In September of 2004 I sent an e-mail to Mr. Westerman from the Jews in Latvia museum. I concluded my message with the following PostScript:
P.S. And by the way, my father used to work for Mr. Westerman on Tirgonju iela before WW II. Maybe you are some how related?
His reply was absolutely shocking. It was just as if I received a message from my father.
Dear Mr. Genchik,
Thanks for your sent photo. I immediately recognized the oldest and most friendly clerk of my father Abram Vesterman. We all called him "old Genchik." The main office of this firm was located in the Old Riga, Tirgonu street 16.
Your father continued to work in this firm after the Soviet nationalization in 1940, as well my father who became "the Soviet director". Later on I met Genchik in Riga's ghetto where he used to be a tailor of gloves. I suppose he was in the small ghetto as a tailor of gloves till the last action in ghetto on November 2nd, 1943. The young men got sent to the concentration camp "Kaiserwald.". I think that Mr. Genchik was not able to go through selections because of his age, and probably the date of his death could be taken November 2nd, 1943.
All my relatives died, but I survived the concentration camps in Riga and Dundaga. I escaped from there and used to hid in the forests of Kurland from summer of 1944 till May 9th, 1945.
I am writing these memories and remember your father's calmful and sincere face. I remember it from my early childhood.
I wish you a very happy New Year. Shana Tova!
the chief of museum.
. . .
In 2003 I was interviewed by creators of the rumbula.org about my memories of the WWII. Here is an excerpt from that interview:
Q:What do you personally know of the history of Rumbula Forest, the graves and any markers there the years?
A:Rumbula is a forest on the outskirts of Riga, close to the highway from Riga to Moscow. After the Soviet Army liberated Riga, the killing place in Rumbula didn't get much attention from the officials.
Then young Jewish activists from the Riga synagogue decided to take care of the place. They brought trucks with soil close to the place and dropped it on the ground by the highway. From there they carried the soil on stretchers to the gravesite and formed graves.
After that the officials erected the tombstones, but were afraid to write on them, that there were mostly Jews among the killed, instead saying that there are buried war prisoners and other soviet citizens.
In later years the officials held memorial services every year in November or December. There were speeches reminding of the atrocities of the Nazis. But saying kaddish was forbidden. Once after the official part of the meeting, Jews tried to say Kaddish and tell a little about the ghetto, but the police didn't permit to do so. Until 1972, when I retired from the army, I did my best to keep the place neat.
Q:Earlier in 1941, did the Germans intentionally attempt to fool people that they wouldn't be so bad, thus preventing a large scale and universal opposition before they developed solid control?
A:In Riga many Jews were oriented to the German culture and spoke mainly German. People knew that Germans are a civilized and cultural nation and could not believe that they would harm innocent people. They knew, that in WWI the Germans didn't harm innocent people and were sure they will not hurt them now. That's one of the reasons why so many Jews didn't leave Riga in the first days of the war. No one, of course, knew the plans of the Nazis to wipe out the Latvian Jews.
Q:What should young people today, who were born several generations after these events, learn from Rumbula and the Holocaust in Latvia?
A:No doubt that people, especially young people, should learn from the Holocaust, part of which is Rumbula. The mass killings of absolutely innocent people only because they belong to a certain group or nation is not permissible and should never happen again to anyone. I think that the tragedy of the Holocaust should be taught to as many people as possible. That's why I think that the website rumbula.org. is an excellent way to bring it to as many people as possible and that you started a very good step in that direction.
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