One is not truly dead until one’s name is forgotten.
About the Memorial
The need for this memorial became evident in 1998 when one of us learned that the names of most Liepāja Holocaust victims had been forgotten. Although Yad Vashem (Jerusalem) had since 1953 collected victims’ names from survivors, only 20% of the names from Latvia had been recovered, and there was little hope of getting additional names. As only 2% of Latvian Jews had survived the German occupation, many Liepāja Jewish families and their friends were totally annihilated in the Holocaust, leaving nobody to remember their names. Such oblivion would have pleased Hitler.
For the next 3 years one of us, aided by Juris Dubrovskis in Riga, searched a dozen archival sources in five countries for Jews who lived in Liepāja on the eve of the Holocaust. Ella Barkan in Tel Aviv provided invaluable help by interviewing survivors. At last, a memorial book with 7,060 names was published in 2001. The complete database was posted on the Internet, enabling people to check for errors and omissions The current list, posted on the Memorial Wall, includes 6,428 names of the victims of Hitler and Stalin. That is at least 93% of the total.
Helped initially by Ella Barkan and Solomon Feigerson, we started to plan a Memorial Wall in the Jewish Cemetery in Liepāja . A fundraising appeal for the Wall and for some tidying up of the cemetery yielded nearly $26,000 from about 160 former Libauers or their descendants (listed below), to whom we express our gratitude. The Wall was strictly a grass-roots effort, without any help or support by organizations or governments. However, we gratefully acknowledge contributions by the City of Liepāja toward renovation of the cemetery. The memorial was designed by Alzhāna grafikas un dizaina birojs (Liepāja ) and was built by UPTK (Liepāja ).
We cannot revive the victims of the Holocaust or even provide them a decent burial. As a symbolic gesture, we have buried some sand from the Šķēde killing field at the foot of the Memorial; it probably contains a few atoms of the victims. In a more visible tribute we have brought their names to the cemetery, where most victims would have found their final resting place if there had been no war, no Holocaust, and no Gulag.
Edward Anders and Vladīmirs Bāns
AUSTRALIA: Bertelsen Lorraine • Fooks Noemi • Hofmanis Joseph • Kohn Maly • Opat Vivienne • Solway Max •• BRAZIL: Elefant Cyrla •• CANADA: Bercuvitz Judith • Blumberg Henry • Brauer Max • Gamsa Simon • Newman Lisa • Pamensky Victor • Porzecanski Steffi • Rakoff Gina • Sebba Richard • Stoch Ella & Mary •• FRANCE: Benatti Joyce • Darmon Irène • Depaigne Anita • Ostrowsky Nicole •• GERMANY: Deift Ruven • Deift Zalman • Hering Franz & Gabriele • Hering Johannes • Kartschoke Andreas • Kartschoke Bettina • Kartschoke Horst & Karen • Pitten Susanne •• ISRAEL: Arbel Ruth • Barkan Abraham • Barkan Ella • Barkan Josef • Bartal Aida & Rita • Boyar Meri • Braver Aviva • Brener Lea • Brilowitz Reuven • Cohen Tamar • Davidi Lea • Farkash Sarah • Feiganov Shalom • Feigerson Solomon • Flaster Hedda • Fridland Shmuel • Genton Josef • Gilad Chava • Goldberg Eugenie (Genia) • Gordon Efraim • Gotchinski Ruth • Hait Genadi • Hakel Anna • Hasid Dora • Havenson Aisik • Hirschhorn Hessel • Ish-Shalom Rosa • Issahary David • Kogan Ilia • Koleck Jocheved • Kopman Chaim • London Ella • Mazin Rachel • Neufeld Bella • Niburg Rosa • Pikielny Simon • Plaksin Chaja • Ravid Eliyahu • Samuelson Israel • Samuelson Yecheskel & Hinda • Schattenstein-Roitgur Sara & Sunia • Schnaider Rocha • Sebba Wulf • Suhovokov Rachel • Tosch Glika • Tzivian Naftaly • Waldstein Evelyn • Westermann Aharon • Zipori Riva • Zohar Bracha & Lazer •• ITALY: Jarre Maria Gersoni •• NORWAY: Dante Jenny & Sam •• SOUTH AFRICA: Katz Maurice •• SWEDEN: Berniker Orian •• UNITED KINGDOM: Alexander Simon • Alexander Zelda • Fisher Hilda • Phipps Rosie • Rosengarten Georgia • Scott Herman •• UNITED STATES: Anders Edward • Anonymous • Benjaminson Eric • Bloshteyn Pesya • Borus Rita • Breitz Ellen • Breitz Hazel • Bub Bennie • Carlen Esta • Charny Anna • Charny Clara • Charny Wolfe • Drabkin Julius • Ende Frieda • Engel Arnold • Erlich Reva • Farb Leonard • Feitelberg Allen • Finkelstein Rosalind • Fischer Jack • Fischer Stanley • Foss-Kant Pessia • Goldsmith Eleanor • Gottfried Marie • Haight Taube • Halle Morris • Herschitz Hilel • Herschitz Zelma • Hirschhorn Beth • Hirschhorn Donald • Hirschhorn Irvin • Hirschhorn Laurence • Hirschhorn Robert • Hoffman William • Hollander Vita • Howard Bernard • Joffe Benjamin • Kahn Shoshana • Karshtedt Ilya • Lebovits Fanny • LePere Gene • Lesses Rebecca • Lowenson Jeffrey • Luban Pnina • Madere Laura • Markuse Lea • Melnick Michael • Mirman Boris • Munic Sara • Neys Benjamin • Neys Shaia • Numark Neil • Ospovat Alexander • Porzecanski Arturo • Prager Marlene • Robbins Sheila Johnson • Rosen Fred • Roth Ida • Saretzky Gary • Saretzky Simon • Satten Joseph • Schiman Nanci • Schmahmann John • Schmehmann L. • Schwab George • Sebba Anthony • Solomon Steven • Sommer Jenny • Spector Doris • Spector Johanna • Spencer Edith • Stephens Xenia • Strumpf Selda • Vekhnis Mara • Zilber Lydia •
Renovation of the Memorial Wall, 2008
The Wall stood up quite well for the first 4 years, except that the glue holding the name lists together began to weaken owing to the strong sunlight. Evidently some repairs would be needed every ~5 years. Although our Foundation “Memorials” has a capable Executive Committee and a cash reserve of over USD 5000, it seemed unrealistic to saddle the Committee and the Advisory Board with the major task of frequent renovations—as well as fundraising once the current reserve is exhausted.
We therefore decided on a major renovation that would remain maintenance-free for at least 50 years. That involved the following changes.
- The name lists, formerly on 208 small plastic sheets, have been replaced by 16 large, stainless steel sheets.
- The names are engraved by laser, using a process that fuses a ceramic powder into a black glass that is firmly bonded to the steel.
- The US-made aluminum vitrines have been replaced by German-made ones of heavier and more precise, weatherproof construction.
- The concrete wall has been covered with a facing of gray granite.
The cost of the renovation was covered entirely by three members of the Advisory Board. The cash reserve of about USD 5000 left from the 2004 donations was not touched and remains available for upkeep of the Wall in future years.
History of Liepāja Jews
The Jewish Community in Liepāja was established only in 1799. Although Jewish traders and craftsmen appeared in Courland (Kurzeme) Duchy already in the 16th century, few were allowed to settle; in 1795, when Courland was annexed to Russia, only 19 Jews were registered in Liepāja . Only the Piltene district, including Aizpute (Hasenpot) was somewhat more hospitable. Restrictions gradually eased during the 19th century, leading to increased immigration from Latgale, Lithuania, Byelorussia, and Poland. These newcomers added diversity to the old-timers, who were oriented toward German culture. As Liepāja became a major port of the Russian empire, Jews played an important role in developing commerce and industry. In 1914, about 10,000 Jews lived in Liepāja, which then had a population of 116,000.
Many Jews fought for Latvian independence 1918–1920 and later helped the country recover from the ravages of World War I. Life was tolerably good until the first of a series of disasters struck on 17 June 1940, when the USSR occupied Latvia in violation of a perpetual non-aggression treaty of 1920. Despite initial promises of continued Latvian sovereignty, the USSR annexed the country 7 weeks later. These events split the Jewish community. Many working class Jews (and Latvians) initially welcomed the Red Army, trusting communist promises of social justice and power to the people. They also expected protection from Hitler. But the more prosperous Jews feared persecution as „bourgeois“ and „class enemies“. However, it soon turned out that persecution also extended to other categories of Jews, such as Zionists, moderate leftists, religious Jews, former politicians, etc.
More disasters followed in close succession. On 14 June 1941, nearly 15,000 people were deported to the USSR, either to Gulag camps or to exile in Siberia. Jews were nearly three-fold overrepresented among the deportees (208 of 559 from the city of Liepāja ). When Germany attacked the USSR 8 days later, some 300 out of 7,100 Liepāja Jews fled to the USSR. More might have fled but men—except party and government officials—were not allowed to leave; others were turned away at the Latvia-USSR border for lack of proper papers; moreover, the city was soon encircled by German troops. Besides, a number of Liepāja Jews, remembering the benign German occupation of 1915–1918, expected nothing worse than discrimination and perhaps forced labor. Neither they nor the German Jewish refugees in town knew that Hitler had ordered the extermination of Jews in all territories seized from the Soviets.
Of the about 160 Jews who were in the military or Workers’ Guard, many fell in the battle for Liepāja whereas some others retreated with the Red Army. That left about 6,500 Jews in the hands of the German forces that occupied Liepāja on 29 June 1941.
An SS-Einsatzgruppen team arrived on the same day, killed a number of Jews, and recruited volunteers for a Latvian „Self-Defense” unit. The latter promptly began to arrest Jews, especially members of the Workers’ Guard, and took them to the Women’s Prison, which became a torture chamber and holding pen for the doomed. Some 47 Jews were shot by the Einsatzgruppen men on 3 July 1941. (Many were reburied in the Jewish cemetery a few days later; from then on, mass graves at execution sites became the rule.) A daily manhunt began: Jews, marked by yellow cloth patches on chest and back, were arrested on the street, in their homes, or—most conveniently—on Firehouse Square, where Jewish men had to report for forced labor at 7.00 every morning. Executions took place every few days. Many Jewish families were evicted from their apartments and had to double up or triple up with friends or relatives, where they lived on food rations one-half of the skimpy Latvian rations. The synagogues were razed on orders of the SS, who then tried to force Jews to trample on the sacred scrolls.
Liepāja became a major base of the German Navy. Unfortunately for the Jews, the commandant, Fregattenkapitän Dr. Hans Kawelmacher, and especially his deputy, Korvettenkapitän Fritz Brückner, seemed anxious to outdo the SS. Brückner issued rules for Jews that were the most draconian of any town in Latvia. Kawelmacher, believing Nazi propaganda that Jewish men were the mainstay of communism, became impatient with the pace of executions and cabled the commanding admiral of the Baltic fleet to send 100 SS- and 50 Schutzpolizei troops “for rapid execution Jewish problem. With present SS-personnel, this would take one year, which is untenable for pacification of Liepāja.” His request was promptly granted; the notorious Latvian SD commando under Viktors Arājs arrived from Riga, shot about 1,100 Jewish men on July 24 and 25, and left.
Shootings, soon including women, continued in the next months—first at the lighthouse and fish processing factory, then on the Navy Base, and finally at Šķēde. On 15–17 December 1941, 2,749 Jews—mainly women and children—were murdered at Šķēde by 3 firing squads: German SD, Latvian SD, and Latvian auxiliary police. (SS-Oberscharführer Sobeck took pictures, which were secretly copied by an audacious Jew, David Zivcon, and since the war have been widely displayed in museums and books). By the end of 1941, only 1,050 Jews were still alive.
After further shootings in the next few months, 832 Jews remained, who were forced into a crowded ghetto on 1 July 1942. The ghetto commandant, Meister der Schutzpolizei Franz Kerscher, was relatively humane, and so about 800 were still alive on 8 October 1943 when the inmates were deported to the Kaiserwald concentration camp in Riga. Old people and mothers with children under 12 soon were killed locally or sent to Auschwitz for gassing. After further “selections”, about 350 remained, who were deported to the Stutthof concentration camp in August-September 1944. Some were sent to subcamps further East, where they were liberated by the Red Army in early 1945, others died on death marches or under the increasingly brutal conditions at Stutthof.
The last remnant of Stutthof prisoners were put on barges two weeks before the end of the war, tugged westward, and then abandoned at sea. Norwegian political prisoners navigated the barges to shore at Neustadt i.H., but when the half-dead Jews staggered ashore, a group of young German sailors shot or drowned more than 50 of them. A few hours later the last survivors were liberated by British troops. Further south, the US Army liberated a few Liepāja survivors in Dachau.
After liberation, the Liepāja survivors received excellent medical care in Denmark, Sweden, or Germany, but 8 died in the next few weeks, leaving 176. Another 33 had survived in Liepāja , having been hidden by brave and kind-hearted Latvians who risked their lives, such as Roberts and Johanna Seduls who saved 11 Jews. All together, 3% of the Liepāja Jews survived the Nazi occupation. But the Soviet regime treated these survivors with great suspicion, presuming that any Jew not killed by the Nazis must have committed high treason. A number were sentenced to 10–20 year terms in the Gulag. Not surprisingly, many emigrated to Israel or other countries when the opportunity arose in the early 1970s.
Of the ~300 refugees who in June 1941 tried to flee to the USSR, several dozen perished—mainly captured or killed in air raids while still in Latvia. Others were turned back at the Soviet border, because they had not yet been issued Soviet passports in exchange for their Latvian passports. Of the deportees 40% died, leaving 126 survivors.
Today the Liepāja Jewish Community has about 200 members. Only 6 of the original Liepāja families remained in 2004; all others are immigrants from Russia or the Ukraine. The old Community building at Kungu iela 21 has been thoroughly renovated, thanks to the generosity of Selwyn and Raymond Haas of Great Britain and the energetic efforts of Ilana Ivanova. The Community has several active programs, such as a school, clubs for families and the elderly, and a welfare program for the needy.
Killers, Rescuers, and Bystanders
Anti-Semitism had never been strong in Latvia. Unlike other parts of the Tsarist empire, Latvia never had any pogroms. Indeed, when a mob of “Black Hundreds” in October 1905 tried to attack a Jewish quarter in Riga, Latvian workers joined Jews in fighting them off, and 3 Latvians died in this defense. True, in the 1920s and 1930s the anti-Semitic (and anti-German) organization Pērkonkrusts had a small but fanatical following and published vicious propaganda. But it was outlawed by Ulmanis in 1934. Although Jews were excluded from civil service and after 1934 suffered growing discrimination in business and in university admissions, Jewish schools were supported by the state and Jewish refugees continued to get visas as long as there still was a Latvian government, though most other countries refused to admit them. All told, Latvia in the 1930’s was more anti-Semitic than Italy or Scandinavia; about the same as France, Switzerland, the USA, and Canada; but less so than Germany or several Eastern European countries.
Latvian anti-Semitism grew during the Soviet occupation 1940/41, but did not become violent. The chaotic period between collapse of Soviet authority and arrival of German troops would have been an opportunity for fanatical anti-Semites to kill Jews, but although there exist some reports of such killings, none of those investigated have been confirmed thus far. Verified killings started only with the arrival of German troops and Einsatzgruppen teams—in Liepāja, on 29 June 1941. Simultaneously came a torrent of anti-Semitic propaganda, contending: The USSR and especially the NKVD was run by and for Jews, Jews were responsible for the 14 June deportations, Jews had started the war, Jews conspired to rule the world, Jews rather than German bombers and artillery had burned down the town, etc. One bizarre story in a German police magazine claimed that on Stalin’s orders, the Jews on Vītolu iela had burned down their own houses so as to deny them to the Germans.
In Liepāja the Latvian auxiliary police recruited by the Einsatzgruppen initially were ordered only to arrest Jews and communists, leaving the shooting to Germans. But in September, a Latvian SD platoon was organized that replaced the departing German police unit as executioners. Some volunteered in response to an offer of 2–3 bottles of alcohol. Long-term anti-Semites and recent converts who believed Nazi propaganda often brutalized and tormented the arrested Jews before execution. Others were more restrained but still followed orders, which eventually included shooting women and children, or at least escorting them to their death.
Among Latvian civilians, some believed at least part of the German propaganda and became hostile toward Jews. Many were indifferent, but a number were friendly, even compassionate, and helped Jews by secretly supplying them with food despite the stiff penalties. The bravest among them—the rescuers—saved 33 Jews by hiding them for days, months, or years, or by providing them with false papers. Their names are given on the Memorial Wall and below.
Rescuers of Liepāja Jews
|Avots, Kārlis Brundzelis J.||Indriksons (husband)||Sērmoliņa Maija|
|Bušs||Indriksons (son)||Skara Arvīds|
|Dombrovska Elizabete||Janaite||Sproģis Jānis|
|Eilenbergs Kārlis||Kandeviča Ieva||Strēle Amālija|
|Eniņa Grieta||Kārkliņa Herta||Šimelpfenigs Otilija Torbiks Trofims|
|Kumerovs Frīdrihs||Kumerovs Frīdrihs||Unknown woman|
|Eniņš Teodors||Pāvele Zelma||Unknown|
|Ēvels H. and family||Pāvels Jēkabs||Unknown|
|Fimbauere Anna||Rāts Jānis||Unknown|
|Freimanis Eduards||Rāts Olga||Unknown|
|Ģintere||Roze Margrieta||Unknown worker|
|Gludausis Arnolds||Sedule Johanna||Zīverte Sofija|
|Indriksone (wife)||Seduls Roberts||Zvirgzdiņa Anna|
The punishment for hiding a Jew was much more severe in Latvia than in, say, the Netherlands—concentration camp or even death, rather than a reprimand or a 6-month prison term. The historian Marģers Vestermanis reports that 52 Latvians paid with their lives for hiding Jews. Moreover, the hosts had the huge problem of feeding the fugitives. Even if the host had the means to buy food on the black market, he had to hide from neighbors the large amount of food going in and other signs of an increased number of people: voices, footsteps, laundry, etc. The most outstanding rescuers in Liepaaja were Roberts and Johanna Seduls, who hid 11 Jews for nearly 2 years in a cleverly disguised hideout in the basement of the apartment building on Tirgoņu iela 14 (now 22). Tragically, Seduls was killed by an artillery shell on 10 March 1945, but his wife, helped by Arvīds Skara, continued to care for the Jews until the end of the war.
There also were rescuers among the German military. Marine-Verwaltungsinspektor Friedrich Kroll was manager of the Navy’s uniform warehouse, located in the former Cork Factory, where approximately 100 Jews worked. When he discovered on 15. December 41 that masses of Jews were being arrested and shot, he and his associates rushed to the Women’s Prison and demanded that “their” Jews be released. He then urged the Jews working for him to spend the next 2 nights in the Cork Factory rather than going home. Moreover, on the next 2 mornings he again went to the Women’s Prison to gain the release of any Jews from the Cork Factory who had gone home despite his warnings and had been arrested. Another officer, Air Force Lt. Colonel Hernsdorf, hid 4 Jews in his Karosta apartment during the December killings.
We dedicate this wall to the victims, in the hope that such atrocities will never happen again. May a new era free of hatred begin, when all ethnic groups of Latvia again work together in friendship toward the goal of building a prosperous, independent Latvia.
The dedication ceremony was held in Liepaaja on 9 June 2004. Four of the speeches are available here.
· Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga , President of Latvia
· Paulis Lazda, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin
· Edward Anders, co-chairman, Libau Jewish Memorial Committee
· Vladīmirs Bāns, co-chairman, Libau Jewish Memorial Committee