Latvia Has Faced Up to the Holocaust

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I would like to draw your attention to Haaretz’s coverage of the recent visit to Latvia of President Shimon Peres.

This second state visit by the President of Israel to Latvia was a powerful manifestation of the strong bond of partnership that has developed between our peoples over more than 20 years since restoration of Latvia’s independence. It was another valuable opportunity to engage in frank discussions on the pressing issues of cooperation between the European Union and Israel as well as on bilateral relations, including commemoration and research of the Holocaust. Indeed, during the last century, our peoples have experienced tremendous losses, wars and occupations, as well as miraculous liberation, restoration and resurrection.

With regard to the tragedy of the Shoah on Latvian soil, I would like to dispute in the strongest possible terms the assertion in Haaretz that “to this day the government of Latvia does not recognize the part played by Latvian citizens collaborating with the Nazis in the destruction of the Jews.” This assertion is not based on facts and is an unfortunate perpetuation of stereotypes, contradicting the positive philosophy underlying the planning and implementation of the historic visit by President Peres. This visit was intended as part of the process of setting the record straight. The manner in which Haaretz covered the visit has contributed to the blurring rather than the clarification of certain facts.

A few important points: As a full-fledged, pluralistic democracy and member state of the EU and NATO for the last decade, Latvia has developed a consistent policy and track record in dealing with the most controversial and painful pages of the recent past, including collaboration with foreign totalitarian regimes.

Successive Latvian governments have reflected a strong commitment to historical research of the tragic periods of the last century including the Holocaust, and they have always put a strong emphasis on the fight against intolerance, prejudice, bigotry and anti-Semitism. During the recent visit, our leaders commemorated the victims of the Holocaust in Rumbula, attended the opening ceremony of the memorial honoring Žanis Lipke and his wife Johanna, fearless saviors of Jews in Nazi-occupied Latvia.

President Peres also attended the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. The issue of collaboration with the Nazi and Soviet regimes is thoroughly documented by the international commission of historians established in 1998, a project that was initiated by the president of Latvia. The historical commission has published 27 volumes of its research, and much of this work has been done with assistance from Yad Vashem. After the restoration of Latvian independence in 1991, the Latvian prosecutor general’s office has refused to absolve more than 1,000 individuals who were convicted by Soviet authorities of collaborating with the Nazis.

During the Soviet regime in Latvia, questions and discussions about the past were silenced and forbidden, and this silencing included the actual history of the Holocaust. Therefore, it was only after full restoration of Latvia’s independence in 1991 that the people of Latvia could see what had been swept under the rug, express themselves freely about all aspects of their history, and have open discussions about the Holocaust as it truly was. Latvia today is actively supporting Holocaust education, remembrance, and research.  

Studies of the Holocaust form part of the compulsory history curriculum in Latvia's schools. Questions on the Holocaust are included in school examinations. Also worth noting is the importance of the establishment of the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Latvia in 1998.

Commemoration and remembrance of the victims of Holocaust is essential for enabling us to honor those who perished as well as to prevent such tragedies in the future. In the framework of the Baltic Mass Graves Project, nearly 200 memorial sites have been registered in Latvia. Three quarters of these locations are now marked with memorials or memorial plaques.

Since 2004 Latvia has been an active member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in which we also cooperate closely with the State of Israel. In addition, we contribute to various international organizations working in the field of Holocaust research, remembrance, education and the fight against contemporary forms of anti-Semitism.

To conclude, as a country which has suffered multiple occupations during and after World War II, Latvia strongly shares Israel’s involvement in international efforts aimed at the open unbiased exchange of information regarding the darkest pages of human history, and an objective accounting of what took place. I am sure that knowing the past will help us to avoid future tragedies and will strengthen our common vision of the future.

The writer is the Latvian Ambassador to Israel.

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