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The Jewish Community of Jekabpils

Jekabpils

Jēkabpils 

The district town in the Zemgale region (formerly Kurland) on the banks on the Dvina river, central Latvia.

Jakobstadt was founded in the 16th century by Jakob, Duke of Kurland, for a group of people banished from Russia. In 1670 the settlement was granted town status and was named after its founder. In 1795 Kurland was annexed by Russia. From 1920-40 the town was part of independent Latvia, and its German name was changed to the Latvian Jekabpils. In 1962 the town was united with Jaunjelgava, a neighboring town.

During the time of the duchy there were only a few protected Jews in the town, protected against provision of services or payment. The community was organized at the beginning of the 19th century. The majority of Jews came from Lithuania, while some of them were from the surrounding villages.

The community register was kept from 1810, and soon after this time a rabbi officiated here. In the 19th century the majority of the community were orthodox, and later the three houses of prayers, a beth midrash, the Poalei Tsedek, Gemilluth Hesed and Bikkur Holim (sick visiting).

In 1830 a yeshivah was opened.

In 1835 there were 2,569 Jews in the town. 60 of them emigrated in 1840 to agricultural areas in southern Russia.

From the beginning conservative educational institutions were active, such as hadarim and a Talmud torah. In 1850 an elementary school was opened for Jewish boys and it functioned until World War I.

In 1881 the community, which numbered 2,254, comprised 41% of the total population. Many of them resided in the place illegally. In 1893, those who were not in possession of valid documents, were sentenced to banishment. At the same time the emigration of Jews from the town to the USA began. The community decreased in size, and in 1897 numbered 2,087 (36% of the population).

In 1901 a library with a reading room was opened.

In 1915, during the course of World War I, the authorities exiled the Jews of Kurland to the interior of Russia. The Jakobstadt community was able to prevent this banishment order, but three leading members were made to sign as guarantors for the loyalty of the community. During the war many Jews left the place of their own accord. Jewish public buildings were destroyed in the fighting as well as 166 private homes. After the war only a part of the exiles returned and in 1920 there were 676 people in the community.

A community council was elected and a beginning was made in the rehabilitation of the refugees. Gemilluth Hesed and Bikkur Holim renewed their activities and a women`s society was established. With the help of the Joint (a relief agency of American Jewry) a credit fund was founded in the town. In independent Latvia, there was a Jewish school in the town in which Yiddish was the medium of instruction. Hebrew was also taught.

In 1934, parallel to the community council, the Association of the Jews of Jekabpils was organized, which represented the community vis-a-vis the authorities. The first Jews in the place barely earned a living as peddlers or from different trades. In the second half of the 19th century when Jews were allowed to acquire real estate the situation improved. The majority were businessmen, mainly in the lumber, grains and flax trades. Among the tradesmen there were tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths, blacksmiths and carters. Two factories producing matches before World War I were Jewish owned. Among those in the free professions, there were five doctors.

After the war the Jews played a greater role in the economy than their comparative numbers suggested. In 1935 they comprised 14% of the total population, but 60% of the business houses were in Jewish hands. The authorities permitted the Jews to open their shops on Sunday afternoons.

The Jewish socialist party, the Bund, became active in the town from 1905. In 1912, one of the heads of the community, Dr. Yehezkel Gurevitz, was elected as a representative of Kurland in the fourth Duma (advisory and lawmaking bodies in Russia).

In 1922 rumors about ritual murders by the Jews of the town were spread about. The pogrom atmosphere was calmed following the intervention of the police.

In the independent Latvia the Bar Kochva scout movement was active in the town. Later, branches of various Zionist youth movements were opened - Hashomer Ha`Tsair Netzach, Betar, Gordonia and Herzliyah. During the thirties there was a strengthening of Zionism, and in the elections to the 18th Zionist Congress in 1933, 324 members of the community voted. The Zionist Socialist Party gained the majority of the votes. The orthodox community was centered around Rabbi Yehudah Leib Shaul Ginsburg from 1908 to 1941. Branches of Agudath Yisrael and Young Agudath Yisrael were opened.

The anti-Zionist Yiddishists were active in the workers club (Arbeiterheim). A part of the public and cultural activities in the town was under the management of two sports associations, Hakoah and Maccabi. Under the auspices of Maccabi, there was a drama circle.

In 1935 the community numbered 793 out of a total population of 5,826.


The Holocaust Period

Following the Ribbentrop-Molotov accord, signed in August 1939, between Germany and the USSR the Red Army entered Latvia and in the summer of 1940 installed a Soviet government. Privately owned businesses were nationalized, and Jewish public institutions were wound up. A number of the Jews joined the new regime.

Five days after the outbreak of war between Germany and the USSR (June 22,1941) the Soviets began to evacuate the area. Of the Jews who attempted to flee with the departing army, only a few succeeded in reaching the interior of Russia. There the Jewish men were conscripted into the Red Army. The majority of the community remained in the town.

On June 29 the Germans occupied the town. Within a very short period the Jews were assembled in the synagogues. Those fit for work were sent to perform forced labor.

On one of the days in September 1941 the Jews were sent to the town, Kokas, where they were murdered. Those who had difficulties marching were shot on the way.


In the summer of 1944 the Red Army liberated the town. Members of the community who survived brought the remains of the people who had been murdered for Jewish burial, and in the fifties erected a monument in their memory. On it there was the Magen David and inscriptions in Russian and Yiddish. After a few years the authorities removed from the monument all traces of Jewish identification.

In 1970 there were about 30 Jews in Jekabpils.

Place Type:
Town
ID Number:
183960
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Nearby places:

Related items:
GROUP OF JEWISH SOLDIERS
IN THE LATVIAN ARMY, 1924.
(BETH HATEFUTSOTH PHOTO ARCHIVE,
COURTESY OF LUBA BERMAN, ISRAEL)

The Old Synagogue, Jekabpils, Latvia 1918-1940.
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Rabbi Menachem Barkahan, Latvia

Stone building from 1881, reconstructed between 1826-1931.

Nereta

A settlement in the Jekabpils district of the Zemgale region, Latvia.

Between 1920-1940 Latvia was independent, and between 1940-1991 part of the USSR.

In 1925 there were 62 Jews living in the farming area of Nereta; this number had increased to 70 by the year 1930. The elections to the 18th Zionist congress in 1933 drew 23 voters, all of whom supported the Mizrahi list.

In 1935 there were 54 Jews in Nereta out of a total population of 612.

The Holocaust Period

Following the Ribbentrop-Molotov accord, signed by Germany and the USSR in August 1939, Latvia was annexed in the summer of 1940 by the USSR.

At the end of July 1941, a month after the invasion of Russia by the German army, the Jews of Nereta were killed by the Germans and their bodies were concealed under the floor in a building.

The place was liberated by the Red Army at the beginning of August 1944. Jewish survivors, who returned after the war buried the bones of the Jews of Nereta in a communal grave in Jekabpils.

Viesite

 

Latvian: Viesīte

Yiddish: Ekngraf

German: Wessen, Eckengraf


A town in the Jekabpils district, Zemgale region (formerly Kurland), southern Latvia. One of the Baltic states, Latvia lies north of Lithuania and south of Estonia.

At the end of the 18th century Latvia was part of the Russian Empire. The last decades of the 19th century saw heightened nation building in the area of Latvia. In 1922 a republic was proclaimed and the country prospered economically. Latvia had a considerable Jewish population of over 90,000 in the decade prior to the World War II. However, only several thousand Jews remained by the end of the war.

Latvian is the official language with close to a third of the population which speaks Russian. Yiddish is a minority language.

 

21st Century

A Jewish Latvian citizen, born in Viesite in the early 1920s, describes how he survived the Second World War while enduring great suffering. Prior to that, life between the two world wars is described as being influenced by Jewish religion and traditions.

Living as a child in Viesite in the 1930 and 40s, a Jewish woman describes the nice atmosphere in the public school, however also the adversity her family faced during the Holocaust. After the war with much effort she tries to emigrate to the USA and with the support of Eleanor Roosevelt is given a visa. She settles down in the USA in the mid 1960s.

The old Jewish cemetery of Jekabpils is where Jews killed in World War II were reinterred in 1958. A massgrave was laid on a small hill in the vicinity and in the new Jewish cemetery of Jekabpils a monument was consecrated in 1988.

 

History

The settlement was founded in 1890 and was named for its founder, the German Baron Eckengraf. During 1925-26 it received the status of a town and was given its present Latvian name.

A man by the name of Wasserman was the first Jew to settle there, after being invited to do so by the baron. During the course of time additional Jews came to Viesite, and on the eve of the outbreak of World War I they were the majority of the town`s 462 inhabitants. They built a synagogue and opened a cemetery.

In 1915, during World War I, the Jews were expelled, together with the other Jews of Kurland, by the authorities to the interior of Russia. Not all of them returned after the war.

In 1925 there were only 152 Jews in a population of 1,124.

During this period a Jewish kindergarten was opened as well as a Jewish school. The latter was forced to close shortly afterwards because of the small number of pupils. The community opened a library and club, named for Bialik.

Among them were many landlords. In 1935 the number of businesses owned by Jews was out of proportion to their number. The community established a credit society.

In 1926 there were anti-semitic outbreaks after two Jewish smugglers were apprehended. In the same year the cemetery was desecrated.

In 1930 there were three Jewish members of the town council. A number of Jews were active on behalf of Keren Kayemeth L`Israel. In the elections to the Zionist Congress in 1929, 11 voted for the Zionist Socialists.

In 1935 the community numbered 193 out of a total population of 1,340.


The Holocaust Period

Following the Ribbentrop-Molotov accord signed in August 1939 by Germany and the USSR, the Red Army entered Latvia and set up a Soviet government in the summer of 1940. About a week after Germany attacked the USSR (June 22, 1941), German forces captured the town.

On July 1, the Jews were driven out of the town to a camp by the name of Ludani. Shortly thereafter, 5 Jews were taken out to be murdered. On July 19 the rest were taken to a nearby forest, where they were shot.

Subsequent to these murders, the municipal council was called into special session to discuss the division of the property of the Jews.

 

Postwar

After the war Jewish survivors identified the site of the murder and brought the bodies for Jewish burial to the cemetery in the nearby town Jekabpils.

Jaunjelgava

A town in the Jekabpils district, Zemgale region (formerly Kurland), central Latvia.

In the 16th century Friedrich, the Duke of Kurland, founded a settlement and named it Neustatchen. In 1642 it was granted city status. In 1646 the name was changed to Friedrichstadt and in 1795 it was annexed, together with Kurland, by Russia. In the 1920s there was another name change, to Jaunjelgava.

The first Jews came to the place from the surrounding villages, and others came later from White Russia and Lithuania. At the beginning of the 19th century a community was organized and a cemetery was opened, and in 1803 the hevra kadisha (burial society) was established. There was a shochet (ritual slaughterer) and a rabbinical establishment. A new Jewish cemetery was consecrated in 1848. In the course of time the community built a central synagogue, two batei midrash (seminary) at one of which a yeshivah was opened, and houses of prayers for the hassidim and mitnagdim. The number of Jews increased from year to year, and by 1881 there were 4,128 people (70% of the population) there. From that year the community began to grow smaller.

A state school for Jewish pupils was opened at the initiative of the community in the middle of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century there was a Talmud torah of the masorti movement (conservatives). Many children studied at German language elementary schools. Studies of Jewish subjects took place in the afternoons. The Talmud torah association opened a heder metukan (modern religious school) in 1906 at which secular subjects were also studied.

In 1915, during World War I, three leading members of the community were arrested by the authorities and held as hostages to ensure the loyalty of the Jews. Finally, the community was exiled, together with the other Jews of Kurland, to the interior of Russia.

After the war only a few people returned so that the Jews were now a minority in the town. During this period the rabbi of the community was Aaron Bezalel Paul. He was also the head of the community council which was elected in 1920. The rehabilitation of the refugees was made possible through the financial support of the Joint, a relief agency of American Jewry. A welfare and benevolent fund was established, in addition to charitable institutions such as bikkur cholim (sick visiting) and linat zedek (hostel). The German language elementary school, which opened in the town after World War I, at this time changed the medium of teaching, first to Russian and later to Yiddish. In 1927 this school opened a course of Hebrew studies. A few pupils attended the vocational high school in the town.

At first most of the Jews made a meager living from small time business, trades and as carters. As a result of the conflagrations which broke out in the town in the sixties and seventies of the 19th century, many families were left without any possessions. With the laying of the Riga-Dvinsk railway line in this period, the economy of the town, which was based on navigation on the Dvina river for its trade, was seriously affected. The Jews began to leave Jaunjelgava.

At the beginning of the 20th century there was an improvement in the economic situation of the Jews and the number of big merchants mainly in the timber trade grew. Jews owned knitting mills, factories manufacturing soap, needles and chocolate, and leather tanneries. Among its members were dentists. A loan fund was opened to assist artisans and tradesmen, while a bank supervised by the authorities served the needs of Jewish businessmen.

The Jewish socialist party, the Bund, became active in the town at the beginning of the 20th century. Although the majority of the Jews were Zionists, the Zionist parties were not organized in the town. Tse`irei Zion" (young Zion) was active in the town in 1905. In 1925 the Jewish scout movement Bar Kochva was established, which was not politically affiliated after a break-up of the organization, Hashomer Ha`tsair-Netzach opened a branch. About a dozen of its members went on Aliyah to Eretz Israel. In 1927 the Maccabi sports organization began operations.

Relations between the inhabitants of the town and the Jews were generally normal. During the time that Latvia was independent, Rabbi Paul was deputy mayor of the town. With the establishment of the dictatorship in Latvia in 1934, anti-semitism began to manifest itself. In 1935 there were 561 Jews, among a population of 2,153, in the town. The community, including Nairi and the surroundings, numbered 1,286.

The Holocaust Period

Following the Ribbentrop-Molotov accord, signed by Germany and the USSR in August 1939, the Red Army set up bases in Latvia and installed a Soviet regime in the summer of 1940. Businesses and stores were nationalized and Jewish institutions were disbanded. In June 1941 wealthy Jews and their families were banished to Siberia.
As a result of the German attack on the USSR on June 22, 1941, the Soviets began to evacuate their citizens on June 27. Jews fled, of their own accord, to the interior of Russia where some of them were conscripted into the Red Army. Many were killed in action. In the absence of a government in the first days of the war, gangs of Latvian fascists began to be active in the town. The Jews were concentrated in the synagogue and then taken to a place about 3-4 km outside the town, where they were shot to death and buried in a mass grave. The majority of the inhabitants of the town had a hand in looting the property of the Jews. According to one version there were already no Jews in the town at this time when the Germans occupied the town at the beginning of July. According to another version, the Germans assembled those Jews who were in the town after the occupation, in the mitnagdim synagogue. At the beginning of August a group of young men was taken to the Serene forest, a distance of about 8 km from the town and there ordered to dig pits. On the completion of the work they were all shot. The remaining Jews of the town were murdered there a short while later.

After the war the survivors brought the remains of those who had been murdered, for burial in the Jewish cemetery. A monument was set up in their memory.

Latvia

Latvijas Republika - Republic of Latvia

A country in the Baltic region of northern Europe, member of the European Union (EU). Until 1991 part of the Soviet Union.

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 4,700 out of 2,000,000 (0.2%). Main Jewish organization: 

Council of Jewish Communities of Latvia
Phone: 371 672 85 601
Email: jewishlv@gmail.com
          secretary@lvjewish.lv

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The Jewish Community of Jekabpils

Jekabpils

Jēkabpils 

The district town in the Zemgale region (formerly Kurland) on the banks on the Dvina river, central Latvia.

Jakobstadt was founded in the 16th century by Jakob, Duke of Kurland, for a group of people banished from Russia. In 1670 the settlement was granted town status and was named after its founder. In 1795 Kurland was annexed by Russia. From 1920-40 the town was part of independent Latvia, and its German name was changed to the Latvian Jekabpils. In 1962 the town was united with Jaunjelgava, a neighboring town.

During the time of the duchy there were only a few protected Jews in the town, protected against provision of services or payment. The community was organized at the beginning of the 19th century. The majority of Jews came from Lithuania, while some of them were from the surrounding villages.

The community register was kept from 1810, and soon after this time a rabbi officiated here. In the 19th century the majority of the community were orthodox, and later the three houses of prayers, a beth midrash, the Poalei Tsedek, Gemilluth Hesed and Bikkur Holim (sick visiting).

In 1830 a yeshivah was opened.

In 1835 there were 2,569 Jews in the town. 60 of them emigrated in 1840 to agricultural areas in southern Russia.

From the beginning conservative educational institutions were active, such as hadarim and a Talmud torah. In 1850 an elementary school was opened for Jewish boys and it functioned until World War I.

In 1881 the community, which numbered 2,254, comprised 41% of the total population. Many of them resided in the place illegally. In 1893, those who were not in possession of valid documents, were sentenced to banishment. At the same time the emigration of Jews from the town to the USA began. The community decreased in size, and in 1897 numbered 2,087 (36% of the population).

In 1901 a library with a reading room was opened.

In 1915, during the course of World War I, the authorities exiled the Jews of Kurland to the interior of Russia. The Jakobstadt community was able to prevent this banishment order, but three leading members were made to sign as guarantors for the loyalty of the community. During the war many Jews left the place of their own accord. Jewish public buildings were destroyed in the fighting as well as 166 private homes. After the war only a part of the exiles returned and in 1920 there were 676 people in the community.

A community council was elected and a beginning was made in the rehabilitation of the refugees. Gemilluth Hesed and Bikkur Holim renewed their activities and a women`s society was established. With the help of the Joint (a relief agency of American Jewry) a credit fund was founded in the town. In independent Latvia, there was a Jewish school in the town in which Yiddish was the medium of instruction. Hebrew was also taught.

In 1934, parallel to the community council, the Association of the Jews of Jekabpils was organized, which represented the community vis-a-vis the authorities. The first Jews in the place barely earned a living as peddlers or from different trades. In the second half of the 19th century when Jews were allowed to acquire real estate the situation improved. The majority were businessmen, mainly in the lumber, grains and flax trades. Among the tradesmen there were tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths, blacksmiths and carters. Two factories producing matches before World War I were Jewish owned. Among those in the free professions, there were five doctors.

After the war the Jews played a greater role in the economy than their comparative numbers suggested. In 1935 they comprised 14% of the total population, but 60% of the business houses were in Jewish hands. The authorities permitted the Jews to open their shops on Sunday afternoons.

The Jewish socialist party, the Bund, became active in the town from 1905. In 1912, one of the heads of the community, Dr. Yehezkel Gurevitz, was elected as a representative of Kurland in the fourth Duma (advisory and lawmaking bodies in Russia).

In 1922 rumors about ritual murders by the Jews of the town were spread about. The pogrom atmosphere was calmed following the intervention of the police.

In the independent Latvia the Bar Kochva scout movement was active in the town. Later, branches of various Zionist youth movements were opened - Hashomer Ha`Tsair Netzach, Betar, Gordonia and Herzliyah. During the thirties there was a strengthening of Zionism, and in the elections to the 18th Zionist Congress in 1933, 324 members of the community voted. The Zionist Socialist Party gained the majority of the votes. The orthodox community was centered around Rabbi Yehudah Leib Shaul Ginsburg from 1908 to 1941. Branches of Agudath Yisrael and Young Agudath Yisrael were opened.

The anti-Zionist Yiddishists were active in the workers club (Arbeiterheim). A part of the public and cultural activities in the town was under the management of two sports associations, Hakoah and Maccabi. Under the auspices of Maccabi, there was a drama circle.

In 1935 the community numbered 793 out of a total population of 5,826.


The Holocaust Period

Following the Ribbentrop-Molotov accord, signed in August 1939, between Germany and the USSR the Red Army entered Latvia and in the summer of 1940 installed a Soviet government. Privately owned businesses were nationalized, and Jewish public institutions were wound up. A number of the Jews joined the new regime.

Five days after the outbreak of war between Germany and the USSR (June 22,1941) the Soviets began to evacuate the area. Of the Jews who attempted to flee with the departing army, only a few succeeded in reaching the interior of Russia. There the Jewish men were conscripted into the Red Army. The majority of the community remained in the town.

On June 29 the Germans occupied the town. Within a very short period the Jews were assembled in the synagogues. Those fit for work were sent to perform forced labor.

On one of the days in September 1941 the Jews were sent to the town, Kokas, where they were murdered. Those who had difficulties marching were shot on the way.


In the summer of 1944 the Red Army liberated the town. Members of the community who survived brought the remains of the people who had been murdered for Jewish burial, and in the fifties erected a monument in their memory. On it there was the Magen David and inscriptions in Russian and Yiddish. After a few years the authorities removed from the monument all traces of Jewish identification.

In 1970 there were about 30 Jews in Jekabpils.

Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People

Latvia
Jaunjelgava
Viesite
Nereta

Latvia

Latvijas Republika - Republic of Latvia

A country in the Baltic region of northern Europe, member of the European Union (EU). Until 1991 part of the Soviet Union.

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 4,700 out of 2,000,000 (0.2%). Main Jewish organization: 

Council of Jewish Communities of Latvia
Phone: 371 672 85 601
Email: jewishlv@gmail.com
          secretary@lvjewish.lv

Jaunjelgava

A town in the Jekabpils district, Zemgale region (formerly Kurland), central Latvia.

In the 16th century Friedrich, the Duke of Kurland, founded a settlement and named it Neustatchen. In 1642 it was granted city status. In 1646 the name was changed to Friedrichstadt and in 1795 it was annexed, together with Kurland, by Russia. In the 1920s there was another name change, to Jaunjelgava.

The first Jews came to the place from the surrounding villages, and others came later from White Russia and Lithuania. At the beginning of the 19th century a community was organized and a cemetery was opened, and in 1803 the hevra kadisha (burial society) was established. There was a shochet (ritual slaughterer) and a rabbinical establishment. A new Jewish cemetery was consecrated in 1848. In the course of time the community built a central synagogue, two batei midrash (seminary) at one of which a yeshivah was opened, and houses of prayers for the hassidim and mitnagdim. The number of Jews increased from year to year, and by 1881 there were 4,128 people (70% of the population) there. From that year the community began to grow smaller.

A state school for Jewish pupils was opened at the initiative of the community in the middle of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century there was a Talmud torah of the masorti movement (conservatives). Many children studied at German language elementary schools. Studies of Jewish subjects took place in the afternoons. The Talmud torah association opened a heder metukan (modern religious school) in 1906 at which secular subjects were also studied.

In 1915, during World War I, three leading members of the community were arrested by the authorities and held as hostages to ensure the loyalty of the Jews. Finally, the community was exiled, together with the other Jews of Kurland, to the interior of Russia.

After the war only a few people returned so that the Jews were now a minority in the town. During this period the rabbi of the community was Aaron Bezalel Paul. He was also the head of the community council which was elected in 1920. The rehabilitation of the refugees was made possible through the financial support of the Joint, a relief agency of American Jewry. A welfare and benevolent fund was established, in addition to charitable institutions such as bikkur cholim (sick visiting) and linat zedek (hostel). The German language elementary school, which opened in the town after World War I, at this time changed the medium of teaching, first to Russian and later to Yiddish. In 1927 this school opened a course of Hebrew studies. A few pupils attended the vocational high school in the town.

At first most of the Jews made a meager living from small time business, trades and as carters. As a result of the conflagrations which broke out in the town in the sixties and seventies of the 19th century, many families were left without any possessions. With the laying of the Riga-Dvinsk railway line in this period, the economy of the town, which was based on navigation on the Dvina river for its trade, was seriously affected. The Jews began to leave Jaunjelgava.

At the beginning of the 20th century there was an improvement in the economic situation of the Jews and the number of big merchants mainly in the timber trade grew. Jews owned knitting mills, factories manufacturing soap, needles and chocolate, and leather tanneries. Among its members were dentists. A loan fund was opened to assist artisans and tradesmen, while a bank supervised by the authorities served the needs of Jewish businessmen.

The Jewish socialist party, the Bund, became active in the town at the beginning of the 20th century. Although the majority of the Jews were Zionists, the Zionist parties were not organized in the town. Tse`irei Zion" (young Zion) was active in the town in 1905. In 1925 the Jewish scout movement Bar Kochva was established, which was not politically affiliated after a break-up of the organization, Hashomer Ha`tsair-Netzach opened a branch. About a dozen of its members went on Aliyah to Eretz Israel. In 1927 the Maccabi sports organization began operations.

Relations between the inhabitants of the town and the Jews were generally normal. During the time that Latvia was independent, Rabbi Paul was deputy mayor of the town. With the establishment of the dictatorship in Latvia in 1934, anti-semitism began to manifest itself. In 1935 there were 561 Jews, among a population of 2,153, in the town. The community, including Nairi and the surroundings, numbered 1,286.

The Holocaust Period

Following the Ribbentrop-Molotov accord, signed by Germany and the USSR in August 1939, the Red Army set up bases in Latvia and installed a Soviet regime in the summer of 1940. Businesses and stores were nationalized and Jewish institutions were disbanded. In June 1941 wealthy Jews and their families were banished to Siberia.
As a result of the German attack on the USSR on June 22, 1941, the Soviets began to evacuate their citizens on June 27. Jews fled, of their own accord, to the interior of Russia where some of them were conscripted into the Red Army. Many were killed in action. In the absence of a government in the first days of the war, gangs of Latvian fascists began to be active in the town. The Jews were concentrated in the synagogue and then taken to a place about 3-4 km outside the town, where they were shot to death and buried in a mass grave. The majority of the inhabitants of the town had a hand in looting the property of the Jews. According to one version there were already no Jews in the town at this time when the Germans occupied the town at the beginning of July. According to another version, the Germans assembled those Jews who were in the town after the occupation, in the mitnagdim synagogue. At the beginning of August a group of young men was taken to the Serene forest, a distance of about 8 km from the town and there ordered to dig pits. On the completion of the work they were all shot. The remaining Jews of the town were murdered there a short while later.

After the war the survivors brought the remains of those who had been murdered, for burial in the Jewish cemetery. A monument was set up in their memory.

Viesite

 

Latvian: Viesīte

Yiddish: Ekngraf

German: Wessen, Eckengraf


A town in the Jekabpils district, Zemgale region (formerly Kurland), southern Latvia. One of the Baltic states, Latvia lies north of Lithuania and south of Estonia.

At the end of the 18th century Latvia was part of the Russian Empire. The last decades of the 19th century saw heightened nation building in the area of Latvia. In 1922 a republic was proclaimed and the country prospered economically. Latvia had a considerable Jewish population of over 90,000 in the decade prior to the World War II. However, only several thousand Jews remained by the end of the war.

Latvian is the official language with close to a third of the population which speaks Russian. Yiddish is a minority language.

 

21st Century

A Jewish Latvian citizen, born in Viesite in the early 1920s, describes how he survived the Second World War while enduring great suffering. Prior to that, life between the two world wars is described as being influenced by Jewish religion and traditions.

Living as a child in Viesite in the 1930 and 40s, a Jewish woman describes the nice atmosphere in the public school, however also the adversity her family faced during the Holocaust. After the war with much effort she tries to emigrate to the USA and with the support of Eleanor Roosevelt is given a visa. She settles down in the USA in the mid 1960s.

The old Jewish cemetery of Jekabpils is where Jews killed in World War II were reinterred in 1958. A massgrave was laid on a small hill in the vicinity and in the new Jewish cemetery of Jekabpils a monument was consecrated in 1988.

 

History

The settlement was founded in 1890 and was named for its founder, the German Baron Eckengraf. During 1925-26 it received the status of a town and was given its present Latvian name.

A man by the name of Wasserman was the first Jew to settle there, after being invited to do so by the baron. During the course of time additional Jews came to Viesite, and on the eve of the outbreak of World War I they were the majority of the town`s 462 inhabitants. They built a synagogue and opened a cemetery.

In 1915, during World War I, the Jews were expelled, together with the other Jews of Kurland, by the authorities to the interior of Russia. Not all of them returned after the war.

In 1925 there were only 152 Jews in a population of 1,124.

During this period a Jewish kindergarten was opened as well as a Jewish school. The latter was forced to close shortly afterwards because of the small number of pupils. The community opened a library and club, named for Bialik.

Among them were many landlords. In 1935 the number of businesses owned by Jews was out of proportion to their number. The community established a credit society.

In 1926 there were anti-semitic outbreaks after two Jewish smugglers were apprehended. In the same year the cemetery was desecrated.

In 1930 there were three Jewish members of the town council. A number of Jews were active on behalf of Keren Kayemeth L`Israel. In the elections to the Zionist Congress in 1929, 11 voted for the Zionist Socialists.

In 1935 the community numbered 193 out of a total population of 1,340.


The Holocaust Period

Following the Ribbentrop-Molotov accord signed in August 1939 by Germany and the USSR, the Red Army entered Latvia and set up a Soviet government in the summer of 1940. About a week after Germany attacked the USSR (June 22, 1941), German forces captured the town.

On July 1, the Jews were driven out of the town to a camp by the name of Ludani. Shortly thereafter, 5 Jews were taken out to be murdered. On July 19 the rest were taken to a nearby forest, where they were shot.

Subsequent to these murders, the municipal council was called into special session to discuss the division of the property of the Jews.

 

Postwar

After the war Jewish survivors identified the site of the murder and brought the bodies for Jewish burial to the cemetery in the nearby town Jekabpils.

Nereta

A settlement in the Jekabpils district of the Zemgale region, Latvia.

Between 1920-1940 Latvia was independent, and between 1940-1991 part of the USSR.

In 1925 there were 62 Jews living in the farming area of Nereta; this number had increased to 70 by the year 1930. The elections to the 18th Zionist congress in 1933 drew 23 voters, all of whom supported the Mizrahi list.

In 1935 there were 54 Jews in Nereta out of a total population of 612.

The Holocaust Period

Following the Ribbentrop-Molotov accord, signed by Germany and the USSR in August 1939, Latvia was annexed in the summer of 1940 by the USSR.

At the end of July 1941, a month after the invasion of Russia by the German army, the Jews of Nereta were killed by the Germans and their bodies were concealed under the floor in a building.

The place was liberated by the Red Army at the beginning of August 1944. Jewish survivors, who returned after the war buried the bones of the Jews of Nereta in a communal grave in Jekabpils.

The Old Synagogue, Jekabpils, Latvia 1918-1940
Jewish soldiers in the Latvian Army, 1924

The Old Synagogue, Jekabpils, Latvia 1918-1940.
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Rabbi Menachem Barkahan, Latvia

Stone building from 1881, reconstructed between 1826-1931.

GROUP OF JEWISH SOLDIERS
IN THE LATVIAN ARMY, 1924.
(BETH HATEFUTSOTH PHOTO ARCHIVE,
COURTESY OF LUBA BERMAN, ISRAEL)