Žanis and Johanna Lipkes
Can a man be saviour of human lives? For us, it is known that Christ was the Saviour of world and of men, though, who was Žanis Lipke? The Medal – To the Righteous Among the Nations - he received in 1977, was inscribed with: “If you save the life of one person, it is as if you saved the world entire.”
God has grounded our heart upon the sole faculty, in which we diverge from the beast. It is love. Love is the Spirit. Lipke was a human – a genuine Man.
Jānis (Žanis) Lipke
Jānis Lipke, called Žanis (1.02.1900. – 14.05.1987.), was born in Jelgava, died in Riga. Latvian, graduated three classes in the elementary school. Along with the native language, he speaks also Russian and German. His father Jānis worked as a bookkeeper, fell in the World War I. Mother Paulīna was a housewife, passed away in 1920. From 1919 to 1920 Lipke does his military service in the 2nd artillery battalion of the Latvian riflemen’s 7th division. In 1920 Lipke gets married to his bride - seventeen years old virgin Johanna. She becomes mother of their three children and the most devoted companion in rescuing people during the World War II. In 1938 they rented a small house in Riga, Ķīpsala, not far from the Daugava riverbank. Mazā Balasta street 8 will turn into the most significant hiding place for fugitives.
Lipke is a wharf labourer in the harbour of Riga until the year 1940. He is a physically strong, righteous and honest man. In the summer of 1941, right after the war broke out, Nazi forces occupied the major part of the territory of Latvia and the city of Riga. Propaganda machine of the Hitler’s Germany that came up with a slogan, - Perish Judah! - achieved its goal. Latvians also were among those implicated in Holocaust crimes. However there were such individuals in Latvia, who risking their own lives, saved others from certain death. One of them was Jānis (Žanis) Lipke.
In order to avoid direct collaboration with the German authorities and not to become a weapon in their hands, Lipke entered for and graduated the air protection, fire-fighting and self-defence courses organized by them. Now that he could get about freely in the war-time situation, Lipke got a job in the warehouses of German air force „Luftwaffe”, so called „Red Warehouses”, close by the Riga’s ghetto, but in a year and a half – in a river shipping company as a coast boatswain. While working in the warehouses, Lipke succeeded in talking the German administration into directing there young, strong Jewish men from ghetto as auxiliary workers.
His plan was not only to rescue and hide the Jews so that later on they are left on their own. Lipke managed to psychologically prepare the saved people for life in the long-drawn extreme conditions. He knew about the plans to clean out the ghetto. During two nights in 1941 – on the 30th of November and on the 8th of December, 25 thousand Jews were taken out to Rumbula for fusillade.
When the Riga ghetto was liquidated, he organized the rescuing of Jews from „Kaizerwald”, Ganību dambis, Ķīpsala concentration camps and from the factory „Lenta” as well.
Initially Lipke searched Riga for places to accommodate the saved people. When it became too dangerous, he decided to take the fugitives across Daugava to his house in Ķīpsala and to hide them in a specially built underground bunker in a shed. In the period of time from 1942 to 1944, it served as a haven for 8 – 12 people. They were supplied with food, clothing, warmth, light, even radio set and weapons. As soon as the place turned out to be too small to shelter all the saved ones, Lipke organized their transportation 80 km away to the Dobele rural municipality. He rented a house from the head of the municipality Vilis Bīnenfelds and came to terms with two more house owners. They helped to hide the saved Jews in the specially built bunkers and supplied them with food. That was an extremely hazardous operation as it was held out in a war struck area, far from Riga. It is known that with the help of his loyal men, Lipke accommodated and hided 36 people in the Dobele rural municipality. One Jewish woman with her little daughter, one Latvian and a Ukrainian prisoner of war from the Russian army were among them as well.
He involved up to 25 (!) assistants in this dangerous mission of saving human lives. There were labourers, drivers, landlords, teenagers, a head of a rural municipality, chief doctor of the Dobele hospital, people of different nationalities and confessions and the Lipke’s family, indeed – wife Johanna and sons Alfrēds and Zigfrīds. None of them ever betrayed Žanis Lipke. He was able to develop such a unique rescue mechanism that the major part of the saved ones and all of the other saviours survived.
By setting up the Memorial we would like to reveal the personality of a man who is no less important for Latvia than such world known people as the architect Gunar Birkerts, the conductor Mariss Jansons, the ballet-dancer Michail Barishnikov or the film director Sergey Eizenstein. They utter our spirituality and self-awareness; they are the embodiment of our soul and conscience. Žanis and Johanna Lipkes are genuinely among those worth of love, respect and admiration from our people.