City of Life, City of Death: Memories of Riga

City of Life, City of Death: Memories of Riga

City of Life, City of Death: Memories of Riga

City of Life, City of Death: Memories of Riga

Synopsis

This is Max Michelson's stirring and haunting personal account of the Soviet and German occupations of Latvia and of the Holocaust. Michelson had a serene boyhood in an upper middle-class Jewish family in Riga, Latvia -- at least until 1940, when the fifteen-year old Michelson witnessed the annexation of Latvia by the Soviet Union. Private properties were nationalised, and Stalin's terror spread to Soviet Latvia. Soon after, Michelson's family was torn apart by the 1941 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. He quickly lost his entire family, while witnessing the unspeakable brutalities of war and genocide. Michelson's memoir is an ode to his lost family; it is the speech of their muted voices and a thank you for their love. Although badly scarred by his experiences, like many other survivors he was able to rebuild his life and gain a new sense of what it means to be alive. His experiences will be of interest to scholars of both the Holocaust and Eastern European history, as well as the general reader.

Excerpt

I begin the story of my life with my childhood and teenage years, prior to the terrible events of World War II and the Holocaust. My sheltered and peaceful life was disrupted by the Soviet takeover of Latvia in July 1940 and was then irrevocably shattered by the nazi occupation of Riga in July 1941. Many of the people described in this memoir perished in the Holocaust, including my parents, our relatives and family friends who were in Riga at the outbreak of the war, and the majority of my own friends and classmates. It is disturbing to describe the events of long ago with a knowledge of what would happen later. It is particularly painful to write about my family members and friends, knowing the imminent brutal disruption of their lives.

Part I of these memoirs describes Jewish life in Riga in the early decades of the twentieth century and recalls the many who perished there at the hands of the Germans and Latvians. I seek to honor the victims by remembering them—they must not remain nameless. By evoking their memory I hope to give lasting testimony to their interrupted, unfinished lives.

Part II describes the fate of the Jews of Riga and my own experiences in the Riga Ghetto and concentration camps during the nazi years. In the ghetto and particularly in the concentration camps we had a circumscribed, limited perspective, deliberately constrained by our nazi jailers. This restricted view differs, naturally, from the more objective descriptions of these events that became available after the war. Also included are brief sketches of my relatives and friends who spent the war years in the Soviet Union and Western Europe.

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