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

56°37' / 25°05'

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

Written by: Dov Levin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1988


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Acknowledgments

Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
for permission to put this material on the JewishGen web site.

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 (pages 140-145).


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[Pages 140-145]

Jaunjelgava

(German: Friedrichstadt; Jews called it Naira)

Translated by Yosef Tribuch

Translation first published in Latvia SIG, vol. 3, no. 2, June 1998

A town in the Jekabpils district of Zemgale (Courland), 73 kilometers southeast of Riga.

 

Population Figures

Year Total
Population
Jewish
Population
Percentage
1835 --- 1,286* ---
1850 --- 1,483* ---
1863 3,459 2,535 73
1881 5,820 4,128 70
1897 5,829 3,256 56
1910 6,000 3,400 57
1920 1,603 450 28
1925 2,450 680 28
1930 2,299 620 27
1935 2,153 561 26

* includes Jews of the surrounding vicinity

 

Until the end of World War I

History of the town

At the end of the 16th century, Friedrich, Duke of Courland, founded a settlement by the name of Neustatchen on the left bank of the Dvina (or Daugava) river, along the Livland-Courland border. In 1642 the settlement received the status of a town and in 1646 the town's name was changed to Friedrichstadt for its founder. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Jaunjelgava became an important commercial station through which barges full of merchandise made their way from White Russia and Poland to Riga, capital of Livland. In 1795 it passed over to Russian rule and became a district seat. The town continued to maintain its commercial status and its population grew, despite a series of calamitous events which befell it, e.g., the invasion of Napoleon's armies and severe floods. As a consequence of the construction of the Riga-Dvinsk railway in 1861, the importance of the Dvina river as a major transportation artery diminished, and as a result, Jaunjelgava's commercial importance also declined.

During World War I the town changed hands several times. At the end of the war it was conquered by the Bolsheviks, afterward by the anti-Bolshevik forces of Bermont and lastly, it became a part of independent Latvia and its German name Friedrichstadt was changed in the early 1920's to its present Latvian name. The number of its inhabitants fell to a third of its prewar population and the Latvians became the decisive majority of its population. A segment of the population earned its livelihood from flour milling and the manufacture of leather. In June 1940 the town was incorporated within the borders of Soviet Latvia. A year later it was conquered by the German Army and only after the fall of 1944 was it recaptured by the Red Army and reincorporated within Soviet Latvia.

 

Demographic and economic developments within the Jewish community

During the period of rule by the Duchy of Courland, Jews were forbidden to reside in the town. In 1786 the Baron of Courland, von Reka, proposed that Jews be granted a legal privilege of residence in the cities of Courland. However, Jaunjelgava was one of the cities that opposed this proposal and brought about its rejection. According to some historians, Jews were to be found in the villages and estates of noblemen surrounding the town. Jewish merchants from Riga and Poland took part in the transit of goods between Jaunjelgava and White Russia. During the beginning of the period of Russian rule, Jewish artisans began to settle in Jaunjelgava, apparently from among those who had lived beforehand in its surrounding villages, and they supported themselves by providing services to the farmers. The town's economic status attracted many additional Jews and the town's Jewish community grew rapidly. Within the framework of the Russian government plan to settle Jews in the Kherson district, one Jewish family of ten people left Jaunjelgava in 1840. In 1863 Jews comprised about 75% of Jaunjelgava's population. At that time Jaunjelgava was the only town along the shores of the Baltic Sea where the absolute majority of its inhabitants were Jews.

At the end of the nineteenth century Jews from Lithuania began to settle in the town, without rights to legal residency. An order of expulsion was issued against them in 1888. However, the municipal 'Duma' (council) interceded on their behalf with the argument that their expulsion would have an adverse economic impact on the town. After 1881 a slow and steady decline in the town's Jewish population became noticeable. However, they maintained their majority until World War I. Nevertheless, Jews were denied the right to vote for the municipal council. Only as a result of the legislative changes that took place in Russia in 1906, was the Jewish physician Dr. Isaac Hertzberg elected to the Russian Duma [parliament] as the representative of the cities Jaunjelgava and Jakobstadt (see the article on Jekabpils).

The primary means of livelihood of the Jews were trade and craftsmanship. The blow to the town's external trade caused by the construction of the Riga-Dvinsk railroad also ruined the livelihood of many Jews. Severe damage was also brought upon the community in that period as a result of fires that broke out in the town: in 1863, 35 large Jewish houses were destroyed by fire and the damage was estimated to be a half million rubles. Eight years later a synagogue and 15 houses, occupied by 70 families, were destroyed by fire. These families were left completely destitute. The town's Jews sought relief from the district governor and he came out with a public call to assist the affected. Among those responding to his call were also a few Christians from Bausk (see the article on Bausk).

At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries the importance of affluent Jewish merchants in the town grew, among them wood traders and owners of large shops engaged in the export of goods. Their main expertise was in furs, leathers and hair for brushes. Most of the town's Jews eked out a livelihood from peddling and craftsmanship. There were also Jewish coachmen who brought goods to the nearby rail station of Skrivare. Also, a small group of Jews lived in Jaunjelgava who engaged in professions including medicine.

 

The community and its institutions

In 1803 the Burial Society was founded, and in parallel, the ledger of this society began. The appointment to be the town's rabbi required the approval of the authorities. The first rabbi of the town at the beginning of the nineteenth century was Rabbi Samuel the son of Judah Leib. During the years 1876-1930 [Y.T. - clearly a typographical error. Maybe it should be 1830-1876] Rabbi Uri Lippman Friedman served as the community's rabbi. He established a good relationship with the authorities and received their approval for his office despite his inability to speak the official language. During his rabbinate Jewish institutions were developed and a new cemetery was built (1848) in place of the old cemetery which was far from the town. Around that time the Burial Society received official approval from the authorities and the construction of an additional Study Hall was also completed. The number of prayer houses in the town then reached five: two synagogues, two Study Halls and a prayer house for Hasidim. These institutions were active until the First World War In the new Study Hall a yeshiva was established which numbered around 30 students and whose needs were placed on the town's Jews. At that time, at the initiative of the community, a government school for Jewish students was founded. In 1876 the community appointed the rabbi's son-in-law, Rabbi Bezalel Meir haCohen, as the town preacher. He served many years in this capacity. After Rabbi Friedman's death, his relative Rabbi Judah Leib Cohen, a native of the town, became the town's rabbi. His tenure lasted until 1893. Upon the recommendation of the district governor of Courland, Rabbi Cohen left to serve as a rabbi in Moscow. In 1897 Rabbi Jacob Levinson began to serve in the rabbinate of Jaunjelgava, the first among Courland rabbis to receive permission to serve as an official rabbi without needing to take examinations. He died after a year in office. Rabbi Joseph Hillel Berman, who was affiliated with the 'Lovers of Zion', followed him in the town's rabbinate society (his tenure lasted until 1907) and Rabbi Jacob haCohen Flakser (see the article on Jekabpils).

On the eve of World War I the benevolent societies Linate Zedek [hostels for the homeless] and Bikur Cholim [free medical aid for the sick] were active in the town. Jewish education in Jaunjelgava at the beginning of the twentieth century was mainly traditional. A Talmud Torah was active. A large number of Jewish students studied at the German language elementary schools. Some of these students completed their Jewish education with private tutors. The association 'Talmud Torah' that was founded in 1906 established a school under the model of a Reformed Religious School (affiliated with Mizrachi Religious Zionists). Children ages 7-10 studied, tuition free, in this institution. The curriculum included 16 hours per week devoted to Torah study and 10 lessons set aside for the study of Russian language and mathematics. A new building for the school was dedicated in 1913.

During the 1860's Zvi Hirsch Rosenthal, a resident of the town, published a series of essays in Jewish newspapers about communal events. Shortly thereafter, he became one of the leading maskilim [“free” intellectuals] in Russia, emigrated to the United States, was very active in Jewish matters and was numbered among the editors of the Jewish Encyclopedia. At the end of the century the Lovers of Zion society were active in Jaunjelgava. As previously mentioned, Rabbi Berman was included among them. During 1905-06 a branch of the Bund, consisting of approximately 100 members, as well as a branch of Poalei Zion [Socialist Zionists], conducted intensive political activities.

After the outbreak of the First World War, on July 15, 1915 the Russian authorities took three members of the community as hostages, to prevent the possibility of treasonous actions on the part of the Jews. Soon thereafter the Jews of Jaunjelgava were exiled to the Russian interior. During the course of the war 453 houses were destroyed or damaged, along with three Jewish communal structures.

 

Between the two World Wars

Demography and economics

After the conquest of the town by the German army at the end of WWI the first Jewish refugees began to return to their homes in Jaunjelgava from their places of exile in the Russian interior. The process of return continued at the beginning of Latvian rule. However, the number of returnees had by then considerably diminished. In the early 1920's the Jewish settlement in Jaunjelgava consisted of only a fifth of its number compared with the period prior to the war. In the following years the community continued to shrink. A segment of Jaunjelgavan Jews, among them people of financial means and many youth, left for Riga and other cities in Latvia and a few left for Palestine.

Yet in the field of medicine the Jews' contribution was substantial: Two of the town's four physicians, the two dentists and the lone pharmacist, were Jews. In contrast, only one of the five factories in the town was under Jewish ownership.

 

Internal life

Rabbi Chaim Aaron Bezalel Paul began to serve as rabbi of the small community during the period of German Army rule, at the end of the First World War He continued in this position in the following period, and between the two World Wars he became a dominant figure among the Jews of Jaunjelgava. With the establishment of Latvian rule, the American Joint Distribution Committee played an active role in the reorganization of the community and in its physical restoration. With the encouragement of this agency, a community council was elected with the participation of five non-partisan lists. Rabbi Paul stood at the helm of the council. The community reactivated the assistance institutions Linat Zedek and Bikur Cholim and sent a representative to the country wide conference of communities that took place in Riga in 1920. The Joint also provided material assistance in various areas, for example: free medical financing for the poor by way of the distinguished Dr. Hertzberg; conversion of the 'Talmud Torah' building to residential use in order to alleviate the housing distress of those Jews whose homes were destroyed during the war; the allocation of 90,000 rubles for the credit union of the community, etc. With the passage of time this union expanded and evolved to become, in 1929, a cooperative institution with the name of Jaunjelgava Jewish Savings and Loan Association. This institution was subject to official inspection. In 1933 around 100 members, mostly merchants, belonged to it. A traditional Gemilut Chesed [charitable assistance] fund was active alongside it, which primarily served the manual workers. The religious institutions of the community consisted of a central synagogue that was also used for communal events, prayer houses for Hasidim and a prayer house for Mitnagdim [opponents of the Hasidim], a Burial Society and a society for the study of Talmud and Mishnah. The community also hired a ritual slaughterer and inspector. In 1930 the community's institutions were in a crisis, in part a result of a halt to the flow of money from émigrés from the community living overseas. After the Ulmanis coup d'état, the community was reorganized. Rabbi Paul continued to lead it and represent it before the authorities. In 1938 Rabbi Paul appointed the Latvian Interior Ministry approved permanent officers for the central synagogue (ritual director, teacher, cashier) and their appointment.

A German language Jewish school had already been founded in Jaunjelgava during the period of German Army rule. In the period of independent Latvia the institution was recognized as a municipal institution entitled to receive assistance from municipal funds. At first the language of instruction was Russian; later on, with the affiliation of the school to the network of Yiddish schools Tzisha, it was changed to Yiddish. In 1922 the institution consisted of 153 students in six classes. Rabbi Paul, who served in this school as a teacher of Judaism, was appointed in 1925 as its principal. Through his influence the faculty board decided to add, starting in the school year 1927/28, a course of Hebrew studies.

With the shrinking of the community, the size of the school also was reduced. In 1930 the number of classes was reduced to five and the number of students to 100. An additional educational institution, Talmud Torah, was active in the town in the afternoons. In 1926 a quarrel broke out between the two educational institutions over the question of rights to a building constructed in the town from contributions made by former residents of Jaunjelgava, now living in the United States. As a result of the intervention of activists, former residents of the town, now living in Riga, the building was made available for the use of the Talmud Torah. A few Jews also studied in the municipal trade high school. Others traveled to study in the gymnasia of Riga.

By 1935 the Jewish portion fell to only a quarter of the town's population. The downward trend continued until the outbreak of World War II.

Despite the decline in their numerical weight, the Jews of Jaunjelgava continued to play a decisive role in the various commercial branches of the town: in a census taken in 1935 there were 88 firms and stores of a high rank (based on the payment of taxes) in Jaunjelgava. Among them 52 were Jewish owned as detailed below:

Type of Business Total Jewish %
Grocery 28 17 61
Delicatessens and Butcher Shops 11 7 64
Textile Products & Haberdashery 11 7 64
Flour and Produce 8 7 88
Leather and Shoes 15 9 60
Hardware & Housewares 3 2 67
Barber Shop 5 3 60
Miscellaneous 17 4 11

 

Political and Cultural Activities

In addition to the community's religious and educational activities, the Jews of Jaunjelgava developed political and cultural activities, but its dimensions were to a certain extant modest. In 1925 an agent from Riga founded a non-ideological boy scout organization. A short time later the organization split up and a branch of Shomer Hatzair - Netzach [radical Zionist Socialist Youth] was founded, twelve of whose members left for Palestine. In 1927 a branch of Maccabee was established and in 1930 a branch of the Chalutz [Zionist Socialist Youth] movement was active. In that period local Jewish newspapers were published in Jaunjelgava , mostly as one-time issues and under the editorship of the journalist M. Tabaksman. In the second half of the 1930s the influence of the Zionist movement became very strong: A branch of the Socialist Zionists opened up here and the number of participants in the elections to the Zionist Congresses grew. A significant number of voters cast their ballots for the nationalist religious faction, Mizrachi.

Results of the elections to the Zionist Organization

Congress Year General
Zionists
Zionist
Youth-
Social
Zionists
Revisionists Mizrachi Total
Votes
15th 1927 -- -- -- 15 15
16th 1929 1 -- -- 4 5
17th 1931 -- 1 1 34 36
18th 1933 61 53 12 22 148

 

The relationship between Jews and the general population was, generally speaking, correct. Rabbi Paul was elected to the town council and served as the vice-mayor of the town until his resignation from his duties in 1925, with his appointment as principal of the Jewish school. The Maccabee activist Aaron Cohen and the educator L. Hartman received medals of honor in recognition of their activities within the community. In 1928 a group of Jewish butchers clashed with the municipal veterinarian, and in its aftermath, were sentenced to a short prison term. They appealed to the district court and were acquitted.

 

During and after WWII

Soviet rule (1940-41)

In this period, Jewish communal institutions were shut down and, within the framework of the liquidation of private enterprise, Jewish stores and businesses were nationalized. During the course of the deportations that were organized in June 1941, Jews from among the former well-to-do, were also arrested and deported, along with their families, to the Soviet interior. The deportees included four brothers (the Kratisch family), who, together with their wives and children, numbered 20 people. Most of the heads of household were sentenced to imprisonment in labor camps and their families were scattered by the authorities to the remote regions of the Soviet Union. A substantial number of them perished in the course of time from disease, hunger and as a result of the harsh living conditions.

A few days after the outbreak of war between Germany and the Soviet Union, the Soviets evacuated Jaunjelgava. Among others, a not very large number of Jews were also evacuated. During the short period of time between the Soviet retreat and the German entry, an armed group of Latvian 'independent defense forces' ruled in the town, which was composed of nationalistic and anti-Semitic elements, members of the fascist organization Perkonkrusts and other nationalistic Latvian organizations. Two local residents, Cuders and Lazenbergs, headed it. In this interim period many Jews left on their own initiative, by foot, wagon and bicycle, in the direction of the old Soviet border. However, the local 'independent forces' blocked their path and most of them were forced to return to Jaunjelgava. In the end, only a small portion of the town's Jews succeeded in escaping deep into the Soviet interior. Many of them fought with the Red Army and tens of them fell in battle against the Germans. A list that consists of 27 names of the fallen is available in the Yad Vashem archives.

 

Under the Nazi Conquest

The German Army conquered Jaunjelgava at the end of June/ beginning of July 1941. The members of the 'independent defense forces' began to murder individual Jews. Among them were two sisters who were shot to death in their own backyard by the above mentioned Lazenbergs. The Jews of the community were expelled from their homes and were concentrated in the synagogue building of the Mitnagdim. They were interned there under a Latvian guard and suffered from hunger and acts of brutality. In the beginning of August 1941 a group of young robust Jews were taken to the forest of Serene, a distance of 8 kilometers from the town. They were ordered to dig pits for the other Jewish victims and when the digging was completed, they were shot to death. A short time later, on August 7 or thereabouts, the remainder of the town's Jews, men, women and children, hundreds of people in total, were taken to the pits in the forest of Serene and were shot to death. A list that consists of the names of 167 Jewish families that were slaughtered is available in the Yad Vashem archives.

 

After the War

In the fall of 1944 the Red Army captured Jaunjelgava. After the war, Jews who originated from Jaunjelgava , began to return from the Soviet Union. Some returned to the place of their birth, while others settled in Riga. The returning Jews were concerned with providing their Nazi murdered brethren with a proper Jewish burial. The Latvian Minister of Economy and Housing assisted them and provided workers, building material and means of transportation. In 1949 the restoration of the local Jewish cemetery was completed and close to 500 victims were taken from burial pits and given a proper Jewish burial. A monument was erected in the place, which included writing in Yiddish. Yearly, on the 14th of Av (which usually falls in August), a memorial service has been held at the site of the monument with the participation of approximately 50 Jews, among them Jaunjelgavan Jews who settled in Riga. With the passage of time the remnants of the Jaunjelgavan community emigrated to Israel and today there are no more Jews left in the town.

 


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