Synopsis of the Symposium
Non-stop History -
An attempt to recall the mass murder of the Jewish people
in the Baltic in times of a new antisemitism.
Kuldiga as an example.
full text oral, by Sven Eggers
with simultanous translation by Agnese Kusmane to latvian
and discussion afterwards also with Dace Reinkopa,
you can hear here.
8th of September 2007, 12 o'clock at the town hall of Kuldiga.
To whom it may concern
Kuldiga, 8th of September 2007
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen.
The Symposium comes to a close. It was organized by Büro Schwimmer and the municipality of Kuldiga. After a week of intense, constructive discussion we now present the results:
It is possible to remember and commemorate the murdered Jews of Kuldiga at a variety of places. At the sites of the mass executions first of all an access way should be guaranteed. The visit to these places, which we undertook with the only survivor of the Shoa living in Kuldiga, Ruth Friedlendere, was a particular experience. All the memorial stones from Soviet times are in disastrous conditions. The victims of the extermination are mentioned as “citizens of the USSRͱ, which is not showing that the large majority was Jewish, with the danger of concealing the past.
The Jewish Community of Latvia erected new memorial stones at two locations. However, we doubt [strongly reject], that it is the duty of only the victims and their descendants to reconstruct and attend the sites of memory.
The missing sign-posts enabled an intensive search of the sites and the luck of actually finding them. The non-existing bridges encouraged us to undertake sportive endeavours. The most memorable part of search was the visit to the site of the execution of the children. First we were looking for the sites and then we had to search for one of us who had gotten lost in the woods. A Kaddish for the murdered children was spoken.
What else do we know?
Many citizens of Kuldiga bought the furniture and clothes of their killed Jewish neighbours for almost nothing at the auctions following the murders. They enjoyed their new belongings. That has to be commemorated as well. We have to ask which society we live in - a society in which one owns felicity is only build with the mishap of others.
We, the organizers of the symposium "Non-stop History - An attempt to recall the mass murder of the Jewish people in the Baltic in times of a new antisemitism. Kuldiga as an example," three people from Berlin and Kuldiga for Büro Schwimmer together with the administration and parliament of Kuldiga are united in our declared belief, that all events of before, during, and after the extinction of the Jews from Kuldiga have to be thoroughly researched and documented. In this context we want to thank Mr Heinrihs Freimanis who provided us with much information on the life and extermination of his Jewish neighbours and who gave an example of the powers of human recollection.
We agree that before talking about any design proposals, and comments of the former synagogue, we address several points, and put forward severe preconditions and requirements.
There has to be public acknowledgement of the former Jewish community in Kuldiga, of the loss of Jewish life in Kuldiga, of the Shoa of Kuldiga. The Town Council has the responsibility to bring that up for public discussion. As we heard from historians and witnesses, citizens of Kuldiga - Latvians, were active in the mass murder of Jews. It is clear that does not mean everyone, but even a minority is a fact that must be faced. It is essential to make the sites of the mass graves accessible and to make them experience-able. For that their exact place has to be marked on official town maps and tourist plans and descriptions of Kuldiga Shoa, the last chapter of Kuldiga Jewish life in tourist guides. Not only should there be road signs to facilitate reaching their locations, but there is a need for small bridges to cross small ditches, and a clearance of paths, for wheelchair accessibility. Further information should at least be available at the tourist information, library and town hall. The tourist books we found present images of the synagogue and Jewish cemetery, but ignore the history of Kuldiga's Shoa. Here we have an excerpt of a revised edition.
In town, maybe at the synagogue as centre of former Jewish life, there is the need for a space of mourning, in respect to the victims and their relatives. We do not approach the synagogue just as building, or architectural type, but as a place that speaks of the absence of its former community, the memory of the Shoa and place of testimony. In the proposal for the library, the sites are solely considered as buildings and square meters, but they mean more. We do not intend to find a solution to the Jewish corner within this library proposal, but suggest a need to respect the memory of this very place. The corner problem is a crucial issue in architecture of all times. Why preserve the synagogue? What we have here is the outer shell of a former synagogue with a cinema structure inside. As Dace Reinkopa said, “We are sure that one needs to respect and to take account of the essence of this building. And we know very well that it is not possible to maintain this building by local might.”
There has to be a clear public position to remember the gap that exists between the extermination and the life after. If it is the aim to bring happiness to the inhabitants and visitors of Kuldiga, we need to pose the difficult question of debt and of the perpetrators' acts. We have to accept the traumatic events that took place in 1941 and begin to cope with them.
As we found out in this symposium there is an enormous lack of knowledge about Jewish life and the Shoa of Kuldiga. There need to be exact photographic and historic documentation and presentation of the actual state of Jewish sites: the cemetery, the sites of mass murder, the abandoned cinema that was the former synagogue and place of anti-Semite terror of the Shoa. This is the first step to be able to talk of conservation, reconstruction, and preservation of places.
The Shoa is a broad issue. Broader than any local and national context. Also this has to be acknowledged and accepted. The process is not an easy one, and could take a very long time, but must be made. As we heard from Dace Reinkopa “Our people are afraid to take part in that kind of big social processes. For example, when there is public discussion (of new architectural objects) in city council they are very passive.” How to deal with this fear and passivity? Anti-Semitism is a contemporary fact. Several times in the symposium we heard very clearly how and where this is found. We have to face that danger and do something against it. There are not just obvious forms but more dangerous passive forms, passive-aggressive forms. We named just few provocations. Our culture district coordinator told us in her lecture: “And we want that people have good lives in Kuldiga. And that is why one of the preconditions that should be performed by city council is to secure that peoples' needs and wishes are satisfied” and not to forget the needs of the Latvian Jewish community and the descendants of those perished in the Shoa, the holocaust of Kuldiga.
We heard, that the town underestimates the force of tourism from Jewish descendants, and people interested in the former Jewish life and the Shoa. Several lectures revealed that the town has something that exceeds its boundary. The problem of Shoa is not only found at a local level, but at a national and international scale. There are many ways to find much interest and international funding.
Concrete proposals for the design/renovation of the former synagogues were discussed intensively in the workshop. But the questions are to grave, and the project to complex to propose something concrete at this moment. They will be documented and presented later for the media, and could serve as references and initial conversation with the architects chosen. There will be a publication with planned distribution in Latvia, Germany, the United States and Israel. The US embassy in Latvia has expressed its willingness to support the outcome of the symposium. This publication will include sketches, suggestions, interviews, and articles printed in international press and internet. To be sure it will include articles form local and administrative newspapers. The United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad showed interest in our work and is offering support.
I can just repeat a sentence of Adorno:
“I see the afterlife of the national socialism in the democracy as potentially more threatening than the afterlife of fascist tendencies against the democracy..”
Memory, memorial, automat and monster have the same origin.
Thanks to Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Jewish Council of Latvia, Nekac Zabadaks and all participants.
With kind regards,
Agnese Kusmane, Mike Hartwig, Sven Eggers
And the participants of the workshop of the symposium:
Keren Korman, Aida Miron, Jens Hoffmann, Till Grallert.
For further information check google.earth >>Kuldiga, wikipedia on Kuldiga (in English, Latvian, and German), and see our proposals for
road signs and signs at the mass murder sites,
change of one Kuldiga street to be named after a Jewish name
plaque at the former synagogue.