RIGA (AFP) – Israeli President Shimon Peres on Tuesday opened a memorial museum in Riga dedicated to Zanis Lipke, a Latvian Holocaust hero credited with saving dozens of Jews from Nazi death camps.
"Lipke symbolises what is best, deepest and truest within people," Peres said at the ribbon cutting ceremony on the banks of the River Daugava.
Nearby the museum stands the house in which Lipke and his wife hid Jews away in a tiny cellar during the German Nazi occupation of Latvia from 1941 to 1944.
A humble dock worker who died in 1987, Lipke is believed to have saved 55 Jews from death in the Riga ghetto and nearby concentration camps. He holds the honorary title of "Righteous Among The Nations" awarded by Israel to gentiles who stood up to Nazi genocide during World War II.
Designed by architect Zaiga Gaile and funded entirely by private donations, the memorial museum is a small wooden building reminiscent of a sea-faring ark, featuring specially-commissioned works of art and music.
Its wooden clapboards are painted black on the outside framing a soaring glass facade and natural-hued wood panels inside.
Speaking after Peres at the rain-soaked opening ceremony, Latvian President Andris Berzins said: "Today we are building something reminiscent of Noah's Ark, which is a testimony to the fact that even in the darkest moments of history, people can be found who are able to act with humanity and compassion."
Jews accounted for around five percent of Latvia's pre-war population of 1.95 million.
Some 70,000 of the once 85,000-strong Jewish community are estimated to have been slaughtered by the Nazis.
Today, the Jewish minority accounts for just 0.3 percent of Latvia's population of two million, or a total of 6,400 people, according to 2011 census data.