Address by Prime Minister in the Event Marking the Defeat of Nazism and Commemoration Day of Victims of World War II at the Salaspils Memorial
Distinguished Chairman of the Salaspils City Council,
Ladies and gentlemen,
History books contain the exact start and end dates of World War II. However, we are still unable to record in any book the date when this war will end in people's souls. The war still goes on in many people’s memories and nightmares. They remember their loved ones who were killed, and they remember their fallen companions. They remember themselves in that time many decades ago; they remember those who betrayed and those who helped. They remember it all.
Time passes, and we are left with fewer and fewer of these people. Have they passed their stories to their children and grandchildren? Of course, there were those who were not afraid to tell the story, and therefore their children hate the war even though they have not experienced it themselves. But there were also many who did not wish or were afraid to speak. They did not tell because they did not want to expose their loved ones to their emotional traumas; or maybe they were afraid of their own memories. We have less and less opportunity to ask questions to those involved in and affected by the war. The true emotions and memories of the war are departing along with the witnesses of the events. What do we have left? Memories written down by those affected by the war; diaries of girls exposed to death; filmed chronicles and academic articles and books.
Unfortunately, the story of World War II is now widely exploited in pop culture – computer games, comics, movies, and many other things that excite young people; where you can always start from the beginning or press the RESTART button like in a game. There is no RESTART in history. History tells us that there may be a totalitarian and populist idea waiting just around the corner that can deny the unique value of each personality. There could also be an ideology where the first step is to divide people into the “fit” and the “unfit.” The next step is to destroy those who have been labelled “unfit,” and then the death machine begins its turn, crushing meaninglessly the lives of the innocent. “You must die if you are a Jew, and you don't have the opportunity to ask "why?"
You must die if you are a Roma.
You must die if you dare to protest against Nazism or Communism.
Both Nazism and Communism were ideologies that sought to eliminate conscience. Did they succeed? No. There are things that are rooted much deeper than any ideology. These are the values that have formed over hundreds of years and cannot be easily destroyed.
Today we commemorate those who were murdered only because they were opponents of a specific regime. They were absurdly and stupidly shot – women, children, everyone. There is no justification. This crime has no statute of limitations.
The Salaspils camp was a place of suffering. Many thousands of innocent people were destroyed there – Jews, Latvians, Russians, Poles, Belarusian children and others.
We commemorate those who fell, armed in the fight against Nazism. We commemorate the ones who did not give up and held the idea of Latvia’s independence sacred even during the occupation. We commemorate all those who suffered, those who were silent, those who hated, those who feared and those who hoped. We commemorate the likes of Žanis Lipke who saved others who had no hope, and we regret that there were so few of such saviours. Despite what’s written in the history books, the war ended at different times in different countries. In Latvia, as in Estonia and Lithuania, it ended in 1991.
We have not forgotten anything, and we cannot forget anything.
We live in peace, but again we hear the voice of war just around the corner. Let us be prudent, let us trust ourselves and our allies.
Today we commemorate those who were not given the opportunity to live their entire lives. May they forgive us for not having stood alongside them!