“Krustpils” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Latvia and Estonia
(Latvia)

56°32' / 25°53'

Translation of “Krustpils” chapter
from Pinkas Hakehillot Latvia v'Estonia

Written by: Mordechai Neistadt and Esther Hagar

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1988


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This is a translation from:Pinkas Hakehillot Latvia and Estonia:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Latvia and Estonia,
Edited by Dov Levin, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.


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(pp. 223-225)

Krustpils

(in German: Kreutzburg, in Yiddish: Kreitzburg)

Written by Mordechai Neistadt and Esther Hagar

Translated by Shay Meyer

A town in the domain of Daugavpils in western Latvia, on the right bank of the Dvina River, opposite the town Jekabpils on the left bank.

Year Total
Population
Jewish
Population
Percentage
1772     46
1897 4,142 3,164 75
1920 1,914 1,204 63
1925 3,526 1,331 38
1930 3,213 1,159 36
1935 3,658 1,043 29

 

Up Until the End of the First World War

Krustpils was founded as a fortified castle in 1257 by the bishop of Riga, Nikolai Magdenburg. The settlement grew significantly from the second half of the 19th century, because it was at the junction of two railway lines: the Riga-Dvinsk line and the Moscow-Windau line. In 1920 Krustpils was given the status of city.

The Krustpils community was one of the first communities of Latgale. There is reason to believe that Jews already lived in the town at the end of the 17th century. Apparently, they came here from the neighboring Courland. In 1766, at the end of the regime of Poland, Krustpils and the surrounding villages (within Latgale) had 2,156 Jews paying the head-tax. At the time the town was annexed to Russia (1772) the Jews constituted about half of the population.

From the existing sources, it appears that the community of Krustpils at the end of the 19th century was poor both materially and spiritually. Communal workers had difficulty dealing with the poverty and calamities. In the autumn of 1888 an epidemic of childhood disease fell on the town, taking the lives of about 300 babies and toddlers. At the time of the disaster no public initiatives or activities to ease the lot of the many families in distress were evident. “Talmud Torah” was in a state of neglect in the years of the nineties and very little study was undertaken. “The needy themselves begged for fire-wood from house to house” – is written in a report of the IKA society in 1904. In the summer of 1900 a fire broke out in the town. The fire destroyed mainly homes and shops of Jews.

In the course of the years, positive advances occurred in the lives of the members of the community. A government public school for the children of the Jews was established in the years of the late nineties. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a mutual credit fund was set up in Krustpils. The fund had 136 members in 1911. The total of loans issued for the year reached 72,000 Rubles. In 1913 a Jewish library opened on site. During the years of peak revolutionary activity, in the first decade of the twentieth century, a branch of the “Bund” existed here, shared jointly between Krustpils and Jakobstadt (see Jekabpils), which had about 100 members.

Rabbi Yaakov HaCohen officiated as the community Rabbi during the years of the twenties of the 19th century. His son, Rabbi Zadok HaCohen, who was born in 1823 in Krustpils and grew up there, became famous as a sage, and officiated as Rabbi in several cities in Russia.

During the fifties and sixties, Rabbi Moshe son of Gershon Gershuni-Ziv served as Rabbi in Krustpils. His composition about the Rambam [Maimonides], entitled “The Way of the Rambam” was published in Vilna in 1866. At the all Russia congress of Rabbis and community leaders in 1893, Krustpils was represented by the merchant M. Rabinovitz. He also represented the communities of Livenhof (see Livani) and Glazmanka (see Gostini).

For an extended period of time during the First World War, the town was on the front line, which stretched along the banks of the Dvina River. The town was heavily hit by repeated artillery bombardments and most of the houses were either damaged or destroyed. At the end of September 1917, the Russian army set fire to the town prior to their retreat. At the beginning of October 1918, the Bolsheviks captured the town, and they held on to it until the beginning of June 1919.

 

Between the Two World Wars

Demography and economics

Some people began to return to Krustpils in the second half of 1920, after fleeing the town in the war years and wandering as refugees from place to place. Most of them were now destitute and found no shelter for themselves. Since most of the houses were destroyed, the refugees were forced to live for many months in congestion, 2 to 3 families in each apartment. With aid from the “Joint” those houses that could be repaired were repaired. The “Joint” also provided direct aid to the needy families and helped the community to restore the bath-house to working order.

Restoring the economic activity in Krustpils was a very slow process. In the end, the vast majority of the Jews of Krustpils had their own home, but very few of them were wealthy or prosperous. A substantial number were poor or in need of charity. Towards the end of the twenties, some of the Jewish members of the community moved to Riga. Most of the Jews were active in commerce, but there was also a substantial number who practiced trades or professions. In 1935 about half of the shops in the town were owned by Jews. A more substantial number - 86 out of 117 - of the first rank shops or businesses were owned by Jews, as shown in the following table:

Category or type of business Total
number
Owned
by
Jews
%
Grocery stores 45 32 71
Cloth and garments 13 13 100
Meat stores 11 8 73
Leather and shoes 9 9 100
Inns and restaurants 8 3 38
Tools and building materials 4 4 100
Seeds and produce 3 3 100
Barbers 13 7 54
Other 11 7 64

Two out of 4 of the dentists were Jews. Of the 5 physicians in Krustpils, one was Jewish.

 

The Community and its Institutions

A community committee was elected in 1921. The leftists, who were organized in the “Arbeiterheim” club, boycotted the elections (See under Jekabpils). The mutual aid fund was re-established with the help of a grant of 100,000 Rubles, received from the “Joint” at the beginning of the twenties. The fund also served the neighboring communities. Of the 322 stake holders in the fund, 80 were from Jekabpils, 20 were from Gostini, and a few were from Livani and from Viesite. Towards the end of the thirties, all the charity and aid groups joined forces under a roof-organization called the “Krustpiler Yiddisher Hilfsverein”. The income from dues collected from heads of families was distributed by the roof-organization among the charity groups such as: Bikkur Cholim, Bread for the needy, the committee for fire-wood, etc. Two community activists of that time stood out, the pharmacist Lifman who was considered the community leader, and Joseph Spongin who took part in all the charitable groups as well as other activities.

The community had seven synagogues. The leading one was the “Old Bet Midrash” (or “Der Olmsher Bet Midrash”), which was located in the center of the town. It was accepted within the congregation that this synagogue was established “300 years ago”. Around the stylistic Aron Kodesh there were wooden carvings with images of eagles and lions, the handwork of an artist. One of the two synagogues in the quarter of the poor “Al HaHar” [On the hill], was called “Minyan Hasidei De Har”. The above- mentioned activist, Joseph Spongin, established it with money from his own pocket.

From the twenties till the mid thirties, Rabbi Reuven Levin served as Rabbi. After him, his son in law served as Rabbi - Rabbi Yizhak Guartin, who was born in Livani, who studied in his youth at the Riga Yeshiva, and who was an associate of the genius the Rogchovi (Rabbi Yosef Rozin from Dvinsk). Rabbi Guartin died in the Holocaust, together with the members of his congregation.

In 1922 a public school was established in Krustpils. The language of instruction in the school was Yiddish, but Hebrew was also taught there. In 1926 the school was merged into the network of educational institutions of the Yiddishisti organization ZISHA [Central Organization of Yiddish Schools in the Polish Republic]. In that year it had 7 classes and 206 pupils. In 1928 the school moved into a new building that was built for the school by the municipality. For an extended period of time the parents of the pupils at this school carried out a fierce argument concerning to what extent the spirit of Zionism should be upheld, if at all. In the context of this argument, some of the parents went so far as to lodge complaints with the state comptroller. After the Ulmanis revolution (1934), the teacher M. Koshlin was expelled from the school, because he was a member of the Zionist Socialist (ZS) party, and the school became an institution of religious study. The headmaster at the school was Leib Kleinman.

 

Political Activities

The first public organization that began activities in Krustpils after the First World War was a branch of the “Zionist Youth” party that had 65 members. One of the leaders at the branch was David Ipodkin. In the thirties, the branch of the “Bund” also had a youth group. Boris Minsker was the party representative in the municipal council. Members of the left camp and Jewish communists disguised their illegal activities under cover of the “Culture League” organization. The only Jewish library was located in the club of the “Arbeiterheim”. At the end of the twenties a branch of the “Shomer HaZair - Nezah” movement was established in Krustpils. Later, a branch of the “Beitar” movement was organized. For a short time in the mid thirties, a branch of the “Herzlia” movement was active in Krustpils. In the elections for the 18th Zionist Congress in 1933, Kruspils cast 120 votes for Erez Yisrael Ovedet, 111 votes for the Revisionists and 15 votes for the Mizrahi party.

As the number of Jewish residents on the town diminished, the status of their representatives in the town council also went down. The first town council, which was elected in October 1922, had 7 Jewish representatives out of 13 council members. But the town council that was elected in 1926 had only 6 Jewish representatives versus 7 Latvians. Nevertheless, the Jew Baruch Lit was elected as mayor, through a coalition that included some Latvians, and his office continued until 1930. In that year, the Jews ran for the elections with 6 different lists [political parties], and received only 7 representatives out of 19 members of the town council. For the most part, the relationships with the Latvians were satisfactory. In the elections for the Latvian “Saeima “ (parliament), the voters in the Krustpils community were divided as follows: “Agudat Yisrael” 605 votes, “Zionist Youth” 202 votes, the “Bund” 133 votes, “Mizrahi” 2 votes. There is no doubt that the high number of votes for “Agudat Yisrael” was due to the great esteem afforded at that time to the leader of “Aguda”, Mordechai Dubin.

[Mordechai Neistadt]

 

During the Second World War and Afterwards

For the duration of the Soviet reign (1940 – 1941), the branches of the political parties and the youth movements were closed down, and the activities of the community institutions were stopped. Among others, the “Hevra Kadisha” was also shut down in the wake of a government decree that was published on 12 December 1940. In the framework of the sovietization policy, Jewish owned shops and businesses were also nationalized. Even so, some of the Jews took part in the management and operation of the new regime. Those from the leftist groups also integrated into the soviet political structure: a Jew named Nathan Kodesh was nominated as vice-mayor, and another Jew, Haim Mailch was nominated as the local chief of police.

After war broke out between Germany and the Soviet Union in June 1941 and in view of the rapid advance of the German army – many Jews began to debate the question, whether to flee or stay where they were. The Rabbi of the community, Rabbi Yizhak Guartin, was among those who were against fleeing. Many hundreds of Jews chose to escape and went North-East in the direction of the former Soviet border. Some of them managed to reach Varaklâni and Rezekne. However, due to false pacifying announcements on the part of the authorities or for other reasons, some of them returned to Krustpils. Others, who continued on their way, were trapped by the Germans in the town Karsava or other places. Only a few hundred managed to reach deep into the Soviet Union.

The German army captured Krustpils in June 1941. Jewish refugees, from various places in Latvia, who were caught at the local railway station on their way to the Soviet Union, were separated from the other travelers, and isolated in a separate carriage. The Jews of Krustpils and the refugees who reached the town were murdered during the months of the summer and the autumn of 1941. In August alone, 420 men women and children were put to death, some in the local slaughter house, and most in the Koksene forest, about 12 Km. outside the town. Also the Jews of the neighboring Jekabpils were slaughtered in the same place. The Jews from Krustpils who were caught in Karsava or in other places were murdered there together with the local Jews.

In August 1944 the red army conquered Krustpils. Of the Jews who escaped to the Soviet Union, about 200 survived the war. In 1945 a fraction of them began to return to Krustpils. Among them was Nathan Kodesh, mentioned above, who returned to become a member of the town council. The Jews, who returned, buried the victims of the Nazis in a common grave on “French Hill” and set up a memorial-stone in their memory. The victims included the Jews from Krustpils and some near-by villages such as Ungurmuiza and Plavinas. Through the advocacy of N. Kodesh, the authorities allowed the memorial-stone to be engraved in Yiddish in addition to Russian.

[Esther Hagar]

 

lat_00223.jpg
The memorial-stone that was set up in Krustpils (Kreitzburg) after the Second World War, and upon it an inscription in Russian and in Yiddish: “In eternal memory of the Jewish population of Krustpils and Plavinas who were shot by the German conquerors in 1941. May their souls be bound up in the bond of everlasting life.”

Bibliography

The Historical Archives of the Association of Immigrants from Latvia and Estonia – Shefayim: II K 40.
The Central Zionist Archives – Jerusalem: Z-4/215-18.
Jabotinsky Institute – Tel-Aviv: B4/29, results of the survey of Beitar centers (19 June 1931).
American Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) Archives – New York: Countries – Latvia (1920 – 1930).
Alexander A. Landesco, Report 7.
3543. Lemums. 1940 g. 12 decembri.
Communities and fashion, Shimon, the Historical Archives of the Association of Immigrants from Latvia and Estonia – Shefayim: II K 25, II K 40.
Eliav, B: The Jews of Latvia. [Hebrew]
Die Geschichte von Bund, II. [Yiddish]
Levin, Dov: With Ones Back to the Wall. [Hebrew]
Niger, Shmuel: Leksikon von der Neier Yiddisher Literatur. [Yiddish]
Pinkas von Rieger Yiddishe gezelaftleche un filantrafishe Toer. [Yiddish]
Die Yiddishe Ekanamic: No. 4-5 (1937). [Yiddish]
Blackbook of Localities.
Salnais, V: Pilsetu Apraksti (1936). [Latvian]
Skujenieks, M: Latvija. (Zeme un iedzivotaji), 1927. [Latvian]
Blium, I.A: Kooperachia credo evreyev. [Russian]
Drizul, A.A: Boriba lamiskozo iaroda …. [Russian]
Evreiskoye statisticheskoye obschestvo: Evreiskoye nace leniye Rossii [Russian]
Michelson, Frida: Ya perezhila Rumbulu, Tel-Aviv, 1973 [Russian]
Cporinuk materialov ob ekonomicheskom polozhenii evreyev v Rossii [Russian]
Cpavochnaya kniga po boprosam obrazovania evreyev. [Russian]
“Evreiskaya strana”: 3 (1911), 5 (1915). [Russian]
“Rassvet”: 7(1913). [Russian]
“Der Americaner”: (14.5.1943) [Yiddish]
“Hayent”: (26.5.1938), (17.9.1939), (18.2.1940) [Yiddish]
“Hamelitz”: 11 (1889), (30.3.1893), 40, 65, 189 (1900) [Yiddish and Hebrew]
“Das Falk”: (15.1.1921), (26.10.1922), (6.4.1923), (18.10.1925), (21.4.1926) [Yiddish]
“Frimargen” (26.1.1926), (15,3,1926), (20.4.1926), (23.12.1928), (2.1.1930), (28.2.1930), (9.10.1930), (25.12.1933) [Yiddish]

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