On October 25, 1941, the Nazis relocated all Jews from Riga and the vicinity to the ghetto while the non-Jewish inhabitants were evicted. Most of the Latvian Jews (about 24,000) were killed on November 30 and December 8, 1941 in the Rumbula massacre. The Nazis transported a large number of German Jews to the ghetto; most of them were later killed in massacres.
While the Riga Ghetto is commonly referred to as a single entity, in fact there were several "ghettos". The first was the large Latvian ghetto. After the Rumbula massacre, the surviving Latvian Jews were concentrated in a smaller area within the original ghetto, which became known as the "small ghetto". The small ghetto was divided into men's and women's sections. The area of the ghetto not allocated to the small ghetto was then reallocated to the Jews being deported from Germany, and became known as the German ghetto.
At the beginning of July, the Nazi occupation regime had organized the burning of the synagogues in Riga, and attempted, with varying degrees of success, to incite the Latvian population into taking murderous action against the Latvian Jewish population. At the end of July, the city administration switched from the German military to German civil administration. Head of the civil administration was a German named Heinz Nachtigall. Other Germans involved with the civil administration included Hinrich Lohse and Otto Drechsler.
The Germans issued new decrees at this time to govern the Jews. Under "Regulation One", Jews were banned from public places, including city facilities, parks, and swimming pools. A second regulation required Jews to wear a yellow six-pointed star on their clothing, with violation punishable by death. A Jew was also to be allotted only one-half the food ration of a non-Jew.
By August, a German named Altmayer was in charge of Riga. The Nazis then registered all the Jews of Riga. Further decrees mandated that all Jews wear a second yellow star, this one in the middle of their backs, and not use the sidewalks. The reason for the second star was so Jews could be readily distinguished in a crowd. Later, when Lithuanian Jews were transported to the ghetto, they were subject to the same two-star rule.Jews could be randomly assaulted with impunity by any non-Jew.
Officially the Gestapo took over the prisons in Riga on July 11, 1941, however by this time the Latvian gangs had killed a number of the Jewish inmates. The Gestapo initially set up its headquarters in the building of the former Latvian Ministry of Agriculture on Rai?a Boulevard. A special Jewish administration was set up. Gestapo torture and interrogation were carried out in the basement of this building. After this treatment the arrested were sent to prison, where the inmates were starved to death. Later the Gestapo relocated to the former museum at the corner of Kalpaka and Br?v?bas boulevards.
The Nazis also set up a Latvia puppet government, under a Latvian General Oskars Dankers, who was himself half-German. A "Bureau of Jewish Affairs" was set up at the Latvian police prefecture. Nuremberg-style laws were introduced, which tried to force people in marriages between a Jew and an non-Jew to divorce. If the couple refused to divorce, the woman, if a Jew, would be forced to undergo sterilization. Jewish physicians were forbidden to treat non-Jews, and non-Jewish physicians were forbidden to treat Jews.
Construction of the ghetto
On July 21, the Riga occupation command decided to concentrate the Jewish workers in a ghetto. All Jews were registered and a Jewish Council (Judenrat) was set up. Prominent Riga Jews, including Eljaschow, Blumenthal, and Minsker, were chosen for the council. All of them had been involved with the Jewish Latvian Freedom Fighters Association and hopes were this would give them leverage in dealing with the occupation authorities.
Council members were given large white armbands with a blue Star of David on them, which gave them the right to use the sidewalks and the street cars. On October 23, 1941, the Nazi occupation authorities issued an order that by October 25, 1941, all Jews were to relocate to the Maskavas Forštate (Moscow Forshtat) suburb of Riga.
As a result, about 30,000 Jews were concentrated in the small 16-block area The Nazis fenced them in with barbed wire. Anyone who went too close to the barbed wire was shot by the Latvian guards stationed around the ghetto perimeter. German police (Wachmeister) from Danzig commanded the guards. The guards engaged in random firing during the night.
While the Jews were relocating to the ghetto, the Nazis stole their property. The Jews were allowed to take very little into the ghetto, and what was left was handled by an occupation authority known as the Trusteeship Office (Treuhandverwaltung). Entire trainloads of goods were sent back to Germany.
The Germans overlooked the theft of large amounts of other, generally less valuable, property by Latvian police, regarding it as a form of compensation for engaging in the killings. Individual appropriations and self-interested appropriations by Germans were also common. Author Ezergailis believes that the SD was more interested in murdering the Jews than in stealing their property, whereas the reverse was true among the men of Lohse's "civilian" administration.