Firewatch Square  (Hauptwachplatz) is one of  the Holocaust tragic sites in Liepāja (Libau), where the lives or deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews were determined.

The systematic extermination of Liepāja Jews began from the very first days of Nazi occupation on June 29, 1941.

On 5th July, following an order of the Liepāja (Libau) Deputy Commandant Fritz Brückner all Jewish men aged 16–60 had to gather every morning at 7 a.m. on Firewatch Square, ostensibly to report for work duty. The square was soon transformed into a dreadful slave market where Jewish lives or deaths were decided and where dozens of trucks stood ready to drive the slaves away to engage in various tasks.

Every morning the so-called Musterung (selection) took place. SD sadists accompanied by the police would inspect the rows of people and if someone looked at them directly or intently they would single out victims, submitting them to sadistic beatings and dragging them away to the Women’s prison.

Firewatch Square was also the scene of various atrocities invented by the murderers to humiliate and torment their Jewish captives. SD Scharführer Erich Handke, a notorious sadist, showed particular cruelty. He would select a number of Jews and order them to sing the Internationale or Hatikva. If they claimed not to understand the order, they were submitted to merciless beatings. This ruthless torture took place every morning before the Jewish slaves were sent out on work duty.

One morning towards the middle of July, SD guards turned their attention to several bearded Jews dragging them away to Pētera Inow Kuršu Street and into the Choral Synagogue.  They were ordered to put on prayer shawls and each was handed two Torah scrolls.  Amidst jeers and mockery they were ordered to return to Firewatch Square where the Nazis unrolled the Torah scrolls on the ground and ordered the prisoners to walk on them. Initially the Jews refused to obey the order and bravely resisted. Only after several victims collapsed under the savage blows did the Nazis manage to drag them by their hands and feet over the scrolls.

Finally came the turn of the Libau Rabbi Isser Polonski, a vigorous man with a black beard. Without much provocation, he began to walk alongside the Torahs.  Despite threats and heavy blows he resisted heroically but finally collapsed unconscious under the torturers’ murderous blows. He was thrown into prison and shot later that day at the Naval Base together with hundreds of other Jews.

Jews were sent from Firewatch Square to effect all kinds of forced labor : clearing the streets of rubble; working for the German military in the cork factory or at the Naval Base; or on the beach near the lighthouse, burying the previous day’s victims in the mass graves they had been forced to dig themselves.

Until the beginning of October 1941, only men were detained and shot and many of the Jewish population had hoped that German culture would not sanction the killing of women and children.

This proved to be a false hope. Coinciding with Rosh Hashanah on September 22/23, 1941, the police along with SD soldiers rushed wildly into several workplaces employing Jewish women and stuffed them together like sardines into a hapoito (police van). The scene was terrible with women running through the streets trying to hide as the murderers pursued them, grabbing them by the hair and throwing them into the van.

From that day on, women and children followed the same inevitable deadly path as the men.  From October 1941 the killings began to spread to the Roma and old and weak Latvians in care homes and almshouses. Although the Latvians themselves were outraged that did not prevent reprisals against innocent Liepāja citizens who happened to be Jewish.