I was very sad to receive an email from Arcady Bahn advising me that his father, Vladimir Bahn passed away in Riga on 4th of November 2017.
I met Vladimir a number of years ago and valued him as a friend. While he was writing his biography he sent me drafts from time to time and asked me to place the final copy on this website. It is my privilege to do so.
His biography was written in English that he had mastered through considerable reading, indicative of his interest in languages.
He was born in 1926 in Liepaja and in his biography he captures many vivid impressions of growing up there in the 1930s.. I was amused to read that when his father took him to a cinema for the first time and left him there Vladimir noticed that people were coming and going and that there was no intermission. When he eventually left the cinema his father was furious waiting for him – he had been in the cinema for about three hours as the movie was replayed.
He graphically describes how his life changed in 1941 when he was 15 years old after the Germans attacked Latvia; he experienced a terrifying journey with a friend to Russia and then lived as a refugee child where the conditions were dreadful, the food poor, and many of the children died from diarrhoea and typhus.
In 1943 he manage to enlist with the 1st Cavalry Regiment of the Reserve, Moscow Military District and describes in detail the arduous life in the Russian Army where his most important personal possession was a spoon; losing the spoon would be a real disaster. He graduated from a Military Engineering School in Leningrad with the rank of Lieutenant in September 1949.
He wrote that when he visited Liepaja in 1948 and 1949 his most depressing experience was going to places where his relatives and friends had lived, and also his Latvian friends (some killed in the Legion, some fled), and found nobody there that he knew and then began to understand the tragedy that had befallen the Jewish people. He admits that at the time he had no knowledge of the real scale of the Holocaust and hadn’t yet heard that word; he shared the official view at the time that Jewish victims were merely part of the totality of Soviet civilian victims.
He refers to the official anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism that was spread with intense and widespread propaganda. He explained that it was only with the beginning of “Perestroika” in 1985 that many people learnt what was behind the 1948 murder of the Latvian-Jewish actor Michoels, the extermination of the Jewish Antifascist Committee, and the so-called “Doctors’ Plot” in 1952, most of whose alleged culprits were Jews. Information regarding the Holocaust was scarce but some filtered through —Babi Yar, the Nuremberg Trials, the articles by Ilya Ehrenburg and other sources.
He rose in the ranks of the military through diligence and ongoing study and became a battalion commander. He retired to Liepaja in November 1968 and settled in an apartment where he lived for many years with his charming wife, Vera. He described that the move meant a whole life was behind them and a new one was to begin. He worked in Liepaja as an engineer and later as a translator and became a leader of the Jewish community and chairman of the local branch of the Latvian Society of Jewish Culture.
I very much appreciated the warm hospitality that Vladimir and Vera extended to my wife, Marcia, and I on our first visit to Liepaja and later when we were accompanied by our son Jonathan.
Vladimir assisted me in finding the mass grave in the forest outside Grobina where the Jews of Grobina had been shot and buried including my grandparents and members of my family. The only marker at the site referred to the victims of Fascism but not that it was a Jewish mass grave. At the burial ground and with Vladimir’s help and the permission of the Grobina City Council we erected a memorial listing all the people who lay in that mass grave.
In my search to find what happened to my uncle Josel Blumberg he took me to the Occupation Museum in Liepaja and there I discovered that he had been taken to Siberia during the Russian occupation where he sadly died shortly after arriving there.
Vladimir played a vital role on the committee headed by Prof. Edward Anders in the erection of the Liepaja Memorial Wall that lists the names of 6,428 people of Liepaja; this, according that to Prof. Anders, represents at least 93% of the total Liepaja victims of Hitler and Stalin.
Vladimir spoke at it’s dedication on 9 June 2004; his warning held true then and even more so today.
“Under these new circumstances we must avoid some new dangers and meet new challenges. We must avoid collective accusations and reject the idea of collective guilt for crimes committed by individuals, however many there were. We must climb out of the trenches of old hatred and stop looking for new enemies. We should instead commemorate and honour the Righteous Among the Nations who make us realize that our world is not one where homini hominem lupus est but where some men and women remain human beings under the worst conditions and the utmost danger to personal life. At the same time we must retain and cherish the memory of those innumerable victims who perished in the fire of the most dreadful Holocaust in history. We cannot allow ignorant and malicious young people to start blowing life into the glowing embers of antisemitism that still smoulder here and there, and this is why we have come here in these days, this is why we have invited you to attend the dedication of the Memorial Wall which bears the names of 6400 innocent victims.”
In his last few years and after his beloved Vera had passed away he moved from Liepaja to a retirement home in Riga. I visited him there on two occasions. Even though he was becoming very frail he was still passionate about learning and adept at using his computer. As his 90th birthday approached I wanted to send you gift but couldn’t think what would be appropriate. On my first visit I had brought him vodka and a box of chocolates. He laughingly returned the vodka to me saying, “I can’t drink that anymore.“ As for the chocolates he reluctantly accepted them and gave them to the staff. The best gift I could come up with was the gift of recognition. I emailed everyone I knew in Riga to advise of his impending birthday and to urge them to congratulate him by calling or emailing him at the phone number I provided. When I later called him he said that he was very surprised and pleased that so many people had contacted him to congratulate him on his birthday. All I could do was smile inwardly.
I can think of no better tribute to Vladimir than to quote the e-mail sent by Prof. Edward Anders on the 4th November 2017 to Vladimir’s son Arcady: ‘I send you my heartfelt condolences on the death of your father. He was a selfless man of rare integrity, decency, and modesty, always willing to help others on worthy causes.’ He also referred to Vladimir’s life long learning: ‘In spite of his decline, he learned Spanish in his final years, to the point of being able to compose a lengthy poem.’
Vladimir was a remarkable man and will be missed by his friends and fellow researchers.
Copyright ©2019 Henry Blumberg. All Rights Reserved