"Valdemarpils" - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Latvia and Estonia


57°22' / 22°35'

Translation of "Valdemarpils" chapter
from Pinkas Hakehillot Latvia v'Estonia

Written by: Dov Levin

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. 109-110)

Valemarpils (German: Sassmacken)

Translated by Barry Marks

City in the district of Talsi in Kurzeme (Courland)

Population Figures

Year Total
1881 1,774 1,197 67
1897 1,833 899 49
1910 1,304 454 34
1920 959 169 18
1925 1,064 156 15
1930 1,130 161 14
1935 1,135 159 14

To the end of the First World War

        Valdemarpils is mentioned for the first time in the sources as an ecclesiastical community whose German name was Sassmacken. In the period of Russian rule, Valdemarpils developed into an urban settlement and in 1894 became a local authority. In 1917 it received the status of a city, and in 1926 its German name was changed to the current Latvian name.

        Jews were to be found there already by the last quarter of the eighteenth century; in the communal minute book of Hasenput from that period (see Aizpute), it is recorded that testimony was taken from Rabbi Kalonymos ben Feivish from Sassmacken. It appears that he served as a rabbi or Jewish legal authority there. Another document from 1805 tells of the settlement of Jewish merchants in Sassmacken. The Kehilla (Jewish communal self-government) was established around this time. In the course of the nineteenth century the Jewish settlement grew and in 1881 constituted close to seventy percent of the total population Afterwards the number of Jews began to decline as did their percentage within the general population; this process of decline continued until the First World War.

        After the aforementioned Rabbi Kalonymous, various rabbis served consecutively until the First World War. Among them were Rabbi Moshe Yitzhak Halevi – in the second quarter of the nineteenth century (see Liepaja and Kuldiga) and Rabbi Moshe Lerenblatt intermittently from the middle of the century until close to the time of his death in 1887. Rabbi Lerenblatt left behind writings on Halacha and Aggada. Rabbi Abraham Samuel Rovitzky, his son-in-law served from 1887 until 1901. And Rabbi Abraham Samuel Levenberg, who was expert in languages and who wrote a book on the commentary of Ramban served from 1901 to 1912. On the eve of the First World War Rabbi Moshe Ahronblatt served in the position of rabbi in Valdemarpils.

        In 1901 there was in Valdemarpils a private school for boys named after Dubinsky. Most of the Jews left the city during the First World War. In the course of the war six members of the Jewish community were killed or wounded, and twenty four private homes were either destroyed or damaged.

Between the two World Wars

        After the war, less than half of the Jews returned to the city. The decline in the numbers of Jews continued in the 1920's and 1930's (see the above chart). In the early 1920's the situation of the Jews who had returned to the city was difficult; 40 percent barely earned a living and an additional twenty percent approximately were without any sources of support. Financial assistance from relatives in America and South Africa alleviated their situation. Communal institutions were paralyzed. There was no local synagogue, no rabbi or shochet, not even a school. Of the fifty Jewish children, twenty studied at the Latvian school. The Joint assisted the community: in 1920 under its inspiration a communal council was democratically elected. Heyman Thal, the representative of the council, participated in the general assembly of Latvian Jewish communities that took place that year. A year later the community received from the Joint a grant of 27,000 rubles and a local credit fund was established. In the municipal elections that took place in 1921, no Jewish representatives were elected., but the Jewish community council supported the candidacy of non-Jewish representatives with progressive views. Over time the economic situation of the Jews stabilized, and in 1935 Jews owned 12 of the 53 businesses in the city.

        Some of the local Jews participated in Zionist activities: in 1926, 22 heads of household contributed to the Rosh Hashana drive of the Jewish National Fund and 14 donated to the Keren Hayesod. In 1928 20 heads of household contributed to the Jewish National Fund. In the Zionist Congress elections that took place in 1933, 24 people participated, and the votes divided as follows: Revisionists -13; Mizrachi-9; Zionist Organization list -1; Labor Israel list -1.

In the Second World War

        In June 1940 Valdemarpils fell into the hands of the Soviets and in the beginning of July 1941 was occupied by the Germans. The Jews of Valdemarpils were murdered in the summer or fall of 1941 along with the majority of the Jews of Latvia. There is no accurate information about the circumstances of their murder.

(Esther Hager)


Archive of the Association of Latvian and Estonian Jews, II K 32
Central Zionist Archives, Z -4/215-18
AJDC Archives, Countries-Latvia (1920-1923)
Alexander A. Landesco, Report 7
Ovchinsky, Levi, Toldot Yeshivat Hayehudim B'kurland (History of the Jews in Kurland)
Gottlieb, S.N., Sefer Oholei Shem (Book of the Tents of Shem)
Blackbook of Localities
The Columbia Lippincott Gazetteer
Maza enciklopedjia
Salnais, V., Pilsetu apraksti (1935)
Skujenieka, M., Otra Tautas skaitisana Latvija (1925-1928)
ValstsÉCeturta Tautas skaitisana Latvija (1935)
Evreiskaya entsiklopedia T. IV, str. 23
Evreiskoe statistichesko obshestvo, evreiskoe naselentse Rossii

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