SPEECH BY VLADIMIR BAN, LIBAU, 8 JUNE 2004
Ladies and gentlemen, dear Libauers and your relatives, dear guests!
I have the honour and pleasure to welcome you in the name of the Liepaja Holocaust Memorial Committee. At the very beginning I would like in the name of the Committee to thank all those who have made donations and lent a helpful hand in bringing our common project to completion. Your participation in the project has made it possible for us to assemble in the very heart of this town on the Baltic Sea which for a number of you is still your native town. And to them I want to say how fantastic it is that you have brought your children and grandchildren so that they should smell and breathe the air of Libau. I would like to express the hope that, having touched your roots, you will henceforth feel more firmly tied to your native town.
Through centuries it has been Liepaja, Libau, Libava, and has given home and shelter to an international Community – Latvians and Germans, Russians and Jews, people of Polish and Lithuanian origin. We do know from our parents and grandparents that all these people had pursued here their honest trade, had founded families and built this town to be an important place of the Russian Empire and Republic of Latvia. They lived here if not in brotherly love (“Philadelphia”) then at least in peaceful coexistence and more or less fair competition.
Hardly has another European country suffered as much as this one. Years of wars and uprisings, revolutions and atrocities, totalitarian regimes and annihilation, have swept this country in the last century, creating hatred and hostility, leaving ruins and ashes not only in a physical sense, desolation and mass graves. Xenophobia, intolerance, and racism, which arose in a limited circle and came into full bloom in Nazi Germany, finally led to the tragedy of European Jewry in the 30s and 40s of the 20th century.
Nevertheless—60 years of peaceful life have contributed to a certain development, and especially the nearly 15 years of independence have brought new hope for improving the life of the man in the street. Alas, nothing will bring back the once flourishing Jewish Community.
Under these new circumstances we must avoid some new dangers and meet new challenges. We must avoid collective accusations and reject the idea of collective guilt for crimes committed by individuals, however many there were. We must climb out of the trenches of old hatred and stop looking for new enemies. We should instead commemorate and honour the Righteous Among the Nations who make us realize that our world is not one where homini hominem lupus est but where some men and women remain human beings under the worst conditions and the utmost danger to personal life. At the same time we must retain and cherish the memory of those innumerable victims who perished in the fire of the most dreadful Holocaust in history. We cannot allow ignorant and malicious young people to start blowing life into the glowing embers of antisemitism that still smolder here and there, and this is why we have come here in these days, this is why we have invited you to attend the dedication of the Memorial Wall which bears the names of 6400 innocent victims.
I invite you to honour their memory with a minute of silence.