Memorial marches in Riga, Daugavpils und three other cities, 800 people on the street, cooperation with Rabbi Barkahan and "Steps for Life" in Riga.
Memorial and reconciliation marches in Riga, Daugavpils, and three other cities with a total of 800 participants including the Israeli tourism minister, ambassadors from the U.S., Russia, Germany, and many other nations; a delegation of Germans whose ancestors had been involved as soldiers in the war crimes in Latvia during World War II; reports in all the national media – the March of Life and “Steps for Life” set a clear mark against the silence about the Holocaust in Latvia, a country that is still dealing with open anti-Semitism until today.
“What really touched us was that you as Germans asked for forgiveness on a very personal level. We have never seen anything like that before,” said a local participant on the March of Life in Latvia that took place July 3-4, 2011. 70 years after the systematic annihilation of the Eastern European Jews started, 30 Germans, initiated by TOS Ministries, had come to Latvia to participate in the Holocaust memorial marches and to set a mark of reconciliation. 15 of them were the descendants of Wehrmacht and SS soldiers who had been involved in the crimes in Latvia.
On the occasion of the national Holocaust Memorial Day on July 4, the participants of “Steps for Life” gathered at the former Jewish cemetery in Riga. Beforehand, the “March of Life” and “Steps for Life,” organized by Riga rabbi Manachem Barkahan, had entered into an official partnership. Apart from the German delegation, citizens of Riga, representatives of the local Jewish community and of the Latvian government, ambassadors from many states, as well as Holocaust survivors from all over the world had come. The message that the initiator of the March of Life, Jobst Bittner, shared at the memorial event was widely received by the Latvian national media and was shown on TV both in the Russian and in the Latvian-speaking news programs: “We are here to find the words that our fathers and grandfathers could not find. We ask for forgiveness in identification with what we as Germans did to the Jews and also to the Latvians.”
After several speeches by the Israeli Minister of Tourism, Stas Misezhnikov, the Chairwoman of the Jewish Community of Munich, Charlotte Knobloch, and others, the march led through the former Riga ghetto to the ruins of the Choral Synagogue that was burnt down on July 4, 1941. 300 Jews died in the flames on that day. During the march, many Holocaust survivors approached the German team because Jobst Bittner’s speech had moved them tremendously. Some of them expressed forgiveness, others told their own personal life story. Everybody was very grateful that the descendants of the perpetrators had come to this march.
The day before, the March of Life had taken place in the cities of Daugavpils, Jekabpils, Kraslava, and Subate with a total of 400 participants. On Pastor Stanislav Zlobin’s initiative, the boards of pastors from the different cities had joined together in order to organize the March. In Daugavpils, which is the second largest city of Latvia, almost 200 people gathered at the meeting point on the banks of the River Daugava, across from the former Daugavpils ghetto. Among them were both representatives of the Jewish community as well as Christians – Latvians, Russians, and Germans.
In the pouring rain, the participants of the March of Life walked into the forest on the very same road on which most of the over 15,000 Jews, who were murdered in Daugavpils, had to walk to their certain death in 1941.
At the memorial site, a member of the Jewish community reported on the unfathomable horrors that had happened in that place during the Holocaust. Even in the 1990s hikers still found shoes around the mass grave which had belonged to murdered Jewish children.
Jobst Bittner recognized the guilt of the German people and especially of the leading perpetrators from Tubingen: “We are here to find the words which our ancestors could not find.” In tears, three young women from Germany shared how their grandfathers had been directly or indirectly involved in the murders in Latvia, and they asked the present Jews for forgiveness. Immediately, Jewish men and women went up to them, expressed forgiveness, and embraced them. There were tears of reconciliation and healing.
The Chairman of the Jewish community of Daugavpils said: “Our pain will not pass so easily and we cannot forget what happened here. But thank you so much for coming and saying these words. This is a new generation of Germans who understand. For the future, we must prevent this from happening again.”
Pastor Stanislaw Zlobin took responsibility for the Latvian people: “The local Latvian citizens were guilty too. They helped the Germans and also kept silent. I am here to ask forgiveness for the crimes and the silence in this city. In Daugavpils, there is no room for anti-Semitism! You Jewish people are a blessing for us.”
In the cities of Jekabpils, Kraslava, and Subate, 20 to 100 people were involved in each March and the meetings. In every place, genuine reconciliation happened – between Germans and Jews, but also between Latvians and Jews and between Latvians and Russians. One pastor said: “My father was a Latvian supporting the Germans. Today was the first time that I could repent for my own hard heart toward Jews and Russians.”
See more pictures of the March of Life in Latvia on the TOS Ministries Facebooksite:
March of Life in Daugavpils: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150225713194632.323282.105272024631&type=3
Steps for Life in Riga: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150226342259632.323549.105272024631&type=3
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