The story

I arrived in Riga, Latvia, in January 1996, for a one year stay. Riga was covered in snow and the winter would last until the end of April. One of my Dutch acquaintances, editor of a marginal Jewish-Dutch magazine, had asked me casually to look into the situation of the Latvian Jews. So, at the end of February I visited the headquarters of the Riga Jewish Community in the Jewish Theater on Skolasiela. I spoke to Ms. Esfira Rapina, Cochairman of the Community. She mentioned Mr. Margers Vestermanis to me, the expert on the history of the Jews in Latvia and gave me his telephone number. I phoned Mr. Vestermanis, who happened to have his office in the same building, and got an appointment for the next day. He told me that he was very busy with the preparations for his museum just then so he could only give me one hour of his time. The next day I was received by Mr. Vestermanis in his office on the third floor of the building. After having introduced myself I was asked to be seated and he proceeded to tell a story. I was quite unprepared for what I was hearing. I had read Mr. Vestermanis' guidebook "Jews in Riga" but had no more than a very general notion of the history of Latvia during World War II. I took out my notebook and scribbled down some notes. It was not a planned interview and I only interrupted the story with questions in order to help the narration along. I did, for instance, ask during which year Mr. Vestermanis had arrived in Poperwahlen, but failed to find out at what date the Dutch came to the camp. The story was told to me because of my being Dutch. I asked Mr. Vestermanis whether he had written down his personal war experiences. He had not. He had been far too busy working on the history of the Jews in Latvia and thought his own experiences quite insignificant in that context. He did wonder though what had happened to those Dutch boys after the capitulation and he would like to hear from me if I could find out more about them. I promised I would try. He wrote down my name and filed me under "Holländer".

These are my notes. I might have missed some important details and possibly misrepresented some others. My written notes fail to convey that Mr. Vestermanis is a very charming host who tells his stories, however sad their content, in a most entertaining way with much detail. However, he is not an entertainer but a concerned historian who wants the history of the Jews in Latvia to be remembered and recorded for the benefit of the present and future generations He belongs to the very small group of Latvian Jews who lived through the war in Latvia and remained in the country.

POPERWAHLEN

[Based on notes made during an interview with Mr. Margers Vestermanis, Director of the Museum and Documentation Centre 'Jews in Latvia', on 20 February 1996.]

Mr. Vestermanis was an employee of the State Archives until 1963 [1965?]. During that year he worked, on the orders of his superiors, on a publication about the Second World War. One of the 7 [?] chapters dealt, modestly, with the persecution of the Jews in Latvia. A few days after handing in the manuscript he received orders to travel to Leningrad where he was to follow a course. His departure was so rapid that he could not even contact the five co-workers, who had worked under him. When he returned to Riga a few months later the work had been published, but without the chapter on the persecution of the Jews. [Publication of the Document Collection: Mes apsudzam. Latvijas PSR Ministru Padomas Arhivu parvalde. Riga, Liesma, 1965]. Shortly after that he was made redundant. Thanks to his contacts with the Union of Journalists, Mr. Vestermanis could continue publishing under a pseudonym. At present he is teaching history of the Second World War at the Riga University. He writes articles, mainly in German historical magazines.

Concentration camp 'Kaiserwald', on the outskirts of Riga, had many subsidiary camps. One of these was in 'Dundaga',[Germ. 'Dondangen'], north of 'Valdemarpils', in the province 'Kurzeme' [Engl. 'Curonia']. The old castle of Dundaga served as headquarters for the SS stationed there. Nearby was a 'SS-Panzerübungsplats'. 'SS-Bautrupen' were employed on the construction of military projects in this region. At present the nature park 'Slitere' is located here. The workforce was mainly made up of Jews but also of Russians and Belo-Russians.

Camp Dondangen had a 'Nebenlager', a subsidiary camp designated 'Dondangen II' or 'Camp Poperwahlen', because of the proximity of the hamlet Poperwahlen.

After the war a memorial stone was erected at the camp site, at the initiative of a local lady-school teacher. This stone, mentioning that a 'Todeslager für Juden' had been located there, was the first monument to mention Jewish victims of the war in Latvia. During the yearly commemoration of World War II, on the ninth of May, flowers were put at the foot of this monument.

Camp Poperwahlen was then situated near a small-gauge railroad, passing through a swampy area. The Camp had three 'Holländer Barakken', housing about a hundred Dutchmen. These barracks were not fenced in, but strict regulations were in force for leaving them. The Dutch, mainly young men, wore 'OT' [Organisation Todt] uniforms, but without the red arm band with the black cross. There were also Hungarians in the camp.

Mr. Vestermanis arrived in Camp Poperwahlen in November 1943, at which time the Dutch had not arrived yet. At first they did not have any shelter and slept in the open air. Many prisoners died during this period. Only after the prisoners had finished building barracks for the guards and a road were they given shelters. These were so called 'Fin-Zelten', pentagonal tents. Heating was provided by a kind of metal tube ("ein Kannister") in which wood could be burned. No bedding was provided, people slept on some straw on the ground. The prisoners were dressed in zebra striped clothes and their hair was shaved along the middle of the head, from front to back. The Jews had to collect wood for fuel, but not for the Dutch, who did this themselves.

The Dutch were, according to their own account, forced labourers, who were not overly enthusiastic about their work. They would sell their snow boots to the local peasants in exchange for food and then report themselves 'Schuh krank' (Shoe sick), saying: "Wie Verpflegung, so Bewegung" (We will move in accordance with the way we are treated). These Dutch had little contact with the Jewish prisoners, but would, occasionally, hand someone a piece of bread.

But there was another group of Dutch, belonging to the 'SS-Panzer Grenadiere Division', who had voluntarily joined the German forces. They had different functions in the camp administration as 'Kommandanten' and they supervised and guarded the prisoners. They were a very nasty lot. These men were in charge when the prisoners were marched to Ventspils, on June 27, 1944.

Mr. Vestermanis and others escaped during this march, joining a partisan group in which there were also some Russians and Germans. In autumn 1944 this group numbered 27 men. Out of these only three survived until the capitulation on May 9, 1945. These partisans were sometimes aided by the Baptist population of Northern Curonia. Some Baptists lived near Poperwahlen, growing potatoes for the nearby alcohol factory. (Baptist are not anti-Jewish and don't drink.) In spite of this support, the situation for the partisans was desperate. Before the offensive the region held about half a million Germans and after the capitulation about 300.000 were left. They called it the 'Kurland Kessel'.

After the capitulation Mr. Vestermanis had some problems clarifying his status to the liberators. He presented himself as a Jewish prisoner to the authorities, but he had not been known as such by his partisan contacts.

According to information gathered by Mr. Vestermanis locally after the war, the Dutch of Camp Poperwahlen had been transported to 'Tuckum' [Tukums] after the capitulation, claiming to be forced laborours. Their further fate is unknown.

Some geography

Poperwahlen is mentioned on a map made by Mr. Barnikel in 1747, on display in the Riga Historical Museum. The map indicates a church next to the place name. Nearby is Sasmacken, a small town which would be renamed Valdemarpils, after a Latvian poet, during the first Latvian Republic.

A road map of 1935 indicates a church and mentions 'Popervale Muiza' (estate) and Railway station 'Popvale' about 5 km. north of Valdemarpils This station was on the small-gauge line Talsi-Valdgale-Valdemarpils-Roja. There was a dirt road between the station and the hamlet, about 2 km distant, and another road from the station to another nearby small village named Lubezere. Next to the railway line was a road from Valdemarpils to Roja. The railway disappeared in the sixties and the path to Popervale is not indicated on modern road maps, only the road from Arlava to Popervale, which runs parallel to it about one km. to the south. Popervale belongs to the Arlava pagasts [district].

Camp Poperwahlen was situated near the station, a few hundred meters from the present crossing between the Lubezere-Popervale road and the Valdemarpils-Roja road. The memorial monument can be found on the right side of the road, on a small clearing in a thicket of high fir trees.

The monument is indicated on the Russian Military Survey Map of 1988, Nr. 0-34-94-B. The camp is also mentioned in the book "Kurzeme un Kurzemiki', 1995 edition, p. 132, no. 59. "Popervales koncentracijas nometnes vieta", but the accompanying map is not accurate.

Confirmation

The most obvious way to find out more about a Dutch presence in Latvia during the war seemed to be to ask the 'Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation' for information. I therefore sent the report of my interview with Mr. Vestermanis to this institute, with a request for information on the camp, its Dutch inhabitants and the presence of Dutch SS in Latvia. I received an answer from a librarian at the institute, informing me that no information relevant to my inquiry was to be found in the institute's library and that consultating the archives had proven fruitless. The writer could only refer to a recently published book with the story of a Dutchman, Mr. Hilbert de Groot, who had spent some months in Riga as a forced labourer, before escaping from his assignment and making his way back to Holland on forged documents. A copy of the relevant part of the work was enclosed.

Although this reply from the institute did not answer my questions, the fact that nothing whatsoever seemed to be known about the Dutch in Latvia at the most prominent institute in the Netherlands dealing with World War II history was as exciting as it was inexplicable. Unmapped areas on our globe are nowadays extremely rare and I had to give up my dreams about becoming an explorer of unknown continents at an early age, but blanks in the encyclopedia of world history still exist. Any amateur might stumble on the remains of a forgotten civilisation and even some gaps in the well documented history of World War II are bound to come to light.

The work sent to me by the institute offered some information that might lead to a first discovery. Camp Dondangen was mentioned as a place were many Dutch labourers were sent through Riga and the author referred to a document named:'Report on a tour of inspection to Dondangen, etc. d.d. 5-12-1943 by B. J. Hoekstra.'

I contacted the writer of the memoirs and asked him for a copy of the report mentioned by him. After some correspondence the author was willing to quote a passage from the document, confirming that at the time of writing 91 men had been working in Poperwahlen. These were presumably the same "about a hundred Dutchmen" mentioned to me by Mr. Vestermanis. However, my correspondent was at first not willing to supply me with a copy of the full report or other details and it took me some months to convince him of the importance of the document for Latvian historiography. I finally received the report at the end of August.

First visit to Poperwahlen

During the Easter holiday I travelled with my wife to Talsi, a small city 17 km. from Valdemarpils and 130 km. from Riga. We travelled by bus through an endless snow covered forest of birch and fir trees. Nearing Talsi the landscape opened up a bit and we entered a rolling country with wide vistas of snow covered fields interspersed with clumps of trees and patches of forest. Talsi is situated on a small lake at the foot of a hill. It makes a nice 19th century engraving, if one ignores the Soviet-built housing blocks surrounding the old city. There are a couple of churches with spires, one of them Baptist, and quite a lot of wooden buildings. The oldest part of the town is no doubt the hill itself. In olden times it must have served as a bastion against Vikings on the rampage, but at present there are no ramparts or other buildings of interest to be found on it. In the streets we noticed some Gypsies. They look like Indians and speak the Roma language, related to Hindi. We spent the night in the Soviet style hotel on the edge of the frozen lake, sharing the place that could hold a few hundred guests with one German.

The next day, Sunday, we took a bus to Valdemarpils. The bus was filled with locals on their way to visit relatives. People got off in the middle of nowhere to disappear in the snow towards small dilapidated farmhouses in the distance, carrying baskets with Easter presents. Only the smoke coming from the chimneys made it seem probable that living souls were out there. Valdemarpils looked quite deserted, but for some old men sitting on a bench in front of the church. Next to the church stands a huge monument for the poet Valdemars. We followed the main street, lined with wooden houses, duly ignored the Soviet blocks in the background and soon were in the countryside again, walking along a frozen lake, the 'Sasmakas ezer'. We passed a couple of isolated farms and came to the Arlava-Popervale crossing, where we turned left towards Popervale. From the edge of the distant forest we heard the howling of dogs, which, to my untrained ear sounded very much like the howling of wolves. However, my wife was sure that wolves did their howling only at night. When the church spire came in sight we made our way to the church and cemetery. There were some signs that a service had been held earlier that morning, a cross made from timber leaned against the church and some pussy willow catkins lay scattered on the porch. Because of the deep snow the graveyard was inaccessible. We saw some graves with German names, dating back to the First World War quite near the church.

From the church we traced back some hundred meters, passing a few ruined barns in the bend of the road towards the hamlet itself. The rivulet named Roja cuts through this road. A little further, on the left, a great house is seen at the end of a beech lined lane. The house is deserted though and obviously has been for a long time. Only in the outbuildings did we discern some signs of human occupation; wash drying on a line, firewood stashed against a wall. One or two farms followed on the left and the right, then we came to a bus stop saying "Popervale". A few meters further, just off the road, we saw a huge heap of boulders in the field. It might be that several generations of farmers had collected the stones encountered in the fields with their plow, it could also have been the result of hard labour done in a concentration camp.

Wading knee deep through the snow towards the stones I noticed that we were not the first to have decided on the second possibility. On top of the upper stones pebbles had been carefully put upright, as is the Jewish custom of old in marking the visit to a grave. I added a pebble. We returned the way we had come and made it back to Riga. When I told Mr. Vestermanis about my trip, he informed me that I had not been in the right place and that I had missed the memorial stone.

Meanwhile

Meanwhile I had tapped other possible sources of information, namely the Organisation of ex-Forced Labourers from the Netherlands and a historian working on the subject of the Dutch employed by the Germans during the war, Mr J. Keizer. The latter, an expert on Dutch forced labour, supplied me with the following facts which he himself had found in recently published German sources:

Notes:

'Konzentrations-Hauptlager' 'Riga-Kaizerwald' had 29 'Ausenlagers'; The camps at Dondangen formed part of this chain. There were two 'Lagers' at Dondangen, one for men, one for women,. The men worked on the maintenance of roads and railroads and built barracks, for military purposes. They were so called 'SS-Frontarbeiters'. The women cut wood and worked on the land. Both 'Lagers' were closed officially on August 21, 1944.

Dundangen had a satellite camp at Poperwahlen, with two 'Lagers', one for men, one for women. The 'Lager' for men was closed on 31 December 1944. The 'Lager for women was opened in November 1943 and closed mid-1944. The inhabitants of both lagers worked on the drainage of swamps. Most people in these camps came from the ghettos of Riga, Vilna, Daugavpils and Liepaja, but they had also some 'Reichsjuden' (Jews from Germany or from other the countries occupied by the Germans).

Mr. Keizer also introduced me to the subject of 'SS-Frontarbeiters'. To the layman it would seem that people carrying such a designation were part of the SS-organisation or at least closely collaborating with it of their own volition. This is not necessarily the case. Many 'SS-Frontarbeiters' (SS-FA) were forced labourers, although a part had voluntarily entered the service. Those who volunteered can be separated into the sympathisers and those who had had no or not much option but to volunteer. The percentage of the Dutch who volunteered to go to "Ostland" was initially high. (It is said that some volunteered for Ostland in order not to be sent as forced labourers to Germany, because of the risk of bombardments there). When the supply of volunteers dried up, the percentage of forced labourers rose. Those called up by the Dutch Labour Bureaus or that were sent through prison camps received a stamp saying 'Dienstverpflichteter Arbeiter' (DA) on their workpapers. Eventually, people who had come as volunteers were offered the choice either to renew there contracts or to stay on the job as 'Dienstverpflichteter Arbeiter'. They were not directly recruited by the German SS, but by a Dutch organisation, collaborating with the Germans, the so called Dutch East Company (N.O.C), not to be confused with the company that had traded with the East Indies. This organisation had negociated a monopoly with the Germans, giving it controll over all Dutch economic activities in the 'Ostland' region. This East Company had subsidiary companies, such as the Dutch East Building Company (N.O.B.). This building company would contract semi-military projects through the SS-construction branch. The Dutch contractor had only nominal influence on the fate of the Dutch workers; their direct employers and supervisors were Germans.

No more information about Camp Poperwahlen could be obtained through these sources. The organisation promised to place an advertisement in their bulletin in order to trace possible Dutch survivors of the camp. The advertisement appeared in their September issue, but had no result. A gentleman provided two names, but the addresses given proved to be no longer correct.

Ezergailis

In August 1996 a book came out by an American-Latvian historian, containing some more information on the Dundaga camps. I have copied here all relevant information on the subject contained in this work. [The work states explicitly that brief passages may be quoted in a review by a reviewer without permission in writing from the publisher. The publisher is hereby kindly informed that this is a review (of historical facts), by a qualified reviewer].

Andrew Ezergailis. The Holocaust in Latvia 1941-1944, The Missing Center, The Historical Institute of Latvia, Riga, publ. in ass. with The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Wash. D.C. ISBN 9984-9054-3-8, printed in Riga, 1996. (Hist. Inst: Tugeneva iela 19, LV-1003 Riga)

p. 361

In the spring of 1943 the construction of a new labor camp was begun in the Riga suburb of Mezaparks. .. Mezaparks served as home camp for various 'Kasernierungs' stations, where Jews lived and slept near the job site or in satellite camps....

Altogether, in 1943 the Jews worked at about 465 sites. The largest workforce was at the Dundaga camp, where in 1944 as many as 6,000 Jews may have been employed....

p. 363

... In general Jews preferred the live-in locations [above Mezapark], although the Dundaga camp, especially during the winter of 1943 to 1944, was almost a 'Vernichtung durch Arbeit' camp. ...

There was also a reorientation in the labor assignments [at the end of 1943]. The SD began to concentrate the Jewish labor on big projects: building airfields in Spilve and Panevezys (Lithuania) and the SS-Sea Camp in Dundaga. ...

p. 367

Dundaga.
Dundaga, in the northern part of Kurzeme, in mid-1943 became a major employer of Jews. The SS decided to establish Sea-Camp Dundaga (Seelager Dondogen). For this purpose the Germans ordered the clearing of Latvian farmers from three 'pagasts': Dundaga, Arlava, and Lubezere. According to Vestermanis, in the summer of 1943 about 5,000 Jews from Riga were delivered to Dundaga I. In November 1943 a second camp, Dundaga II, was established in the 'pagasts' Lubezere [Poperwahlen], which initially had 155 inmates; in February 1944, it had 450; and in June 1944, 1,000. If Vestermanis is correct, about 6,000 prisoners were in the two Dundaga camps. His version is substantiated by Abraham Shpungin, who added numerous details about the camp. According to Shpungin a third complex was added in May 1944, in which 5,000 Hungarian Jewish women from Auschwitz were housed. [2,000 according to Vestermanis].

The purpose of the Dundaga project was to create a germanizing colony in Latvia, to which eventually colonists from Germanic countries would be brought. In June, after the Soviet breakthrough in Jelgava, the project was abandoned. The Jews were driven to Liepaja for transport to Stutthoff and other locations in Germany. [Compare Vestermanis: 27 July 1944 march to Ventspils] The abandonment of the project gave an opportunity for about 300 Jews, among them Vestermanis, to escape and join the partisans in the Kurzeme forest. Life in the Dundaga plywood tents during the winter of 1943 to 1944 was terribly harsh. The death rate was very high (ten to twenty daily, according to Bunzl's testimony [?]), but it is not quite correct to call it, as do Joseph Berman and Abraham Shpungin, an extermination camp. It was more like a "destruction by labor" camp. ....

p. 136

Soon after the occupation the SD began to operate a number of agricultural estates, among them Jumpravmuiza, which was also operated as a concentration camp, and Malnava, which prior to the occupation was an agricultural school.

The largest countryside SD estate was Dundaga Sea Camp; three Kurzeme 'pagasts' [townships]: - Dundaga, Arlava, and Lubezere - were cleared to accommodate this enterprise.

p. 368

Reporting about Dundaga camp Abraham Shpungin thought that out of the 5,000 Hungarian women brought there only about 3,000 were shipped to Germany. ...

Footnotes:

Abraham Shpungin, "The Terrors of Dundaga", Schneider, Gertrude (ed.), The Unfinished Road: Jewish Survivors of Latvia Look Back, New York, Praeger, 1991, pp. 151-66.

The first commander of Dundaga, Kröschel had begun to bury the bodies in the sea under the ice. In April 1944, when the ice had melted, the corpses were washed up and were snared in fishermen's nets, Kröschel was replaced by Gustav Sorge (nicknamed Iron Gustav) He created a special "Bathing Commando" whose assignment was to fish the bodies out of the Baltic and Burn them. Sphungin's version of three Jewish camps in Dundaga area is substantiated by Ernest Abols [long a], "No Voldemara Veza dienasgramatas", 'Talsu vestis', 14 Aug. 1993. Abols informs us that the Jewish camps were in Jaundundaga, by the Videle road, and near Mazirbe road. The Jewish camps consisted of "tartar shacks", tents made of impregnated 4 mm cotton material. In the center was an iron stove, and in place of a floor there was straw that was never changed.

Vestermanis' Das SS-Seelager Dondangen [Das SS-Seelager Dondangen - Ein Modell für die geplante nazistische "Neuordnung Europas", Militärgeschichtliches Institut der DDR, Ed. Militärgeschichte 2, pp. 145-146, Berlin, Militärverlag der DDR, 1986].

For the story of Vestermanis' life with the partisans, see Samsons: Kurzemes mezi salc: Partizanu un izluku cina kara pedeja gada Kurzeme, 1944-1945, Riga, Liesma, 1974, pp. 124, 281, 283, 285.

Deposition by Joseph Berman, 1 December 1947 (Yad Vashem, 02/870) [he claims to be the only survivor]

Related passages passim:

p. 120

The Nazis had a problem with the shortage of Germans. It was generally thought that whatever numbers they lacked in Reich Germans could be made up with Belgians, Dutch, Danes, and Norwegians. ...

Until the last, in 1944, the Nazis devoted enormous effort, using thousands of Jews, in building the Dundaga Sea Camp, which was to be a model latifundum [sic.] for the New Europe. Hundreds of Latvian farmers were dispossessed.

p. 129

The major assignments of the German civilian government in Latvia was germanisation. Numerous germanising measures were introduced or attempted: [18 listed, no 17 : Bringing Dutch, Belgian, and Danish industrial and agrarian experts to Latvia.]

p. 138

Footnote 18: It must however be noted that the replacement of Latvian population in some regions, such as the Dundaga project and the rounding up of workers for Germany in Latgale, even if not massive, was extensive. ...

It is noticeable that Ezergailis, although stressing the intended 'Germanisation', fails completely to mention the actual presence of the Dutch in Latvia. Having gone through his work in vain for any clues on my Dutchmen I wrote to Mr. Ezergailis, asking him whether he had come across any Dutch during his ten year research into the destruction of the Jews in Latvia. He replied: "The only reference I have found about Dutchmen being in Latvia is a document where it is mentioned that some Dutch fishery experts had arrived in Latvia to survey the possibilities of developing a fish processing industry."

By the time I received his answer I had received some more Dutch material on the N.O.C. activities in 'Ostland', and in this material the fisheries mission is documented. To quote a Dutch paper of 21 Jan. 1943: "In order to give guidance to all Dutch fisheries initiatives in the occupied Eastern regions the Dutch East Fishery Co (N.O.V.). was founded in the Hague. ... During a study trip the possibilities for Dutch fishermen on the East-sea and in the nearby lakes were researched. ..."

The operations remained restricted to a Dutch project on lake Peipus in Estonia

It is extraordinary that Mr. Ezergailis would not have found out more about the Dutch in Latvia during his research, because another Latvian historian had written on the Dutch presence previously. It was again Mr. Vestermanis who pointed out the work of Janis Dzintars to me, when I visited him to tell him that I had been to Poperwahlen.

Dzintars

Finding the work meant by Mr. Vestermanis was not easy. I only had the name of the writer, not a title, and was told that I was to look for a work written in Russian. I went to the main library. The system is rather complicated. On showing a valid identification one can register as a reader and receive a library card. Next, one consults the card files and fills in the titles required on requesting forms. This part of the proceedings is quite universal, but subsequentely one has to obtain a paper called 'tallon', a word probably related to English 'tally', validated with a date stamp. This paper has to be handed over with the request to the library assistant, who will find the book requested and hand it over after marking the 'tallon'. The books cannot be taken out and are only to be consulted on the premises. At certain hours someone is present to operate the copy machine. After handing back the works borrowed the 'tallon' is marked again and has to be handed in at the administration desk. It turned out that Mr. Dzintars had quite a list of publications to his name and that none of his works in Russian contained any reference to the Dutch. Eventually I found the right chapter in a Latvian work and had it copied. Not knowing any Russian (except its script) or Latvian, both mastering the library proceedings and working through the texts was quite an experience. A colleague of my wife was kind enough to provide a translation on tape. The tapescript is as follows:

J. Dzintars, [Dzintar = Amber, Bernstein]Nepaklavigie. Liepajas un Lejaskurzemes Darbalauzu Cina Hitleriskas Okupacijas Gados, Latvijas PSR Zinatnu Akademija, Vestures Instituts. Zinatne, Riga, 1988.

pp. 50-55: KANGARU ALGA (Tapescript of oral translation by C.H)

page 51

The best possibilities for collaboration according to the German fascists would be found in the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Norway. Of course, while providing the Dutch and other representatives of the Aryans with work and bread the German fascists didn't think for a minute about giving them back the lands won "with German blood". No, they were fated to have only the role of helpers: managers and economic actors.

On 29 November 1941 Alfred Rosenberg told H. Loshe that he had made the final decision to set up a workforce in the East from the Germanic North and that he had informed the Dutch 'Reichskommisar' Seyss Inquart and the Norwegian 'Reichskommisar' Terboven about this decision. (With Denmark the discussions had been sought already). To get a better picture of the conditions in Ostland a special commission arrived in March 1942. This commission was joined by an official from the local apparatus. On 8 May 1942 in a discussion between Rosenberg and Hitler. Rosenberg could already mention several concrete projects in the Ostland (for instance the Danes were renewing a cement factory, the Dutch were planning a peat operation and Seyss Inquart had shown Rosenberg a plan for the foundation of a rather large Dutch colony near Liepaja etc.). The Führer would in principle accept the idea of Dutch colonists, if there were less than one thousand people, only on that scale.

This all happened before the Soviet victory at the Volga. After the end of 1942 nothing was heard of colonisation projects (in fact they were subject to censorship). They did still figure in Himler's long speeches because he up until the end of the war repeated what Hitler had tended to stress at the beginning of the Russian campaign. In practice this plan would mean that all the Latvian peasants of the Kurland area (including the Nazi's supporters and the criminals of the police battalions), who had the better land, would have their property confiscated. But they themselves as 'general plan' "Ost" provided for would become the servants of the Dutch fascists on their estates or they would be sent on farther to the East. Of course this decision inspired the Dutch fascists whose ancestors had in the course of the centuries gained a great experience in the exploitation of indigenous peoples from their colonies in Indonesia, South America and elsewhere.

And thus, on June 18th 1942, in the newspaper "Kurzemes Vards" there appeared a rather long article: "Dutch economic employees in Liepaja". The article says that on a trip to the Ostland Reichskommisariat in the city on the 16th of June, there had been a Dutch economic delegation in Liepaja with the "Nederlandsche Oost Compagnie" minister with general prerogatives, also one of the Dutch National Socialists' leaders, Rost van Tonningen and the Dutch Reichskommisar's representative Volkmar. The article also mentioned that the Dutch fascist delegation was there as guests of Reichsminister A. Rosenberg and that "they were here to familiarise themselves with the possibility of supporting with economic growth".

p. 52

First the guests had made contact with the local 'Kommisariat', with it's leading members, and only after that were leading Latvian economic people involved in discussions. They expressed the hope that between Ostland and Holland there would be ever closer relations and there were also proposals about "where and when the Dutch specialists could be used presently".

There was a second article in the "Kurzemes Vards" of 30 August 1942 called: "Dutch rural workers are working in Ostland". But information in this text was only about the use of these workers for special tasks in the occupied region, but not about the possibility for the Kurland big farmers to exploit these Dutch workers. But these were special projects. This is made clear in the book of John Reitlinger, who mentions that not far from Vilnius in 1942 there were two estates with a dairy concentration under control of the Dutch. In the second half of 1942 the "Nederlandsche Oost Compagnie" in Lithuania, near Vilnius, had already settled several hundreds of Dutch colonists who were guarded by special armed units. According to Nazi documentation, after the Soviet victory at the Volga this flow of Dutch colonialists into Lithuania had stopped, but the Dutch started to flee after the loss of Kursk and the growth of Soviet power and activity near Vilnius in the second half of 1943, so that in May 1944 there were only 235 Dutch people left in Lithuania.

It has not been possible to find a total number for the Dutch in occupied Latvia, but it is mentioned that in the spring of 1943 there was a "Bauerschule" working in Malpils under the auspices of the "Nederlandsche Oost Compagnie"; there were 13 Dutch people being employed. But in de Pagast of Usava there was quite a large project making peat bricks. Their quota was 30.0000 tons of peat a year and also they had a tar factory which could produce 5.000 tons a year. But already in the fall of 1942 in Riga, at Smilsu 8, the "Nederlandsche Oost Compagnie" founded its head office, and that was still active in May 1944.There were several Dutch who came in the fall of 1942 to run estates in Kurland. For example Sknabes muiza, Libagu Pagast, was run by such a person. However he was afraid to bring over his family and he himself fled back to Holland in the fall of 1943.

Sources Dzintars (Footnotes):

G. Reitlinger, The House Built on Sand. The conflicts of German Policy in Russia, 1939-1945, London, 1960. p. 154, 155 [Dutch on two estates near Vilnius in 1942; episode about Sknabes].]

S. Myllyniemi, Die Neuordnung der Baltischen Länder, 1941-1944, Helsinki, 1973, S. 97 & S163-169 & S. 169-172

Polijas Kara Vestures Instituta arhivs (Polish Archives of Military History), T-454. f., 100 filma,
    001 032.- 001 035., Dutch N.O.C workers near Vilnius 1942
    001 077., idem
    001 156.,2nd half 43-May 44, 235 Dutch near Vilnius
    001 185. - 001 202.,idem
    000 416.,Spring 43: 13 N.O.C. at Malpili; also at Sarnati
    001 051.- 001 054.,Number of Dutch in Ostland 4500-5000
    001 159.- 001 161. kadrs.idem.

Kurzemes Vards, 1942, 18 June & 9 Sept.

Names mentioned in the text:

    Alfred Rosenberg, 'Reichsminister' of the Eastern Territories'
    Hinrich Lohse, 'Reichskommisar' for 'Reichskommissariat Ostland'
    Seyss Inquart, Arthur 'Reichskommisar' Holland
    Terboven?, 'Reichskommisar' Norway
    Rost van Tonningen, M.M.NSB-er (Dutch National-Socialist, SS-member; founder of the Nederlandsche Oost Compagnie)
    Volkmar, Representative of the Dutch 'Reichskommisar'

Having mailed this translation to my Dutch contacts I eventually received confirmation of the facts contained in it. The Polish archives don't seem to have been consulted by the Dutch yet, but there is plenty of material to be found in Dutch works, based on material in Dutch archives. It appears that Volkmar even published a brochure about the mission.

Mr. Vestermanis told me that Dzintars himself had spent part of the war working on an agricultural project run by the Dutch in Kurzeme, before joining the partisans. At present the whereabouts of Dzintars, a former 'KGB' historian, are unknown. It is said he went to Moscow after Latvian independence.

The Hoekstra Report

As indicated earlier, On August 31 I received the report by J.B. Hoekstra mentioned in the memoirs of a Dutchman who had been to Latvia during the war. I only give the translation of the part concerning Dondangen and Poperwahlen, though other camps in the region are mentioned. The report ends with a general description of the situation, heavily criticising the SS and giving recommendations. The writer is one of the two directors of the Nederlandsche Oost Bouw (N.O.B.), a subsidiary of the Nederlandsche Oostcompagnie (N.O.C.) and a member of the SS. He wrote several reports on the situation of the Dutch in the camps and eventually succeeded in reorganising the N.O.B. As a result he was fired. His non-related namesake, P. Hoekstra, was the other director of the N.O.B. This other Hoekstra would at the end of 1944 evacuate about 300 Dutch 'employees' from Curonia through the port of Liepaja. These men reached Holland before the end of the war there.(5 May 1945).


Riga , 5 December 1943

B.J. Hoekstra

Report on an inspection trip of the Workforces at Dundangen, Poperwahlen, Vainode, Mitau en Riga.

Dundangen

On our way to Dundangen we saw the car of Stubaf. Blaschek coming back. On arrival at D. it appeared that this "Gentleman", together with Stand.f. Bachl and Ustuf. Böttcher had been there on a visit. Later I heard from Obzf. Seveke that they had requested him to obtain the required foodstuffs from farmers in the neighbourhood in the context of this important visit. He refused but the banquet took place anyway and consequently the people billeted with the Zentralbauleitung had to eat dry bread.

During my visit to Dundangen it became clear to me that Uschaf. Waldschmidt, who, for all practical purposes is in charge there, is one of those Germans who regard the Dutch as their enemies and treat them accordingly. Fruitful cooperation between this man and the N.O.B. is thus out of the question.

In addition I had a conversation with Ostuf. Schön, in the presence of Mr. Jansen, Mr. van Dijk, Obzf. Seveke and Mr. Bos. Once again, it was pointed out that a significant number of the workforce was unable to work due to the fact that the clothing was totally inadequate. Ostuf. Schön admitted fully that these men were not fit to appear on the job. He called it "Schweinerei" that the SS hadn't provided enough clothing.

It was agreed that the clothing which had arrived in the meantime ( which consisted of overcoats, shoes, Kopfschütze, Leibbinden, gloves, pullovers, kneewarmers, etc. but no spare clothing such as underwear, stockings, trousers and jackets) would be distributed. After the distribution they would determine what was still lacking.

Ostuf. Schön asked when the "Vesta" with the long-awaited materials would arrive. I asked him to give me a list of tools and construction equipment that were still needed. He said that the list which had been handed over by Ostuf. Schulz to Mr. P. Hoekstra previously still held good.

I added that during my last visit I had spoken with Stubaf. Blaschek about the setting up of a laundry for our people at the location of the biggest workforce[inzet] (so probably Dundangen). At that time, Mr. Blaschek didn't think it necessary. Ostuf. Schön was, however, enthusiastic and wanted to have this laundry in operation as soon as possible. He maintained that the workforce [inzet] would be expanded continuously until it reached at least 10,000 men and that there would be plenty of work for the next ten years.

As far as the heavy equipment is concerned, the same list would apply as for Vaivara with the addition of some earth movers. Uschaf. Waldschmidt had asked me to send him a complete carpenters' workshop but Ostuf. Schön did not consider this necessary because all the timber would be delivered ready for use.

Visit to both Camps [Lagers]

The first camp was in an old stone building housing about 60 men. Everything was still extremely primitive but they were busy improving one thing and another. There was no electricity. The remainder of the approx. 200 men slept in a newly built, but not completely finished, wooden barrack. Some of the men were still sleeping on straw on the ground. The kitchen was makeshift but considered quite good and the food was prepared by Dutch cooks so there were no complaints about the food.

[page2]

The clothing was very poor. Uschaf. Waldschmidt had intended to let the men work without shoes on. This however, won't happen because Ostuf. Schön was in complete agreement with us, that it would have been inhuman.

During my visit, Mr. Seveke was, for the present time, appointed workforce [inzet = Einsats] leader of the entire Dundangen workforce [inzet]. Bauführer Bos, though making a very good impression is not capable of supervising a greater number of men than he does at present. We decided to send Mr. van 't Veer there as Lagerführer. Mr. Schuller tot Peursum serves as "kaufmännisch" leader in Dundangen. But it remains to be seen whether he is suitable for this function.

In general we were able to ascertain that the situation in Dundangen is in a stage of early development. The "Zentralbauleitung" is an undisciplined gang given to daily alcohol abuse who is absolutely unworthy of leadership. It goes without saying that our people suffer from this.

Poperwahlen

Workforce [inzet] of 91 men.
This metropolis, not even marked on army survey maps, consists of a few farms and nothing else. Here we met Ustuf. Hemicker who was construction leader [bouwleider = Bauleiter] and who made a very good impression. He belongs to that type of Germans who in their military function may make their power felt but are basically good hearted. He himself lived without any luxuries and regretted very much that the men were so poorly clothed. He didn't even consider putting them to work. They were to stay in the barrack. Besides, he promised that our men, provided they had clothing and tools, would be put to work independent of the German firms that were already established there. He was sympathetic to our aim of having Dutch workers serve under Dutch leadership and promised his full cooperation.

The men were, once again, sleeping in a barrack that was not yet finished but that promised to be of good quality.

There were no complaints about the food, which was prepared by Dutch cooks and sufficient in quantity. There was no electricity.

The general impression that I got of Poperwahlen was that the leaders had the best of intentions regarding our people and that this workforce [inzet] was promising. The German assistant of the construction leader [bouwleider], Wachtmeister Fischer, also made a very good impression.

Mr. Baars, detached from Dundangen, had served as workforce [inzet] leader. He was, however, not capable of providing leadership to the whole workforce [inzet]. Therefore he was relieved of this duty and given the technical supervision of the Baustelle Poperwahlen while Mr. Seveke was made workforce [inzet] leader for the time being. Further we met Bauführer P. v. Vliet, and Chief cook Sommer, who acts as Lagerführer at the same time.

Names mentioned in the report:

B.J. Hoekstra : Writer of this report , architect, SS-er, Second Director of 'Nederlandsche Oost Bouw'

Dundangen.

    Stubaf. Blaschek: Representative of the SS-Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt at the civilian German government in Riga.
    Stand.f. Bachl
    Ustuf. Böttcher
    Obzf. Seveke: temporary 'Einsats' leader of Dundangen
    Uschaf. Waldschmidt: leader in Dondangen, for all practical purposes
    Ostuf. Schön
    Mr. Jansen
    Mr. van Dijk
    Bauführer Bos
    Mr. P(ieter) Hoekstra: Director of 'Nederlandsche Oost Bouw' (Not related to J.B. Hoekstra)
    Mr. van 't Veer: Lagerführer
    Mr. Schuller tot Peursum: "kaufmännisch" leader (Construction company Van Doorn en Schuller to Peursum)

Poperwahlen.

    Ustuf. Hemicker: 'Bauleiter' Probably Ernst Hemicker, the construction specialist who had organised the digging of the pits at Rumbula. (30 Nov. and 8 Dec. 1941)
    Wachtmeister: Fischer: assistant 'Bauleiter'
    Mr. Baars: first 'Einsatz Leiter' Dundangen, later technical supervisor of Poperwahlen
    P. v. Vliet: Bauführer
    Sommer: Chief cook , Lagerführer

Vesta: One of the ships belonging to the "Nederlandsche Oost Rederij", a branch of the N.O.C. They started out with a fleet of six small coasters and later a few bigger "KNSM"" ships, the "Vesta" and the "Orion" were added to this fleet.[David Barnouw: Rost van Tonningen, Fout tot het bittere eind.]

But what has happened to the Dutch boys?

By now it had become clear to me that I was not walking 'terra incognita' in history land and that there had to be more. Names as 'Seyss Inquart' and 'Rost van Tonningen' are well known in the Netherlands, even by the less informed of the post war generations like myself. If an official Dutch mission had taken place, as described by Dzintars, the Dutch historical and juridical archives were bound to contain an abundance of related documents. However, it was probable that many documents relating to the operations of the N.O.C. had been lost and it seemed logical that the 'Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation' had taken my request for information on Poperwahlen seriously and indeed did not possess any information relating to that particular camp. Provided that the Hoekstra document sent to me by Mr. H. de Groot had been laying on an attic for the last 50 years, only to be used for a few historically insignificant quotes in a marginal work, I had unearthed a valuable document, providing at least some details on previously unknown Dutch presence in Latvia.

I enthusiastically made several copies of the document, which I sent off to the Dutch War Documentation Centre, the organisation of former forced labourers and Mr. Keizer. I also made an English translation, which I handed to Mr. Vestermanis and sent to Ezergailis. I had hardly finished distributing copies when I received a letter from De Groot's publisher, informing me that the document had originally come from the archives of the War Documentation Centre.

This comment was not so much disappointing as puzzling. Why had the Dutch War Documentation Centre failed to give me correct information? I immediately wrote a letter to my informant at the centre, asking him for an explanation. I received neither a reaction to the copy of the Hoekstra report which I had sent, nor to my request for an explanation. After some time, I decided to phone the institute. I was told the correspondence had been handed over to the institute's N.O.C specialist, Mr. David Barnouw, editor of Rost van Tonningen's correspondence and writer of van Tonningen's biography. Mr. Barnouw phoned me a few days later explaining the matter. The archives contained about 200 boxes of unsorted N.O.C documents. It was impossible to check whether the document I had provided was among them without engaging in a time consuming search. The problem was not so much the lack of documents on the subject, as my earlier correspondent had indicated, but the abundance. However, Mr. Barnouw promised to send me some more material on the N.O.C. in general, from his own hand. Before this material arrived I received a letter from Mr. Pontier, Director of the Forced Labourers organisation, in reaction to the Hoekstra report. He informed me that the report had been mentioned in an article on the 'SS-Frontarbeiters', written by an expert of the War Documentation Centre. [ Studies over Nederland in Oorlogstijd, deel 1, red. drs . A.H. Paape, s'Gravenhage, Martinus Nijhoff, 1972.: hfdst. 7. E. Fraenkel-Verkade, met medewerking van A.J. van der Leeuw: Nederlandse SS-Frontarbeiders, pp. 117-169.] He also sent me an article written shortly after the war containing much information on the activities of the N.O.C. in 'Ostland' and some personal reports from members of his organisation who had worked as forced labourers in Estonia and Latvia. I wrote another letter to the War Documentation Centre requesting a copy of the article mentioned by Pontier. I received a copy to find out that several reports by Hoekstra on Latvia were known. Meanwhile I had received Barnouw's work on the N.O.C., which also referred to the same article. Eventually Mr. Keizer wrote me that the Hoekstra report had been published during the war in a pro-Nazi magazine.

Further requests to the War Documentation Centre to provide me with copies of the documents mentioned in the 'Fraenkel-Verkade' article* were not answered. [They could not be found because repeated repacking of the documents had made the numbering of the documents given in the article invalid]. I give this dénouement of my exploits in historical research as a rapid sequence of events, which in a way it was after the period of about 9 month since I had started out on my quest for the missing boys in the course of which I wrote about 35 letters and received half as many as I sent.

I utterly failed to uncover the fate of the Dutch at Poperwahlen, but at least succeeded in finding some material confirming Mr. Vestermanis' story about their presence. His reaction on receiving the Hoekstra report was by far the most positive. When I came to his office some time later it appeared that he had just spoken about me to Mr. Prokopovits, the former mayor of Valdemarpils and director of a private museum in that city. Mr. Prokopovits would be willing to show me around in his museum as well as in Popervale and I should contact him myself.

* Such as:
    Doc. I B.J. Hoeksta, Rapport van B. J Hoekstra van 14 dec.1943 over de Oostbouw: Betr. kleding, ligging, medische keuring, alsmede voorstel tot verbetering.
    Doc. I B.J. Hoeksta, voorts RvT NOC 9,1 ad, brief van J.B. Hoekstra aan Rost van Tonningen van 23 nov. 1943, betr. zijn a.s. tweede inspectiereis over kleding, schoeisel, ligging en behandeling. ...
    Rapport van G.A. Maas en Hoekstra van 11 Jan. 1944, in RvT NOC9,1-'181: Overzicht van inzetplaatsen met aantallen die daar werkten..

and on P. Hoekstra:
    Woordelijk verslag van het NOC-proces voor het Bijzonder Gerechtshof te Rotterdam in april 1949 (3-VIII, p. 13, 24) en woordelijk verslag van het NOC-proces voor de Byzondere Raad van Cassatie in 1950 (42. p. 7-9 in Doc. II NOC-proces, C1 en C2)
    Woordelijk verslagvan het geding tegen NOC en NOB voor de rechtbank in Rotterdam in april 1949, 2e dag (2VI 1-4)

Mr. Erik Prokopovits

Mr. Vestermanis had provided me with the address and phone number of Mr. Prokopovits, the former socialist mayor of Valdemarpils. Mr. Prokopovits, originally from Jelgava, had visited the other day and Vestermanis had mentioned me and the Hoekstra Report. When I phoned Mr. Prokopovits it turned out that we did not have a language in common, but mentioning my name and Mr Vestermanis and shouting "Saturday morning" in Russian several times seemed to do the trick.

On Friday 27 September I travelled to Talsi. The journey was not much different from my first trip in April, the serene beauty of snow had been changed for the magnificent colours of autumn, without much improving the general aspect of the either wooded or barren landscape. Curonia might have much to offer to the entomologist or herbalist, but the general traveler can only wonder what ever attracted people to settling in these uninviting expanses of wasteland. On reaching Talsi I took a room in the hotel and being single this time I had a view from the roof of the neighbouring sports centre instead of over the lake. I decided to spend the afternoon exploring Talsi and found my way to the Jewish cemetery, a few kilometers out of Talsi, past Dzintari just over the ring road. On the map the cemetery had seemed to cover quite some ground, but in reality there was not much left of the place. It had been overgrown by forest and I only found back a few broken grave markers. After scratching away some of the lichen with a stick I found the name of 'Abraham Ben Yehuda 'on one of them.

Next I visited the local museum and asked whether they had anything on the Second World War. A young Latvian lady with very long blond hair and reasonable English working at the museum brought me to the first floor, where one small room was dedicated to both the Soviet period and the Nazi occupation. I read the document awarding the Iron Cross to a Latvian hero, the cross itself pinned next to it and looked at a belt buckle saying: "Gott mit Uns". No, the lady agreed, they did not have much on the German occupation, but that, she volunteered, reflected the fact that little had happened in Kurzeme during this period. The real suffering had been under the Soviets and that was too recent to exhibit in the museum. I reminded her of the terrible battles fought in the region and of the hardships of the partisans, but she maintained that these incidents had hardly affected the local population. The Latvians had suffered from the 'collectivisation' under the Soviets and the resulting deportations of opponents to Siberia. As a last resource I ventured bringing up the former Jewish population of the city. Yes, indeed, the Jews had owned all big houses and shops in the main streets of Talsi, the former synagogue, now an apartment building, was next to the church. Since independence their relatives had come back to claim the properties once belonging to these Jewish families. They often succeeded in getting back their properties, whereas Latvian families, with similar claims, often failed. Their routine was to drive up the rents of the places returned to them, forcing the inhabitants out.

After this excursion I had a dinner at the hotel and retired early. The next morning I went to the bus station, formerly the train station, early, planning to procure some breakfast there. The ticket vendor was watering the plants in her office and made me wait. Eventually she was willing to attended to me. I ordered one ticket to Valdemarpils in my best Latvian, and, knowing it to be bad, stuck up my index finger while speaking. I was told the price, put down the requested amount and received two tickets to Valdemarpils.

The lady refused to take back one of the tickets. I tried in vain to involve a lady who stood waiting behind me and who had watched the proceedings. She merely exchanged some words with the vendor clearly meaning: "dammed nuisance, these foreigners." I just managed to catch the nine o'clock bus to Valdemarpils and handed my two tickets to the driver, who remarked that I appeared only to be one person. I just took a seat without attempting to comment and after the driver had remarked to some of my fellow passengers: "dammed nuisance, these foreigners". We took off, arriving half an our later at my destination. It should be added that the price of public transport is very low (to a foreigner) and that the incident mentioned only set me back a few dimes. Of course I had not had any breakfast.

The town looked deserted, even the bench in front of the church was not occupied. I walked down the street and eventually asked for directions to Dzirnavu or 'Mill' street from an elderly gentleman who happened to come out of a shop. He answered in Russian that he did not know. I continued down the street until I came to a square where two cars were parked, the drivers inside. The first driver did not know, but the second, a lady surrounded by baskets filled with tomatoes, did; I had to walk back to the church and turn left, past the church. When I reached the church I met the same gentleman I had consulted before, but meanwhile the man had recovered from the surprise of having been accosted by a foreigner and asked me whether I, by any chance, spoke English. It turned out that the lady I had met selling tomatoes was his wife, furthermore, he happened to live on Mill street himself and was acquainted with Mr. Prokopovits. He would gladly bring me to him himself. On top of that I would be able to avail myself of the car driven by his wife later in the day, after the tomatoes were sold. The man was a sport-teacher in retirement from Daugavpils and his son a Riga based architect, presently constructing a huge mansion on Mill street for his parents and himself. He had not spoken any English for the last 20 years or so, but rapidly recovered his skills in this language. I might have found out a lot more about the man and his family, but by now we had reached the humble abode of the former Mayor. The house was more a kind of wooden hut, leaning over slightly and in bad need of some paint. The backyard was fenced in and the stash of firewood was guarded by a black mongrel, who raised a terrible din on our approach. My guide knocked on the door, initially without any result. We had been followed by a small gypsy boy on a tricycle on our way up and the boy now tried expertly but without much success to quiet down the dog.>Eventually a lady appeared in the door, who, having understood the reason for all this disturbance, closed the door on us. About 15 minutes later Mr. Prokopovits emerged from the house, dressed in his best suit, with shining shoes and an attaché case under his arm. I shook hands with my host, took leave of my guide and followed Mr. Prokopovits, who was presently victim to a terrible bout of morning smoker's cough, into a lot of kitchen gardens towards a soviet housing block, while Mr. Prokopovits benignly greeted the ladies working at their cabbages we passed on our way. It was hard to tell Mr. Prokopovits' age. He was of medium height, very lean if not emaciated, fast in his movement and probably looking younger than his age. He had clearly known better days, but probably had always been slightly roguish in appearance. I gave him 60 years.

We were on our way to meet with our interpreter, who we found at a cottage. The middle aged lady I was introduced to spoke some German, but had not done so for at least thirty years. Actually she had never spoken it very much, having used the language mainly for making translations of written material. She seemed at least to understand my German quite well and was able to convey my questions to Prokopovits but could not translate his answers to me. Anyway, we took off for the museum put together by Prokopovits himself. It is housed in the former railway station on the outskirts of the town. The museum was of the type we call in Holland a "Culture Room". A hotsch potch of items representing local history and culture, from archeological remains of prehistoric times to beer bottles not seen in the shops at present. Carpenters' tools, farming implements, assorted crockery, costumes, weapons of all sorts and diverse curios and oddities. Besides, there were maps, pictures and documents. One wall was dedicated to the German occupation. In a showcase the prescribed food rations for prisoners were laid out on tea saucers, with the weights in grammes on labels next to them. On the wall several documents were hung. Among these was a handwritten list of Jewish names with the amounts of money and valuables confiscated written next to the names.

The Jews of Valdemarpils were shot one evening in the court of the prison. The exact date, their names and number are to be found in the museum. The writer Ezergailis gives the number found in the 1935 statistical survey of Latvia: Valdemarpils 159; 14.01% of the total population. He adds: "To ascertain the approximate number of Jews killed in the locations designated one must discount one third from the 1935 count." (footnote 88, p. 237) Since I forgot to take notes while in the museum the reader is referred to this more 'scientific' approach to the holocaust.

While I was surveying the treasures of this private museum it had been decided that another interpreter would be needed to make the trip to Poperwahlen. Another speaker of German had been located, but would not be available until after lunch. Mr. Prokopovits worked hard on curing his cough by smoking cigarettes in front of the station while my interpreter fought hard to recover some of her German fluency. She asked me to tell her more about myself, so she could get used to the language while listening. I explained to her that I did not know anything about the history of the region, that I had stumbled on this thing by accident and that she should not worry about translating since it did not make a bit of difference anyway. That appeared to help, for now the lady succeeded in telling me her story, be it in halting language.

She had been a young girl then, 14 years old. She felt sad and ashamed now about what had happened. Then and later people had not cared, it had not concerned them, only foreigners. But she remembered the evening it had happened. They all knew and it had been terrible. Some people had been sad, others had rejoiced that the Jews had gone. All the big houses and the shops had been owned by them.

She regretted not having cared more now; it's just that she had never thought about it. To Poperwahlen she had been once in those days, that is, close to the camp. Her father had been a forester during that period. He had been near the camp more often, and had brought some bread there at times.

While waiting Mr. Prokopovits told me he had been to Holland once, in an official capacity. He had fond memories of the miniature city 'Madurodam'. It also became clear that he had understood from Mr. Vestermanis that I was one of the Dutch survivors of camp Poperwahlen so he had been looking forwards to receiving my information about the camp. Here in Valdemarpils nothing could be found. All documents had been destroyed. Most people who had known the camp had died. My translation of the Hoekstra report was as much as he had ever seen on paper about the camp. Before leaving the museum I should mention one more item in the collection: A worm-eaten wooden Christ figure, that once must have adorned a road crossing. He had lost his cross and his arms had been detached and laid next to the body. It was old and well done.

Poperwahlen (2)

The new interpreter finally arrived. This was a younger person with a considerably greater command of the German language. She actually lived in Talsi, were she worked in the archives of the housing department but she was visiting her parents in Valdemarpils. We walked the now superfluous interpreter back to her cottage, thanked her, and went to the main road. Here Mr. Prokopovits hailed a car, with the imperative gesture one would use requesting vehicles 'in name of the revolution' and we all got in. Our driver, an elderly farmer, happened to know all about Poperwahlen. As a young boy he had lived quite near the camp. A distance of five kilometers at high speed is too short to gather a lot of information, but I tried to find out through my interpreter what had happened to the Dutch. No luck. The man mentioned that their had been Spanish prisoners as well and that the foreigners had been working on a nearby military airfield. What had happened to Dutch or Spanish he obviously did not know. He only mentioned that a lot of foreigners had been buried near Ogre. When we got out he explained that the Jews had lived in tents made out a kind of cardboard, that much I knew already from other sources.

We had to walk a few hundred meters from the crossroads where we had been dropped passing two small farms before reaching our destination, the memorial stone. The monument was erected in 1975, at Mr. Prokopovits' initiative. During the following years memorial services had been held here on the ninth of May, but these had stopped since independence, because of a lack of veterans.

The trees surrounding the little roadside clearing are tall. There is nothing left showing that once a camp was situated here. Mr. Prokopovits indicates roughly, with broad gestures of his hand, where the administrative barracks had been erected, the kitchen, the barracks with the Dutch, the latrines and where the Jewish tents had been. It's all gone now, he explained. Right after the war you still could find some traces of the buildings. The tents were pitched along a road, going into the forest. There must be some graves around here too... I had brought my camera and took a shot with Mr. Prokopovits holding his attaché case and the interpreter flanking the black slab of granite, and another one of the stone by itself. On the way back we knocked at the door of one of the farms. An ancient building, with flower beds around the house, chickens pecking in the yard and dogs going crazy on our approach. Prokopovits had hoped to find someone there who had lived on the farm during the war. The commanders of the camp had some contact with the neighbouring farmers. The person in question was not alive anymore and we were informed that the farm on the other side of the road had been taken over by new people recently. End of our inquiry into camp Poperwahlen.

We hitched back to the town with a farmer's wife, getting off at the bus stop opposite the church. I was going to take the next bus back to Riga, due in a few minutes time. While waiting for the bus I asked whether there had been a synagogue in Valdemarpils. There had, actually two. The buildings were still standing, next to the church. The first house had been that of the Rebbe, and a kheder had been in the same house. The big barn like building next to it had been the main Schul and at the back of it had been a second one. The Jewish cemetery had disappeared a long time ago. Presumably it had been on Mill road, close to Prokopovits' place. A few stones had been found there, but these had been removed. In old times, after the Jews first settled in Kurland, the Jewish population of Sasmacken had been much bigger than just before the war. The Jews of Valdemarpils had spoken Latvian well, but also Yiddish and German. The bus came. I shook hands with my host and interpreter and the bus took off. Mr. Erik Prokopovits, former mayor of the town, director of a private museum, stayed behind, his attaché case under his arm. Nice man. He probably did not have breakfast either.

Conclusion

The history of the Dutch presence in Latvia during World War II is far from clear. About half a million Dutch worked for the 'Arbeitseinsatz', mainly in Germany. Only a small fraction of about 5000 men ended up through Berlin in 'Ostland'. This group was moved around in a wide region, comprising the Ukraine, Belorus, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Eventually they were brought to Germany. In the beginning of the war several private Dutch companies pioneered in the region. Later their activities were taken over by one company working with the Germans. Both volunteers and forced labourers were employed. Many of the archives of this 'Nederlandsche Oost Compagnie' and its subsidiaries still exist, much was lost. War tribunals were held in the Netherlands and these archives must hold many details. Over the years many ex-forced labourers wrote their memoirs. Historical studies on the subject have appeared. It would probably be possible to piece together all relevant facts and give a fairly accurate description of how many people were involved, doing what, where and when. The exact chain of command could be traced, numbers of casualties given. The economic impact of the activities could be evaluated, or their impact on the war. Also some of the horrors suffered by the people involved might be retold. Many personal diaries abound in stories of hunger, cold, injustice. Some of these stories even go further: their Dutch writers look through the fence into the other camps and notice Russian prisoners, Jews. It could and should be done, but it is doubtful whether the final story would be very popular either in Holland or in Latvia at present. It is also doubtful how much essential truth could be conveyed even in the true story. Facts reveal, but only up to a certain point. What happened, what matters about what happened, is beyond description.

I end this preliminary study with a few notes from one of the major Dutch studies on the subject, already mentioned:

Notes from:

    Studies over Nederland in Oorlogstijd, deel 1, red. drs . A.H. Paape, s'Gravenhage, Martinus Nijhoff, 1972.: hfdst. 7. E. Fraenkel-Verkade, met medewerking van A.J. van der Leeuw: Nederlandse SS-Frontarbeiders, pp. 117-169.

p. 118

NOC founded on 6 June 1942

p. 128

NOB founded on 11 Jan. 1943 (on condition that they would employ a maximum of 5000 men)

p.121

'SS FAU 175: SS-Frontarbeiterunternemen 175': A contract between the Oostbouw (NOB) & the 'SS-Wirtschafsverwaltungshauptamt' (SS-WVWH) ['Gruppenführer der Waffen-SS', Oswald Pohl] to carry out works for the 'Bauwleitungen'[construction-bureaus] of the 'Waffen-SS' (SS-Wirtschaftsbetriebe). The SS-WVHA had a number of head divisions, e.g. 'Amt C, Bauwesen', under 'SS-Brigadenführer' Ir. Hans Kamler. This head division was sub-divided in branches, e.g. Amt C I, heading the 'Zentralbauleitung der Waffen-SS'. Amt C competed with the 'Wehrmacht' and the O.T. carrying out construction works, called 'SS-Frontarbeiter Unternehmen'. The workers on these projects were called 'SS-Frontarbeiters'. The Dutch workers in 'Ostland' worked in the context of 'SS FAU 175'. The 'SS FAU 175' contract was concluded on 19 March, 1943 between 'Amt C Bauwesen' and Oostbouw, for work to be carried out in 'Russia-North' and in the Riga region. (p.133)

p. 125-126

On 10 June 1942 Rost van Tonningen (Director NOC) met construction workers working for the Dutch company 'Van Doorn en Schuller tot Peursum' in Riga. This company had a building contract in 'Ostland' from the SS-WVHA. These 200 men were therefore 'SS-Frontarbeiters'. This was before the NOB took over all contacts of individual companies. Originally the NOB tried to work with volunteers only; when only a small number of people offered their services, forced labour was introduced].

p. 134

First transport to Riga left Holland on 27 April 1943.

p. 144-145

Numbers of Dutch employed:

    Russia-South 12 March 1943: 2286 workers SS-FAU 168

    1 July 1943: Russia-North 2380 man, 1600 volunteers; 750 forced labourers (580 of these had arrived in June).
    Russia-South 1200 men
    Total: 3580

    End July 1943 Rusia- North: over 3000 men.
    End 1943 Russia North: 3700 men; total 4417 men.

    Early January 1944: 4456 men employed by 'Oostbouw':
    Russia North: a little under 3700 men. 'Einsatz Panter 1305; 'Strecke K' 1200; Riga, Minsk etc. groups of several hundred men.
    [SS-FAU 168: 82 men.]

See: RIOD, RvT NOC9,1-'81: Rapport van G.A. Maas en B.J.Hoekstra van 11 Jan. 1944: A Survey of Work locations and the Numbers of Workers Employed.

P. 150

'SS-Obergruppenführer' Felix Steiner, commander of the "Dritte, Germanisches Korps der Waffen-SS.

Many Dutch served in this 'Korps': the former 'Vrijwilligerslegioen Nederland', under its new name : 'Regiment Seyffardt' and also a second Dutch regiment, 'Regiment de Ruyter'. After Jan. 1944 'SS-Baubrigaden' were employed by the 'Korps' near the Narva-front.

p. 158

Mid July 1944: All 'Baustellen' in Riga closed down

p. 122 & 167

Pieter Hoekstra, Dir. NOB, went to Libau at the end of December 1944.In January 1945 he succeeded in evacuating 300 men by ship. According to Hoekstra about 800 men stayed behind in Kurzeme or had become prisoner of the Russians.



Appendices


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