Jānis Lipke

Activist Type
Human Rights

Janis Lipke was a Latvian humanitarian who risked his life countless times to save the lives of Jews facing persecution in Latvia.

Working on the docks in the Latvian capital of Riga, Lipke joined the underground leftist movement. Because of his work in the country’s main port, he was able to harbor and transport fleeing social democrats and communists following the coup d’etat of Kārlis Ulmanis in 1934. His willingness and ability to help political prisoners would foreshadow Lipke’s most noteworthy humanitarian effort.

After the Nazi occupation of Riga during World War II Janis Lipke trained and found work in a “Luftwaffe” (Nazi air force) warehouse. Gaining the trust of his superiors, Lipke began to manage the transportation of the Jews from the Riga Ghetto in and out of the factory to work. Through forgery and bribery he was able to extract people from the factory who could then escape via a system of underground tunnels and shelters built by Lipke and his wife, as well as other supporters in Riga. Later in the war Lipke, operating under the cover of darkness, would begin to rescue Jews from the local concentration camp, taking only a few at a time so they could go undetected. 
Because of Janis Lipke’s bravery, he managed to help save roughly one fifth of the Latvian Jewish population that survived the Holocaust. Lipke has been memorialized in Riga for his efforts and his life was the subject of the 2018 film The Mover.

Artwork by
Katie King Rumford

Janis Lipke’s portrait draws inspiration from the symbol for Usins, a Latvian mythological deity. Many believe that adorning the symbol brings strength and protection to travelers, something Lipke certainly did in his efforts to save Jewish lives in Riga.

Latvia

Selman Peace Post Latvia  Flag
Population
1.884 million
Capital
Riga
GDP (PPP)
$25,740
Founded
November 18, 1918
Total Area
64,589 km2
Demonym
Latvian
Government
Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic
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