LATVIA'S HISTORY: EDUCATION, REMEMBRANCE, RESEARCH
November - December 2004 (29)
- Meeting with representatives of Yad Vashem Institute for Holocaust Research in Riga
- Commission of the Historians of Latvia meets to mark the successful conclusion of the three-year cycle in its research work
- Agreement to preserve Jewish sites goes into effect
- Presentation of Latvia's activities in Holocaust education takes place in Trieste
- Opening of a memorial site to the Holocaust victims in Malta
- A comprehensive publication Latvia. Synagogues and Rabbis, 1918-1940 released
- Outstanding Latvian Jewish Personalities: Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook
Meeting with representatives of Yad Vashem Institute for Holocaust Research in Riga
On 4 November 2004 at the museum "Jews in Latvia", members of the Yad Vashem Institute for Holocaust Research held a roundtable meeting dedicated to the Institute's 50th anniversary. During the meeting current research topics and teaching aspects concerning the Jewish people's Holocaust of World War II were discussed.
The Latvian Jewish congregation and Israeli Jewish agency "Sohnut" organized the meeting.
Commission of the Historians of Latvia meets to mark the successful conclusion of the three-year cycle in its research work
On 29 November 2004 the 12th volume in a series of symposium materials of the Commission of the Historians of Latvia was presented. This volume, entitled "Holocaust Research in Latvia" comprises reports of two conferences held in 2003, research papers on issues concerning the Holocaust, and the testimony of a Holocaust survivor Daisy Brand-Schweiger (Memories of the Deportation of Hungarian Jews to Latvia in Summer 1944). The volume concludes with an article by Yakov Krasin: a historical description of World War II beginning and the Nazi occupation period in the Latvian town of Tukums.
The President of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga participated in the Commission's presentation of the 12th volume, commending the Commission's efforts to uncover previously unexplored pages of 20th century Latvian history and to offer its objective findings to the Latvian public and international community. In her address to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the foreign diplomatic community residing in Latvia, the Historians' Commission, and other participants, the President criticized the various forms of totalitarian regimes, warning the international community to learn from the mistakes of history.
On the importance of education, the President said that the study of history, human rights and values are among the most important factors that prevent society from giving in to totalitarian and racist tendencies for one religion, gender, ethnic nationality, or race to dominate over others. The President commented that the next year will mark 60 years since the fall of fascism, and although that was a victory for the mankind, we must continue to explain that in many countries in Europe, including Latvia, one totalitarian regime replaced another, and for this reason so many people suffered. In the world today, we detect various signs of holy wars - either they are directed against a race, gender, religion, or way of thinking, or otherwise asserting their power over others. People possess certain elements in their psyche that, if exploited for the wrong reasons, can plant the seed for new forms of totalitarianism to grow. The President stressed that historians, as well as the general public must be able to identify these tendencies in time to address them.
This year marks the end of a three-year cycle in the Commission's work, so this meeting was to a certain extent a commemorative event. Over the past six years, 12 volumes of research papers studying current issues concerning Latvian 20th century history have been published. Separate volumes are devoted to crimes committed by the Soviet regime in Latvia: the mass deportations of 1941 and 1949, the Holocaust, the military and economic policies of the Nazi occupation period, the Latvian Legion, and other issues. Seven international conferences have been organized, during which historians, lawyers, and researchers from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, the U.S., Great Britain, Sweden, Germany, Russia, and other countries presented the latest findings in Latvia's history during World War II. The Commission works with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education and Science, State Archives, museums, and other research institutes. As the President herself has often emphasized, the work of the Commission has been praised not only here, but abroad as well. The Commission's work has enhanced the evaluation process of 20th century Latvia and in many ways helped to liberate Latvia's history of myths and deformations created during the Soviet period.
As a goal for the next three years, the President proposed that the Commission studies the entire Soviet period in Latvia's history all they way up to 1991. The Commission should include issues such as Latvia's colonization and sovietization, the economic, social, educational, and cultural policies of the totalitarian communist regime, changes in the ethnic composition of the population and russification, the resistance movement to the Soviet regime, etc. On the basis of this research, in time researchers will be able to assess the Soviet period in Latvia's history, exposing the nature and true intent of the regime. This will in turn help Latvian society liberate itself from the legacy of its totalitarian past. Objective information about Latvia's recent history will help resolve many of today's national and international political problems.
Agreement to preserve Jewish sites goes into effect
The agreement to protect cultural properties in Latvia signed two years ago by Latvia and the United States went into effect on 17 November 2004 during the visit to Riga of Warren L. Miller, chairman of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad. Mr. Miller was in Riga on 17 November to receive Latvia's Three Star Order.
The agreement pledges both governments to work together to maintain and preserve certain cultural properties, including Jewish synagogues, cemeteries, and sites where Jews were killed in Latvia during World War II. The agreement requires that the U.S. and Latvian sides create a bilateral commission to oversee joint projects.
"We had our first formal, bilateral commission meeting on 17 November," Mr. Miller said, "and had excellent, productive discussions with two extremely bright and dedicated individuals"-Janis Asaris, deputy head of the Inspectorate for Heritage Protection and Latvia's bilateral commission representative, and Arkadiy Suharenko, chairman of Latvia's Jewish community.
Mr. Miller also met with Ministry of Culture State Secretary Daniels Pavluts and Ministry of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Andris Teikmanis, who is Latvia's Representative to the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research. The officials took note of information regarding a project intended to pay tribute to Zanis Lipke, who rescued Latvian Jews during World War II, as well as commemorate victims of the Holocaust in Latvia.
Both sides emphasized the importance of such projects in establishing historical truth-for the purpose of justice and ensuring that such behaviour toward minorities does not recur. Participants at the meeting also agreed that it was crucial to involve local and municipal authorities in site preservation to give communities a sense of ownership.
In October 2002, Latvia was the first Baltic state to sign a preservation agreement with the commission. Signed by the Minister of Culture for the government of Latvia, the agreement is officially entitled "Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Latvia on the Protection and Preservation of Certain Cultural Properties."
U.S. Embassy, Riga, Public Affairs Section (24.11.2004)
Presentation of Latvia's activities in Holocaust education takes place in Trieste
On 13 December 2004, representatives of Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Culture and Latvia's History Teacher's Association participated in the regular meeting of the Task Force for international cooperation on Holocaust education, remembrance and research in Trieste, Italy. During the meeting Latvia reported on its activities in Holocaust education. The power point presentation included information on the definition of the Holocaust and its place in the Basic Education Standard of Latvia, methodology, seminars on the teaching of the Holocaust that were held across Latvia, history textbooks and books on the Holocaust that were published in Latvia, as well as travelling exhibitions and internet resources available in Latvia, and many more issues.
Holocaust Education in the Republic of Latvia, Report to the meeting of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, 13 December 2004, Trieste, Italy
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (29.12.2004)
Opening of a memorial site to the Holocaust victims in Malta
On 19 December 2004, an opening of memorial sites to the Holocaust victims in the town of Malta and the Balda Forest took place. Among those present at the ceremony were Ina Druviete, Minister for Education and Science of Latvia, Head of the Secretariat of the Minister for Society Integration Affairs Kristine Vagnere, Imants Freibergs, Head of Malta District Council V.Skudra, President of Latvian Council of Jewish Communities Arkadiy Suharenko, as well as Richard B. Norland, Deputy Chief of the US Embassy to Latvia, Gary Koren, Israeli Ambassador to Latvia, members of the Jewish community, representatives of diplomatic circles.
A letter of the Chairman of the US Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, Warren L. Miller, was read at the ceremony.
Identification, preservation and setting up of memorial sites have been carried out through cooperation of Latvian Council of Jewish Communities and Latvian regional councils. The project is supported by the UK Holocaust Educational Trust, chaired by Lord Janner, US Embassy in Riga and US Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad.
It is planned to open one more memorial site until the end of this year, while 25 memorial places will be inaugurated in 2005. Altogether around 200 mass graves of the Holocaust era have been identified in Latvia.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (20.12.2004)
A comprehensive publication Latvia, Synagogues and Rabbis, 1918-1940 released
The book Latvia, Synagogues and Rabbis, 1918-1940, a project initiated by the former Rabbi of Latvia, late Nathan Barkan, provides unique glimpses at the centres of the religious life and the spiritual leaders of Latvian Jews between World War I and World War II.
"The brainchild of Rabbi Nathan Barkan we have before us is a documental testimony to the rich religious and cultural life of Latvia's Jewry, as well as to its contribution to the entire European civilization.
[..] Latvia's Jewish community suffered great losses during the Holocaust, and we are happy to see that in the restored Latvian Republic, this community is reviving, flourishing and expanding from one year to the next. Anyone who raises a hand against his brother raises it against all mankind. Anyone who continues to this day to incite intolerance, violence and evil, commits a sin against God and humanity. We shall do all in our power to make sure that the tragic events evidenced by the ruins of synagogues stand as ominous reminder: man's nature is susceptible to evil influences, and its up to religion and the family, up to social education to inculcate the values of civilized society in man. Let us live and work in such a way as to ensure that we live as human beings that our children grow up as human beings, that inhumanity has no place here or anywhere else. Our common duty is to make sure that the grim historical experience is internalized, that the shoots of hatred and violence are never again permitted to sprout anywhere.
Synagogues are homes built with love and care, for people to assemble and pray together, to praise and petition God in keeping with their forefathers' faith and customs. Latvia's Jewish community must revive and become fully as dynamic and significant as it once was, before the tragic events that befell it. This community has a future, a future we see as inextricably linked with that of Latvia.
[..] It is my heartfelt conviction that dialogue between different cultural traditions in the key to understanding not only the history of Latvian culture, but also its present development.
I am confident that this book, created by the esteemed Nathan Barkan with such skill and thought, will contribute to the cause of fostering our nation's tolerance and mutual understanding, while at the same time serving as a testimonial t the Jewish community itself, and a means of providing the rest of Latvia's population with a deeper knowledge of the role played by Jews in the history of Latvia' s culture. [..]"*
* From "A word of introduction by Vaira Vike-Freiberga, President of the Republic of Latvia, The Riga Castle, 15 September 2003", pp. 7.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (22.12.2004)
Outstanding Latvian Jewish Personalities: Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook
On 14 December 2004, a conference dedicated to the outstanding Jewish thinker Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) was held at the Jewish Community Centre in Riga. Abraham Isaac Kook was born in Latvia, and from 1895 served as Rabbi in the town of Bauska. In 1904 Kook moved to Israel, where he became the Chief Rabbi of Palestine and the founder of religious Zionism.
The conference was organized by the Embassy of Israel in Riga in cooperation with the Jewish Community of Latvia, the Centre for Jewish Studies of the University of Latvia, the Bauska Regional Ethnographic and Art Museum and the Jewish Agency "Sohnut".
Newsletter "Latvia's History: Education, Remembrance, Research" is a compilation of press releases and news reports drawn from the media and official sources.