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Kaiserwald Concentration Camp ([Mežaparks] Riga, Latvia)


Barracks at the Kaiserwald Concentration Camp. (courtesy of Yad Vashem

    Kaiserwald was a Concentration Camp in Mežaparks, Latvia right outside of Riga. With a rising need to cover the labor shortages from the war effort Heinrich Himmler agreed to exploit the Jewish prisoners in ghettos and camps for this use by selling them as labor for businesses and having the prisoner’s salaries sent to the Nazis.[1] In 1943, Kaiserwald became one of the recognized Concentration Camps that would help fulfill this purpose for the Nazi regime’s WVHA.[2] This Concentration Camp and the Salaspils Concentration Camp became the two main Concentration Camps located in the Reichskommissariat Ostland.[3]

    The first prisoners consisted of German criminals and eventually Jewish inmates from deportations in ghettos around the Reichskommissariat Ostland.[4] When Himmler ordered the liquidation of the Jewish ghettos on June 21,1943, an influx of Jews were deported from the Riga, Liepaja, Daugavpils, and Vilna ghettos. As of August 21,1943, about 7,874[5] prisoners had been deported to the Concentration Camp from these ghettos when the camp was originally built to hold only 2,000 inmates. The camp evolved into a place where Jews would register for forced labor in Kaiserwald’s satellite camps or factories for the WVHA. Kasernierung Stations were located at the Concentration Camp to house the inmates working at these sites. While most of the inmates were sent to nearby satellite camps and factories there were a handful of inmates sent to Estonia, Lithuania, and Auschwitz to carry out forced labor.  Jewish inmates were frequently sent to work on the SS Sea Camp in Dungada and being sent to Spilve and Panevezys to construct airfields for the German military.[6]  

    In light of the Red Army’s advancement during August 1944, the Nazis deported the Jews back from the satellite camps and Kasernierung Stations. The 12,000 estimated surviving Jews in Latvia were either evacuated in deportations by boat to other Concentration or Extermination Camps such as Auschwitz and Stutthof or they were shot off. The Red Army had entered Riga on October 13th, 1944 and nothing was left of the SD run camp. All of the documents were destroyed and barracks that were held in the camp. The Concentration Camp site is now just a memory in rubble under a playground and apartment building complex. All that remains in the area are fragments of what is thought to be a watchtower and a memorial recently erected with information on the Concentration Camp and inmates.

[1] Aharon Wiess, “ Categories of Camps- Their Character and Role,” in The Nazi Concentration Camps, ed. by Yisrael Gutman and Avital Saf (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1984), 127.

[2] The “SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt” The Nazi regime’s Economic Department.

[3] This was the Nazi government of the occupied Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

[4] “Kaiserwald,” Shoah Resource Center, The International School for Holocaust Studies, accessed February 12, 2013, .

[5] Note that all numbers are minimum estimates and subject to change with advancements in the study. 

[6] Andrew Ezergailis, The Holocaust in Latvia, 1941-1944, (Riga : Historical Institute of Latvia ; Washington, DC : United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1996), 361-365. 

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Kaiserwald Concentration Camp ([Mežaparks] Riga, Latvia)