Latvia reopens only synagogue to survive Holocaust

27th August 2009, Comments 0 comments

Built in 1905, the synagogue was one of 40 Jewish temples in Riga before the war.

Riga -- Latvian leaders and the Baltic state's Jewish community Wednesday marked the re-opening of the only synagogue in the capital to have survived the World War II Holocaust.

"This synagogue has a symbolic meaning for our country. This building survived many trials and tribulations," President Valdis Zatlers said at a ceremony marking the end of two years of refurbishment.

Built in 1905, the synagogue was one of 40 Jewish temples in Riga before the war.

After Nazi Germany invaded in 1941, it was transformed into a warehouse.

Around 85,000 Jews lived in Latvia before World War II, but 70,000 were murdered in the country by the Nazis and local collaborators or perished after being deported to camps elsewhere in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Today, Latvia's Jewish community numbers fewer than 10,000 people in a country of 2.3 million.

The synagogue became a place of worship again in 1944, when Soviet troops took over Latvia. It was one of the few to operate throughout the communist era, despite Moscow's official atheism.

Jewish religious life has undergone a revival since Latvia won independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991.

"We are proud that our generation of Latvian Jews were able to restore this synagogue," Latvian Jewish community leader Arkady Sukharenko said.

"It symbolises the restoration of our Jewish community in this country," he added.

The government of Latvia, the European Union and the personal donations of Latvian Jews paid for the renovations.

The synagogue was hit by two bomb attacks in 1995 and 1998, blamed on neo-Nazis.

The 1998 explosion shattered the stained glass windows -- which had even survived World War II -- and caused severe damage to the building's mix of Art Nouveau and Middle Eastern motifs.


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