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Herberts Cukurs

Herberts Cukurs in pre-World War II Latvian uniform
Born May 17, 1900(1900-05-17)
Liepāja, Courland Governorate, Russian Empire
Died February 23, 1965 (aged 64)
Montevideo, Uruguay
Occupation Aviator, suspected of involvment in Holocaust

Herberts Cukurs (May 17, 1900, in Liepāja, Courland Governorate, Russian Empire – February 23, 1965, in Montevideo, Uruguay) was a famous Latvian aviator and alleged war criminal. He was a member of the notorious Arajs Kommando and may have been involved in murders of Latvian Jews as part of the Holocaust but he never stood trial and thus his alleged participation was never juridically proven. There are disputed eyewitness accounts linking Cukurs to war crimes. [1]


Aviation pioneer

As a pioneering long-distance pilot, he won national acclaim for his international solo flights in the 1930s (Latvia-Gambia and Riga-Tokyo). He was awarded the Harmon Trophy for Latvia in 1933.

Cukurs built at least 3 planes of his own design. In 1937 he made a 45,000 km tour visiting Japan, China, Indochina, India and Russia, flying the C 6 wooden monoplane "Trīs zvaigznes" (callsign YL-ABA) of his own creation. The plane was powered by an 135 hp de Havilland Gipsy engine.

Holocaust perpetrator

After the occupation of Latvia by Nazi Germany during the summer of 1941 Cukurs became a member the notorious Arajs Kommando, responsible for many of the crimes of the Holocaust in Latvia.

Historian Andrew Ezergailis has contended that Cukurs participated in the atrocities committed in the Riga ghetto in conjunction with the Rumbula massacre on 30 November 1941.[2] After the war, surviving witnesses reported that Cukurs had been present during the ghetto clearance and fired into the mass of Jewish civilians.

According to other sources Cukurs was the most recognizable Latvian SD man at the scene of Rumbula massacre[3]. Cukurs was described as follows:

The Latvian murderer Cukurs got out of a car wearing a leather pistol (Nagan) at his side. He went to the Latvian guards to give them various instructions. He had certainly been informed in detail about the great catastrophe that awaited us.[4]

According to other account Cuckurs also participated in Burning of the Riga synagogues. According to Bernard Press, Cukurs burned the synagogue on Stabu Street, but only after dragging Jews out of the neighboring houses and locking them inside

Eyewitnesses heard the people who were locked inside screaming for help and saw them breaking the synagogues windows from inside and trying, like living torches, to get outside. Cukurs shot them with his revolver.[5]

Postwar fate

After the war, Cukurs emigrated to Brazil via France. There, he established a business in São Paulo, flying Republic RC-7 Seabees on panoramic flights. While living in South America he neither hid nor tried to hide his identity.

He was assassinated by Mossad agents, who attracted him to Uruguay under a fake intention of starting an aviation business,[6] after it was found out that he would not stand trial for his participation in the Holocaust.[7]

Attempted rehabilitation

Since the fall of Communism, there have been efforts in Latvia to rehabilitate Cukurs. For example, an exhibition was held in Riga in honour of the 'national hero' Herberts Cukurs, in which his work in the Arajs Commando was portrayed as having been harmless. The Latvian Foreign Ministry stated in 2004 that Cukurs was "guilty of war crimes".[8]

Ezergailis states that much of the available literature suggests that Cukurs's main responsibility was working in the garages as a mechanic for the Arajs Commando.[2] Attempts have been made to explain or excuse Cukurs's direct participation in killing of Jews, either by claiming the incompetency of post-war witnesses (i.e. Holocaust survivors), the lack of direct evidence of Cukurs's personal involvement in the killing of individual victims, or by the claim that he acted under duress.


  1. ^ Kaufmann, The Destruction of the Latvian Jews, at 81
  2. ^ a b Ezergailis, Andrievs (1999) (in Latvian). Holokausts vācu okupētajā Latvijā 1941–1944. Riga: Latvijas vēstures institūta apgāds. pp. 222, 230. ISBN 9984601021. OCLC 44502624.  Also available in English as: Andrew Ezergailis, The Holocaust in Latvia, 1941–1944: The Missing Center (1996), ISBN 9984905438.
  3. ^ Ezergailis, The Holocaust in Latvia, at page 267, n.55
  4. ^ Kaufmann, The Destruction of the Latvian Jews, at 81
  5. ^ The Murder of the Jews in Latvia, at page 46
  6. ^ Kuenzle, Anton; Shimron, Gad (2004). The Execution of the Hangman of Riga: The Only Execution of a Nazi War Criminal by the Mossad. London: Vallentine Mitchell. ISBN 0853035253. OCLC 53389986. 
  7. ^ Simon Wiesenthal Center
  8. ^

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