“People are crying bitterly, bidding each other farewell. [...] There is the constant sound of gunfire, while the guards are pressing people to hurry up. [...] And all this goes on for many hours.”
With these words, Frida Michelson, one of the few survivors, described what she witnessed in Rumbula 80 years ago.
Reading out her words here today – as German Foreign Minister, in a place that became a grave for thousands of people – fills me with sadness, horror and shame.
We have gathered here today to bow our heads in memory of those who died – to remember and to commemorate.
- We remember those who were murdered here in Rumbula and all of the victims of the Holocaust in what was German-occupied Latvia. By 1945, nearly the entire Jewish community of Latvia had been wiped out.
- We remember the tens of thousands of Jews who were deported from other European countries to Latvia, where they were murdered by German perpetrators. More than 1000 were shot dead here in Rumbula, and many more in nearby Bikernieki forest.
- And we remember the courageous Latvians who risked their lives to save Jews. People like Mr Vestermanis, who resisted the German occupiers.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This act of remembrance – we owe it to the victims of the Shoah. We must never forget their lives and their suffering.
But, above all, we also owe it to ourselves. For it is by facing up to our past – in words and in deeds – that we lay the foundation for a better and common future.
An impressive example of this is the Riga Committee – an alliance of German, Latvian, Czech and Austrian cities. The Committee keeps alive the memory of the victims of the Holocaust in Latvia. Since its establishment more than 20 years ago, it has today grown to include more than 60 partner cities.
This shows: coming to grips with the past together can bring us together.
Emerging from dark times and a terrible past, we Europeans have built a common and peaceful Europe.
Together, we can continue to draw lessons from this past – and use them to build a better tomorrow for us all.