Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Viktor Bernhard Arājs

Viktor Bernhard Arājs born on January 13th, 1910, in Baldone, Latvia. After dropped-out from Law Faculty of the University of Latvia, he joined the Latvian police and got a rank of police lieutenant. After the German invasion of Riga, the Nazi started forming the first Latvian SD auxiliary units, mainly from fascist Pērkonkrusts (Thunder Cross) followers. Under guidance of the commander of Einsatzgruppen A, Walther Stahlecker, Arājs, a former member of Pērkonkrusts and a member of a student fraternity, started to form his armed unit of men who were responding to the appeal of Pērkonkrusts to take arms and to clear Latvia of Jews and communists. The unit, known as Arājs Kommando, consisted about 300-500 men during the period in which it participated in the killing of the Latvian Jewish population, and reached up to 1,500 members at its peak at the height of its involvement in anti-partisan operations in 1942.

On the night of July 3, 1941, Arājs Kommando started arresting, beating and robbing the Riga Jews. On July 4, the choral synagogue at Gogoļa Street was burnt, and thereafter, the synagogues at Maskavas and Stabu Streets. Many Jews were killed during those days, including the refu­gees from Lithuania. The unit murdered approximately 26,000 people, first in Latvia and then in Belarus. As a return, the Nazis promoted Arājs to police major in 1942.

When Himmler created the Latvian Legion, Arājs and his men were transferred to the unit. After completing a battalion commander course in Berlin, he was attached to the II. Battalion/Waffen-Grenadier Regiment der SS 34 (lett. Nr. 5) for a couple of days to get a practical experience. Then he was appointed to command I. Bataillon/Waffen-Grenadier-Regiment 34 on 21 February 1945. However, his negative attitudes made him unpopular with other Latvian SS officers and, on 2 March 1945, Arājs was relieved from his command and sent to the Divisional reserve.

After the war, Arājs was captured by British and held in an internment camp in Germany until 1949. He later worked as a driver for the British occupation forces in Delmenhorst. Then, with assistance from the Latvian government in exile in London, Arājs took on the cover name of Victor (Viktors) Zeibots and worked as an assistant at a printing company in Frankfurt am Main.Arājs was captured by West German police, on 10 July 1979, on charges of complicity in the murders of 10,000-30,000 Latvian Jews between 1941 and 1943. He was found guilty in the State Court of Hamburg on 21 December 1979 and was found guilty in the State Court of Hamburg. Arājs died in a prison in Kassel in 1988.

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