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Translation of "Tukums" chapter
from Pinkas Hakehillot Latvia v'Estonia
Written by: Dov Levin
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem, 1988
Betsy Thal Gephart
sincere appreciation to
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.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
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**Includes the district
In the course of the 19th century the population of the city grew rapidly. During this period Jews were a major factor in the city's economic and demographic development. At the beginning of the 20th century there were already established parties and political organizations in the city. On November 30, 1905, a revolutionary uprising broke out, in the course of which the Commandant of the city and 17 soldiers of the locally garrisoned Russian force were killed. The rebellion was cruelly crushed. A substantial percentage of the houses in the city were destroyed, and the number of dead and wounded came to 580 souls. In the First World War the majority of the population was either expelled or left the city because of the casualties of war. Only 10% of the residents remained in place. After the war, when the city became part of sovereign independent Latvia, the inhabitants began to return, but their numbers never came up to what they had been in Tukums prior to the war. From now on the Latvians constituted the overwhelming majority of the population. The city's economy was based on the agricultural surroundings. Tukums served as a market for grain and fodder, and there were small-scale enterprises for processing agricultural products.
In the middle of the 19th century, the Jews constituted half of the city's population. In 1840 two Jewish families, together numbering 13 people, left Tukums to settle in Kherson province in southern Russia in the framework of a program undertaken by the Russian government. A fire that broke out in 1865 damaged the community's synagogue as well as the property of many Jews. Twenty three private homes went up in flames. The damage was estimated at 120,000 rubles, and many families were left destitute. The government helped then with a sum of money equivalent to 40% of the damage, a small part of that as a grant and the remainder as a five year interest free loan.. Also Jews from surrounding cities contributed their money to help the fire victims.
In the second half of the 19th century Jews from Lithuania began to arrive in Tukums and to settle in the city without a legal right of residence. They were called "Zamuter" by the local Jews after the Zamut district of Lithuania which adjoined the border of Kurland. The local Jews related to them with a feeling of superiority. As a consequence of an administrative order of 1877, the Jews who had come from Lithuania were expelled from their homes and their livelihood, and a number of them migrated to the United States.
In 1883 the "draftees' pogroms" affected the Jews of Tukums. Young men from villages in the vicinity came to town in large numbers on the eve of their induction into the army, got drunk, and attacked the homes and shops of the Jews. The police were not able to control the rioters and their appeals to the army for help went unanswered.
Jewish Socialists also took part in the 1905 revolution. Two of them, Saul Berman and Jacob Blumenthal, were sentenced to death but succeeded in escaping and saving their lives. Within the context of the regime's punitive activities, the city was shelled and Jewish homes were also damaged. Two of the community's notables, Gershon Paul Brenner and Leonard Gerson were taken hostage and freed only after the payment of a heavy fine. On the eve of the Second World War the economic situation of the community was good. They earned their livelihood from commerce and crafts.
In 1911 -1912 a Savings and Loan Fund operated in Tukums to provide loans on convenient terms for merchants and craftsmen.
Religious institutions As mentioned, the Jews set up organized communal institutions even during the time they resided outside the city of Tukums. After a time, when they took up residence in the city itself, they brought their institutions with them. At the beginning of the 19th century Rabbi Yosef Kahana Blumenfeld began to serve as the rabbinic authority. His legal decisions were recorded in the community's Minute Book from 1801 on, and he signed them with his title "scribe of the Chevra Kadisha and teacher of righteousness to Tukums and its wings" (i.e., its vicinity). A little later an official rabbinate was established in the city (responsible to the government for registering births, deaths, marriages, and divorces). Until 1905 the near by Jewish community in Alt Autz (see Utza) was included in the domain of Tukums. The first rabbi and head of the religious court was Rabbi Abba Paslover. Rabbi Blumenfeld, whom we've mentioned, continued to serve alongside him for many years as a rabbinic authority for the community.
In 1813, a new Minute Book was begun, and 100 community members were listed there. At about the same time Rabbi Mordechai Lichtenstein ascended to the seat of the rabbinate in the city. He was the scion of a family of 13 generations of famous rabbis and pietists. His legal decisions were registered in the community's Minute Book, and he left behind a Talmudic manuscript that was destroyed in the great fire of 1865. Rabbi Lichtenstein died in 1848 after more than 30 years of service and was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Eliezer Lipman Lichtenstein, known for his piety and severity. He opposed any deviation from Tradition such as a reformed cheder and membership in Zionist organizations, and under his influence the community of Tukums acquired an Orthodox and scholarly character more than any of the other communities in Kurland. His tenure continued more than 50 years until his death in 1896. After him his son Rabbi Zevi Hirsch Lichtenstein ascended to the seat of the rabbinate; he, along with the community, was expelled to Russia after the outbreak of the First World War and perished there. A collection of his sermons which is called "Meditation of the Heart" was published in Riga in 1911. In addition to the rabbis, there was a community chairman and trustees who were chosen every four years. On the eve of the First World War, the community had two or three synagogues.
In 1915 after the outbreak of the First World War, an expulsion order was promulgated against the Jews of Tukums. As a result of the efforts of one of the local notables, a German named Grotus, the implementation of the decree was postponed for six weeks. Ultimately, however, the Jews were expelled from the city with just 36 hours warning. During the war 6 members of the community were wounded or killed, and 50 private houses owned by Jews suffered damage or destruction.
In spite of their shrinking numbers the Jews continued to play an important role in the city's economy. In 1935, 15 of the 61 local industrial enterprises (mainly light industry) were owned by Jews. The role of Jews was especially prominent in commerce. Half of the businesses in the highest tax brackets that year were Jewish-owned, as detailed in the table below:
|Branch or type of business||Total||Jewish owned|
|Grain and seed||6||6||100|
|Inns, restaurants, lunchrooms||19||1||5|
|Books and paper products||9||3||33|
|Photography and electronics||6||2||33|
|Watches and jewelry||5||2||40|
|Linens and knitwear||21||18||86|
|Ready to wear clothing||13||8||62|
|Shoes and leather||13||10||77|
|Dyes and building materials||6||4||67|
|Iron, machinery, and tools||7||5||71|
A substantial number of Jews engaged in the professions in the fields of teaching, clerking, religious service, and medicine. Three of the ten doctors residing in Tukums in 1935 and five of the six dentists in the city were Jewish.
In 1928 there were three Jewish representatives on the city council and with their support a man from the Social Democratic party was elected to govern the city. Relations between the Jews and their neighbors were generally stable. From the middle 1930's the situation worsened. The Fascist and anti-Semitic organization Perkonkrust began to be active locally. In 1934 a Jewish student, a member of a branch of Betar, shattered a windowpane in a hall where a meeting of the Perkonkrust was taking place. In order to prevent his expulsion from the university his brother took the blame and was sentenced to six months imprisonment.
The rabbi of the community during the inter-war period was Rabbi Levi Lichtenstein, author of the book Pilpul Ha-chaverim and son of the previous rabbi, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Lichtenstein. He was sympathetic to Zionism and helped young couples emigrate to the Land of Israel by arranging fictitious marriages. In 1928, Rabbi Lichtenstein founded the Or Torah organization whose goal was to bring workers and craftsmen near to the study of Torah. Other religious organizations that functioned in the community included the Chevre Shomrei Shabbes (Sabbath observers' society) and the Daf Gemara (page of Talmud). Chaim Yitzhak Slaviachinsky served as shochet (ritual slaughterer) and mohel from the time preceding the First World War. After the Ulmanis revolution in 1934, the influence of Agudat Israel was prevalent in the community, and Rabbi Lichtenstein was its main representative to the regime.
The friends of the Hebrew language struggled to set up Hebrew educational institutions imbued with the spirit of Zionism. In 1927 Yeshayahu Slaviachinsky (the son of the city's shochet) founded a private Hebrew school. Because of the small number of pupils and the lack of communal support the school struggled with many difficulties. In order to attract the children of the well-to-do, the friends of Hebrew intended to set up a dual-language curriculum Hebrew and German, but their plan never came to fruition. At the same time that they were pressing the government to make a communal allocation to Hebrew education, parents of Zionist tendency were demanding that their children should study Hebrew. As a result a tension was created between the Yiddishists and the Hebraists. Ultimately, the demand of the latter was fulfilled. In 1930 a Hebrew track was added in the Yiddish school, and Grade One was opened in Hebrew. In the latter half of the 1930's Fanny Kramer, one of the veteran non-Zionist teachers who was also one of the heads of the local women's organization, served as principal of the school. In 1938, eleven students graduated from the institution.
Along with the diverse athletic activity Maccabee also sponsored cultural programs including a drama circle, a choir directed by Moshe Farber and cultural evenings with participation by local artists and visiting troupes. The heads of Maccabee were Dr. Copenhagen and Dr. Jacobson. In 1927 a branch of Betar was established in Tukums which in 1931 numbered more than 20 members. A branch of the youth movement Gordonia was also active locally along with a Hachshara (preparation) farm affiliated with the movement. The farm, which was set up on the land belonging to a local Jewish farmer, served members of the movement from the breadth of Latgale. Many graduates of the Zionist youth movement migrated to the land of Israel. In the Zionist Organization elections that took place in 1933, 178 Jews from Tukums participated. The votes were divided as follows: List of Labor Land of Israel 79 votes; Revisionists -62; Mizrachi-29; List of the Zionist Organization - 6. On vote went to the list of "Al Ha-mishmar" (on guard) and one vote was disqualified.
Some days after the German attack on the Soviet Union on June 27, 1941 the Soviets retreated from Tukums. Before retreating they freed from jail prisoners who had served their sentences for various crimes, among them at least one Jew. In the context of the Soviet evacuation Jews who had filled key positions in the Soviet administration and young Jews who had served in the Red Army or belonged to the Workers' Guard left the city. Some of them, mainly the soldiers of the second brigade of the first Latvian Division, participated in the difficult rear guard battles that were waged in northern Latvia and Estonia.
For several days following the Soviet retreat and prior to the entrance of the German army, the city was without a ruling regime. A Latvian "self-defense" organization stepped in and occupied itself, among other things, with preserving public order. The roads leaving the city still remained open. Many Jews however struggled with the question of whether to flee or to remain. Some of them including the principal of the Jewish school, Fanny Kramer, who had connections through her work with the Latvians, negotiated with the local "self-defense" and received from them assurances that nothing bad would happen to the Jews. It is told of Rabbi Levi Lichtenstein that he refused to be evacuated in a truck because of the sanctity of the Sabbath. Several hundred Jews in all left Tukums- about a third of the community. Among them were a substantial number of young people who volunteered or were drafted into the Red Army, mainly within the context of the 43rd Latvian Guard Division. According to careful estimates, no less than 109 Jews from Tukums fought in different units of the Red Army, that is 10 % of the Jews found in the city prior to the war. In actuality, most of the Jewish youth of Tukums took part in the war against the Germans and a substantial number were wounded in battle: 62 were killed in action; nine were seriously wounded and left permanently crippled.
The men of the "self-defense" began immediately to persecute the Jews: all Jews were expelled from their homes and their property was expropriated. They concentrated all of them in two synagogues on Elizabeth Street under the watch of Latvian patrols. Men and women who were able to work were sent to perform forced labor on farms in the vicinity. The rest remained imprisoned in the synagogues. At about the same time the German staged a public show trial of several Jewish community leaders, Dr. Copenhagen one of the heads of Maccabee, among them. The defendants were found guilty of conspiring with the Bolsheviks to assist in the annexation of Latvia to the Soviet Union and of carrying out the deportations to Siberia that took place on the eve of the war. All of them were sentenced to death and executed by shooting. After several days, in mid-July, 1941, the systematic murder of the Jews of Tukums began: The killings took place in several stages. First the able-bodied men were taken. They were ordered to dig pits and were shot on the same day. Women, children, and the elderly were brought to this place the next day by truck (25 to 30 people on a truck) and were slaughtered there. Among those murdered was the rabbi of the community, Rabbi Lichtenstein. The valley of slaughter for most of the Jews of Tukums was located next to Lake Valgums, ten kilometers outside the city. Some of the Jews who were imprisoned in the synagogue were burned to death as a result of the building's being intentionally set on fire. A month after the Germans had occupied Tukums there were no longer any Jews in the city. Lone individuals did succeed in escaping the slaughter, among them a woman saved by a local resident who claimed she was her illegitimate child. After some time those who were saved succeeded in reaching the Riga ghetto.
In the 1950's a rather sparse (?) Jewish communal life was conducted in Tukums. A local community council functioned, and it was headed by a Jew named Weinberg. The former house of the community's rabbi was given to the Jews, it was adapted for use as a synagogue and public prayers were held. Homeless Jews were also housed in this building. In the 1950's Jews came to reside in Tukums, who for political reasons were forbidden to live in the larger cities in Latvia. Those who came got communal support in finding lodging and employment. Among them was the Zionist activist Grisha Feigin. Also Rabbi Levin from Moscow resided for a while in an apartment which the Tukums community placed at his disposal. Holy books that were found in Tukums in one of the warehouses were handed over to the Jewish community which gave some of them to Jews in other places in the Soviet Union including Georgia. Jewish dead were buried in the old cemetery in Tukums. During this time some of the Jews from the city moved to Riga. Many of them took part in the movement of Jewish national awakening, and some of them migrated to Israel.
At the end of the fifties a change for the worse occurred in the regime's policy toward Jewish communal activity. Attacks on the members of the community council and on Jewish religious activity were published in the local newspaper. In 1960 the synagogue was closed, and the building was converted to a factory. The Ark and the memorial tablet in memory of those slain in the Holocaust were transferred to the museum. The Jewish cemetery was closed, and Jewish dead were now taken to Riga. At the end of the seventies after many Jews from Tukums had died, moved to Riga, or migrated to Israel, only a few score Jews remained in Tukums, and all Jewish activity had ceased.
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