The Arajs Kommando (also: Sonderkommando Arajs), led by SS commander and Nazi collaborator Viktors Arājs, was a unit of Latvian Auxiliary Police (German: Lettische Hilfspolizei) subordinated to the German Sicherheitsdienst (SD). It was a notorious killing unit during the Holocaust.
After the entry of the Einsatzkommando into the Latvian capital contact between Viktors Arājs and Brigadeführer Walter Stahlecker was established on 1 July 1941. Stahlecker instructed Arājs to set up a commando that obtained an official name Latvian Auxiliary Security Police or Arajs Kommando. The group was composed of students and former officers of far-right wing orientation. All of the Arajs Kommando members were volunteers, and free to leave at any time. The following day on 2 July, Stahlecker revealed to Arājs that his commando had to unleash a pogrom that looked spontaneous.
The Arajs Kommando unit actively participated in a variety of Nazi atrocities, including the killing of Jews, Roma, and mental patients, as well as punitive actions and massacres of civilians along Latvia's eastern border with the Soviet Union. The Kommando killed around 26,000 Jews in total. Most notably, the unit took part in the mass execution of Jews from the Riga ghetto, and several thousand Jews deported from Germany, in the Rumbula massacre of November 30 and December 8, 1941. Some of the commando's men also served as guards at the Salaspils concentration camp.
As can be seen in contemporary Nazi newsreels, part of a documentation campaign to create the image that the Holocaust in the Baltics was a local, and not Nazi-directed activity, the Arajs Kommando figured prominently in the burning of Riga's Great (Choral) Synagogue on 4 July 1941. Commemoration of this event has been chosen for marking Holocaust Memorial Day in present-day Latvia.
The unit numbered about 300–500 men during the period that it participated in the killing of the Latvian Jewish population, and reached up to 1,500 members at its peak at the height of its involvement in anti-partisan operations in 1942. In the final phases of the war, the unit was disbanded and its personnel transferred to the Latvian Legion.
After successfully hiding in West Germany for several decades after the war, Viktors Arājs was eventually arrested, tried, and imprisoned for his crimes.
More recently, the governments of Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia were involved in the attempt to extradite Konrāds Kalējs, a former officer of the Arajs Kommando, to Latvia for trial on charges of genocide. Kalējs died in 2001 in Australia before the extradition could proceed, maintaining his innocence to the end, stating that he was fighting Russia on the Eastern Front or studying at university when the slaughter of Jews took place in 1941. Latvian Holocaust historian A. Ezergailis estimates about a third of the Arājs Kommando, 500 of a maximum of around 1,500 total members, actively participated in the killings of Jews, and claimed that one cannot be convicted of crimes against humanity based solely on membership in an organization.
Albert Sauer (17 August 1898, Misdroy – 3 May 1945, Falkensee) was a German commandant of Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp.Eduard Strauch
Eduard Strauch (17 August 1906 – 15 September 1955) was an SS-Obersturmbannführer, commander of Einsatzkommando 2, commander of two Nazi organizations, the Security Police (German: Sicherheitspolizei), or Sipo, and the Security Service (German: Sicherheitsdienst, or SD), first in Belarus – then called White Russia or White Ruthenia – and later in Belgium. In October 1944, he was transferred to the military branch of the SS (Waffen-SS).Friedrich Panzinger
Friedrich Panzinger (1 February 1903 – 8 August 1959) was a German SS officer during the Nazi era. He served as the head of the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt; RSHA) Amt IV A, from September 1943 to May 1944 and the commanding officer of Einsatzgruppe A in the Baltic States and Belarus. From 15 August 1944 forward, he was chief of RSHA Amt V, the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo; Criminal Police), also known as the Reichskriminalpolizeiamt (RKPA). After the war he was a member of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND; Federal Intelligence Service). He committed suicide after being arrested for war crimes.German occupation of Latvia during World War II
The occupation of Latvia by Nazi Germany was completed on July 10, 1941 by Germany's armed forces. Latvia became a part of Nazi Germany's Reichskommissariat Ostland—the Province General of Latvia (German: Generalbezirk Lettland). Anyone not racially acceptable or who opposed the German occupation, as well as those who had cooperated with the Soviet Union, were killed or sent to concentration camps in accordance with the Nazi Generalplan Ost.Herberts Cukurs
Herberts Cukurs (17 May 1900 in Liepāja, Russian Empire – 23 February 1965 in Shangrilá, Uruguay) was a Latvian aviator. He was a member of the Arajs Kommando, which was involved in the mass murder of Latvian Jews as part of the Holocaust. He never stood trial, though there are eyewitness accounts linking Cukurs to war crimes. He was assassinated by operatives of the Israeli intelligence service (Mossad) in 1965.
The Mossad agent "Künzle", who killed Cukurs, and the journalist Gad Shimron wrote a book, The Execution of the Hangman of Riga in which they called Cukurs the "Butcher of Riga", and the term was later picked up by several sources.Humbert Achamer-Pifrader
Humbert Achamer-Pifrader (21 November 1900 – 25 April 1945) was an Austrian jurist, who was member of the SS of Nazi Germany. He was commander of Einsatzgruppe A from September 1942 to September 1943.Kalevi-Liiva
Kalevi-Liiva are sand dunes in Jõelähtme Parish in Harju County, Estonia. The site is located near the Baltic coast, north of the Jägala village and the former Jägala concentration camp. It is best known as the execution site of at least 6,000 Jewish and Roma Holocaust victims.Karl Jäger
Karl Jäger (20 September 1888 – 22 June 1959) was a Swiss-born German mid-ranking official in the SS of Nazi Germany and Einsatzkommando leader who perpetrated acts of genocide during the Holocaust.Konrāds Kalējs
Konrāds Kalējs (26 June 1913 – 8 November 2001) was a Latvian soldier who was a Nazi collaborator and an alleged war criminal during World War II. He gained notoriety for evading calls for his prosecution across four countries, more than once under the threat of deportation.Latvian Auxiliary Police
Latvian Auxiliary Police was a paramilitary force created from Latvian volunteers by the Nazi German authorities who occupied the country in June 1941. It was part of the Schutzmannschaft (Shuma), native police forces organized by the Germans in occupied territories and subordinated to the Order Police (Ordnungspolizei; Orpo). Some units of the Latvian auxiliary police were involved in the Holocaust. One of its units, the Arajs Kommando, was notorious for killing 26,000 civilians during the war, mostly Jews, but also Communists and Romas.In addition to regular stationary police (patrolmen in cities and towns), 30 Police Battalions were formed. These mobile groups carried out guard duties of strategic objects or building fortifications, participated in anti-partisan operations and fought on the Eastern Front.Military history of Latvia during World War II
After the occupation of Latvia by the USSR in June 1940, much of the previous Latvian army was disbanded and many of its soldiers and officers were arrested and imprisoned or executed. The following year Nazi Germany occupied Latvia during the offensive of Army Group North. The German Einsatzgruppen were aided by a group known as Arajs Kommando in the killing of Latvian Jews as part of the Holocaust. Latvian soldiers fought on both sides of the conflict against their will, and in 1943 180,000 Latvian men were drafted into the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS and other German auxiliary forces.
In the Baltic Offensive of autumn 1944 the Soviet Union recaptured much of its Baltic coastline, leaving 200,000 troops of Army Group North cut off in the Courland Pocket. Formed into Army Group Courland, this force held out until the end of the war in May 1945, when it surrendered to the Soviet forces and the troops were sent to prison camps.Rollkommando Hamann
Rollkommando Hamann (Lithuanian: skrajojantis būrys) was a small mobile unit that committed mass murders of Lithuanian Jews in the countryside in July–October 1941, with a death toll of at least 60,000 Jews. The unit was also responsible for a large number of murders in Latvia from July through August, 1941. At the end of 1941 the destruction of Lithuanian Jewry was effectively accomplished by the Rollkommando in the countryside, by the Ypatingasis būrys in the Ponary massacre, and by the Tautinio Darbo Apsaugos Batalionas in the Ninth Fort in Kaunas. In about six months an estimated 80% of all Lithuanian Jews were killed. The remaining few were spared for use as a labor force and concentrated in urban ghettos, mainly the Vilna and Kaunas Ghettos.Rudolf Batz
Rudolf Batz (10 November 1903 – 8 February 1961) was a German SS functionary during the Nazi era. From 1 July to 4 November 1941 he was the leader of Einsatzkommando 2 and as such was responsible for the mass murder of Jews and others in the Baltic states.Rudolf Lange
Rudolf Lange (18 April 1910 – 23 February 1945?) was a German SS functionary and police official during the Nazi era. He served as commander in the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and all RSHA personnel in Riga, Latvia. He attended the Wannsee Conference, and was largely responsible for implementing the murder of Latvia's Jewish population. Einsatzgruppe A killed over 250,000 people in less than six months.Rumbula, Riga
Rumbula is a neighbourhood of Riga located in the Latgale Suburb, on the right bank of the Daugava river. With a population of about 368 inhabitants in 2010, Rumbula's territory covers 6.978 km2 (2.694 sq mi).Rumbula is also the home of Rumbula Air Base, a defunct airport formerly used by Soviet and Latvian armies.
Rumbula is served by the Rumbula Station on the Riga–Daugavpils Railway.Rumbula massacre
The Rumbula massacre is a collective term for incidents on November 30 and December 8, 1941 in which about 25,000 Jews were killed in or on the way to Rumbula forest near Riga, Latvia, during the Holocaust. Except for the Babi Yar massacre in Ukraine, this was the biggest two-day Holocaust atrocity until the operation of the death camps. About 24,000 of the victims were Latvian Jews from the Riga Ghetto and approximately 1,000 were German Jews transported to the forest by train. The Rumbula massacre was carried out by the Nazi Einsatzgruppe A with the help of local collaborators of the Arajs Kommando, with support from other such Latvian auxiliaries. In charge of the operation was Höherer SS und Polizeiführer Friedrich Jeckeln, who had previously overseen similar massacres in Ukraine. Rudolf Lange, who later participated in the Wannsee Conference, also took part in organising the massacre. Some of the accusations against Latvian Herberts Cukurs are related to the clearing of the Riga Ghetto by the Arajs Kommando. Unlike Arājs, Cukurs was acquitted in 2019. The Rumbula killings, together with many others, formed the basis of the post-World War II Einsatzgruppen trial where a number of Einsatzgruppen commanders were found guilty of crimes against humanity.Viktors Arājs
Viktors Arājs (13 January 1910 – 13 January 1988) was a Latvian/Baltic German collaborator and Nazi SS officer, who took part in the Holocaust during the German occupation of Latvia and Belarus (then called White Russia or White Ruthenia) as the leader of the Arajs Kommando. The Arajs Kommando murdered about half of Latvia's Jews.Wolfgang Kügler
Wolfgang Kügler was an SS-Untersturmführer (Second Lieutenant) and a Teilkommandoführer (detachment leader) for Einsatzkommando 2, a subdivision of Einsatzgruppe A. Following World War II, he was tried and found guilty of war crimes before a court in West Germany. His sentence was reported to have been 8 months in prison and a fine. The most serious charge against him was that he had organized and been a commandter at the massacre of about 2,700 Jews, mostly women and children, on the beach at Liepāja, Latvia. Kügler claimed he was absent on leave in Germany when these murders occurred.Yizkor books
Yizkor books are memorial books commemorating a Jewish community destroyed during the Holocaust. The books are published by former residents or landsmanshaft societies as remembrances of homes, people and ways of life lost during World War II. Yizkor books usually focus on a town but may include sections on neighboring smaller communities. Most of these books are written in Yiddish or Hebrew, some also include sections in English or other languages, depending on where they were published. Since the 1990s, many of these books, or sections of them have been translated into English.
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