LATVIA'S HISTORY: EDUCATION, REMEMBRANCE, RESEARCH
June – July 2005 (31)
- American Jewish Committee discusses co-operation in explaining history issues in Latvia
- A visit to Latvia by one of the most respected politicians of Europe, Simone Veil
- Speech delivered by the President of Latvia at the round table discussion of current problems of the XX century history of Latvia, held on July 4, 2005 at the Small Hall of the University of Latvia
- On the day of remembering victims of Jewish genocide the President of Latvia declares solidarity with the persecuted.
- Jew saviors Jadviga Arcihovska and Valentina Rasnaca
- A monument unveiled for Jewish concentration camp victims
- A monument to be erected in Riga for Jew savior Zanis Lipke
- Exhibitions Synagogues of Latvia 1918 – 1940 and The Riga Ghetto – the Buildings after 60 Years
American Jewish Committee discusses co-operation in explaining history issues in Latvia
A delegation of the American Jewish Committee, headed by the Committee's Executive Director David Harris, visited Latvia on July 6 and 7. The delegation met with representatives of the Saeima Latvia-USA and Latvia–Israel parliamentary co-operation groups, Minister of Justice, Solvita Aboltiņa, and paid a visit to the President of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga.
Afterwards the delegation took part in a round-table discussion at the Cabinet of Ministers, at which Latvian representatives participating included the Special Assignments Minister for Social Integration, Ainars Latkovskis, the Special Ambassador of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gints Jegermanis, State Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Daniels Pavluts, Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Interior, Dainis Turlais, Head of the Central Criminal Police Department at the State Police, Janis Vonda, Deputy Head of the Security Police, Juris Leitietis, Head of the Analysis Department of the National Human Rights Office, Liga Bikseniece, and Deputy Head of the Inspectorate for the Protection of National Heritage, Janis Asaris.
During the meeting, the current events of Latvian home and foreign policies and the present co-operation in explaining the history and preservation of the cultural heritage were discussed, and the guidelines for future co-operation were debated.
After the discussions with Latvian officials, representatives of the American Jewish Committee expressed their appreciation of Latvia's goodwill in addressing of social integration issues.
Executive Director of the Committee David Harris indicated that he was glad Latvia wished to support the preservation of identity and language of different communities and provide support for the Jewish community in Latvia.
Also, while discussing the situation of the community and the threat of anti-semitism in Latvia, the US representative found that in Latvia, similarly to other European countries, the issue of increased anti-semitism was very sensitive and careful attention should be paid to it.
Mr Harris admitted that the Latvia–US relations are very close, strengthened by the personal friendship of the US President George Bush and the President of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga.
He thanked Latvia for its support for the USA, as evidenced by its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr Harris also appreciated the good relations between Latvia and Israel and thanked for the support Latvia had expressed, notwithstanding the Middle East situation.
The Executive Director finally indicated that he had had a good impression during his visit of the situation in Latvia concerning the relations between different nationalities, and said he was happy about the opportunities to strengthen the relations between the Latvian and American Jewish communities.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (05.07.2005)
A visit to Latvia by one of the most respected politicians of Europe, Simone Veil
Simone Veil is called the moral authority of France and a most committed fighter for European values. This centre right-wing former politician arrived in Latvia at the invitation of the President of Latvia to visit memorials to the victims of the Holocaust. The views of Simone Veil, the daughter of a Jewish architect, have formed under hardships. A year after graduating from high school and shortly before the end of the war, in March 1944, she was deported with her family to the Auschwitz concentration camp where she was assigned the number 78 651. Of her family, only she and one of her sisters survived.
"Simone Veil has belonged to the liberal political movement which experienced its shining moment under her leadership. Liberalism does not mean licence, but is related to a person's freedom and respect for each other, not forgetting one's own responsibility and duty to others", indicates Rolands Lappuke, the Latvian Ambassador to France. This had clearly come through in a TV broadcast where Simone Veil participated with the President of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga. At the time, Ms Veil admitted the historical injustice done to Latvia and the fact that people do not pay enough attention to the genocide perpetrated by the Soviet Union. "It would not be an exaggeration to say that in France Simone Veil personifies honesty and awareness of justice. After she publicly stated that she did not know the facts of the 1941 deportations during which children were also deported, the President of Latvia invited Simone Veil to visit Latvia", relates Rolands Lappuķe.
Sandra Kalniete, the previous Ambassador to France, has participated with Simone Veil in the introductory broadcast of the programme The Fates of Women. As Ms Kalniete indicated, "Simone Veil is one of the most respected politicians in France". Although she was involved in politics as a representative of one party, she always retained the ability to look beyond the limits of party politics. "On the programme we each told of our own experience. I – more of my parents' experience in Gulag, she - of her experience with the Nazis", remembers Sandra Kalniete. "We agreed that they both were brutal, totalitarian regimes and that, unfortunately – and Simone Veil agreed – in Western Europe the criminal nature of communism is not yet understood".
The influential former of public opinion, representative of the Constitutional Council and former minister of the Government of France, Simone Veil, took part on July 4 in a discussion of the history of Latvia.
The event was attended by the President of Latvia, Chairperson of the Strategic Analysis Commission, Zaneta Ozolina, representative of the Historians Commission Aivars Stranga, Director of the museum of Jews in Latvia, Margers Vestermanis and the Head of the Centre for Judaic Studies at the University of Latvia, Professor Ruvins Ferbers.
Ambassadors of member states of the EU, representatives of the Jewish community and the Head of the Jewish religious congregation were also invited to the discussion.
Speech delivered by the President of Latvia at the round table discussion of current problems of the XX century history of Latvia, held on July 4, 2005 at the Small Hall of the University of Latvia
Dear guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I am addressing this round-table discussion at this event, especially wishing to express my gratitude to and respect for Ms Simone Veil who was kind enough to respond to my invitation to come to Latvia and take part in this kind of intellectual debate. I believe that the depth and understanding of her thoughts, and her humanity, are of a degree, that for us it is especially important to hear her thoughts this year, when we start a completely new century under circumstances completely different from what we have ever had in history. For us this past century has proceeded from the revolution of 1905 to this year 2005, when we have become full-fledged members of the European Union and NATO.
The events of the past century with its two totalitarian occupations and especially the genocide of the Jewish people which today, the 4th of July, we remember with sorrow and grief, have been unique in their way, different from other events. Never before has been exterminated to such an extent in such a short period of time an entire integral part of society that had lived and prospered here over centuries, even during the Tzarist totalitarian system, in peaceful co-existence with their neighbours. As opposed to many other places of the Tzarist empire, Latvia never experienced pogroms. This mass murder, this genocide of the Jewish people left a very significant and painful gap in the demographic profile of Latvia and its population, which can never be filled because entire families were destroyed. As we have just heard, it is a new community reborn here but which, we hope, will be able to take root here, to flourish and prosper the same way as those who were exterminated by the Holocaust. Of course, we want to take care that nothing like this can ever happen again to them or anyone else in Europe.
At present Europe stands on the threshold of many important decisions, but it is so in any period of history. We have the freedom of choice, even during totalitarianism – to save one's own life or another's, to take hold of a gun and point it to an innocent civilian or not do it? There were choices. The final choice would be: to live or to die. There are circumstances when perhaps it is better to decide to die than to kill another, but that has always been an individual choice.
Now our choices are not so dramatic. We can say that we are a lucky generation because we can afford to decide how to make life better, rather than how to avoid death, horror and torture. There is a huge difference. When we think about it, I do not know whether it has ever been like that in the history of Latvia, except for this short period between the two wars. This is the moment when we are open to the world, we have the opportunity to be heard, but most importantly - to hear others, to learn of their life and their work.
President's Chancery (04.07.2005)
On the day of remembering victims of Jewish genocide the President of Latvia declares solidarity with the persecuted
On July 4th, remembering the Jews incinerated in the synagogue on July 4, 1941, the President of Latvia Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga expressed sympathy and solidarity with the Jewish people and those persecuted throughout the world.
Addressing the meeting at the ruins of the burned down synagogue, the President said, "A threefold sin took place here: sin against humanity, sin against the Jewish people, and sin against a temple, because any temple should be respected as it is very dear to that faith and people. Here people were killed the same as in the Holocaust, as a sacrifice of fire to the cult of evil and hate. This hate began with an ideology which placed some people higher than others and thus others lower. Here we can see the root of the evil which has persecuted humanity since its origins, and which we must fight today, tomorrow, and always". The President noted, "I bow my head before the victims, I pray for their souls with you all, we remember with respect all those who have survived the horrors of the Holocaust and I, as the President of Latvia, can assure you of Latvia's determination that we shall be alert, we shall be careful, we shall take care that such things do not happen again, so that our children understand what happened in the past, so that they understand how wrong it was and that it must not happen again. I therefore wish for all of us to remember today our common humanity, our solidarity and our brotherhood. We are all God's children, we are all brothers and sisters."
The former minister of the Government of France and survivor of Auschwitz Simone Veil expressed her understanding that the history and injustice over 60 long years have deeply affected the collective memory of the Latvian people. "Both dictatorial regimes are to be blamed for these injustices", said Simone Veil, "I know how much the Latvian people have suffered after the Soviet occupation in 1940, when 34,000 Latvians perished. They were people of different religious communities and social groups, who were deported to Siberia". She indicated that in this painful context when the Latvian people have suffered so much, it is difficult to be aware of the specific nature of the genocide of Latvian Jews. Ms Veil emphasized the importance of the Holocaust education, especially among children and youth.
The Ambassador of Israel Gary Koren noted that Jews had lived in Latvia peacefully for four hundred years and many of them had fought for Latvia's first independence. He condemned collaborationism and the indifference of the local people, watching the extermination of their Jewish neighbours during World War II. The Ambassador also mentioned the 'shadow of anti-semitism' in Latvia and emphasized that "the past teaches Jews not to keep silent about it".
Ambassador Koren expressed the need to teach and to explain to the younger generation of Latvia the horrors of the Holocaust. The Ambassador said that Israel had offered the Latvian Government a joint project under which Latvian history teachers would be trained in a special course in Israel on issues of the Holocaust.
On behalf of Cardinal Janis Pujats sympathy for the Jewish people was expressed by the Catholic priest Janis Putkans, who emphasized that during the Holocaust people suffered whose religion taught them to love and respect humanity.
The Jewish community organizes a memorial meeting at the destroyed Jewish synagogue at Gogola Street every year. In 1941 at the synagogue, Jews were incinerated at prayer; it is not possible to say how many people died. Various sources mention a number from some dozens to two thousand.
During the German Nazi occupation more than 70,000 Latvian Jews were killed.
President's Chancery (04.07.2005)
Jew saviors Jadviga Arcihovska and Valentina Rasnaca
Jadviga and Valentina are united by their experiences during the war, when they saved Jews from death.
Residents of Rezekne Jadviga Arcihovska and Valentina Rasnaca are not relatives, yet they call each other sister. The Pole Jadviga Arcihovska was born and grew up in Rezekne, and the Latvian Valentina Rasnaca - near Karsava, but both have been united by fate – during World War II their families, risking their own lives, became asylum for Jews doomed to death. "It was not important for us at that time whether those were Jews, Latvians, Russians or Roma. The important thing was that these people were in despair, they were in danger of being killed and we could not refuse their call for help," says Valentina.
Jadviga Arcihovska has lived in Rezekne all her life; she treasures both the award from the Government of Israel and the Three Star Order awarded by the state of Latvia.
The retired teacher Valentina Rasnaca shows us a photograph from which a dark-haired girl looks with unchildish serious eyes. This is seven years old Judite Zilbere, (now Moreina), who was miraculously saved when her parents were shot in 1941. The humble home of railway worker Antons Barkans, his wife Helena and their only daughter Valentina in the Jeci village 4 km from Karsava, became a refuge for three Karsava Jews: Judite, Lev Udemam and Sonja Minkina.
"I do not understand what makes people so evil – to kill another because of his nationality, but humanity is stronger. Even now, if such a need arose, I am sure there would be people who would risk their lives to save others", says Valentina Rasnaca.
Anna Rancane, Diena (04.07.2005)
A monument unveiled for Jewish concentration camp victims
Commemorating the approximately 18,000 Jews incarcerated in the Mezaparks concentration camp during World War II, on June 29 a monument was unveiled in Mezaparks for the victims of the camp Riga – Kaiserwald and those imprisoned in its adjacent camps.
Funds for the construction of the monument were provided by the Riga City Council, the Government of Germany and the organization Pax Christi of Muenster, Germany. The monument was designed by sculptress Solveiga Vasiljeva.
The opening ceremony was attended by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Artis Pabriks, Minister of Integration Ainars Latkovskis, as well as ambassadors of many countries, including Russia, Germany and the USA. Present at the ceremony were also representatives of the Jewish community, many elderly people as well as the younger generation.
One of the pre-requisits of a considerate life is honest and live memories of events and people, and a monument is the means to preserve these, said the German Ambassador to Latvia, Eckart Herold, at the opening ceremony.
The concentration camp Riga – Kaiserwald was a place of brutality and horror, by unveiling the monument it will become a place of remembrance and sorrow. By the establishment of it we preserve the memories of those thousands of men, women and children who died far from their homes, we honour the relatives of the victims as well as those who survived, but whose souls forever carry scars of their experiences in the camp, said Herold.
The Ambassador expressed the hope that it would be possible to prevent such tragedies in the future, as well as stand up against racism and intolerance. "May this monument give us hope that we shall be able to learn from the crimes of the past", said the Ambassador.
A message from the President of Latvia Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga was read at the unveiling of the monument, in which the President indicated that, "Latvia must not hide the dark pages of history" and the establishment of this concentration camp was a tragedy for Latvia and the Jewish people. The President also indicated that the monument may help us not to forget where the rejection of human values and human qualities may lead.
Foreign Minister Pabriks invited those present to remember that even during hard times there were people who knew how to choose the right way. Mr Pabriks expressed the view that 60 years after World War II, when memories of the events begin to fade away and many eyewitnesses are passing on, it is important to tell young people about what happened. The Minister also indicated that to strengthen the democratic values, there is no place in the Government or the Saeima for people who express anti-democratic and anti-semitic views.
"We can show that we can live in a friendly society without antisemitism, racism and humiliation of people, and this is a value that we can show to other countries, too", said Pabriks. "May the monument also serve as a reminder that we are humans and may not withdraw from those values", wished the Minister.
The Ambassador of Israel to Latvia, Gary Koren, emphasized at the monument the need to teach the history of the Holocaust in schools and thanked for Latvia's contribution in this area. The Ambassador of Israel also noted that while the name Kaiserwald is not linked to the most terrible places of elimination of Jews, it is, however, of significance to the Jewish people. The Ambassador also said that originally Kaiserwald camp was not planned as a death camp, but later, in 1943 and 1944, thousands of Jewish men and women who had previously survived in Ghetto camps, were held there under brutal conditions and tortured, also children.
During 1943-1944 the camp held 18,000 Jewish prisoners from Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Although this camp was not established as a death camp, the larger part of the inmates did not see liberation. They died of the inhumane camp conditions, torture, hunger, sickness and cold.
Only Germans worked in the Mezaparks camp administration and guards; unlike the Salaspils concentration camp, there were no Latvians in either the interior or outside guard.
President's Chancery (29.06.2005)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (29.06.2005)
A monument to be erected in Riga for Jew savior Zanis Lipke
A monument will be erected to Jew savior Zanis Lipke at 25 Gogola Street, Riga, the location of the synagogue burned down during World War II. The monument is dedicated to all those residents of Latvia who, risking their own lives, saved Jews from the Holocaust.
The Chairman of the Jew Savior Memorial Fund, Chairman of the panel of the monument design competition, Sols Bukingolts, said the monument might be built during the next year.
The panel of the monument design competition announced a year ago chose the work of Elina Lazdina, submitted with a motto, People – Symbols. It is designed as a symbolic wall which, by falling down, threatens to destroy the Jewish people, however, it is supported by columns – people, symbolizing those who saved the Jews. The bust of Zanis Lipke is placed on the middle column. The monument is planned to be 3 metres high and 10 metres wide, cast in re-inforced concrete, finished in polished granite. The author of the project estimates that the monument would cost approximately LVL 20,000 – 40,000.
A representative of the panel, sculptor Glebs Pantelejevs indicated to the journalists that the Lazdina project won recognition by the panel not only because it corresponds to the objective – to honour those who saved Jews from the Holocaust, but also by its artistic performance and especially by the harmonic inclusion into the specific surroundings. It is hoped in time to renew the synagogue which was burned down on July 4, 1941, and Lazdina's People – Symbols will fit in well here, explained Pantelejevs. He noted that the artistic significance of the project, not just the socio-political one, is also attested to by the great interest in the project by the Ministry of Culture.
The competition had set a number of assignments – the submitted projects should "in contemporary artistically expressive form honour the memory of those people who under conditions of the Nazi occupation, risking their lives, gave asylum and saved from annihilation the persecuted Jews in Latvia", indicated representatives of the Fund. The monument must symbolize humanism and emphasize human nobility and ability to sacrifice oneself. Furthermore, it must fit into the surrounding cityscape and environmental context, thus becoming an organic addition to the existing memorial site, forming a unified ensemble".
The most prominent representatives of the Memorial Fund are Vitalijs Gavrilovs and Kirovs Lipmans; the patroness of the monument competition is the President of Latvia, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga.
According to the information available to historians, during World War II in Latvia local residents had hidden and saved more than 400 Jews. The number of those saved could have been larger, but many of the hidden Jews were found and killed. More than 30 of Jew saviors were arrested and repressed and only 8 of those survived and returned from concentration camps.
Zanis Lipke was one of the most remarkable Latvian Jew saviors. Under his leadership, in Riga and Dobele 56 people were saved. He was an ordinary port labourer. He died in 1987, and the Latvian Jewish Community put up a monument on his grave, and the Memorial Centre of Israel Yad Vashem awarded an honorary title to him and his wife Johanna, "Righteous among the Nations".
Exhibitions Synagogues of Latvia 1918 – 1940 and The Riga Ghetto – the Buildings after 60 Years
June 29 to July 31 at the Gallery of the House of the Blackheads in Riga an exhibition Synagogues of Latvia, 1918 – 1940 is open. Exhibited are works from the competition Latvian Children Draw the Old Synagogues, photo posters "Synagogues of Latvia 19918-1940" and models of old synagogues. On May 16 a ceremony took place in Riga to open the exhibition of the competition and present prizes. The exhibition closes the project that has been going on for half a year, dedicated to the memory of Chief Rabbi of Riga and Latvia Natans Barkans. The students had the opportunity to share their views and thoughts on the Jewish culture and traditions by drawing synagogues of the First Republic. The aim of the project is to promote tolerance in the Latvian society and enhance the knowledge of school children of the Jewish history and the Holocaust. The project was conducted by the Jewish organization, Shamir.
The exhibition is supported by the Latvian National Commission for UNESCO, the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education and Science, and Secretariat of the Special Assignments Minister for Social Integration.
On July 4, the day of remembrance of victims of the genocide of the Jewish people, an exhibition was opened at the Riga City Council, The Riga Ghetto – the Buildings after 60 Years. The horrifying nature of the Holocaust of the Jewish people perpetrated by Nazi Germany is shown at the exhibition in the art work of today's youth - students of the Gymnasium of Nordic Countries and Janis Rozentals' Art College. One's attention is also drawn to photographs of the buildings in what was the territory of the Riga Ghetto. The author of the photographs and conductor of the scientific research of the project is a teacher of the Gymnasium of Nordic Countries, Tamara Zitcere, who feels it is her social responsibility to preserve evidence of the Holocaust. Results of her research can be seen at the exhibition, obtained by analysing the house ledgers of the Riga Ghetto buildings, as well as 52,850 death certificates of Jews in the archives of Riga Registry Office. During the research process 63 buildings in what was the Riga Ghetto territory, were studied. Statistical data tells of the tragic fate of many thousands of Jews, and that the crimes of the occupation power against humanity were carefully hidden. For example, the house ledgers of the buildings where the Nazis held Jews brought in from other European countries, were all destroyed. During the five years of the research project Tamara Zitcere has involved more than a hundred students. An important part of the work of these young people was taking care of the New Jewish Cemetery. It is planned to renew the archives of the New Jewish Cemetery and compile a collection of photographic documentation of the Riga Ghetto buildings. The working group of the project plans to maintain permanent contact with the Holocaust museums and history research centres of the world.
University of Latvia (29.06.2005)
Latvijas Avize (05.07.2005)
Newsletter "Latvia's History: Education, Remembrance, Research" is a compilation of press releases and news reports drawn from the media and official sources.