On a beautiful late summer afternoon I was taken to visit the site of the Latvian concentration camp at Salaspils. I had never visited such a place before so had no idea what to expect.
During the Second World War there was a Jewish ghetto in Riga and, as in most of the countries in this part of Europe, many Jews were killed in Latvia during that time. Salaspils was originally meant to be a working camp and was not only for Jewish people, but for others as well, sometimes brought from Germany and even Russia. It is suggested that between 14,000 – 20,000 people were housed there at any one time. Estimates of those who died in the camp range from a few thousands to fifty thousand.
Today there is no sign of habitation, but walls which mark where some of the buildings stood. You go into the grounds through a large, stark concrete barrier on which are written the words in Latvian, ‘Behind this gate the earth groans’. Dominating the scene are gigantic sculptures, one of which you can see in the photo. The site is not a tourist attraction at all. It rises, almost anonymously, in the middle of woodland and is surrounded by trees. The only signs of life on the day we were there were some toys which had been left on the site of the children’s quarters, and plastic flowers, and the soft drone of the lawn mower as the gardener drove around the site tending the grass.
As we walked around, what took me by surprise was that there was no sense of evil here, quite the opposite in fact. The simple, well-tended memorial exuded a sense of love, and care and beauty. The background music of the lawn mower seemed to heighten this sense that the place was cared for in a way that honoured those who had died there and was an offering of devotion and respect to them from the Latvian people.
The lawn mower stopped. Since that had been the only activity the place became quiet and still……and then I heard it, filling the whole site was the quiet rhythmic sound of a giant heart beating….beating on, and on, and on and not stopping. It was the sound of the heartbeat of those who died there, but for me it seemed like the heartbeat of God.
‘Somewhere amidst the confusion,
There will be hope, there will be love, there will be God’