LATVIA'S HISTORY: EDUCATION, REMEMBRANCE, RESEARCH
July - December 2006 (36)
- Volume of writings published on national resistance to the Communist regime
- Foreign Minister: Latvian government will eradicate intolerance towards minorities
- The conference Holocaust: Remembrance and Lessons held in Riga
- The sixth Jews In A Changing World conference held
- Premiere screening of documentary film on the Jews of Latvia
- Wide-ranging debate on recent history in conference Latvia and Eastern Europe in the 1960s-1980s
- Cabinet of Ministers approves Latvia's delegation to ITF
- Book launch ceremony held at The Jews in Latvia Museum
- Commission of Historians releases latest Volume of research on the Holocaust in Latvia
Volume of writings published on national resistance to the Communist regime
The Commission of Historians established under the auspices of Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, has published a Volume of research works on national resistance to the Communist regime.
A book launch ceremony was held during a Commission conference to mark the publication of the seventeenth Volume of research papers entitled National Resistance to Communist Regimes in Eastern Europe after World War II.
The basis of the work is the research papers delivered at the international conference held in June 2005 in Riga, supplemented by written recollections and other documents. The compilation includes the recollections of 24 residents of the North Latgale region regarding the national partisan movements.
The work of thirteen historians from Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Russia and Germany is included in the compilation.
In their research, the historians have drawn attention to the operations conducted by units of the Soviet secret services against Latvian national partisans, co-operation between Latvian and Lithuanian partisans, similarities and differences between resistance movements in Eastern Europe, and other issues.
Among issues considered during the joint sitting of the Commission of Historians were the Commission's major activities planned for 2007, including the compilation and printing of a new volume of writings, the organisation of an international scientific conference, the co-ordination of research work, and other matters.
Address by Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga at the publication of the 17th volume of research findings by the Historians' Commission of Latvia, Riga Castle, 3 July 2006 (excerpts)
[..] We now have the 17th volume that is being presented. It touches on a very painful period, when the War, which was over for so many lucky countries, had introduced, in the case of Latvia, another tyranny in the place of the preceding one, and a regime that at that time was still the Stalinist regime at its most oppressive. And this oppression, of course, then generated resistance.
And it is very tragic to see how valiantly so many people fought in the vain hope of somehow presenting opposition to this terrible, insane, totalitarian system that had overrun their country. So many people lost their lives, ruined their lives, endangered their families and others with whom they came into contact, fought valiantly unto the death, with the full feeling and conviction that they were fighting against tyranny. And they were, but without any awareness of how their efforts and their sacrifice could possibly bring any lasting results and bring any lasting good. They had to work in a total information vacuum. [..]
But that spirit of resistance, that was not in vain. The spirit of resistance that moved them, did remain among the population. That feeling that, no matter how subjugated the people were, you could not take away from them the desire for liberty, the desire for independence and the desire for recovering what was their right. [..]
President's Chancery (03.07.2006)
Foreign Minister: Latvia's government will eradicate intolerance towards minorities
At a commemorative event dedicated to the Remembrance Day of the Victims of Genocide against the Jewish Nation, Latvian Foreign Minister Pabriks noted that the margin between humanity and inhumanity is fragile.
As Minister Pabriks said, "Today we have to deliberate in what circumstances people who pass by and smile at each other daily may turn against children, the elderly, and their fellow man. Sometimes we are unaware of how fragile this margin can be; for this reason we must eradicate that root which grows and turns us against each other."
Minister Pabriks noted that much blood has been shed over the Latvian land, and we must learn from the mistakes of previous generations, both at the governmental and political level, clearly signalling against unacceptable expressions in the community, and eliminating intolerance towards the one who is different, both in the family, at school, and in forming an attitude towards our fellow human beings.
Mr Pabriks said, "Today we remember the crime against humanity and against a part of our nation. Here are the ruins, yet they are well cared for and serving as a tribute to the role of the Jewish people in our country. This monument teaches us how to be human."
The Foreign Minister emphasised that we must remember the Holocaust, we must talk about it, and we must teach it, to make our children and their descendants aware of the massive destruction caused by the Holocaust.
To mark the Remembrance Day of the Victims of Genocide against the Jewish Nation, a commemoration ceremony was held on 4 July near the memorial at Gogola Street 25, followed by a remembrance service in the Jewish Community House.
During the service, the film Riga's Ghetto Melodies was screened, followed by an opportunity to meet the creator of the film, Russian journalist and television host Vladimir Molchanov.
Scenes in the documentary film, and recollections by survivors of the Riga Ghetto describe the terrible events of 1941 in Riga: the burning of the synagogues with people inside, and the shooting of 25,000 Jews in the Rumbula forest.
During the evening, the Ambassador of Israel to Latvia, Gary Koren, presented a special medal and Certificate of Honour Righteous Among the Nations to Antonina Denisova, whose family members rescued several people during the Holocaust.
During the event, awards were presented for the best projects prepared by schoolchildren. Students in around twenty Latvian schools conducted research, from which projects were prepared on local Jewish history, culture and traditions, with particular reference to the events of the Holocaust tragedy.
On display during the evening was an exhibition entitled Synagogues of Latvia, which featured models of synagogues, children's drawings and pre-war photographs.
The school projects and the exhibition were created as part of the European Union and Latvian Government-supported project From Heart to Heart.
Address by Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga at Commemoration Event for the Jewish victims of Genocide in the ruins of the Riga Synagogue, 4 July 2006
We are gathered on the site of a tragic event, which has become the symbol of those acts of inhumanity which literally annihilated the pre-war Jewish community in Latvia; a community which had lived in peace and harmony with its neighbours for many hundreds of years, and which had become assimilated into Latvian society and found its place there, and with whom Latvians co-existed without enmity or difficulty. Then came the rule of the occupation with its ideology of annihilation and racism, which transformed everything. Then began our people's bloody annihilation campaign, first under one occupying power, then the other. But the Nazi-organised Jewish genocide in Latvia was notable for the fact that it was undertaken with the most evil and systematic intent. Its intent was simply to annihilate, to wipe from the face of the earth, every member of the Jewish nation. And we have the profound sorrow and pain that we, Latvia, Latvian society, lost this, so valuable, part of society. We share in our sorrow with the Jewish people, whose members are now scattered in various parts of the world, and who lost their friends and relatives in Latvia. We share your mourning with you, we mourn along with you, and we mourn for those whom a foreign power brought into our country, only to smear our soil with their innocent blood. We never wish to experience anything like that again, and we are therefore doing everything so that in a democratic, independent Latvia each person is respected equally, and has equal rights, and we must never tolerate and justify even the slightest intolerance, prejudice or sign of racism.
President's Chancery (04.07.2006)
The conference Holocaust: Remembrance and Lessons, held in Riga
On 4 July 2006, Latvian Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks opened the international conference Holocaust: Remembrance and Lessons, which took place in the Great Hall of the University of Latvia. The opening lecture was delivered by Prof Yehuda Bauer on the topic: The Holocaust in the Context of European History.
The conference Holocaust: Remembrance and Lessons is an international-level event which attracts participants from all over the world to raise awareness, promote discussion on sensitive historic issues, and enrich the experience of researchers, experts and practitioners from Latvia, from both Eastern and Western countries.
The President of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, was Patron of the conference, which was organised by the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in association with the Latvian Transatlantic Organisation (LATO), and the American Jewish Committee. The conference was sponsored by the Task Force for International Co-operation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research (ITF).
Representatives from more than 20 countries took part in the event. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga officially opened the conference. The introductory address was delivered by the well-known public figure, politician, and President of the French Shoah Memorial Foundation, Simone Weil. Reports were also read at the conference by the Director of the Yad Vashem Institute, Avner Shalev, Lord Janner of Braunstone from the UK, the historian and well-known Holocaust researcher Andrievs Ezergailis, Professor Aivars Stranga, the Director of the Museum and Documentation Centre Ebreji Latvija [Jews in Latvia] Margers Vestermanis, Professor George D. Schwab from the U.S.A., and others.
The former Head of the Estonian Commission of Historians, Max Jakobson, informed the conference on problems related to Holocaust research in Estonia, while the Chair of the Lithuanian Commission of Historians, Emanuelis Zingeris, delivered a similar report regarding Lithuania.
The conference took place in three major sections, analysing Holocaust research, education, and commemoration. A separate session of the conference was dedicated to issues related to anti-Semitism, and was led by Beata Winkler, Director of the European Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), and Nils Muiznieks from Latvia.
The conference illustrated the achievements of Latvian scientists in Holocaust research, and the explanation and teaching of this issue in Latvia's schools, as well as the achievements in the preservation of the memory of Holocaust victims.
Address by the President of Latvia at the Conference Holocaust: Remembrance and Lessons, Riga, 5 July 2006 (excerpts)
[..] In 1918 Latvia gained its independence, and immediately gave the right to vote to men and women and to all social groups. In that period between the two world wars, Latvia did not tolerate anti-Semitism. Latvia took in a boat that had left Nazi Germany with refugees on it that Sweden, as a neutral country, had refused to admit to its waters. Latvia had Jewish schools as part of the education system. Latvia did not condone anti-Semitism during that period of independence. Latvia's statehood was lost in 1940 by its first occupation. [..]
It is in that period of the second occupation for Latvia, the Nazi German occupation; that the Holocaust happened in Latvia after the deportations and repressions of the first Communist occupation known as the Terrible Year here in Latvia. And the size of it was truly horrendous. Out of a substantial Jewish population that had become an important part of both the economy and the social fabric of Latvia, the largest proportion were simply murdered and eliminated.
Tens of thousands more were imported from other countries in Europe.
We were left faced with a whole number of questions, which Holocaust scholars have been addressing over the years, and which here in Latvia we have been able to address formally and with full support from State institutions only since the recovery of our independence in 1991.
It is very striking that during the Soviet period there was no meaningful research on the Holocaust. [..]
The Holocaust is an important topic of research that we have set as a nationally-supported goal and aim for the Historical Commission, because it happened on Latvian soil, it happened with the participation of Latvian nationals, it happened under occupation when Latvian statehood no longer existed. The Latvian State never supported the idea of a Holocaust. There was no Latvian State when the Holocaust happened. It is one of the reasons why we have fought and hoped so long to recover our freedom, to regain our independence. We wanted an independent Latvia where everybody, whatever their origin, whatever their ancestry, wherever they came from, however long they had been living in Latvia - whether centuries or decades or millennia - would be accepted as a human being, as a part of this society, as someone who is welcome here, as a loyal member of society and a loyal citizen, without prejudice, without distinction. [..]
The Holocaust has to be studied for a number of reasons, in Latvia as elsewhere. This is why I particularly welcome this very high-level international gathering here. [..]
President's Chancery (05.07.2006)
Riga hosts sixth conference Jews In A Changing World
Between 11-14 September 2006, the sixth international conference Jews In A Changing World took place in Riga, dedicated to the Jews of Latvia and the Baltics at the crossroads of European history.
The conference Jews In a Changing World is a unique project in Eastern Europe. Since 1995, scientists, public figures, members of religious organisations, and journalists from various countries around the world, have gathered in Riga together with Latvian researchers and the wider public, to consider topical issues of our region and modern society, based on the multi-faceted historical experience of the Jewish people.
Participating in the conference were 60 researchers from France, Israel, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, U.S.A., Romania, Germany, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
The conference was held in honour of the one-hundredth anniversary of the Peitavas Street Synagogue of Riga, and will celebrate the one-hundredth birthday of the French-Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995).
A Jewish Book Festival was held during the conference at the Riga Jewish Community Centre.
The conference was supported by the following organisations: the University of Latvia, the Centre for the Study of East European Jewish Culture and History (Vilnius, Lithuania), the Secretariat of the Special Assignments Minister for Social Integration of Latvia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, the Centre Culturel Français de Riga, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Discussed during the conference were issues relating to Jewish history and culture, aspects of foreign integration in a national state, problems related to the preservation of national identity, educational issues for minorities, the forming of favourable inter-ethnic relations, mutual understanding between diverse religions.
Premiere screening of documentary film on the Jews of Latvia
On 31 August 2006, at the University of Latvia, a documentary film produced and directed by Andris Gauja on Latvia's Jewry, 3,000 km to the Promised Land was screened. The film attempts to reply to the question of how modern-day Jews manage to keep alive their thousands of years' old traditions and standards of society.
Before the screening of the film, its director addressed the audience, saying that the main purpose of the film is to facilitate a better understanding of the Jewish community in society, and to break down various stereotypes, which others have formed about Jews. "In the film, Jews are shown as they are here and now, without reflecting history and the events of the Holocaust", said Andris Gauja.
The 54 minute-long film took about a year to make. It describes how the Jewry of contemporary Latvia manages to keep alive traditions cultivated over thousands of years. The film's characters are both Orthodox Jews - a handful of people who strive to maintain the values of Judaism in contemporary Latvia, and sceptics, who are of the view that Jewish traditions and religion have lost their significance.
Made with the financial support of the PHARE programme, the film aims to offer society a deeper notion of the life of this singular ethnic community, and reduce existing prejudices, while at the same time showing the contradictory and complex situation faced by Jews in contemporary Latvia.
Copies of the film in both DVD and VHS format will be presented to Latvia's secondary schools and universities.
On 12 October, the film was screened to a wider audience at the Riga cinema.
The total cost of the film is EUR 104,098 (LVL 73,160), comprising 81% from a European Community PHARE grant, 9% from the State Budget, and 10% is from co-financing from the Multimedia Projects for Historical Places project.
Wide-ranging debate on recent history in conference Latvia and Eastern Europe in the 1960s-1980s
The title Latvia and Eastern Europe in the 1960s-1980s was given to the conference organised by the Latvian Commission of Historians on 10 October at the War Museum, during which recent history was discussed for the first time since the Commission was established. The purpose of the annual international conference, organised in co-operation with the Occupation Museum of Latvia, and the Latvian War Museum, was to analyse topical issues of the Soviet period of history in Latvia and Eastern Europe.
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga addressed the conference. Papers were also delivered by scientists from six countries: Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, U.S.A., Ukraine and Romania. There were four plenary sessions at the conference. Well-known Lithuanian researcher Arvids Anusausks delivered a paper on the Soviet regime's permanent system of societal control. Prof Antonijs Zunda, referring to documents held in the UK archives, analysed the attitude of Western countries regarding the ''Baltic Problem'', emphasising that theoretically, the countries could be divided into three main groups. Swedish historian Li Bennich-Bjorkman delivered a report on opportunities for resistance in the Baltic states and Ukraine in the 1960s-1980s. Prof Heinrihs Strods spoke on censorship of foreign publications in Latvia between 1958 and 1989, and Valters Nollendorfs spoke on literary contacts between Latvians in exile and local Latvians.
The conference agenda included reports on expressions of youth resistance to the communist regime in Latvia for the period under review, the activities of Soviet security institutions, the attitude of the Soviet authorities towards religious minorities, and other topics.
A separate session of the conference considered the utilisation of oral historical evidence in researching the history of the Soviet period.
An interesting paper was delivered by Ukrainian historian Anatoliy Rusnachenko, entitled Ukraine from the Mid-1950s to the Mid-1980s: Second among Equals or an Imperial Colony?
President's Chancery (04.10.2006)
Address by Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga at the Historical Conference dedicated to processes in 1960s-1980s organised by the Historians' Commission of Latvia, War Museum, Riga, 10 October 2006 (excerpts from transcript)
The 60s and 80s came after the death of Stalin and the end of the most brutal and sanguinary period in Soviet history. But that does not mean that these decades were any less totalitarian or less oppressive, even if they were, I guess, less costly to human lives and human suffering in the most brutal sense of the word.
There was change happening in the Soviet Union. It was extremely gradual, it was at times almost impossible to perceive for those who lived through it. Nonetheless there were changes happening in the system, and some of them touching Latvia were in many ways for the worst. Even as the death of Stalin had opened a hope for an easing of the burden of the Soviet system, the process of deliberate and excessive industrialisation of Latvia, together with the influx of Russian-speaking populations, and an equally deliberate Russification of both the demography and the social environment, had an impact on Latvian culture and on the Latvian people, which was sufficiently severe to have in fact contributed to the movement for independence at the end of the 80s.
We have a controversy going on here in Latvia about whether history should be taught - Latvia's history - separately from the rest of the world. This Conference here, I think, looks at Latvia in the context of Eastern Europe. Anything that happens in a country, of course, happens in a wider context. I think this is the advantage of this Conference, that it will provide both the focus and the background. Whatever the technical way of presenting history to students; that is ultimately what they have to master. They have to know the history of their country. And they have to know it in more detail than maybe people in other countries do. At the same time, of course, no country lives in isolation from the others, and whatever happens in one has to be seen in a broader context. For history it is particularly important, because the events that have swept across our continent have of course never touched any one country alone; there have always been others like it. [..]
President's Chancery (10.10.2006)
Cabinet of Ministers approves Latvian delegation to ITF
On 30 November 2006, Latvia's Cabinet of Ministers approved the draft Order On the Delegation of the Republic of Latvia to the Task Force for International Co-operation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, providing for the approval of the delegation's composition, specifying duties and responsibilities of the head of the delegation and its members, for the order of reporting on the performance, and for the Latvian participation fees and responsibilities of the involved Latvian ministries for budgeting for business travel and other expenses of the delegation's members.
With this Order taking effect, the Cabinet of Ministers Regulation No. 792 of 18 December 2003 On Latvia's Participation in the International Holocaust Task Force that covered participation of Latvian representatives in the Task Force for International Co-operation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, which was formed in 1998, will become invalid.
In 2000, in Stockholm, a major international forum was held dedicated to Holocaust issues, in which Latvia was represented by its President, Vaira Vike-Freiberga. The Stockholm Forum adopted a declaration in which its member countries, acknowledging that the world is still experiencing genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, agreed among other things, that the international community should be responsible for fighting against these evils. Latvia became member of the ITF at the close of 2004.
Latvia's membership in the Task Force for International Co-operation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research envisages international co-operation in enhancing educational programmes in the sphere of holocaust and in the training of educators. By acquiring the experience of other member states in research and education, Latvian scholars and teachers can obtain useful knowledge, and take over or adjust the methodology for explaining to Latvian society the sensitive and complex issues of history proposed by the ITF.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (30.11.2006)
Book launch ceremony held at Jews in Latvia Museum
On 14 December at the Jews in Latvia Museum, the book-launch ceremony of Elmars Rivosh's book Notes, a book published with the support of the Latvian Council of Jewish Parishes and Communities, took place.
Elmars Rivosh (1906-1957), a sculptor, was in 1941 confined in the Riga Ghetto, where his mother, wife and infant children were subsequently to die. After escaping from the Ghetto, he hid in a basement of his Latvian friends.
Elmars Rivosh's recollections encompass the period from his early childhood at the beginning of the twentieth century to the mid-1950s.
Notes' most significant part is the chapters entitled ''Beginning of the End'', ''It has Begun'' and ''The Basement'', covering the period June 1941-October 1944. These memoirs are acknowledged as an outstanding monument of World War II literature. Fragments of the book translated into the Latvian language have been published in local newspapers.
Participating in the book launching ceremony were Elmars Rivosh's daughter and grandson, friends and relatives of persons mentioned in the book, government officials, historians, writers, artists, and members of the Jewish community.
Commission of Historians releases latest Volume of research on the Holocaust in Latvia
On 18 December 2006, at the Riga Castle, the official book launch of Volume 18 of research reports by the Latvian Commission of Historians took place.
Papers delivered at the Commission conferences, and research findings on the Holocaust submitted to the Commission, are traditionally published by the Latvian Commission of Historians in a separate volume. Four such volumes have been published already. In 2001, Volume 2 The Issues of Holocaust Research in Latvia was published; in 2002, Volume 4, Dr. Habil. Hist Leo Dribin's monograph Anti-Semitism and its Manifestations in Latvia: a Historical Review; in 2003, Volume 8, Holocaust Research Issues in Latvia; and in 2004, Volume 12, Holocaust Research in Latvia.
Volume 18, The Holocaust in Latvia, was published in 2006. The Volume is in four parts, the first part contains papers on the topic of the Holocaust which were delivered at the Commission's international conference on the theme The Totalitarian Regimes in the Baltics: Problems and Results of Research, in Riga on 3-4 June 2004. The second part contains reports of research conducted by the Commission in 2004 and 2005 into problems of the Holocaust in Latvia.
In his publication, Prof Aivars Stranga presents a detailed assessment of Holocaust research in Latvia. In his opinion the time has come to write an all-embracing history of the Holocaust, which would include the history of the murderers, victims, rescuers and bystanders. Prof Stranga notes that at least 472 residents of occupied Latvia during the War years rescued around 400 Jewish people.
The volume includes material by the Chair of the Lithuanian International Commission of Historians, Emanuelis Zingeris, in which Holocaust research in Lithuania is analysed. He notes that during the occupation, 220,000 Jews were murdered in Lithuania, in fact the entire Jewish community. Mr Zingeris notes that Lithuania has inherited several hitherto unresolved problems associated with the Holocaust, which continue to influence Jewish-Lithuanian relations nowadays. Legal and moral issues are topical, as are issues related to research and general education.
Well-known researcher Prof Andrievs Ezergailis analyses six versions of the Holocaust in Latvia, of which three have originated in Nazi Germany, two in the Soviet Union (Russia), and one from among Holocaust survivors in Israel, U.S.A., and Latvia.
Volume 18 includes the research work of 13 historians on the Holocaust in Latvia. Overall, the book is a step forward in explaining and assessing the history of a single tragedy, the Holocaust.
In the third and fourth parts of the book reports of the annihilation of Jews in the Jekabpils district are published, together with recollections of sculptor and holocaust survivor Elmars Rivosh.
The Holocaust in Latvia. Published by the Institute of History of Latvia, - Riga, 2006, 9 pp.
President's Chancery (12.12.2006) (18.12.2006)
Newsletter "Latvia's History: Education, Remembrance, Research" is a compilation of press releases and news reports drawn from the media and official sources.