[LH] No. 7, November 2000

15.12.2015. 16:56


November, 2000 (7)


  • Latvia is Ready to Re-evaluate History

  • Latvian Researchers Reveal Manifold and Diverse Aspects of the Holocaust Issue

  • List of the Reports Delivered at the Conference "The Issues of the Research of the Holocaust in Latvia"

Latvia is Ready to Re-evaluate History

The annual international conference of Latvia's History Commission, this year dedicated to research of the Holocaust issues, was held in Riga on October 16-17. The conference was organised by Latvia's History Commission, History Institute and the Judaic Studies Centre at the University of Latvia, as well as the Museum and Documentation Centre "Jews in Latvia" The State President of Latvia Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga in her opening speech underlined: "We in Latvia take seriously our duty to look at everything that has happened in our past with a view of understanding the significance and the lessons that have to be learned from it. We have had ten years of the new independence in which to start re-evaluating history that had been submitted to ideological distortion for more than five decades."

"It is our eternal sorrow and our eternal shame that some of the events linked to this antihuman undertaking [the Holocaust] took place on Latvian soil and took place with a collaboration of some of our fellow citizens."

The participants of the conference had the opportunity not only to listen to reports, but also join the discussions, commemorate the Holocaust victims at the Bikernieki Memorial near Riga as well as watch the documentary "Zanis and the Others" about the rescuer of Jews Zanis Lipke and those heroic Latvian people, who sheltered escapees from the camps.

Speech of the State President of Latvia Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga at the Conference
"The Issues of the Research of the Holocaust in Latvia", October 16-17, 2000

Latvian Researchers Reveal Manifold and Diverse Aspects of the Holocaust Issue

Contribution of local researchers to exchange of opinions about the Holocaust issue at the conference has been persuasive and as diverse as the Holocaust issue itself. The historians of Latvia demonstrated their willingness and professional abilities of in-depth investigation of the problem.

Mr. Margeris Vestermanis, director of the Museum and Documentation Centre "Jews in Latvia", in his report dedicated to historiography of the Holocaust research in Latvia, admits that "the first international conference dedicated to the Holocaust that is taking place in Riga vividly proves that the national historiography on the Jewish tragedy in the World War II is beginning to develop in Latvia. The study of this theme did not have to start from scratch: events that took place in occupied Latvia had been rather often, though fragmentarily, mentioned in the international Holocaust historiography." Looking back into the origins and progress of the international Holocaust research that dealt with the events taking place in the territory of Latvia, Mr. Vestermanis highlights also the significant input of the Latvian researchers who were able to commence their work in this field only a decade ago, after the collapse of the Soviet regime. Among the main accomplishments of Latvian historians so far has been illumination of the problem of anti-Semitism, examination of the Holocaust tragedy in the provincial towns of Latvia (according to Vestermanis "the entire Holocaust historiography has nothing analogous to this unique study because researchers have always focused on the large centres of extermination only"), raising public awareness on the Holocaust issue in general. These aspects as well as investigation of attitudes of different social groups towards the Holocaust in the past and today, and research into fates of the deported Jews, killed on the Latvian soil, Vestermanis names as priority issues for further research into the Holocaust.

Prof. Aivars Stranga, speaking aboutthe public attitude towards the Holocaust in Latvia during the National Awakening period (1988-1991) through mid- and late 1990s until today, recognises a gradual improvement of the situation. "A range of measures taken by several state institutions deserves positive evaluation: 1) the government has taken a decision to support the centre "Jews in Latvia"; 2) several rescuers of Jews have been awarded with the highest official decoration – the Order of the Three Stars; 3) the Holocaust related themes are constantly in the range of attention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia." Although Stranga stresses that "general public understanding of the Holocaust and the ability to see the Holocaust in Latvia as a great tragedy of entire Latvia will emerge only gradually as a result of serious teaching efforts," he admits: "Now the topical issue is not only the teaching of the Holocaust, since it is already taking place, but rather the increase of the efficiency of the teaching process".

Izaks Kleimanis advocates the view that the Holocaust must not be reduced to the fault of one nation or a conflict between two nations and shows how the birth of anti-Semitism and impacts of its propaganda in various European countries, including Latvia, differently affected public attitude and either provoked or not a clearly defined protest against such inhumanities. In Latvia, Kleimanis points out, its historical development and especially a status of an occupied country for centuries could give birth of more expressed nationalism, backed up by the nationalistic ideology of the 1930s, and an ethnocentric logic. According to Dr. hist. Leo Dribins, who explains the deliberate and intense policy of spreading anti-Semitic ideology by the German Nazi in the territory of the occupied Latvia (1941-1942): "In 1942 Nazis had to admit that the major part of the Latvian population rejected anti-Semitism. Thus they hired a group of authors to write "The Horrible Year", the book focused on selected visual information interpreted in the anti-Semitic way loading the bulk of the blame for the Red terror on Jews." The book was not a success, and as regards the phrase "the horrible year" it would be more appropriate, in opinion of Dribins, to attribute this description also to the entire period of the Nazi occupation and the post-war years until Stalin's death: in total almost 13 years of misery and violence. "Anti-Semitic hysterics was one of the most conspicuous marks of this period." Exploring anti-Semitism in the pre-war period Dr. hist. Irena Sneidere points to the fact that "in Latvia, unlike in other regions of the USSR, the campaign of anti-Semitism was rather short-lived and did not bring the expected results."

Dipl. hist. Arturs Zvinklis describing the fates of Latvian State officials of Jewish origin asserts: "While the Soviet regime had repressed state officials of the Jewish origin for their loyalty to independent Latvia and membership in their organisations, Nazi Germany transferred to Latvia a policy of total extermination of Jews. Although blaming Jews for the destruction of the independent State of Latvia was one of the leitmotifs of the Nazi anti-Semitism, it did not mean that extermination would not affect the former state and municipal figures of Jewish origin whose loyalty to the State of Latvia was beyond any doubt."

"A Diary of Sheina Grama", as presented by Svetlana Bogojavlenska, research assistant at the Museum and Documentation Centre "Jews in Latvia", reveals how important to the modern research into the Holocaust issues are documentary evidences: "Voices that have survived in the few available diaries call on us to reflect on our past in the light of the loss of moral values as well as tolerance and compassion. Latvia has such a voice that speaks on behalf of 73 thousand murdered Jews of Latvia." "Sheina's story is a voice from the epicentre of the disaster and talks to us directly helping us to look the horror, that the victims of the Holocaust went through, into the eyes."

Prof. Andrievs Ezergailis,Latvian-born researcher from USA, proposes that "in explaining the murder of the Jews in the Baltics there are two conflicting points of view: the historical and folkloric one. [..] The folkloric version of the Holocaust in the Baltic proclaims that the killing of Jews there were carried out in a spontaneous and collective action by the local people." Ezergailis argues: "The killing of the Jews was a German project, took place as an organised and an ordered event. In a statement of July 22, 1942, Hitler proclaims the killing of the Jews in the Baltics to be Germanless. Hitler's order in numerous ways thereafter reverberated through the German officialdom and has left a mark on post-war stories about the Holocaust in Latvia".

Organisers of the conference are planning to publish all the reports and other materials related to the conference in a separate edition.

List of the Reports Delivered at the Conference "The Issues of the Research of the Holocaust in Latvia"

  1. The Holocaust in Latvia in the Context: Problems of Comparison and Historisation, - Prof. Norman M. Naimark, USA;

  2. The Attitude of the Lavian Public towards the Holocaust, - Dr. habil. hist. Aivars Stranga, Latvia;

  3. The Holocaust in Latvia: Historiographical Review, - Margers Vestermanis, director of the Museum and Documentation Center "Jews in Latvia", Latvia;

  4. Recovering the Names of Holocaust Victims From Official Records: The August 1941 "Census", - Prof. Edward Anders, University of Chicago, USA;

  5. West German Courts and the Holocaust in Latvia, - Dr. Robert G.Waite, USA;

  6. Strategy or Improvisation? The Ghetto of Riga as the destination of Deportations from Western Europe, - Peter Klein, M.A., Berlin/Hamburg, Germany;

  7. Is There and Has There Ever Been a "Holocaust Industry", - Prof. David Cesarani, U.K.;

  8. The Exploratory Problems of Holocaust in Russia, - Prof. Alexander Chubariyan, Russia;

  9. The Perception of Holocaust in Lithuania, - Prof. Dr. Irena Viesaite, Lithuania;

  10. Folklore Versus History: A Problem in Holocaust Studies, - Prof. Andrievs Ezergailis, USA;

  11. Hystery of Anti-Semitic Ideology in German Nazi Occupied Latvia, 1941-1942, - Dr. Hist. Leo Dribins, Latvia

  12. Punishment of Arajs' Commado Members in KGB Files, - Dr. Rudite Viksne, History Institute of Latvia, Latvia;

  13. Some Basic Facts on Latvian Jewry – Before, During and After World War II, - Prof. Dov Levin, Israel;

  14. The Resistance to Holocaust in Latvia, - Margers Vestermanis, director of the Museum and Documentation Center "Jews in Latvia", Latvia;

  15. Teaching the History of the Holocaust in Different Countries, - Dr. Paul A. Levine, Uppsala University, Sweden;

  16. Profit and Loss: The Economic Exploitation of the Riga Ghetto, 1941-1943, - Katrin Reichelt, USA;

  17. Second World War and Jews in Finland, - Prof. Tapani Harviainen, University of Helsinki, Finland;

  18. The Formation and Operations of the Latvian "Defence Battailions": the 1st Phase (until June, 1942), - Karlis Kangeris, Sweden;

  19. The Diary of Sheina Grama (Preili, July-August, 1941) as a Historical and Human Document of the Epoch, - Svetlana Bogojavlenska, museum "Jews in Latvia", Latvia;

  20. The Attitude of Latvian Evangelic Lutheran Church to the Holocaust During the Second World War and Its Assessment from the Modern Perspective, - Rev. Guntis Dislers, Christian Academy of Latvia, Latvia;

  21. Repressions Against Jews in Latvia after the Second World War, - Dr. hist. Irena Sneidere, History Institute of Latvia, Latvia;

  22. The Fate of Latvian State Officials of Jewish Origin in the Second World War, - Dipl. hist. Arturs Zvinklis, History Institute of Latvia, Latvia;

  23. The Holocaust in Latvia. Echoes and the Challenge, - Izaks Kleimanis, Latvia.

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

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