The Monument for Žanis Lipke and Saviors of Jews has been restored at the Rīga Holocaust Memorial, marking the completion of extensive improvements

          The Rīga Holocaust Memorial (on Emīlijas Benjamiņas Street, formerly called Gogoļa Street) has gone through impressive improvements. With the financial support of the Uniting Foundation and the Latvian Jewish Community Restitution Fund, the landscape around the Memorial has been improved, and new names of Saviors have been added to the Monument for Žanis Lipke and Saviors of Jews. An alley of weeping willows has been planted on the territory to symbolize the heroes who sacrificed their lives during World War II to save the lives of Jews.

‘We are filled with gratitude as we announce the completion of one of the largest projects of the Uniting Foundation thus far, the long-awaited improvements of the Holocaust Memorial, the planting of the alley of weeping willows, the restoration of Žanis Lipke’s portrait, and the addition of new names of Saviors on the Memorial. A key task was restoring the portrait of Žanis Lipke, the most recognized Savior of Jews. We are glad that the highly praised and experienced Latvian sculptor Gļebs Pantelejevs agreed to this project,’ says Elīna Škļara, Executive Director of the Foundation.

‘There are two things to consider when speaking of Žanis Lipke’s portrait. From a technical standpoint, it is a so-called bas-relief, or low relief, portrait, cast from bright silvery aluminum, which gives the portrait a lightness and elegance that suits the white memorial wall. If we view this work from a psychological point of view, before starting my work, I devoted myself to serious research to get to know Lipke’s personality. I am lucky to have already done several portraits of powerful historical figures, such as Gunārs Astra and Oskars Kalpaks. I approach each portrait with extreme care to get to know and truly understand the characters and personalities of my subjects. Working on Žanis Lipke’s portrait was a special honor, as he was an extraordinary person, a literal embodiment of courage and humanity. What is important is that he was an actual real person rather than a mythological character. Each person has their traits, and what I saw in Lipke was the spirit of an adventurer. He was a daredevil with a certain fire in his eyes, and I captured this fierceness in his portrait to express his selflessness, his courage, and his overwhelming benevolence. Lipke is, without a doubt, a true hero,’ concludes the author of the portrait Gļebs Pantelejevs.

Author of the monument: Gleb Pantelejevs
Photo: Vlads Surics

The Memorial is standing at the former location of the Great Choral Synagogue in Rīga, at 25, Emīlijas Benjamiņas Street (former Gogoļa Street). In 1988, a memorial stone bearing the Star of David was placed here, and the current Memorial, designed by architect Sergey Ryzh, was built 30 years ago. The Monument to Latvian Saviors of Jews was erected in 2007 as a 12-meter-long and 6-meter-tall wall that looks like it is falling and thus threatening to destroy the Jewish people. The wall is held back by columns bearing the names of Saviors. The central column features a portrait of Žanis Lipke, who was able to save more than 50 people. The monument was designed by Elīna Lazdiņa, a student of the Art Academy of Latvia at the time.

Photo: Vlads Surics

The plaque of the Memorial has also been updated. Historian Dr.h.c. Marģers Vestermanis, who has dedicated his life to studying and preserving Jewish history, points out: ‘I believe myself to be the creator of this idea of humane history, as I experienced the terror now called the Holocaust as a young child, and I lost all faith in humanity as a result. Only after the war, as I struggled with thoughts of moving on, I found out about this miracle of humanity, which restored my faith in life and in people. I started exploring and collecting evidence of each episode of this humane courage, and, by 2007, I already had the names of 273 Saviors, and we built this Memorial of gratitude to honor every single one of them. Funds for the Memorial have been collected since the restoration of Latvian independence by many different people – factory workers, members of the economic and political elite, Jews and non-Jews, including our President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga. The restored Memorial now holds the names of 425 Saviors, but the number of discovered Saviors reaches 655 including those who remain unnamed.

An alley of weeping willows has been planted on the territory to symbolize the heroes who sacrificed their lives during World War II to save the lives of Jews.

Historian Marģers Vestermanis has also helped to develop the idea of adding a new memorial element to the surroundings, a symbolic alley of weeping willows, to honor heroes who died during the Holocaust while attempting to save Jews. The alley has 14 willows dedicated to 14 brave souls.

Several other improvements have been made to the territory: the surroundings has been upgraded with new benches, new trash bins, and new lights.

Photo: Vlads Surics

‘Despite the bitter lessons of the past, we still see violence growing in the modern world. It is up to us to always remember and value human life above all, and this is why we must commemorate the selfless heroes who were willing to risk their lives to save others,’ Elīna Škļara, Executive Director of the Uniting Foundation, reminds us.

The Uniting Foundation are grateful to the Latvian Jewish Community Restitution Fund for their substantial support in the final stage of the project.

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