A Somber Walk Through the Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum

Wooden Fence barricade in the Riga Ghetto

The Riga Ghetto is not a place you wanted to be in, but if you were one of the 70,000 Jews in Latvia at the time of the German occupation, this was your home…temporarily. The German Nazis forced over 30,000 Jews and later the ones deported from Germany to live in the small area of Riga enclosed with barbed wire fences and armed guards. At the end of the war, when the Red Army came back to Latvia, there were only 185 Jews left in Riga. The Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum present a window into the story of the ghetto and Jewish life in Latvia before and during the Holocaust. And is an excellent reminder of what happened, but more importantly, who we lost.Painting of a Jewish couple in the Riga Ghetto

Riga Ghetto and Museum InformationOne of the Entrances into the Riga Ghetto

The Riga Ghetto Museum is located in the Maskavas Vorstadt district and is a quick 5 minute walk from the Riga Central Market and Old Town. It is mainly an outdoor museum with a few buildings to walk through so, make sure you wear appropriate clothing. The weather was dreary and rainy when I explored through the site, which added to the somber atmosphere of the museum. The museum at Maskavas iela 14a (Entrance from Krasta Iela) is open from Sunday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m daily. It is closed on Saturdays. The voluntary admission fee is 5€.

Jewish Life Pre-War

These pictures of pre-war photographs that are on the wall in the main exposition of the museum in the “Area of Jewish Symbols” reflect the life of Latvian Jews. This display was created by Vera Bondar and Margarita Zaitseva to be a part of the “Shtetl – lost, but not forgotten world” project. The artists created these works of art from being inspired by photographs of Jewish life form pre-war newspapers. These scenes show the life of Latvian Jews before the Shoah (Hebrew for Disaster).

Jewish Home in the Riga Ghetto

This wooden two-story house built in the middle of the 19th century was a part of the Ghetto during World War II. 30 people lived inside this 120 sq. Meter house. The recreated interior represents their bedroom and what the living room would look like. Each person had approximately four sq. Meters of living space. Jewish Bedroom in the Riga GhettoJewish Living Quarters in the Riga Ghetto

Transportation of JewsCattle Car that transported Jews to the Riga Ghetto

This train car was the type of car that transported Jews to and from the Ghetto. There are old photos during the war of the transportation process for you to see when you step inside the train. Also, inside, you can feel and imagine how cramped it would have been for over 100 people. And how claustrophobic and terrible it was with no food, water, or toilet.Old photos of the Jews in the Riga GhettoInside of a Cattle Car that transported Jews in World War II

Wall of Latvian History during the HolocaustDisplays in the Riga Ghetto of Latvian life before and during the Holocaust

The wall goes the entire length of the property. On one side are the details of the Latvian history before and during the Holocaust. On the other side it lists every Latvian Jewish person who perished during the Holocaust, all 70,000 names. Based on the number of prisoners, the Riga Ghetto was the fourth largest in the territory of the former USSR. During the first phase of the Holocaust in Latvia, from July until the end of August in 1941, the Nazis exterminated several thousand Jews in Riga (mainly men). During the second phase of the Holocaust, the majority of the Jews of Riga – approximately 25,000 were exterminated in the Rumbula Fores in November and December 1941. At the same time, around 25,000 Jews from the Reich arrived on railway wagons, who were also murdered at the beginning of 1942. Of the 6,000 Jews left, they were forced into slave labor as the third phase of the Holocaust. The fourth phase had the remaining Jews being transported to concentration camps in Poland and Germany in August 1944. The Nazi occupation of Latvia started on June 22, 1941, and lasted until May 8, 1945.Displays of Jewish Names in the Riga Ghetto

Personal Stories of Jewish LatviansBoxes hanging from the ceiling with Jewish Latvian stories and photos on them

This area of the museum is impactful. Many of the personal stories and letters are in Latvian, but if you look hard enough, you can find some in English. I was captivated by the stories of the women and hunted around the hanging lanterns to find other stories that I could read. It is a humbling personal journey to see these handwritten letters and photos of people that went through horrible ends of their lives. Exhibits like these show that one person can make a difference and leave an impact on someone. You might not know who it is, but you do matter to someone. Personal stories of Latvian Jews in the Riga GhettoPhotos of Jewish citizens from the Riga GhettoStories of Jews in the Riga GhettoNames of the departed Jewish Latvian citizens from the Riga Ghetto

SummaryPainting of Jewish People in the Riga Ghetto

My time exploring this historical and sobering site has given me the desire to visit more of these historical World War II places. The Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum strive to preserve the lessons of the past and help the world progress to a future filled with more kindness, compassion, and tolerance. Their mission is honorable, and I hope that someday you will be able to visit a place like this and appreciate all that we have lost in this world. Painting of Jewish woman

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Further Reading

If you are coming to Latvia for a visit, check out these posts for further travel inspiration:

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