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zieds1mazs.gif (257 bytes)  Jews. Migration history


The 19th century
The WW1
Jews in Latvia between the World Wars
Anti-Semitism in prewar Latvia
The Communist regime 1940-1941
The Holocaust
Beasts theory and Idiots theory


The 19th century

The migration history of Jews in the region of Latvia is different for various parts of Latvia (please, connect to another Page about the parts Latvia was built of).

  • In Kurzeme [Kurland] the first Jews arrived in the 17th century or even earlier. Information about this early migration process can be found in the paper of Tatjana Aleksejeva published on this Site and in the report of H.Rosenthal available on the Internet. The report also contains information about the life of Jews in Kurzeme in the 19th century.
  • Jews began to settle in Latgale in the 16th century when this region belonged to Poland.
  • In Vidzeme [Livland] a limited Jewish population began to settle in the 19th century.

The Jewish populations in Kurzeme and Latgale should be regarded as two distinct ones from the migration point of view. It is known that the Jews of Kurzeme came from Northern Germany and spoke German, but the Jews of Latgale were from Poland regions. They spoke Yiddish, had good command of Polish, which helped them to master Russian more easily. Later on these two groups mixed up to some extent, but the knowledge of the above mentioned process could give some practical hints. For example, a person with the name Israelowich is rather bad candidate for a Kurzeme Jew, but Israelson seems to be much better, and Israelowitz probably migrated from Poland-Lithuania having the name Israelowich changed to Israelowitz in Kurzeme.

Kurzeme was included in the Russia Empire in 1795. Some years earlier (1772) so-called "the first dividing of Poland" took place, and several parts of this country came to Russia including the region what now is the Eastern part of Latvia called Latgale but in Poland was called Inflanty Polskie. Jews lived in all Poland (and in Latgale), and so the Russian Empire acquired rather numerous Jewish population. As the life of all the subjects of the Empire was strictly regulated, Jews could not be left outside the system of the regulations and the Bureaucracy of the Empire was busy with packaging the Jews into this system until the end in 1917.

You may connect to the overview of the Laws, that regulated the life of Jews in Russia, I prepared for ROOTS=SAKNES: Pales. Rules for Jews in Russia Empire

The life and the migration of Jews in Baltic provinces were governed by special rules and decisions. The separate Page Special rules for the Baltic provinces is devoted to this topic.

The first serious migration wave from Kurzeme in the reference period took place at the end of the 1830s when a lot of Jews migrated to the new agricultural colonies. I have no better relevant information on hand at this moment than a Page of Jewishgen Site about Herman Rosenthal. It informs:

In 1836 Emperor Nicholas issued a manifesto offering inducements to those of his Jewish subjects who should settle in the agricultural colonies of South Russia. The first families to avail themselves of this offer were seventy from Courland led by Meyer Medelsohn and Elijah Mitauer. Another group from Courland, consisting of 117 families, applied for permission to settle in the provinces of Siberia. In 1840, 341 families consisting of 2,530 persons from Courland joined the agricultural colonies to the government of Kherson.

It follows that about 3200 Jews migrated out of Kurzeme that is about 15% of the total Jewish population calculated according to the same source. In reality the project with Jewish agricultural settlements practically failed for economical reasons, and the migrated Jews left the settlements. It is not known, of course, if they came back to Kurzeme or migrated further.

Initially the number of Jews in Riga grew rather slowly, however later their number increased pretty fast, especially after the series of restrictive regulations were introduced by Alexander III in the 1880s, and what maybe was more important - waves of Pogroms took place inside the Pale. At that time a good number of Jews migrated to Kurzeme or Rīga. Many of them only worked there but remained registered in their previous places of settlement.

It is clear that serious number of them emigrated further to America, however the total number of Jews grew in Riga and also in other Baltic towns.

The historians find more or less normal attitude to Jews in the Baltic provinces from the side of rulers - German nobility as well as from other local people in general. But in the cases when the economic interests became contradictory, the ideas to restrict the activities of Jews were expressed readily, and all necessary letters to the higher officials were written, and the existing laws were interpreted as good as possible for needs of local rulers. However, there were also cases when the economic interests were close enough. For example, at the beginning of 1892, when Liepāja [Libau] municipality (and other town municipalities) received an order to exile the Jews living in the town without legal grounds, 90 Christian house owners (mainly Germans) petitioned the municipality not to do this. Their problem was that in the current economical situation many tenants did not pay rent except Jews, who were the best payers. The municipality completely backed the petitioners and applied to the higher officials for revocation of the order also adding other reasons why Jews should stay in Liepāja. In fact the Empire officials themselves discovered that they wished too much and facilitated the order. See for more details a book of Dz.Ozoliņa /Ozoliņa/.

In spite of the fact that certain events sometimes happened that were near to pogroms, in reality no information on real pogroms are known in the sources available to me except the first years of 1900s when some pogroms took place, and 2 or 3 persons were killed in them. Another exception was the Revolution of 1905 when pogroms were expected, and groups of workers of various ethnicities were organized to defend Jews of pogromists. The clashes of these groups with pogrom organizers and with Police took place and about 10 persons were killed (see /Piemiņas grāmata/ ). You may have interest in the following names of Jewish victims mentioned in the book - Jankels Poplaks, Zalmans Gurevičs, Leizers Kanters.

The WW1

The maximum number of Jews in the region of Latvia was reached before WW1 in 1914. There is no precise information about the number of Jews here, but the most frequently published estimation is 170,000. The War created serious problems for Jews. On April 17, 1915 the Jews were ordered by the Commander-in-chief of the Russia Army to left Kurzeme [Kurland] in 24 hours. At that moment it was clear that Kurzeme would be invaded by German troops, which really happened during April and May of 1915. The Jews were assumed to be supporters of Germans and many of them really felt sympathy to this country - remember that many of Kurzeme Jews migrated from Germany, had relatives there and spoke German. I do not think that an ordinary Jew thought a lot about the problems of the German Empire, but the attitude to Jews in the German Empire of that time was better than in the Russia Empire of that time. Not all of the Jews obeyed the above mentioned order and many of them, who lived in the regions occupied by Germans at that moment (Liepaja [Libau] and Aizpute [Hasenpoth] with vicinities), even could not.

The Germans, after they captured Kurzeme, counted people and their results were that in 1915 in Liepāja [Libau] lived 7163 Jews, in Aizpute [Hasenpoth] 644, in Palanga [Polangen] 513 but in Ventspils [Windau] only 3 /Skujenieks/. The total number of Jews counted in Kurzeme at that time was 9891 Jew. It follows that some 40,000 went in Eastern direction and became war refugees. Even greater number of Jews from other parts of the region of Latvia also moved to the East. The same happened to a lot of Latvian inhabitants of Kurzeme with the difference that most Latvians did not expect anything good of the German Army.

The Jewish war refugees from Kurzeme were ordered to migrate eastwards to Mogilev, Černigov, Poltava, Voronež or Jekaterinoslav provinces. All these provinces except Voronež province belonged to the Pale. See more details in a pamphlet of S.Lipschitz published in Internet. It does not seem that in reality the Empire officials were capable of organizing the evacuation of Jews better than that of Latvians, which, I know, was awful. Some of Jewish refugees from Kurzeme stayed in Riga, some in Vidzeme, some went to other provinces; at the same time many Jews of Riga and Vidzeme migrated eastwards without a special order. The war, the revolution and other events of that time decreased the Jewish population of Latvia considerably. It is estimated that there were 170,000 Jews in the region of Latvia in 1914, and according to the Census of 1925 - 95,000. See statistics Page. The losses about 75,000 persons consisted of the people killed in the war, during the revolution 1917, during the Civil war when the Whiteguards considered all Jews as the Bolsheviks and killed them in many places, though nobody of the Whiteguard military leaders announced the annihilation of Jews as their goal except Baron Ungern-Steinberg who, being a Baltic German, was active very far from the Baltics in Mongolia.

It is also known that a serious number of the Jewish refugees from the Baltic provinces thought Soviet Russia, or later the USSR, as being rather perspective for them and stayed there for good, especially if they were involved in the social changes of the new State. It should also be added that the government of Latvia sometimes put obstacles in the practical reevacuation of Jewish refugees from Soviet Russia, especially if a refugee was suspected to be a leftist, but I can not estimate how successful these attempts were, and I do not think that it was not possible to return for those Jews who really wanted to. In any case during the period between 1920-1925, when Jewish and non-Jewish refugees returned, the rate of Jews in the Latvia population did not decrease - it changed from 4.98% to 5.12%. See statistics Page. I conclude that the rate of Jews among the returning refugees was approximately the same as among the inhabitants of Latvia.  

Jews in Latvia between the World Wars

In 1927 an amendment of the Law of citizenship was adopted that any person, who could prove residence in the region of Latvia for 6 month prior to August 1, 1914, might apply for Latvia citizenship. This term was important to those Jews, who had been living in the region of  Latvia before the WW1 with temporary permissions of the Russia Empire officials. As the result, some additional 4000 Jews acquired the citizenship of Latvia. /Dribins2/ Some of them came from abroad, but I do not think that this number was great.

So the number of Jews in the Latvia Republic between the both World Wars was increasing up to the beginning of the 1930s. During the 1930s the emigration went on, but it was not very intensive. No statistical sources are available for the statistics of emigration, but it is possible to estimate the emigration intensity of Jews. The Census of 1930 counted 94,388 Jews, and in 1935 there were in Latvia 93, 479 Jews, so the decrease was for 909 individuals. As the natural increase of Jews in 1930-1934 was 1050, it follows that 1959 individuals emigrated during this time period (1930-1934). The Jews emigrated to USA, Palestine and also to South Africa.

The Zionist organizations in Latvia not only recruited olim (emigrants) to Palestine but also created a well functioning system of education of young Jews in specialities needed for the future Israel state. As far as I remember the information of the Short Jewish Encyclopedia (in Russian) printed in 1980s in Jerusalem (unfortunately I have not the book at hand now), in Latvia existed a group of young Zionist sailors that were acquiring seafaring, and their boat fled from the Bolsheviks and even reached Palestine in 1940. Young Zionist pilots were also active and possessed their airplane (or may be two?). Groups of Jewish Zionist teenagers studied agriculture in an educational farm near Riga (see more in /Branover/). Some Jews enrolled at Latvia University to study agriculture there, and, as the information from their Latvian fellow-students sounds, they did not make secret of their goal to establish a good agriculture system in the future Jewish state in Palestine. What the Israelites have done, by the way.

The total number of the Jews, who went to Palestine in the 1930s, was more than 5000 persons according to /Dribins/. This number does not contradict to the following figures of V.Krasnais /Krasnais/ based on the information of the Office of Statistics Jerusalem of Apr. 10, 1937. 

In the following table the number of Jews of Latvia that entered Palestine is presented, and I also added the natural increase of Jews in Latvia for the appropriate years from the Statistical Yearbook 1939: 


Number of immigrants

Natural increase




















By the way, 4 Christians of Latvia also migrated to Palestine together with these 2952 Jews during this time period.

In this period the Great Britain imposed quotas for Jewish immigration to Palestine, so considerable illegal immigration also took place but, of course, was not registered in any statistics. Quite possibly the illegal immigration was not much less than the legal immigration. If so, then the number of actual immigrants to Palestine from Latvia was greater than the above mentioned estimate 5000.

But not all Jews in Latvia were active supporters of the idea of the future Jewish state in Palestine. Some went to other Western countries; some of them thought the life would be good enough in Latvia, if necessary amendments took place; some of them had another ideas about the future Jewish state.

In 1926 in Latvia the Society for Assistance to Jewish colonization was organized that supported the idea of creating a Jewish State in the Far East of the USSR. It is asserted that the society was managed by the underground Communist party /Dribins/, /Jakubs/. They had some success, and really some Jews migrated to the USSR to support the creating of Jewish national district in the Far East region of the USSR with the center in Birobidžan. Unfortunately, no information is available about the number of people, to say nothing about their names, who went from Latvia to Birobidžan or other centers of the USSR, but their number was not much greater than a hundred, I guess.

I know that several leftist Jews also migrated to the USSR at the end of the 1930s, when the idea of Birobidžan was not actual, and I guess again that their number was not great at all. The knowledge of the general politics in the USSR of the end of the 1930s allows to conclude that most of the Jewish immigrants from Latvia were imprisoned as spies and perished, but no attempts are known to compile the lists and to investigate the fates of the people.

The Jews not only emigrated from Latvia but also immigrated here from Germany and Poland especially at the end of the 1930s. H.Branover in /Branover/ speaks about many immigrants of this kind, but, in spite of that, I do not think their number was more than several hundreds.

The former ambassador of Latvia in Germany in the 1930s E.Krieviņš informed in his memoirs /Krieviņš/ about Jewish citizens of Latvia in Germany. Their number was over 1000. E.Krieviņš mentioned the following names - Papīrmeisters (Papiermeister), a shop-owner; Brenner, a businessman and sponsor; Leo Michelson, a painter; Jakobs Aronšteins (Aronstein), an entrepreneur and others. The ambassador could do nothing to make easier the life of his Jewish compatriots in Nazi Germany, he just advised them to left the country and most of them really emigrated. It should be mentioned that there were no obstacles for them to leave the Germany and went to America or to West Europe, because they had Latvia passports, and, what is even more important, they were not to obey the restrictions of Latvia state concerning the transfer of money to foreign countries.

The ambassador advised them to grant the power of attorney for managing their real estates in Germany to von der Ropp, the Chairman of the Society of Latvia citizens in Germany, who was a German Baron. By the way, /Krasnais/ informs that only 5 of the total 90 society members were Latvians, others were Germans, and the main part of the members were Jews. E.Krieviņš informs in a sketch of his book /Krieviņš/ written in 1958, that he regularly met von der Ropp at that time (1958), who was still having contacts with the Jews that emigrated to US and Palestine (Israel) before the War and was still being their agent. E.Krieviņš himself also had contacts in 1958 with some former Latvia Jews from Germany, who migrated to London. So one can conclude that the idea of emigrating and managing the real estates worked, at least in some cases.

The communities of Jews with Latvia passports also existed in other countries. V.Krasnais in his book /Krasnais/ spoke about Latvians in various countries of the world at the end of the 1930s, and he also mentioned sometimes the number of non-Latvian citizens of Latvia living in a country. So the data of this book allow to estimate that about 1000 Jewish citizens of Latvia lived in Poland, about 100 in Manchuria, 206 in Switzerland, 15 in Sweden, 58 in England etc. The Latvia embassy in the USSR registered in 1937 ca. 400 Jewish citizens of Latvia in Moscow. It follows that about 3000 Latvia citizens of Jewish ethnicity lived outside Latvia. It could be added that about 7000 Jews living in Latvia were not citizens of Latvia (see another Page for statistics ), but their fate later was not different from the fate of those who were citizens.


Anti-Semitism in prewar Latvia

The attitude of Latvia's officials and Latvians in general to Jewish compatriots is frequently discussed. The participants of the discussions can easily produce the facts that demonstrate anti-Semitism in prewar Latvia, and with the same ease it is possible to prove the lack of it. I would be very happy to avoid this discussion here, but evidently it would not be fairly.

I am going to speak about my personal opinion, and how it changed in time. Initially I did not doubt much that there was serious anti-Semitism in Latvia, though in the newspapers and the books of prewar time I found rather few materials that could be considered anti-Jewish, but the Soviet propaganda style books I used to read have attributed to prewar Latvia all that was bad. The more serious study of the situation gradually changed my mind, I have understood better the processes in Latvia of that time and now I do not feel it is easy to find exemplary anti-Semitism in Latvia at the end of the 1930s, though I still do not think that the life of Jews was so wonderful as it is described in some texts written by some Jewish authors, for instance, in the book of F.Gordon. Latvians and Jews Between Germany and Russia reachable on the Internet.

As an example how this problem is discussed in the literature, I wished to analyze some proofs of the anti-Semitism in Latvia at the end of the 1930s, when the State was ruled by the dictator Kārlis Ulmanis. The proofs were found in the Short Jewish Encyclopedia (in Russian) mentioned above. Unfortunately, I can not check the text now, but as far as I remember, the authors used for indisputable proofs of the anti-Semitism in Latvia politics (at least) three facts:

1) in 1938 the dictator K.Ulmanis introduced the state monopoly of grain trade in order to ruin the Jews busy in this business;
2) he prohibited all Jewish organizations except Betar and Agudey Israel;
3) he closed all Jewish schools except two ones with education in Hebrew language.

The facts are nearly correct, but they may and should be discussed in more details. As these details were omitted in the Encyclopedia, and I always thought that an encyclopedia should provide with the best knowledge on the matter, for me these proofs worked as the opposite - I began to believe that the anti-Semitism was not very serious on the State level. The additional information is the following:

1) According to the same Encyclopedia, the Jews hold in their hands about 30% of the grain trade in Latvia, it follows that other 70% belonged to non-Jews who suffered from the introducing of the State monopoly not much less than Jews. Actually, I think that K.Ulmanis, who, being the dictator, was the best informed person in the country about the political situation in the world, wanted to prepare for the coming War - he knew from the experience of WW1 that it is very difficult to supply the people with food in a war time. After all, why he did not introduce state monopoly for timber trade to ruin the Jews in this business which was 70% Jewish according to the same Encyclopedia? I doubt he cared so much what would happen to the grain business people

2) I am not sure that there were only two above mentioned Jewish organizations at the end of the 1930s. In /Jakub/ a review of Zionistic activities in Daugavpils before the WW2 is published, and one can easily find near to 10 Zionistic organizations active till 1940. As for non-Zionistic organizations they were closed more intensively, because as a rule they seemed and frequently were left orientated. Do not also forget that all dictators are busy with banning of organizations, and at the beginning of the dictatorship (1934) all organizations were prohibited regardless of the ethnicity of the participants. Later a lot of them gradually began to work again, except those that were not desired for the new regime. By the way, the only anti-Semitic organization "Pērkonkrusts" was banned, and it renewed the activities only when Nazis invaded Latvia (then Latvian SSR).

3) Yes, many schools of national minorities were closed at the end of the 1930s, or, more precisely, the state schools of national minorities were closed. It was declared, that there were no serious needs in the minority schools, because the schools teaching in Latvian language should be good enough. One may doubt they really were that good, but the schools of all the national minorities were closed not only the Jewish schools, and not all the minority schools were closed. For example, the Address book for 1940 informs that in the school year 1939/1940 there were 11 Jewish gymnasia (high schools) in Latvia that is more than 2 schools mentioned in the Encyclopedia. You may get additional information on these schools in another page. The analogous list for 1938 gives 10 high schools that is more than 2 again. The lists for previous years contain the similar numbers of the Jewish gymnasia. As for the elementary schools, then according to the information of H.Bregman /Bregman/ in the school year 1933/1934 there were 119 Jewish elementary schools but in 1939/1940 only 74. I do not know the curricula content in the existing Jewish elementary schools, but I could not imagine how it would be possible really to prevent teaching something in schools.

As you see, the situation described in the Encyclopedia was a bit remote from the reality. However I am not insisting that no problems for Jews existed during K.Ulmanis' dictatorship. Though no official or openly declared anti-Semitism was existing, the essence of the State politics was expressed in the slogan "Latvia for Latvians". Latvians here were meant ethnic Latvians, you see. This politics implied continuous pressure to non-Latvians in all branches of business in order to increase the part of ethnic Latvians in business.

All these measures of K.Ulmanis were not targeted to Jews only, but even more to Germans who were quite active in the Latvia business and also to Russians who were less active. Without doubt, one may assert that anti-German propaganda on the official level was much more expressed than anti-Jewish propaganda. For example, the 700 years of German oppression of Latvians were carefully described in the school books and you may be sure that during these long years Germans managed to do something bad that could be gathered and used for making good anti-German propaganda.

I am not going to study on this Site the official regulations and non-official reality that looked rather like corruption or protectionism than the anti-Semitism, which really are sometimes difficult to distinguish. You may connect for additional information to the sources in Internet - the consular documents of USA officials about the situation in Latvia in the end of the 1930s. These documents studied only the situation of Jews, however, picking it out of a broader context, for example, of the situation with German minority.

May be it is worth to add that few social contacts still existed between Latvian and Jewish community though more of them than a hundred years ago. And as for the measures taken against the non-Latvian businesses in general and against Jewish businesses particularly, I can only say that their intensity did not allow to achieve significant decrease of Jewish business. I am afraid that the politics of K.Ulmanis was more dangerous to the Jews who were not businessmen, because in reality they sought for and could find a job mainly in the Jewish-owned enterprises especially at the end of the 1930s when the economical situation really became worse in Latvia like it was in the whole Europe.


The Communist regime 1940-1941

The Census of 1935 counted 93,479 Jews in Latvia, that is about 900 less than in 1930. If in the period 1935-1940 some 5000 persons emigrated, then, taking into account the natural increase, which was small in these years (see above), and the Jews that immigrated from Germany and Poland, there were in Latvia slightly less than 90,000 Jews in the summer 1940, when the country was incorporated in the USSR. As far as I understand, the citizens living abroad were not counted in the Censuses, so the 3000 Latvia's Jews living abroad should not be counted into these 90 thousand.

The new Communist regime established in 1940 required entirely new staff throughout all the institutions, and Jews were among those who came from other regions of the USSR to fill the key positions. They were not very numerous and not important from genealogical point of view, because their presence in Latvia continued rather short time up to the beginning of Nazi German offensive on June 22, 1941, when all of them rolled back. The losses of local Jews due to the arrests and deportation were statistically much more important. It is not known how many Jews were among 13,400 persons arrested and imprisoned in the period until June 14, 1941, and what was their fate. A rough guess could be about 1,000 persons. On June 14, 1941 rather big arrests and deportation took place of about 14,200 persons - 1212 of them were Jews.

More information about these deportations and about the technology of them could be found in the Page about Latvian migration. The fates of the deported Jews should not be very different to the fates of deported Latvians - the arrested fathers perished, and the other exiled family members survived with relatively high probability.

It is also well known that Jews were quite active in the Soviet period and took part in the creation of the whole Communist system that implied a total change of the staff in almost all  state, municipal, police and other institutions. Because during the 1930s Jews gradually disappeared from these institutions of Latvia, now, when suddenly they became visible in local governments, police organizations, among the agitators etc., the impression was created that they were the main actors in the new processes. Actually there were not so many leftist Jews that could grasp the command in the new regime, I think. The real need in the staff was much greater and was filled mainly by Latvians. Some publications inform, for example, that about 70% of the underground Communist party were Jews - that is several hundreds, that many Jews joined the security police in NKVD etc. - not more than 1000 again. Nobody ever cared to publish the lists of the names. In spite of the fact that these lists would be very interesting for family history research, the descendants of Jewish communists and NKVD activists I spoke with were afraid that publishing of any additional information on their parents could be used for a witch hunt in modern Latvia, and they were not very eager to help in the study of this part of Jewish life.

When the Nazi Army had invaded the USSR on June 22, 1941 and was moving forward very fast, all Soviet activists were ordered to retreat together with their family members. Of course, the Jewish ones also tried to obey the order. It should be added that not only the Jewish communists moved eastwards, but also other Jews, because all of the Jews were informed about the anti-Jewish politics of Nazi Germany, though nothing was known yet about Nazi decisions concerning the total extermination of Jewish population. The information published in newspapers in 1939 about Nazi ideas to create a large Jewish region in the South of Poland could not help to understand their real plans. Some of Jews preferred to go to USSR even if they had no sympathy with the Bolsheviks, some thought that there was no danger to stay in Latvia, many of them hesitated, and hesitated too long.

The retreat of Soviet activists was not well organized, actually it looked like a panic flight. There were combat groups of local partisans who attacked the retreating redarmists and Soviet activists. There is some controversy about who created these pro-Nazi combat groups - the local people (Latvians) by their own initiative or the groups were one of the results of secret activities of the Nazi intelligence corps. These activities are not very frequently discussed. For example, V.Karaļuns spoke /Karaļuns/ about documents of Nazi Army intelligence units - Abwehr that revealed this type of Nazi activities. Since the author was a Soviet type historian, who wrote the above mentioned paper /Karaļuns/ for justification of the deportation of June 14, 1941, now any of his assertions is not trusted. As for me, I could not even imagine that the Nazi military professionals ignored the possibility of organizing and of supplying with arms this kind of group, especially if they knew that there were enough of Latvians who were ready to join such groups. In any case, at that time it was much more important for these groups to combat Soviet forces than to exterminate Jews.

The retreating Soviet activists managed to organize in a hurry armed units for fight against the pro-Nazi combat groups and the Nazi Army. S.Arolovičs /Arolovičs/ informs that about 25% of the men were Jews in the unit he joined at that time, and most of this particular unit fell in the combat operations with pro-Nazi units and Nazi Army.

To give insight how all these events of the summer 1941 influenced the lives and surviving of Jews, I will tell you about the fates of three Jewish fathers:

  1. Morduchajs Mesters (Mester), the father of our family friend Hinda Geiman, joined the combatants against pro-Nazi guerillas in the last days of June 1941 and disappeared.
  2. Hiršs Branovers, the father of Herman Branover, was shot by a Soviet armed group by misunderstanding on the way to Latvia Eastern border in the first days of July 1941. More information in /Branover/.
  3. Aba Hozioskis, the father of my friend Solomon Hoziosky, in 1941 joined the Ministry of the Interior (NKVD) and was killed in combat operations against pro-Nazi groups in Latvia or Estonia, as far as I remember.

The Jewish mothers of just mentioned three families picked up their kids and babies, fled eastward and spent the War in the USSR. The flight was dreadful, the living conditions in the USSR were hard, no doubt harder than those of the average local Soviet people during the wartime; the mothers had to fight for survival, what they did, and finally they and their children survived.

The total number of Jews who went eastward is unknown. It is usually estimated at 15,000 persons. S.Arolovičs / Arolovičs/ informs that in the Red (Soviet) Army about 5,000 Latvia Jews fought against Nazi. This number should be included in the above mentioned 15,000. It follows that about 30% of the Jewish refugees joined the Army. This percentage seems to be very great. The rule of thumb used by military organizations sounds that normally about 10% of a population fit for Army reserves. If one assumed that 5000 persons mentioned by S.Arolovičs was 20% of the refugees, one could suppose that about 25,000 Jews left Latvia, but this number seems to be too great.

The names of the military persons of Jewish ethnicity from Latvia, who perished in combat operations of WW2, were compiled by S.Arolovičs /Arolovičs/. The list contains 2166 persons with the first names, the family names, the patronymics, the birth years, the numbers of the military units they served in, the date and the place of the perish. The compiler could not find in archives the names of the people killed in the first weeks of the warfare against Nazi, for example, above mentioned A.Hozioskis and M.Mester were not registered in the book. The preface of the book informs that the list with more detailed information was also presented to the Yad va-Shem Center in Jerusalem, but to my knowledge it is not possible to find it there now. A glance on the dates of perish in this book shows that most of the perished Jews (may be 70%) felt in 1942 in the vicinities of Staraja Russa - this was the region where the Latvian infantry division took up defense at that time and many of the combatants perished.

The Holocaust

The Holocaust began as soon as Nazi armed forces arrived in the region of Latvia (not in Latvia, that did not exist at this moment). The symbolic start of the Holocaust was July 4, 1941, when the Great Riga Synagogue was burned down. Some information about this event can be found in the special Page of this Site. The special units for killing purposes - Einsatzgruppen were created and they did the job until the beginning of 1942. Additional information about these groups you may find in another Page of the Site where the letters of one the participants of this group are published. Some publications in the former USSR and nowadays in Russia and in the Western countries do not find any difference in the activities of the above mentioned Einsatzgruppen and the Latvian Legion, a unit of the Waffen SS, which is completely wrong. The information about the organization process and the activities of the Latvian Legion may be found in the Page about the migrations of Latvians during the WW2.

The ghettos were created in the region of  Latvia in July, 1941.

Riga Ghetto existed till the end of the War, when several thousands of its inhabitants were transported to concentration camps in the Poland territory. Life in these camps was awful and mortality was high. My former colleague Ber Levi son of Benyamin (b.1921), who survived the Holocaust, told me a bit about life in the Ghetto and in these camps, before he left the USSR at the beginning of 1970s. I remember the following observation of his in the camps. The more annoying in the camps in Poland were lice rather than lack of food. There was no sense to kill the lice, because they migrated intensively and some hours after a total killing their amount was the same as before. Some people soon realized that the killing of lice is a waste of badly needed energy, and abandoned it, some of people continued to kill the lice anyway. Those, who kept killing, survived, those, who surrendered, died. I believe that.

The total number of Latvia Jews killed in the Holocaust is about 73,000. I have got this number by subtracting 15,000 Jews that went eastward with the Red Army from the total number of Jews in Latvia in 1940 - 90,000 and by assuming that about 2,000 Jews survived the Holocaust in Latvia and in the camps outside the region of Latvia etc.

The information about the Holocaust victims in Latvia is being gathered by the project Latvia Holocaust Jewish Names Project. You may connect to the Home page of this project in Internet.

The total number of Latvia Jews, who survived the War, could be calculated from 15,000, who went eastward, by subtracting those who perished in the warfare or in the evacuation - that is about 3,000 and by adding those who survived the Holocaust in the region of Latvia or in the camps outside it - that is about 2,000. As the result, one may expect that perhaps even 14,000 Jews of Latvia survived the war - that is their share is about 15%, which is high enough to study this possibility thoroughly for genealogical purposes. But in this case you should focus on your leftist and communist relatives who quite possibly practiced Judaism only at the greatest religious festivals if ever.

Just an example of a Jewish family history read on a gravestone follows. This was a gravestone situated in the part of Rainis cemetery in Riga where middle and high level Soviet functionaries were buried. A kind of privileged place, this part of the cemetery was, you know. The cemetery was not created specially for Soviet functionaries, it was initially meant for Christians, but it is not difficult to find Jewish family names on gravestones there, though they are usually the names of one of the spouses. The gravestone I am speaking about is on the grave of Samovskis family. The name Samovskis in no way can be considered as a purely Jewish name, it is rather of Polish origin, and, by the way, I know a similar Latvian family name Samauskis. The Jewish origin of this family can be easily said from the first names of the buried spouses and namely Faņa daughter of Isaak (1903-1962) and Samuil son of Israel. (1898 - 1977). From the photographs on the gravestone one can see that S.Samovskis was a senior officer of the Soviet Army, quite possibly, a lieutenant-colonel. In 1962, when his wife died, he could choose the possibility of burying her in the Jewish cemetery of Riga, because many Jewish Soviet functionaries really buried their family members in the Jewish cemetery, even if nobody in the family practiced the Judaism. S.Samovskis, being an officer, definitely was a member of the Communist Party, and maybe he was afraid that his local Communist Party unit would consider the burial of his wife in the Jewish cemetery as a demonstration of his hidden sticking to the religion, maybe he really valued very high the possibility of getting a place for family burials in the privileged part of the cemetery, I do not know, of course. In any case, his wife was buried there, as well as he himself when his time came, and so an eventual researcher of this family will never find the grave in a Jewish cemetery. I know nothing more about this family, I am not sure even that the family came from the region of  Latvia;  I talked about the grave just to show the specific difficulties in investigation of left orientated Jews, who fighted in the Soviet Army..


Beasts theory and Idiots theory

Quite ardent discussions are going on the problem if Latvians started the Holocaust massacres spontaneously before the Nazi troops entered the region of Latvia (not Latvia state, which did not exist to this moment) or the extermination was began by the direct order of the Nazi Holocaust engineers. Another problem that seems very important to many people is - why the Latvians (all Latvians, not Latvian Nazis or other specific group) took part in the atrocities against the Jews. Should it be very deeply inherited loathing or perhaps some other explanation may be searched for. I would be awfully happy not to take part in this discussion, but again I do not think it would be honest.

The Nazi wartime propaganda and many publications after the WW2, including some texts written by Jews, asserted that the Latvians started the killings of Jews driven by lust of Jewish blood without any command of Nazi forces. The authors among the Latvian war refugees in the West and the authors of politically correct publications in today's Latvia do not argue seriously with the fact as itself, but have found a good (as they think) theory why Latvians participated in these atrocities. This theory sounds: Latvians took part in the Holocaust, because the Jews were active in the Communist terror of 1941, or sometimes another formula is used: the Jews were responsible for all the crimes of Communists in 1941. So instead of the assertion: the Latvians are beasts, who are ready to kill everybody, comes another assertion - the Latvians are idiots, who do not understand that it were an extreme injustice to kill anybody for real or imaginary crimes of other people of the same ethnicity. This theory seems good, because it allows to shift the discussion from Holocaust events and reasons to the discussion how many Jews were among the Communist functionaries in 1941.

You are free to make choice between these two theories that in reality are overgeneralizations of single facts known by their advocates and both finally stem from the same sort of racism that gave theoretical background for the Holocaust. For more information on the discussions on the Holocaust in the region of Latvia (not in Latvia, because in that time the former Latvia was part of Ostland) you may browse Internet or have a look in the book of A.Ezergailis /Ezergailis/ or in its Introduction available on the Internet or in the paper of M.Vestermanis available on the Internet or link to the Operational situation reports of the Nazi killing squads. These reports are also available on the Internet, and they provide the firsthand information on the Holocaust. All of the just mentioned sources argue with the Beasts theory and in less extent with the Idiots theory, so I felt I needed to add some family lore that works against this theory.

But I hope you agree that the adoption of any of these or other theories do not impact the genealogical consequences of the Holocaust - totally in the region of Latvia were killed more than 70,000 Jews, former subjects of Latvia. Unfortunately, the theories should be taken into account if one tries to collect genealogy related information. The Beast theory makes harder to get reliable information on the Holocaust events from Latvian sources. The Idiots theory makes it practically impossible to get detailed information about those Jews who supported Soviets.



© Bruno Martuzāns. 1995-2002