Salaspils Concentration Camp

Salaspils, Latvia

Salaspils concentration camp was established at the end of 1941. The Nazi bureaucracy drew distinctions between different types of camps. Officially, Salaspils was a Police Prison and Work Education Camp. It was also known as camp Kurtenhof after the German name for the city of Salaspils. Planning for the development of the camp and its prisoner structure changed several times. In 1943, Heinrich Himmler briefly considered converting the camp into an official concentration camp, which would have formally subordinated the camp to the National Security Main Office, but nothing came of this.

The camp site was prepared in October 1941 by Soviet prisoners of war from the Salaspils branch camp Stalag 350/Z of the Riga of base camp 350 and by deported Czech Jews as well as few German Jews from KZ Jungfernhof. In the middle of January 1942 at least 1,000 Jews from the Riga Ghetto were forced to work building the camp. Insufficient accommodation and sanitary conditions, lack of nutrition and severe cold weather caused an extraordinarily high number of deaths.

The Nazis had planned to deport the last remaining Jews from Germany by the end of the summer of 1942. To support this, the plans for the Salaspils camp were revised in an effort to allow the camp to accommodate 15,000 Jews deported from Germany. The camp by then played three roles, general police prison, later the security police prisoner camp, and then a forced labor camp. However the last expansion plan was not carried out.

In the autumn of 1942 the camp comprised 15 barracks of the 45 that were planned, housing 1,800 prisoners. Although a police prison and work education camp, Salaspils became comparable to a German concentration camp in the way the work was organized, the types of prisoners, as well as their treatment, as they recounted later.

By the end of 1942 the Salaspils camp held mainly political prisoners (who had originally been incarcerated at the Riga central prison without due process under 'protective custody orders') and interned foreigners such as Latvian returnees from Russia, whom the Nazis considered politically suspect. Furthermore work education prisoners and recruits to local Latvian collaboration units who had committed routine crimes. There were in the camp only twelve Jews; many had died or been returned to Riga in weak condition.

Typhoid fever, measles and other diseases killed about half of the children at the camp. In one of the burial places by the camp, 632 corpses of children of ages 5 to 9 were revealed.

About 12,000 prisoners went through the camp during its existence. In addition to the German Jews who perished during the construction phase about 2,000 to 3,000 people died here due to illness, heavy labour, inhuman treatment, epidemy, etc.

Starting in 1949 legal proceedings were brought against some of the persons responsible for the Nazi crimes in Latvia, including the Riga Ghetto, and the Jungfernhof and Salaspils concentration camps. Some accused were condemned to life imprisonment. Gerhard Kurt Maywald is one such nazi, convicted of crimes committed in the camp.

In 1967 a memorial was established in Salaspils, which included an exhibit room, several sculptures and a large marble block. During the time of the Soviet Union, the Russian group “Singing Guitars” had dedicated a song “Salaspils” to the children's camp.

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