Holocaust Education, Research and Remembrance in Latvia
The restoration of Latvia's independence in 1991 created the opportunity for state and society to seek to openly and objectively re-evaluate Latvia's 20th century history. This has been an especially complicated process, due to the fact that Latvia experienced successive occupations - Soviet, Nazi, and Soviet - in the second half of the 20th century.
Latvia works to preserve historical memory of these times by adopting an official state position on Holocaust-related issues, promoting of historical research, developing educational programmes, and organising commemorative events. This process expanded in scope and intensified in the latter half of the 1990s.
Latvia's official policy on Holocaust-related issues
Latvia commenced development of a legal framework dealing with Holocaust-related issues in 1990, when the Supreme Council (the Parliament) of the Republic of Latvia adopted a Declaration "On Denouncing and the Inadmissibility of Genocide and Anti-Semitism in Latvia".
A particular focus of attention in later years has been the sensitive issue of crimes against humanity committed under Soviet and Nazi occupations. Latvian law enforcement authorities have conducted investigations into crimes by alleged war criminals and perpetrators of crimes against humanity. Latvia has stated that it condemns genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, regardless of the ideology in whose name they were perpetrated or the nationality of the perpetrators.
Latvia has also adopted a political position on research into the past, especially as regards Holocaust research and research into the history of ethnic minorities.
This has been demonstrated by the Museum "Jews in Latvia" being accorded the status of State-accredited Museum in February 2001. Since its establishment in 1990, this museum has gained international renown. The government allocates the museum LVL 12 000 annually, while valuable financial support has also been provided for the implementation of specific projects, such as the exhibitions "Latvians and Jews: The Traditions of Cooperation" and "The History of the Holocaust in Latvia".
Speaking at the Stockholm Holocaust Forum in January 2000, Latvia's President Vaira Vike-Freiberga expressed Latvia's readiness to cooperate with international organisations on research into the Holocaust. Since then, Latvia has cooperated on a number of specific projects with the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (or International Task Force, ITF). Latvia submitted its "Action Plan 2002-2003: Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research" (http://www.am.gov.lv/en/?id=4666), to the International Task Force in The Hague in October 2001. The Plan gives a summary of projects developed by state
institutions and non-governmental organisations in this area, and seeks to achieve more focussed involvement by Task Force member countries in the implementation of joint projects with Latvia.
Representatives from the Task Force have also made personal visits to Latvia to acquaint themselves with the state of education, research and commemoration of the Holocaust. Representatives from France, the presiding country of the Task Force in 2002, paid a working visit to Riga in November of that year. As part of the visit, the delegation had meetings with representatives from the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Director of the Centre for Judaic Studies at the University of Latvia; the Chairman of the Holocaust Subcommittee of the Commission of Historians; representatives of the History Teachers' Association of Latvia; the Chairman of Latvia's Jewish Community; and the Israeli Ambassador to Latvia. Visits were also made to the museum "Jews in Latvia" and the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. Overall, Task Force representatives expressed satisfaction with Latvia's accomplishments in the Holocaust education, commemoration and research.
Latvia considers membership of the Task Force as important and plans to submit an application for membership in the near future.
In 1998, President of Latvia Guntis Ulmanis founded the International Commission of Historians (Latvia's History Commission), with the aim of promoting research into 20th century Latvian history and making the results known to both the Latvian and international communities. The Commission is an international body that includes experts from the USA, the United Kingdom, Israel, Germany, Sweden, Russia, and France. State funding allows the Commission to carry out broad and multi-faceted research, which contributes to public understanding of the Holocaust in Latvia and crimes against humanity in general (http://www.am.gov.lv/en/?id=4664).
The Commission has organised a number of international seminars and conferences, including "Latvia in World War II" (1999), "The Issues of Holocaust Research in Latvia" (2000), and "The Soviet Occupation Regime in the Baltics: Policy and Its Consequences" (2002). In addition, it assisted with the organisation of the 4th international conference "Jews in a Changing World", held in Riga in November 2001.
The Commission's latest conference was held on 12-13 June 2003. Entitled "Latvia under the occupation of Nazi Germany, 1941-1945", the conference focused not only events in the Baltic region, but also sought to define similar and contrasting features of Nazi occupation policy in Latvia and other European States. An additional aim was to provide researchers with new theoretical concepts and specify directions for further research.
The Commission actively publishes its research findings and conference papers in a series of volumes entitled Symposium of the Commission of the Historians of Latvia. The sixth volume, published in 2002, included documents from the Commission's conference "Deportation of 14 June 1941: Crime against Humanity", held on 12-13 June 2001 in Riga. The eighth volume, "The Issues of the Holocaust Research in Latvia", is a collection of papers presented at an international seminar, held in Riga on 29 November 2001, as well as the latest research on the Holocaust in Latvia.
The first research in Latvian on the history of anti-Semitism, "Anti-Semitism and Its Expressions in Latvia" by Leo Dribins, was published as the 4th volume of the Symposia series in 2001. Also in that year, the Commission published the booklet "Latvia's Jewish Community: History, Tragedy, Revival" by Leo Dribins, Armands Gutmanis and Margers Vestermanis, with the cooperation of Latvia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (http://www.am.gov.lv/en/?id=4299).
The Commission is currently working on a report entitled "Crimes Against Humanity in Latvia During the Soviet and Nazi Occupations, 1940-1956". The first Progress Report and Conclusions related to this research were published in 2001 (http://www.mfa.gov.lv/file/e/HC-Progress-Report2001.pdf).
Study of the Holocaust forms part or the compulsory history curriculum in Latvia's schools, as well as study programmes in the history of culture, civics and politics. Questions on the topic are included in the final primary school examinations and in the history examination at the end of secondary school.
Several books on the Holocaust and the history of the Jewish community in Latvia are presently available for use by students. These include: History of Modern Times: the 20th Century (by J.Freibergs, 1998), Jews in Latvia (by Leo Dribins, 1996, re-published in an expanded version in 2002), History of Jews in Latvia (by Dov Levin, 1999). Books such as Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower and Elie Wiesel's The Night are also available in Latvian.
The publication of the book Tell Ye Your Children. A book on Holocaust in Europe 1933-1945 by Paul A. Levine and Stephane Bruchfeld was the result of cooperation with the International Task Force. Seven thousand copies of the book were published in Latvian, as well as three thousand in Russian.
Materials for teachers have also been prepared, such as the handbook A Controversial History, published by the Latvian Association of History Teachers (LAHT). In collaboration with the Swedish Institute and the USA Embassy in Riga, LAHT organises regular seminars on Holocaust education for teachers in Latvia. LAHT coordinates visits by teachers from Latvia to the USA under a teacher-training programme, and will be sending thirty history teachers to the Yad Vashem International School of Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem in October, 2003.
LAHT participates in constructive cooperation with Latvia's History Commission through the organisation of joint seminars on the teaching the history of World War II in schools. The Commission contributed to the organisation of the seminar in October 2002. Run by specialists from Latvia and Sweden, the goal of the seminar was to share the experience of teaching about the Holocaust between several schools in Latvia and Sweden, develop practical approaches to teaching the subject matter, inform of recent developments in Holocaust research in Latvia, and show participants the memorials erected in memory of the Holocaust in Liepaja.
A key tertiary education and research institution in relation to the Holocaust is the Centre for Judaic Studies, established in 1998 by the University of Latvia (UL). The Centre offers courses to UL students on both the history of the Jewish community in Latvia and the Holocaust, and engages both Latvian and foreign scholars in research into selected topics.
Education on the Holocaust is not just confined to Riga. As a part of the project "Latvia's Jewish Community: History, Tragedy, Revival", an exhibition prepared by the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with the Museum "Jews in Latvia" was opened in November 2001 in Riga.
The exhibition has been touring Latvia since the beginning of 2002, going on display at venues such as Daugavpils University, Vidzeme University College, Liepaja Pedagogical Academy, the National Library of Latvia, the Rezekne branch of the Latvian State Archives, and the Ludza Museum of Local History.
The exhibition includes information on the history of the Latvian Jewish community from the 16th century to the beginning of the 20th century; the Second World War; the Holocaust; rescuers of Jews in Latvia; and current state policy in relation to Holocaust research and commemoration. It can be regarded as the first attempt to take a concise look at the history of Latvian Jewish community from its origins. (http://www.am.gov.lv/foto/29112001(exhibition)/).
Latvia has paid tribute to those inhabitants of Latvia who displayed personal courage by rescuing Jews during the Holocaust.
In April 2000 the President of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga unveiled a memorial plaque to Zanis Lipke, who saved 55 Jews from extermination during World War II. The President has also awarded rescuers of Jews Latvia's highest civil honour, the Three Star Order.
In December 2002 Vaira Vike-Freiberga announced that she has assumed patronage over the raising of a monument at the site of the Gogola Street Synagogue in Riga to Zanis Lipke and other rescuers of Jews during World War II, and called on everybody who believes in the idea of the monument to support its realisation. (http://www.am.gov.lv/en/?id=4212)
Latvia is also renewing and constructing memorials to those who perished. Joint efforts by the Committee of the Brethren Cemetery in Latvia and appropriate organisations in Germany have led to the restoration of the Bikernieki Memorial Site in Riga in November 2001.
On 29 November 2002 a memorial site was unveiled at Rumbula on the outskirts of Riga to commemorate prisoners from the Riga Ghetto and other victims of the Nazis killed in the Rumbula forest in 1941. Although more than 25 000 Jewish people perished there, the names of just 1300 have so far been determined.
The President and Prime Minister of Latvia, Jewish community members, foreign diplomats and other state officials and public figures took part in a commemorative ceremony at the site on the day. The President called on the Latvian public to commemorate the victims and tell future generations about their suffering, so that such tragedies as Rumbula never occur again. Inscriptions on the Rumbula Memorial plaques (in English, German, Hebrew and Latvian) read: "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." (http://www.am.gov.lv/en/?id=4169)
The erection of the memorial ensemble was financed by donations from Latvia, Germany, the United States, Israel, and private individuals. The commemoration was organised by the Riga Jewish Community and the Riga City Council.
A continuing dialogue
Latvia maintains fruitful and constructive dialogue with the Jewish community within Latvia and overseas at both official and non-official levels.
Latvia recognises the contribution of members of its Jewish community. Steven Springfield, Riga-born President of the U.S. organisation "Jewish Survivors of Latvia", has been an associate of Latvia's Commission of Historians since 2000, was a recipient of Latvia's Three Star Order in 2002.
Members of Latvia's Jewish community residing abroad also active in seeking to maintain links with their former homeland. The 3rd World Congress of Jews of Latvian Descent took place in Riga in June 2001.
Latvia's President Vaira-Vike Freiberga made an opening address to the conference "Christians and Jews", organised by the Council of Jews and Christians in Latvia on 26-30 May 2002 in Riga, and attended by a number of Latvian and international academics and religious leaders. In her speech, Dr Vike-Freiberga touched on issues of Jewish history in Latvia, and turned to current efforts in research, remembrance and education about Latvia's Jewish community. She expressed the hope that such international events will promote mutual understanding and celebration of the world's plurality.
On 15 May 2003, the President met with the representatives of the World Jewish Congress to discuss Latvia's involvment in the creation of a new Europe and, more generally, its participation in the processes of global and regional integration.