A. LIEPAJA’S JEWISH POPULATION
In 1795 about 20 Jews lived in Liepaja (0,4% of the total population)
in 1850 – 1,218 Jewish inhabitants
in 1863 – 1,700 Jews (17% of the total population)
in 1897 – 9,454 Jews (14,6%)
in 1911 – 10,308 Jews (12%)
in 1915 – 7,163 Jews (16,4%)
in 1920 – 9,758 Jews (19%)
in 1925 – 9,851 Jews (16,2%)
in 1930 – 7,908 Jews (13,8%)
in 1935 – 7,379 Jews (12,9%).
B. JEWS IN THE HISTORY OF LIEPAJA
1. Numerous historical sources indicate that the first evidence of Jews living in the Baltic States was reported by Bishop Adalbert of Prague who in 997 A.D. was sent to advance Christianity amongst the Lithuanians. In his notes, he writes about the presence of Jews in Lithuania.
2. Opinions regarding the origins of Jews in the Baltic States vary, but based on the biographies of many rabbis and other notable Lithuanian public figures who state they were born in Prussia or Northern Germany, we can safely say that they mostly arrived in Courland by sea.
3. Notably, B. D. Butkus defined Lithuania and Poland as being the main crossroads and source of immigrants. We know that Jews started to settle in Courland in the middle of the Livonian War (1558–1583) and fought for control over Old Livonia in the territory of present-day Estonia and Latvia.
4. There were no serious obstacles to their settlement although from the outset, the authorities regulated the number of Jews, their length of stay and economic activity. Jews who had special rights settled in Courland and became intermediaries between German, Polish and Lithuanian merchants.
5. Jews only found stability in the region from 1570 onwards. They were granted land at a locality called Piltene and later in Hasenpoth (Aizpute). Here they were allowed to build houses and synagogues and purchase land. Thanks to the generosity of Stephen Bathory towards the Jews of Piltene, the first Jewish community developed with full legal status. This subsequently led to a gradual influx of Jews from Germany.
6. The Jewish movement in Piltene, Tukums, Kandau, Talsen and Windau (Ventspils) started at the beginning of the 16th century. Many families moved to Libau (Liepaja) which was the seaport city. However, Libau society exercised its exclusive privileges and only allowed Jews to settle permanently from 1799. Liepaja is mentioned in historical documents as early as 1253. In 1609 it was integrated into the Duchy of Courland and in 1625 Liepaja became a free city. In 1795 Liepaja was integrated into the Courland Governorate of the Russian Empire.
7. In 1799 the Jews of Courland received citizenship rights and following the Decree of the Russian Emperor Paul I, Jews were granted the right to live in cities, own land, build synagogues and prayer halls and set up cemeteries. At that time the first synagogue in Joachim Str. 5 (now Pīlādžu Str.) was built.
8. The Choral Synagogue was first mentioned in 1802 and rebuilt in 1868 with its three domes. The new Synagogue was 30 meters long, 20 meters wide and 10 meters high and was large enough for 300 men with a gallery for 142 women. In 1940 the Choral Synagogue management comprised the following: Rabbi Sh. Israelit, the First Gabbai – А. Lippert, the Second Gabbai – N. Klatschko. This Synagogue was destroyed during WWII.
9. In 1803 Liepaja’s own Jewish cemetery was established followed by several new synagogues and prayer houses from 1814 onwards.
10. In 1835 a Jewish almshouse “Maushav Skeinym” was opened, managed by A. Hirschfeld and N. Klatschko with board members А. Schayin, R. Epstein, H. Zelkind, and board member candidates: I. Lurje, I. Mandelstam. There was also an active women’s committee consisting of Mandelstam, Wicker, Plotkina, Levynovych, Baskina, Zaav and Katz.
11. At the beginning of the 1830’s a Talmud-Tora organization was set up and a Bikhur Holim Hospital was opened. In 1839 Avrom Danziger opened a charity cash desk.
12. In 1936 there were 12 synagogues and prayer houses in Liepaja. The Liepaja Great Synagogue was located at Kurshu Str. 11/13 Rozhu Str. 7 but was destroyed during WWII at the beginning of 1941.
13. Liepaja Rabbis :
At the beginning of the 19th century the Rabbi of Liepaja was Avrom Boyar;
* 1833 to 1840 : Moyshe-Yitzkhok Levy;
* 1840 to 1844 : Tzvi-Hirsh Borenstein followed by Mendel Israelson;
* 1856 to 1882 : Joseph Herzenberg;
* 1881 to 1890 : Dr. Giegel Klein, a German citizen was appointed;
Simultaneously other Liepaja rabbis were :
* 1881 to 1890 : Avrom Geller;
* 1887 to 1890 : Yakob Denezon and Meir Atlas;
* 1890 to 1904 : L. O. Kantor;
* 1907 : Dr. Aron-Ber Nurock, M. Nurock’s brother;
* 1920 to 1923 : Haim-Fischl Epstein;
* 1928 to 1941 : Menachem-Yisser Polonsky;
In the 1930s J. Landau was one of the Rabbis of Liepaja.
C. JEWISH EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS
1851 : The first Jewish school was opened in Liepaja.
1885 : A Hebrew language school opened in Liepaja.
1904 : The following education institutions were being run in Liepaja:
* the 1st rank Jewish (State) government school;
* two 2nd rank Jewish schools for girls;
* one 2nd rank Jewish school for boys;
* three 3rd rank Jewish schools for boys; and
* two 3rd rank Jewish schools for girls.
1913 : the Jewish Stern-Trotskaya Gymnasium for girls was opened.
1918 : a Russian language Jewish school was opened (later on German replaced Russian).
1919 : a Yiddish language school was opened which later joined the ZJSO (Zentrale Jidische Schul Organisazie). By 1921 there were 388 students and in 1926, upon the 10th anniversary of the death of writer Sholom Aleichem, with the permission of the local authorities, the school was named “Sholom Aleichem’s Primary School” and continued until 1940.
Subsequently, with support from the organization “Agudas Isroel”, an elementary school of the “Tora Vderekh Erets” community was opened at Helens Str. 17 with religious education in Hebrew.
1920 : a children’s home was opened with the help of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (“the Joint”) and shortly afterwards a school of the “Tarbut” network was established.
1935 : the Yeshiva “Beys Yosef” was opened.
1929 to 1940 : according to the archives, Liepaja offered the following Jewish educational and other institutions :
1. The Liepaja Jewish Vocational School, at Vilhelmines Str. 35, where students were trained as mechanics, electricians, carpenters, woodworkers, etc. (30 students, 9 teachers);
2. Liepaja Jewish State Secondary School (a gymnasium type of business school), Kurmajas prospekts 34 (135 students, 17 teachers);
3. The Liepaja Teachers’ Council Jewish Primary School, at Jauna Dikja Str. 8 and Kurmajas prospekts 3, a private secondary school / gymnasium (4 grades with teaching in Hebrew) (123 students, 24 teachers);
4. Liepaja Community No. 1 Jewish Primary School (with kindergarten) at Rozhu Str. 10 ( 234 students, 10 teachers);
5. Liepaja Community No. 2 Jewish Primary School at Siena tirgus Str.12 (now Kurshu Str. 20) (principal Waldstein) (474 students, 23 teachers) and at Kungu Str. 21 (284 students, 16 teachers);
6. Liepaja Cultural Society Main School at Kurmajas Prospekts 32 (grades 1-6) (124 students and 10 teachers);
7. F.Gottlieb Private kindergarten at Graudu Str. 49 (7 children and 1 kindergarten teacher);
8. O. Rewid Private kindergarten at Vītolu Str. 35 providing elementary education classes (10 children and 2 kindergarten teachers);
9. Liepaja Jewish State Secondary School at Bāriņu Str. 12 (humanitarian education) (156 students, 17 teachers);
10. Liepaja Jewish State Secondary School at Kurmājas prospekts 13 (162 students, 15 teachers);
11. Jewish Private Primary School at Graudu Str. 14 (157 students, 10 teachers);
12. Kungu Str. 21- formerly the House of Prayer and today the Liepaja Jewish Community Center with its museum “Jews of Liepaja”;
13. Kungu Str. 21/21A, formerly a House of Prayer and nursing home for the elderly and needy;
14. Kalipēdas Str. 41, formerly the burial company “Chevra Kadish”;
15. Bāriņu Str. 11, formerly the Jewish hospital “Linas Hacedeck”;
16. Bāriņu Str. 12, formerly the Jewish State humanitarian secondary and primary schools;
17. Kurmājas Prospekts 13, formerly the Jewish elementary school and Jewish State secondary school (1937-1940);
18. Kurshu Str. 20, formerly known as the “Waldshtein School” where education was provided in Hebrew;
19. Rozhu Str. 8, formerly the Sholom Aleichem School where teaching was provided in Yiddish. Today the Liepaja 10 Secondary School occupies this location.
D. SOCIAL AND CHARITABLE ORGANIZATIONS
1. At the end of the 19th century a second Jewish cemetery was opened at modern Cenkones Str. 20.
2. In 1867, a firm of undertakers “Hevra Kadisha” was established whose management consisted of N. Klatschko, O. Mihaylovich, A. Lippert, Sh. Israelit, Z. Kabalkyn, A. Waldstein, I. Mandelstam.
3. In the 1890s, several community social aid organizations were established and since 1898 there was a Jewish women’s charity “Help” (HILF).
4. In 1893, an Aid Committee for Jews emigrating from Russia through the port of Liepaja was established. By 1905 the scope of Committee’s work was extended and sleeping accommodation capacity had increased from 14 to 100.
Statistics covering Jews emigrating through the port of Liepaja were :
JEWISH MIGRATION HISTORY
5. In 1905, a Liepaja aid charity providing for poor and ailing Jews “Linas Hatsedeck” was established, chaired by Herman Epstein.
6. In 1909, a credit society known as “Gmiles Khesed” was set up.
7. In 1910, the “Maushaw Skeinym” – a charity running Jewish shelters was established, chaired by Emil Falck.
8. In 1910, Rabbi Klein established a “Howaway Ciyon” department in Liepaja.
9. In 1911, a Jewish vocational benevolent charity “Poalei Tsedeck” was founded.
10. In 1920, a charity for maintaining Jewish almshouses was established.
11. In 1924, a Liepaja Jewish charity providing nursing for the sick was set up.
12. In 1929, a Liepaja charity providing clothing for the needy was established.
13. In 1930, the Liepaja board of medical specialists (chaired in 1935 by Dr. Max Weinreich) was founded.
14. In 1932 a charity chaired by Heimann Rabinovich running the Liepaja Jewish Secondary School, was established.
E. JEWISH ECONOMIC ACTIVITY, INDUSTRY & TRADE IN LIEPAJA
1. In 1835, the Libau Jewish community comprised 114 from the merchant class and 1,234 middle class townsfolk. However in 1850, due to the 1848 cholera epidemic, these numbers had decreased to 125 and 1,093 respectively. In 1840, 13 families moved to the agricultural region of Kherson in today’s southern Ukraine.
2. The 1897 census registered 64,489 inhabitants in Liepaja of whom 9,454 were Jewish (almost 15%). On 1 January 1908 local police records showed there were 90,800 inhabitants, of whom 7,402 were Jewish (8%).
3. The Jewish population were on the whole traders involved in export oriented trade. The main exports were bread and wood.
4. In the 1920s several Jewish banks were established in Liepaja.
5. Liepaja was not just a strategic Baltic Sea port but was also a major industrial center. In the 1920s Jews owned up to 25% of the industrial sector, employing 25% of the factory workers in the city.
6. According to 1930 statistics, the Jewish work force was broken down as follows :
48% – trade
29% – industrial sector
7% – liberal professions (e.g. lawyers, journalists)
1% – farming.
7. Moreover, there were :
7 Jewish pharmacies
13 pharmaceutical warehouses
2 photographic studios
130+ shops and stores (incl. 25 fishmongers, 29 wood stores, 27 manufacturing stores)
in total about 25% of all factories in Liepaja.
F. CULTURE, SPORTS CLUBS AND POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS
1. In 1920 Rabbi A. Nurock and Professor Goldblatt were elected from Courland to the “Latvian Jewish Aid Congress” Committee.
2. In 1921 local elections, the Jewish People’s Party gained 5 seats and the Zionists 1 seat.
3. In 1922 more than 35,000 rubles were donated to the Jewish National Foundation.
4. In 1922 a sports and recreational community “Maccaby” was established, chaired by Maxim Abamovych.
5. In 1924 the Liepaja Jewish Community for Improvement of Palestinian Culture was set up.
6. In 1931 an Association promoting the study of science and customs was established chaired by Alite Bentsion.
7. In 1933 an Aid Association “Beyt Lekhem” was created, chaired by Dr. Abraham Lippert.
8. In the 1930s, 4 out of 6 cinemas in Liepaja were owned by Jewish families.