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Konrāds Kalējs, wartime photo

The Arajs Kommando (also: Sonderkommando Arajs), led by SS-Sturmbannführer Viktors Arājs, was a unit of Latvian Auxiliary Police (German: Lettische Hilfspolizei) subordinated to the Nazi SD. It was one of the more well-known and notorious killing units during the Holocaust.

This group, that was composed of right-wing Latvian men, made contact with the leader of Einsatzgruppe A, Walter Stahlecker, in early July 1941, immediately following the German capture of Riga. All of the Arajs Kommando members were volunteers. They were free to leave at any time.[1]

The unit actively participated in a variety of Nazi atrocities: 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.[1] The Kommando killed around 26,000 Jews in total.[2] Most notably, the unit took part in the mass execution of Jews from the Riga ghetto, and several thousand Jews deported from Germany, at Rumbula on November 30 and December 8, 1941.

Some of Arājs's men also served as guards at the Nazi concentration camp at Salaspils.[3]

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 in which 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 Arājs Kommando,[4] to Latvia for trial on charges of genocide. Kalējs died in Australia before the extradition could proceed, maintaining his innocence to the end, 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 has noted that one cannot be convicted of crimes against humanity based solely on membership in an organization.[5]

Naums Lifšics, a Jewish-Latvian economist and survivor of the Stalinist deportations, wrote in his letter to the major Latvian national newspaper Diena about the alleged participation of NKVD agents in the activities of Arajs Kommando:

When the war started, NKVD infiltrated into Arajs Sonderkommando its agents, who helped Arajs to eliminate Jews. After the war the same NKVD members worked in the building at the corner of the Stabu and Brivibas streets. For example, one of such covert agents was Boris Kinstler, former assistant to Arajs, and Pavlova, who received high level award for her "good" deeds.[6]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b Ruth Bettina Birn and Volker Riess. "Revising the Holocaust". The Historical Journal, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Mar., 1997), pp. 195-215. Published by: Cambridge University Press. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3020959
  2. ^ Andrew Ezergailis (1996). The Holocaust in Latvia, 1941-1944. Historical Institute of Latvia, Riga ; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; Washington, DC.. OCLC 33403580.  
  3. ^ Strods, Heinrihs (2000). "Salaspils koncentrācijas nometne (1944. gada oktobris – 1944. gada septembris". Yearbook of the Occupation Museum of Latvia 2000: 87–153. ISSN 1407-6330.   (Latvian)
  4. ^ "Konrad Kalejs: Target for Nazi hunters.". BBC News. 2000-01-03. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/589304.stm.  
  5. ^ Kalejs Not Necessarily Implicated, Reuters News Service, filed January 13, 2000, Canberra
  6. ^ Newspaper "Diena", Riga, Latvia, March 11, 2000 (via http://vip.latnet.lv/LPRA/lifsics.htm)

Further reading

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