Hate Vanquished, Lives Remembered: A Survivor’s Story
Charlotte Arpadi Baum
There are few first-person accounts of the Riga Ghetto. There is ‘good’ reason for this: few survived. The Nazis and their just as brutal Latvian allies saw to that. Most of the Jews were rounded up, taken to the outskirts of the city, forced to the edge of ditches and massacred. The original Ghetto existed for only 35 days. Charlotte Arpadi was not a native of Riga. She had been brought up in Berlin, where her father ran a popular Hungarian restaurant. Pressures were already mounting for Jews in Germany, but after Kristallnacht, in November 1938, the Arpadi family felt increased urgency to leave for safety, so they jumped at the chance for exit visas to Latvia, where they had relatives. They hoped next to be bound for Shanghai where they could find sanctuary. . In early 1941, the family received visas to leave. Happily, it was not China where they were headed, but rather to America, sponsored by her mother’s cousin. The family pleaded with Charlotte to leave with them, but she insisted that she would stay, She had fallen in love with her brother’s boss, a much older man. And remained steadfast. In June 1941 when Germany invaded the USSR, then in control of Latvia, she was caught. Somehow spared the fate of most of the other Jews, she worked in a hospital for a time. When the former Ghetto was re-populated with Jews from Germany and elsewhere, her luck held and she continued to work in a variety of jobs. On occasion the task even brought a short-lived spell of relative comfort which gave her hope. However, in 1943 she was sent to the newly-established concentration camp, Kaiserwald. During the next year, as the Russians closed in, she and her fellow inmates were evacuated to Stutthof, an even more horrifying concentration camp inside Poland. After enduring a tortuous forced march, she was finally liberated by the Russians. After the German surrender, Charlotte realized that she could not remain in the East, under the thumb of the Russians. She made her way to Berlin and then to Paris and was finally able to find and contact her parents who had settled in Mt. Vernon, NY. Even after she arrived in America, her troubles were not quite over. It was discovered that she had at some point contracted a virulent form of tuberculosis. It was years before she was able to resume a normal life.
Charlotte Arpadi Baum died in 2001, but she left us with her powerfully told story of determination and survival.