LATVIA'S HISTORY: EDUCATION, REMEMBRANCE, RESEARCH
December, 2001 (18)
- Latvia's History Commission submits Progress Report
- International seminar "The Issues of the Research into the Holocaust" and exhibition "Latvia's Jewish Community - History, Tragedy, Revival" opens in Riga
- Latvia commemorates 60th anniversary of the Holocaust
- President of Latvia inaugurates the Bikernieki Memorial
- Rumbula Memorial to be reconstructed
- Israeli President commends Latvia's achievements in the Holocaust education and research
Latvia's History Commission submits Progress Report
On 28 November Latvia's History Commission in the framework of summarising its accomplishments since establishment three years ago gathered in its annual meeting to discuss future tasks. The Progress Report prepared by the Commission and approved by all 24 members was submitted to the President of Latvia Dr Vaira Vike-Freiberga.
The Report states that the Commission pursues its mission through international conferences and publications, promotion of historical research and development of appropriate historical curricula in schools and universities.
Up to now the Commission has organised three conferences, namely, "Latvia in the Second World War" (1999), "Problems of Research into the Holocaust in Latvia" (2000) and "The Deportation of 14 June 1941" (2001), and published the materials of the first two conferences in the series "Symposium of the Commission of Historians of Latvia", the third conference events being in preparation.
The Commission's main task is management of the research work in four directions, i.e., research into the crimes against humanity committed in the territory of Latvia in 1940–41, the Holocaust in the territory of Latvia in 1941–44, the crimes against humanity committed in the territory of Latvia during the German occupation in 1941–45, and the crimes against humanity committed in the territory of Latvia during the second Soviet occupation in 1944–56. More than thirty Latvian historians are currently exploring the most important aspects of the above mentioned themes, the Holocaust and, in particular, involvement of ethnic Latvians in the massacre actions in the summer and late autumn of 1941, remaining the primary focus of the research. The first findings indicate that there is no connection whatsoever between the events of the first Soviet occupation of 1940–41 and the participation of Latvians in the murder of Jews.
The Commission has given special attention to the dissemination of historical knowledge and teaching methodology in schools.To this end it has cooperated closely and successfully with Ministry of Education and Science, Latvian Association of History Teachers, Museum of Jews in Latvia, Occupation Museum of Latvia (1940–1991) and other educational and cultural organisations."The Teaching of Controversial Issues of World War II" was one of the seminars for teachers in April 2000, followed by "Holocaust Education" in the autumn of 2000. In November 2001 the seminar "The Holocaust in Latvia" was held.
The Progress Report of Latvia's History Commission: http://www.am.gov.lv/e/?id=2258
International seminar "The Issues of the Research into the Holocaust" and exhibition "Latvia's Jewish Community – History, Tragedy, Revival" opens in Riga
On 29 November the international seminar "The Issues of the Research into the Holocaust" took place at the University of Latvia in Riga. The international seminar was opened by the speech of President of Latvia Dr Vaira Vike-Freiberga presented by Mr Antonijs Zunda, Adviser to the President on History Commission Issues. Historians from the Institute of History of Latvia, members of the History Commission of Latvia, researchers from Germany and the U.S. participated in the seminar.
The seminar focused on the latest research into the Holocaust and also highlighted the 60th anniversary of the Rumbula tragedy. 11 reports on Holocaust in Latvia during WWII were presented at the seminar, among them by Prof Andrievs Ezergailis from the U.S. - "The Tragedy of Rumbula", Mr Margeris Vestermanis, Director of the Museum and Documentation Centre "Jews in Latvia" – "Resistance of Jews to the Holocaust", Latvian historian from Sweden Mr Karlis Kangeris – "The Latvian Jewish Relations from the Perspective of the Third Reich, 1939-1941". This time more attention was paid to persecution of Jews in smaller towns of Latvia, namely, crimes committed in the towns of Ventspils, Krustpils, Bauska and its vicinities, Malta and Silene in 1941. Prof Aivars Stranga delivered a report on the accomplishments of the History Commission in research of the Holocaust issues.
At the same time an exhibition dedicated to the history of Jews in Latvia was opened in Riga by the State Secretary of the Ministry of Education and Science of Latvia Mr Andris Sarnovics, Latvian representative in co-operation with the International Task Force. The exhibition is part of the project entitled"Latvia's Jewish Community – History, Tragedy, Revival" that includes also publication of a booklet based on exhibition materials, and publication of a brochure on the history of the Holocaust in Latvia and can be regarded as the first attempt to look at this very broad topic covering the period from the origins of the Latvian Jewish community to the present in a concise and well-designed visual form.
The exhibition was prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia in collaboration with the Museum and Documentation Centre "Jews in Latvia". The exhibition illuminates separate stages in the history of the Latvian Jewish community: the very origins of it, the period between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, and the World War II and the Holocaust. The Government activities of today's Latvia are also revealed by reflecting the growing support to the Holocaust education, remembrance and research.
From 30 November till 10 December the exhibition was on display at the Riga Jewish Community House, Latvian Foreign Ministry together with the Ministry of Education plan to show the exhibition also in other cities of Latvia while in the year 2002 it is planned to show it in Israel.
Photo coverage of the exhibition "Latvia's Jewish Community – History, Tragedy, Revival": http://www.am.gov.lv/lv/?id=1259
Latvia commemorates 60th anniversary of the Holocaust
On 30 November with the opening ceremony at the Riga Jewish Community House the remembrance event on the occasion of consecration of Bikernieki Memorial marking the 60th anniversary of the mass killings and deportations of thousands of Jews that took place in Latvia 60 years ago begun in Riga. Although the Memorial in Bikernieki is dedicated to those 46.500 Nazi victims killed at Bikernieki during 1941-1944 that day actually marks the anniversary of the killing of 24.000 Jews of Latvia and 1.000 Jews from Western Europe in Rumbula forest nearby Riga on 30 November and 8 December 1941.
The ceremony was attended by Latvia's top officials and representatives of local religious and intellectual circles, as well as diplomatic corps and foreign guests.
In his address the Latvian Prime Minister Mr Andris Berzins pointed out that the tragedy at Rumbula is a global tragedy. Latvian citizens who fought for Latvia's independence were also killed in this massacre. He stressed that Nazi crimes will never be permitted again in a society that is now being formed in Latvia and the rest of the world. Mr Berzins also expressed deep regret that citizens of Latvia were among those who participated in the homicide against the Jews.
The President of the People's Union for the Care of War Graves of Germany, Mr Karl-Wilhelm Lange said that the opening of the Memorial would be watched not only in Latvia, but also in the whole of Europe and the world. He said that the cities must not forget those killed and that we have to return the names to the victims.
The Chairman of the German-Baltic parliamentary group at the German Bundestag Prof Wolfgang von Steten read a letter from the President of the German Bundestag, Mr Wolfgang Thierse, in which he thanked all donors and contributors who supported the initiative of the Bikernieki Memorial.
President of Latvia inaugurates the Bikernieki Memorial
On 30 November afternoon President of Latvia Dr Vaira Vike-Freiberga officially unveiled the newly built Memorial to Nazi victims in the Bikernieki forest in the outskirts of Riga in a ceremony joined by diplomatic corps, foreign guests, top Latvian officials and local Jewish Community representatives.
"We have all come here from far away and nearby to inaugurate the monument, place and commemoration of those who were intended to be destroyed by leaving no trace about them and also no memories that they have ever existed," Dr Vike-Freiberga said in an address to the ceremony.The past could not be restored, those who have been killed cannot be returned "but we can revive the memory and that is what we will take care of" the President added.
According to the President, everybody should work hard not to admit intolerance, prejudice, suspicion, hatred and violence in his or her country or in his or her nearest surroundings. She addressed the ceremony in English saying "the land on which we are standing is soaked with blood" and called on all to bend their heads in mourning about people who died here.
Austrian Ambassador to Latvia Mr Wolfgang Jilly pointed at the horrific events that had taken place at Bikernieki saying they cannot be described in words, and the Memorial will be a message to the next generations about totalitarianism and madness of the past century. Mr Jilly voiced hope that in the new architecture of European Union, which Latvia will soon be a member of, there will never be hatred against the strange and there will never be racism. He also reminded of an anonymous inscription in the Memorial of the Auschwitz concentration camp - "Forgive, but never forget".
The ceremony was addressed by German Ambassador to Latvia Mr Eckart Herold and the representatives of the native towns of the victims, who placed metal capsules bearing victims' names into an altar stone at the centre of the Memorial.
The opening of the Memorial concluded series of events dedicated to the Holocaust research, education and remembrance in Latvia. All the events received full-coverage in local media and were spotted by a number of foreign news agencies (AP, AFP, "Jerusalem Post"). In the article "Remembrance and Justice" published by Latvia's leading daily newspaper Diena Mr Efraim Zuroff, Simon Wiesenthal Center Israeli Office director, admits that Latvia doesn't ignore this dark period of her past but still points out that more efforts have to be exerted in order to prosecute those who were guilty.
The Bikernieki Memorial covers an area of 10 hectares. A path through the woods, the "path of death" leads from the central Memorial site to the individual cemeteries. These are edged with slanted stones and marked out by natural stone slabs. Since not only the Jews of the ghetto, but also Latvians and POWs of various religious faiths and nationalities were murdered there are concrete slabs along the path bearing the Star of David, a cross or wreath of thorns. Architect of the Memorial is Mr Sergejs Rizs who devoted 15 years of his life to this project.
The Memorial inauguration was organized by the Riga city council together with the German People's Union for the Care of War Graves that launched cooperation with Riga in Memorial construction five years ago.
The financial aid for building the Memorial was granted by the German People's Union for the Care of War Graves, and was supported the Riga City Council. The Riga Committee under the patronage of the Federal President of Germany, established by the People's Union for the Care of War Graves and consisting of 13 cities-representatives, and the Riga Committee of the Fraternal Cemetery, an institution authorized by the Latvian Government, have jointly implemented this project. The construction works were launched in 2000 and involved costs at around DEM 1.000.000 (USD 460.836).
Rumbula Memorial to be reconstructed
On 4 December the Riga City Council approved allocation of LVL 20.000 (USD 31.746) for implementation of the second stage of Rumbula Memorial reconstruction project, which involves creating its infrastructure and laying a memorial stone.
The German People's Union for the Care of War Graves had earlier granted DEM 90.332 (USD 41.632) for the first stage of the Rumbula reconstruction works, which involving renovation of the entire burial ground and each grave separately.
In Rumbula forest mass murder of 24.000 Jews of Latvia and 1000 Jews displaced from Germany was perpetrated in 1941.
Israeli President commends Latvia's achievements in the Holocaust education and research
On 30 November Latvia's President Dr Vaira Vike-Freiberga received a letter from the Israeli President Mr Moshe Katsav commending Latvia's contribution in the fields of the Holocaust education, remembrance and research.
The Israeli President writes he is impressed about the serious and thorough activities that are performed in Latvia in the above mentioned fields, particularly in education and research.
President Katsav has asked Dr Vike-Freiberga to pass over his greetings and gratitude to the Latvian Government, academic circles and public representatives for their contribution to the issue.
Latvia's achievements were also approved by Israeli Prime Minister Mr Ariel Sharon, Foreign Minister Mr Shimon Peres, and the Speaker of the Knesset Mr Avraham Burg, as well as other officials.
For further information:
History Commission of Latvia
Chairman: Professor Andris Caune
Address: c/o History Institute of Latvia
1 Akademijas lauk., Riga, LV 1050, Latvia
Tel.: (+371) 7 225 948;
Fax: (+371) 7 225 044
Adviser to the President of Latvia on the History Commission Issues
Dr. habil. hist. Assoc. Professor Antonijs Zunda
Chancery of the President,
3 Pils lauk., Riga, LV 1900, Latvia
Tel.: (+371) 7 092 109;
Fax: (+371) 7 325 800