The Baltic camps

In 1943, the SS established three concentration camp complexes (Riga, Vaivara, Kovno) in the occupied Baltic region. Inside, Jewish prisoners were forced to work for the German war effort. Although these were labour camps, not death camps, the SS did not expect the Jews to live. They would either be worked to death or killed. The SS conducted regular selections to murder the weak. And in spring 1944, it executed several thousand children. One witness was 15-year-old Gertrude S., an Austrian Jew, who had been deported to Riga with her family. She testified in 1980 about the “children’s action”.

083 – The survivor Gertrude S. on the murder of Jewish children in Riga

At the end of March 1944, but it could have been at the beginning of April, I don’t know exactly any more, there was a “children’s action” in [the concentration camp] Riga. The whole camp had to assemble in squad formation. The SS had arrived in lorries […]. Their aim was to select all children under 14 years of age for transportation. Some had already been listed. […]

I was standing with my mother and my sister, who was holding my hand. I was terribly frightened that my sister would also be taken because she was only 13½ years old. But because she looked older she was allowed to remain standing there. Günter Kaufmann, Ilse Ullmann and a girl called Heilbronn were among those children who had already been listed. I can’t remember her first name. When it became clear that these children, whom I had got to know during my work in the Luftwaffe Uniforms Office, were also going to be transported the mother of Günter Kaufmann and the parents of Ilse Ullmann stepped forward and asked whether they could go with their children. I think that [SS man] Wisner responded: “Yes, yes, but you must change your clothes first”. I can still remember that Frau Kaufmann then came out from the clothes store barrack in a torn green evening dress. She was holding her son Günter by the hand. I remember that the SS people laughed. All those who had been selected were loaded onto lorries and taken away. We believed that they had been taken away to be shot in a forest. […]

I remember that in the course of this action a child of about 2 named Mischa was found in a hiding place and transported. His parents had been Russian partisans. The father had been shot straight away following his arrest. The mother and little Mischa were brought to [concentration camp] Riga Kaiserwald. After Mischa was found SS leader Brunner tried to find the mother. He found her in the end and sent her away in a lorry as well.

Source: Bundesarchiv Ludwigsburg, B 162/26148, Bl. 209–17

Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes