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.


"Historian Gertrude Schneider, a survivor of the German ghetto, assigns responsibility to 'Viktors Arājs, Herberts Cukurs and Vilis Hazners' ... Schneider identifies the victims as mostly women and children. 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, Herberts Cukurs, a Latvia air force officer, and his gang of thugs, burned the synagogue on Stabu Street, but only after dragging Jews out of the neighboring houses and locking them inside: '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. Cukurs shot them with his revolver.'"



"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 thecelotajs.com

12 comments:

Kristin said...

A true horror. Thank you for commemorating this horrific event, may the victims rest in peace.

La Nightingail said...

Man's inhumanity to man has always stunned me. I simply cannot understand how people can do such horrible things to other people.

Postcardy said...

What a terrible part of history! That is even less understandable than the concentration camps.

Deb Gould said...

I'm silenced by this; it is such a powerful post...

L. D. said...

Evil should never go unnoticed. Hate should never be envied. Lost souls should never be forgotten. These visuals says so much about such a horrible happening.

Helen Bauch McHargue said...

Lest we forget. I'd read of the horrible event but never realized it was July 4th. Well, I'll hopefully never forget it again!

Little Nell said...

Truly despicable. It’s good that there is a remnant of the synagogue as a reminder.

B. Rogers, Living in Black Mountain said...

How very sad. 1941 somehow there was a glitch in humanity which allowed this to happen. Hope it never occurs again. I sincerely hope that people will someday be able to accept and love each other for their differences...in all ways. It starts with each of us, what do we allow that lets hatred seep into our existence today?

Wendy said...

In Sunday School one time we had a lesson that asked, "For what are you willing to die?" Of course, the expected answer was one's faith. But I can't imagine being strong enough to go into a fire to save those scrolls. What an example those people set, and yet.... You presented a powerful post for the 4th of July - we take our freedoms too much for granted.

Jo Featherston said...

A very moving photographic record. Unfortunately individuals with fanatical hatred against others still exist.

genepenn said...

Thank you for your thought provoking post. Having been raised in a country where in the main courtesy to others and tolerance are held in high regard, I never can understand what there is in the make up of human beings that causes such deeds, not just then, but now too in many areas of the world. And that is one sentence which is probably far too long!

Tattered and Lost said...

And today we still have such insanity. It'll never end.