Riga Ghetto Museum to commemorate Jewish community

When finished, the facility is meant to be an educational center as well as a museum and will include spaces for cultural activities.

Riga Ghetto Museum (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Riga Ghetto Museum
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
RIGA – Hundreds gathered in the rain in Riga’s Old City on Tuesday for a ceremony to mark the partial opening of the Riga Ghetto Museum, which will commemorate the thriving Jewish community that was wiped out in the Holocaust.
The museum is situated in the city’s historic center, near the Central Market and when completed will sprawl over 1,000 square meters. It is located only a few blocks from the former site of the Riga Ghetto, which organizers said is today a high-crime district not suitable for tourism.
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Organizers said they expect the entire complex to be finished over the next few years, assuming that they are able to raise the expected $7 million to $8m. in donations needed.
When finished, the facility is meant to be an educational center as well as a museum; and will include space for a library, seminars, concerts and other cultural activities Tuesday’s ceremony marked the opening of an annex to the museum, which includes photo exhibits highlighting the history of the once-thriving community, as well as a wall of memory bearing the names of the more than 70,000 Latvian Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
There is a cobblestone walkway made from stones taken from the former main thoroughfare of the ghetto.
Like neighboring Lithuania, Latvia had one of the highest death rates for local Jews during the Holocaust. In Latvia, over 90 percent of the country’s Jews were murdered, while in Lithuania around 97% were wiped out. In both countries, as well in as neighboring Estonia, the local population played a substantial role in the genocide.
The crowd at Tuesday’s ceremony included local Jewish community leaders, ambassadors from Russia and the United States, and Riga Deputy Mayor Ainars Slesers.
Rabbi Menachem Barkan, leader of Riga’s Shamir Jewish community, presided over the ceremony. After his opening remarks, and a rendition of “Shalom Aleichem” by a local Riga boys’ choir, Barkan unveiled a black-and-red granite menora, on which he and others lit memorial candles.
After the ceremony, Barkan said “my feeling is that because so many people came shows that it is a very important issue to many people here, not only Jews but gentiles as well.
“People can come here and check the names of their family and those of others and if we can help people come together and remember the past and their roots, then we will have done our job.”
It’s also for the future, for youths, children, non-Jewish Latvians to learn, to help ensure that what happened will never happen again, and such baseless hatred will disappear, he said.
After the Nazi occupation of Latvia began in June 1941, Jews from across Latvia and Germany as well were forcefully relocated to the ghetto. Towards the end of July 1941, Einsatzgruppe mobile killing units began the mass murder of Latvian Jews, and between July and October of that year around 34,000 Jews were massacred.
In October, around 32,000 Riga Jews were forced into two ghettos, including the Riga Ghetto and on November 30 and December 7, around 25,000 Jews were taken from the ghetto and shot and killed in the Rumbala forest outside Riga, where today a monument stands in a clearing in the trees.
Also in November 1941, around 20,000 Jews from Czechoslovakia and Austria were brought to Latvia and moved into the Riga Ghetto in place of the Jews who had been murdered. The overwhelming majority were taken to the forests and massacred in in 1942.
Holocaust survivor Alexander Bergman, 85, one of the few Rigans to survive the war, was at the ceremony on Tuesday, where he spoke of his family that was decimated in the Shoah, and what the museum means to him.