In 1940, the Soviets occupied Latvia and nationalized private property. Nazi Germany invaded shortly thereafter, killing, with local assistance, 90 percent of Latvia’s 93,000 Jews—many in a two-day mass shooting in the Rumbula forest. When the country became independent in 1991, following the fall of the Soviet Union, property was denationalized and Latvians reclaimed it. But, as Emma Bubola writes, “most Jewish owners had been killed in the Holocaust, and many of their homes, baths, slaughterhouses, orphanages, and synagogues became state property.” Now, following years of negotiations, the Jewish community of Latvia will receive compensation.
The 19th-century synagogue in the southern Latvian town of Akniste has become a firefighting depot. An older synagogue, with wooden vaulted ceilings, is now a community center. One has been turned into a church. After the Latvian Jews who owned, managed. and frequented the buildings were killed during the Holocaust, the state took them over.
On Thursday, the Latvian Parliament gave its final approval to a law that awards 40 million euros, about $46 million, to the Latvian Jewish community “to eliminate the historical unjust consequences” resulting from the Holocaust and activities under Soviet rule.
“This law cannot bring back a destroyed community or a destroyed synagogue,” said Gideon Taylor, a chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, one of the main promoters of the bill. “But what it can do is recognize what happened, and this is why it is important.”
Bubola also acknowledges the controversy surrounding the bill:
Opponents of the legislation had argued that if Jews received compensation, it should also be given to all of the other communities affected. But to the supporters of the legislation, which included the American and the Israeli governments, the bill was not a statement about their suffering but a reimbursement for property that belonged to them.