Latvia: New Plaque at Riga's Old Jewish Cemetery
by Samuel D. Gruber
(ISJM) On June 30, 201 the Jewish Communities of Latvia organized a series of events commemorating the 450th anniversary of the Jewish community in Latvia and to the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Holocaust. As part of those events, a new explanatory plaque sponsored by the United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad was installed at Riga's Old Jewish Cemetery. Commission member Lee Seeman organized the project and raised the funds.
I am especially pleased to see Lee's continuing commitment to this project and so many others in the region. We visited the site together in 2003 with Meijers Melers, the preeminent expert on Latvian Jewish sites, and saw the relatively new large boulder on site, with a prominent Jewish Star, but there was no text or other information telling what the site was and what had happened to it. Without an informed guide, we would have been entirely in the dark. Lee Seeman persevered and saw to it that future visitors would not be so perplexed.
In all its projects the U.S. Commission has never felt it enough to charge people to "Never Forget." The Commission insists in all its projects that accurate information is provided to the visitor or viewer to better teach them what to remember. Its previous work in Riga, on the Rumbula massacre and mass grave site monument is a good example.
The plaque is in Latvian and English. I do not yet have photos to post, but here is the English text:
The old Jewish Cemetery
This is Riga's first Jewish cemetery. It was opened in 1725 and burials continued here until the late 1930s. after German forces occupied Riga in 1941, the prayer house and the mortuary were burned down. the cemetery became a mass burial site for over 1000 Jews killed in the streets and houses of the Riga Ghetto. Following World War Two, many of the cemetery's tombstones were removed and used as building material. Others deteriorated. The wall surrounding the cemetery collapsed, and the site left uncared for fell into disrepair. In the 1960s, the site was razed and renamed "The Park of the Communist Brigades." In 1992, the park was renamed "The Old Jewish Cemetery”