Head of Daugavpils' Jewish Museum is a student at 72

Josifs Ročko, a teacher, local historian, and the founder of the museum “Jews in Daugavpils and Latgale”, is a cavalier of the Order of the Three Stars, Latvia's highest civil decoration. Two years after receiving the order, at the age of 72, he is still publishing new history books and continues selflessly contributing to society in eastern Latvia. 

Latvian Radio spoke to this man in the Daugavpils Synagogue, a red two-story brick building in central Daugavpils.

"I am 72. In 2017 I received the Order of the Three Stars for my public contributions, the books I have written and for the fact that I founded the Museum “Jews in Daugavpils and Latgale” of the local Jewish community," Ročko says as an introduction. 

He says that the decoration came as a surprise to him and his family. "I didn't believe it. I thought someone else had been awarded the order. I first told my wife. She didn't believe me, as she thought such a high distinction could be bestowed only on politicians, soldiers and otherwise prominent people. Whereas I was just a teacher. Of course, I was happy."

"15 years ago, I met Marģers Vestermanis, the director of the the museum "Jews in Latvia". He had been imprisoned at the Rīga Ghetto. He survived and set up a museum. [I thought] why shouldn't I too set up a Jewish museum in Daugavpils, seeing as my father was at the Daugavpils Ghetto? The idea came about, and I slowly started creating a similar museum in my native city."

While not everyone in the local Jewish community saw the need for a museum, it was still set up. The museum is located on the 2nd floor of the local synagogue. "We recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the museum's existence. We've about 30 stained exhibits here. I like having this job, even though it's just a community thing with no remuneration."

One should note that despite the time necessary for research, writing and serving the community is also a master's degree student at the University of Daugavpils and is planning on obtaining a master's degree within two years.

He has penned four books to date, dedicated to history and prominent Jews in the Latgale cultural region.

"It all depends on divine countenance. If possible, I would like to bring new materials into the museum, write two or three more books and continue working for Latgale, Daugavpils and Latvia," says Ročko.

As a culture employee, he is certain that support is now needed for those most affected by virus-related regulations.

"I'm not a stateman. I only think that our Defense Ministry is a very wealthy institution, and that the state shouldn't only spend on defense but, at a time like this, also help industries that are having a hard time right now. We most of all need money for development," Ročko says.

(This story is part of a Latvian Radio strand dedicated to cavaliers of the Order of the Three Stars.)

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