On 9 June 2004 the Liepaja Holocaust Memorial was unveiled among distinguished guests, holocaust survivors from many countries and descendents of Libauers from a large number of destinations. Guests of honor included the Representative of the President of Latvia, Uldis Sesks, the Mayor of Liepaja and the ambassadors of Germany, Israel, Russia, Sweden and USA. Also present were George Schwab, President, National Committee on American Foreign Policy, Steven Springfield, President, Jewish Survivors of Latvia, Arkadij Suharenko, President of the Latvian Council of Jewish Communities and Sergey Zaharjin, a sponsor of the event.
Among the many that attended the dedication ceremony were members of the Jewish Survivors of Latvia as well as a group from Israel organized by Mr. Sol Feigerson. In addition to a number of holocaust survivors there were also numerous descendants of Libauers. A small group of dedicated people formed The Memorial Committee. There was Prof Edward Anders of the USA, Vladimir Bans and Ilana Ivanova of Liepaja.
Ilana Ivanova worked tirelessly in preparing the detailed program for the dedication ceremony and arranged a schedule of activities for the guests and visitors. Edward and Joan Anders hosted a dinner for all visitors and guests at the Liva Hotel. Sergej Zaharjin generously paid most expenses of up to 50 guests for 2 days hotel accommodation and furthermore provided free return bus transportation from Riga to Libau. A welcome dinner was also hosted by the families of Sergej and Valerij Zaharjin.
In the program prepared for the Memorial dedication Edward Anders and Vladimir Bans point out that the need for the Memorial became evident in1998 when one of them learned that the names of most Liepaja Holocaust victims had been forgotten. Apparently Yad Vashem had since 1953 collected victims’ names from survivors but only 20% of the names from Latvia had been recovered, and there appeared to be little hope of getting additional names. As only 2% of Latvian Jews had survived the German occupation, many Liepaja Jewish families and friends were totally annihilated in the Holocaust, leaving nobody to remember their names.
Juris Dibrovskis in Riga aided in searching a dozen archival sources in five countries for the names of Jews who lived in Liepaja on the eve of the Holocaust. His efforts combined with others resulted in a memorial book published in 2001 listing 7060 names. The list posted on the Memorial Wall include the names of 6422 names of the victims of Hitler and Stalin and is estimated to represent at least 93% of the total.
A list of brave Latvians who rescued Jews is also inscribed on the Memorial Wall. Roberts and Johanna Seduls hid 11 Jews for nearly 2 years in a cleverly disguised hideout in the basement of the apartment building in Tirgonu Iela 14 (now 22) and could be considered to be the most outstanding of the recorded rescuers. Tragically, the Roberts Seduls was killed by an artillery shell on 10 May 1945, but his wife, helped by a few others, continued to care for the Jews until the end of the war. Two daughters of Roberts Seduls were Guests of Honor as was the grandson of Grieta Enins who had rescued 2 Jews.
The rescuers saved 33 Jews by hiding them for days, months or years or providing them with false papers. It appears that the punishment for hiding a Jew was much more severe in Latvia than in many other countries. The historian Margers Vestermanis, reports that 52 Latvians paid with their lives for hiding Jews. The hosts had huge problems in feeding the fugitives. Accordingly even if the host had the means to buy food on the black market, he or she had to hide from the neighbors the large amount of food going into the dwellings, and other signs of an increased number of people: voices, footsteps, laundry, etc.
A dinner was hosted by Edward and Joan Anders. Among those who attended were Bella Blumberg, a holocaust survivor of Libau with her daughter Rita Bogdanova, (both now living in Riga) and from Toronto were Henry Blumberg, Gina Schochat and Vivian Rakoff.
Jenny Sommer, a holocaust survivor, originally from Libau and now living in New Jersey had not seen Bella Blumberg since the war. Their meeting again after more than 50 years was a very happy occasion.
Ed Anders in his presentation stated that: “we have come here to honor the 6400 Liepaja Jews who died in Hitler’s Holocaust and in Stalin’s Gulag.” He added: “But we also want to honor the 200 survivors and those brave Latvians and Germans who saved 33 of them. Lastly, we want to thank the Soviet, British, and American armies that liberated the rest”.
Many disasters have struck the Latvian Jewish community. The first was the USSR occupation of Latvia on June 17, 1940. Nearly a year later, on June 14, 1941 1771 Jews were deported from Latvia, 207 of whom came from Liepaja. On June 22, 1941 Germany attacked and 300 of the remaining 7100 fled to Russia. On June 29, 1941 some Jews died defending Latvia and that left 6500. On July 3, 1941 Jews were arrested and 47 were shot by the Einsatzgruppen.
Furthermore on July 24 & July 25 1941 the notorious Latvian SD commando under Viktors Arajs arrived from Riga and shot about 1,100 Jewish men. Shootings of men and women, continued in the next months – first at the lighthouse and fish factory, then on the Navy Base. Towards the end of 1941, from December 15 to 17, 1941 2749 people, mainly women and children, were shot at Skede by three firing squads and at the end of 1941 only 1050 Jews were alive.
Long trenches were dug in the dunes at Skede before the massacre of the Jews. The victims were forced to undress, and were placed in small groups along the edge of the trench, and then shot by German and Latvian squads. The bodies fell into the mass grave. By July 1, 1942 only 832 survivors were left and they were forced into the Ghetto.
On October 8, 1943 800 people were sent to Kaiserwald near Riga. There the prisoners suffered from hunger, cold and overcrowding. In 1944, when the Soviet army closed in thousands of Jews in the camp were killed or deported to Stuffhof camp. From August to September 1944, 350 Jews remained in Kaiserwald and they were deported to the Stutthof concentration camp, east of Danzig, Poland.
After liberation 176 Jews were left with 44 survivors in Liepaja. Thus very few of the Liepaja Jews survived the occupation. Today only 6 of the original Liepaja families remain; all other members of the Liepaja Jewish Community are immigrants from Russia or the Ukraine. Today, standing here at the memorial site for the victims of Nazism, it is important for everyone to understand and evaluate the events of that time. What madness and hatred had seized people that caused them to destroy thousands of innocent fellow men?
President of Latvia.
9 June 2004.
By Henry Blumberg of Toronto whose father Julius (Sundel) Blumberg was born in Libau.