Committee for the investigation of Nazi war crimes in Baltic countries

Language of Description
Alt. Identifiers
  • 70514
1 Jan 1948 - 31 Jan 1971
Level of Description
EHRI Partner

Biographical History

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The prosecution of what became known as the 'Riga Ghetto Case' (LG Hamburg vom 29.12.1951, [50] 14/51) was significant because it signalled a change in policy on the prosecution of war crimes trials in Great Britain. The British originally planned to prosecute the 5 defendants accused of the most serious crimes, in a Control Commission Court (ie for crimes against humanity) and let the 11 lesser accused be tried in a German Spruchkammer for membership of illegal organisations. After some delay, the decision was made in Spring 1948 by the Foreign Office to hand over the prosecution of all the defendants in the Riga Ghetto case to the German authorities, stating that the German courts were perfectly capable of undertaking the work.

The Committee for the Investigation of Nazi war crimes in Baltic Countries, (made up of former inmates of camps in Riga/ Buchenwald and formerly known as the Group of Baltic Survivors in Great Britain), formed a sub-committee, which met in London, to assist in the investigation of crimes for this trial. Its activities consisted of contacting potential witnesses and gathering statements and affidavits in support of the prosecution. At one point, the General Secretary of the Committee, Josef Berman, a Latvian Jew and former inmate of Riga and Buchenwald, was asked to go to Hamburg to meet the investigating judge in the case. Much to the latter's dismay, most of the statements which had been gathered over the past years could not be used by the investigating judge because they apparently did not meet the rigorous criteria demanded by German courts.

The trial outcome consisted of the following: 2 defendants were given life sentences, 1 was acquitted, 1 was given 1 year 8 months. Whilst many potential defendants had already died, or in certain cases had escaped- such as Herbert Cukurs, who fled to Brazil in 1946 and was, in 1965, killed by an Israeli Mossad hit squad- some escaped after being released from custody by the British, the most important of whom was Viktor Arajs, who was finally convicted at the Hamburg Landesgericht in 1979 and sentenced to life imprisonment for mass murder. An additional barrier to prosecutions for crimes committed in Riga, was the fact that much of the relevant documentation had been appropriated by the Russian authorities, and was therefore inaccessible. Many potential defendants would have out-lived the period of the statute of limitations (in the cases of offences that carried a sentence less than life imprisonment) or would have died by the time this material was made available. A reluctance, for political reasons, to extradite suspects to Eastern Block countries presented a further barrier to prosecutions.

Archival History

The custodial history of the collection prior to deposit is not known.

Scope and Content

This collection of microfilmed documentation deals mainly with the activities of the Committee for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes in Baltic Countries, in particular with the gathering of evidence for the prosecution of war crimes in the Riga Ghetto region during 1941-1944.

The bulk of the material comprises authenticated statements and affidavits from eyewitnesses with covering letters. There is also correspondence which offers an insight into the politics and processes of war crime trials in the immediate post war years.

System of Arrangement

The material consists of approximately 4,500 frames spread over 6 reels, arranged in no particular order, mostly dated 1947-1951.

Conditions Governing Access


Conditions Governing Reproduction

Use MF Doc 54/ Reels 13-18

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements




This description is derived directly from structured data provided to EHRI by a partner institution. This collection holding institution considers this description as an accurate reflection of the archival holdings to which it refers at the moment of data transfer.