by Moshe Amir (Bliach)
The Dvinsk to which memory returns is the famed City and Mother in Israel, teeming with Jews, hospitable beyond belief and bubbling with communal activities. The realisation that it has been silenced makes on quiver and shake, remembering what the murderers did to this creative centre and source of culture which no longer exists.
The purpose of the present essay is to offer a memorial in order that future generations, offspring and descendants of those who once dwelt in Dvinsk may know their forefathers and bear them in mind. For the ashes of our martyrs were turned into fertilizer for fields. Their bones were ground into phosphates; the very hair of their heads was taken to be stuffed into mattresses. Let these things be remembered throughout the ages.
The Foundation and Development of Dvinsk
Dvinsk was originally known as Dünaburg, a name that bears witness in the founders of the city which was established in 1278 C.E. by the Order of Livonian Knights. The name means the Burg or citadel on the Dvina (the Western Dvina besides which the city lies). The German name was retained for more than 600 years until 1893 in fact. Not only does Dvinsk lie beside the River Dvina, but it is also a junction on the RigaOrelLeningradVilna Railway. Throughout the centuries, its strategic advantages have attracted many conquerors. The Livonian Knights used it as a fortress from which to expand and strengthen their authority as conquerors of the medieval inhabitants of the Baltic coast. Both Lithuanians and Russians repeatedly tried to take the city by assault but did not succeed.
With the liquidation of the Livonian Order in 1561, the City of Dünaburg was taken over by the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, together with the territory known as Latgale. The city afterwards passed repeatedly from hand to hand and only with the First Partition of Poland in 1772, did it finally become part of Russia together with all its environs. However, it was attacked by the Poles in 1795 that set it on fire and almost burnt it down. In 1812, it was briefly occupied by the French during Napoleon's campaign and finally passed to Russia after his defeat and remained in
Russian hands until World War I in 1914 when it was occupied by the German Army. In 1919, it was held by the Bolshevik forces but became part of Independent Latvia early in 1920 after the conclusion of peace with the U.S.S.R.
Following the occupation of Latvia by the Germans in 1941, Dvinsk began to experience the horrors of the Holocaust and the entire Jewish community was exterminated. The city is now within the Latvian Republic of the U.S.S.R.
As mentioned, Dvinsk is an important maritime and land entrepôt and owed its rapid growth as an important industrial centre to the timber trade, in particular thanks to Western (Baltic) Dvina whose source lies in central Russia. This river takes a southwest course amid forested marshlands and passes through the northern section s of White Russia where it takes a northwest turn and crosses Latvia. The Dvina is the chief river of that entire territory, emptying into the Baltic Sea at the Gulf of Riga. It is more than 1000 kilometres (over 600 miles) long and is a very convenient route for wooden rafts thus making the development of the timber trade and related industries possible.
The various rulers who held Dvinsk all set their stamp upon it and it had a manifold population consisting of White Russians, Ukranians, Lithuanians, Poles and Germans. The Jews constituted the largest minority in the city prior to their liquidation. Until 1914, they were 14% and at the time of their extermination, they were 5%. It is interesting that even during the two decades of Independent Latvia; the city almost completely disregarded the national language and continued to use Russian even for conducting municipal affairs. The Latvian inhabitants of Latgale constituted a backward group among their own Latvian compatriots. They spoke a slightly different dialect from the standard vernacular of Livonia and Kurland, whose inhabitants were regarded as purer stock. They looked down on the Latgalians referring to them as the Tchangali to indicate that they were inferior in some way. The pure Latvians regarded themselves as closer to the noble German race, assimilated with them and almost all spoke German while the Latgalians spoke either their own dialect or Russian. The latter were backward in all respects and were an impoverished group. For example, while illiteracy in Kurland and Livonia reached five percent, it was more than 40% in Latgale. To begin with they had great difficulties with their own dialect which lacked all tradition and history.
In 1860, Dvinsk had a total population of 26,000. By 1892, the number
had risen to 73,000 while in 1913, it had reached 130,000. The most developed economic branches in the city were the timber industry and trade, skins and leather, flax, tobacco and sweets.
The Jews of Dvinsk
The Jewish community of Dvinsk began to strike roots there by the second half of the 18th century. Since the city was a fortress, Jews were forbidden in 1812 to erect any building whatsoever or to take up permanent residence. In spite of this, some 800 Jews were to be found there in 1805. The community grew steadily and since it was later included in the Pale of Settlement, Jews settled there in large numbers.
By 1897 when a census was held, 32,400 Jews lived there. The Jewish population continued to increase and in 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, there were over 60,000 in a total population of 130,000 namely, almost half of the population.
At this time, 49% of the Jews were merchants, 7% consisted of members of the free professions while the rest were artisans or craftsmen of various kinds. All of them were literate, reading and writing Yiddish without exception. There were any number of Hadarim (Hebrew classes) and the sound of the study of Torah, starting with little children of 3 and 4 up to students of the Talmud could be heard on every side. As early as 1887, there was a Trade school with 72 pupils while in 1902, a Trade school was established for girls and then they had 208 pupils. In that year, 2 libraries were founded and there were 3 loan funds. According to the 1897 Census, the Jews represented 46% of the total population with almost all the trade of the city in the hands of Jews; Of the 1370 merchants, 1134 were Jews while there were only 168 agriculturists amid a total of 22,320. The Jews played a large part in the clothing industry. 4769 persons were making their living from it. A total of 838 souls engaged in education and 805 in wood processing. There were 692 Jews in the army and three factories in the city that employed 575 male and female workers.
In 1901, there were 3 municipal elementary schools for Jewish children where tuition was in Russian. These were attended by 300 children. A school giving instruction in Hebrew was also established in the same year and it had 81 pupils.
World War I broke out in 1914 and deprived the city of its Jewish inhabitants. N order from the Russian Commander, the Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevitch, uncle of the Tsar Nikolai II, brought about the expulsion of the Jews from all places along the RussoGerman front as
being under suspicion of espionage and of untrustworthy elements. Tens of thousands of Jews were compelled to abandon all their property and belongings and were carried off to places in the heart of Russia or as far as Siberia.
It was then that Jewish Dvinsk revealed itself in all its magnificent humanity. As one man, they engaged in fraternal aid on a scale never before seen. Public kitchens were established while hundreds of volunteers engaged day and night in the sacred task of tending the children of the refugees who passed through the city absolutely destitute and coming from all small neighbouring towns and even from Lithuania. The warm and sensitive Jewish heart responded far beyond its capacity. For the war had affected the Jewish population in particular, destroying all their normal sources of livelihood.
Famine and disease wrought havoc and the population emptied out of the city. All those who could do so fled afar. Even the great rabbi and pride of the community, rabbi and Gaon of Rogachov, left the city, depressing the feelings of those who remained. Their eyes then turned to the other great luminary of Tora, the Gaon Reb Meir Simha. He resolutely rejected every entreaty to leave the dangerous place, for the time being, saying: as long as nine Jews remain in the city, I shall be the tenth for a minyan (prayer quorum). Together with his flock, he underwent all the suffering they experienced but stayed where he was throughout the war as Rabbi of the community and spiritual guide and father of his congregation.
The Rabbis of the City
Dvinsk was privileged to have some of the most outstanding rabbinical authorities of the past century and a half, occupying its rabbinical seats. Among those who made the name of Dvinsk famous in the Jewish world were, in particularly three persons. The first of these was Reb Reuvele Dinaburger, one of the greatest scholars and Jewish legal authorities of modern times and whose pupil was the late Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, of blessed and saintly memory. (Rabbi Kook himself came from Grivo which lies on the other bank of the River Dvina). The other two outstanding authorities were Rabbi Meir Simha Hacohen and Rabbi Joseph Rosen, the Gaon of Rogachov, who were the pride of the city and of learned Jewry everywhere. They helped to spread the name of Dvinsk far and wide throughout observant Jewry.
Rabbi Meir Simha served as rabbi for 39 consecutive years, while the
Gaon of Rogatchov also occupied a rabbinical seat there for half a century. There was never any dispute in Dvinsk between Hassidim and Mitnagdim; the only difference lying in a few synagogue usages and details of prayers recited by the respective groups. They lived together without barriers between them. The Gaon Rabbi Meir Simha was the rabbi of the Mitnagdim while Rabbi Joseph Rosen, Gaon of Rogatchov, was the rabbi of the Hassidim. They were vastly different in their temperaments, way of living and spiritual worlds, but they were very close in their great scholarship and spiritual authority.
Rabbi Meir Simha was regally tall and erect, honoured and respected by all who saw him. He was friendly, easygoing, spoke carefully and was welcomed and venerated by all including every nonJewish community in the city without exception. The latter believed that the Rabbi had some magical powers. I remember a flood occurred when the Dvina overflowed its banks and threatened to flood the city. Gentiles and Jews alike swore by all that was holy to them that they saw Reb Meir Simha mount the embankment, gaze at the swirling waters for a moment, murmur something very quietly and the waters withdrew and the danger passed.
He had been a merchant in his youth and knew how to smooth differences over since he was familiar with problems of daily life.
On the other hand, the spiritual leader of the Hassidim, Gaon of Rogachov, was short and nimble with a fine ascetic face and head covered with white curls down to his shoulders. He left an unforgettable impression on all who saw him. He remained secluded and all his activities had something in common with his works as represented by the best known one the Tsafenat Paancah (Decipherer of Hidden Things). The great Hebrew poet, Hayyim Nahman Bialik, spent some time with him and later said: From the brain of the Rogachover, it would be possible to make two Einsteins. There is an incomparable uniqueness about him and he must be regarded as a great spiritual asset of the Jewish People. If his erudition and knowledge could be systematically and scientifically exploited, our culture would be enriched by dozens of valuable creative works. If it were possible to draw upon the Talmudical resources in his brain, it would be possible to create and comprehensive culture.
That was what Bialik said after a one hour conversation. Indeed, Dvinsk was privileged to have great scholar of the age dwelling in its midst.
The Synagogues of the City
The Jews of Dvinsk were not extremists in their faith and religious practice like certain sections of Polish Jewry and were most assuredly
Worlds apart from such groups as those of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem. At the same time, most of them were traditionalists and observantly fulfilled commandments without wearing unusual clothing. They did not wear either Shtreimel (fur headpieces) or Kapote (long robes) although synagogues and prayergroups were plentiful and were always full of persons reciting their prayers. The ChorShul in Petrograd Street in the centre of the city, was a magnificent lofty building with a splendid internal structure. It attracted many people who wished to hear the Cantor and the fine choir. This was the centre for the more secularist believers.
If a famous cantor came to Dvinsk he would be heard in the ChorShul where he would have to pass the exacting standards of the local experts. On the other hand, the Planover Minyan (Planov quorum) where the Rogatchover Gaon prayed, attracted scores and hundreds of persons who repeated their prayers in rotation every day from dawn until noon. The building was always full of prayers one prayer quorum ending and another beginning.
Similarly, the Koholisher BetHamidrash (the Congregational House of Study) was the spot where Reb Meir Simha chose to pray. Here, everything was quiet and reserved. There were fewer people and prayers were more restrained. Rabbi Meir Simha prayed at length and the congregation would wait in awe and respect until he completed the Eighteen Blessings and took the traditional three steps backward; entirely unlike the Rogachover Gaon who would be the first to complete his prayers and would then hasten back to the Torah on which he would meditate by day and night.
Those were the most aristocratic centres of prayer in the city. In addition, there were dozens of prayer groups such as that of the Butchers, the Tailors' Synagogue, the Dyers' Minyan, the Green Synagogue, etc., all of them crowded daybyday. At the High Holidays, the voices would burst forth so that in the words of the Bible, people could see them and the whole city was transformed into one vast prayer bursting forth from the heart and sweeping everything away in tears. Such was Dvinsk, the City and Mother in Israel on weekdays and on festivals.
Dvinsk also had a Yeshiva (Talmudical Academy) where some one hundred lads and young men studied by day and night. They had many keen minds among them. The Yeshiva was headed by Der Kovner (the Man from Kovno), a finefeatured scholar who won the hearts of his students. The Heshiva bore the name of the wealthy philanthropist, Reb Sotse Horvitch who maintained it at his own expense.
The Jewish Community of Dvinsk preserved Jewish traditions in a most honourable fashion. The apikorsim (unbelievers) and the observant treated one another with mutual respect. For Dvinsk was also a cradle of revolutionaries, of both the Bund and the leftwing Zionist Movements. They all lived together with mutual tolerance, never going beyond the proper bounds or engaging in personal attacks even during elections. On this, the city prided itself.
The Parties in Dvinsk
Most of the population were poor people making their living by the toil of their hands and earning little. Economically speaking, lower standards of living were to be found only in Vilna. Yet despite their poverty, the ordinary Jews of Dvinsk were concerned with everything affecting the fate of Jewry and its struggle for a better future and a more just society. They therefore took an active part in any struggle against the Tsarist regime which oppressed and discriminated against the Jews. For 35% of the Jews of the city were hired workers, clerks or craftsmen while the others were artisans whose living depended on the grace of Heaven. Welltodo persons, even by local standards, were few and far between. The majority lived on scanty bread and water.
So, it was not surprising that the population tended to support all manifestation that might help to break the yoke of servitude and all eyes were turned towards any slight improvement. Thus, we find that as early as 1880, when Pogroms began in Tsarist Russia with the approval of the authorities, Jewish national groups organized for active resistance. At about the same time, the Hovevei Zion organized in town and societies were established bearing the name of Moses Montefiore, Zionist Unity, Young Israel, Liberty, Zionist Socialists, Revival, and Vozrozhdenie all of these had the same purpose: war against the oppressors and liberation from obscurantist regime.
In 1900, the first Poalei Zion Group was established in the City and under the influence of Ber Borochow and Shimoni (Dabin), and about a year later they officially organized themselves as a party. At the Poalei Zion Convention which was held in Vilna in 1903, the Dvinsk Group headed by Alter Yaffe and Zalman Abramson, presented a programme clearly defining the necessity for Class war and Socialism as foundations of the movement.
When Pogroms broke out in 1905, after the collapse of the revolt against the regime, an alliance was established in October and a selfdefence movement was established for active defence measures. The parties had
That participated included the Bund, the Zionist Socialists, the Seimovtsi and the Poalei Zion. In that year, the Poalei Zion made its way into the Trade Union Movement which had previously been monopolized by the Bund and played an active part in the struggle for improved working conditions as well as the political demands from the authorities.
The repression that followed the disturbances of 1905 severely affected the organisers and the movement was considerably weakened until the outbreak of World War I. It was only in 1914 that it recovered and revived for a little while in the days of Kerensky after the Russian Revolution of February, 1917.
The first Commissar of the City was Haver Rosenbaum, Chairman of the Zeirei Zion thanks to who young men walked about freely on curfew nights with the cards of the Watch Committee, a militia which was organized at short notice.
The Dvinsk Zionists also made their mark in the General Zionist Movement. Moshe Berlin represented the Hovevei Zion of Dvinsk at the First (1890) Conference of the Odessa Committee, which the Russian Government had officially recognized as representing the Hovevei Zion Movement. Dvinsk was represented at the First Zionist Congress by S.J. Sachs. When the Zionist Youth Movement first began to flourish, Dvinsk was the first city in which young people organized.
In 1903, the first group of members of the Labour Zionist Movement proceeded to Eretz Israel. Among them was Sarah Malkin who became proverbial as a Halutza and was esteemed and revered by all. Others were Rachel Gutman, Antin, Tchia Lieberson, Eliezer Zadikoff and Baruch Kastral. These were the first of all the Dvinsk halutzim who are now to be found in kibbutzim, moshavim and settlements wherever they have been up building or defence activities, and some of whom are now to be found in the High Command of the Israel Defence Forces. They prepared the way serving as a lighthouse to all who followed in their footsteps.
Dvinsk was one of the strongholds of the Bund being largely proletarian with a bitterly poor population. By the standards of those days, it also had no small number of industrial workers in the few factories of the city and also in the clothing industry, the bristle manufacture, match manufacture and general unskilled Lumpenproletariat. All these were naturally suitable human material for the Bund which based its entire existence and ideology on the demand that the Jews stay where they were in the Diaspora and called only for cultural autonomy while remaining an integral part of the Social Democrat Movement except insofar
as certain specific Jewish interests were concerned. As early as 1872, there was already a Revolutionary Group in the city headed by the Jew, Elijah Snapp, and an exceedingly unexpected participant the Russian Beliaiev who was a student at the Seminary for Priests. In 1876, almost all the group were arrested and their movement liquidated. They were known as the Social Revolutionary Society. A Jewish section of the illegal Social Revolutionary party was established in the same year.
During the years 189397 strikes broke out, from time to time, for better working conditions and also for political improvement. In 1896, the workers of Dvinsk openly celebrated the 1st May in the streets. The independent efforts made under the leadership of Mania WilbuschevitchShohat, who left the Bund and was bedazzled by Zubatov, head of the Secret Police, to establish a group of their own in Dvinsk, proved fruitless. This attempt at an independent Movement was misled by Zubalov and caused considerable trouble to the organized workers until it was proven beyond doubt that Zubatov was exploiting Mania Wilbuschevitch's innocence in a shameful fashion. When the trick was discovered, the Movement vanished from the ken of Jewish workers.
The Dvinsk workers were represented at the Bund Convention in Bialystok by their representative Kaplinsky. In 1899, some 300 Jewish workers of the city celebrated the 1st of May while in 1903, some 700 persons demonstrated. During the February 1905 Demonstration, there was a conflict with the police during the course of which 30 people were wounded and killed. A memorial was erected for them in 1925 and Bund members used to gather there in large numbers on certain occasions during the year.
The local Jews were very much affected by the trial of Mendel Beiliss in 1913 and the name of Gruzenberg, the Jewish lawyer who defended him, never left their lips. Prayers were said in the synagogues for the disproof of the Blood Libel and Dvinsk Jews of the city held a protest meeting against the course of the trial. In 1915, the Bund organized another protest again the War. All who attended were arrested and imprisoned.
When World War I broke out in August 1914, it swept the inhabitants away and scattered them like chaff before the wind. The city was almost evacuated. Only when the war was over did the former inhabitants slowly return and Dvinsk revived fully with the establishment of the Independent State of Latvia, though two years passed before it became part of that State. It was only included within Latvia as the chief city of the Latgale District in January 1920.
Yet, although Dvinsk renewed her youth, she could not compare with
by gone days. Of the 60,000 who had formerly lived there, only 12,000 Jews remained. They returned as broken refugees to a ruined city but then swiftly began to reestablish their communal lives on the old foundations. They were aided by the extensive autonomy granted to minorities by the State of Latvia and confirmed by the Geneva Convention. But in the end, all of their lives were destroyed by the Nazi and Jewish Dvinsk vanished from the Jewish map.
The Jews of Dvinsk regarded themselves as Litvaks (Lithuanians) in all respects and were imbued with the dedication to study and earn Jewish scholarships which marked the Jewish community of the neighbouring country. They spoke to one another in the literary Yiddish of Vilna. They prided themselves on their rich and idiomatic language which they mastered fully and wrote well besides using it for educating their children in everyday life. With good reason, P. Latzky, a member of the National Assembly of Latvia, based himself on Jewish Dvinsk when he insisted that Yiddish must be recognized as an official language together with Latvian. Whoever wishes to rule over Dvinsk said Latzky, must master the language of the Jews which is Yiddish. And indeed, among the nonJews of the city, there were a large number who spoke a pure Lithuanian Yiddish as well as any of the local Jews. The latter had the lion's share in the development of the city and all who came there could sense the singular and predominant Jewish atmosphere.
Although the Jews had been 14% of the population in their prime, and were only 5% when their numbers fell, their influence on every branch of economic and public life was most decisive. As already mentioned, this was due to the mixed population of Poles, Lithuanians, Russians, Ukrainians, etc., among whom they constituted the largest single minority.
Three of the most important posts at the Municipality were held by Jews. These were: Finance held by Glinternik, the representative of the General Zionists; Administration held by Ravdin, formerly an active member of the Russian Social Revolutionary Party and subsequently the representative of the Jewish Craftsmen and Economics in charge by Maksim of the Bund. The Municipality had its representatives of the Bund, the General Zionists, Zeirei Zion, Z.S. Jewish Householders and Craftsmen. (The Mizrahi was not properly organized and appeared only for elections to the Seim).
With the establishment of the Latvian Republic after World War I, the following became the major spokesmen for the various political currents: Dr. Noah Maisel and Isaac LevinShatzkes for the Bund: Glinternik
and Storch for the General Zionists; Dr. Gordin and Juris for the Zeirei Zion; Moshe Bliach (Amir) and Dr. Sand for the Z.S. and representative of the Merchants were the brothers Kopolovsky and Bolivka. Spokesmen for the Householders were the brothers Gurevitch and Edelstein while the spokesman of the Craftsmen was Ravdin. These were the outstanding figures of the Jewish community during the period of Latvian Independence until the rightwing coup d'état under Ulmanis in 1934.
These parties all came to life under the liberal Constitution of Independent Latvia and displayed considerable activity in every field so that Dvinsk once again became a centre of lively social activity although on a far smaller scale than before World War I. The establishment of parties led to the foundation of their respective Youth Movements. The Bund set up its own Scout movement within the sports organisation of the Social Democratic Party. At the same time, the various Halutz Youth movements also developed rapidly. Gordonia came into being alongside the Zeirei Zion. The Z.S. maintained its Borochow Youth the first branch of which was established here. The Shomer Hatzair Netsah also came into being. The Borochow Youth established a sports section which won over the Nationalist Youth and, after an ideological struggle, was recognized as part of the country's Labour Sports movement by the Social Democrats. The Z.S. also penetrated the Bund strongholds, finding its way into the management of the General Sick Fund, Labour Exchange and Trade Union organizations. The Borochow Youth and the Z.S. were recognized as a Movement in good standing by the Social Democrats in spite of Bund opposition. As a result, the Z.S. was represented at the management of the Sick Fund by Moshe Amir and by Zabodin and Hayat in the Trade Unions. The Z.S. and Borochow Youth participated in 1st of May celebrations, when Zionist flags headed the processions together with the Red flag. Speakers on behalf of the Social Democrats and Bund were joined by a speaker on behalf of the Labour Zionist movement, namely: Haver Moshe Amir. The Labour Zionist camp was official recognized and its influence was felt everywhere.
Following the establishment of the State of Latvia, a tremendous upsurge of Jewish cultural life occurred. Six elementary schools were established in Dvinsk; two in Yiddish and two in Hebrew, one in Russian and one by Jewish religious circles. There was a pregymnasium conducted in Russian, a municipal secondary school where tuition gradually shifted from Russian
to Hebrew, and evening gymnasium in Yiddish and a vocational training school established by the ORT. Dozens of courses commenced for Hebrew and literature and there were countless lectures and symposiums. Jewish Dvinsk strode ahead with raised heads, using its own languages and developing its own culture.
The Jewish Community
Before World War I, the Jewish community had maintained its own traditional charitable institutions such as: The Linat Hatsedek Maternity society; The Bikkur Holim Health Service for visiting and nursing the sick; the Passover Flour Fund for providing secret aid to those who needed it at the time of the Festival. The community also had its own financial institutions in the form of Gemilut Hassadim Free Loan Funds. Dvnisk Jewry fulfilled all commandments calling for the support of brethren in distress; but all this was primarily philanthropic and was based on good will and voluntary contributions.
When it became a part of Latvia, the Jewish community developed a remarkably well organized life. It held democratic elections in which all public groups participated. An administration was elected and elected bodies were established to manage and supervise it. A wellstocked library was set up as well as a pharmacy and an old age home. Thousands of needy persons received support for Passover and other help, without publicity. Communal property included the Municipal Jewish Hospital. The community building was a spacious edifice in the Miasnitska Street. The community also had land outside the city. It leased land and buildings at a nominal rent to the Hehalutz for the establishment of a Hachshara Centre where young people received their training for the Land of Israel. Its first head was Advocate Minkovitch who, afterwards, proceeded to Eretz Israel and ended his days in Jerusalem. He was followed by Advocate Zvi. Debates were held, resolutions were passed and the Dvinsk Community served as a model displaying the effective unity of all the various groups and sections based on mutual respect and democratic processes in the fullest sense of the word.
Trade & Industry
There were very few really wealthy people. The most outstanding industrialists were: Friedland, Luria, the Horvitch family, the Sachs family, Griliches and the Wittenbergs. These dominated the leather trades, beer manufacture, sawmills, match manufacture and soap making. The outstanding
merchants were: Grilitches, Bolivka, Kopolovsky brothers, Grein, etc. The overwhelming majority of the merchants were small shopkeepers. In the workshops, the owners were also usually the whole working staff with the possible exception of one or two young assistants. These filled every corner as carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, hatmakers and all the other types of craftsmen who made up the great majority of the population in Jewish towns: according to the Talmudic principle: Go and make a living from one another…
Naturally, the largest number of all was the small shopkeepers who bought and sold whatever came their way. A few of them succeeded and were regarded as having climbed the economic ladder. Yet, with all the liberality of Latvian democracy, and even in the palmy days when Social Democrats held office and Latvians had only just been liberated from their conquerors and enjoyed independence for the first time, the Government and State made use of a tacit taboo as far as Jewish participation was concerned.
In 1925, in the whole of Latvia, there were only 21 Jewish civil servants out of a total of 5291 government officials, i.e. 0,4%. This is when the Jews were 5% of the population. There was one single Jewish policeman in Riga and people ran to look at him when he passed through the city; whereas there were 4316 policemen in the country. There was not a single Jew in the Courts which employed 1682 officials. In the Post, there were 2 Jews in all and 33 in the railway service. All in all, Democratic Latvia employed 200 Jews out of the 100,000 Jewish citizens. This doctrine of excluding the Jews who played no small part in establishing, shaping and developing the laws of the country and gaining international recognition, was all the recompense obtained by Latvian Jewry at the best of times.
So it is not surprising that in Dvinsk there were not even a dozen Jews in the Government service through which the Jews received service as citizens. There were subsidies for institutions and the education system had a special Jewish department. However, Jews could only serve one another and not the general population.
Now that Dvinsk is part of Soviet Russia, it has a handful of Jews the majority of who did not originate there but proceeded to the city from other parts of Russia. The surviving members of the original community were almost all exterminated. In letters of the isolated survivors to their kinfolk, they still write: Dvinsk is without Jews. It is indescribable! On the pavements under our feet, we keep on treading on gravestones with, in
part, obliterated Hebrew inscriptions that bear witness to the place where the Jews of Dvinsk were to be found.
On either side of the city where local Jews used to spend their summers in their Dachas (summer homes) with fresh green trees all around, now live the Latvians who murdered them and also inherited from them. In Pogolianka and Strop they buried the Jews of Dvinsk who were massacred in their masses. The red flag rises over the city that grew red with Jewish blood and there is no memory or tombstone for them on earth. We who remain are the living memorial we the children and grandchildren of those who were slain. It is our task to engrave their likeness on our hearts, to tell our children and their children of the magnificent community of the Dvinsk that was and is no longer; to establish living institutions; to erect memorial stones; to publish books that leave a memorial for coming generations. That is our sacred duty and this account is one of the ways of expressing the need to immortalize Jewish Dvinsk.
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