Friday, July 04, 2014

Fourth of July...Riga, Latvia 1941

Rather than post today, as so many others (ho hum) will, about the American Independence Day, I'll mention the less known fact that on this day 73 years ago, the Great Choral Synagogue in Riga was set aflame by the invading Nazis, with some 300 Jews locked inside.

(I was also prompted by this week's Sepia Saturday theme, which includes -- albeit incidentally -- walls.

Here's what the synagogue looked like a couple of years ago when I visited Riga on a family history trip. Its remains were razed and now the site is a memorial park.

Here's what the synagogue looked like once upon a time.

"Frida Michelson, a Latvian Jew who had been working near Jelgava in a forced labor crew when the synagogues were burned [there were several], reported that on her return to Riga, she was told by a friend 'who had heard it from someone else' that the halls and the backyard of the Choral Synagogue were filled with Lithuanian refugees. Perkonkrusts ['a Latvian ultra-nationalist, anti-German and anti-Semitic political party founded in 1933'] and 'other Latvian hangers-on' surrounded the building, trapped the people inside, and set it on fire."

"The burning of the synagogue was filmed by the Germans and later became part of a Wehrmacht newsreel, with the following narration: 'The synagogue in Riga, which had been spared by the GPU commissars in their work of destruction, went up in flames a few hours later.' According to Bernard Press: 'Eyewitnesses heard the people who were locked inside screaming for help and saw them breaking the synagogues windows from inside and trying, like living torches, to get outside....'"

"The holy scrolls were dragged out of the synagogues and burned. According to the Press, many Jewish wearing prayer shawls and talith went into the fires to save the scrolls, and were all killed. Ezergailis disputes this, stating that no one entered the flames trying to save the holy scrolls."

Old photos (and quoted text) from

Other info is at

Friday, March 07, 2014


Musing about back yards and fences for this week's Sepia Saturday, or preferably low stone walls, probably of the type that Eddie Izzard is well acquainted with.

Here are some shots from Oakworth, Yorkshire, in 2005, where I was staying with my young son and his friend. We were in a lovely place currently called Bottoms Farm Cottages, though they were only just refurbishing the present cottages when we were there - we stayed in a farmhouse nearby, which was at that time the only Bottom Cottage. Here's a link to brief blog entry at the time.
View from the front door

The footpath to town

Woolen mill workers' residences, methinks

Nick and the house horse


Saturday, March 01, 2014


We were travelling south of Rome in 2007... on my impulse for a photo-op I stopped at a pullout Near the town of Borgo Grappa (nice name!) beside a field filled with large picturesque cattle on the shores of a lake, and across the road from a sandy strand on the Mediterranean. As we munched on our fruit, bread and cheese, an SUV pulled alongside. I was somewhat apprehensive as we were literally in the middle of nowhere, but perhaps he thought we needed assistance.

An elderly bearded fellow got out and proceeded to let his two English setters out of the back. This was a relief. He'd forgotten, however, to set the brake, and the car began to roll back into him -- he pushed it back, shouting, surprisingly in English, "Stop, car! STOP, car!" and then, "STOP, dogs!" -- as the leashed dogs were excitedly tangling in his legs.

At any rate, he got to talking to us and was, in fact, English -- and very entertaining, as he circumlocutiously recommended routes for us to take en route to Naples. What was he doing there? He was there to birdwatch. As we finally departed he gave us his number in case we headed back that way. And we were to, in a week's time...

His name was Nick, and he and his Australian/Italian wife Fauste and their 17-year-old daughter Flora welcomed us heartily on our return trip north. Flora aside, they have been living in Italy for 26 years, so we got quite a colorful history of the region and the Italian foibles regarding such things as property acquisition and improvement. A lesson in bureaucracy. Nick is perhaps the only person I've ever met who exemplifies the term "gnomic" -- in looks, humor, and temperament, as he is given to sudden loud outbursts of varying seriousness. A retired biology teacher, he is an avid birder and the following day took us to his favorite haunt, where we had first run into him. And there we spotted numerous waterbirds including (unbelievably) two varieties of flamingo. He gave me a look through his scope, and here's what I saw.

This post follows this week's Sepia Saturday theme... do venture there for more telescopic matters!