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The Jewish Community of Kuldiga

Kuldiga

In German: Goldingen

A district town in the Kurzeme region (formerly Kurland), western Latvia.

Goldingen had its beginnings as an encampment which was set up in 1242 by the Livonian order (an order of German Christian knights). In the 14th century it was already a German fortified town, with municipal institutions. In 1561 the government passed into the control of the Duchy of Kurland, under the suzerainty of the Kingdom of Poland. The town developed as a maritime commercial center with shipbuilding yards. In 1795 the whole area was annexed by Russia.

Jewish settlement in the town was permitted after Kurland was taken over by Russia. From 1799, when the Jews of the region were granted civic rights, the community grew quickly. In 1801 the Hevra Kadisha (burial society) was founded. A short while thereafter a synagogue was built as well as a Talmud torah school, mishnah circle, prayer group, and the following assembly), "Alufei Kahal" (community heads) and "Kupat Kahal" (community fund). The first rabbi assumed office in 1826. There were also a cantor and dayanim (religious judges). The first Jews to settle in the place were influenced by German culture and even leaned towards conversion. A later influx of Jews from Russian communities consisted mainly of shomrei masoret (religious observers), and they organized a group of hassidim.

In 1835 there were 2,330 Jews in the town, 57% of the population. In 1840, 171 of them left for agricultural settlements in south Russia. In the second half of the century a large number of Latvians came to the town and the community lost its majority status. At the end of the century Jews began to leave the town. Some of them went to larger towns and others emigrated to the USA and South Africa. In 1897 there were 2,543 Jewish residents out of a total population of 9,720.

At this period the following community institutions were active, Tomchei Ani`e Yisrael (fund to support the poor) and Malbish Arumim (clothing for the poor). From 1850 until the end of World War I there existed a state school for Jewish boys. Jews who had the means sent their children to the local German high school. At the end of the 1890s a heder metukan (modern religious school) was opened, which also taught secular subjects. In 1901 there were three private Jewish schools in the town; one for boys and the other two for girls.

In 1915, during World War I, the Jews of the town were banished to the interior of Russia together with the other Kurland Jews. During the course of the war the community buildings and houses of the Jews were destroyed. After the war about a third of the Jews returned to the town. They elected a community council which was headed by Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Dubicki. The community was rehabilitated with the help of the Joint (a relief agency of American Jewry). In 1920 there were 567 Jews living in the town out of a total population of 4,924.

When Latvia was independent there were a beth midrash (seminary) and a synagogue, and also a new cemetery and Jewish school were opened. The languages of instruction at the school were German and Hebrew. Many Jewish children attended the general German school.

At the beginning the Jews, with great difficulty, earned a living through small scale commerce, peddling, the sale of second-hand clothing, the leasing of inns, production of strong liquors and as middlemen. From the end of the 19th century the economic situation began to improve, and the Jewish merchants supplanted the German businessmen. Jews built a flour mill and factories for the manufacture of matches and needles. Before World War I there was a credit fund for Jewish merchants and tradesmen.
After the war only about a third of the refugees who returned to the town, found sources of income. The remainder were helped by welfare institutions which had been set up by the Joint. The Jews consolidated their position during the course of time, and in 1935, of the 205 shops and businesses in the town 95 were owned by Jews.

The first Zionist society was established in Kuldiga in 1902.

After World War I branches of Hechalutz and the Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatsa`ir-Netzach (pioneering youth) and Betar were opened in the town. In the elections for the 18th Zionist Congress in 1933, the list of Eretz Yisrael Haovedet received 114 votes, while the Revisionist Party got 90 votes, the General Zionists 43 votes and 3 went to Mizrachi.

In 1935 there were 646 Jewish inhabitants out of a total population of 7,180.

The Holocaust Period

Following the signing of the accord by Ribbentrop and Molotov on behalf of Germany and the USSR respectively, on August 23, 1939, the Red Army established bases in Latvia. In the summer of 1940 a Soviet regime was installed. Jewish public institutions were liquidated gradually.

After the German invasion of Russia (June 22, 1941) about one tenth of the Jews of Kuldiga succeeded in escaping to the interior of Russia. The young men among them were conscripted into the Red Army. On July 1, 1941, when the Germans occupied the town, the majority of the community was still there. Immediately thereafter Latvian fascists began rioting against the Jews and murdered several of them. They were ordered to perform forced labor.

One day all the Jews were concentrated in the synagogue from which the men were taken to a nearby forest. There they were murdered in pits which they had been forced to dig. Other Jews were taken to be murdered in the Padura forest a few kilometers from the town, as well as in other places.

The Kuldiga community was destroyed by the beginning of 1942. The property of the Jews was shared out among their Latvian murderers. The scrolls of the law were put into the municipal archives. Several Jews, who were hidden by farmers, survived.

The town was liberated by the Red Army in 1944. After the war a number of families returned to the town. One Jew was killed by opponents of the Soviet regime. The survivors brought back the remains of those murdered, for Jewish burial. The scrolls of the law were returned to the Jews who organized a minyan. The synagogue, which had been converted into a movie house, was not returned.

In the course of time the old-timers left the town, some of them going on Aliyah to Israel. The minyan ceased to exist and the scrolls of the law were sold. With the proceeds, the Jews erected a memorial to the martyrs, on which was inscribed in Latvian, Grave of Israel. Later on the Jewish cemetery was also closed down by the authorities.

Place Type:
Town
ID Number:
250952
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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Would you like to help us improving the content? Send us your suggestions
The Jewish Community of Kuldiga

Kuldiga

In German: Goldingen

A district town in the Kurzeme region (formerly Kurland), western Latvia.

Goldingen had its beginnings as an encampment which was set up in 1242 by the Livonian order (an order of German Christian knights). In the 14th century it was already a German fortified town, with municipal institutions. In 1561 the government passed into the control of the Duchy of Kurland, under the suzerainty of the Kingdom of Poland. The town developed as a maritime commercial center with shipbuilding yards. In 1795 the whole area was annexed by Russia.

Jewish settlement in the town was permitted after Kurland was taken over by Russia. From 1799, when the Jews of the region were granted civic rights, the community grew quickly. In 1801 the Hevra Kadisha (burial society) was founded. A short while thereafter a synagogue was built as well as a Talmud torah school, mishnah circle, prayer group, and the following assembly), "Alufei Kahal" (community heads) and "Kupat Kahal" (community fund). The first rabbi assumed office in 1826. There were also a cantor and dayanim (religious judges). The first Jews to settle in the place were influenced by German culture and even leaned towards conversion. A later influx of Jews from Russian communities consisted mainly of shomrei masoret (religious observers), and they organized a group of hassidim.

In 1835 there were 2,330 Jews in the town, 57% of the population. In 1840, 171 of them left for agricultural settlements in south Russia. In the second half of the century a large number of Latvians came to the town and the community lost its majority status. At the end of the century Jews began to leave the town. Some of them went to larger towns and others emigrated to the USA and South Africa. In 1897 there were 2,543 Jewish residents out of a total population of 9,720.

At this period the following community institutions were active, Tomchei Ani`e Yisrael (fund to support the poor) and Malbish Arumim (clothing for the poor). From 1850 until the end of World War I there existed a state school for Jewish boys. Jews who had the means sent their children to the local German high school. At the end of the 1890s a heder metukan (modern religious school) was opened, which also taught secular subjects. In 1901 there were three private Jewish schools in the town; one for boys and the other two for girls.

In 1915, during World War I, the Jews of the town were banished to the interior of Russia together with the other Kurland Jews. During the course of the war the community buildings and houses of the Jews were destroyed. After the war about a third of the Jews returned to the town. They elected a community council which was headed by Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Dubicki. The community was rehabilitated with the help of the Joint (a relief agency of American Jewry). In 1920 there were 567 Jews living in the town out of a total population of 4,924.

When Latvia was independent there were a beth midrash (seminary) and a synagogue, and also a new cemetery and Jewish school were opened. The languages of instruction at the school were German and Hebrew. Many Jewish children attended the general German school.

At the beginning the Jews, with great difficulty, earned a living through small scale commerce, peddling, the sale of second-hand clothing, the leasing of inns, production of strong liquors and as middlemen. From the end of the 19th century the economic situation began to improve, and the Jewish merchants supplanted the German businessmen. Jews built a flour mill and factories for the manufacture of matches and needles. Before World War I there was a credit fund for Jewish merchants and tradesmen.
After the war only about a third of the refugees who returned to the town, found sources of income. The remainder were helped by welfare institutions which had been set up by the Joint. The Jews consolidated their position during the course of time, and in 1935, of the 205 shops and businesses in the town 95 were owned by Jews.

The first Zionist society was established in Kuldiga in 1902.

After World War I branches of Hechalutz and the Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatsa`ir-Netzach (pioneering youth) and Betar were opened in the town. In the elections for the 18th Zionist Congress in 1933, the list of Eretz Yisrael Haovedet received 114 votes, while the Revisionist Party got 90 votes, the General Zionists 43 votes and 3 went to Mizrachi.

In 1935 there were 646 Jewish inhabitants out of a total population of 7,180.

The Holocaust Period

Following the signing of the accord by Ribbentrop and Molotov on behalf of Germany and the USSR respectively, on August 23, 1939, the Red Army established bases in Latvia. In the summer of 1940 a Soviet regime was installed. Jewish public institutions were liquidated gradually.

After the German invasion of Russia (June 22, 1941) about one tenth of the Jews of Kuldiga succeeded in escaping to the interior of Russia. The young men among them were conscripted into the Red Army. On July 1, 1941, when the Germans occupied the town, the majority of the community was still there. Immediately thereafter Latvian fascists began rioting against the Jews and murdered several of them. They were ordered to perform forced labor.

One day all the Jews were concentrated in the synagogue from which the men were taken to a nearby forest. There they were murdered in pits which they had been forced to dig. Other Jews were taken to be murdered in the Padura forest a few kilometers from the town, as well as in other places.

The Kuldiga community was destroyed by the beginning of 1942. The property of the Jews was shared out among their Latvian murderers. The scrolls of the law were put into the municipal archives. Several Jews, who were hidden by farmers, survived.

The town was liberated by the Red Army in 1944. After the war a number of families returned to the town. One Jew was killed by opponents of the Soviet regime. The survivors brought back the remains of those murdered, for Jewish burial. The scrolls of the law were returned to the Jews who organized a minyan. The synagogue, which had been converted into a movie house, was not returned.

In the course of time the old-timers left the town, some of them going on Aliyah to Israel. The minyan ceased to exist and the scrolls of the law were sold. With the proceeds, the Jews erected a memorial to the martyrs, on which was inscribed in Latvian, Grave of Israel. Later on the Jewish cemetery was also closed down by the authorities.

Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People