The Terrors of Dundaga



The Terrors of Dundaga


Abraham Shpungin

(Translated from Yiddish by Isaac Leo Kram)


The labor camp in Dundaga, which started out as three separate entities, was established in the fall of 1943. The first complex contained only men. There were German Jews, Austrian Jews, Czech Jews, Lithuanian Jews, and of course, Latvian Jews. I was one of those. The second complex contained women of the same national makeup. The third complex was established in May of 1944; actually, it consisted of five small camps and contained over five thousand Hungarian Jewesses, who had been brought to Latvia directly from Auschwitz. All of these units at Dundaga were satellite camps of the main camp called Kaiserwald.

Although it was ostensibly a labor camp, the conditions were so bad that it might as well have been called an extermination camp. People died en masse and were constantly replaced by transports from Kaiserwald, which came on a weekly basis. The new replacements did not last long either. There was little hope of survival and so I felt compelled to keep a record of what went on there. Here, then, is a description of selected events in the hell of Dundaga.




In my section there was a Jew from Riga by the name of Sheinikson. He had been a dentist before the Germans came to our city. He was considered lucky, for he had his teen-age son with him, having managed to get him through several of the early Aktions aimed at the old, the sick, and the children.

Even though the boy was only thirteen, he had to do a man’s work. Winter comes early to that northwestern part of Latvia, and the cold, combined with the pangs of hunger and the hard labor of felling tall trees in the forest and erecting buildings, sapped the strength not only of grown men, but especially of one so young. At night the prisoners of Dundaga slept on moist earth in plywood tents. The rations consisted of six ounces of black bread, a bowl of watery. soup, and, if lucky, a piece or two of tough, smelly horse meat in the soup.

Sheinikson’s heart ached when his son suffered from hunger; he was determined to do something about it, for the boy was the only thing left to him. The rest of the family had been killed in 1941.

One day in the forest, one of the Latvian guards showed some concern for father and son and ignored the father’s disappearance. The older Sheinikson ran to a nearby farmhouse to beg for food and although the peasants were terribly afraid to get involved with a Jew, one woman gave him a few potatoes and a loaf of bread. She may just have been good, but at the time, in late 1943, it was clear that the Germans would not win the war, after all. Sheinikson, in his striped prison clothes, went to the highway on the edge of the forest and walked, no, he ran, back to camp. In his happiness about the satchel’s contents, he forgot to be cautious. All he could think of was his boy’s delight.

Suddenly he was caught in the glare of a car’s headlights. Inside were SS officers. They were incredulous. A Jew in prison clothes with a yellow star and without a guard? All alone on the road? Unbelievable! Sheinikson’s attempt at an explanation was in vain. They did not believe him when he assured them that he was, indeed, going back to the camp.

“You are telling us Jewish lies!”

“You are trying to escape!”

“You will be turned over to the Kommandant of your camp… he will surely know what to do with you!”

They spilled the contents of his satchel onto the muddy ground and trampled on the bread and the potatoes. Then they took him to the camp.

At that time, the commandant of Dundaga was Oberscharfuehrer Kröschl, an elderly, gray-haired, cruel veteran of several concentration camps, including Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald. He was a true believer in the destiny of the German Reich and hated Jews even more than he hated the Russians.

Kröschl was very pleased with the “good work” of the young SS officers. After all, such an escape attempt did not happen very often, and the occasion called for a party. After he and the visitors had their drinks, the commandant pronounced the verdict, “Thirty lashes and a douche!”

The whole camp stood at attention. It was a special roll call. Everyone knew what had happened only an hour earlier. Everyone also knew that Sheinikson had no intention of escaping. Everyone knew that he would never leave his son. Everyone knew that he only wanted to get a price of bread for his boy, to “organize” a little food. But everyone was helpless, including the boy, who also stood there, with the others, shivering and desperate.

Most of the people who stood there had suffered much and were hardened… they could no longer give in to feelings of pity, sorrow, and compassion. They were worn out with grief. And yet, at this occasion, with its foregone conclusion, there was a collective pain, for everyone knew that after thirty lashes with a wooden utensil reinforced with steel, nobody could live more than three or perhaps four days. They did not realize, however, what the commandant had meant by “douche” even though they realized that he had accumulated many macabre surprises in his long concentration camp career. Kröschl now called for a ladder. He wanted his edict to be carried out immediately. His German punctuality and thoroughness permitted no postponement.

The ladder was placed against a wall, with Sheinikson tied to it, his back exposed. The beating was administered by a Latvian guard. Sheinikson screamed, but only during the first seven or eight lashes. Then he moaned for a while and then he was silent. The guard was getting tired and started to use both hands while swinging the stick up and down, up and down. Kröschl counted… “sixteen… seventeen…” and finally he yelled out "thirty!” Sheinikson was bleeding profusely and was barely conscious. Two guards dragged him to the fence, where they tied him to one of the posts to prevent his slumping to the floor. And now the camp found out what the “douche” was all about: Kröschl, with his own hands, poured several pails of ice-cold water over the limp form of the half-dead Sheinikson.

We were dismissed. Sheinikson. however, was left hanging there, with the rope tied beneath his arm pits. We were given our soup and our bread ration, but it did not go down very well, despite our hunger.

The next morning, as we assembled to go to work in the forest, we saw Sheinikson once more. He was still tied to the fence pole, but he was now a piece of ice, covered with white crystals, somewhat like a statue sculptured by a master and created in God’s image… a father who went to beg for a piece of bread to feed his hungry son.

I don’t know what happened to the boy, but I’ve never forgotten the open eyes of the martyred father, eyes that seemed to ask, “Why, God, why?”




I remember two instances at Dundaga when Jewish men escaped from the camp, were caught, savagely beaten, and still remained alive! Later on, the punishment for escape was hanging. But in the fall of 1943, at a time when the camp was being established, it was still possible to survive the punishment, provided one had the stamina.

Two cousins, Schabelstock and Birman, each about sixteen years old at the time, did not return to camp together with their work detail, the “Forest Kommando.” They hid in the forest, waiting for total darkness in order to escape undetected.

The SS, however, with the help of bloodhounds, found the youngsters, roughed them up, and brought them back to the camp where each of them was given twenty lashes with the infamous wooden stick covered with steel. Yet, in spite of the beating, both recovered; I do not know what their eventual fate was.

Then there was a seventeen year old by the name of Misha Kahn. Before the war, he and his family lived on Avotins Iela in Riga. He knew that his father was at one of the other satellite camps attached to Kaiserwald and he wanted to join him.

Kahn was tall and blond and did not look Jewish at all. Somehow he had managed to obtain civilian clothing – by this time we wore the striped prison “zebra” outfits – and entered a railroad car without a ticket. Soon after his arrival in Riga, he was caught by a Latvian patrol and brought back to Dundaga.

He received the usual treatment… perhaps even more of it, since the commandant was quite angry at the youngster’s nerve. Yet, Kahn recuperated and in July 1944, when the Dundaga inmates were marched to Libau (Liepaja), he managed to escape on the way, while the column of men walked through the forest.

He joined the partisans and was liberated in May 1945. A few years passed and after realizing that he would not be happy staying in Latvia, he went to Holland as a tourist, where he used his considerable escape talents to absent himself from the other Soviet tourists. He did not return to Russia. I have heard rumors that he is now living in the United States.




The Winter of 1943-1944 in Kurland was extremely severe. Most of the time, the temperature hovered at minus twenty-five degrees Celsius, and since our camp had little in the way of amenities, we suffered terribly.

Kommandant Kröschl had a problem: What was he going to do with the corpses? There were many deaths, but since the ground was frozen and hard like a rock, there was no way to bury all those weak Jews who died like flies. Up until November, it had been possible to bury the victims in the sandy soil around the camp by literally hewing out large holes and then covering them up again. The hewing had been difficult and took time, but now, with the temperature so low, it could simply not be done.

Overwhelmed by the pile of bodies, Kröschl had an idea! He considered it a brilliant solution! Since the camp was only twenty kilometers inland from the Baltic Sea, he would, as often as necessary, send a detachment of Jews to the sea, put holes in ice if needed, and slip in the corpses, one by one. It never occurred to him to consult with anyone about his plan. After all, he was an undisputed ruler, with power over life and death. Thus, during the months of January, February, and March 1944, twice a week, the burial detachment and their cargo made their way to the beach and got rid of the dead.

Then, in April, the ice began to melt. The Latvians who lived near the sea began to find floating bodies. Fishermen caught them in their nets. A great clamor went up, since it was not hard to figure out that the dead were Jews, most of whom had their tattered, striped clothing hanging on their bloated corpses. Kröschl panicked. He did not want to be accused of polluting the sea with typhoid-infested Jews, especially since his fellow Germans were extremely scared of that particular disease. He also rather belatedly realized that the tide could bring these bodies to neutral Sweden, where the International Red Cross had its representatives.

His panic came too late. Only a few days after the first bodies came to the surface, a commission of high-ranking SS officers arrived at Dundaga, and the upshot was that Kröschl was relieved of his post and transferred to another camp.

Kröschl’s successor was Gustav Sorge, nicknamed the Iron Gustav. His first task after arrival at the camp was to correct the mistake made by the former commandant in regard to the floating bodies. He selected a special Kommando made up for the most part of so-called Muslims. In camp jargon that meant people who had lost their strength, their hope, and perhaps even their memories. They usually did not work much anymore either, but lingered on, always hoping to find something, anything at all, to eat.

Sorge had thought of a nice name for this special work detail. He called in the Bathing Kommando. Because of its name, there were several men who actually volunteered to be part of it, thinking that they would be assigned to work in a warm bathhouse. To their great disappointment, they wound up in the ice cold waters of the Baltic Sea.

Daily, on open vans, the work detail was taken to the seashore. Once there, the men had to wade into the sea until the water came up to their shoulders, and then they had to pull the bodies that were now coming up in ever greater numbers to the shore. After that, each such corpse was doused with gasoline, put on a pyre, and turned into ashes. While it burned, the men were chased back into the water to try and pull out more of the floating corpses.

The conditions were so bad that every single day at least one member of the work detail joined the corpses and was burned right at the beach in the same way as those he had helped to pull out of the sea.

In this fashion, after several weeks, the Baltic Sea was cleansed of Jewish bodies and the Bathing Kommando was not needed anymore.

I am dedicating the foregoing tale to Hermann Goldberg, then a young boy, who hailed from Kuldiga and who, in 1940, moved to Riga, together with his family. His parents, brothers, and sister perished in the Riga ghetto. Only he and his uncle, Harry Goldberg, survived the two big massacres. The two of them ended up in Dundaga, where they lived in the same plywood tent as I did.

Although young Hermann survived the Bathing Kommando, he eventually succumbed to typhoid fever and is buried in Dundaga.




It was January 1944.  Wet snow was falling and a cold wind was blowing, coming from the direction of the Baltic Sea. There was a commotion at the gate. All the returning work details were to march straight to the Appell Platz, the square where roll call was held. No one was permitted to enter the plywood huts. There was some excitement… another Jew working in the forest had escaped.

Suddenly, there was a noise; we heard the baying of bloodhounds, and then there came the familiar order “Muetzen ab!” meaning that we had to take off our caps, all at the same time. The escapee had been found. His tattered clothes were carried in by two SS men, with the dogs straining against their leashes, still snapping at the material. Two other SS men brought in the bloodied, beaten man and paraded him in front of us. He could hardly walk. I took a closer look… oh my God, it was my old friend Fleischmann! He looked at me, just for a second…

I remembered what a good son he was to his invalid mother. Both of them had come to Riga from Jelgava (Mitau) in the early thirties, hoping that physicians there would be able to help her.

We were part of the same circle, he and I, although he was a few years older, and I remembered while standing there, in Dundaga, that whenever the gang stayed out late, he would excuse himself, saying that he had to go and take care of his mother. Some of us could not under- stand his devotion; in fact, we were sometimes annoyed at him when he left in the middle of a dance or a party.

I lost sight of him, but then in early November of 1941 I met him in the ghetto of Riga. I remember how shocked I was at his appearance… he had gotten so old! He told me that he had worked on the railroad during the Russian occupation from 1940 to 1941, and I asked him why he did not use his connections to escape from Latvia. Looking at me strangely, he said, “How could I leave my mother?”

Only a few weeks later, it was she who left him… she was taken to the Rumbuli Forest and killed in the big Aktion of November 29, 1941.

And now, right here in Dundaga, Fleischmann’s minutes on this earth were counted.

Kommandant Gustav Sorge, the Iron Gustav, was very correct. With his own hands he took the rope, fashioned a noose, and, using one of the strong tree branches right at the edge of the camp, put the noose around Fleischmann’s neck. Sorge had to hold him up, for his victim was exhausted from the beating he got after being found… but Sorge was a strong man and the job was soon done. All was quiet once more.

That night the next morning, Fleischmann’s body hung from the tree. In contrast to other victims whom I saw hanged during these last few years, he seemed to be at peace. His face was serene… almost as if he wanted to say, “I am better off now; I am reunited with my dear, old invalid mother.”




Rumor had it that at one time, long after the war was over, Sorge made the following comment about himself, “All SS men were beasts, but I was the worst one!”

His story was a familiar one. Having started out on a criminal career in the late 1920s, he was in jail when the Nazis came to power. Two years later, in 1935, when they needed reliable personnel for the new German concentration camps, which were then holding political prisoners, many of the criminal element in the various jails were recruited and were made into Kapos. They were, in fact, overseers of their own countrymen. Sorge was of such a brutal nature that his charged called him Der Eiserne Gustav.

His prison term expired in 1938. Although he was permitted to join the ranks of the SS, he could not join the officers’ corps because of his criminal past. This embittered him greatly. Having been an “ordinary” SS man, however, proved to be a decided advantage in May 1945. He was taken prisoner by the Russians in East Germany and, at what was called the Sachsenhausen Trial, he received a sentence of twenty-five years hard labor in Siberia. He remained there only until 1956. Due to Khrushchev’s policies, Sorge was returned to East Germany.

Not long after his release, he made his way to West Germany and went back to his “old” profession, breaking into stores and apartments, robbing, stealing, and selling the loot to fences.  At one such occasion he was apprehended and during the ensuing trial his true past came to life.

Survivors of Dundaga came and testified. He sat there and listened and it seemed as if he enjoyed hearing his misdeeds. Other survivors, who had suffered under his reign in Spilve, came and told similar tales.

The West German Court sentenced him to eight years, indicating that he had already spent much of the postwar years in Siberia and was therefore punished enough. It is questionable whether the people who died in his Bathing Kommando, or Fleischmann, or others who felt his malice, would agree.




The conditions at all the Dundaga camps were abysmal, but the worst suffering was experienced by the approximately 5,000 Hungarian girls who had come there directly from Auschwitz in May 1944.

They wore gray prison shifts, they had no underwear or socks, they wore wooden clogs that they kept losing while walking, and their hair was shorn. They were a ghostly sight. Yet, only a few weeks earlier, they had still been at home!

 All of them were quite young. The older ones among them had lost their lives in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. In fact, when we questioned them, the girls would point up to the sky, explaining that their loved ones had gone up in smoke! Although we were veterans of ghettos and other camps, up to now gas had not been a part of our vocabulary. We knew all about mass graves, but gas and crematoria? Our minds were unable to comprehend this new horror.

We tried to help the girls, but we had very little ourselves. During the summer months there was at least warmth, which helped, even though the labor in the forest was hard for them. I can still see them carrying the logs, trying not to slip and fall, and somehow bewildered by their suffering. Many made their long dresses shorter and used the material to fashion underwear. They slept on the earth in their huts and it seemed that the sun never reached those.

We had trouble or communicating with them, since most of them spoke only Hungarian or Slovakian. Some knew Romanian too, but all those languages were not part of our knowledge.

By July 1944, when they left on the march to Libau, there were only about three thousand of them left.




One day in February 1944, as I was standing in line for my ration of watery pea soup, the handsome man next to me started a conversation. He was blond, broad shouldered, and athletic. He looked more like a Latvian than a Jew. His name was Mendel Poliak, he was originally from Riga, and he, too, had lost his entire family during the bloody days of November 29 to December 8, 1941.

After the massacre he had worked for the SS at one of the Truppen Wirtschafts Lager, or TWL, located at Mühlgraben. It was a supply center, one of many, for the SS troops stationed in Riga and the vicinity, as well as at other locations in Latvia.

After TWL, Mendel was sent to Kaiserwald and from there to Dundaga. Just that morning, by coincidence, he had met up with one of the low-ranking officers whom he had known at TWL. The officer, Willy Wichmann, recognized Mendel Poliak, remembered him as a good worker, and asked him to form a work detail that would unload freight trains coming in with supplies. Until he met Mendel, Wichmann had used Russian prisoners for this job, but he said he would prefer Jewish prisoners, since he could communicate with them. Mendel was overjoyed and promised to do his best. I was the first one he asked and, needless to say, I volunteered immediately. For me, it was a God-sent opportunity. Just recently I had spent a few days in the infirmary, and I knew that I could not last much longer working in the forest.

Mendel soon had his quota of twenty able-bodied Jews together. We came from all countries and from all walks of life. Wichmann had found five women as well, and the Kommando took shape.

While the women cleaned the SS barracks and sorted the supplies, the men unloaded the freight trains. There was furniture from the Carpathian mountains, shoes and boots from Czechoslovakia, tobacco and cigarettes from Bulgaria, macaroons from Italy, meat from Hungary, as well as the finest alcoholic beverages from France. We were stunned by the array of luxurious items, and the unloading often became a guessing game. We worked very hard, since the trains came at odd times and we had to be ready for them, but it was far better than felling trees or building roads. Furthermore, to keep up our strength, Oberscharfuehrer Wichmann saw to it that we were well fed. We got as much bread as we could eat, we got a thick soup, and often we had enough to bring some of the food into the camp, where our unfortunate brethren were slowly starving.

Since the arrival of the freight trains was unpredictable and Wichmann tired of having to haul us all the way from the camp to the railroad station, located near the town of Dundaga, he obtained permission from Gustav Sorge to have the twenty-five of us right there, in the center of town. Wichmann sweetened the deal by giving Sorge a case of fine French cognac and one thousand expensive Bulgarian cigarettes.

 First, all twenty-five of us were taken to a military bathhouse, where we were given a piece of soap for a good scrub down; we were also given disinfectant and afterward a German medic checked us for lice and shaved off our hair. We looked funny but we were clean. Best of all, we got fairly decent underwear and new, striped prisoner suits. In addition, we were also given Russian soldiers’ boots.

We were housed in an apartment right in the center of Dundaga. The women got the small room, and the men used the large room with bunk beds. We were right next to the bakery; they baked only three times a week and mainly for the Latvian population still there. There was also an electric station, but the greater part of the square was taken up by the large warehouses of the Truppen Wirtschafts Lager, filled up to the rafters with the items from the freight trains.

 Wichmann saw to it that we had warm blankets, cooking pots, and eating utensils. We were heavily guarded, as was the entire area, and after work we had to stay in our rooms, except for going to the toilets or to the water well.

Each one of us got his orders at 7:00 every morning from one of the German soldiers. One person in our group, Matis Frost, had a steady “job.” He was a tailor; in fact, he was a very good tailor. He came from Riga and was the only twenty-six at the time, but he was quite handy with the needle. In addition to his sewing work, he took care of Wichmann’s and Major Puchecker’s apartment, where he spent most of the day, in a corner of their dining room. So as not to offend any SS officers, Matis wore a civilian suit, given to him by the resourceful Wichmann. Although of relatively low rank, he knew how to provide the officers with various “perks,” and in that he way he even charmed the Iron Gustav, who seemed to have forgotten about us.

Since our work was so varied, we got to know many Latvians. They were permitted to remain in that section of Latvia only because of their skills. Among them were mechanics, blacksmiths, and railroad workers. Their attitude toward us fluctuated with the proximity of the Russian army. We could always tell when the Russians won a battle – the Latvians behaved in a friendly manner. But we knew even more, since Matis Frost had access to German newspapers and the radio.

Toward the end of June our German personnel became quite nervous. It seemed that the Russian forces were coming toward Kurland from several directions at once, obviously in an effort to encircle this northernmost part of Latvia. In the east, the Russians were not too far away from Riga either, but the fighting changed the picture there almost daily. The German troops were rather superior at that point, but those in Kurland were very young and inexperienced.

They became panicky and started to destroy the goods that were stored in the warehouses, their value notwithstanding. As we were watching this destruction, Matis came back from Wichmann’s apartment in a very agitated state. I was the first one he met and as we were alone, in front of our apartment, he told me that in Wichmann’s absence, Major Puchecker had just received a phone call from Kommandant Gustav Sorge, informing the major that all of us were to be brought back to the main camp within the hour, ostensibly to be evacuated from Latvia to Germany.

Now I became agitated too. The word "evacuation" had an ominous ring to it. How could it be? Here they were destroying essential items for their own sustenance… and at the same time they were going to transport Jews?...  it just did not make sense. Logic decreed that we were to be finished off in the nearby forest.

My gut reaction was to escape! Right then! When I said it to Matis, he agreed. Where would we go?

Adjacent to the warehouses was a rather large house in which several of the Latvian familiars lived, each in their own apartment. The landlord and owner was a blacksmith, who had a wife and daughter. We knew him well. The other one we knew was a railroad worker, who had a wife and children. He seemed to be a nice man and we always exchanged greetings with him at the railroad yard.  As for the other families, we had very little to do with them. One of the large rooms on the main floor of the house was used by the guards who patrolled the area twenty-four hours a day.

Between this house and the warehouse was a large barn in which every one of those Latvian families had a section where they kept a cow, a goat, some pigs, and chickens. The barn had an attic in which each family kept fresh hay, and it was precisely this attic that seemed right for our scheme. It was like hiding in the lion’s den, right under the noses of the guards. But first we had to find a way to get in. The main door to the barn was kept locked, but on the back wall of the barn there was an opening, roughly three feet by three feet, used only in the summer to get rid of the various animals’ excrement. It was this opening or nothing. Since Matis wore civilian clothes, he was first to go. He waited until the guard on duty passed and then he crawled through the hole.

I wore a green overall under my striped suit. Taking off the latter, I waited until the guard had passed by again, then ran to the edge of the forest, dropped the suit and eventually crawled unto the barn and up into the attic where Matis had already become worried. He was glad to see me and now both of us buried ourselves in the hay, keeping close to the wall so that we could observe through the cracks what was going on outside.

The first thing we saw or rather heard was Major Puchecker’s complaint about Matis having polished one boot only, leaving the other one dirty. He was speaking to Willy Wichmann, who had just returned. After telling him about the dirty boot, Puchecker told him what Sorge had said on the telephone.

Wichmann now called his Jews and told them to line up in front of the house. We watched breathlessly as he realized that he had only twenty-three prisoners instead of twenty-five! As he was still standing there, shaking his head in disbelief, Sorge arrived with a detachment of SS men to pick up the Jews and presumably, some more sustenance for himself.

We saw them searching the area. Bloodhounds were brought. Almost immediately they found the striped suit in the forest and from what they were saying it was clear they had no more time to actually comb the forest for the escapees. It was time for them to leave, since they were to meet up with columns coming from other nearby camps. Matis and I were not only glad that they were in a rush, but also that they did not execute others for our having run away, as was done in such cases. Both of us were relieved and when everything quieted down, we fell asleep.

The way we had imagined our future was to stay in the attic two or even three days, and then make our way to the Russian front. By morning, however, we realized that we had a dilemma on our hands… the place was swarming with German soldiers! They continued coming all day and there were hundreds of trucks, motorcycles, and tanks all around us.

They were quite different from the soldiers we had dealt with up to now. It was evident that they were frontline fighters, and it soon became clear that they intended to stay in Dundaga, since they began to settle down in the warehouses and other, empty buildings. From their conversation, which we could clearly hear, we soon figured out that they had broken through the Russian lines near Jelgava and had now regrouped to fight in order to hold Kurland. They dug trenches and foxholes, they started to mount equipment, such as anti-aircraft guns, and they seemed in good spirits. Among them were soldiers who spoke Russian, obviously members of the renegade Vlasov army assigned to artillery units.

Leaving our hiding place under those circumstances was out of the question, and we became rather nervous. Matis shared his last piece of bread with me, but by the third night we were suffering. It was the thirst that was so hard to take, not just the hunger. There were some cooked potatoes next to the pigs, together with a bowl of water and it took no time for us to finish both.

By the fifth day, when hunger and thirst became unbearable, I decided to climb down from the hay in the attic and wait for the blacksmith’s wife, Mrs. Mathilde Makevich. She had to come and milk the cow as well as feed her other animals. I rationalized that she would not say “no” to my pleas for help, owing to the fact that the Russians were not that far away. I also knew that she was a pious Lutheran and so, as she started milking, I called out to her in Latvian, “If you trust in God, you will not turn us in. Please bring us some water!” Mrs. Makevich almost fainted. She got up, mumbled something, and left the barn. Matis had climbed down too and we looked at each other. In the next few minutes our fate would be decided…

We were lucky. She returned with a full pail of water, which we gulped down. Then she told us that she would have to confide in one of the neighbors, since she, herself, was unable to help us. We were afraid, but she was adamant. Several hours later, a plainly dressed woman came into the barn and called out, “Boys, where are you? Come down –  don’t be afraid!”

We came and she told us that her name was Klara Vanags, and we remembered seeing her before. She promised to share her food with us and before she left she said, “The Russians will soon be here!”

 From then on, it was she who came to milk the Makevich cow. The pail she used had a double bottom and she always managed to put some bread into it. She also left us a bottle of milk. Our lives depended on her, since Mrs. Makevich, the owner of to the house, came the barn very rarely. Eventually, Mrs. Vanags introduced us to her husband Anton and her daughter Skaidrite, age sixteen. They were plain people – he was just a common laborer who shoveled coal at the railroad station – but they were good people.

July, August, and September passed by quickly. The soldiers had “dug” in, but there was almost no combat activity. They were encircled, but both sides did nothing. To keep the German soldiers busy, their officers loaned them to the SS, who were combing the nearby forest for Latvian and German deserters, as well as for escaped Jews.

Through Anton we found out that all the Dundaga camps and also the Poperwalen camp had been marched to Libau, a distance of about 140 kilometers. During that march, consisting of over five thousand Jews, of whom two-thirds were Hungarian and the rest the “old timers” from the ghetto, both Latvian and German, about one hundred of the Latvian Jews had escaped. Most of them were caught quickly, brought to Talsi, and shot there. Others held out for quite a while until they, too, were discovered. Only a handful were lucky enough to see freedom.

The winter months presented a new problem for us: The attic became bitter cold. As the supply of hay for the animals started to dwindle, we had to use some burlap bags that Anton brought. Matis and I talked a lot in order to forget the cold and the danger of being discovered. Klara told us one day that the German soldiers had discovered two Jews in the dairy plant not far away. They handed them over to the Latvians and their fate was sealed in Talsi.

By April the situation started to change in a subtle way. We heard the soldiers discussing the certainty of being taken prisoners by the Russians, and we heard from Klara that many little boats were leaving the harbor, carrying Latvians to Sweden. Most of them had been on very friendly terms with the Germans and had much to fear from the Soviets.

Then, on May 8, at noon, when the sun was at its highest point, Anton and Klara came into the barn and did not even bother to close the door behind them. Anton told us solemnly that he had just listened to the radio and heard that the Germans had signed the papers of capitulation! Hitler was dead! All of Germany was occupied by the Allies! We embraced each other and thanked God for permitting us to live. Then, the next day, May 9, we listened as Marshall Stalin told the Russian people that they had won and that the war was over!


It had taken us many years and much suffering, and now these last three hundred days were over too, thanks to such good people as Anton, Klara, and Skaidrite Vanags!




Abraham or Abrasha shpungin has lived in lsrael since 1971. He is currently working on his memoirs, entitled “Dos is doch geven asoi” from which these vignettes are culled. He is also active in the Association of Jews from Latvia and Estonia.

After his liberation in 1945, he went back to his native Jēkabpils and found out that his parents and brothers had been murdered by the Arajs Kommando at the swamps of Kukas. Among the murderers were erstwhile neighbors.

Mr. Shpungin finished university training with a degree in chemistry. He married Shelly Bers and they have two sons, Alexander and Reuven. When the Shpungins applied for a visa to Israel, in 1968, both of them lost their jobs and encountered many difficulties before being permitted to leave in l971. In Israel, Abraham worked at the Weizmann Institute until his retirement in 1987, and Shelly worked at a laboratory connected with a hospital. Their sons are well established and they have four grandchildren.

Abraham Shpungin has remained in touch with the Vanags family ever since his liberation. He is also in touch with Matis Frost, who lives in Rishon l,eZion, Israel. Both men testified when Gustav Sorge was indicted, but they were not permitted to leave Latvia to give their testimony in person.

Despite his harrowing experiences and the death of his loved ones, Abrasha Shpungin is not bitter. He feels, however, that none of these tales should be lost so that the world will remember what was done to innocent people for no other reason than the fact that they were Jewish.

Add a comment

HTML code is displayed as text and web addresses are automatically converted.

They posted on the same topic

Trackback URL :

This post's comments feed