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USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive: Latvia

Established in 1994 to preserve the audio-visual histories of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust, the USC Shoah Foundation maintains one of the largest video digital libraries in the world: the Visual History Archive (VHA).


When the Germans invaded in summer 1941, a community of 70,000 Jews lived in Latvia; only about 3,000 of them survived the war.

The USC Shoah Foundation's archive has 201 interviews with Holocaust witnesses born in Latvia. Growing up between the wars, they describe the prewar Jewish communities especially in the three major cities Riga, Daugavpils (Dvinsk), and Liepaja (Libau), as well as smaller locations. Interviewees talk about their education, cultural activities, national identity and Jewish identity, involvement in Zionist groups, and relations between Jews and non-Jews, among other topics; in relation to politics, Karlis Ulmanis, the interwar president of Latvia, and the nationalist groups, Aizsargi and Përkonkrusts, are discussed. The Soviet annexation of Latvia in June 1940 and the changes it brought is also a significant subject.

After the German invasion one year later, ghettos were formed in the three major cities. The Riga, Daugavpils, and Liepaja ghettos are extensively described in the archive (263, 30, and 26 testimonies, respecitively). These are not only the experiences of Latvian-born Jews: Jews were deported from the Reich to ghettos and camps in the East, and among the Riga ghetto survivors are 144 from Germany and 7 from Austria.

Across Latvia, the Germans conducted mass excutions. An extremely rare interview is that of Ella Mendal'e (Russian language), one of only two survivors of the Rumbula Forest massacre.

Camps such as Riga-Kaiserwald and others in Riga, Dondangen, Dunaburg (Daugavpils/Dvinsk), Jungfernhof (Jumpravmiuza), Krottingen (Kretinga), Libau, and Salaspils are talked about in many interviews. A number of testimonies discuss the role of Latvian police and irregulars in the extermination of the Jewish community, including figures such as Viktors Bernhards Arajs, head of the Arajs Commando, and Herberts Cukurs, a famous prewar pilot and Arajs Commando member.

Among the testimonies of Jewish survivors are discussions of aid provided by Latvian civilians, such as Janis Lipke, a dockworker who rescued Jews in Riga.

A total of 826 testimonies contain content relating to Latvia in several different languages. Only one interview, with a Roma survivor, was conducted in Latvian (and Russian). Seventy nine interviews were conducted in Latvia, including 69 Jewish survivors, 6 Roma survivors, and 4 rescuers.


Selected Indexing Terms


Arajs Trial (West Germany)

Arajs, Viktors Bernhards

Bikiernieki Forest Massacres

Cukurs, Herberts

Daugavpils (Latvia : Ghetto)

Fricsons, Mr.

German invasion of the Soviet Union (Jun 22, 1941)

Latvian armed forces

Latvian camp guards

Latvian civilian laborers

Latvian ghetto guards

Latvian history

Latvian kapos

Latvian police and security forces

Latvian prisoners

Latvian refugees

Latvian resistance fighters

Latvian resistance groups

Latvian soldiers

Latvian units

Liepaja (Latvia : Ghetto)

Lipke, Janis


Riga (Latvia : Ghetto)

Rumbula Forest Massacre

Soviet annexation of the Baltic States (June-August 1940)

Trucis Trial (United States)

Trucis, Arnolds Richards

Ulmanis, Karlis


Selected Bibliography

Anders, Edward. Amidst Latvians during the Holocaust, Riga: Occupation Museum Association of Latvia, 2010.

Angrick, Andrej; Klein, Peter. The "Final Solution" in Riga: Exploitation and Annihilation, 1941-1944, New York: Berghahn Books, 2009.

Ezergailis, Andrew. The Holocaust in Latvia, 1941-1944: the Missing Center, Riga: Historical Institute of Latvia; Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1996.

Press, Bernhard. The Murder of the Jews in Latvia: 1941-1945, Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2000.

Visual History Archive Curator

Profile Photo
Crispin Brooks