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The Jewish Community of Valmiera

Valmiera

German: Wolmar

A city in the Vidzeme Region, Latvia

Valmiera is the largest city in the Vidzeme Region, and is located 62 miles (100km) northeast of Riga, and 31 miles (50km) south of the Estonian border.

Valmiera was founded during the 13th century by Valmar, King of Denmark, and was named for him. It was annexed by Russia in 1795. Between 1920-1940 Latvia was an independent state, and between 1940-1991 it was part of the USSR. Since 1991 Valmiera has been part of an independent Latvia.

The Jewish community was originally organized by cantonists, who established a synagogue and mikveh (ritual bath). A shochet (kosher butcher) also served as rabbi and teacher.

In 1897 the Jewish community of 166 made up 3% of the total population.

A Yiddish elementary school opened in 1922 and functioned for several years. A Hebrew-language kindergarten and first grade opened in 1928, but closed down shortly thereafter.

Most of the city’s Jews worked in the leather and forestry trades. Tradesmen included hat makers and tailors. A mutual credit fund was established in 1923, which was used not only by Valmiera’s Jews but also by Jews from neighboring communities.

In 1933 the community numbered 93, out of a total population of 8,482.

THE HOLOCAUST

In August 1939, following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed by Germany and the USSR, the Red Army occupied Latvia. A Soviet government was subsequently established in the summer of 1940. After Germany invaded Russia on June 22, 1941, the retreating Soviet Army passed through Valmiera on its way to Estonia. Many Jews left with the army; several even fought within the Red Army.

Valmiera was occupied by the Germans on July 4,1941. That first week the Latvians began detaining, interrogating, and murdering Jews. By the middle of October 209 Jews from Valmiera and the surrounding area were shot in the local forests.

Valmiera was liberated by the Red Army on October 23,1944. A mass grave was subsequently discovered in the yard of the jail; among the victims were a number of Jews.
Place Type:
City
ID Number:
156334
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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Rujiena

A town in the district of Valmiera, region of Vidzeme (formerly Lipland), Latvia.

Rujiena was founded in 1872. After being connected to the railway net various industrial enterprises developed there. During the years 1920-1940 Rujiena was part of independent Latvia and was granted the status of a town.

Jews came to Rujiena at the end of the 19th century.

On the eve of the First World War the town's population numbered nearly 4,000 persons. During the war many left the town, including Jews. Not all returned after the war and in 1920 there lived in Rujiena 75 Jews out of a total population of 3,475. Some Jews donated money to the Keren Kayemeth Leisrael.

Most of the town's Jews made a living from commerce while a few were tradesmen. There was also a dentist.

In 1935 there were 63 Jews living in Rujiena, amounting to 2% of the town's population.

The Holocaust Period

Following the Ribbentrop-Molotov accord signed in August 1939 between the Germans and the Soviets, Latvia was annexed by the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940.

In July 1941, a short time after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941), the German army conquered Rujiena. All the Jews who had not succeeded in fleeing to the interior of the Soviet Union, were murdered in the summer of the same year by the Germans and their Latvian collaborators.

Limbazi

A town in the Valmiera district of the Vidzeme region, Latvia.

Limbazi was founded in the 13th century.

Jews began to settle in Limbazi in the 1860s and in 1881 the community numbered 254, which was 14% of the town`s population. Later, there was a gradual decrease in the number.
During the World War I several members of the community left the town, but not all of them returned after the war.
In 1920 there were 95 Jewish residents. They established a minyan and mikveh (ritual bath). The "Joint" (a relief agency of American Jewry) founded a "gemilluth hesed" (welfare) fund for them. The children attended the general school.

A number of the community became assimilated and lived among non-Jews, and even joined the Latvian nationalist organization, "Aizsargi". Others formed an attachment to Zionism, and in 1933 thirty- five Jews participated in the elections for the 18th Zionist congress.

In 1935 there were 100 Jewish inhabitants in a population of 2,870.

The Holocaust period

Following the Ribbentrop-Molotov accord, signed by Germany and the USSR in August 1939, Latvia was annexed by the USSR in the summer of 1940. Young Jews joined the new regime.
On the outbreak of war between Germany and the USSR  on June 22, 1941, the soviets formed the "workers guard" for civil defense; Jews were also conscripted for service. At the beginning of July the Germans occupied the town. Immediately, Latvian nationalists began persecuting and murdering Jews. A Lutheran priest, who in the past, against payment of bribes, arranged work places on farms for several Jewish families, was among those who killed Jews on September 12,1941. It is not clear whether all the members of the community were murdered on this day, or whether they had been exterminated previously.
Among the Jews there were a number who attempted to oppose the murders. A young Jew fired on Latvian police, but before they could capture him, he shot himself.

When Limbazi was liberated by the Soviet Army in 1944, no Jews were found in the place.