Sunday, July 12, 2015

Latvia: Death of Pioneering Researcher Meijers Melers (Meyer Meler)

 Meijers Melers at the Museum "Jews of Latvia." Photo: Samuel Gruber 2003

  Meijers Melers adding to his photo archive at the Rumbula Memorial outside Riga. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2003.

Latvia: Death of Pioneering Researcher Meijers Melers (Meyer Meler)
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) It is with sadness that I report the recent death of Meijers Melers (Meyer Meler), the premier researcher of Jewish cemeteries and mass grave sites in Latvia. Meijers Melers was born in 1929 and died April 25th at age 85.  Jewish heritage and Holocaust history was an unexpected second career for Melers. Trained as an engineer, he managed an electric power plan during the decades of Communist rule in Latvia. The fall of Communism and the reconstitution of an active Jewish community coincided with his retirement and Melers dedicated himself to locating and documenting Jewish cemeteries and mass grave sites throughout Latvia on behalf of the Jewish Community and the Museum "Jews of Latvia,"  which has posted an obituary on its website.

Fifteen years ago I got to know Meijers Melers on several trips to Latvia, during which time the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad was a sponsor of his survey research. The results of that work were published in a tr-lingual book Meler, Meyer, ed. Jewish Cemeteries in Latvia.  (Riga, Latvia: Riga Jewish Community - Museum Jews in Latvia, 2006. 133-134).  Then from 2007 to 2010 Melers assisted with four documentary expeditions in Latvia by the Center for Jewish Art of Hebrew University that collected further documentation on Jewish sites throughout the country, using Melers' work and experience as the starting point. In 2013, he published the 437-page Latvijas ebreju kopienas vēsture un holokausta piemiņas vietas about Holocaust-related sites in the country, and the Center for Jewish Art is presently preparing a publication about the synagogue of Latvia. 

  Meijers Melers at his Museum office. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2003

Melers personally visited all of the sites he identified in the country, and he described their condition and in many cases he organized efforts to protect these sites.  He was also always a warm and welcoming person, ready to show Jewish sites to visiting scholars and dignitaries. Though we did not share fluency in a common language, I remember his sense of humor - whcih could be both ironic and broad.

In recognition of his service to Latvia, in 2014 Meijers Melers  was decorated with the country's highest civil award, the Order of Three Stars. He has left a important legacy. His dedication is inspirational, and demonstrates the great contribution a single individual can make to Jewish history and Holocaust commemoration, or any common good, even as a life's second act.

May his memory be blessed.

No comments: