"Latvia"
50 Years of Terror Tyranny and Oppression 1940–1991
Home      Bikernieki Forest, Site of the 1941-1944 Jewish non-Jewish Mass Murders
 
   
 
Biķernieki Forest –
Site of the 1941–1944 Jewish non-Jewish Mass Murders 
 
Located at the entrance to Biķernieki Forest Memorial site is a white archway with a stone path leading to the Biķernieki Forest Memorial. The memorial is located some ways down this path leading into the forest and the beginning of the 55 mass grave sites were over 35,000 murders were committed and buried in these 55 mass graves that are scarred and can be found through out this forest.
 
Funded in part by Germans, local architects worked for 15 years to create an appropriate monument for the atrocities that occurred among these trees.
 
The memorial consists of a white altar, under which a black granite block stands with English, Russian, German and Hebrew words from the book of Job, 16:18: “O earth, do not cover my blood, and let there be no resting place for my cry”. Jagged rocks come out of the ground to look as though the forest floor has opened up, and each represents a lost life. The paths between the stones are named with the cities from which prisoners were transported to the camp. 
 
 
       
 
This White Archway, is now the main entrance to Biķernieki Forest Memorial and its 55 Mass Graves, Located on the left side of this arch is a Black Marble Map showing the path leading to these 55 Mass Graves.
 
Biķernieki Forest Memorial “Biķernieku Memoriāls”
 
      
                                 Biķernieki Forest Memorial                                   Jagged rocks come out of the ground to look as though the forest
                                                                                                               floor has opened up, and each represents a lost life 
 
       
                                                                                                                                    Original entrance to Biķernieki Forest
 
With in the first two weeks of July 1941 the mass murdering of Riga Jewish non-Jewish people began in the Biķernieki Forest. About 4000 men arrested in the first weeks of July 1941 were taken out of the Central Prison by truck to Bikernieki Forest, where they were murdered. All executions were supervised by the officers of the Nazi Germany SS and SD “Security Service”.
 
Biķernieki Forest is located 3 kilometers east of Riga centre city and on the south side of Biķernieki iela.
 
Biķernieki Forest is the largest site of mass murders and burial of victims of Nazi terror in Latvia. From 1941 till 1944, 35,000 people, including Latvian and Western European Jewish people, Soviet "POWs" Prisoners of War, Nazis’ political and the adversaries, were executed here. In 1943, Riga Ghetto prisoners who were not transferred to the “Kaiserwald” Concentration Camp were executed here, followed in the autumn of 1944 by those “Kaiserwald” prisoners no longer able to work. 
 
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                                                                                                   These are some of the 55 Mass Graves located through out the Biķernieki Forest 
 
      
                                                       The largest of the 55 Mass Graves located through the Biķernieki Forest 
 
Under the pretext and promise of work, the Jewish groups were either trucked or forced to walk carrying only a single suitcase and the cloths on their back from the Riga Ghetto to the entrance to Biķernieki Forest where their lives were changed for ever. Men women children families and undesirables entered Biķernieki Forest to never return. Others were Western European Jewish people, Soviet "POWs" Prisoners of War, and the Nazis’ political adversaries, were executed here.
 
Moving down the many different paths that lead to one after another of the 55 mass graves located through the forest, all one has to do is close your eyes open your mind and ears you will be able to see feel and hear the men women and children being moved silently to an area where they were ordered to leave their suitcases ordered to undress, naked and now stripped of their possessions and their dignitary they were then taken to the edge of one of the freshly dug mass graves lined up and shot some were shot in the back of the head as others were lined up in groups and then shot in the back as shots ring out the bodies fell backward and crumble into the grave. One group after another was executed until the mass grave was full. Then they would move on to the next mass grave and the executions would continue. Soviet war prisoners who were ordered and forced to dig the mass graves then were ordered to fill them in. Once their work was done, they were also murdered and dumped into one of the mass graves. 
 
Dünamünde Action
 
The Dünamünde Action "Aktion Dünamünde" was an operation launched by the Nazi German occupying force in "Biķernieki Forest", near Riga, Latvia. Its objective was to execute Jewish people who had recently been deported to Latvia from Germany, Austria, Bohemia and Moravia. These murders are sometimes separated into the First Dünamünde Action, occurring on the 15th of March 1942, and the Second Dünamünde Action on the 26th of March 1942. About 1,900 people were killed in the first action and 1,840 in the second. The victims were lured to their deaths by a false promise that they would receive easier work at a "non-existent" resettlement facility near a former town in Latvia called Daugavgrīva "Dünamünde". Rather than being transported to a new facility, they were trucked to woods north of Riga, shot, and buried in previously dug mass graves. The elderly, the sick and children predominated among the victims.
 
      
 
Background
 
As of the 10th of February 1942, the approximate ghetto and concentration camp populations of German Jews in Riga and the vicinity were: Jungfernhof concentration camp, 2,500; the German ghetto: 11,000; Salaspils: 1,300. Of the Latvian Jews, about 3,500 men and 300 women were in the Latvian ghetto. In December 1941, Kurt Krause, whom the author Max Kauffman describes as the "man-eater", became the German commandant of the Riga ghettos. Krause was a former Berlin police detective. His assistant was Max Gymnich, a Gestapo man from Cologne.
 
Krause and Gymnich used dogs to help enforce their commands. A Latvian Jewish survivor called Joseph Berman, is recorded as stating the following about Gymnich.
 
Gymnich personally selected the victims for deportation which meant certain death. Hence the name "Himmelsfahrtskommando -- Ascension Commando." He knew that they would never reach their alleged destination of Dunamende or the fish tinning factory at Bolderaa. Gymnich was Obersturmführer Krause's and later Untersturmführer Roschmann's driver.
 
Altogether 20,057 Jewish people from the Reich were deported to Riga. By the 10th of February 1942, only 15,000 remained alive. Many had been simply murdered upon arrival; how this had occurred was not known to the people arriving on later transport. According to German ghetto survivor Gertrude Schneider, the inhabitants of the ghetto did not realize how many German Jewish people  had been killed following deportation. They remained under the impression that deportation and forced labor were the worst things that were going to happen.
 
Even from a historical perspective, the odds for the survivors did not seem too bad. As for the inmates of the German ghetto, they did not know that one-fourth of their number had already been exterminated. To them it was clear that they had been "resettled" as forced laborers, and they were able to live with that idea. Accordingly, they hoped that their strength would last until the war was over; they settled down in the ghetto and began to regard it as their home.
 
The Dünamünde Actions
 
In March 1942, the Nazi authorities in Riga decided the German ghetto was getting too crowded and organized a massacre which has come to be called the "Dünamünde Action". "The word "action" was a euphemism employed by the Germans to describe mass shootings and later this was picked up by the ghetto inmates themselves". The Nazis ordered each of the groups in the German ghetto to prepare a list of between 60 to 120 people for further "resettlement", with the Berlin group required to name 600. The Nazis informed the Judenrat that the people, who were mostly unable to work, being either elderly, infirm, or mothers with young children, would go to a supposed town called Dünamünde to work at fish processing. This was a ruse put together by Obersturmführer Gerhard Maywald. There was no longer a town called Dünamünde, there had not been one for several decades. The ruse succeeded, many people were anxious to go. Despite the Germans only calling for 1,500 to be selected, Sunday, the 15th of March 1941, saw about 1,900 Jews assembled in the streets of the ghetto, including, as with the Rumbula Massacre, many parents with small children. There was to be no resettlement of any kind. Instead the people were taken by motor transport to Biķernieki Forest on the north side of Riga, where they were shot and buried in common unmarked graves. 
 
On the 26th of March 1941, the same ruse was perpetrated at Jungfernhof Concentration Camp against the older German Jewish people. The camp commander, Rudolf Seck, refused young people of working age permission to go with their parents. A total of 1,840 people were "resettled" from Jungfernhof that day, again to Biķernieki forest where they were also shot like the 1,900 German Jewish people from the ghetto 11 days earlier. The method employed had been designed by the infamous mass murderer Friedrich Jeckeln and was called "sardine packing" German: "Sardinenpackung". The historians Richard L. Rubenstein and John K. Roth describe Jeckeln's system.
 
In the western Ukraine, SS General Friedrich Jeckeln notices that the haphazard arrangement of the corpses meant an inefficient use of burial space. More graves would have to be dug than absolutely necessary. Jeckeln solved the problem. He told a colleague at one of the Ukrainian killing sites, 'Today we'll stack them like sardines.' Jeckeln called his solution Sardinenpackung "sardine packing". When this method was employed, the victims climbed into the grave and lay down on the bottom. Cross fire from above dispatched them. Then another batch of victims was ordered into the grave, positioning themselves on top of the corpses in a head-to-foot configuration. They too were killed by cross-fire from above. The procedure continued until the grave was full". 
 
The killers forced the victims to lie face down on the trench floor, or more often, on the bodies of the people who had just been shot. The people were not sprayed with bullets. Rather, to save ammunition, each person was shot just once, in the back of the head. Anyone not killed outright was simply buried alive when the pit was covered up. After the war, when a number of the Einsatzgruppen commanders were placed on trial before the Nuremberg Military Tribunal in the Einsatzgruppen case, the tribunal found that "one defendant did not exclude the possibility that an execute could only seem to be dead because of shock or temporary unconsciousness. In such cases it was inevitable he would be buried alive".
 
Aftermath
 
What had happened to the Jews from the ghetto became known when on the 16th and 17th of March, several vans returned to the ghetto carrying the personal property of the people who had been murdered. The clothing bore mud stains and signs of having been hastily removed. For example, stockings were still attached to garters. A detail was assigned to sort and clean these items, many of the items were recognized by name tags and other indicia of ownership.