid-Mikhelson was sheltered by two Latvian families, the Berzins’ and Mezulis’, and later by a group of Seventh Day Adventists, who hid her and supplied her with food throughout the entire period of German occupation.
In addition to the killing sites at Rumbula and Bikernieki, concentration or labour camps were established in the vicinity of Riga at Kaiserwald (Mezaparks), Salaspils and Jungfernhof (Jumpravmuita), where executions were also carried out.
See also the article Remembering Rumbula by Michael Tarm, who interviewed Margers Vestermanis. The author talks also on the further life of one of the murderers, someone Konrads Kalejs, and ponders on the implications of the Kalejs case for the Latvian society.
Another very good overview of the Holocaust in Latvia is the illustrated article The Killings at Riga at HolocaustResearchProject.org.
On November 29, 2002, the president of Latvia Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga and the prime-minister Einars Repše opened the memorial to the Jews of Riga ghetto and other victims of the Nazis killed in Rumbula.