Latvian President Andris Berzins has confirmed his participation in a memorial ceremony for Jewish Holocaust victims during Israeli President Shimon Peres’ visit to Latvia next week, following pressure over his apparent reluctance to attend.
Senior officials in the President’s Residence said earlier this week that they believe Berzins was reluctant to participate because he did not want to appear to be taking responsibility for acts committed by the Nazis together with local collaborators.
Peres, who is to visit both Latvia and Lithuania next week, will go to the Rumbula Forest for a ceremony to remember the 24,000 Jews from Riga who were murdered there in November-December 1941. One thousand German Jews, who had been transported by train to pits dug at the site, were also killed.
The massacre was perpetrated by the Einsatzgruppen units of the SS, assisted by Latvian police and the Arajs Kommando − Latvian volunteers who answered to the Nazi Sicherheitsdienst (the SD) and conducted a number of pogroms and massacres of Jews and Roma (Gypsies).
Over the years, the Latvian government has refused to recognize that Latvian citizens murdered in the Rumbula Forest were killed because they were Jewish. Peres’ bureau and Israel’s Ambassador to Latvia and Lithuania Hagit Ben Yaakov had pressured Latvia so that Berzins attend the memorial.
Aides to Berzins told the Israeli embassy that he will not be able to accompany Peres to the ceremony. A senior Israeli official said that the Latvians said it was due to Berzins busy schedule. The Israeli embassy suggested moving the ceremony from the second day to the first day of the visit, right after the scheduled meeting between the two presidents. However, the Latvians said Berzins’ schedule was still too full.
The senior official said that the Latvians also said that, according to local Foreign Ministry protocol, the Latvian president is not supposed to accompany visiting presidents to ceremonies in Latvia. The official said it seemed that the reason for the refusal was not a crowded schedule or some technical matters, but rather political and national sensitivities.