[LH] No. 7/2, December 2001

15.12.2015. 17:00


December, 2000 (7/2)


  • The Holocaust in Latvia in Research of International Experts: New Attitudes, New Findings (presented at the conference "The Issues of the Research of the Holocaust in Latvia")

The Holocaust in Latvia in Research of International Experts: New Attitudes, New Findings

The international conference organised by Latvia's History Commission, dedicated to the research of the Holocaust issues, was held on 16-17 October 2000 in Riga. The conference gathered historians from a number of European countries and the U.S. (see the Newsletters No. 6, and No. 7(1)) whose contribution to the research into the Holocaust and its manifestation in the territory of Latvia in particular will be carefully studied by local experts and especially Latvia's History Commission. A selection of theses of the presented reports is given below.

The report by Professor of Semitic Languages at the University of Helsinki, Finland, Tapani Harviainen "Second World War and Jews in Finland" acquaints with the history of Jews in Finland, paying particular attention to the situation as it formed during the Second World War.

Katrin Reichelt's, U.S., report "Profit and Loss: The Economic Exploitation of the Riga Ghetto, 1941-1943" seeks to get closer to the definition and nature of a ghetto by exploring the case of the Riga ghetto. Her paper presents "those aspects of the economic life of the Riga ghetto which give further information about the character of the ghetto in general. [..] The economic dimensions of the Holocaust or a ghetto are a single element in the whole process." Using the documents of the German civilian government in Nazi occupied Latvia and the memories of Jewish survivors of the Riga ghetto as basis for her research, Katrin Reichelt finds a lot of details about the life in the Ghetto from the perspectives of victims and perpetrators.

Researcher Peter Klein from Berlin in his paper "Strategy or improvisation? The Ghetto of Riga as the Destination of Deportations from Western Europe" advocates the viewpoint that contradicts the opinion that the deportations of Jews from Austria, Germany, and Czechoslovakia to Latvia were strategically planned. According to Klein, the Riga Ghetto as a destination of mass deportations was a mere improvisation, forced by urgency of Hitler's order that had to be fulfilled in due time: the deportations of 60,000 Jews was to be carried out by the end of 1941/42.

A documentary research offered by Professor Emeritus Edward Anders from the University of Chicago, U.S. "Recovering Victims' Names From Official Latvian Records: The August 1941 "Census"" was carried out in collaboration with Juris Dubrovskis from the Museum and Documentation Centre "Jews in Latvia" in Riga. "The Holocaust in Latvia was unusually complete: fewer than 2% of the Jews present at the start of the German occupation survived the war. Accordingly, victims' lists obtained from survivors are very incomplete, comprising only 10-20% of the names." Therefore researchers tried an alternate approach using official demographic records, also the said "Census" conducted throughout Latvia in August 1941, two months into the German occupation. Due to application of this comparative method, for instance, coverage of the Holocaust victims from Liepaja has thus increased from 10-15% to more than 90%. The authors are convinced that a similar approach should be applicable to the rest of Latvia and other Central and Eastern European countries.

The report "West German Courts and the Holocaust in Latvia" presented by Dr Robert G. Waite, U.S., focused on materials generated by the Nazi crimes investigations carried out since the beginning of the 1950s in the state attorney offices of the West Germany. Dr. Waite admits that these materials "are an extremely valuable source for historians of the Holocaust in Latvia. [..] The documents, the interrogations, and the other materials assembled for the West German courts on the destruction of the Jews in Latvia and those European Jews deported to Latvia offer considerable insight into the chronology of mass murder, into the mechanisms and scale of destruction. The paper identifies "the types of information the records offer, the manner in which West German law affected and shaped the investigations, how the materials can be used in research into the Holocaust in Latvia, how scholars can access them, and how the materials can deepen our understanding of the Holocaust in Latvia."

Professor Dr Irena Viesaite, Lithuania, highlights the aspects of the perception of the Holocaust in Lithuania. Dr Viesaite stresses, "In the mindset of Western democracies the Holocaust has essentially one meaning. By contrast, in Eastern Europe the Holocaust is considered a second rate issue" and tries to find reasons for it. In Viesaite's opinion, firstly, the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe were more isolated, insular and, secondly, the Holocaust was "overshadowed" by the terror perpetrated by the Soviet system, thus the "Gulag" dominated over the Holocaust in the minds of contemporaries.

Dr. Paul A. Levine's (Assistant Professor at the Uppsala University in Sweden), report, "explored and discussed the problems and possibilities of teaching the history of the Holocaust in different nations and cultures, ages, school systems, and different eras." Levine addresses a problem of teaching the history of Holocaust in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe: "Teaching the subject in Western or Northern Europe, while difficult enough, will always be different and - probably - easier than teaching it in Eastern and Central Europe. [..] In this region and in these states there is a double burden of history weighing upon the teachers, the students and the society at large. For not only did the Holocaust primarily took place here, this is also the region and the schools where the ideological fanaticism of Soviet Communism for so long blocked and suppressed anything approaching an honest study or classroom meditation of the subject." Dr. Levine primarily devotes his paper to various teaching approaches that could be applied in explaining the Holocaust issue to students and accentuates two of them: personal experience and modern pedagogic research.

Latvia's History Commission
Dr. habil.hist. Assoc. Prof. Antonijs Zunda 

Adviser to the President of State on History Commission Issues 
3 Pils Square, Riga, LV 1900, Latvia

Tel.: (+371) 7 092 109
Fax: (+371) 7 325 800                 

All issues of the Newsletter "Latvia's History: Education, Remembrance and Research" http://www.mfa.gov.lv/epublications.htm

New links 
The Occupation Museum of Latvia