Reflections on Trip to Riga
Having returned from Riga, Latvia, three weeks ago, I have had time to reflect on my experience there and formulate questions I invite you to answer.
Let me first say that visiting Riga this second time was more difficult. I understand at a deeper level the impact of the killing and brutality that occurred there.
I was honored to present Kalman Aron’s story—INTO THE LIGHT The Healing Art of Kalman Aron–in the place where he was born. It feels like I have come full circle since my last visit 10 years ago when I was in Riga to research Kalman’s life.
I am deeply grateful to Gita Umanovska, Executive Director of The Council of the Jewish Communities of Latvia and the organizer of the International Conference “Jews In A Changing World” and to the US Department of State for hosting me. I am grateful to survivor and historian, Dr. Marger Vestermanis, for answering my interview questions. I also thank my dear friend and guide in 2004, Elena Spungina, my interpreter during this trip, Viktorija Andzane and filmmaker, Nikolajs Krasnopevcevs. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and listening to the other excellent conference speakers–professors and researchers from Latvia, Germany and Canada.
Everyone at the Conference understood and celebrated Kalman Aron’s survival and success in creating a new life in America, devoted to his muse–making art. His journey deeply touched members of the audience.
Several things struck me during the trip:
- The Jewish people in Latvia are resilient, forming a community of about 12,000 people today. In 1935 there were about 93,000 Jews living in Latvia. Among the survivors is the extraordinary man, Marger Vestermanis, an historian and founder of the “Jews in Latvia” Museum. I will devote another blog to my conversation with him about his life and reaction to his experience in the Holocaust.
- Individuals continue to educate and honor the memory of their ancestors. Professor Leo Dribins discussed the history of the Russian deportation of 40,000 Jews from the Courland Province to Inner Russia and the Ukraine in 1915 during World War I. Then, I believe his grandparents’ were among the deportees.
- Historically, Jewish communities in this land have not been trusted in time of war. I learned that during the Napoleonic War the Russians moved Jewish families deeper into Russia for fear they would aid the French. I have already mentioned that the Russians deported 40,000 Jews from the Courland Province during World War I for fear they would aid the Germans. In 1941 just before retreating back into Russia as Germans entered Latvia, Stalin ordered 1,200 to 1,300 Latvian Jews to Siberia. So the long history of distrust and persecution of Jews continued during the 19th and 20th centuries in the land known today as Latvia. In spite of a difficult history, Jewish families live in Latvia and contribute richly to its national life.
I don’t believe in coincidences. I see meaning in everyone’s life journey. So given this history of persecution, I ask the following questions and invite you to share your answers:
*What are the gifts of being Jewish in today’s world?
*What are the challenges?
*What personal treasures result from overcoming these challenges?
*What is the Jewish legacy to the world?
Please share your answers and participate in a conversation about the meaning of being Jewish in the 21st century.
I conclude by inviting each of us to turn inward to heal our anger, hatred and fear so that we may live in peace with ourselves and each other. I believe that peace occurs one person at a time. We will see an end to genocide, brutality and killing around the world.
Note that in 2015 we will produce a video documenting the seminal places in Kalman Aron’s life in Riga. My hope is that this video will further supplement the rich documentation on the life of Kalman Aron.
© copyright Susan Beilby Magee, 2014