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I have just arrived in Riga, Latvia, where Kalman Aron was born.

On , | One Comment | In Riga | By

November 17, 2014


Moscow Street Trolley Car, Riga, Latvia. Photo courtesy Jono David / HaChayim Ha Yehudim Jewish Photo Library

I have just arrived in Riga, Latvia, where Kalman Aron was born.

Ten years ago, I came to Riga to research Aron’s life here after he asked me to tell his story. Born in 1924, Aron grew up in a Jewish neighborhood on Maskavas Iela, and at age 13 he painted a portrait of the Latvian President Karl Ulmanis. So impressed by his talent, Ulmanis enrolled Aron in the Riga Fine Arts Academy in 1938.

On July 1, 1941 the German Nazis entered Riga and immediately took his uncle, David, and his father, Chaim. Aron, his brother, Henech, 5 years older, and his mother, Sonya, were ordered out of their home and marched into the Riga ghetto. Kalman and Henech would spend 2 ½ years imprisoned doing slave labor. His mother, a woman who believed in a world of beauty and love, would be killed in the Rumbula forest in the winter of 1941 along with 25,000 other Riga Jews.

As I drove into the city from the airport, I caught my breath as I looked at one of the old clapboard buildings so similar to those on the street where Kalman grew up. My heart paused as we passed the imposing red stone building where Kalman went to art school—the Riga Academy of Fine Arts.

In 2004, I was excited to find Kalman’s roots. I was searching for any evidence of his life here. I found the street where he lived, Maskavas Iela; I walked among the ruins of his neighborhood Chor Synagogue (burned down in 1941 by the Germans) to the streets of the ghetto where he was imprisoned. I also honored his parents by visiting the places they were killed and having a memorial stone placed at the killing fields in the Rumbula forest.

This visit, I know so much more. In addition to Kalman, I have interviewed 5 other Latvian survivors…3 of whom lived in Latvia: Max Kit who has since died, Aleksandrs Bergmannis and Dr. Margers Vestermanis whom I will interview again, this time on film.

I am subdued, reverent and quiet. Anti-semitism is still alive in Latvia. I have read about recent incidents, one involved damaging the memorial to Zanis Lipke, a docker at the Riga cargo port who saved over 50 Jews during the Holocaust. He simply knocked on the door of a friend and said: “Here, you take care of this man or this woman.” He didn’t give them a chance to say “no.”

This time, I am fully aware of what man is capable of doing to man. Evil is real, and it had its full run over Europe under Hitler. Hitler had many accomplices. He alone could not kill six million Jews and countless others without help from citizens in all the countries occupied. Certainly, some Latvians helped the Germans kill the Jews.

I know too much.


© copyright Susan Beilby Magee, 2014. 


  1. Very powerful Susan. I can see it all through your eyes. I hope you tape your presentation, too. And be watchful. As you say, evil and anti-semitism are alive and with us.

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