Riga Holocaust Museum at risk of closing over new lease concerns

"In our opinion, the present version of the contract jeopardizes the future of the museum," said Dr. Rabbi Menachem Barkahan.

Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Shamir Association, that operates the Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum, expressed concern about a lease offered to them by the Riga City Council, saying it cannot sign the new lease. The association is concerned that that lease contains provisions that enable the council to make changes to the museum and show that the council is not serious about its continued support.
“Having carefully examined all the documents, we have discovered several innovations that were not present in previous versions of agreement,” said Shamir Association head  Dr. Rabbi Menachem Barkahan. "In our opinion, the present version of the contract jeopardizes the future of the museum."
Barkahan went on to say that the Riga City Council did not leave time for the lease to be properly negotiated. "It was also most unfortunate that the draft contract was only sent to us on Thursday 19 November, shortly before the Monday 23 November deadline, when the previous agreement was to expire, without leaving any time for a meaningful bilateral discussion of the new draft,” said Barkahan.
There are three provisions that are of concern to the association. The first is that the lease will become void if the local government decides to sell the property. The Shamir Association believes that this shows a lack of commitment on the part of the city council to the museum's continued existence.
The lease also allows the council to void the contract at any time that it needs the land.
“It means that the contract may be terminated at any time, if the municipality decides to sell the property or simply expropriate the museum,” said Barkahan.
Another concern about the lease is that it includes a clause that would allow the city council to impose encumbrances on the property without the consent of the museum. This would allow the council to take down a memorial wall with Holocaust victims' names on it and replace it with a road.
This is a longstanding debate between the museum and local residents that is currently being heard in court. "We believe this revision did not make it into the contract by accident,” said Barkahan of the clause.
The Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum houses nine permanent exhibitions, an education center, and has had nearly 200,000 visitors from around the world.
German Nazis and collaborators murdered about 70,000 Jews who lived in Latvia. The Riga Ghetto, similar to the Warsaw Ghetto, refers to areas of the city where Jews were forced by Nazis to live during the Holocaust.
The Ghetto Museum, which opened in 2010, is located near the border of the historical neighborhood and features a memorial wall with over 70,000 names of Latvian Jews who fell victims to the Holocaust and approximately 25,000 names of Jews from other countries who were brought to Riga to be murdered.
Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA contributed to this report.