STATUS OF THE SALASPILS CAMP
The Salaspils camp was part of the wide camp system developed by National Socialist Germany. Initially, the Security Police and the SD (Sicherheitspolizei und Sicherheitsdienst) in Latvia wished to create a concentration camp in Salaspils, but the leadership of Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt) in Berlin did not give permission. It allowed the creation of an “extended police prison”, which later included a “labor correctional camp”. At the end of 1942 and beginning of 1943, another “branch” was created for convicted Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian SS and police service members, and later also included Estonian and Latvian legionnaires. Therefore, the Salaspils camp from May 1942 until September 1944 functioned as an “extended police prison” and a “labor correctional camp”, as well as a prison for convicted Baltic Police Battalion members and legionnaires. It also served other purposes, such as a short-term transit camp for other types of prisoners.
The Salaspils camp was never subordinated to the general concentration camp authority and the SS Economics and Administration Main Office (SS Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt); the Security Police and SD in Latvia consistently avoided being placed under their administration. The commander of the Security Police and SD for Latvia, SS Sturmbannführer Rudolf Lange, consistently was of the opinion that Salaspils needed to be under the regional command of the Security Police, which would have unfettered control over the camp. Clearly, the Salaspils camp was a punishment camp, but it had idiosyncrasies that differentiated it from true concentration camps. For instance, Salaspils was designated to follow police prison, labor correction camp, and SS court-designated administrative rules that were different from those in concentration camps. However, there were similarities with regulations governing concentration camps, which the Salaspils camp leadership did not deny, but they were only similarities, not requirements. Examples are the categorization of inmates, work regulations, and other rules.
SALASPILS CAMP PRISONERS
Until now, historical research has focused primarily on the building of Salaspils. Approximately 1500-1800 Jews (of whom 1000 died), brought in from Germany and elsewhere, participated in its construction.
The Salaspils camp was also built so that prisons in Riga would not be over-crowded. When the investigation of detainees was complete, they could be sent to Salaspils, often classified as security protective internment (Schutzhäft). The person’s status in Salaspils was also dependent on whether only an investigation had taken place or whether a sentence had also been declared. The exact number of interred in the Salaspils camp is not precisely known because the registration records were destroyed. Precise numbers are only available for specific dates. For instance, in January 1943, Salaspils had a total of 1857 inmates, on 1 April – 1990, but in May –2197 people. Even fewer records remain about the classification of people into “A”, “B” or “C” categories.
People who were sent to the Salaspils “labor correction camp” section served sentences and were held for up to 56 days. Statistics about this category of prisoners are lacking as well. It can only be generally surmised that approximately 70-80 people were held, monthly, for work-order transgressions. That means that during the entire time of the camp’s existence, the total number of this type of prisoner could have reached 1800.
In addition, information about people who were detained in Salaspils in operations against partisans or for recruitment of forced labor in Germany is also incomplete. The number of people who ended up in Salaspils due to the February-April 1943 anti-partisan operation Winterzauber in Belarus can only be estimated. It is known that of the 7465 people apprehended during this operation, about 4000 were brought to Salaspils. The August-September 1943 operation Sommerreise in Latgale brought 3284 prisoners to Salaspils. Precise details of other smaller contingents sent to Salaspils are likewise missing. The children taken during operation Winterzauber were separated from their parents upon arrival at the camp and remained there for a relatively short time. It is known that about 1700 children were released by mid-April 1943 and placed in farmsteads or with other families in the Riga region. Although these children found themselves in very dire and traumatic circumstances, there is no basis for the belief that mass executions of children took place. It is undeniable that a number of the children (primarily the youngest) died in Salaspils (statistics vary between 250 and 650), but this was the result of malnutrition, famine, illness and epidemics, not medical experimentation.
In the spring of 1943, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian members of Police Battalions, who were convicted of various transgressions, began to be interred in a special section at Salaspils. Later, Latvian and Estonian legionnaires, tried by the 16th SS and Police Court, were sent to the camp. In December 1943, the number of interred in this category was 204, but in 1944, the number of military personnel rose rapidly. Although precise statistics about the existence of this category of prisoners in Salaspils is not available, it is known that from July to August, about 2000 interred soldiers were included in the newly-formed punishment and construction battalions subordinated to the General Inspector Headquarters of the Latvian Legion.
Based on approximate calculations, it is possible to ascertain that during the entire period of existence between 21,855 and 23,035 people were interred in the Salaspils camp for longer or shorter periods of time. Of these, 11,735 were transit prisoners, taken as a result of various security police operations to be transported elsewhere later.
SUBSTANCE OF THE SALASPILS CAMP
Salaspils camp was not a “death camp” in the sense that people were brought there specifically to be exterminated. Salaspils did not have gas chambers, and “gassing trucks” were not sent there for mass murder of inmates. However, for some of the inmates, Salaspils became their place of death, but for many inmates it served, more or less, as a harsh survival experience on the way to concentration camps outside Latvia. If 4000 inmates from the Salaspils camp were transported to concentration camps in Germany and Poland, it can be assumed that, of them, 1500 or more died.
Adult transit prisoners, detained in operations Winterzauber and Sommerreise (4000 in total), were sent to Germany, where they were handed over to the General Plenipotentiary for Labor Allocation (Generalbevollmächtigter für den Arbeitseinsatz). Their future depended on the laborer category to which they were assigned. The fate of those detained in other operations and later sent through Salaspils to Germany (4500 people) is not known. Their fate was, to a great extent, dependent on whether they were interred in concentration camps or handed over to the Labor Deployment Office. Assignment to work category gave them better opportunities to survive the war in Germany. The fate of transit prisoners after the war, including the number of survivors and those who returned to Latvia, Belarus, or Russia, has not yet been researched; information can be found only in published memoirs. Yet, it is known that in Latvia about 2700 children from Belarus and Latgale were housed in farmers’ homesteads, foster families, and various child care institutions.
During the first post-war years in occupied Latvia, one’s presence in the Salaspils camp was frequently viewed with suspicion, as the loyalty of those people to the Soviet regime was questioned. Sometimes they were even accused of collaboration with the German occupying forces, since they had managed to survive the war despite being imprisoned. Only in the 1960s the Salaspils Concentration Camp Prisoner Society was formed, which about 500 former inmates joined. The membership of this society was mainly made up of Communist sympathizers whose suffering could be, and was used for Soviet propaganda purposes. In addition to the lack of data about former Salaspils inmates who were in Germany at the end of the war and did not return to Latvia, as well about those who were not Communist sympathizers and did not participate in the Salaspils camp survivor activities after the war, the fact remains that in post-war Latvia, the 500 registered former prisoners were just a small part of the 6000-7000 political prisoner total. This leads us to believe that the swath of death in concentration camps outside Latvia was quite considerable.
The ruthless, brutal, and inhumane living and working conditions in the Salaspils camp differed little from concentration camps in National Socialist Germany. It was not particularly large, with an average population of 1800-2200 prisoners at any given time. The number of prisoners and deaths is vastly different from the numbers mentioned in Soviet historiography and propaganda of that era, but this fact most certainly does not minimize or relativize the responsibility and guilt of the Nazi regime and those local individuals who supported its repressions. The facts revealed in historical research represent a search for truth, which is important not only for the accurate reflection of the history of the Salaspils camp in Latvian and international academic circles and the public sphere, but also for further research on the criminal system of the National Socialist regime.