December 8, 1941 to December 12, 1941
My Banishment to the East
[by Erika Mannheimer Oppenheimer]
December 8, 1942 – January 26, 1945
On December 8, 1941, my parents, my brother and I were forced out of our home, number 6 Banhofstrasse, Kassel, to be evacuated to Riga, Latvia (Ghetto). At 8 AM on a Monday morning, all of our town’s Jews, 1200 men, women and children, the elderly and the sick, of various ages, needed to register at the town hall.
There we were examined 25 times, being questioned if we had any gold, silver or other valuables with us. The following afternoon, Tuesday, December 9, 1941, at 2 o’clock, we were herded to the main railroad station, guarded by the infamous SS, as if we were the worst of criminals.
At 3 o’clock, the Jew train as it was called, left the station. But it was a train of distress, heading toward an unknown destination. The ride was horrible. We received neither food nor water, but the freezing cold was 10,000 times worse. We rode for three days and nights until we reached our destination.
It was Friday noon, on December 12, 1941, as the train pulled into Skierotawa, a suburb of Riga. Someone yelled to us, “You Jewish pack of cursed pigs, hurry up. Leave your luggage behind, it will be delivered to you later. Those of you, who can’t walk, can wait and ride with the luggage.” We were happy to leave our luggage behind, because we lost our strength from the long ride.
Those who walked lived. The innocent who waited to ride, were driven to the woods and shot. This was only our first sacrifice.
Poor and helpless, we were led into the Ghetto. Empty houses, burnt out Synagogues, over crowded cemeteries, bodies lying in the streets swimming in their own blood. It was a picture of horror.
We were captured slaves and placed in a wire fenced compound. SS guards were posted outside the fence, armed with bayonets and smirks on their faces.
Twenty-one of us, men and women, were placed in one attic room. The door was splattered with blood, the beds covered in blood. It was a house of death, where the SS murdered our brothers and sisters with pleasure.
My first task was to steal some wood and find some water in order to make us some coffee. Then, with another young girl, we started our first chore, cleaning the blood from the door.
By the second day, the young people formed a work detail. At 6 AM, without having eaten we marched 7 kilometers, in freezing cold. We weren’t treated like humans, we were JEWS. Our rewards were beatings with a rubber hose. We were forced to carry heavy timbers across the frozen Donneau River.
On the same day, the men ranging from 18-42 years old, were suddenly sought out and sent to Salaspils to work. We didn’t want to believe that they were about to be killed. But at the end of August 1942, only 250 returned, out of the 2500 that went.