Riga Ghetto Memorial
I didn't know it was possible to miss people you've never even met.
I have long wanted to visit Riga. The architecture is beautiful and I want to experience the culture and language for myself. I recently did some research on my German family and discovered that several family members were deported and forced to live in the Riga Ghetto during World War II. This, and all of the other information I uncovered, was difficult to take in.
I still want to go to Riga, perhaps more now than I did before. I realize, however, that this trip will change. It will change not only in that there is now a purpose for this trip, but also in the tone. The excitement and anticipation in going to Latvia and Riga have been dimmed slightly by my apprehension.
RIGA GHETTO - MASKAVAS FORŠTATE - MOSKAUER VORSTADT
On 25 October 1941 all Jews within Riga were forcibly confined in the Maskavas Forštate area in Riga. Most of the Latvian Jews were massacred on November 30 and 8-9 December 1941 in the Rumbula Massacre. About 28,000 Jews were killed and around 5,000 inhabitants of the ghetto were spared. At the time of the Rumbula Massacre, the ghetto was barely a month old. After this first round of mass murder, the Nazis began bringing German Jews to the ghetto. Many of these people were later killed in massacres or sent on to camps.
The Riga Ghetto generally refers to just one place but the greater Latvian ghetto was made up of several ghettos. After the Rumbula Massacre, these were largely consolidated. The surviving Latvian Jews were concentrated in what was called the 'small ghetto' and the imprisoned Germans were held in a different area, referred to as the 'German ghetto'.
By 22 December 1941, the ghetto housed around 4,000 German Jews and 3,000 Latvian Jews. In early 1942, there were 11,000 German Jews and about 4,000 Latvian Jews. In the time leading up to February 1942, over 20,000 Jews from the German Reich had been deported and interred in the ghetto. Only 15,000 remained as of 10 February 1942. By March of 1942, the Nazis decided that the German ghetto was far too overcrowded and under the ruse of giving around 3,800 children, the sick, and elderly an easier work assignment, the Nazis executed them.
The memorial site for the ghetto is in the Maskavas Forštate in Riga off the Daugava River. There are 7 bus routes that can drop you off just a few blocks from the entrance to the site (2,3,4,5,7,9, & 10). The only signs for the memorial are on the building itself and it is reportedly fairly difficult to find. It is off of the main road near a series of warehouses.
Upon entering, you are greeted by the wall of names that pays tribute to the 70,000 victims of the Holocaust in Latvia. These people were killed in camps, the ghettos, and massacres committed by the Nazis and their Latvian supporters.
On the other side of the wall of names, you will see boards telling stories of life in the ghetto and of the people who lived there.
In the list of names, you can see where the people originated, likely when they arrived, and their family name. I have family that died both in the Riga Ghetto and in the nearby Rumbula massacre. I am intent on finding their names.
The ground of the area is made of cobblestones that were actually there in the ghetto. Personally, it is hard for me to imagined walking on those stones where my family may have walked or died. The ghetto underwent several "liquidations" and mass murders during its use. The camp Kaiserwald was adjacent to the ghetto and was used to intern and massacre many of the inhabitants.
Onsite, there is also an exhibit on the Armenian Genocide, something that many people are fairly unaware of.
The site and museum are small and reportedly take about 20 minutes for a complete walk through. Entry is free but donations are suggested for the upkeep of the museum and its structures. There is an extreme lack of funding for this museum and it is evident in some of the collapsed roofs, wear and tear on the structures, and lack of signage pointing visitors to the actual site. I ask that if you do go to the Riga Ghetto memorial, that you give a donation.
There was something I noticed when researching this area. Ratings on Tripadvisor and other sites really made me uncomfortable. Some people complained it isn't close enough to the tourist area..they should really make signs so tourists can see where it is...they can't believe how it is in such bad shape.
You know what you could do instead of berating a memorial to the lives lost in Latvia during the Holocaust? Save your breath and donate. Save your breath and spread awareness. Save your breath and read a damn book about the atrocities that were committed here. You can't put a star rating on the display of human suffering.