Latvia had been part of the Russian Empire until the country declared independence on 18 November 1918. The secret additional protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 assigned Latvia to the Soviet sphere of interest, and in June 1940, the Red Army entered Latvian territory. One month later, Latvia was proclaimed a Soviet Republic. By 10 July 1941, weeks after the German attack on the USSR, all of Latvia was under German occupation. Latvia was subjected to a German civilian administration as Generalbezirk Lettland of the Reichskommissariat Ostland. The Red Army began re-conquering Latvia in the summer of 1944, and reached the country’s capital, Riga, in October 1944. The westernmost parts of Latvia were reclaimed by the Soviet Union only in May 1945. Latvia’s independence was restored on 4 May 1990.

In 1938, Latvia had a total population of 1,995,000 people, including some 92,000 Jews. Almost half of them lived in Riga, but there were also large communities in Daugavpils and Liepaja. During the Soviet occupation, about 1,800 Jews were deported to Siberia by the Soviet secret police. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 and pushed through Latvia, only about 14,500 to 15,000 Jews managed to escape eastwards. Around 75,000 Jews remained in Latvia under German occupation. German attacks on the Jews quickly escalated to mass murder. Most of the Latvian Jews who lived outside the main urban centres were murdered in July and August 1941. Between August and December 1941, the majority of the inmates of the Daugavpils and Riga Ghettos were murdered. By 1 January 1942, only some 9,000 Jews were still alive, mainly in the ghettos of Riga and Daugavpils, but also in Liepaja, where the ghetto had only been established in July 1942, or in concentration camps. About 25,000 Jews from Central Europe (mostly from Germany, Austria and Bohemia) were deported to the Riga ghetto. By 1943 most of the Jews on Latvian territory were dead. Survivors of the Riga ghetto were first sent to the Kaiserwald concentration camp and then transferred to Stutthof in September 1944. Overall, about 74,000 Latvian Jews perished in the Holocaust.

Archival Situation

The National Archives of Latvia are in charge of the country’s official archival institutions, notably the State Historical Archives of Latvia and the State Archives of Latvia. The role of the National Archives is to collect and store records with archival value; provide accessibility of these records; supervise the observance of records management in the institutions and in the accredited private archives; accredit private archives; and perform the other functions specified in Archives Law. Within the National Archives, the role of the State Historical Archives is to administer the National Documentary Heritage of the Latvian archival fond of 1220–1945, which includes documents of state and local authorities; courts; estates; religious organizations; political and public organizations; documents of enterprises and other legal persons; and documents of private persons. The State Archives, on the other hand, are tasked with the collection and preservation of: documents of central governmental institutions (parliament, cabinets of ministers, and other institutions) of the Republic of Latvia; documents of the Rīga and Jūrmala municipal institutions; personal fonds of Latvia and of foreign countries; and archives of Latvian exile organizations. The State Archives also hold documents concerning Latvian Social democracy; documents of the Communist Party of Latvia; and documents from the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic’s Committee of State Security (KGB) about repressed persons. The State Archives of Latvia ensure the preservation and use of documents related to Latvian history since 1940. In addition to these official archives, there are also a number of private archival institutions in Latvia.

EHRI Research (Summary)

EHRI has identified six archival institutions in Latvia, all of them concentrated in Riga. A full list can be found in the extensive report. While all of them store Holocaust-related collections, a local team of experts was able to provide EHRI with a tailor-made collection descriptions for the important Holocaust-related holdings of the State Historical Archives of Latvia, the State Archives of Latvia and the Latvia State Archive of Audiovisual Documents.

Outside of Latvia, sources relevant to Holocaust research on Latvia can be found, among other institutions, at the Bundesarchiv, Yad Vashem,the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies

EHRI Research (Extensive)

A. EHRI approach to Latvia: Pre-existing research, archival guides and expert support

EHRI’s exploration of Holocaust-relevant archival sources in Latvia could rely on some important pre-existing research in the field, such as Katrin Reichelt’s Lettland unter deutscher Besatzung 41-1944. Der lettische Anteil am Holocaust (2011), and Andrej Angrick’s and Peter Klein’s The Final Solution in Riga: Exploitation and Annihilation, 1941-1944 (2009).

Working extensively with the National Archives of Latvia, EHRI was able to identify important collections in three Riga-based archives: the National Archives of Latvia, State Historical Archives of Latvia (Latvijas Nacionālā arhīva Latvijas Valsts vēstures arhīvs, LNA LVVA); the National Archives of Latvia, State Archives of Latvia (Latvijas Nacionālā arhīva Latvijas Valst arhīvs, LNA LVA); and the Latvia State Archive of Audiovisual Documents (Latvijas Valsts kinofotofonodokumentu arhivs).

An overview of Latvian State Archives, which is written in both Latvian and English and available in print and online, suggests that there are more Holocaust-relevant archives to discover, especially among the eleven Regional State Archives:

B. Characteristics of Latvia’s archival system and specific challenges

An important number of Holocaust-related sources and collections were created or have been deposited in Latvia and can still be found in the country’s archives today. Access to them appears to be unrestricted, but some limits to the use of personal data are to be expected. The most frequent languages of the sources are German, Russian and Latvian. On a practical level, a working knowledge of Latvian and/or Russian is probably necessary for any kind of archival research in Latvia, even though documents in other languages can also be found with the help of the local archival staff.

C. EHRI identification and description results on Latvia

C.I. In Latvia

Holocaust-relevant sources in Latvia are concentrated in the country’s capital, Riga and in two archives in particular:

  • the National Archives of Latvia, State Historical Archives of Latvia (Latvijas Nacionālā arhīva Latvijas Valsts vēstures arhīvs, LNA LVVA), which keeps mostly documents from the period until 1944, and

  • the National Archives of Latvia, State Archives of Latvia (Latvijas Nacionālā arhīva Latvijas Valst arhīvs, LNA LVA), which keep documents from the period since 1945.

At the State Historical Archives alone, EHRI has identified and described over 50 Holocaust-related fonds, some of which contain thousands of files pertaining to all of Latvia or to certain regions, districts and cities. The fonds identified and described by EHRI include collections of sources produced by German occupation and administrative authorities, such as the Reichskommissar Ostland or the SS and Police Leader in Latvia, but also ample sources left by local Latvian institutions, e.g. very extensive District Police records. The sources for the survey consisted of the, mostly printed, finding aids available at the archives. For example, the fonds of the Commissar General in Riga contains seven finding aids that describe the German records in Latvian. These handwritten and typed finding aids are available at the reading room.

At the State Archives of Latvia, EHRI has identified two important Holocaust-related fonds of Soviet origin, which contain material on war crimes investigations in Latvia. The identification and investigation work on these two fonds was carried out by local experts. Most of the work consisted of document analysis and research on previously undescribed archive fonds no. 1986. The work included reviewing the fonds card index (93,608 cards) and 26 record registration journals. As this fonds had no description, it was necessary to compare the data in the card index with the data in the registration journals to find certain criminal cases (persons convicted or judged). These criminal cases are usually several volumes long. To find all information about the Holocaust victims, one would have to examine all 52,653 records. The survey team looked through the criminal cases which consisted of a large number volumes, such as the files of Victor Arājs (1910-1988) and Boļeslavs Maikovskis (1904-1996). The former was the Chief of the Arājs Command who committed mass executions of Jews for the German Security Police. Arājs was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1979 by a Hamburg court. Boleslavs Maikovskis was a Latvian who served as chief of police for the second precinct of Rēzekne during the German occupation of Latvia in the Second World War. Maikovskis was tried under the German court system in 1988, but by 1994 was deemed too frail to continue the trial. Together, these cases are enclosed in dozens of volumes. Approximately 90% of the KGB documents are in Russian.

EHRI has also added collection descriptions of sources held by the Latvia State Archive of Audiovisual Documents (Latvijas Valsts kinofotofonodokumentu arhivs).

In addition to the three archives named above, EHRI has identified three more institutions in Riga which hold Holocaust-relevant material on Latvia:

  • the Museum “Jews in Latvia” (Muzejs “Ebreji Latvijā),

  • the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia 1940-1991 (Latvijas Okupācijas muzejs),

  • the Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum (Rīga geto un Latvijas Holokausta muzejs).

The repository descriptions for these institutions provide researchers with general information on the materials that can be found here.

C.II. In other countries

Outside of Latvia, sources relevant to Holocaust research on Latvia can be found at Yad Vashem, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies and other locations.