Having climbed down from the remains of the 13th century castle, where local youths now congregate to drink - because they can see the police coming - we took a left along the river, with the Cathedral high up on the other bank.
It's an untidy river bank with little development along here: the odd wooden house, old cars and wood yards, until you reach the bottom of a cobbled street.
And there at the corner of the street there's what looks like a black marble gravestone. It reads: '120 Rezekne's Jews were shot down on this place by the local Nazis on July 15, 1941.'
But these things happened, and we have an obligation to ensure they are remembered. Those who want to forget the past - for fear it will upset the present, or the future - ignore the hindsight that history brings.
I knew that Latvia's Jews were more or less wiped out in the war. I read about that in the Occupation Museum in Riga on my first visit to the country. But here in Rezekne, there's barely a word.
What follows are eye-witness accounts or testimonies taken from the Yad Vashem archives on the Jewish Holocaust in Europe.
During the period of the independent Latvian republic (1919-1940), several Jewish schools with different political and cultural affiliations operated in Rēzekne. In 1935 3,342 Jews lived in Rēzekne, comprising approximately 25 percent of the town’s population.
After the Soviet occupation of Latvia in June 1940, all private enterprises were nationalized and Jewish community institutions were closed. Some Rēzekne Jews were arrested during the night of June 14-15, 1941 and exiled to locations deep within the Soviet Union.
During the first week of the German-Soviet war the old border between Latvia and Russia was closed for everyone except Soviet workers and their families. Nevertheless, many Rēzekne Jews who had fled from the town gathered in the frontier area until the border was opened again on July 4. Many Rēzekne Jews managed to flee into the Soviet interior.
The Germans occupied Rēzekne on July 3, 1941 and, with the assistance of Latvian collaborators, began murdering Jews almost immediately. On July 4 the Germans ordered all Jewish men from the age of 18 to 60 to assemble on the market square. Latvian policemen rounded them up and took them to the local prison. On July 8 the town’s Jews were ordered to wear a yellow badge and banned from walking on the town's sidewalks and from wearing hats. On July 9 (according other sources, July 5), about 30 able-bodied young men were sent to the NKVD building and were murdered after being subjected to public humiliation. On August 3 the women, children, and elderly were rounded up and taken to the same prison, with the exception of women with little children, who were moved to ”the old prison.”
|Rezekne's river of blood|
One day, it was about 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., we were awakened by shots. We ran outside and then to the headquarters. From there we went to the place from where the shots were coming. We saw there that people had dug a pit (a huge grave), and that people had to kneel before the ditch. Then they received a pistol shot from the SS in the back of their heads. Those that were not dead the Latvian soldiers had to finish off with rifle shots. The people were killed by the SS with pistol shots. As we found out, the people were subordinated directly under the Reichssicherheitshauptamt in Berlin.
I did not see the number of the dead in the pit. At the side of the ditch, there were still some fifty living people. They were gradually pushed by the SS men to the pit.
Finally, about ten victims were left. They had to shovel up the ditch, and then were brought back to the prison. There they told the other inmates about the killings. This brought on an intolerable wailing ....
When the cemetery was filled with bodies, the Germans moved their killing site to the Anchipanski [Ančupani] Hills, five kilometers from the town. At that location they shot to death 18,000 Soviet prisoners of war. Over one hundred Jews were murdered at the Yaskivski [Leščinska] Mill.
The women’s turn came on the day of Tisha b’Av. The Germans forced their way into the houses and took the women and children to prison. Many of them were taken directly to the cemetery and shot. Twenty women were taken to a brothel and were shot a day later.
Horrifying sights took place at the prison. In the morning the executioners would pass through the cells and take several children at a time. The poor mothers begged, screamed, and fought the Hitlerists, but to no avail. The children were loaded onto trucks, taken to the cemetery or the hills, and buried alive.
On August 23 all the women from the prison were taken in 33 trucks to the Anchipanski Hills and were shot. Only a few Jews remained alive in Rezhitsa after this killing: the tailor Lotz, the tinsmith Treyzon, the brothers Yizhak and Zalman Peyris, the tanner Kopilov, the engineer Mulya Lifshits and his father Zalman (who died later at the age of 85). In 1943 they were also murdered. Before the Red Army arrived, the Germans exhumed and burned the bodies.
... and continued for months, a nightmare gathering in intensity:
November 16, Sunday: Indeed! Either matters are getting worse for the Germans, or they have been driven absolutely crazy by blood. Yesterday they eliminated the last Jews [in town]. They gathered all of those who remained, even wives and children of Christians. They didn’t spare Tanya and Vera Mikhailova [two sisters age 22 and 18 whose mother Lyubov Mikhailova (née Polak) had been Jewish but was baptised].
The murders continued all day yesterday at Ančupāni. This morning 22 Red Army political instructors were shot. An orgy of bloodshed is taking place. Now the policemen are carrying away the clothes that were taken off, but the people are no longer here. Human life costs nothing – only one rifle shot….
November 19, Wednesday: Is this the Western culture that is being hailed in all the papers? With the temperature outside 12 degrees below zero, they brought people (women and children) to a field, forced them to take off their clothes (including socks or stockings) and shot them. Their brutality must represent some kind of record…. One policeman said that, after she had to undress, Vera Mikhailova had voluntarily stepped into the first line of victims….
Again the Ancupani Hills are used as a site to murder innocent civilians, this time in the systematic killing of the Holocaust.
|Another unmarked massacre site in Rezekne?|
The systematic extermination of Jews ended when Red Army liberated Rēzekne on July 27, 1944. But in our tour of the city, our friend added a footnote.