Latvia’s president reportedly decided against a visit to a Holocaust memorial ceremony in his country next week, despite the planned attendance of Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Andris Berzins’ staff said he would not attend a special Holocaust memorial ceremony at the Rumbula Forest next week, the Haaretz daily reported on Monday.
Peres is scheduled to meet with Berzins on the first day of his visit, and to attend the Rumbula Forest memorial event the following day.
According to the report, Berzins’s aides informed the Israeli embassy that the president would begin his vacation immediately after the Peres visit, and his schedule before that point, which includes a cabinet meeting, make his participation in the ceremony impossible.
An Israeli proposal to reschedule the ceremony to the day of the meeting between the two presidents was also rejected as untenable.
A senior Israeli official said that the Latvians also cited Foreign Ministry protocol, according to which the Latvian president cannot accompany visiting presidents to ceremonies.
Some 25,000 Jews from the Riga Ghetto were slaughtered by Nazi soldiers in the Rumbula Forest on November 20 and December 8, 1941. When Latvian officials finally allowed a small monument to be erected at the site in 1965, the inscription read (in German, Russian and Yiddish) “To the Victims of Fascism,” and made no reference to the fact that majority of victims at the site were Jewish.
Israeli officials cited by Haaretz speculated that Berzins’s refusal to join Peres at the ceremony is consistent with the Latvian unwillingness to be seen as acknowledging complicity with the Nazi atrocities in their country. The Latvian government has never accepted that its citizens collaborated with the Nazis in wiping out the Latvian Jewish community.
In 2002, the memorial was refurbished by the Latvian government. After a great deal of debate between Latvian officials and the Jewish community, the monument’s inscription did finally acknowledge that the Rumbula Forest victims were Jewish.
The final inscription read in Latvian, German, English and Hebrew, “Here in the forest of Rumbula on November 30 and December 8 of 1941, the Nazis and their local collaborators shot dead more than 25,000 Jews — the prisoners of the Riga Ghetto — children, women, old people, as well as around 1,000 Jews deported from Germany. In the summer of 1944 hundreds of Jewish men from the concentration camp ‘Riga-Kaiserwald’ were killed here.”
According to Haaretz, Peres’s staff has enlisted the aid of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial to officially request that Berzins join him at the Rumbula Forest ceremony.
The President’s Residence released a statement saying, “There is an important educational message in both presidents attending the memorial ceremony marking the massacre in the killing fields of Rumbula.”