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What, When, and Folklore

Who Knew What and When? and Folklore



Millions Driven into Ghettos, Writer Asserts

By Joseph W. Grigg.
United Press Staff Correspondent.

LONDON, June 1, 1942—Adolf Hitler’s agents have killed at least 200,000 Jews in Russia, Poland and the Baltic states and driven millions from their homes into medieval ghettos.

Foreign correspondents in Germany never were able to get exact figures on the dead, for they were killed so indiscriminately that no records were kept. Thousands lie in unmarked graves, many in mass graves they were forced to dig before the firing squads of SS troops cut them down. Hitler on Jan. 30, 1939 declared that another World War would result in the destruction of the Jews and those of us who lived in Germany know that he and his agents have done everything possible to make the prophecy true.

Deportations Continue.

[Mr. Grigg only recently left the Reich]

In Germany proper Jews still are being deported to the ghettos in conquered countries at the rate of 20,000 a month. There apparently was an effort to create a “Jewish-free’ Reich by April 1 as a birthday gift for Hitler, but due to transportation and other difficulties, the schedule could not be maintained. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 70,000 have been dumped in eastern Europe since September.

One of the biggest known mass slaughters of 1941,when, reasonable Nazi sources admitted, 56,000 men, women and children were killed by SS troops and Latvian irregulars.

Four Days of Slaughter.

This slaughter went on for days and there was even an official German newsreel of squads shooting Jews in the streets of Riga. The Nazi commentator describes the scenes, as the vengeance of “the infuriated Latvian populace against the Jews,“ but a remarkable feature was that the “Latvians” all wore German army helmets.

In Lithuania about 30,000 Jews according to the most reliable estimate, were killed by special “clean up” squads brought from Poland with the knowledge and approval of the German civil administration.

The entire Jewish population of many towns and villages was driven into the country, forced to dig graves and then machine-gunned. In one city alone more than 8000 were killed.

Ghastly in Poland.

In Kaunas the executions were not as sweeping: owing to militant opposition of the Catholic church, and in Estonia, last of the Baltic nations to fall to Hitler, comparatively few Jews were executed.

The slaughter in Poland was horrible, with 80,000 killed in reprisal for the alleged killing of 56,000 minority Germans at the outbreak of the war. Many of these were Poles but there was high percentage of Jews. The mass grave technique was used there too.

When Kiev was occupied any Jew seen on the street was shot. One German rifleman boasted to correspondents that he had killed 37 in one night. Rumanians were even less reticent in boasting of their slaughter of Jews.

Bīlmanis Responds to Grigg's Report

This is the first and only response by Latvia's state authority about the Holocaust.

Letters to the Editor —
Latvians' Friendship For Jews Is Cited

Editor, The Pittsburgh Press:[1]

With deep sorrow and profound indignation I read Joseph Grigg's information about a slaughter of Jews by German Nazis in 1941. The Nazi commentator's insinuation that "Latvian irregulars" participated in the abominable crime against humanity is absolutely incredible, and contradicts the traditional friendship between Latvians and Jews, both being oppressed races for centuries.

It is an evident German-Nazi provocation to disseminate hatred between Jews and Latvians abroad. Latvians always considered their fellow-citizen Jews as part and parcel of the Latvian nation, and the Latvian government voluntarily granted in 1919 full cultural autonomy and equal rights to Latvian Jews. Latvians can be free only when Jews are free and post-war Latvia shall be a fully democratic L a t v i a with equal rights for all citizens and cultural autonomy for Latvian Jews.

Latvian Minister to Washington


What was known about the Holocaust in Eastern Europe in 1941?

Joseph W. Grigg, a correspondent for the United Press until December 1941, the onset of the war with the United States (which coincided with the last major massacres in Latvia), was stationed in Berlin. From December 1941 to April 1942, Grigg was interned along with other American journalists. Grigg’s article is important for what he says about the Western knowledge of the Holocaust and what he says about the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, especially Latvia. His dispatch illustrates that the American pressmen in Berlin, and we may also assume its diplomats, knew about the killing much earlier than it has been admitted in Holocaust literature. Grigg’s account illustrates that his knowledge was limited and influenced by Nazi propaganda and newsreels. The most noteworthy aspect of Grigg’s dispatch is that since he left Berlin in December 1941, the information contained in it was known to him before December, 1941. If Grigg knew it in the autumn of 1941, it means that the information was also known to American intelligence services. Concerning Latvia, Grigg did not become a shill of the Nazis but he shows that he was not free of the influence of Nazi public relations. The Nazi influence in the dispatch shows in his statements that the killings in Latvia were:

HITLER—JULY 22, 1941

"Jews are the plague of mankind. Therefore now the Lithuanians, Estonians, and Latvians are wreaking bloody revenge on them."

  1. chaotic (“Foreign correspondents in Germany never were able to get exact figures on the dead, for they were killed so indiscriminately that no records were kept”);
  2. Germanless; and
  3. were done as the revenge of the “natives” (“as a vengeance of “the infuriated Latvian populace against the Jews“).

As we now know, tens of thousands of Jews were killed near Rīga, but only some isolated individuals were killed in the streets of Rīga. We also know that the Germans counted the dead and kept records. The Germans tried to organize chaotic killings in Latvia, but they were unsuccessful in pulling it off. There were Latvians who participated in the killings, but they were auxiliaries attached to the German SD formations, not irregulars. More than 56,000 Jews were killed in Latvia, but that was not a number for Riga, because in 1941, perhaps no more than 34,000 resided there. From the controversies that have revolved around the Führerbefehl, it is significant to note that Grigg connected the Nazi plan to kill the Jews with Hitler’s Reichstag speech of 1939. Grigg’s reference to “’clean up’ squads brought from Poland with the knowledge and approval of the German civil administration” illustrates knowledge of information leaks in the Nazi system that to date have not been noted in the historical literature.

Roots of Holocaust Folklore

It is argued in this study that the origins of the Holocaust folklore are traceable to the Nazi and Soviet public relations offices The motives for portraying Latvians as more Nazi than the Nazis, as worse and more trigger happy than the Germans, were different for each superpower although in the end the public relations effect was the same. For the Soviets the motive was strategic and a matter of Weltanschauung. It began before the war, as an argument for the annexation of Latvia and continued after the war as an imperialist modality of existence. For the Nazis it was immediate and tactical, and arose from the necessity to camouflage the massacre of Jews. Markers of the German plan to mislead the world opinion, for example, are evident in the decisions at the Nazi Party conference of 29 May 1941; the dispatch of photographers and cinema crews in Eastern Europe to film and photograph German-orchestrated massacres; the injection as a part of the occupation vocabulary words (self-defense, self-cleansing, self-administration, help-willing, voluntary) whose meanings were the opposite of their conventional meaning; ordering their administrative cadres to write reports and memoranda claiming that it was the Latvians and not the Germans who ordered the murder of Jews; and proclaiming to the world that the Latvian motive was revenge. The Latvian role in the killing of the Jews was bad enough, but their crimes were far from what the Nazis accused them of. One of the first steps of disinformation that the Germans were purveying to the world can be seen in Joseph Grigg’s dispatch of 1 June 1942 in the New York World-Telegram, reprinted above.


The Soviet attempt to paint the Latvians with the Nazi brush began at about the same time as that of the Nazis. It can be seen, for example, in Gregory Meiksins’s wartime diatribe, The Baltic Riddle (New York: 1943). The author argues that Latvians are in a partnership with the Nazis, who cannot be trusted. Hence as the solution he recommends American recognition of the Soviet annexation of Latvia. Similar opinions were expressed by Soviet diplomats, Oumansky, Soviet Ambassador to the United States and Chuvakhin, First secretary at the Soviet Embassy on 2 July 1941, just ten days after the German invasion of their Soviet allies. In a conversation with US Department of State official Loy Henderson about Baltic ships that were still plying the seas and that the Soviets wanted to appropriate, the Russians accused the statesmen of the former Baltic States of Nazism:

The ambassador said that he did not understand why the matter of the Baltic ships presented a difficult problem. I [Henderson] replied that the recognition on the part of the American Government of any Soviet interest in the Baltic ships would necessarily imply recognition of Soviet conquests in Eastern Europe, particularly in the Baltic. The Ambassador said that was precisely what the Soviet Government wanted. The Soviet Government expected the American Government to recognize the Baltic States as an integral part of the territory of the Soviet Union. I again pointed out to the Ambassador the futility of the renewal of discussions on this point. I pointed out that there were divergencies [sic] in principle which it did not seem possible to bridge at the present time. The Ambassador said that he was perplexed to hear that any question of principle was involved. ... The Ambassador then launched into a vicious attack upon former Baltic officials and upon Baltic diplomats and consular representatives in the United States. He said that they were Nazis, pro-German, dishonest, hypocritical, slimy, and so forth. I told the Ambassador that I could not discuss this subject with him any further.[2]

The full merger of the Nazi and Soviet points of view concerning the Holocaust in Latvia took place more than a dozen years after the defeat of Nazism. During the war, and the immediate years thereafter, the Soviets considered the Holocaust to be a crime of the Nazis. Only during the rule of the heirs of Stalin, when the difficulties of the empire began to mount, the seeds of the negativism scattered by Soviet officials and fellow-travelers during war-time blossomed into a full propaganda of hate that more than rivaled that of the Nazis. Its main feature was: Holocaust without Germans.

[1]As appeared in the Pittsburgh Press, Saturday, June 13, 1942. We expect this letter was communicated to numerous papers carrying Grigg's report in syndication.
[2]Memorandum of Conversation by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Eastern European Affairs (Henderson) of the U.S. Dept. of State. July 2, 1941. Participants: Mr. Oumansky, Ambassador of the Soviet Embassy; Mr. Chuvakhin, First secretary of the Soviet Embassy; Mr. Henderson, Assistant Chief, Division of European Affairs. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1941, vol 1, The Soviet Union (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office) pp. 781-785. I thank Harold Otto for pointing out this document and its significance.

Additional Reading

  1. Folklore versus History: A Problem in Holocaust Studies, Andrievs Ezergailis at Crimes Against Humanity, Latvian Site.