04 July 2007

The Fourth of July

The United States Embassy marked Independence Day in the Wörmann Garden on Sunday (Vērmanītī -- this caused considerable resentment last year, as the entire park was sealed off for the Americans), but the Fourth of July in Latvia is a day of mourning -- on 4 July 1941, the Great Choral Synagogue was burned down, along with other Jewish houses of worship in Rīga, at the order of Franz Walter Stahlecker.

This is the day set aside for remembrance of the genocide against the Jews -- ca. 70 000 Latvian Jews and 20 000 foreign Jews were murdered here during the Nazi phase of the occupation.

At noon a monument to Žanis Lipke and others who rescued Jews will be unveiled at the ruins of the Great Choral Synagogue. According to Uldis Neiburgs, a researcher at the Occupation Museum, ca. 400-450 Jews were hidden from the Nazis by ca. 400 persons. Žanis Lipke, his wife Johanna, his sons and friends saved a total of 55 Jews.

Marģers Vestermanis, founder and director of the Rīga Jewish Community Museum, has observed that Lipke is sometimes called "the Wallenberg of Latvia," but notes that the comparison, though flattering, is imprecise -- Raoul Wallenberg had considerable resources and Swedish diplomatic cover; Žanis Lipke was a dock worker who had nothing but a burning desire to rescue as many people as he possibly could.

Lipke, one of 103 Latvians recognized as Righteous Among Nations, was repeatedly interrogated by the KGB and could not travel to Israel (with which the Soviet Union had no relations); his son Alfrēds, who had helped him hide Jews prior to service in the Latvian Legion, lives in Australia, and Lipke finally obtained permission to visit him in 1977. Once he was in Sydney, the Israeli Ambassador to Australia accompanied him to Tel Aviv, where he was carried through the streets as a hero.

Unrecognized by the Soviets, Lipke hosted those he had saved every Christmas and Jāņi at his small home on Ķīpsala, an island in Rīga, until his death. The International Film Forum Arsenāls has embarked upon a project to reconstruct and restore the property, including the bunker in which Jews were sheltered.

The photograph of Žanis Lipke and his wife Johanna in the 1920s is from Latvijas Avīze. Lipke’s grave was vandalized recently… not out of anti-Semitism but to get at the bronze, which can conveniently be sold very near the cemetery, even nocturnally (just as we have 24-hour pawn shops where you can trade in what you’ve robbed, you can also sell stolen copper and brass all night...). The thieves had no idea of the monument’s significance, it seems—the metal has been recovered and the monument will easily be restored.

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9 Comments:

Blogger Renegade Eye said...

Very interesting and touching post.

05 July, 2007 11:49  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I second that emotion. Paldies Pēteri for sharing. I did not know...

Pierre

05 July, 2007 16:06  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thanks, Pierre and Eye -- I was hoping to find a link to the documentary film, Žanis un citi, but there doesn't seem to be one... if anybody knows whether a video is available, please let us know.

To those who can read Latvian (or have someone translate) -- the Latvijas Avīze article by Uldis Neiburgs is well worth reading.

05 July, 2007 17:53  
Blogger jams o donnell said...

Thanks for posting this Peteris. I know that expressions like the "Wallenberg of X" and the "Yian Schindler" are cliches but the recipients of such cliches were astonishingly brave and selfless.

On a related matter I was delighted when a Kindertransport memorial was put up at Liverpool Street station in London. The likes of Nicholas Winton and Bill Barazetti (who lived not far from me)may not have faced the perils that Lipke did but their selflessness saved 10,000 children who would almost certainly have died in the Holocaust... but I digress

06 July, 2007 10:17  
Blogger Roland Dodds said...

Great post, I found it very informative. I sure hope they didn’t close down the park just so Americans can celebrate their independence this year.

07 July, 2007 03:06  
Blogger Rob said...

Sveiks Pēteri,

Hope you had a happy independence day anyways. One would hope that on the fourth of July folks in Latvia would reflect on the different dimensions of the day -- the horrible things that have happened, but also the good things.

In July 1991, former President Reagan addressed the Captive Nations Week Conference in Los Angeles with these most profound words: "I have long believed that the guiding hand of Providence did not create this new nation of America for ourselves alone, but for a higher cause: the preservation and extension of the sacred fire of human liberty. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of these United States are covenants we have made not only with ourselves, but with all of mankind. Our founding documents proclaim to the world that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a chosen few; they are the universal right of all God's children."

In spite of the fact that any number of horrible things occurred on November 18th, no American would begrudge a Latvian from celebrating their independence on that date in New York or Washington. Hopefully a few uptight folks will eventually ease up and let the expats and American visitors peacably and respectfully commemorate Independence day in Rīga.

vysu lobu

/R

08 July, 2007 06:45  
Blogger prof said...

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shalom

10 July, 2007 22:15  
Blogger Rob said...

Sveiks Pēter,

Came across an item in the news today, and immediately thought of this post. It concerns the theft of a religious statue, that turns out was stolen for its scrap value. Greed and stupidity on the scale you describe is not confined to Eastern Europe, but is alive and well in the USA as well. Not sure if it will make you feel better or not, but am sharing it all the same:

ELK RIVER, Minn., Sep. 3, 2007
(AP) The high demand and soaring prices for scrap metal appeared to be the reason a 7-foot statue of Buddha, covered in copper-laden bronze, was stolen from an outdoor temple shrine at the Thai Buddhist Center of Minnesota, police said.

Police Chief Jeff Beahen said a 45-year-old Elk River woman was arrested Friday night, and a male family member was being looked at as another suspect in the theft.

The statue, valued at $10,000, was stolen Wednesday night, and a detective issued a statewide alert to police and scrap dealers Thursday with a photo of the stolen statue.

Early Friday afternoon, a recycling company in Monticello called the detective, saying they had taken in two pieces of scrap they believed to be from the statue.

Police recovered the right shoulder and right hip of the statue, each weighing about 60 pounds, and with the help of the recycler were able to identify the woman who had brought them in.

"There are another 10 pieces or so, and I hope the other recycling companies are as diligent in talking with us," Beahen said.

The statue was specially made in Thailand for the center.

"It's too bad," said temple member Jay Cramer. "The whole community is real sad. It's a sacred piece."

But Cramer said there was some relief in knowing that the statue was stolen for money and not because of bigotry.

A new law took effect in Minnesota Aug. 1 requiring scrap dealers to keep detailed records of all transactions. Sellers must show state-issued IDs, and dealers must pay them with checks or electronic transfers and take pictures of them and their vehicles.
___

Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

05 September, 2007 06:16  
Blogger Rob said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

05 September, 2007 06:16  

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