The Riga city council has informed the local Holocaust museum that according to the new land-lease agreement, it will have to dismantle the central part of its exposition and start paying a full market price.

As the Shamir Association operating the museum is unable to comply with the new terms, the council’s decision is likely to force the museum to close its doors after 10 years.

Local residents believe that the council’s position is a result of continued pressure from the business community, which hopes to acquire the land currently occupied by the museum.

Rabbi Dr. Menachem Barkahan, chairman of the Shamir Association, is asking to help save the museum: “This is not a local commercial conflict. The city council’s decision will show whether the preservation of Holocaust memory is an important value for Latvian authorities or not. As Latvian citizens, we cannot accept that in our country money is worth more than the memory of our fathers killed by Nazi occupiers.”

Ten years ago, the Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum was established in the Spikeri quarter, a rundown area used for a central market warehouse and car washes.

Shamir Association believes that in recent years, the museum has been subjected to continuing deliberate attacks from the private businesses for the purpose of territory seizing; there have been lawsuits, complaints to various authorities, as well as the unauthorized seizure of territory. The city council is expected to decide on Oct. 27 if the current land-lease agreement with the local Holocaust museum will be renewed.

“The Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum has made and continues to make a great contribution to educating the public about the fate of Latvian Jews, the Holocaust and the invaluable importance of an active public stance,” said Rabbi Dr. Barkahan. “The relocation of the museum would become an unbearable burden for us; in fact, it will mean the destruction of everything we have built so far.

“The Holocaust was not only caused by those who killed; it happened with the tacit consent of the indifferent majority,” he continued. “I would like to hope that nowadays, nothing like that is possible. In this sense, the decision on the fate of the museum is also symbolic, as it shows the values of the authorities and society. We are asking for the support of the entire community because the future of the museum depends on the active participation of each and every one of us.”

A railroad boxcar or cattle car used by the Nazis to transport Jews during the Holocaust is on view at the Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum. Credit: Shamir Association.

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