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