Remembering Riga’s 'underground' heroes

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The Žanis Lipke Memorial museum, together with the Riga2014 Foundation erected a series of memorial plaques around town Thursday to honor residents of Riga who harbored Jewish victims of Nazi repression during the Second World War.

The “Underground Riga” project was launched Thursday at Brivibas boulevard 32, the address of a building where electrician Jānis Ozols and his wife Lilija hid Jews from the occupying Nazi German forces. To remember the heroism of the Ozols family and other Riga residents, ten commemorative signs altogether were put up at buildings where the targeted victims of Nazism were once protected from their persecutors.

The years between 1941 and 1945 reveal some lesser-known pages from Latvian history, when local people selflessly offered safe harbor to their Jewish friends and neighbors who were otherwise facing almost certain death.

Among the heroes being remembered in the plaques were Elvīra Rone, who sheltered world-renowned violinist Gideon Krēmers’ father Marks; pastor Vilnis Kazimirs of the Kristus Karaļa congregation, who hid Riga Ghetto escapee Dāvid Packins; and others.

The memorial plaques were designed by artist Laima Laizāne.

‘Underground Riga’ is intended to create an image of the city as a space where people not only live, work and relax during peaceful times, but also provide comfort and shelter to those whose lives and freedoms come into danger in times of war and uncertainty.

According to the Lipke Memorial staff, the signs add to the project by letting residents and guests of Riga learn something about its 20th-century history from an unaccustomed viewpoint.

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