Commemorative Intervention – 1 June 2012, guided tour through Riga Ghetto & Holocaust Museum by Rabbi Menachem Barkahan
image: US artist Shelley Jordon & Agricola de Cologne
The Rumbula massacre was the two-day killing (on November 30, 1941 and December 8, 1941) of about 25,000 Jews in and on the way to Rumbula forest near Riga, Latvia, during the Holocaust. Save only the Babi Yar massacre in Ukraine, this was the biggest two-day Holocaust atrocity until the operation of the death camps. About 24,000 of the victims were Latvian Jews from the Riga Ghetto and approximately 1,000 were German Jews transported to the forest by train. The Rumbula massacre was carried out by the Nazi Einsatzgruppe A with the help of local collaborators of the Arajs Kommando, with support from other such Latvian auxiliaries. In charge of the operation was Higher SS and Police Leader Friedrich Jeckeln, who had previously overseen similar massacres in the Ukraine. Rudolf Lange, who later participated in the Wannsee Conference, also took part in organising the massacre. Some of the accusations against Latvian Herberts Cukurs are related to the clearing of the Riga Ghetto by the Arajs Kommando. The Rumbula killings, together with many others, formed the basis of the post-World War II Einsatzgruppen trial where a number of Einsatzgruppen commanders were found guilty of crimes against humanity.
The commemorative interventions of “A Virtual Memorial Riga 2012” manifest themselves in a multi-facetted way.
1. They started already, when I arrived in Riga and entered Latvian ground. For me as a virtual artist was already my physical manifestation in Riga an exceptional intervention.
2. Being part of the A-Team project and and the project interventions started when the team of NOASS and I met on the floating art gallery on 16 May and were talking about the project to be developed in Riga.
3. When Dzintars Zilgalvis, the head of NOASS and I met Rabbi Menachem Barkahan, the chairman of SHAMIR and Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum, on 17 May talking about how the fusion of “A Virtual Memorial Riga 2012″ and the “Conference of Holocaust Museums” at the Academy of Sciences to take place on 4 and 5 June 2012 via the presentation of Shoah Film Collection in the context of this 1st and pioneering conference in RIGA, can be considered as the next important interventional step.
4. Working in the context of the A-Team project starting the BLOG on 26 May 2012, also this belongs to the interventions – a daily duty to rethink what was happening and what was actually planned, an interesting internal discussion about adjusting continuously the original ideas to the reality of Riga.
5. All the preparations for “A Virtual Memorial 2012”- the conceptional work out on location in Riga set up and preparing the different event spaces in the context of the Floating Art Galleries of NOASS and BETANOVUSS for the different interventions to come needs to be counted also to the interventions.
6. The interventions as conceptual elements of “A Virtual Memorial Riga 2012”
a) the different levens of arrival of the attending Shoah Film Collection artists Shelley Jordon-Ben Neufeld-Jay Needham (all USA) on 30 May, Felice Hapetzeder (Sweden), Doron Polak and Eitan Vitkon (both from Israel) on 31 May, and finally on 1 June the arrival of Doris Neidl (Austria) and Cristiano Berti (Italy) were causing and resulting different interventions inform of meetings and discussion exchange
b.1.) the exposition of three exhibition components and their installation at the different spaces on NOASS and BETANOVUSS under the motto (title): “How Memory Survives”, i.e. the exhibition of experimental photographs by Eitan Vitkon (Israel) on the upper floor gallery at NOASS,
b.2.) the exhibition of drawings by Paolo Bonfiglio (Italy), a small selection from more than 10 000 handmade drawings which the artist created for his animation film “Mortale” which is part of the Shoah Film Collection
b.3.) the exhibition of Shoah Film Collection running on 5 flatscreen monitors from DVDs looping all the round during the exhibition hours
7. The Private View on 1 June was representing a very special intervention since the procedure of the opening of the event was settled only a few days before, and it was surprise how many official representatives from embassies, local administrations (ministeries, city council) and NGO organisations were attending.
8. The performance of Doron Polak, the Israeli performance artist was a very particular and unique intervention due to it relation to Riga as its family roots, based on the diaries of his father made during the Riga Ghetto.
9. The special performance of Rabbi Menachem Barkahan, when he invited the attending artists of Shoah Film Collection on 1 June to a private view of Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum. He was presenting the museum complex as his personal initiative and certainly one of the best experts of Jewish life in Riga and Latvia as a whole, demonstrating how much such strong personal initiatives can bring out.
10. The artists talks taking place on 1, 2 and 3 June 2012 as corporative project interventions can be divided in
10a) group discussions including all artists moderated by Agricola de Cologne (me)
10b) invidual artists talks combined with the screening of the films, a lecture and a discussion afterwards
10c) discussions including the audience
11. During the morning of Saturday, 2 June, a very special intervention was taking place, when the artists were visiting “Rumbula Forest”, the memorial site close to Riga where 1941 during 30 November and 1 December more than 25 000 Latvian Jews had been executed. The Israeli embassy had provided a car and a driver to make this visit possible.
11a) Visiting the memorial site was much more than just wlking around and get an idea what has happened in this mysterious forest. Doron Polak had invited to Shoah Film Collection artists to be volontarian in and artist project he wanted to realise at this historical place meaning so much to him, consisting on an site specific performance to be shot by photo and video by the Israeli photographer Eitan Vitkon, the artist whose photos are part of the exhibition “How Memory Survives”.
11b) Visiting Rumbula Forest was for itself an intervention of “A Virtual memorial Riga 2012”, but the performcance by Doron Polak one one hand, and on the other hand the involvement of the Shoah Film Collection artists as volonteers in the conceptual artistic concept of the performance and the photo and video shootings was representing an intervention for itself.
12. After the official end of the event days, the meeting of the attending artissts continued until late night by having a common meal together and much more. These 8 attending artists and my person as a mediator form during the three event days 1, 2 and 3 June a wonderful and perfect team, whose discussions went really deep into the subject matter, also outsite of the “official”program. This made the meetings and gatherings extraordinary and valueable.
13. After the artists had left Riga, on 4 and 5 June the interventions continued with the 2 days of “International Conference of Holocaust Museums” at Academy of Sciences.
The conference was the reason for realising Ā Virtual Memorial Riga 2012″at that particular date, and of course also the reason for the partnership with Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum and the Jewish association SHAMIR, but presenting Shoah Film Collection in the context of this important conference was the actual intervention.
13a) I was presenting Shoah Film Collection as the part of the “Ambassadors panel” on 4 June, including besides my person also the ambassadors of Austria, The Netherlands, Czech Republik and Belarus.
After this panel I was congratulated by the congress participants for the brilliant initiative I had started. On 5 June, I continued attending the conference.
14. The final interventions of the project can be seen in my presence at the exhibition at NOASS, since it was my duty to guide the vistors of the exhibition and explain many times the concept of the international initiative of Shoah Film Collection.