Journey into Terror: Story of the Riga Ghetto

Journey into Terror: Story of the Riga Ghetto

Journey into Terror: Story of the Riga Ghetto

Journey into Terror: Story of the Riga Ghetto

Synopsis

Gertrude Schneider, a noted Holocaust scholar and survivor, tells the story of German Jews sent east for extermination in 1941-1943, who were instead given a reprieve in order to fill essential jobs in Riga--the capital of Latvia. Amid constant waves of arrivals and killings, these Jews transformed their part of the Riga Ghetto into a structured community. This is the story of the creation and ultimate destruction of that Ghetto community based on extensive research, personal recollections, interviews, and documents from Russian, German, Israeli, and American archives.

The strange paradox of normal behavior within abnormal context is exemplified by such events as concerts and mass burials, sports and tortures, as well as friendships and love affairs between SS officers and Jews. In addition to this charged surrealistic atmosphere, a unique feature of Professor Schneider's book is her examination of the psychology of the prisoners, including a belief of the Latvian Jews that their people had been killed to make room for German Jews, and a conviction of the German Jews that they were privileged and, therefore, exempt from extermination. This book is a must read for scholars, students, and the general public interested in the Holocaust and World War II in Eastern Europe.

Excerpt

From the outside, it looked like any of the other ghettos in the East— complete with the ubiquitous barbed wire and the heavily armed guards. It was only when one was inside that the difference became apparent, for here, in the middle of Riga, the capital of Latvia, was a tiny German hamlet, scrupulously clean, complete with German street names, German police, German street cleaners, even German schools, and occasional strains of German music. One could hear the impeccable speech of people from Hanover, the flat twang of Berliners, the broad dialect of people from Leipzig and Dresden, the soft, lilting speech of Bavarians and Viennese, and the hard, but correct German spoken by Czechs. All those proper, middle-class people had one thing in common: they were Jews who had been deported to the East for liquidation but had been spared temporarily because their labor was needed. Here then, separated from its Latvian-Jewish counterpart, was the German-Jewish ghetto of Riga.

Between November 27, 1941, and February 10, 1942, twenty transports amounting to a total of some twenty thousand Jewish men, women, and children from Germany proper, from Austria, and from Czechoslovakia were deported to the Latvian capital, where they were herded into the ghetto. My parents, Pinkasx and Charlotte Hirschhorn, my younger sister, Rita, and I were part of the very last transport to enter the ghetto. Nothing in our former life in Vienna had prepared us for what lay ahead. Like those who came with earlier transports, we had no inkling of the true purpose for which we had been sent to the eastern territories recently conquered from Russia. We could not have imagined that the term . . .

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