An area at the eastern end of Spikeri is dedicated to this museum, located here for its proximity to the site of the former Riga ghetto in the nearby Moscow district. The museum aims to preserve memories about the Jewish communities in Latvia and the horror of the WW2 Holocaust as it impacted on them. Entry is free (though donations are encouraged) and there are several distinct but related exhibit areas.
We visited a moving installation in one of the temporary exhibition spaces - Two Days in Winter, by German artist Dagmar Calais. This was dedicated to the memory of Riga ghetto Jews murdered in the forests of Bikernieku and Rumbula. We also went inside the permanent Ghetto House exhibit, a small wooden house moved here from a nearby street. Its ground floor displays models of Latvian synagogues while on the floor above a typical ghetto home is recreated. Near this stands the Tree of Hope dedicated to those who helped the Jews, and some wooden sculptures of Jewish symbols.
Beyond these an imitation of a ghetto street has been created – its fence and gate copied from those in use during the Nazi occupation and its cobbles brought here from Ludzas street in the heart of the former ghetto area. Along this street a series of information boards show contemporary photos of buildings in the Moscow district that were once part of the ghetto, a plan of the ghetto, accounts of the Holocaust and resistance in Riga, and the names of over 70,000 Latvian Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
There is a lot to take in here, and it's not a fun or comfortable experience, but well worth visiting if you are in the area or have an interest in this traumatic period of European history. It’s also worth checking out the website, especially the section called “Map”, which is not as you might expect a map of the museum’s location but instead the story of the ghetto told via Google Streetview, overlaying its traumatic and poignant history onto modern day scenes.
Next tip: an interesting suburb, Latgale
The memorial site consists of the ruins of the Choral Synagogue and a monument from 2007. This monument is dedicated to Zanis Lipke and around 400 other Riga citizens who helped Jews during the war. However, I am not sure if the monument only has people listed who are considered “Righteous Amongst the Nations”.
Construction of the Great Choral Synagogue began in 1868 and was completed in 1871. It was once the largest Synagogue in Riga. When the Germany marched in in 1941, it sealed the fate for the Jews of Riga. Shortly after, around 300-500 Jews were put into the Choral Synagogue by Latvian collaborators, the synagogue doors closed and the building burned down. Thousands more jews of Riga were killed in German concentration camps. In 2001, the ruins underwent a conservation process and became a monument on its own. Already in 1988, a memorial stone marking the date of the sad event above (July 4th 1941) was unveiled.
Have a look at the stones in the Southeastern corner of the synagogue which seem to be from a former building.
While most museums in Riga are closed on Sundays or Monday, this museum is closed on Saturday and Sunday, so this museum on one floor and over three large rooms is also a good choice when other places are shut up.
Given the events of the Second World War and the fact that only 1000 Jewish people were left alive after it in Latvia, missing this museum wouldhave really disappointed me. There is talk of the impact of the Nazi occupation in the Occupation Museum and the Latvian War Museum but the virtual eradication of Jewish people from the country is not really dealt with adequately in these museums, so I wanted to see how this museum, housed in the Jewish Cultural Centre, dealt with being Jewish, in a country that obviously has difficulty in dealing with the things that can't always be blamed on others.
The problem here is that how do you deal with Jewish Latvian history in this context. The Jewish museum documents Jewish life in Latvia through time, with a specific focus on the pre-war period and Latvian Jewish identity. rather than focussing on the horror, which is unavoidable, its dealing of the war period and the Holocaust pays tribute to those ordinary Latvians who tried to save Jewish people from the camps. Little is said of the input of those ordinary Latvians who took part in the killings, but then this is fairly common I found in Rigans museums dealing with this period.
Definitely worth visiting, it costs nothing though a donation is recommended as this museum is funded through donations.
Walking through the quaint Rumbula Forest today one cannot imagine the horror and terror that happened here on the 30th of November and 8th of December 1941. More than 25.000 Jews from the Riga Ghetto, women, children and men were brought to the forest and shot and discarded in mass graves. Two people survived this massacrer. The mass murder continued another time in 1944 when more than 1000 Jews were killed here from other parts of Europe including those who were imprisoned in the concentration camp Kaiserwald close to Riga.
The Peitav Shul escaped destruction by the Nazis because of its architecture. Wedged between two other Old Town buildings, the Nazis decided against burning it down as they did to the rest of Riga's synagogues, due to its close proximity to the neighboring buildings. The synagogue served as a warehouse and horse stall until the end of the war. With this it is the is the sole survivor of Riga's fourteen synagogues.
Built in Jugenstil style at the turn of the end of the 19th century it is being currently renovated to restore its former glory.