restricted access 17 Little Ghetto
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106 THE WAR AND POSTWAR YEARS Five months after the nazis had taken over Riga, our entire Jewish community was gone. The majority of my relatives and friends were killed during the liquidation of the ghetto, which we later called the Large Aktion. Just thirtyseven days after being locked in the Large Ghetto, most of us—about 27,000 people—had been killed. In the Little Ghetto, the barbed wire–enclosed enclave in the corner of the former ghetto, about 4,500 people remained, among them just 500 women and only 20 to 30 children. Many of the women were seamstresses who had worked for the Germans. During the Aktion they had been taken to prison and later brought to the Little Ghetto. The Little Ghetto was not a safe haven, it was just another way station on the road to total annihilation. My father and I were among about 4,000 men crowded into the Little Ghetto. Our living conditions had been poor in the Large Ghetto. Now they were worse. The buildings in the Little Ghetto were older, smaller, and more dilapidated. In the Large Ghetto there had been a space allocation of 43 square feet per person. Here there was no allocation; as many people as possible squeezed into any available space. An apartment like ours, consisting of one small room and a tiny kitchen and intended to house a single individual or a small family, was now home to around ten men. In our rush to escape the Large Ghetto, we had left behind what few possessions we had; we had literally taken just the clothes on our backs. We hung what little clothing we had on a nail above our mattress. At night we covered the entire floor with mattresses, all side by side. Still, our circumstances were almost luxurious—given what was to come. We each had our own mattress. In the concentration camps, where three of us had to share a single straw pallet, we could only dream of such an extravagance. We were not subject to constant surveillance by our jailers and enjoyed a modicum of privacy in spite of the crowded conditions. We could look 17 Little Ghetto  LITTLE GHETTO 107 forward to spending evenings and weekends in our apartment in the company of friends. The Little Ghetto was a work camp. Life became a mechanical routine . Day in, day out, hot or cold, rain or shine, snow or sleet, we trudged into town to work and back home again to the ghetto, always escorted by a gentile. Our jobs included janitorial and maintenance tasks. We chopped and carried wood for the brick ovens that heated many city apartments. We moved looted furniture into apartments being prepared for the German occupiers. The few surviving Jewish women—our mothers, wives, daughters , and sisters—became cleaning women. Jewish artisans worked in their various crafts: tailors, shoemakers, glove makers, carpenters, and locksmiths . Some of us became instant apprentices. There were also jobs in lumber mills, on earth-moving projects, in peat bogs and other godforsaken places. Good jobs were indoors, especially where food could be found or where something could be stolen and traded for food. But taking items back into the ghetto was extremely hazardous. The SS would occasionally frisk the returning columns and summarily execute anyone caught with food or any other item. Boots, always in demand, could be smuggled into the ghetto with little risk. You went to work wearing old, ready-to-be-discarded boots and exchanged them for good ones, which could be sold or traded in the ghetto. My father became very depressed. Going into the Little Ghetto he made no mention of bringing my mother’s warm winter clothing. He must have realized that my mother was dead, but he never talked about it. Unable to face the daily trek into town, he found some work inside the Little Ghetto. On Bloody Tuesday, December 9, 1941, the day after the second, eastern half of the Large Ghetto was emptied during the so-called Second Aktion, Latvian police units combed the now vacant ghetto for hideouts. Those found were shot on the spot or taken to the nearby Bikernieku Forest and killed there. The Little Ghetto was also emptied, and all who had remained there were rounded up. Loaded into blue city buses, they, too, were taken to the Bikernieku Forest, where they were murdered. When I returned from work that evening, Papa was not in our apartment...