Arajs Kommando

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The ArajsKommando (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.

Viktors Arājs was a Latvian collaborator and Nazi SS officer, who took part in the Holocaust during the German occupation of Latvia and Belarus as the leader of the Arajs Kommando. The Arajs Kommando murdered about half of Latvia's Jews.

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. Composed of local fascists, rightist members of the former military and police, and nationalist students, the organization participated in the Holocaust, looting and killing the local Jewish population. One of its units, the Arajs Kommando, was notorious for killing 26,000 civilians during the war, mostly Jews, but also Communists and Romas.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol (Italy), the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

Contents

Formation

After the entry of the Einsatzkommando into the Latvian capital [1] 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. [2] 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. [2] The following day on 2 July, Stahlecker revealed to Arājs that his commando had to unleash a pogrom that looked spontaneous. [3]

<i>Einsatzkommando</i> organization

During World War II, the Nazi German Einsatzkommandos were a sub-group of five Einsatzgruppen mobile killing squads – up to 3,000 men total – usually composed of 500–1,000 functionaries of the SS and Gestapo, whose mission was to exterminate Jews, Polish intellectuals, Romani, homosexuals, communists and the NKVD collaborators in the captured territories often far behind the advancing German front. After the outbreak of war with the Soviet Union with Operation Barbarossa, the Red Army began to retreat so rapidly that the large Einsatzgruppen had to be split into dozens of smaller commandos (Einsatzkommandos), responsible for systematically killing Jews and, among others, alleged Soviet partisans behind the Wehrmacht lines. After the war several Einsatzkommando officers were tried, in the Einsatzgruppen trial, convicted of war crimes and hanged.

<i>Brigadeführer</i> Nazi party paramilitary rank

Brigadeführer was a paramilitary rank of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) that was used between the years of 1932 to 1945. It was mainly known for its use as an SS rank. As an SA rank, it was used after briefly being known as Untergruppenführer in late 1929 and 1930.

Activities

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. [2] The Kommando killed around 26,000 Jews in total. [4] 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. [5]

Jews ancient nation and ethnoreligious group from the Levant

Jews or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and a nation, originating from the Israelites and Hebrews of historical Israel and Judah. Jewish ethnicity, nationhood, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish people, while its observance varies from strict observance to complete nonobservance.

Romani people ethnic group living mostly in Europe and the Americas

The Romani, colloquially known as Gypsies or Roma, are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group, traditionally itinerant, living mostly in Europe and the Americas and originating from the northern Indian subcontinent, from the Rajasthan, Haryana, and Punjab regions of modern-day India.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 30 December 1922 to 26 December 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk.

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.

Burning of the Riga synagogues

The burning of the Riga synagogues occurred in 1941, during the first days of the World War II Nazi German occupation of the city of Riga, the capital and largest city in the country of Latvia. Many Jews confined in the synagogues died in the fires, and many other anti-Semitic measures were launched at the same time, ultimately followed by the murder of the vast majority of the Jews of 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.

Latvian Legion

The Latvian Legion was a formation of the German Waffen-SS during World War II. Created in 1943, it consisted primarily of ethnic Latvian personnel. The legion consisted of two divisions of the Waffen-SS: the 15th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, and the 19th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS. The 15th Division was administratively subordinated to the VI SS Corps, but operationally it was in reserve or at the disposal of the XXXXIII Army Corps, 16th Army, Army Group North. The 19th Division held out in the Courland Pocket until May 1945, the close of World War II, when it was among the last of Nazi Germany's forces to surrender.

Prosecution


After successfully hiding in West Germany for several decades after the war, Viktors Arājs was eventually arrested, tried, and imprisoned for his crimes.

West Germany Federal Republic of Germany in the years 1949–1990

West Germany is the common English name for the Federal Republic of Germany in the period between its creation on 23 May 1949 and German reunification on 3 October 1990. During this Cold War era, NATO-aligned West Germany and Warsaw Pact-aligned East Germany were divided by the Inner German border. After 1961 West Berlin was physically separated from East Berlin as well as from East Germany by the Berlin Wall. This situation ended when East Germany was dissolved and split into five states, which then joined the ten states of the Federal Republic of Germany along with the reunified city-state of Berlin. With the reunification of West and East Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany, enlarged now to sixteen states, became known simply as "Germany". This period is referred to as the Bonn Republic by historians, alluding to the interwar Weimar Republic and the post-reunification Berlin Republic.

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, [6] 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. [7]

See also

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Riga Ghetto ghetto

The Riga Ghetto was a small area in Maskavas Forštate, a neighborhood of Riga, Latvia, designated by the Nazis where Jews from Latvia, and later from Germany, were forced to live during World War II. On October 25, 1941, the Nazis relocated all Jews from Riga and the vicinity to the ghetto while the non-Jewish inhabitants were evicted. Most of the Latvian Jews were killed on November 30 and December 8, 1941 in the Rumbula massacre. The Nazis transported a large number of German Jews to the ghetto; most of them were later killed in massacres.

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References

  1. Breitman, Richard (Sep 1991). "Himmler and the 'Terrible Secret' among the Executioners". Journal of Contemporary History. 26 (3/4): 431–451. doi:10.1177/002200949102600305. JSTOR   260654.
  2. 1 2 3 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: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3020959
  3. Angrick, Andrej; Klein, Peter (2009). The "Final Solution" in Riga: Exploitation and Annihilation, 1941-1944. Volume 14 of Studies on War and Genocide. pp. 65–70. ISBN   9781845456085.
  4. Andrew Ezergailis (1996). The Holocaust in Latvia, 1941-1944. Historical Institute of Latvia, Riga ; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; Washington, DC. OCLC   33403580.
  5. Strods, Heinrihs (2000). "Salaspils koncentrācijas nometne (1944. gada oktobris – 1944. gada septembris". Yearbook of the Occupation Museum of Latvia (in Latvian). 2000: 87–153. ISSN   1407-6330.
  6. "Konrad Kalejs: Target for Nazi hunters". BBC News. 2000-01-03.
  7. Kalejs Not Necessarily Implicated, Reuters News Service, filed January 13, 2000, Canberra

Further reading