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Latvian Jews, Local Government Spar over Inscription on a Shoah Memorial

Latvian Jewish leaders and officials in the capital of Riga are tangled in a dispute over the inscription on a Holocaust memorial.

The Latvian Jewish community plans to erect the memorial at Rumbula, where the local Latvian Nazi police and collaborators murdered some 30,000 Riga Jews in 1941. The monument is scheduled to be dedicated at the end of the month.

The Jewish community insists that the inscription include the fact that Latvian volunteers — including the notorious Arajs Kommando unit, which served as a Nazi death squad — participated in the slaughter.

But a commission appointed by the Riga municipality to coordinate the ceremony has refused to approve the proposed inscription.

The conflict has led to a deadlock and the possibility of postponing the dedication.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center this week urged Latvian President Vaira Vike Freiburga to use her influence to help resolve the issue.

In a letter, Efraim Zuroff, director of the center’s Jerusalem office, asked the president to be historically accurate and to note the truth clearly.

“Given the active participation of the Arajs Kommando and other Latvian units in this mass murder operation against the Jews of Riga, such an omission practically borders on denial, and I therefore call upon you to help influence the members of the commission to change their decision and allow the truth — as bitter as it is — to be told in an unequivocal manner.”

Since they gained independence in 1991, the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have been encouraged by Western governments to confront their Holocaust histories.

In Latvia and Lithuania, more than 94 percent of local Jews were murdered at the hands of Nazis and local collaborators.

Historians say the number would have been far lower had ordinary citizens not participated in the killings.

In coming days, all three nations are expected to receive invitations to join the NATO military alliance, which has demanded that the three governments confront the Holocaust in terms of restitution, education and commemoration.

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