Current Latvia

THEME IN FOCUS:
Holocaust Remembrance - Rumbula Memorial Site Unveiled

No. 29, 4 December 2002


EVENTS

  • Memorial site to Nazi victims unveiled in outskirts of Riga

STATEMENTS

  • Address of the President of the Republic of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, on the occasion of the dedication of the memorial to the victims of the Nazis at Rumbula, 29 November 2002
  • Remarks of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Latvia, Einars Repse, on the occasion of the dedication of the memorial to the victims of the Nazis at Rumbula, 29 November 2002
  • Ambassador Brian Carlson's Remarks at Rumbula Memorial Dedication Ceremony, Riga Jewish Community Centre, 29 November 2002
  • Warren Miller, Chairman's of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad Remarks on Rumbula Dedication, 29 November 2002

FOR MORE INFORMATION

  • Useful links

EVENTS

Memorial site to Nazi victims unveiled in outskirts of Riga

The President and Prime Minister of Latvia, Jewish community members, foreign diplomats and other state officials and public figures joined a ceremony on 29 November 2002 in Rumbula in the outskirts of Riga, unveiling a memorial site in commemoration of prisoners of Riga Ghetto and other Nazi victims killed in the Rumbula forest in 1941.

President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said at the dedication ceremony that " this is one of the darkest dates, perhaps the very darkest date, in Latvia's history; it is the day when this site became marked by bloodshed and lamentation. Thousands upon thousands of innocent people were brutally murdered here merely because for centuries and millennia they had been faithful to their ethnic identity and religion." "But this is also a day of mourning and commemoration for all of Latvia, because these events took place on Latvia's soil and our people took part in them," said Vike-Freiberga. The President called on the Latvian public to commemorate the victims and tell the next generations about their suffering so that such tragedies as Rumbula never occur again.

Over 100 people had gathered for the ceremony to commemorate their relatives, acquaintances and other victims. They placed candles and flowers at the stones of the memorial on which are engraved names of those killed in the Rumbula forest. Although more than 25 000 Jewish people were killed there, so far names of just 1300 of them have been discovered. The officials in their addresses pledged to continue researching this tragic page of history and continue engraving on stones the names of the people killed in the Rumbula forest so that their memory lives on.

The number of Jews massacred in Rumbula is one of the largest in Europe. Inscriptions on the Rumbula Memorial plaques (in English, German, Hebrew and Latvian) say: "Here in the forest of Rumbula on November 30 and December 8 of 1941 the Nazis and their local collaborators shot dead more than 25 000 Jews - the prisoners of the Riga Ghetto - children, women, old people, as well as around 1000 Jews deported from Germany. In the summer of 1944 hundreds of Jewish men from the concentration camp "Riga-Keiserwald" were killed here."

The erection of the memorial ensemble was financed by donations from Latvia, Israel, the United States, Germany as well as private individuals. The commemorative event was organised by the Riga Jewish Community and the Riga City Council.

BNS http://www.terminal.bns.lv, LETA http://www.leta2000.com/

 

STATEMENTS

Address of the President of the Republic of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, on the occasion of the dedication of the memorial to the victims of the Nazis at Rumbula, 29 November 2002

Excellencies,
Rabbi,
Ladies and Gentlemen!

We have gathered here to dedicate a memorial to more than 25,000 persons who were killed here on 30 November and 8 December 1941. This is one of the darkest dates, perhaps the very darkest date, in Latvia's history; it is the day when this site became marked by bloodshed and lamentation. Thousands upon thousands of innocent people were brutally murdered here merely because for centuries and millennia they had been faithful to their ethnic identity and religion. They had faithfully served their god and maintained the traditions of their forefathers.

The Holocaust, in its many forms, has painfully struck Latvia. Here in Rumbula where the earthly remains of Latvia's Jews rest, we have come to honour and remember them. I wish therefore to extend a special greeting to the representatives of Latvia's Jewish community for whom this is special day of mourning, all the more so since here lie their loved ones, relatives, and members of their faith.

But this is also a day of mourning and commemoration for all of Latvia, because these events took place on Latvia's soil and our people took part in them. We know that this collective madness was organised by Himmler in Berlin who called Friedrich Jaeckeln to come to Riga from Kiev since he had already finished the monstrous massacre at Babij Yar. Tasked with the liquidation of the Riga Ghetto, Jaeckeln personally selected the murderers, riflemen from his staff, Germans whom he trusted and who were given the choice of taking part or not taking part in this action. But Jaeckeln also mobilized all of the SS and SD occupation forces, as well as members of the Riga police, to surround the ghetto, vacate it, drive the people on an eight-kilometre march to Rumbula, and then along the path of death, which we have also walked today, to the big trenches that had been dug by Russian prisoners of war.

This is an atrocious act of violence, an atrocious massacre. And it is our duty, the duty of those of us who have survived, to pass on the commemoration of these innocent victims to future generations, to remember with compassion, sorrow and reverence. Our duty is to teach our children and children's children about it, our duty is to seek out the survivors and record their recollections, but, above all, our duty is to see that this will never happen again.

All of us, throughout the world, must be on guard against manifestations of enmity between nations and religions; we must be on guard against intolerance, signs and activities of seeking a scapegoat. We must be on guard against people who blame their suffering, disappointment and complications, on some other, any other easily identifiable group, and believe that with its annihilation the world will be in order. That is not just discrimination and hatred, but insanity. What the men of the Nazi occupation forces did here was insane: motivated by paranoia; these people came here with weapons and tanks to seize power. In the future every one of us must see that in no country can power be seized by the insane, paranoid, those who are ready for massacres. Today we have all come here to commemorate innocent victims, to recall their names - we don't even know all of them but we shall try to find them - to remember their suffering, and to bend our heads in the face of their suffering.

President's Press Service http://www.president.lv (29.11.2002)

 

Remarks of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Latvia, Einars Repse, on the occasion of the dedication of the memorial to the victims of the Nazis at Rumbula, 29 November 2002

Today the memorial to thousands of victims of the Nazis is being dedicated. They were the victims of extremism, hate and intolerance. They were the victims of the occupation regime and its local supporters.

Jews of Latvia were murdered here simply because of their ethnicity. They were our people who perished. They were residents of Latvia who for hundreds of years had lived on Latvia's soil and participated actively at all times in all spheres of our life, including the War for Independence which only a short while ago we recalled on the Day of Lacplesis. For these atrocities, it is clearly not the Republic of Latvia that is to be blamed, but a foreign occupation regime that ruled and acted. Regrettably, there was support from fellow travellers and criminals.

One occupation replaced another occupation regime and the suffering in our country continued for another half a century. Only now, in an independent and democratic state is it possible for us to speak freely about our past. Freedom of speech has made possible the elucidation of complicated and contradictory pages of history and the reassessment of these painful periods of history has begun.

We must go through with this process, we must be able to analyse history openly and honestly. The unpleasant facts of history can neither be changed nor hushed up. The people of Latvia feel with the Nazi victims, just as we honour the many courageous Latvians, like Zanis Lipke, who hid and saved their fellow countrymen from the Nazi occupation regime. They risked their lives to defend the freedom and honour of fellow citizens, of other human beings.

Latvia has made much progress toward achieving clarity about its history. Nobody in Latvia will forget the horrors of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust. The memorial at Rumbula has been erected to constantly remind of these times and events. Nothing like this must ever happen again anywhere in the world.

State Chancellery http://www.mk.gov.lv (29.11.2002)

 

Ambassador Brian Carlson's Remarks at Rumbula Memorial Dedication Ceremony, Riga Jewish Community Centre, 29 November 2002

Today is about Rumbula and what happened there.

The eyewitnesses and the historians agree on what happened. In the Rumbula forest on November 30 and December 8, 1941, 1,700 executioners murdered more than 25,000 Jews. Of those 1,700 killers, between 1,000 and 1,500 were residents of Latvia drawn from the SD, precinct police, Riga city police, battalion police being trained for military action in Russia, and some 100 Latvian ghetto guards. The execution was carried out in the most cruel and heartless way, under the direction of the Nazi Obergruppen fuehrer Jeckeln.

The question of why human beings engage in such savagery is not only an anthropological question. If we mean to safeguard civilization and democracy, we have to examine the events and the participants, and we have to understand its relevance to us and to our times.

Recently in Riga there has been discussion, especially in newspapers, of how to describe the participants in the Rumbula killings. Some people say that not all the Latvians were there voluntarily. Some say nothing done in those times under Nazi occupation was "voluntary." Some say those were complicated times. Some say that we should not mention the Latvian participation, because it was not voluntary. Some say that we should forget about the Latvian participation.

It is uncanny that some people are adopting the Nuremburg defense used by the Nazis at their postwar trial. They too denied responsibility for their actions, saying they were "just following orders."

How sad that anyone in today's free and democratic Latvia would excuse this kind of crime by saying "it was a complicated time" or the executioners were not "volunteers."

What we have learned from 20th century history is that no man has to follow orders. Each of us has a moral and ethical obligation to do what is right. We have the duty to recognize evil and immoral acts. We have the duty to refuse to take part in them. We are all volunteers on this earth.

And, how do we teach this morality, this internal ethical standard to our children? We teach them the lessons of the past. We do not pretend that evil never happens. We do not cover up the awful truth.

No, we print it in big letters and we make sure everyone reads it. We make sure everyone knows that this was an evil that no one of us must ever let happen again.

That is why we are here today. That is why a monument to the victims of Rumbula matters. That is why it matters what we write on that monument. It is the truth.

US Embassy: http://www.usembassy.lv/

 

Warren Miller, Chairman's of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad Remarks on Rumbula Dedication, 29 November 2002

I regret I cannot be present at the dedication of the memorial to the victims of the massacres in the Rumbula Forest. However, I did visit the site when I was in Latvia last month to sign the agreement between the United States and the Latvian government for the preservation of cultural properties. The memorial is very moving and appropriate. I am proud that the United States commission that I chair is a sponsor of it.

The cruel and systematic murder of more than 25,000 human beings in two days, 1000 people an hour, is numbing to the mind and the human spirit. How could this happen? How could man do this to his fellow man?

The victims were mainly women, children, and old men. How were they a threat to the Nazis and their collaborators? I do not have an answer for you - perhaps because the enormity of the crime defies explanation. We must reflect upon what happened and commit ourselves to educating the people of Latvia and the world about this tragic and shameful event that occurred on Latvian soil. The story of Rumbula must be told and retold to the children of Latvia, and to their children's children. It must be told truthfully and factually. It would be painful and embarrassing because some Latvians - perhaps 1,000 - participated in the massacres. If proof can be acquired, those perpetrators who are still alive should be prosecuted. To date, none have been. Many Latvian citizens do not know or do not want to believe what happened. But it is imperative in a free and democratic nation that history is dealt with accurately and truthfully.

Those killed at Rumbula were not killed for anything they have done. They were killed simply because of the religion into which they had been born. They deserve the recognition and dignity that this memorial creates. But the Jewish survivors of the Latvian Holocaust need to know that these crimes will not be forgotten. They, and Jews worldwide, need to know that the rest of humanity cares and mourns with them. 

US Embassy: http://www.usembassy.lv/

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION


USEFUL LINKS

Newsletter "Latvia's History: Education, Remembrance, Research": http://www.am.gov.lv/en/?id=4188
Fact Sheet "Holocaust Education, Research and Remembrance in Latvia": http://www.am.gov.lv/en/?id=4668
Exhibition "Latvia's Jewish Community: History, Tragedy, Revival" in photographs: http://www.am.gov.lv/foto/29112001(exhibition)/
The booklet "Latvia's Jewish Community: History, Tragedy, Revival" (MFA, 2001): http://www.am.gov.lv/en/?id=4299