Human Rights in Baltics

During Spring Break 2010, students, faculty and staff are visiting World War II sites in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, including the Bikernieki Memorial, where 40,000 Jews were slain; the Jewish Museum in Riga; and the Jungfernhof concentration camp. Rick Halperin, director of the Human Rights Education Program in Dedman College, is leading the group.

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Connections with the past

An update from Adele, a senior sociology major with minors in history and human rights:

143.JPG We began the day with a tour of interesting Jewish places in Riga, the capital of Latvia. We went to the Riga ghetto, where all Riga and Latvian Jews were concentrated until their liquidation. We also went to the building of the former Jewish Council, where many people were rounded up.

One of the most emotional parts of the trip so far was walking into the building and seeing the kindergarten class. Imagining these innocent children being exterminated because of their identity nearly made me burst into tears. We saw the remains of the old synagogue that was burned to the ground.

We also went to the Jewish Museum, which held many powerful pictures and stories of Latvian Jews in the Holocaust. One artifact, a chest, was marked by a Jewish girl named Adele. The connection that was made by having the same name and similar handwriting as this girl completely shocked me. For a good minute I just stood there. At least this girl is remembered by a name. Most of the Holocaust victims remain nameless.

175.JPG We then went to the Rumbula forest, another killing site. Here 25,000 Jews were shot. These people, including many women and children, were lined up, forced to stand on top of dead bodies and then shot. I can’t even imagine what it was like having to wait your turn.

I believe that everyone should visit one of the sites to understand the magnitude of what happened at them. Isn’t one murder chilling enough? Now imagine that times 25,000 – or about the number of seats in the SMU football stadium.

186.JPG We went to the Salaspils concentration camp, which has been transformed into a memorial. The Soviets, who were unwilling to admit the ethnicity of most Holocaust victims, dedicated monuments to “Soviet citizens who were innocent victims of Fascism.” Because it was a camp for political prisoners, the Soviet government built an enormous monument in place of the old Salaspils camp. Several thousand children perished here, as well as men and women.

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