ABOVE THE CROWD: Shimon Peres (left) and Andris Berzins honor the wartime efforts of Zanis Lipke.
RIGA - The Latvian government is combating manifestations of anti-Semitism and this fight must not stop, not even for a moment, visiting Israeli President Shimon Peres said during a state dinner hosted by Latvian President Berzins on July 29, reports LETA. The atrocities of the Holocaust were perpetrated by the Nazis, but unfortunately they were also helped by local collaborators, said Peres.
Peres said that the Jews were a sizeable minority during the first independent Republic of Latvia and they were represented in each of the four Latvian parliaments elected until World War II. The Jews of Latvia participated in Latvia’s prosperity, but the Holocaust destroyed them, said the president.
He recalled that 25,000 Jews were killed in Rumbula in just two days, including “children, senior citizens, women and men - all without reason.”
However, the Nazis “were resisted by several dozen Latvians, who were saving Jewish lives during these frightening times, risking their own lives. Such people were awarded the honorary title of ‘Righteous among the Nations.’ We will never forget this,” said Peres.
Peres said that such small countries as Latvia and Israel have a chance to be big by creating a better world without racism, hatred, anti-Semitism and not ignoring individuals’ thoughts.
When speaking about the tragic events of the Holocaust in Rumbula, both presidents said that Latvia’s society is being educated about the Holocaust.
Peres went on to explain that, in the course of many years, many Jews who survived in Latvia migrated to Israel, including influential rabbis, state officials, public figures, scientists and intellectuals. During the two waves of emigration - in the 1970s and 1990s - immigrants from Latvia enriched the State of Israel in many areas and they actively participated in the development of Israel, making use of their experience gained in Latvia.
Currently, a small Jewish community remains in Latvia, maintaining its identity. This community was able to restore the Jewish way of life in all areas. Its contribution to preserving the memory of the destroyed Jewish communities is invaluable, emphasized the president.
Property restitution solved
After an official flower-laying ceremony at the Freedom Monument, President Berzins said while meeting with the crowd that the problem of Jewish property restitution has been resolved, and that this was not the reason for the Israeli president’s visit to Latvia.
“All this has been settled, there are no more problems. Everyone is interested in peace worldwide, and the fundamental question is how to achieve this,” said Berzins.
Berzins’ press secretary Liga Krapane explained that, in Berzins’ opinion, the denationalization process in Latvia had concluded. Questions that deal with one or another property must be dealt with on an individual basis, for instance, by Saeima adopting specific legislation. Property restitution was not discussed during Peres’ visit.
On July 30, President Peres continued his visit, participating in the unveiling of the Zanis Lipke Memorial.
Peres said that what Zanis Lipke did to save lives during the period of Nazi terror in Latvia, shows that he is a pride of humanity. He said that Lipke symbolizes the best, deepest and truest of what humanity has to offer, pointing out that there is always a minority in society - honest and brave persons - who are even prepared to risk their lives in the name of righteousness, as Lipke did.
Berzins emphasized that Lipke is an example that even in the most horrendous of circumstances, love of humankind cannot be defeated. “It can take just one person to change the world for the better,” the president said.
Approximately 100 people attended the unveiling of the memorial. The memorial is only a couple of steps away from where an underground bunker was located during World War II. During the years of Nazi occupation, the bunker was used by Lipke to hide and in fact save many people from certain death. The memorial invites one and all to become familiar with Latvia not only as a place where thousands of Jews were killed during the Holocaust, but also where such brave individuals as Lipke risked their lives to save others.
During his two-day state visit, Peres also met with Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, where they agreed to organize an exchange of visits between Latvian and Israeli businesspeople. Dombrovskis and Peres discussed work on expanding Latvian-Israeli economic relations and strengthen cooperation in education, science and culture.