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Bikernieki Memorial (Latvian: Bikernieku memorials) is a war memorial to The Holocaust victims of World War II in Bikernieki forest, near Riga, Latvia.
Bikernieki forest is Latvia’s biggest mass murder site during The Holocaust of World War II during years 1941–44. There are 55 marked mass burial sites in the forest. About 46,500 people were reported to have been killed there, including Latvian and Western European Jews, Soviet prisoners of war, and Nazis’ political adversaries. The exact number of victims is unknown. Although Soviet Nazi War Crime Research Committee declared over 46,000 murders, later excavations did not confirm this number. The number of victims is speculated to be closer to 30,000.
The first victims were a few thousand men arrested in July 1941 and brought from Riga Central Prison. In 1942 another 12,000 Jews were brought from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. In 1943 Riga Ghetto prisoners were brought here who were unable to work at Kaizerwald concentration camp, followed by those from the camp itself unable to work in 1944. In 1943 and onwards Nazis dug up graves and burned the bodies to hide the evidence. It is estimated that there are now around 20,000 victims buried in the forest.
Bikernieki forest is the biggest mass murder site during The Holocaust in Latvia with two memorial territories spanning over 80,000 square metres (860,000 sq ft) with 55 marked burial sites with around 20,000 victims still buried in total.
The memorial was initially planned and construction started in 1986, but was delayed after Latvia declared independence in 1991. The construction was revived in 2000 by German War Graves Commission with the help of local Latvian organisations and several German cities. It was financed mostly by German government and organisations, Austrian State Fund, and involved city donations. It was designed by Sergey Rizh and opened on November 30, 2001.
The architect of the memorial is Sergey Rizh, who worked for 15 years on the design of the memorial. There are two memorial territories – 6,550 and 79,630 square metres (70,500 and 857,100 sq ft) wide on both sides from the road. In addition to smaller forest pathways, there are two roads leading to the memorial’s central square – a historic road used to bring the victims and the main central road paved with concrete slabs and marked with a concrete arc exiting to Bikernieku Street.
The centre of assembly houses a black granite cube – a symbolic altar with engraving from Book of Job 16:18 “Earth, don’t cover my blood. Let my cry have no place to rest.” in Latvian, Russian, German, and Hebrew languages. The immediate area is surrounded by 4,000 granite stones arranged in a grid of forty-five 4-by-4-metre (13 ft × 13 ft) squares, and resembles a traditional Jewish cemetery. The unique rough-hewn 0.2-to-1.5-metre (0.66 to 4.92 ft) high granite stones of black, gray, and reddish colors come from Zhytomyr region in Ukraine. The stones are carved with European city names representing the home towns of the victims. The entrances to the memorial and other grave sites in the forest are marked with concrete pillars with symbols representing various groups of the fallen – Star of David representing Jews, Crown of Thorns representing war prisoners, and Christian cross representing civilians. Historians from the New Synagogue Berlin – Centrum Judaicum, educational establishment House of the Wannsee Conference, and historians from the member cities have documented the names of over 31,000 victims, published in Book of Remembrance: The German, Austrian and Czechoslovakian Jews deported to the Baltic States (2003).
Despite the nature of memorial, the surrounding hills are a popular summer hiking and winter sledding and skiing location. Although Germany supplies annual funding for memorial maintenance, it is insufficient to fund regular police patrols and surveillance. The memorial and gravestones have been vandalised several times, each time attracting media attention.
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