|UCSJ Action Alert!|
TO: Supporters of Human Rights
FROM: Maureen Greenwood, director of advocacy and research
DATE: August 25, 1997
RE: Distribution of antisemitic textbooks to Latvian schools
The Union of Councils is alarmed over the distribution of a history textbook to Latvian schools that refers to Jews as "Zhids" (an extremely derogatory slur akin to "kikes") and rehabilitates Nazi-collaborators as heroes.
The textbook, titled Latvian Eulenspiegel, was written in Latvian by Janis Karklins, a now-deceased Latvian who immigrated to the U.S. It contains insulting statements about Jews, Russians, Poles and other minority ethnic groups in Latvia. Many of the nation's schools-including the Dubnov Jewish Day School in Riga-received copies of this textbook in May.
The fact that this xenophobic and antisemitic text was recommended and distributed by the Ministry of Education calls into question Latvia's commitment to democratic principles and religious and ethnic pluralism.
Immediate Action Requested
The Union of Councils and its Baltic-American Bureau on Human Rights, request that you write letters to Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis and Education Minister Juris Celmins, requesting that these hate-mongering books be immediately removed from the country's schools and libraries, and that a more adequate screening process for textbooks be developed. A sample letter is attached to this alert. The cost of a letter to Riga is 60 cents. The addresses are:
The Honorable Guntis Ulmanis President of the Republic of Latvia Latvia Pils Laukums 3 LV-1900 Riga, Latvia Fax: 011-371-782-8388
The Honorable Juris Celmins Minister of Education Valnu Iela #2 LV-1098 Riga, Latvia
Background on the textbook, Latvian Eulenspiegel
Latvian Eulenspiegel refers to a regional folk-tale character, a jester or joker. The book contains "terrible insults" about Latvia's minorities, including Jews, Russians and Poles, according to Mikhail Avrutin, director of UCSJ's Baltic-American Bureau on Human Rights. Russians are presented as "primitive, and their speech is full of foul language," according to Grigory Bikson and Jacov Pliner, both teachers at the Dubnov Jewish Day School in Riga.
Throughout the book, Jews are referred to only as "Zhids," a derogatory term. Typical is a passage about a Jew named David Goldbaum, a jeweler who trades in valuables "taken off the deceased…in order to make them look new, he rubs off the old engravings and makes new ones." It also presents the song "Three Zhids," in which the title characters are buried and their corpses cause "such a stink." The author encourages Latvian schoolchildren to sing this song.
In addition to deriding ethnic minority groups, Latvian Eulenspiegel rehabilitates participants in the Jewish genocide as war heroes. Latvian Herbert Cukurs is portrayed simply as a formidable pilot who flew to Gambia and Japan in his homemade plane before he was shot down by "agents of the Israeli Secret Agency." Unmentioned is the fact that Cukurs was a notorious Nazi-collaborator who participated in the extermination of Jewish prisoners-including infants-in the Riga ghetto.
This is the second time in two years that the Latvian government has sparked controversy over the distribution of a schoolbook. In 1995, President Ulmanis presented a book by Nazi collaborator and Latvian nationalist Adolph Shilde to a school. Ulmanis later voiced his regret at having endorsed the book.
The Honorable Guntis Ulmanis President of the Republic of Latvia Latvia Pils Laukums 3 LV-1900 Riga, Latvia
Dear President Ulmanis:
While we applaud Latvia's recent steps in moving towards democracy, we are shocked and concerned by your Ministry of Education's recent distribution of a history textbook, Latvisu Pucesspigelis, to your nation's schools. This book portrays Jews, Russians, and other ethnic minorities in a shameful and hateful way. Throughout the book, Jews are referred to as "Zhids," a very derogatory term, and they are presented as being greedy and dishonest. Furthermore, certain Nazi-collaborators who participated in the extermination of helpless Jewish children are depicted as heroes; their atrocious acts are either ignored or justified.
Latvian children should not be encouraged to read such xenophobic and derogatory books. The "lesson" they learn from this "history" book is that certain people should be treated as less than human. Instead, we urge you to institute comprehensive educational approaches that teach tolerance and respect for all ethnicities and minorities. We encourage you to continue to develop a ciriculum of pluralism and human rights-the principles of democratic societies.
We urge you to direct the Ministry of Education to recall these textbooks from the schools and to instruct teachers to not use them in their classrooms. Furthermore, we urge you to direct the Ministry of Education to develop an evaluation process for all textbooks so that such an incident will not be repeated in the future.
At such a critical juncture in the development of Latvia's democracy, we urge you to respond quickly to this grave incident.
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