Ventspils (Windau, Windawa) | Kurzeme

The former Jewish quarter of Ventspils. Once all the Jews of the city were executed, their houses were looted and then appropriated by other inhabitants. The former synagogue of Ventspils. It was built in 1856 and renovated in the 1930s. During the occupation, it was used to temporarily store the valuables of local Jews. Today, the building is no longer in use and is partly abandoned.      ©Jordi Lagoutte/ The Old Jewish cemetery in Ventspils. It was inaugurated in 1831 and was used until the eve of the Second World War. It is located on the edge of a forest, near Saules Street.     ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad – In Unum Ilga R., born in 1937: "During the occupation, Germans lived in my family house because it was in good condition. They were simple soldiers wearing gray uniforms."    ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad – In Unum Teodors R., born in 1929: "I remember that the Jews had rather modern and well-furnished apartments. During the occupation, a neighbor of mine was an interpreter for the Germans. Jewish furniture was given to her for her collaboration."    ©Jordi Lagoutte Ilga R., born in 1937,  accompanies the Yahad team to the location of the mass grave where the camp’s Soviet POWs were shot and buried. The site is located on the edge of the city in a small forest.    ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad – In Unum Teodors R., born in 1929, being interviewed by the Yahad team in his garden in Ventspils. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad – In Unum The road bordering the school of Ventspils. At the end of the summer of 1941, Teodors, born in 1929, saw a column of Jews passing by in the direction of the Kazinas forest. They were all executed afterwards.    ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad – In Unum Place where the Soviet POW camp was located during the German occupation. Inside, conditions were such that the prisoners had to eat the bark of trees.    ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad – In Unum The location of the mass grave in the Kaziņas forest, where from July 16 to 18, 1941, more than 300 Jewish men from Ventspils and its surroundings were shot by members of the Einsatzkommando A and their Latvian auxiliaries.     ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad – In The location of the mass grave, in the Kaziņas forest, where in the autumn of 1941, about 533 Jewish women and children from Ventspils and its surroundings were shot by Latvian militiamen under the supervision of members of the Einsatzkommando A .    ©Jor The location of the mass grave where the camp’s Soviet POWs were shot and buried. The site is located on the edge of the city in a small forest. The exact number of victims remains unknown and no monument is present on the location.    ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yah

Execution of Jews in Ventspils

2 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before:
Forest
Memorials:
Yes
Period of occupation:
1941 - 1945
Number of victims:
More than 1,000

Witness interview

Teodors R., born in 1929: “I remember that there was a camp for Jews near the forest. One day, at the end of the summer, I saw a column of Jews being taken there that passed by our school. There were whole families… Men, women and children. They were escorted by Germans. They wore yellow stars on their clothes and weren’t allowed to talk to us. They never returned. We regularly heard gunshots in the village. After the war, there were no more Jews. Concerning the houses that belonged to them, they were taken over by the local inhabitants.” (Witness n°67LV, interviewed in Ventspils, on September 1st, 2021)

German archives

"When I arrived in Windau (Ventspils), all the Jews were imprisoned in a church. The troops were allowed to take Jewish women to do the cooking and cleaning. After a few days, on July 15, 1941, H*** told me that executions of Jews were planned south of the city. We then entered a small forest south of Windau. There was a warehouse in front of which a man in SS or SD uniform was present. He had a list in his hand that had been written on a typewriter. He was calling out names. The people had to leave the warehouse and line up in front of him. He would put them in two lines. After calling out between 12 and 18 names, he would say, "That’s it!" Then they went deep into the forest. I followed the group with my senior officer. After a short walk of about 50 meters, we came across a ditch. The Jews went into it without saying a word. They put their heads on their hands and said some prayers. Then some Latvian policemen and German soldiers shot them from behind. I couldn’t believe that women and children were killed in this way." [Deposition of Richar B.,B162-2622; RG-14.101M.0342.00001486; Bl. 505]

Historical note

Ventspils is a city located 162 km (100 miles) northwest of Riga, on the shores of the Baltic Sea, in the Latvian region of Kurzeme. Originally called Windau, the town was established in the 13th century. At the end of the 18th century, its control passed from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to the Russian Empire. During this period, Jews from neighboring regions, as well as from Prussia and Lithuania, began to settle there. In 1831, a burial society and a Jewish cemetery were established. In 1856, the first synagogue was built. During this period the local Jewish population grew rapidly, from nearly 500 in 1835 to 920 in 1864. By 1914, the community was at its peak, numbering circa. 5,000 people. The socialist and Zionist political movements were popular. In 1915, during the First World War, the Jews of the entire region were expelled to the interior of Russia. In 1920, the Latvian Republic gained its independence and the Jewish population of Ventspils consisted of only 863 people, or 11% of the city’s population. In 1935, out of 15,671 inhabitants, 1,246 were Jews. The majority of them were tradesmen. At that time, Jewish primary and secondary schools were in operation, as well as numerous youth and sports clubs. In the summer of 1940, under the terms of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact, the USSR annexed the Latvian territories, including Ventspils.

Holocaust by bullets in figures

On June 22, 1941, the German armies and their allies began the invasion of the USSR, marking the beginning of Operation Barbarossa. The city of Ventspils was captured on July 1. Circa. 1,000 Jews were still present at the beginning of the occupation. A large part of the Latvian population welcomed the arrival of the Germans with enthusiasm. As soon as the occupation began, many locals joined the ranks of the auxiliary militia. At the same time, restrictive measures were put in place against the Jews, who were no longer allowed to speak to other residents and had to wear a yellow star on their clothing. On July 12, five Soviet activists were arrested and shot by the Latvian militia. Then on July 13, the German authorities ordered the general arrest of all Jewish men between the ages of 16 and 60, except for doctors and pharmacists. For several days, the Jews of Ventspils and many of the surrounding villages, were gathered in a temporary ghetto consisting of two large buildings in the city center near the Venta River. The site was guarded by Latvian militiamen. Before arriving at the site, the Jews had to hand over all their valuables to the local authorities. These belongings were stored in the synagogue building. Within the ghetto, several Jewish women were raped and some bearded men were forcibly shaved. In mid-July, the German authorities transferred 18 members of Einsatzkommando A from Riga to Ventspils. On July 16, accompanied by members of the Latvian militia, they arrested and took about 100 Jewish men from the ghetto to the Kaziņas forest on the southern outskirts of Ventspils. Near a Latvian army barracks, they were rounded up and then shot in mass graves. That day, the mass shooting was carried out by the German unit, in order to train Latvian militiamen to conduct mass executions. Then, on July 17 and 18, more than 200 Jewish men suffered the same fate and, this time, were shot by Latvian auxiliaries, under the supervision of their German allies. Between July 16 and 18, with about 100 victims per day, more than 300 Jews were killed in this way. 8 Soviet activists were also killed. At the end of these shootings, the Ventspils ghetto was almost empty. In the same Kazinas forest, there was also a camp for Soviet POWs. They suffered from cold and starvation. They had to feed on tree bark to survive. The poor living conditions and the summary executions of prisoners near the camp resulted in numerous victims. At the same time, the control of Ventspils was transferred from a military administration to a civilian administration within the Reichskommissariat Ostland. In July and August 1941, disparate shootings of Jews took place on the outskirts of the city. In September, the German authorities ordered the total liquidation of the ghetto. On September 22, 67 elderly Jews were executed. On September 26, 183 other Jews were executed. Finally, between October 3 and 17, a Latvian SD unit from Riga executed 593 Jewish women and children in the same manner. At the end of this series of executions, a sign "Judenfrei" (Free from Jews) was planted in front of the city entrance. In total, during the occupation, more than 1,000 Jews were executed in Ventspils. Their homes and properties were looted and sold to the locals.  In May 1945, the city was liberated by the Red Army.

Nearby villages

  • Dundaga
  • Kuldiga
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