LATVIA'S HISTORY: EDUCATION, REMEMBRANCE, RESEARCH

July 2007 (38)


HEADLINES

  • Monument unveiled to Zanis Lipke, the Rescuer of Jews
  • Monument to the Rescuers
  • Without suffering—about suffering
  • Government officials participate in unveiling of monument to Rescuers of Jews
  • Foreign Ministry supports publishing of English language edition of book on Zanis Lipke

Monument unveiled to Zanis Lipke, the Rescuer of Jews

On 4 July, the Day of Remembrance of Jewish genocide victims, a monument was unveiled next to the ruins of the Great Choral Synagogue on Gogola Street in Riga. It is dedicated to all rescuers of Jews in Latvia (and especially to Zanis Lipke).

The monument which is in concrete and designed by Elina Lazdina, a student of the Academy of Art, symbolizes support and assistance given to the Jews of Latvia by inhabitants of other nationalities during the years of the Holocaust. The monument is designed as a wall representing Nazism, which appears to be falling and thereby threatening destruction of the Jewish people. The wall is symbolically not allowed to fall, being supported by columns with inscriptions of the names of the rescuers of Jews. There are 270 names engraved on the columns, the number of rescuers of Jews presently known to historians. It is estimated that at least 400 inhabitants of Latvia were involved in rescuing Jews from the Holocaust during World War II.

The best known of Latvia's rescuers of Jews was the Riga Port worker Zanis Lipke, who together with his wife Johanna, risked their lives and saved more than 50 people from certain death, by hiding them in their house at Pardaugava.

Senior government officials gathered for the solemn ceremony to unveil the monument next to the ruins of the synagogue included President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks, Speaker of the Saeima Indulis Emsis, foreign diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador Catherine Todd Bailey, the Russian Ambassador Viktor Kaluzhny, the Mayor of Riga Janis Birks, representatives of Jewish communities, as well as a number of rescuers of Jews who lived through the horrors of war and actively opposed the Holocaust, and others. President  Vike-Freiberga, who is also a patron of the memorial fund for rescuers of Jews, expressed her gratitude to all who had assisted in the creation of the monument.

Arkady Suharenko, Chairman of the Jewish congregations and communities of Latvia, said  "The monument is dedicated to those heroic and righteous individuals, who, regardless of their religion or social standing, risked their lives to save Jews from inescapable death."

Also engraved on the columns of the monument are the names of the parents of Valentina Rasnaca of Rezekne. Valentina was only seven years old when she confronted the horrors of the Holocaust. "We hid many Jews. I did not understand what was happening, but my parents said that we must help these people and that no one is to know about them. We lived near the railroad, which was guarded by German soldiers. They came to our house each day for food. I remembered the fear and stress for many years after. Will they be spotted, will someone betray us? Ceaseless searches by the police, even at night. As a little girl I had to serve as the eyes and ears for my parents, while they worked during the day," remembers Valentina.

The creation of the monument was financially supported by Vaiar Vike-Freiberga, The City Council of Riga, the government of Latvia, Jewish communities and Jewish businessmen.

Latvijas Avize, Uldis Racenis, (05.07.2007)


Monument to the Rescuers

On 4 July 2007, President Vike-Freiberga, and Arkady Suharenko, Chairman of the Council of Jewish congregations and communities, unveiled a monument in Riga dedicated to Zanis Lipke and all the other rescuers of Jews of Latvia during the Holocaust.

The monument has been erected in the square at the intersection of Gogola and Dzirnavu Streets, next to the ruins of the Great Choral Synagogue, which was burned down on 4 July 1941 together with all the people inside. During the period of Nazi occupation from 1941 to 1945, more than 70,000 Jews were killed, out of about 95,000 residing in Latvia up to World War II.

According to information gathered by the museum "Jews in Latvia", about 400-450 Jews were saved in Latvia. More than 400 individuals were involved in their rescue; today we call them rescuers. They hid Jews, helped them to get out of the ghetto to relatively safer locations. The rescue of Jews was a dangerous activity – the "mildest" punishment being removal to detention in a concentration camp. During the period 1941 – 1945 more than 30 inhabitants of Latvia suffered reprisals because they had hidden Jews.

The best known of the Latvian rescuers is Zanis (Janis) Lipke, who was a Riga Port worker. Together with his wife Johanna he saved more than 50 individuals from death. Lipke is known as the Latvian Wallenberg, and the Yad Vashem museum and Holocaust research centre awarded him the honorary title of the Righteous among the Nations.

The idea for a monument to all rescuers of Jews was born in the mid-1990s. In May 2004 a commission was set up for that purpose, and its trustee became President Vike-Freiberga, together with the memorial foundation for the rescuers of Jews. In June 2004 a competition was announced for the best design for the monument. The jury committee included Arkady Suharenko, the poet Uldis Berzins, art scholar Ruta Caupova, Minister of Culture Helena Demakova, the architect Georgs Mincs, the sculptor Gleb Panteleyev, director of the Architects' Society Juris Poga, art critic Peteris Bankovskis, and also the businessmen Sol Bukingolt, Kirov Lipman and Vitaliy Gavrilov. Bruno Rozentals who, as a child, had helped his father to hide Jews during the years of occupation was also a member of the jury.

The competition was in two rounds. The jury selected the design by Elina Lazdina, a student at the Academy of Art, as the most interesting. The Jewish community also supported this design. The monument symbolizes the support and assistance that was provided to the Jews of Latvia during the years of the Holocaust. The monument is formed by a wall, which threatens to fall and destroy the Jewish people. The wall is held up by columns with names, representing the Rescuers, thus preventing the wall from falling despite the threat. There are 270 names currently known to historians which are engraved on these columns.

Arkady Suharenko, Chairman of the Council of Jewish Congregations and Communities in Latvia, stressed in his speech at the unveiling ceremony that "This monument is dedicated to those heroic and righteous individuals, who, regardless of their nationality, religion or social status, risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones to save Jews from the inescapable death planned for them by the Nazis. It is dedicated to those who proved that they could retain their humanity even under the circumstances of a totalitarian fascist regime."

All basic construction work on the monument was performed by the construction firm Uznemejs. Financial support for the project was provided by President Vike-Freiberga (from her personal funds), the Riga City Council, the government of Latvia, the Council of Jewish Communities, Arkady Suharenko, Leonid Esterkin, Vitaliy Gotlib, Kirov Lipman, Vitaliy and Lidija Gavrilov, Benjamin Kayem, Aleksandr Milov, Aleksandr Plotkin, Sheila Robbins, and other entrepreneurs.

The Council of Jewish Congregations and Communities in Latvia, LETA (04.07.2007)



Without suffering—about suffering

[...]

Elina Lazdina, the young environmental artist, unites the victims with their rescuers

Elina Lazdina (24), creator of the monument: "I am pleased that the idea is positive, without stressing the suffering. That there is a good feeling . . . White colour is also good - a lot can be done with colour. Remembrance is symbolized, and there is room for the positive. There is also divisiveness and tension in my work."

First place in the competition for the monument to Zanis Lipke and other rescuers of Jews, was already won by Elina Lazdina three years ago, when she was a final year student in environmental art studies at the Academy of Art.

The entire family helped the young artist in her work - both her father and brother, who have worked on the monument, and her mother as well. "Mother says that she does not want to do it anymore. Too much is being asked of her.  Mother helped to create the letters for the names of rescuers, when the company that had agreed to take on that job announced a month ago that it really does not have the time to do the letters. Suddenly it was up to the family to develop a technique for making them."

 

Archi-sculpture

Elina directed all her efforts to making the rescuers' sculpture as autonomous and concise in its execution as possible - the lighting was placed at a distance, so that it would not interfere with the form, the tone of the cobblestone pavement was changed by varying the levels of the cobblestones. "To make sure that it does not become a mere decoration," comments Elina. Speaking of style, the artist describes the monument as "archi-sculpture." "Concrete calls for imposing size – bigger is better."

Not history, but an idea

One's attention is drawn to the portrait of Zanis Lipke on this rather modest monument – in this context the rescuer of Jews ranks as a hero among heroes.

Elina's creations evolve in her sub-conscious. "Only then can one come up with a metaphor, to grasp the meaning with one's mind," as Elina explains it. A fully formed idea cannot have a sculptural form. Creation is an emotional process. Only after completing the sketch did I conceive of the wall and the people. Artists do not calculate. Calculations will never result in a living form. The form comes to life in the process of creation. A successful form for Elina is an aggregate which brings together the totality of values and emotions.

Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of this story is that the historical context is not the most important for Elina. "I am not an historian. I am a poor student of history. I take the exam and the next day I have already forgotten everything. I am not someone who remembers facts. I don't want to be steeped in them." The events that are the root of her monument were explained to the artist by historian Margers Vestermanis. Initially, the idea spoke to Elina. "I looked at the terms of the competition – for the rescuers! And this is the only monument in the world, according to Mr. Suharenko (Chairman of the Council of Jewish Congregations and Communities of Latvia), dedicated to many rescuers, not just one. Finally there is something for the rescuers! At last they have all found each other on the corner of Gogola and Dzirnavu streets – victims, rescuers, and their supporters."

Diena, Viestarts Gailitis (04.07.2007)


 

Government officials participate in unveiling monument to Rescuers of Jews

On the Day of Remembrance for Jewish genocide victims, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga pointed out that all humans are born equal.  

The President, Speaker of the Saeima Indulis Emsis, ministers, ambassadors, and other guests at the ceremony gathered on 4 July at the ruins of the Great Choral Synagogue not only to remember the Jews who perished under the Nazi regime, but also to honour the rescuers of Jewish people, by unveiling a monument to the well-known rescuer Zanis (Janis) Lipke and other courageous individuals. About 200 persons participated at the ceremony and the unveiling of the monument.

Speaking with emotion, President Vike-Freiberga noted: "Anti-Semitism is one of the most tragic manifestations in world history. To struggle against it one must have recourse to the one basic principle – we belong to the human race at birth, and we are all equal. Physiologically we are all related; we are one species and one human family. No one group can ever be regarded as superior to another."

The President also stated that on this day we must all bow our heads before the victims, who were brutally and vilely destroyed only because they belonged to the Jewish religion and community. "Their loss is a loss for all of humanity", said the President.

The President also emphasized the courage and selflessness of the rescuers of Jews and of Lipke. "These individuals, a total of 269 if I remember correctly, exposed their lives to the threat of death. It means that they manifested a special kind of heroism," noted the President.

In her remarks at the unveiling of the monument, President Vike-Freiberga noted that the monument, dedicated to Zanis Lipke and all rescuers of Latvia's Jews during the Holocaust, invites us to reflect upon two completely different manifestations of human character and nature.

The monument will give us an opportunity to balance our thinking about the essence and purpose of human beings, and about those who destroyed and those who saved," noted the President.

"Each year we bow our heads before the victims of the Jewish people, remembering the innocent people, the souls, who were brutally destroyed because they belonged to the Jewish faith, were not acceptable to Nazi ideology, and were regarded as sub-human or non-human", stated the President.

She reminded the audience that all humans have basic rights, which are their birthright. "It is not permissible to place one group above another. The principle to be observed is that the Jews who were brutally killed were our brothers, and that their loss is a loss for our nation and for all of humanity", emphasized the President.

The monument exemplifies another kind of extreme human action – "risking one's life to defend one's brother, regarding another human being as a brother. Zanis Lipke was such a person", commented the President.

On the day of remembrance of the victims of genocide against the Jewish nation, Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks participated in the unveiling of the monument commemorating those, and in particular Janis Lipke, who saved Latvian Jews during the Holocaust.

In his address, Mr Pabriks noted, "Janis Lipke and others whose names are carved in this monument did saintly work. Opposing the majority and the ruling authority, they were guided by principles of morality and common sense. Often we do not need wise books and knowledge to make a decision, all that remains is to rely on our intuition and feelings."

Mr Pabriks emphasized that the conduct of these people is worth emulating as they are an outstanding example for all of us, in particular for the younger generation, when making important decisions in our lives.

Under the conditions of Nazi occupation during the Second World War, Janis Lipke displayed great courage and selflessness by saving the lives of 55 Jews.

The names of 269 rescuers of Jews have been carved into the columns of the monument.

Lipke saved the lives of 55 Jews during the Nazi occupation in World War II.

According to information gathered by the museum "Jews in Latvia," about 400-450 Jews were saved in Latvia. More than 400 individuals were involved in their rescue. They hid the Jews, and helped them to get out of the ghetto to relatively safer locations.


LETA (02., 04.07.2007)

BNS (04.07.2007)

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (04.07.2007)


Speech by President Vaira Vike-Freiberga at the unveiling of a monument to Zanis Lipke on July 4, 2007.

[...] Today we ask everyone to remember the two diametrically opposed manifestations of human nature. On the one hand, as we do each year, we bow our heads before the victims, and we pray to God for the peace of their souls. Gazing upon the burned-out ruins of the synagogue, we remember all those innocent souls, those peace-loving civilians – seniors, children, infants, adults, young people, who were all indiscriminately killed in a brutal and inhuman manner, only because they belonged to the Jewish nation and religion. All that happened in the name of a racist Nazi ideology, one of the examples in human history of one group of people setting itself up as the only true representatives of humanity. It seems that only they personified those who are worthy of being called human, while others, for reasons that have varied greatly throughout history, are regarded as sub-human or non-human, and are excluded from the human family and deprived of all the rights and respect that anyone is entitled to by definition. 

Antisemitism and the Holocaust belong to the most overt and tragic manifestations of that attitude in the history of the world. Its very essence is based on not acknowledging another human being as our equal, as our brother and sister. In our struggle against this phenomenon in our land or anywhere in the world, we must look back to one fundamental right and principle – any human being belongs to the human race at birth, and all human beings are equal as homo sapiens. It has been scientifically proven that we are all related genetically and physiologically. We are one species, one human family. There can be no distinctions racially or in any other way, and we may never under any circumstances place any human group above the others. This is unjustifiable.

While gazing upon the ruins of this synagogue and mourning for all those members of the Jewish community who are buried in marked and known graves as well as in graves that we are still searching for and will eventually identify and mark, there is one fundamental principle that we must remember – that they were all our brothers and sisters. Their loss is our loss as Latvians, their loss is a loss for all humanity. We can never let such a loss happen again, and it is this loss that we mourn. We condemn all those who had anything to do with it – both those who came by force-of-arms as occupiers, and those who, having a choice, chose to collaborate. In the case of people who committed inhuman crimes, we see an extreme manifestation of the way human beings ought not to be, of that which we must condemn and continue to fight and defend against, so that such individuals may not appear in our midst and may never gain power.

This monument is proof of the other kind of human possibility, represented by individuals who are ready to defend their brothers by risking their lives, and in certain instances,by giving their lives for a brother in danger. It means regarding as a brother any other human being, not just someone of the same nationality or faith, simply because they are human beings.

Zanis Lipke was such a person. He lived in an ordinary house in Pardaugava, where he risked his life and the lives of his wife Johanna and his sons Alfreds and Zigfrids, in order to save the lives of more than 30 individuals in his home. He also convinced some like-minded friends in the Dobele district to go along, and a whole group of people helped him to rescue many others. These people assumed a risk, and all those 269 individuals who are currently known, as well as tens of others about whom information is being gathered and for whom there is a place on the monument, all these people faced the threat of death in saving others. It is known that at least 40 of these were arrested by the Gestapo and sent to concentration camps where several also perished. This means that what Zanis Lipke and others like him were doing was a manifestation of a special kind of heroism. It is notable and praiseworthy enough to rescue someone in a moment when it is easy to offer a helping hand, but to save a person in a moment when it means risking your own life is truly a noble act. 

The idea of a monument to remember Zanis Lipke and other Latvian rescuers of Jews arose in the early years of my Presidency, and I wish to express my appreciation to all those who helped to move this project forward with great dedication, love and conviction. I will not be able to name all of them, but certainly a very leading role was played by Arkadiy Suharenko, head of the Jewish community. Very warm-hearted support for the project was provided by George Schwab, a member of our Commission of Historians, who is also a Holocaust survivor, and by his co-survivor Steven Springfield, who has been active in our Commission of Historians and is a survivor of the Holocaust and also of being arrested by the communists. My former freelance advisor Sol Bukingolt was also involved in this project, as were many others, to all of whom, including the ones I have not named, my sincerest thanks as President. This has been an important and vital project to me, and I am most grateful to all those who played an active role, including the Mayor or Riga and the City Council, who provided assistance in preparing this location so that it would provide an adequate and appropriate site for the monument. And now, from this day forward, by gathering in this place, we will have the opportunity to engage in balanced thinking about the essence and purpose of mankind. Inhumanity on the one hand, as attested by the ruins of this synagogue, unforgivable crimes which we must never forget - but on the other hand, a selfless dedication steeped in a humanist love of mankind, which characterised Zanis Lipke and others like him, who are immortalized in this monument. May they serve as our role models whose nobility we wish to emulate."

President's Chancery (04.07.2007)


 

Foreign Ministry supports publishing of English language edition of book on Zanis Lipke  

On 4 July 2007, the remembrance day of the victims of genocide against the Jewish nation, the monument to Janis Lipke is to be officially unveiled at 25 Gogola Street, the place where the synagogue once stood. The monument symbolizes the courage of hundreds of Latvian people who saved the Jewish people in Latvia from extermination during World War II.

To honour this occasion, the Foreign Ministry provided financial support for the publishing of an English language edition of the book on Janis Lipke by New York-based Jewish writer David Zilberman. Entitled Like a Star in the Darkness, the book is a partially revised and supplemented version of the two earlier editions of the book - the Latvian edition of 2005, and the Russian edition И ты это видел (And You Saw It) of 2006.

The English language edition of the book on Zanis Lipke will be presented at the meeting of the Task Force for International Co-operation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research in Prague in December of 2007, and will also be distributed among Holocaust research and remembrance institutions worldwide.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (04.07.2007)



 

Newsletter "Latvia's History:Education, Remembrance, Research" is a compilation of press releases and news reports drawn from the media and official sources.