Speech by Edward Anders at Dedication of Liepāja Holocaust Memorial
Liepāja, 9 June 2004
Your excellencies Ambassador Herold, Ambassador Carlson, Ambassador Koren, Ambassador Hĺkanson, Col. Grant, Dr. Zunda, Consul Semyonov, ladies and gentlemen:
We have come here to honor the 6400 Liepāja Jews who died in Hitler’s Holocaust and in Stalin’s Gulag. But we also want to honor the 200 survivors and those brave Latvians and Germans who saved 33 of them. Lastly, we want to thank the Soviet, British, and American armies that liberated the rest.
First, the victims. Ninety percent of them were shot in 1941, in or near Liepāja. First the men were killed, then old people, and finally women and children. At the largest mass execution, in mid-December 1941, the SS-man Sobeck took pictures, showing the victims a few minutes or seconds before death.Twelve of these pictures were secretly copied by an audacious Jew, David Zivcon. What is striking is the extraordinary composure of most victims. They heard the shots, they saw the victims fall, and yet they calmly went to their death.
Many victims had known for days that their end was near and they pleaded, „Do not forget us!“ Perhaps they were thinking of the Talmud passage, „A person is not truly dead until his name has been forgotten“. Today we are finally fulfilling the victims‘ last request by bringing their names back to this cemetery. It would have been their final resting place if there had been no war. We cannot bring back their ashes from the mass graves. But we have made a symbolic attempt, by placing a container of sand from the Šķēde dunes at the foot of the wall. It should contain at least a few atoms of each victim.
Next, the survivors, of whom at least 11 are here today. At the end of 1941, about 1000 were still alive. They did not know what terrible ordeals were still ahead of them in the next 40 months. Life in the Liepāja ghetto was hard. But in October 1943, when the last 800 were deported to the Kaiserwald concentration camp, they found new levels of cruelty, as well as „selections“. Children under 12 were sent to Auschwitz for gassing, and their mothers had the heartbreaking choice of abandoning their children or dying with them. Most chose death.
Only 350 Liepāja Jews were still alive in August 1944 when deportations to the Stutthof camp began. Conditions in that camp were dreadful. Although only the young and strong had been sent there, half of them died: in the camp, on death marches, or on barges that took them westward in the last days of the war. Only 176 survived. They rebuilt their lives after liberation, but their physical and emotional suffering has left deep scars.
Lastly, the rescuers. Regrettably, a few thousand Latvians had become accomplices in the Holocaust. Some arrested Jews and took them to the execution sites. Others shot them. But there also were hundreds of Latvians who rescued Jews by hiding them, and thousands more who quietly helped them with food, etc. Some of them lost their lives for their good deeds. On the Wall, you will find the names of 44 of these brave Latvians, and also of two German officers. Together they saved 33 Jews in Liepāja. We are honored to have here Indra Sedula, Irida Paškus, and Teodors Eniņš. The ladies are the daughters of Roberts and Johanna Seduls, who hid 11 Jews in their cellar for nearly 2 years. Dr. Eniņš is the grandson of Grieta Eniņš, who, with the help of her 2 sons, hid 2 Jewish boys for nearly 3 years.
Along with the rescuers, we want to honor the liberators. The Soviet Army had the largest role in defeating Nazi Germany, and it liberated the greatest number of Latvian Jews. Others were liberated by the British and American armies. In the name of the survivors, I express our deep gratitude to the diplomats of Russia, Britain, and the US for the great sacrifices their countries made in defeating the Hitler regime. I also commend the governments of Germany and Latvia for their efforts to reexamine the past and to heal the wounds of WWII. The damage cannot be undone and the crimes cannot be forgotten. But 3 generations have been born since WWII. So let us work in friendship with them in building a peaceful world. Together, let us try to understand how to prevent dictatorships, wars, and genocide.