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Rumbula: A Perspective on the Perception of the Holocaust

Rumbula: A Perspective on the Perception of the Holocaust

Paper presented at the Seminar “Research Problems in the Holocaust”,
November 29, 2001, Riga, Latvia.

A. Ezergailis,
Prof. Ithaca College

...we also have appointments to keep in the past...
        — W.G. Sebald
...the evil that men do lives after them...
        — Mark Antony, Julius Caesar

It is proper that this conference commemorates the Rumbula (Jeckeln) massacre of 1941: first, because it was the largest two-day killing of people in the history of Latvia; and second, because in spite of the enormity of the event, it seems to be in a perception lacuna. To be sure, one hears it mentioned, but it lacks the kind of an attention that the event deserves. The irony is that there is more accurate information available about Rumbula than about any other facet of the Holocaust in Latvia. If on the one hand, it was one of the last manual Einsatzgruppen-type of massacres, when people were killed by shooting, then on the other, it looked forward to the industrial killing method of the death camps.

Everything about the Holocaust in Eastern Europe has not been said as yet, and what has been said has not been fully understood. Jeckeln had designed a method of killing by which he could eliminate 1,500 people per hour, which even surpassed the rate of killing in the death camps. The shortcoming of his method was that it was labor intensive. It took about 1,500 men to reach that killing rate and it was not cost effective. And it was so monstrous that it traumatized the men involved in it. The problem is more general: the Holocaust in Eastern Europe has a perception lacuna similar to that of the Rumbula massacre—more talked and gossiped about than studied. And when it is studied, historians have a temptation to fall into conceptual traps laid out for them by Nazi or Soviet organs.

In the Holocaust studies there has been an overconcentration on the SS, SD, RSHA men[1] and the Einsatzgruppen as the agencies of murder. It is true that they were important, but in reality the machinery of destruction cast a much wider net: it included not only all occupation agencies—the Wehrmacht, the SD, and the civilian administrators, but also the natives and the victims. However, the tightening of the noose around the Jews was a matter of Teutonic organizational skills and had little to do with nativist volunteerism or their anti-Semitism.

Unlike the summer killings, Rumbula is much more transparent. During the Einsatzgruppen phase, though it was (sometimes indirectly) managed by Germans, we sometimes do not know with certainty who did what and who ordered whom, while information about the Rumbula event is detailed and precise. When I am talking about the skewed perception of Rumbula, I am not talking about the people at large whose minds are always imponderable. My reference point is those “experts,” who purport to know about the Holocaust in Latvia. For example, Izaks Kleinmanis who at the Holocaust Conference last year delivered a very heartfelt synopsis of the Holocaust in Latvia but left Rumbula out of his realm of interest or concern. We can say the same thing about the cinema men, who made the Žanis Lipke, in some ways a very excellent, commemorative film. While it is true that for Lipke it was the Rumbula slaughter that galvanized him into action—turned an ordinary man into an angel of mercy—the film makers completely omitted the drama and tragedy of the November massacre. The film makers made it appear that Lipke’s heroic deeds took place during July, the Einsatzgruppen time. Instead of the tragedy in the Rumbula pines, the film linked Lipke to the 1938 burning synagogues in Berlin. To the degree that the film by-passed Rumbula, it truncated the Holocaust’s tragic drama in Latvia. Albeit, I hasten to add that it is not historical accuracy that makes a commemorative movie memorable. The personal testimonials warmed my heart and made me proud that there was a span of time in which we, Žanis and I, coinhabited this planet.

Neither have the memoirists or German historians rushed to study the Rumbula event. The survivors in their memoirs have concentrated on the July days but have avoided remembering the Rumbula slaughter. They have done so in spite of the fact that there were very few survivors of the summer massacres, while during the Rumbula action, the fellow inmates of the small Ghetto had an opportunity to see at least the first part of the operation.[2]


The Jews of Latvia were killed in two waves, first, the Einsatzgruppen phase that lasted from mid-July until the end of August. By that time practically all Jews—men, women, and children—of Latvia’s countryside towns had been killed.[3] The first wave ended approximately with the arrival of the civilian government, whose announced policy was “ghettoization”. Although some Jews, specifically in Daugavpils and Liepāja were killed during September and October even during the “civilian” period, in general, especially in Rīga, the Jews were given a respite. On October 25, 1941, the Ghetto of Rīga was closed in. The objective conditions were ready for Rumbula—the preparatory steps for a big massacre were completed. The Rumbula massacre was a two day event that took place on November 30 and December 8, 1941. During those two days about 24,000 Jews, mostly residents of Rīga, were killed. It was organized by Friedrich Jeckeln who was dispatched from Kyiv to Rīga for the specific purpose of liquidating Baltic Jews. But it would be an error to see him as the prime mover. The decision was made Berlin. Before coming to Rīga, Jeckeln was ordered to Berlin where Himmler purveyed to him the order to “empty” the Ghettos of the Baltic. Jeckeln arrived in Rīga on or about November 16 and commenced planning. His fifty-man staff had arrived in Rīga before Jeckeln himself. After Jeckeln’s arrival Rīga, its Jews still had two weeks to live. Lohse’s plan to use the Jews as if for labor was dashed.

Why, from the end of August to the end of November, was there a hiatus in the killings? Why was the killing stopped or at least slowed down in August and why was it  resumed  in November? There has been a great deal of loose thinking about this matter and it involves the whole debate, especially in Germany, about the timing of the Führer Befehl. Since 1945 there have been two basic schools debating[4] the Hitler Order. There were those who argued that the order came early, even before the commencement of the Barbarossa plan, and those who thought it came, if ever, only in the winter of 1941/2. There are also those who assert that the order came in August 1941 as a consequence of a “euphoric” rush of victory[5], the confidence gained from the summer campaign, and those who say it was issued as the consequence of the setbacks at Moscow, as a grudge or revenge for the defeat. Two post-war judicial decisions—that of the major war crimes trial and that of the Einsatzgruppen trial in Nuremberg, assumed/proved that the order came early or was synchronous with the assault on Russia. Hitler’s own self-serving take was to announce that there were numerous little revenge-motivated Holocausts in Eastern Europe, where the neighbors were killing their neighbors.[6] The latter variant I discussed in my last year’s paper and thus I will not repeat it today, except to say that since our meeting, Hitler’s version received a heightened currency with the publication of Jan Gross’s bestseller Neighbors. This school rejects organization as a factor in the Holocaust and emphasizes spontaneity.

The debate about the Führer Befehl is based on a shaky foundation, a scandalous contention that everybody in the Nazi hierarchy, such as the Einsatzgruppen leaders, who were in the position to know about the Order, lied in their post-war trials. Historians have used the criminal defense concept of “reasonable doubt” to defend Hitler. Just because historians can construe a motive for lying, it does not mean that the accused Nazis did or that there was a conspiracy among them to lie. The proof for the existence of Führer Befehl can be found in the detailed pattern of orders that German occupying agencies decreed in Latvia.[7] The pattern of activities and rules indicates that there not only was an order to liquidate all Jews in Latvia, but even that the operation was micro managed as if by an invisible hand. In the minds of many historians there has emerged an concomitant pattern of thinking: to think the worst of Eastern Europeans, but whenever possible to give every benefit of doubt to Hitler.[8]

From the perspective of Latvia, discussion about the Hitler Order, the debate between functionalism and intentionalism, and the Historikerstreit, is superfluous, if not absurd. The information that Holocaust historians of Latvia can offer to the world gives reason to fine-tune the Nuremberg decisions but no cause to set them aside. If we look upon the Holocaust at large and consider the Reich as a whole, we can note in its progression various ups and downs, slowdowns and speed ups. Everything was not done everywhere at the same tempo or at the same time.


Is there any deeper reason why the killings in Latvia were restarted on November 30th? I don’t think so. There is information that in August when the killings slowed down in Latvia, they intensified in Ukraine. Did Jeckeln do anything n Rīga that he did not do in Ukraine? One of the reasons why he was transferred to Rīga might have been that his record of murder was better than that of Stahlecker. There was some fingerpointing going on. Stahlecker’s men accused the Latvians for killing too slowly and Jeckeln’s cohorts blamed Stahlecker for being inefficient. It was said that Jeckeln had ordered Stahlecker’s appearance at the Rumbula killing site to show him up and to show him how it needs to be done. The case of Latvia in general and that of Rumbula in particular makes us conclude that Hitler on several occasions during the course of 1941 reconfirmed his decision (perhaps even fine-tuned it), but as far as the fundamental orders go, they were conveyed to Himmler and Heydrich rather earlier than later. That far and only that far, I agree with Daniel Goldhagen.

The bibliography of the Rumbula massacre is rather sparse. In addition to a chapter in my book, there is Frida Michelson’s book, I Survived Rumbula, Gerald Fleming’s Hitler and the Final Solution, and a brief description in Max Kaufmann’s book, Die Vernichtung der Juden Lettlands. In the rather extensive memoir literature, Rumbula is mentioned, but it has little new to add. The most thorough documentation of the Rumbula massacre, information about its preparation, organization, and people involved has been assembled by the Hamburg Landgericht, the same judiciary that prosecuted Viktors Arājs. Among the numerous German officials that the Hamburg Landgericht prosecuted, the most pertinent to Rumbula are Friedrich Jahnke, Otto Tuchel, Max Neuman, and Emil Diedrich. They came from the Order Police side of occupation forces, who had various functions to fulfill in the Rumbula operation. The documentation of this case is deep and many sided. In addition to the above four, the Hamburg prosecutors solicited numerous other witnesses. At the time when I visited the archive, it was still part of the working prosecutorial office, and they placed limits on documents that they showed to me. For example, information from incomplete cases, or those that for whatever reason had not materialized into full trial, were not accessible. One of the future and urgent assignments for the Historians Commission ought to be to assemble all documents about the Holocaust in Latvia that are found not only in the Hamburg Landgericht but also in other German judiciaries.

Parenthetically we may note that, for reasons not fully comprehensible to me, German scholars have been very shy about using the materials that their prosecutors have accumulated. We can understand Germans’ inclination to reject the evidence and judgments that occupation forces coerced upon the nation, but a different question concerns the evidence that their own democratic courts have assembled.[9] The irony is that some German historians are more likely to believe Nazi propaganda than the evidence accumulated by their prosecutors.[10]

As far as the Russian effort to document the Rumbula action goes, it is shoddy and fades in significance in comparison with what the Germans have accomplished. It is not true, as it is frequently asserted, that the Soviets suppressed the knowledge of the Holocaust. In reality the old regime only prohibited a pluralistic study of it. If one wanted to channel the study along the line that the organs had established, there appeared to be no impediment against it.[11] By making a show out of the Jeckeln trial, the Bolsheviks missed an opportunity to add to the Holocaust, especially Rumbula, lore. Instead of trying Jeckeln for concrete crimes, they chose to try him for “fascism” and other ideological generalities.

On the other hand, we may be thankful that the Russians stayed away from adjudicating the Rumbula event, because it was saved the fate of the Šķēde massacre. In their 1974 Šķēde case the Soviets not only resorted to coerced self-confessions and fabricated scenarios, they even moved the massacre date from December to September of 1941.[12]


How did the Germans do it? What explains the German skill of killing as many Jews as they did? There are many commentators and historians of the Holocaust, especially those writing about Eastern Europe, who assert that the Germans did not do it and that they could not have done it. They note that Einsatzgruppe A had only 990[13] men who having dispersed themselves throughout the territory of the Northern front fade into insignificance. For them the key to German success, the filling of the gap between the small number of killers and large number of victims, is the “neighbors”, the Eastern Europeans who not only abetted in the Nazi crime, but also initiated it—staged their own native Holocausts.


On the face of it, in the Rumbula case, Jeckeln had a daunting assignment: to liquidate 25,000 people. Not only were there logistics problems in killing so many people, the victims had to be transported ten kilometers, pits had to be dug, and ordnance ordered. At first he wanted to do it in one day, but later changed it to two. Considering the span of daylight in December at Latvia’s latitude, the assignment had to be completed in a two day operation, at the most within 16 hours. This means that about 1,500 people had to be liquidated per hour. Stahlecker’s Einsatzgruppen method of killing, however, was at a maximum about 1,000 persons a day, which means it would have taken him about 25 days to liquidate 25,000 people. Jeckeln managed to speed up the tempo by a factor of twelve. The number of men taking part in the operation as escorts and guards was somewhere between 1,500–1,800, which would mean that there was approximately one guard per sixteen victims. The most remarkable aspect of the operation was that it took only twelve men working in the pits who, wielding a submachine gun set on single shots, killed 25,000 people. It means that marksmen in the two day operation killed 2,000 human beings each. Jeckeln had developed the method by trial and error during his assignment in Ukraine. In terms of kill record, Jeckeln’s method, as noted above, could well compete with the gas chamber one, but it was labor intensive and wasteful: it cost too much and traumatized the men who were involved in it. Since the beginning of the Holocaust, the Germans, including Hitler, feared international censure and therefore strove to conceal the killings. One basic method of masking the killings was to involve non-Germans in the operation, be it Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, or Latvians. Unlike the managers of the death camps, Jeckeln demanded only minimal cooperation from the Jews themselves.

I think Jahnke’s trial documents divulge the Germans' secret for their “success”: superior organization, which is to say modern mechanical conveyor-belt thinking. Organization was part of the killing operations from the beginning in July, but Jeckeln brought it to a level that the first line of Einsatzgruppen leaders did not—and could not have imagined. Raoul Hilberg’s thesis emphasizing the administrative aspect in the Holocaust is validated by the Jeckeln system. Perhaps it is a beating of the obvious but it needs to be repeated that rage, revenge, and anti-Semitism alone could not have done it, had not the Nazi RSHA men had a knack for channeling their intentions in an orderly way. An analytical study of the Rumbula massacres makes absurdity out of the debate between intentionalists and functionalists. It shows it to be a false dichotomy because any organizational endeavor needs both. Function without intention is blunted, and intention without function is impotent.

It may shock some true-believers in Goldhagen’s thesis[14], but as far as we can fathom it, there were no willing volunteers in the Rumbula action. Everyone acted under a duress of orders. We have no evidence that anyone participated in the massacre willingly or that they could have done so if they did not belong to the proper organization. Nazism was a hierarchical system and thus it could not but rely on “higher orders”. Nuremberg proved that “higher orders” did not exonerate one from responsibility and crimes, but it showed that “higher orders” gave an explanation for crimes. Even Jeckeln was ordered to do what he did. If he had not received an order, he would have stayed in Kiyiv. An exception may be the twelve marksmen wielding the submachine guns, but as the record shows the situation was ambiguous, and even they might have been ordered. The killing team consisted of drivers and guards in Jeckeln’s retinue that he had brought up from the South. As with everything in the operation, Jeckeln himself put together the killing team. He made a show of calling for volunteers but seems not have been serious about it, and after all, the killers were part of his druzhina.[15] From the evidence it appears that the men to whom Jeckeln addressed the question could have volunteered out, but the court records do not indicate that anybody did.


The organizational pattern of the killing action not only at Rumbula, but alsoduring the summer is not fully noted or understood. The operation was segmented into a series of functions: any one single person could have been involved only in one step, one segment, which might have been the only contribution to the effort. In Latvia the preparations for the killing operation began even before those people performing the functions understood that somebody already has selected the victims or knew that they were victims. To concentrate on the Einsatzgruppe A 990 men, as noted above, is myopic, although to underrate the function of the SD men would also be a mistake.

Upon German occupation, the first steps toward the killings were as a rule performed by the men of the Wehrmacht, the commandants of local comandantures. It was the Wehrmacht commandants that issued the first anti–Jewish laws: shopping and curfew rules. The next, even more committing directive was an order for local Latvian administrators to register the Jews. It must be noted that the serious killing began only after the Wehrmacht had pacified the region, when the flanks were secured and the killing units were secure from “surprises”. The Germans moved against the Jews only after their native auxiliary “self-defense” teams were in place. There were many more little steps that the Wehrmacht men performed in Latvia, but those were the basic segments and perhaps for many their only involvement with the Holocaust. Thereafter they might have left Eastward without realizing the consequences of their actions and orders. There is no question that at the end of the process there was a crime committed, it is however a problem to determine at which point these incremental actions began to be or added up to a crime. Regarding the activities of the Wehrmacht, the question also remains who gave the specific order to the Wehrmacht commandants to perform the very specific functions. We know that the Wehrmacht received the order to kill the commissars, but who told them to register the Jews within the purview of their commandature?[16]

After the German arrival the first step by which the Latvians got into the Holocaust train was to carry out the Wehrmacht’s order to organize self-defense teams and register the Jews. The next step in the countryside towns was to oversee groups of Jewish laborers. Thereafter there were other steps that today I will not enumerate, only to note that any one person did not perform them all, although one could perform more than one segment. Those people who registered the Jews were not those who guarded them; those who guarded them were not those who escorted them; and those who escorted them were not those who killed them. Generally we must also note that the Germans used their organizational skill, (it was part of the fundamental orders) to position the natives in the most public and visible roles. One should not confuse the process of organization with volunteerism, that especially is evident in the revisionist history and not only that inspired by the Nazis. The Rumbula operation was similarly segmented. In September the Wehrmacht and the “civilian government” exchanged places. While, during the first phase of the killings, the Wehrmacht played an important role, so in the autumn did Lohse’s subordinates. The first committing step towards Rumbula was Generalkommissar Hinrich Lohse’s order to ghettoize Rīga Jews.[17] Once the Jews were out of their >apartments, their fate was sealed. We do not know whether he ever understood the consequences of his decision. Thereafter numerous other “civilian” actions followed. After the war Lohse presented himself as the savior of Jews, a claim that helped him to obtain an acquittal. Rīga Schutzpolizei, most of whom arrived in Rīga in early >September, got into action by overseeing the transfer of Jews to the Ghetto. It must be noted that it was the Wehrmacht which ordered the establishing of the Jewish Council which in turn was coerced to persuade the Jews to move to the Ghetto, promising them sustenance, security, community and culture.

The ghetto would therefore also to some extent provide a camouflage, both for the world, and for the Poles and for the Jews themselves—a camouflage which made it possible to get the future victims ready, to soften them up psychologically.... The existence of the ghetto seemed in a certain sense illogical; it is not unequivocally ‘black’, but is a ‘grey’ experience that is difficult to decode.

Barbara Engelking, Holocaust and Memory

Already in August Rīga Latvian police precincts were involved in registering Jews. During the pre-Jeckeln phase of the Ghetto, the Latvians were predominantly involved by comprising the Ghetto’s outer guards which were overseen by the Schutzpolizei officers. The Latvians also manned the gate and supervised the traffic through it. Latvians, like Žanis Lipke, also comprised the majority of escorts, who guided the working Jews to their work-sites. Since Hitler’s coming to power in 1933, the Nazis manipulated the Jews themselves to participate in their destruction. In Rīga the Jews were involved through the Jewish Council and the Jewish police, who armed with night sticks, were in charge of the Ghetto’s internal security. We have reason to conclude that indeed the 990 men of Einsatzgruppe A were not >enough to kill the area Jews, but simultaneously we must conclude that there was a guiding (call it invisible) hand that engaged many if not all occupation agencies in a plan, first to sideline, then to murder Jews. The killing system that emerged from the Rumbula experience compels us to conclude that the event was like a jigsaw puzzle, consisting of numerous pieces and organizational decisions. Another metaphor for the killings may be a bullfight in which the final two antagonists in the arena represent only the tip of a large organizational pyramid. The Nazi pyramid in Latvia included all German occupation agencies and various Latvian groups and did not exclude the victims.[18] The Nazis knew how to exploit not only the worst that human species possesses but also the best. They used the German penchant for order and efficiency, the Jewish commitment to law, and Latvian desire for security. Alcohol as a drowner of horror during killings was not spared.


Upon Jeckeln’s arrival in Rīga, the organizational effort centered on him and his druzhina. Jeckeln was good at delegating authority within his group, but he did not trust outsiders. It appears that during the organizational stages, the Latvians were shunted aside. He relied heavily on the Schutzpolizei, less so on the local SD. Most frequently Jeckeln leaned on adjutant Degenhardt who stood in for him at numerous organizational meetings. For technical help he used his aide Hamicker. He engineered the pits and organized the transport on the killing days. During the preparatory days Jeckeln with Degenhardt at his side surveyed the countryside for a killing site. He ordered Hamicker to construct the pits. For digging the pits, Jeckeln solicited and obtained cooperation from the Wehrmacht which provided for him 300 Russian POW’s from the Salaspils camp. As part of the preparation for the killing, we may note that one day before the fateful event the Germans separated women and children from men, minimizing the possibility of resistance.[19]

The logistics on the killing day were complicated. Not only the terminal points of the death march had to be secured, so was also the 10 kilometer route to the pits. The guard contingent around the Ghetto fence was reinforced and special German Schutzpolizei units were posted around the Rumbula killing site to assure that no flight took place. For some strange reason, Jeckeln was also worried about a possible attack from the surrounding forest in case saviors of Jews materialized to rescue them. A series of functions were designed to get the people out of the houses on the street and marching towards Rumbula. For the assignment to flush out people from their domiciles, under the supervision of the Schutzpolizei, mostly Latvian SD men and the Ghetto police were used.

Once on the street, the people came within the grip of Schutzpolizei and Arājs men, whose assignment was to collect the victims into 1,000-people columns. The 1,000-people column turned out to be a theoretical construct. Columns were scheduled to leave the Ghetto every thirty minutes. Once a column was assembled, it was marched unto the street where it was taken over by Latvian precinct police who under the supervision of Schutzpolizei escorted them to Rumbula. During the early stages, the operation was close to breakdown. By a stroke of circumstance, the Jeckeln scheme avoided a disaster. Resistance by people who refused to leave was already encountered in the houses, and it was continued on the street. It had snowed during the night making the street slippery. Many people refused to line up as ordered. The order to deal with the recalcitrant was utter ruthlessness: to kill them on the spot. Mayhem resulted—streets became blood-soaked and corpses littered stairwells, yards and sidewalks. Inasmuch as the most frequently reported weapon was the sub-machine gun, we must assume their main users within the Ghetto were the Germans, for Latvians, even for that assignment, were not trusted with automatics. It is estimated that about one thousand people were already killed within the Ghetto, which in itself made it a major massacre. Working Jews from the small Ghetto were ordered/coerced to cart the corpses to the Jewish cemetery, where they were interred in a pit dynamited by the Germans. Using sleds they performed the task in the afternoon of the massacre day. En route the anticipated orderly columns could not be maintained. The march turned into an uninterrupted stream that staggered like wounded snake along Maskavas iela towards Rumbula. It must be noted that the Rumbula action, with the exception of a few SS men at the top of the pyramid, was carried out almost without the SS, the SD or the Einsatzgruppen personnel. The activities of the German SD are not noted, since perhaps their numbers at the time in Rîga were minuscule. It was a special assemblage put together by Jeckeln and it did not include the usual suspects. The exception to the above generalization is the SD auxiliaries, the Arājs commando men, who operated at both ends of the death road: within the Ghetto they were the goons who forced the victims to leave their houses, and at the killing site they formed the gauntlet that expedited the victims towards the pits.

To specify further details of the massacre’s progress would be to repeat much of what I have written in my book The Holocaust in Latvia. The organization at the Rumbula killing site was also a kaleidoscope of segmented activities. There was no lack of intention and function. There were those who secured the killing field, those who collected jewelry from the victims, those who pushed them towards the pits, and those who ordered them to undress. Jeckeln himself stood on top of the sand bank with invited guests and observed the work of the killing team. Schnapps and zakuski[20] for the guests and those working in the vicinity of the pits were laid out on tables.


My aim in this paper was to specify some of the mental and organizational constructs that underlay the German effort to kill Europe’s Jewry, and to show that as a model for liquidating large number of people, the Rumbula massacre pointed towards Auschwitz. Whatever the sins or evils of the Eastern Europeans who did collaborate, among them Latvians, the underlying thesis of my paper is that their evil during the time of the Holocaust was overridden by a Teutonic skill of organization.[21]

[1]Ezergailis refers, respectively, to the Schutzstaffel, Sicherheitsdienst, and Reichssicherheitshauptamt.—Ed.
[2]This historically faulty approach to Rumbula was also reflected in the Rīga Russian newspaper Čas, which reported that Rumbula action took place on October 30th. Čas, October 30, 2001.
[3]The killing of Jewish women and children has become a heated issue among Holocaust historians. German historians have began to argue that the killing of families began only in August. The Latvian experience belies that assertion.
[4]The debate is summed up by David Cesarani in the “Introduction” of The Final Solution: Origins and Implementation, ed. by David Cesarani (London: Routledge, 1994), pp. 1-29. See also a discussion of the issue by Christopher Browning, Richard Breitman, Henry Friedlander, and Gerhard Weinberg in German Studies Review, XVII/3 (October 1994).
[5]See Christopher Browning’s articles "A Final Hitler Decision for the 'Final Solution'? The Riegner Telegram Reconsidered," Holocaust and Genocide  Studies, X/1 (Spring 1996), pp. 3-10. and "The Euphoria of Victory and the Final Solution: Summer-Fall 1941," German Studies Review, XVII/3 (October 1994), 473-81. and "Hitler and the euphoria of victory: the path to the Final Solution," in Op. cit. Cesarani, pp. 137-150.
[6]The beginning of revisionist history can be traced to the highest levels in Nazi government during the preparatory stage of attack on Russia. See Kārlis Kangeris' description of the NSDAP Außenpolitisches Amt on May 29, 1941. Sitzung im Außenpolitischen Amt am 29. Mai über Ost-Fragen, Großkopf 30.5.1941. R 105173, AA. Kārlis Kangeris’ study, “Padomju okupācija un 14. jünija deportācijas nākamās Okupācijas varas—Nacionalsociālistikās Vācijas—Propagandā Latvijā (1941-1942. gads)”. Paper presented at the International Conference, Rīga, Latvija, June 12-13, 2001: Deportations of June 14, 2001—Crimes Against Humanity. Also see Hitler’s conversation with Marshal Kvaternik on July 22, 1941. Akten zur Deutschen Auswärtigen Politik 1918–1945, Serie D: 1937–1941, Band XIII. 1. Die Kriegejahre, Sechster Band, Erster Halbband 23. Juni bis September 1941. p. 835–838.
[7] The quibbling about the Führer Befehl is especially bizarre because as David Bankier has persuasively argued the Nazi leadership if effect in many different ways had communicated the mass killing of Jews to the German people. David Bankier, “German Public Awareness of the Final solution,” Cesarani, op. cit. pp. 215-227.
[8]This is not necessarily the stance towards Western European peoples, for example the French. For a reading of the Holocaust in France where the author gives the benefit of doubt to the French, see John P. Fox, “ How Far Did Vichy France ‘Sabotage” the Imperatives of Wannsee?”, Cesarani, op. cit. pp. 194-214.
[9]A case in point, although more directly pertaining to Estonia, is Ruth Bettina Birn’s recent article, “Collaboration with Nazi Germany in Eastern Europe: the Case of the Estonian Security Police,” Contemporary European History, 10 (2) (2001), pp. 181–198. Although Birn allows that Estonia was a German-occupied country and the Nazis planned to extirpate the country, she argues that Estonians were Nazi partners in crime. In her article I saw no awareness of the evidence found in German courts.
[10] For example Wolfgang Scheffler considers my book flawed because I rely too much on German court records. “Seine Buch wirft jedoch im Himblick auf den teilweisen Gebrauch deutcher Justizunterlagen viele methodologische Probleme auf, die hier nicht vertieft werden können.” Wolfgang Scheffler, Die Einsatzgruppe A 1941/42,” Die Einsatzgruppen in der besetzten Sowjetunion 1941/42, Herausgegeben von Norbert Kampe, Wolfgang Scheffler, Gerhyard Schoenberner, Berlin, 1997.
[11]A case in point is E. Blumfelds, chapter “Hitleriešu Okupācijas režīms Latvijā,” Latvijas tautas cīņa Lielajā Tēvijas karā, Rīga, 1964, pp. 182-243. Although Blumfelds’ chapter has some interesting things to sayabout “fascist” (Blumfelds’ concept) occupation, when it comes to Holocaust matters, he is highly orthodox and does not depart from the concepts and information developed by the Soviet organs. In his chapter we find frequent references to the pamphlet literature that was issued by the KGB sub-branch, The Cultural Liaison Committee with Countrymen Abroad. He follows closely what we have characterized as a “Germanless” thesis of the Holocaust that the Soviets developed in the early 1960s.
[12]We can also note that among the thousands of cases that the Russians tried from 1944 to 1986 they failed to adjudicate any Latvian precinct police who participated in the Rumbula march. The Russians also prohibited the publication of Fridas Michelsons’ book, I Survived Rumbula.
[13]This number first was provided by Stahlecker in his October report and it represents the number of men under him in October 1941. We do not know what the number was in July. We note that he never had a set number of men under him. He could draw on a variety of German and Latvian military, police, and self-defense units.
[14]Ezergailis refers to Goldhagen's 1996 Hitler's Willing Executioners. Goldhagen ties the Holocaust to virulent anti-Semitism amongst the Germans and the "most important national groups" aiding them: the "Ukrainians, Latvians, and Lithuanians, about whom two things can be said. They came from cultures that were profoundly antisemitic, and the knowledge that we have, little as it is, of the men who actually aided the Germans suggests that many of them were animated by vehement hatred of Jews. Much work remains to be done on these people." Goldhagen cites this account in a diary: "All Lithuanians and especially the intelligentsia, with a small number of exceptions, are united in their hatred of the Jews ... I do not believe my eyes and ears; I shudder at the force of the blind hatred ...". It is common practice in Holocaust scholarship alleging widespread active support for the murdering of Jews amongst the local populace to project individual opinion or experience to demonize an entire Eastern European people.—Ed.
[15]Ezergailis uses the Russian Дружина to refer to Jeckeln's close and trusted retinue. This meaning would not have been lost on his Rīga audience.—Ed.
[16]For Wehrmacht’s steps against the Jews see Bauskas vēstnesis, nr. 1. 8. jūlijā, 1941.g.
[17]Who gave the order to Lohse to do what he did? It could not have been anybody else but Rosenberg, but then who planted that idea in the head of Rosenberg? We can project that the whole skein was woven together by Hitler: on the one hand he ordered Lohse to organize the Ghettos, and on the other ordered Jeckeln to kill the ghettoized Jews.
[18]The use of the victims to expedite their own destruction was a trick the Nazis began using in the 1930s and continued in Poland and Soviet occupied territories during the war. For evidence of this practice in the death camps see Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah.
[19]A week before the German invasion, the Soviets had used the same tactic to minimize resistance in the first large scale mass deportations of Baltic nationals.—Ed.
[20]Ezergailis uses the Russian закуски for buffet style hors d'oeuvres to visualize the macabre scene for his Rīga audience.—Ed.
[21]Prof. Ezergailis' closing when delivering his address in Rīga read: “...the Rumbula massacre pointed towards Auschwitz. I know that East Europeans, among them Latvians, are sinful, even evil, people and they should suffer for it. The implied argument of my paper, however, was that their evil during the time of the Holocaust was overridden by a Teutonic skill of organization.” Ezergailis' sarcasm for those peddling as intellectually obvious truth that Hitler's Holocaust in Eastern Europe could only owe its success to the barbaric locals—a fiction first hatched in Berlin—would have been plain to his listening audience but suffers from that lack of context here.—Ed.