As a small child, I remember I enjoyed peeking behind the doors of my parents night-tables beside their bed. The only thing that I recall finding there was a collection of various books, but for some reason I was drawn to them and loved leafing through their pages. The only one that I can vividly recall to this day, was a small, dark, leather-bound book, which looked very different from all the rest. It was written in a mysterious language which I could not read, and there was a long list of names on several pages at the beginning of it, one of which, I would find out much later, was my grandfather’s name, Marcus Kahn.
At some point in the early 1960’s, when I was still very young, I was privileged to meet the author of this book, Max Kaufmann, at a synagogue in New York. I can’t recall what the occasion was, and it could very well have been the annual ‘reunion’ of the Survivors of the Riga Ghetto to commemorate the victims – their families and friends – who were brutally murdered there during the holocaust. I distinctly remember Mr. Kaufmann greeting my parents and I at the entrance to the sanctuary and bending down to tell me in a very strong accent, “I was at your father’s bris”. This was astonishing to me... meeting someone who was alive when my father was born! I had never met anyone that knew him that long!
Fast forward to 2007, more than 40 years later. It is a short time since a very dear friend of my parents and fellow survivor of the Riga Ghetto, Mr. Boris Kliot, left this world, and my parents are heartbroken to this day by this great loss. Mr. Kliot was a childhood friend of my father’s and they maintained that friendship for over 70 years. Mr. Kliot was also a very successful man, almost a super-hero in my eyes for all that he accomplished in his life after having everything taken from him in his youth, most significantly his parents and his four loving sisters. One of the projects that Mr. Kliot was working on before he passed away, was having Max Kaufmann’s book translated into English. He gave my father a copy of the translated version shortly before he passed away and asked him if he wouldn’t mind investigating how to go about publishing it.
On a recent Shabbat afternoon, my parents joined us for lunch at our home, as they do almost every week, (a blessing for which we are always so grateful). My father brought up the topic of getting Max Kaufmann's book published so that it could be made available to professors involved in holocaust education and their students. My husband brilliantly suggested that we could easily make it available online as an e-book and I could set up a website where the book could be accessed. The following Shabbat, I was holding in my hands for the first time, a spiral-bound, photocopy of Churbn Lettland – The Destruction of the Jews of Latvia by Max Kaufmann, translated into English. Finally, after more than 40 years, I was able to understand the words in this book that I was mysteriously drawn to as a child.
Mr. Kaufmann's book describes the indescribable ...it is a detailed, eye-witness account of the horrors that were suffered by some tens of thousands of Jews in Latvia, including my father, my grand-parents, great-aunts, great-uncles, and cousins, and of course Mr. Kaufmann, Mr. Kliot, and their families, as well as other survivors whom I have been fortunate to meet over the years. Originally published in German in 1947, Churbn Lettland – The Destruction of the Jews of Latvia is a tribute to the memory of all of the innocent men, women and children who were so brutally murdered in one of the darkest times in our recent history. To quote Max Kaufmann, “May these few words be the flowers on their graves!”.
I offer to you here, the English translation of the original publication in its entirety, a well-documented and erudite testimonial of the horrors that took place in Latvia during the Holocaust. It is my father's hope, as well as mine, that it will be used as a resource by professors and students of Holocaust Awareness Education and all those who wish to learn more about the destruction of Latvian Jewry. May it serve as a reminder to future generations of the horrific evil that can emanate from hate and intolerance for people of different faith, color, personal belief, sexual persuasion or ability, and may it serve as a conduit to ensuring that we see an end to bigotry, hatred and intolerance everywhere, speedily and in our time.
-Susan Kan Rotsztajn, April 2008