The Firewatch Square ( Hauptwachplatz) is one of the Holocaust tragic places in Liepāja (Libau), where the question of the life or death of hundreds and thousands of Jews was decided.
The systematic extermination of Liepāja Jews began from the first days of the Nazi occupation, from June 29, 1941.
According to the 5th July order of the Liepāja (Libau) Deputy Commandant Fritz Brückner, all Jewish men aged 16–60 had to gather each morning at 7 AM on Firewatch Squaretz), ostensibly to report for work duty. The square was soon transformed into a terrible slave market, where the life or death of hundreds and thousands of Jews was decided. Dozens of trucks stood ready to take the slaves away to various jobs.
First, however, the so-called Musterung (selection) took place each morning. SD sadists accompanied by police would go through the rows of people, and if someone looked at them suspiciously, then with sadistic beatings they would single out victims and drag away to the Women’ prison.
The Firewatch Square also was the scene of various atrocities that the murderers invented to humiliate and torment the Jews. SD Scharführer Erich Handke, a notorious sadist, especially distinguished himself. He would select some of the Jews and order them to sing the International or Hatikva. If they said that they did not understand the order, he would murderously beat them. Such bloody torments took place every morning before the Jews were sent for work duty.
One morning, about the middle of July, SD mtn turned their attention to several bearded Jews and dragged them away to Pētera Inow Kuršu) Street into the Choral Synagogue, ordered them to put on prayer shawls, handed each of them two Torah scrolls, and with various kinds of mockery ordered them to walk back to the Firewatch Square. There the Nazis unrolled the Torah scrolls and ordered the Jews to walk on them. Initially the Jews refused to obey this command and bravely resisted. Only after some of the victims collapsed from the savage blows, did the Nazis manage to drag them by their hands and feet over the Torah scrolls.
Finally came the turn of the Libau Rabbi Isser Polonski, a vigorous man with a black beard. Without much goading, he began to walk—but alongside the Torahs. No threats and no blows helped. He heroically resisted but at last collapsed unconscious from the murderous blows of the beasts. He was thrown into prison and shot later that day on the Naval Base together with hundreds of other Jews.
From the Firewatch Square Jews were sent to various kinds of forced labor: cleaning the streets of rubble; working for the German military in the Cork Factory or on the Naval Base; or on the beach near the lighthouse, covering the mass graves of the previous day’s victims who had been forced to dig their own graves
Until the beginning of October, only men were detained and shot. Many Jews hoped that German culture would not allow the killing of women and children.
This hope soon proved false. Just at Rosh Hashanah, September 22/23, 1941, the police, along with SD soldiers, rushed like wild beasts into several workplaces where Jewish women worked, and stuffed them together like sardines into a hapoito (van for caught). The picture was terrible. The women ran through the streets trying to hide, but the murderers, pursued them and, grabbing by their hair, threw them into the van.
From that day on, women and children followed the same terrible path of the condemned as the men. At the same time, that is, from October 1941, the killings began to spread to Roma and old, weak Latvians from nursing homes and almshouses. The Latvians themselves did not like this at all, but it did not help prevent the reprisals against the innocent, just because they were Jews.