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Four Who Saved Jews Receive Highest Award

By Sandra L. Medearis

RIGA - Four Latvians received the country's highest award, the Order of Three Stars, for saving Jews during Holocaust on July 4, observed in Latvia as a day of memorial to Jewish victims of genocide.

Receiving awards at Riga Palace were Bruno Rozentals, 74, Olga Kruzmane, 83, Juris Berzins, 74, and Yadviga Ocehovska, 76.

Rozentals said although he had received honors from a number of countries, this honor from Latvia meant the most.

"It is this decoration, the Order of Three Stars, that I will always appreciate most highly," he told President Vaira Vike-Freiberga

Each of the four received a medal, a certificate tied with a ribbon in Latvian red and white and a bouquet of red roses with stems a meter long.

Vike-Freiberga handed off the decorations, helped by community leaders and a soloist who presented patriotic songs about Latvia as a motherland.

Vike-Freiberga noted that there has been evil in the "mother land."

"For the evil is, has been and always will be with us. We are not always able to escape and to avoid it, but what we can do is to fight against it with all our might," she said, adding now that independence has been regained, Latvia can follow the ideals upon which it was founded: "respect for the human being, for human life as being sacred, for human life that must not be annihilated."

Desecrations of two memorial monuments marking sites where Jews were persecuted and killed in the Riga area were found July 3 and 4. Vike-Freiberga said memorials should be held sacred as reminders. About 95 percent of Latvia's Jewish population of about 70,000 were killed during the Nazi occupation, sometimes with collaboration of local people.

Grigory Krupnikov, a leader in the Jewish community thanked the four for their bravery.

"We fully understand the risks to their lives and their families to help our people," Krupnikov said. This is real heroism, different even than that at the front lines which perhaps was momentary. This risk was everyday, 24 hours a day, for months. No scales or financial instruments can weigh human relations Š can weigh the risks these [men and women] took."

Hiding and saving Jews during World War II required not only great bravery, but also stealth and cunning. Rozentals hid 36 Jews beneath a barn with stairs concealed under a stove. He even built beds in the hideaway. The State of Israel has decorated about 25 Latvians and Lithuanians during the past year for saving Jews, designating the saviors as Righteous Among Nations, Israel's highest honor for non-Jews.

The Baltic Times - 07.06.02

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