Jānis Lipke

Save as Many as Possible

Jānis Lipke built up a network of helpers. Together they organized the escape of Jews from the Riga ghetto and hid them. In November of 1941, Jānis Lipke observed thousands of Jews being herded out of the ghetto. They were all shot in the forest by members of the mobile killing unit Einsatzgruppe A of the Security Police and the SD (Security Service) of the SS. Jānis Lipke decided to save as many Jews as possible. He was supported by his wife Johanna and his children Alfrēds and Zigfrīds. Jānis Lipke actively sought additional helpers. They risked their lives to help persecuted Jews.

Jānis Lipke and his helpers secretly brought Jews out of the ghetto and out of labor camps. They hid the Jews temporarily in Lipke’s house and in a “bunker” on his property. All told, Jānis Lipke’s group arranged hiding places for more than fifty Jews. Most of them survived the war.

Latvia under German Occupation

Starting in July 1941, German troops took violent measures against Communists and the Jewish population. Some Latvians worked together with the Germans in the administration and the auxiliary police. Within six months, members of the mobile killing unit Einsatzgruppe A, along with their Latvian helpers, shot 30,000 Jews.


Escapes Organized by Jānis Lipke

Jānis Lipke worked in a warehouse of the German air force. He arranged for thirty Jews from the ghetto to work there, and he drove them back and forth daily. Through this arrangement, and despite the danger of being discovered and punished, he was able to smuggle people out of the ghetto. Two friends who worked as truck drivers helped him in his efforts. Together they helped a total of almost fifty people who wanted to escape, and also organized hiding places. Lipke bribed guards and police with money, cigarettes, and alcohol so they would not intervene.


Jānis Lipke’s Helpers

At first, two friends of Jānis Lipke helped Jews flee the ghetto. Lipke also sought additional hiding places among his circle of friends, which eventually led to a network of roughly 25 people. They set up hiding places in apartments or workshops in Riga, and arranged for food, clothing, and medicine. When the Riga ghetto was supposed to be cleared in 1943, Lipke and his helpers feared further mass murders, so they brought many Jews to safety in the countryside.


Those Who Were Saved

“After the horrible massacres to the Jews in late November and early December 1941, I realized that the Nazis pursued the goal to destroy the Jews as a whole people. This was the time I made the plan to save my Jewish compatriots.”

Jānis Lipke in conversation with David Silberman, after 1945