Latvia unveils memorial plaque for rescuers of Jews

  • 2000-04-27
RIGA (BNS) - A commemorative plaque to honor the Lipkes family for rescuing Jews during the Holocaust was unveiled in Riga April 21 in an official ceremony attended by Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins and Riga Mayor Andris Berzins.

The plaque is in Riga's residential area Kipsala and honors Zanis Lipke, his wife Johanna Lipke and their sons Zigfrids and Alfreds who rescued several dozens of Jewish people during the Holocaust.

"In this building lived Zanis Lipke, his wife Johanna, their sons Zigfrids and Alfreds. Illuminated by divine light, they extended a hand of rescue. 1941-1944," reads the plaque.

Vike-Freiberga stressed that the plaque is unveiled at the time when the Christian world was marking Easter and the Jewish world was celebrating Passover. She said the actions of Lipke during the rule of a totalitarian and military system revealed the deepest conviction of a man - readiness to rescue others and even to sacrifice his own life.

Both the president and initiator of installation of the plaque, former Prime Minister Maris Gailis, said the silent place in Kipsala could be turned into a site visited by coming generations and Riga's visitors.

"It would be good if this historic place would become a site to see evidence of a unique person," said Vike-Freiberga. Gailis meanwhile proposed to renovate the cellar of the one-story wooden building at 8 Maza Balasta Dambis, where Zanis Lipke spent 50 years of his life.

The plaque unveiled on April 21 to honor the Lipkes is the second in Riga. Another plaque in commemoration of victims of the Holocaust and Zanis Lipke appears at 21 Sadovnikova Street, placed in 1995 to mark the boundary of the concentration camp during the war.

Lipke should be awarded the Order of Three Stars, the top award of the Latvian state, as gratitude for saving the lives of Jews, said Izak Drizin, one of the Jews whose life was saved by Lipke. Drizin also proposed to rename Maza Balasta Dambis after Lipke.

Lipke has already been named Righteous Among Nations, Israel's highest award to a non-Jew, through the organization Yad Vashem which researches the actions of saviors during the Holocaust after they have been nominated by those whose lives have been saved.

The Foreign Ministry earlier this year asked the Riga City Council to consider granting the status of Riga's honorary citizen to Lipke, but the City Council has not yet worked out regulations for granting the status and will consider the issue later, said Council spokeswoman Mairita Brice.

Lipke was born on Feb. 2, 1900, and died on May 14, 1987. He rescued Jews during World War II while he was serving with the German army as a driver. During that time he had the opportunity to employ Jews held in the ghetto, thus saving their lives. Lipke also hid Jews in the cellar of his home.

Compiled from wire reports and with additional reporting by Sandra L. Medearis and Jeffrey T. Bentch.