LATVIA'S HISTORY: EDUCATION, REMEMBRANCE, RESEARCH
December 2005 – February 2006 (34)
- The President of Latvia's greetings at Hanukkah
- Vaira Vike-Freiberga on a State visit to Israel
- Latvian delegation visits Yad Vashem
- Opening of exhibition in Jerusalem of drawings by Latvian children
The President of Latvia's greetings at Hanukkah
On 29 December last year the President of Latvia took part in the Hanukkah celebrations at the Riga synagogue. In her address Vaira Vike-Freiberga said, "I wish with all my heart to greet the Latvian Jewish community on this light and happy holiday. [..]
The Jewish people have very old traditions, they are an important cultural value, and it is also a cultural heritage of the entire world. Latvia respects it and we are happy to see that your congregations return to their place in the life of Latvia. I wish for all of us to grow together and develop our country to one where harmony reigns not only in families, not only in congregations, but also between the different communities so that people of different origins would not feel threatened but on the contrary, would feel enriched in their contacts with other people. We all have something to learn from those who are different from us. [..]"
President's Chancery (29.12.2005)
Vaira Vike-Freiberga on a state visit to Israel
In order to broaden the political, economic, scientific and cultural dialogue between Latvia and Israel, the President of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga was on a State visit to Israel from 20-22 February 2006. During the visit the President visited Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Nazareth and met with the President of Israel, Moshe Katsav, the acting Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, the Chairman of the Knesset, Rouven Rivlin, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tzipi Livni, and other officials. At the Latvian embassy she met also with the community of repatriates from Latvia. During the visit, a Latvia – Israel agreement on double taxation was signed. The President was accompanied on the visit by the Ministers of the Economy, of Finance, Agriculture, and by representatives of 58 Latvian companies as well as the members of the Latvian Historians' Commission.
Excerpts from the Address by H.E. Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga, President of the Republic of Latvia, at the State dinner held in her honour by H.E. Mr. Moshe Katsav, President of the State of Israel, Jerusalem, 20 February 2006
I would like to begin by reaffirming the deep sense of kinship felt by the people of Latvia towards the State of Israel. The great Jewish philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who was born in Latvia's capital city of Riga, once lamented that the Jews "have enjoyed rather too much history and too little geography." Today the Jews can be proud of their democratic, modern and affluent nation-state. I congratulate the people of Israel for their many accomplishments, and I am proud that a large number of Jews from Latvia have taken part both in the establishment and in the strengthening of the State of Israel. I also am proud that when Latvia's independence was at stake in 1918, many Jews joined the ranks of Latvia's newly formed army and helped Latvia to win its War of Liberation against German and Russian occupying forces. The Jews and the Latvians have shared similar fates and parallels in their history, and have had to fight hard to obtain their freedom and independence. [..]
Last year when you were in Riga, we both paid an emotional, commemorative visit to the Rumbula memorial, at the site where approximately 25,000 Jews from Latvia and elsewhere in Europe were brutally murdered during the Nazi German occupation of my country. To our eternal shame and sorrow, the Shoah will forever remain one of the most tragic chapters in Latvia's and in Europe's history. Regrettably, there were people in Latvia who took part in the Nazi campaign to annihilate the Jewish population in Europe. But there were also a number of brave souls, of whom about 500 have been officially documented in Latvia, who risked their own lives and the lives of their loved ones to hide and protect their Jewish friends, neighbours, and acquaintances, as well as complete strangers.
I take this opportunity to solemnly commemorate the innocent Jews who were killed in my country and elsewhere in Europe during the Shoah, which without a doubt was one of the most tragic events to have taken place in the 20th century. We must never forget the immense suffering and loss of the victims, we must condemn those who perpetrated these crimes, and we must pay tribute to those who had the courage to act as saviours.
Latvia is committed to the continued research and remembrance of the Shoah and other crimes against humanity that have been committed on Latvian soil. A number of Latvian government and non-governmental organizations are working together with Latvia's Jewish community to ensure that the events of the Shoah in Latvia are thoroughly researched and that the victims are not forgotten. They are working in co-operation with various international organizations, as well as with the State of Israel, the United States and several European countries.
The Historians Commission of Latvia has established a successful partnership with the Yad Vashem memorial, and the Latvian Prosecutor-General's Office is continuing its investigations into the crimes of that period. The events of the Shoah are part of the school curriculum in Latvian history and ethics courses. Students at the Riga Nordic Countries High School, for example, have been voluntarily researching the history of the Riga ghetto and tending Jewish gravesites for the past several years.
This year Latvia will host a number of significant events. One of them is an international conference devoted to Holocaust research and education, as well as to the fight against anti-Semitism. This conference will begin on July the 4th, which has been designated in my country as Holocaust Memorial Day, and will be followed in September by another conference entitled Jews in a Changing World. We would be pleased to welcome representatives from Israel at both these events.
Latvia unequivocally condemns any and all manifestations of anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance. My country made its position clear from the very moment that Latvia regained its independence in 1991, with a declaration On the Impermissibility of Genocide and Anti-Semitism in Latvia. I will add that hateful exhortations by heads of state calling for the elimination of other nations have no place in normal international relations and must be condemned in the strongest terms. [..]
I will add that Latvia is proud of its strong and vibrant Jewish community, which has provided an immeasurable contribution to Latvia's political, economic and cultural life. The Council of Latvian Jewish Communities and Congregations, which enjoys special societal benefit status, unites over 20 Jewish groups from all over Latvia. I also wish to thank the Association of Latvian and Estonian Jews in Israel for its work in strengthening the ties of friendship between our two countries. You can be sure that the Latvian Embassy in Israel will always be ready to assist its former sons and daughters in Israel should the need arise.
The dynamism and vitality of Latvia's Jewish community has been evident in many ways. Plans are in progress for the construction of a new Jewish School in Riga, which promises to be one of the most modern in Europe, and which will bear the name of the great Jewish historian Simon Dubnow, who lived in Latvia until his death at the hands of the Nazis in 1941. Last year the Riga Synagogue celebrated its 100th anniversary. It is now undergoing renovations, and once these are completed, the building next to it, which belongs to the Latvian Ministry of Culture, will be refurbished to house the new quarters of the Jewish and Holocaust Museum of Latvia. Mr. Margers Vestermanis, a Holocaust survivor, is the director of the museum and he is also here together with us this evening.
The restoration of a synagogue in Daugavpils has been successfully completed, thanks to the support of the family of the world famous artist Mark Rothko, who was born in that city. The re-consecration of this synagogue is scheduled to take place later this year.
I would also like to mention the monumental work of the late Natan Barkans, who became the Chief Rabbi of Riga and Latvia already in 1990, before Latvia had regained its independence. Rabbi Barkans oversaw a significant research project entitled Latvia. Synagogues and Rabbis. 1918-1940. As part of this project, I will be unveiling tomorrow – together with you, Mr. President – an exhibition of drawings of Latvia's old synagogues that have been portrayed by Latvia's children. This will present a wonderful opportunity to view an insight of Latvia and its history through the eyes of its children. [..]"
President's Chancery (20.02.2006)
Latvian delegation visits Yad Vashem
During her visit to Israel the President of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, while visiting the holocaust memorial museum and research centre Yad Vashem noted that the Commission of Historians which was established under the auspices of the President of Latvia, is interested to continue research co-operation with the Yad Vashem Research Centre. These talks were also attended by representatives of the Historians' Commission, Aivars Stranga and Margers Vestermanis, who informed their hosts that the Historians' Commission and the Jewish community continue research of the locations where Jews were killed during the Holocaust, as well as to determine the number of Jewish victims. It was also noted that this year the Historians' Commission will publish a complete study on the so-called saviours who saved Jews from annihilation during the Holocaust, risking their own lives. According to the management of the Yad Vashem Research Centre, Latvian scientists and teachers are invited to visit the centre in order to learn how best to present Holocaust related issues during history lessons in schools.
The President of Latvia laid a wreath at the Yad Vashem memorial in honour of the Jews killed during the Holocaust and told reporters after her visit to the memorial that this memorial is evidence how inhuman man can be, and of what a totalitarian ideology can achieve by urging the animal instincts in man and destroying the lives of so many innocent people. She also said, "In today's world we must continue to be alert as there are ideologies that still tend to divide people into separate social groups, raising some higher than others, and this is a very unhealthy tendency." She called on people to be aware that "everything possible must be done to tell the world of the horrors of the past and that this history must never be repeated in the future."
President's Chancery (21.02.2006)
Opening of exhibition in Jerusalem of drawings by Latvian children
On 22 February 2006 at the Centre of Jewish Heritage in Jerusalem the President of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, unveiled an exhibition of drawings, by Latvian children, of synagogues in Latvia. In her opening speech the President said that it is a very exciting moment to see that Latvian children have thought deeply about the culture and history of the Jewish people and have drawn synagogues and thus also a part of Latvia. The President noted that it is important in today's world to teach children in schools the cultural history of different peoples and to be given an understanding of different religions of the world in order to increase tolerance and mutual understanding. She said, "Children must be taught that people are the same throughout the world, regardless of where they live, to what nationality, religion or race they belong, all people have the same basic human values and respect must be taught for what is different."
The opening was also attended by the President of Israel, Moshe Katsav, who expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to see in Israel the culture and religious history of the Jewish people as seen through the eyes of Latvian children.
President's Chancery (22.02.2006)
Newsletter "Latvia's History: Education, Remembrance, Research" is a compilation of press releases and news reports drawn from the media and official sources.