Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Rescuer and the Rescued: A Latvian Story of the Holocaust

Riva Zivcon and her daughter Adinka 
(photo courtesy of Ada Zivcon Israeli)
The collections in the Hoover Institution Archives provide a record of history both large and small.  It is often the exceptional stories of individuals that make larger events come to life. Such human interest stories become doubly intriguing when both the tale and the researching tracking it are remarkable, as exemplified by a research project currently under way in the archives.

Edward Anders, a retired astrophysicist living in Burlingame, California, is sponsoring research into a story that is informed by his own life and the circumstances under which he survived the Holocaust in his native Latvia.

As a Jewish teenager living in the port city of Liepāja, Anders and his family were in extreme peril when the Nazis invaded Soviet-occupied Latvia in 1941. Other members of Anders’s family perished in the Holocaust, but he and his mother survived.  This was initially due to the young Anders falsely claiming to the new authorities that his mother was really a German foundling raised by a Latvian Jewish couple. Two Latvian women vouched for this claim, at great risk to themselves.

After World War II, and time spent as a refugee in Germany, Anders came to the United States, where he became a noted scientist specializing in the study of meteorites. Since retiring from the University of Chicago, he has been active as an historian, with an emphasis on documenting the fate of Latvian Jews during the war. As part of this effort, he created a searchable database of about 7000 Jewish persons alive in Liepāja in June 1941, with information describing what happened to them subsequently. In October 2000, he took part in the first conference in post-Soviet Latvia on the Holocaust, and he has made important contributions to the work of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, located in Rīga.

In addition to publishing two volumes of memoirs (a full autobiography From Darkness to Light in 2008 and a condensed 2010 version Amidst Latvians during the Holocaust), Anders arranged for the translation and publication of the diary of another Latvian Holocaust survivor, Kalman Linkimer. In his diary, Linkimer not only wrote about his own experiences in wartime Latvia but also transcribed the accounts of other Latvian Jews hiding from the Nazis. In one of these transcriptions, Riva Zivcon describes how a Latvian policeman, a certain Corporal Avots, helped her and her 3-year-old daughter Adinka escape from the Rīga ghetto.  Accompanied by Riva Zivcon and carrying Adinka on his arm, the policeman walked out one of the ghetto gates, brazenly telling the guards he encountered that the mother and daughter were his own wife and child.

Former site of one of the Rīga ghetto gates. 
Holokausta izpētes problēmas Latvijā collection, Box 1, Hoover Institution Archives

Avots then took the Zivcons to the home of his girlfriend, telling her that the two were Russians. But when the girlfriend discovered that Adinka spoke only Yiddish, she became fearful of hiding the Zivcons in her place. Avots then took the Zivcons to the home of a prewar acquaintance, a violinist with whom the pair stayed for several weeks before returning to Liepāja, where separate hiding places were found for mother and daughter. Both Zivcons survived the war.

Adinka Zivcon (photo courtesy of Ada Zivcon Israeli)

Ada Zivcon is now a grandmother living in Israel. Both she and Professor Anders want the various Latvians who saved the Zivcons to be officially recognized as “righteous gentiles” by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem. So far, Ada Zivcon has succeeded in obtaining this honor for Otilija Šimelpfenigs, who hid her as a child for 16 months. In addition, Professor Anders succeeded in identifying the Latvian violinist as Kārlis Vestens (1899–1978) and in having Vestens recognized for his bravery.

However, in the case of Corporal Avots, the question of having recognition bestowed was complicated by the fact that Riva Zivcon did not learn the first name of the policeman who rescued her and her baby, and in the Linkimer diary he is referred to only by his surname. The ghetto guard of which Avots was part consisted of members of the 20th Latvian police battalion and selected members of the Rīga municipal police. No central roster of the ghetto guard has ever been discovered, but the most promising source for information on these police units are records contained in the Latviešu Centrālā Komiteja collection in the Hoover Institution Archives.

So far, Meldra Atteka and Una Veilande (Latvian researchers who have volunteered to work for Professor Anders) have found references in this collection to more than one Corporal Avots. Their latest find, which refers to a Corporal Fricis Avots, seems to be the most promising lead, and Professor Anders is optimistic that a solution is at hand to the nearly 75-year-old mystery of the exact identity of the Riga policeman who rescued the Zivcons. The researchers still have about 10 manuscript boxes of documents to go through, and they will continue to look for more documentation relating to the puzzle. Copies of the documents, should they turn out to be ones identifying the right Corporal Avots, will then be submitted to Yad Vashem. If Yad Vashem decides to recognize Avots as a rescuer of Jews, the Latvian government would honor him as well. A plaque at the entrance of a street where the Rīga ghetto was once located honors another “righteous gentile,” Zhan Lipke.

Plaque in Rīga honoring Zhan Lipke. 
Holokausta izpētes problēmas Latvijā collection, Box 1, Hoover Institution Archives

The Latviešu Centrālā Komiteja collection is the single largest resource on Latvian history in the Hoover Institution Archives. It is very much a composite: a large part of the collection pertains to the life of Latvians in Displaced Persons’ Camps in Germany after World War II; another significant component consists of records relating to Latvian police and military units that were created under the German occupation of Latvia during World War II. The collection also contains demographic data about Latvia under the German occupation, materials relating to nationalist resistance groups in Latvia during the same period, and issuances of the government of independent Latvia before the country’s annexation by the Soviet Union in 1940.

The complexity of the situation in Latvia during World War II, and the dual tragedies of Latvian Jews in peril from the Nazis and other Latvians at risk of imprisonment and deportation by Soviet authorities, is captured in a recent documentary film entitled Controversial History (directed by Inara Kolmane and Uldis Neiburgs, Rīga, 2010). Edward Anders figures prominently in this film as one of three individuals who recount their experiences in Latvia during World War II. In the film, Anders revisits Liepāja and the site near that town where the Nazis murdered some 2739 Jews on December 15, 1941. The documentary is in the audiovisual collection of Green Library at Stanford University.

Related archival collection:
Holokausta izpētes problēmas Latvijā  (Conference: 2000: Riga, Latvia)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Herbert Hoover's Grand Parade in Warsaw

Children from General School No. 11, many of them barefoot, prepare for the parade in honor of Herbert Hoover, August 14, 1919. “American Friendship: Herbert Hoover and Poland” Exhibit Catalog
     Today marks the 93rd anniversary of Herbert Hoover’s historic visit to Warsaw, Poland. It wasn’t his first visit, nor his last, but surely the most memorable and one of the most moving experiences of his life. At that time Herbert Hoover was chairman of the American Relief Administration (A.R.A.), which had begun to provide massive humanitarian aid to Eastern Europe, then recovering from the devastation of World War I.
     Hoover took a particular interest in Poland when he learned of the serious shortages of food in the country and its effect on children. At Hoover’s initiative, shipments of condensed milk, flour, and wheat, totaling thousands of tons, began arriving in Poland in the spring of 1919. By the time of his visit in August, an extensive operation had been established through the cooperation of the A.R.A. and civic organizations, which established hundreds of kitchens that fed more than 500,000 children daily. Within a year the operation would feed as many as 1.5 million children and nursing mothers each day. The humanitarian aid for children was a precursor to massive shipments of clothing, shoes and medical supplies to establish inoculation centers against typhus and other diseases. Extensive technical assistance from American advisers also helped rebuild Poland’s railways and other industries. The Poles had much to be grateful for.

Vernon Kellogg, a close associate of Hoover’s who made the initial reports on the situation in Poland, was present in Warsaw at the Mokotow Field on August 14:

  It was a great day for the children of Warsaw. It was a great day for their parents, too, and for all the people and for the Polish Government. But it was especially the great day of the children. The man whose name they all knew as well as their own, but whose face they had never seen, and whose voice they had never heard, had come to Warsaw. And they were all to see him and he was to see them.
  He had not announced his coming, which was a strange and upsetting thing for the government and city officials whose business it is to arrange all the grand receptions and the brilliant parades for visiting guests to whom the Government and all the people wish to do honor. And there was no man in the world to whom the Poles could wish to do more honor than to this uncrowned simple American citizen whose name was for them the synonym of savior.

A group of children in Eastern Poland forming the letter “H” in honor of Herbert Hoover, 1921. “American Friendship: Herbert Hoover and Poland” Exhibit Catalog
  For what was their new freedom worth if they could not be alive to enjoy it? And their being alive was to them all so plainly due to the heart and brain and energy and achievement of this extraordinary American, who sat always somewhere far away in Paris, and pulled the strings that moved the diplomats and the money and the ships and the men who helped him manage the details, and converted all of the activities of these men and all of these things into food for Warsaw---and for all Poland. It was food that the people of Warsaw and all Poland simply had to have to keep alive, and it was food that they simply could not get for themselves. They all knew that. The name of another great American (Woodrow Wilson) spelled freedom for them; the name Herbert Hoover spelled life to them.
  So it was no wonder that the high officials of the Polish Government and capital city were in a state of great excitement when the news suddenly came that the man whom they had so often urged to come to Poland was really moving swiftly from Prague to Warsaw.
  Ever since soon after Armistice Day he had sat in Paris, directing with unremitting effort and absolute devotion the task of getting food to the mouths of hungry people of all the newly liberated but helpless countries of Eastern Europe, and above all, to the children of these countries, so that the coming generation, on whom the future of these struggling peoples depended, should be kept alive and strong. And now he was preparing to return to his own country and his own children to take up again the course of his life as a simple American citizen at home.
  But before going he wanted to see for himself, if only by the most fleeting of glimpses, that the people of Poland and Bohemia and Serbia and all the rest were really being fed. And especially did he want to see that the children were alive and strong.
  When he came to Paris in November, 1918, at the request of the President of the United States to organize the relief of the newly liberated peoples of Eastern Europe, terrible tales were brought to him of the suffering and the wholesale deaths of the children of these ravaged lands. And when those of us who went to Poland for him in January, 1919, to find out the exact conditions and the actual food needs of the twenty-five million freed people there, made our report to him, a single unpremeditated sentence in this report seemed most to catch his eyes and hold his attention. It did more; it wetted his eyes and led to a special concentration of his efforts on behalf of the suffering children. This sentence was: “We see very few children playing in the streets of Warsaw.” Why were they not playing? The answer was simple and sufficient: The children of Warsaw were not strong enough to play in the streets. They could not run; many could not walk; some could not even stand. Their weak little bodies were bones clothed with skin, but not muscles. They simply could not play.
  So in all the excitement of the few hours possible to the citizens of Warsaw and the Government Officials of Poland to make hurried preparation to honor their guest and show him their gratitude, one thing they decided to do, which was the best thing for the happiness of their guest they could possibly have done. They decided to show him that the children of Warsaw could now walk!
  So seventy thousand boys and girls were summoned hastily from the schools. They came with the very tin cups and pannikins from which they had just had their special meal of the day, served at noon in all the schools and special children’s canteens, thanks to the charity of America, as organized and directed by Hoover, and they carried their little paper napkins, stamped with the flag of the United States, which they could wave over their heads. And on an old race-track of Warsaw, these thousands of restored children marched from mid-afternoon till dark in happy, never-ending files past the grandstand where sat the man who had saved them, surrounded by the heads of Government and the notables of Warsaw.

Herbert Hoover (no. 6) sits next to Prime Minister IgnacyPaderewski (no. 5), Commander-in-Chief Josef Piłsudski (no. 9), Ambassador HughGibson (no. 11) and Commander George Barr Baker (no. 4), in front of Belvedere Palace in Warsaw, August, 1919. “American Friendship: Herbert Hoover andPoland” Exhibit Catalog
  They marched and marched and cheered and cheered, and waved their little hands and cups and napkins. And all went by as decorously and in as orderly a fashion as many thousands of happy cheering children could be expected to, until suddenly from the grass an astonished rabbit leaped out and started down the track. And then five thousands of these children broke from the ranks and dashed madly after him, shouting and laughing. And they caught him and brought him in triumph as a gift to their guest. But they were astonished to see as they gave him their gift, that this great strong man did just what you or I or any other human sort of human being could not have helped doing under like circumstances. They saw him cry. And they would not have understood, if he had tried to explain to them that he cried because they had proved to him that they could run and play. So he did not try. But the children of Warsaw had no need to be sorry for him. For he cried because he was glad.

(“Review of the Children of Warsaw”, Vernon Kellogg papers, Box 1, Folder 1, Hoover Institution Archives)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tower of Peace

Mary Wright, curator of the Chinese collection and C. Easton Rothwell, director of the Hoover Institution, examine a shipment of documents, with collection assistant Eugene Wu in the foreground, 1950s. Hoover Institution Records, Hoover Institution Archives
In his 1970s radio addresses, Ronald Reagan often featured a “desk-clearing day,” where he would tackle a few different, smaller issues in one sitting.  In the same spirit, here’s a Hoover Archives’ desk-clearing blog.

One of the more pleasing features of the Hoover Tower is our excellent carillon. Last month, I made a recording of it as part of the Free to Choose Network’s tribute to Milton Friedman. If you’ve ever been on campus in the early evening, perhaps you’ve heard the chimes. If not, I suggest clicking that link.

Writing to the audiophiles, recordists, audiophile recordists, and other sound enthusiasts out there, it was really a great experience.  I was shocked to learn how relatively quiet these bells are. Posts at a recording forum had me believe they could get as loud as a jet engine.  Ours only gets up to around 115 dB!  I had planned an elaborate rig where a handful of mics would stick out of windows on the 11th floor, but, no, I could mic the carillon right up in there on the platform (wearing ear plugs, of course) with just a simple X-Y pair.  Moreover, the normally blusterous wind decided to stay away while I had microphones up that high, and I was able to get a surprisingly good representation.

For more information about the carillon, please see I Ring Only for Peace by Elena Danielson.

Speaking of the tower, back in 1957, the Hoover Institution produced a radio series entitled Tower of Peace.  In it, a host interviewed several notable people from the Hoover and larger Stanford communities to highlight the collections of the Institution and the work done by those studying them.  No surprise, lots of important research and many saw the collections as some of the best in the world, whether they be of European, African, Middle Eastern, or East Asian focus.  What did surprise me, however, given that this dates from 1957, is how many women were featured, and how prominent of a role they played here at Hoover.

Who were these women?  Ruth Perry, curator of the African collection; Mary Wright, curator of the Chinese collection; Agnes Peterson, area associate for Central and Western European collections; Christina Harris, curator of the Middle Eastern collection; Inez Richardson, coordinator for foreign visitors to Stanford University; and Hildegard Behringer, program officer in Stanford's office for foreign visitors.

Finally, working on this collection was not without irony, either.  In the introductory program, Herbert Hoover himself spoke of the need to migrate the content of newspapers to microfilm before they deteriorated.  I heard him say this from a structurally-deficient acetate tape being digitized before it becomes unplayable itself.