75 years ago: Soviet Riga Trial convicts Nazi war criminals


Friedrich Jeckeln stands on the far left at Riga Trial of Nazi war criminals

On February 3, 1946, a military tribunal organized by the Soviet Union in Riga, the capital of Latvia, concluded with eight Nazi war criminals being convicted of a range of war crimes in Ukraine and the Baltic states.

The most prominent of the defendants was Friedrich Jeckeln, who had served as head of the Nazi police and SS death squads in southern Russia and Ostland (the German designation for the occupied Baltic states and part of Belorussia). The others included military commanders who had overseen mass killings and the implementation of the Third Reich’s genocide of European Jewry.

Over the course of a week, the tribunal heard evidence of the crimes, including some confessions. The open trial was widely reported on, further establishing that the Third Reich’s drive to colonize Eastern Europe and overthrow the Soviet Union had involved violence against civilians on a mass scale. Prosecutors stated that they were seeking to trace the “blood trail” that marked Nazi Germany’s conquests in the region.

Jeckeln, it was established, had organized some of the worst massacres perpetrated by the Nazi regime. These included the Rumbula massacre, during which some 25,000 Jews were murdered, in or on their way to the Rumbula forest near Riga, between November 30 and December 9, 1941, and the Babi Yar massacre in Ukraine. On September 29-30, 1941, nearly 34,000 Jews were killed in the Babi Yar ravine, near Kiev. Over the course of the German occupation, some 150,000 were murdered there.

Jeckeln had devised a system, first implemented at Rumbula, for such mass killings. It involved forcing the victims into large trenches from which there was no escape. Prosecutors were able to demonstrate Jeckeln’s direct responsibility for the murder of over 100,000 Jews, Roma and other targets of the Nazis. Alexander Boecking, another of the defendants, had overseen the “Germanization” of Estonia, which involved looting, displacement and mass extermination, as well as the use of forced labour.

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