<LATVIA (Lettish Latvija; Rus.Latviya; Ger. Lettland;
Pol. Lolwa), one of the Baltic states of N.E. Europe; from
1940 Latvian S.S.R.
[Livland and Courland]
Judaica (1971): Latvia, vol. 10, col. 1463, map
with Jewish communities in Latvia (borders of
1918-40). Population figures for 1935: over
40,000 Jews: Riga; 1,000-12,000 Jews: Ventspils,
Liepaja, Jelgava, Krustpils, Rezekne, Ludza,
Daugavpils, and Kraslava; 500-1,000 Jews: Talsi,
Kuldiga, Aizpute, Tukums, Bauska, Jaunjelgava,
plavinas, Livani, Vilaka, Karsava, Varaklani,
Preili, and Dagda.
The nucleus of Latvian Jewry was formed by the Jews of
*Livonia (Livland) and *Courland, the two principalities on
the coast of the Baltic Sea which were incorporated within
the Russian Empire during the 18th century. Livonia, with
the city of *Riga, passed to Russia from Sweden in 1721.
Courland, formerly an autonomous duchy, was incorporated
into Russia as a province in 1795. Both these provinces were
situated outside the *Pale of Settlement, and so only those
Jews who could prove that they had lived there legally
before the provinces became part of Russia were authorized
to reside in the region.
Nevertheless, the Jewish population of the Baltic region
gradually increased because, from time to time, additional
Jews who enjoyed special "privileges", such as university
graduates, those engaged in "useful" profession, etc.,
received authorization to settle there.
In the middle of the 19th century, there were about 9,000
Jews in the province of Livonia. By 1897 the Jewish
population had already increased to 26,793 (3.5% of the
population), about three-quarters of which lived in Riga. In
Courland there were 22,734 Jews in the middle of the 19th
century, while according to the census of 1897, some 51,072
Jews (7.6% of the population) lived there.
The Jews of Courland formed a special group within Russian
Jewry. On the one hand they were influenced by the German
culture which prevailed in this region, and on the other by
that of neighbouring Lithuanian Jewry.
Haskalah penetrated early to the Livonia (col. 1462)
and Courland communities but assimilation did not make the
same headway there as in Western Europe. Courland Jewry
developed a specific character, combining features of both
East European and German Jewry.
[WW I expulsions and return
- independent Latvia 1918-1939]
During World War I when the Russian armies retreated from
Courland (April 1915), the Russian military authorities
expelled thousands of Jews to the provinces of the interior.
A considerable number later returned to Latvia as
repatriates after the independent republic was established.
Three districts of the province of Vitebsk, in which most of
the population was Latvian (Latgale in Lettish), including
the large community of *Daugavpils (Dvinsk), were joined to
Courland (Kurzeme) and Livonia (Vidzeme), and the
independent Latvian Republic was established (November
1918). At first, a liberal and progressive spirit prevailed
in the young state but the democratic regime was shortlived.
Influenced by Fascism in Western Europe [[and probably also
by dictatorship in Lithuania]], the nationalist and
chauvinistic elements of Latvia grew more arrogant.
On May 15, 1934, the prime minister Karlis Ulmanis dissolved
parliament in a coup d'état, the leaders of the labour
movement and the activists of the socialist and progressive
organizations were imprisoned in a concentration camp, and
Latvia became a totalitarian state. Ulmanis was proclaimed
dictator and "leader" of the nation. His government inclined
toward Nazi Germany [[and probably also to racist Poland]].
Jewish Population in the
Before World War I there were about 190,000 Jews in the
territories of Latvia (7.4% of the total population). During
the war years, (col. 1463)
many of them were expelled to the interior of Russia, while
others escaped from the war zone. In 1920 the Jews of Latvia
numbered 79,644 (5% of the population). After the signing of
the peace treaty between the Latvian Republic and the Soviet
Union on Aug. 11, 1920, repatriates began to return from
Russia; these included a considerable number of Jewish
By 1925 the Jewish population had increased to 95,675, the
largest number of Jews during the period of Latvia's
existence as an independent state. After that year the
number of Jews gradually decreased, and in 1935 had declined
to 93,479 (4.8% of the total). The causes of this decline
were emigration by part of the younger generation and a
decline in the natural increase through limiting the family
to one or two children by the majority.
Between 1925 and 1935 over 6,000 Jews left Latvia (the
overwhelming majority of them for Erez Israel (Ereẓ Israel),
while the natural increase only partly replaced these
departures. The largest communities were Riga with 43,672
Jews (11.3% of the total) in 1935, Daugavpils with 11,106
(25%), and *Libau (Liepaja) with 7,379 (13%). (col. 1464)
Economic Life. [Jewish
economic positions in important branches - Jewish banks
Jews already played an important role in industry, commerce,
and banking before World War I. After the establishment of
the republic, a severe crisis overtook the young state. The
government had not yet consolidated itself and the country
had become impoverished as a result of World War I and the
struggle for independence which Latvia had conducted for
several years (1918-20) against both Germany and the Soviet
Union. With the cessation of hostilities, Latvia found
itself retarded in both the administrative and economic
spheres. Among other difficulties, there was running
Jews made a large contribution to the upbuilding of the
state from the ruins of the war and its consequences. Having
much experience in the export of the raw materials of timber
and linen before World War I, upon their return from Russia
they resumed export of these goods on their own initiative.
They also developed a variegated industry, and a
considerable (col. 1464)
part of the import trade, such as that of petrol, coal and
textiles, was concentrated in their hands. However, once the
Jews had made their contribution, the authorities began to
force them out of their economic positions and to deprive
them of their sources of livelihood.
[[Nationalism said that the Jews were a "Jewish nation". So
they were considered foreigners or even enemies and were
driven out of national economic life, and Jewish
organizations gave help from abroad]].
Although, in theory, there were no discriminatory laws
against the Jews in democratic Latvia and they enjoyed
equality of rights, in practice the economic policy of the
government was intended to restrict their activities. This
was also reflected in the area of credit. The Jews of Latvia
developed a ramified network of loan banks for the granting
of credit with the support of the *American Jewish Joint
Committee and the *Jewish Colonization Association (I.C.A.).
Cooperative credit societies for craftsmen, small tradesmen,
etc., were established and organized within a central body,
the Alliance of Cooperative Societies for Credit. However,
the Jewish banks and cooperative societies were
discriminated against in the sphere of public credit and the
state bank was in practice closed to them. These societies
nevertheless functioned on sound foundations. Their initial
capital was relatively larger than that of the non-Jewish
cooperative societies. In 1931 over 15,000 members were
organized within the Jewish societies.
Jews were particularly active in the following branches of
industry: timber, matches, beer, tobacco, hides, textiles,
canned foods (especially fish), and flour milling. About
one-half of the Jews of Latvia engaged in commerce, the
overwhelming majority of them in medium and small trade.
About 29% of the Jewish population was occupied in industry
and about 7% in the liberal professions. There were no Jews
in the governmental administration.
The economic situation of the majority of Latvia's Jews
became difficult. Large numbers were ousted from their
economic position and lost their livelihood as a result of
[[anti-Semitic]] government policy and most of them were
thrust into small trade, peddling, and bartering [[sale]] in
various goods at the second-hand clothes markets in the
suburbs of Riga and the provincial towns.
The decline in their status was due to three principal
-- the government assumed the monopoly of the grain trade,
thus removing large numbers of Jews from this branch of
trade, without accepting them as salaried workers of
providing them with any other kind of employment;
-- the Latvian cooperatives enjoyed wide governmental
support and functioned in privileged conditions in
comparison to the Jewish enterprises;
-- and Jews had difficulty in obtaining credit.
In addition to the above, the Jewish population was
subjected to a heavy burden of [[anti-Semitic]] taxes. (col.
Public and Political Life.
Latvian Jewry continued the communal and popular traditions
of Russian Jewry, of which it formed a part until 1918. On
the other hand, it was also influenced by the culture of
West European Jewry, being situated within its proximity
(i.e., East Prussia). In its spiritual life there was thus a
synthesis of Jewish tradition and secular culture. From the
social-economic point of view the Jews of Latvia did not
form one group, and there were considerable social
differences between them.
They engaged in a variety of occupations and professions:
there were large, medium, and small merchants,
industrialists, and different categories of craftsmen,
workers, salesmen, clerks, teachers, and members of the
liberal professions such as physicians, lawyers, and
engineers. All these factors - economic and spiritual - were
practically reflected in public life: in the national Jewish
sphere and in the general political life of the state.
The Jewish population was also represented in the Latvian
parliament. In the National Council which was formed during
the first year of Latvian independence and existed until
April 1920, there were also representatives of the national
minorities, including seven Jews, among them Paul *Mintz,
who acted as state (col. 1465)
comptroller (1919-21), and Mordecai *Dubin (Agudat Israel).
On May 1, 1920, the Constituent Assembly, which was elected
by a relatively democratic vote, was convened. It was to
function until Oct. 7, 1922, and included nine Jewish
delegates who represented all groups in the Jewish
population ([[racist]] Zionists, National Democrats,
Bundists, Agudat Israel).
The number of Jewish delegates in the four parliaments which
were elected in Latvia until the coup d'état of 1934 was as
follows: six in the first (1922-25), five in the second
(1925-28) and the third (1928-31), and three in the fourth
(1931-34). Among the regular deputies were Mordecai Dubin
(Agudat Israel), Mordecai *Nurock (Mizrachi), Matityahu Max
Laserson (Ze'irei Zion), and Noah *Meisel (Bund). The last
two were not reelected to the fourth parliament. (col. 1466)
Culture and Education.
[National schooling in Hebrew, Yiddish, German and Russian
since 1919 - institutions]
On Dec. 8, 1919, the general bill on schools was passed by
the National Council; this coincided with the bill on the
cultural *autonomy of the minorities. IN the Ministry of
Education, there were special departments for the
minorities. The engineer Jacob Landau headed the Jewish
department. A broad network of Hebrew and Yiddish schools,
in which Jewish children received a free education
[[free?]], was established. In addition to these, there were
also Russian and German schools for Jewish children, chosen
in accordance with the language of their families and wishes
of their parents. These were, however, later excluded from
the Jewish department because, by decision of the Ministry
of Education, only the Hebrew and Yiddish schools were
included within the scope of Jewish autonomy.
In 1933 there were 98 Jewish elementary schools with
approximately 12,000 pupils and 742 teachers, 18 secondary
schools with approximately 2,000 pupils and 286 teachers,
and four vocational schools with 300 pupils and 37 teachers.
Pupils attended religious or secular schools according to
their parents' wishes. There were also government pedagogic
institutes for teachers in Hebrew and Yiddish, courses for
kindergarten teachers, popular universities, a popular
Jewish music academy, evening schools for working youth, a
Yiddish theater, and cultural clubs.
There was a Jewish press reflecting a variety of trends.
[Coup d'état on 15 May
With the Fascist coup d'état of May 15, 1934, Jewish
autonomy was abolished. All political organizations were
outlawed, except for *Agudat Israel. The supervision of the
Jewish schools was entrusted to the latter, which closed all
the secular Yiddish schools, while the curricula of the
secular Hebrew schools were emptied of their content. The
teachers were compelled to wear skullcaps; they were
forbidden to teach *Bialik and even to use S. *Dubnow's
history. (col. 1466)
[World War II with
Sovietization and then German Nazi occupation]
|Jewish communities in Latvia. List of
alternative names for places shown on map (1935)
|Old German name
|Old Russian name
|from: Latvia; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica
1971, vol. 10, col. 1463
With the establishment of the Soviet regime in (col. 1466)
Latvia in June 1940, even these sad remnants of Jewish
autonomy [[Agudat Israel schools]] were liquidated. Upon the
outbreak of World War II in 1939 Latvia was compelled to
sign a treaty with the Soviet Union, and placed air bases in
various parts of the country at its disposal. In June 1940 a
Communist government was set up and in July Latvia was
proclaimed a Soviet Republic, and was incorporated withing
the Soviet Union.
On the eve of Hitler's attack, a large group of Latvians
including several thousand Jews, were deported by the Soviet
authorities to Siberia and other parts of Soviet Asia as
politically undesirable elements. During the Nazi attack of
Latvia a considerable number of Jews also succeeded in
fleeing to the interior of the Soviet Union;
[[The Red Army undertook the Big Flight from Barbarossa in
1941 with many Jews. Arbitrary flight to central Russia
without connection to the army was not allowed]].
[Establishing the Nazi regime - mass murder on Latvian
GERMAN OCCUPATION OF LATVIA, 1941-1944.
Latvia was occupied by the Germans during the first weeks of
the German-Soviet war in July 1941. It became part of the
new Reich Kommissariat "Ostland", officially designated as
"Generalbezirk Lettland". Otto Heinrich Drexler was
appointed its commissioner general with headquarters in
Riga, the seat of the Reich commissioner for Ostland,
Hinrich Lose (see *Lithuania). At the end of July 1941 the
Germans [[and their collaborators]] replaced the military
with a civil administration. One of its first acts was the
promulgation of a series of anti-Jewish ordinances. An
administration composed of local pro-Nazi elements was also
established to which Latvian general councilors were
appointed. Their chief was Oskar Dankers, a former Latvian
army general. [[...]]
estimated that some 75,000 Latvian Jews fell into Nazi
hands. Even before the Nazi administration began persecuting
the Latvian Jews, they had suffered from anti-Semitic
excesses at the hands of the Latvian activists. Chief among
these were the members of the Aizsargi
paramilitary organization and the
Fascist anti-Semitic organization called Perkonkrusts (Pērkonkrusts)
which later collaborated with the Nazis in the annihilation
of the Jewish community.
("action commandos") played a leading role in the
destruction of Latvian Jews, according to information given
in their own reports, especially in the report of
S.S.-Brigadefuehrer (General) Stahlecker, the commander of
Einsatzgruppe A, whose unit operated on the northern Russian
front and in the occupied Baltic republics.
[[The numbers of Jews in the German reports are probably
much too high because the Nazi leaders wanted to present
successes and because they counted also half Jews, quarter
Jews and three quarter Jews as "Jews". The Nazi
collaborators were very important because of the language.
The German Nazi system distinguished different races of East
Europeans. The Baltes were the "first", then came the
Ukrainians, and the Belorussians were the last]].
His account covers the period from the end of June up to
Oct. 15, 1941. At the instigation of the Einsatzgruppe
Latvian auxiliary police carried out a pogrom against the
Jews in Riga. All synagogues were destroyed and 400 Jews
were killed. According to Stahlecker's report the number of
Jews killed in mass executions by Einsatzgruppe A
by the end of October 1941
in Riga, Jelgava (Mitau), Liepaja, Valmiera, and Daugavpils
totaled 30,025, and by the end of December 1941, 35,238
Latvian Jews had been killed; 2,500 Jews remained in the
Riga ghetto and 950 in the Daugavpils ghetto.
[Jews from Central Europe
deported to Latvia - forests for mass killing -
concentration camps Salaspils and Kaiserwald]
At the end of 1941 and the beginning of 1942, Jews deported
from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and other
German-occupied countries began arriving in Latvia. Some
15,000 "Reich Jews" were settled in several streets of the
liquidated "greater Riga ghetto". Many transports were taken
straight from the Riga railroad station to execution sites
in the Rumbuli and Bikernieks forests near Riga, and
elsewhere. In 1942 about 800 Jews from Kaunas ghetto were
brought to Riga and some of them participated in the
underground organization in the Riga ghetto.
The German occupying power in Latvia also kept Jews in
"barracks camps", i.e., near their places of forced labour.
A considerable number of such camps were located in the Riga
area and other localities. Larger concentration camps
included those at Salaspils and Kaiserwald (Meza Parks).
The Salaspils concentration camp, set up at the end of 1941,
contained thousands of people, including many Latvian and
foreign Jews. Conditions in this camp, one of the worst in
Latvia, led to heavy loss of life among the inmates. The
Kaiserwald concentration camp, established in the summer of
1943, contained the Jewish survivors from the ghettos of
Riga, Daugavpils, Liepaja, and other places, as well as
non-Jews. At the end of September 1943 Jews from the
liquidated Vilna ghetto were also taken to Kaiserwald.
[[All these war crimes were committed by German forces and
When the Soviet victories in the summer of 1944 forced a
German retreat from the Baltic states, the surviving inmates
of the Kaiserwald camp were deported by the Germans to
*Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig, and from there
were sent to various other camps.
[[Probably they were sent to the tunnel systems for
underground weapon and fuel production, with heavy losses]].
WAR CRIMES TRIALS.
On April 7, 1945, the Soviet press published the
"Declaration of the Special Government Commission charges
with the inquiry into the crimes committed by the
German-Fascist aggressors during their occupation of the
Latvian Socialist Republic". This document devotes a chapter
to the persecution and murder of Jews. The declaration lists
Nazis held responsible for the crimes committed in Latvia
under German occupation. They include
-- Lohse, the Reich commissioner for Ostland;
-- P. Jeckeln, chief of police for Ostland;
-- Drexler, commissioner general for Latvia;
-- Lange, chief of Gestapo;
-- Krause, chief of the Riga ghetto and commandant of the
Salaspils concentration camp;
-- Sauer, commandant of the Kaiserwald concentration camp;
-- and several dozen other Nazi criminals involved in the
destruction of Latvian Jewry.
[[The local collaborators who had been very important
because of the language were hardly pursued. Many could flee
to the Reich and disguised themselves at the end as Jewish
refugees, were helped in the DP camps and could emigrate to
On Jan. 26, 1946, the war tribunal of the Riga military
district began a trial of a group of Nazi war criminals,
among the Jeckeln, one of the men responsible for the mass Aktion
on the Riga
ghetto at the end of 1941. He and six others were sentenced
to death by hanging; the sentence was carried out in Riga on
Feb. 3, 1946. Other trials were held in Soviet Latvia after
the liberation, but altogether only a small number of
Germans and Latvians who had taken part in the murder of
Latvian Jewry was brought to justice.
Latvians of varying backgrounds also took an active part in
the persecution and murder of the Jews in the country
outside Latvia. At the time of the German retreat in the
summer of 1944, many of these collaborators fled to Germany.
After the war, as assumed *Displaced Persons, they received
aid from UNRRA, from the *International Refugee Organization
(IRO), and other relief organizations (col. 1468)
for Nazi victims, and some of them emigrated to the U.S. and
other countries overseas. Nevertheless a few Latvians risked
their lives in order to save Jews. One such, Jan Lipke,
helped to save several dozen Jews of the Riga ghetto by
providing them with hideouts.
[Latvian Jews in the Soviet
army 1941-1945 - high death rate]
Several thousand Latvian Jews had fought in the Soviet
army's Latvian division, the 201st (43rd Gard) and 304th,
and many were killed or wounded in battle, while a
considerable number had earned military awards for bravery
at the front.
After the Liberation [Jews
in Latvia after Soviet re-occupation]
About 1,000 Latvian Jews survived their internment in
concentration camps;most of them refused repatriation and
remained in the Displaced Persons camps in Germany, Austria,
and Italy. Along with the rest of the survivors they
eventually settled in new homes, mostly in Israel. In Latvia
itself, several hundred Jews had somehow managed to survive.
A public demonstration was held in Riga a few days after its
liberation, in which 60 or 70 of the surviving Jews
participated. Gradually, some of the Jews who had found
refuge in the Soviet Union came back.
According to the population census taken in the Soviet Union
in 1959, there were 36,592 Jews (17,096 men and 19,496
women; 1.75% of the total population) in the Latvian S.S.R.
It may be assumed that about 10,000 of them were natives,
including Jewish refugees who returned to their former
residences from the interior of Russia, while the remainder
came from other parts of the Soviet Union.
About 48% of the Jews declared Yiddish as their mother
tongue. The others mainly declared Russian as their
language, while only a few hundred described themselves as
Lettish-speaking. Of the total, 30,267 Jews (5/6) lived in
Riga. The others lived in Daugavpils and other towns.
[[About the general conditions of this census see *Russia
According to private estimates, the Jews of Latvia in 1970
numbered about 50,000. The overwhelming majority of them
lived in Riga, the capital. Riga became one of the leading
centers of national agitation among the Jews of the Soviet