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 Liepaja is mentioned in historical documents as early as 1253.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. Jewish population in Liepāja:
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%)