The Blue-Collar Latvian Schindler

The Fellowship  |  September 4, 2019

Of the many Advocates and Allies of the Jewish people we feature each week, all of the stories are inspiring, but none more so than when the heroes faced the same dangers as those they longed to save. Such was the case with Zanis Lipke, a blue-collar man who has come to be known as the “Latvian Schindler.” The Times of Israel’s Rich Tenorio tells of a new movie that will tell the story of Lipke, who saved more than 60 Jews during the Holocaust, despite facing limited means and the constant threat of execution by the Nazis:

Under the occupying Nazi regime during World War II, Latvia’s Jewish population was decimated through ghettos, massacres and deportations. Worsening the situation, individual Latvians collaborated with the Germans, a murky legacy leaving lingering tensions into the present day.

Yet one Latvian achieved international recognition for heroically saving Jews from the Nazis. By war’s end, Žanis Lipke had rescued some 60 Jews, sheltering them in a bunker beneath his home. Lipke is recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, and his story is told in a new Latvian historical dramatic film, “The Mover…”

It shows the courage of Žanis Lipke and his wife Johanna, who live in the capital, Riga, with their three children — daughter Aina, older son Alfreds and younger son Zigfrids — when the Nazis invade in the summer of 1941 and implement murderous anti-Semitic policies.

Of an estimated 94,000 Jews living in Latvia before WWII, all but several thousand perished in the Holocaust, according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum — including 26,000 in the infamous Rumbula Massacre of 1941. Lipke personally witnessed the Jews being led to their deaths, a scene depicted in the film.

“The main question for me in preparing the script, filming the film, is how is it possible for a person to see something inhuman happen and decide to do something,” Simanis said via Skype, “and at the same time know that [doing something] could end your family, or create a certain threat to the closest people [in your life]…”