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

57°03' / 22°35'

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

Written by: Dov Levin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1988


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 190-192).

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[Page 190]


Translated by Rabbi Molly Karp

Donated by Betsy Thal Gephart

(German: Zobeln. According to the Jews: Shavilan.) A district city in Korzemeh (Kurland);
located in a forested area on the banks of the Abava River,
[1], 100 kilometers northeast of Liepâja.[2]


Population Figures

Year Total
1881 1,400 873 62
1897 1,680 798 48
1910 1,468 700 48
1920 930 224 24
1925 1,350 325 24
1930 1,914 306 16
1935 1,817 281 15
1943 1,540 - -


Until the End of the First World War

The History of the City

The place is first mentioned in the sources in the year 1253.In the year 1326 the German organization built a castle here, around which in the 15th century a settlement began to come into being. From the year 1561 the settlement was a part of the duchy of Kurland, and in the year 1795 it passed to Russian control. Over the course of the 19th century the local population grew from 200 residents at the beginning of the century to about 1500 on the eve of the First World War, when the Jews constituted about a half of the population. At the end of the 19th century light industry developed in the place. In the year 1917 Sabile obtained the status of a city. Between the two World Wars the city was a part of the Sovereign Latvian Republic. Its population, which decreased at the time of the First World War, returned to its previous numbers. Most of the residents were Latvians. In the place there was a hospital and a match factory.

[Page 191]

The Jewish Settlement and Its Development

We do not have in our hands information on the beginning of Jewish settlement in Sabile. However, at the beginning of the 19th century there was already a Jewish settlement in the place, which grew over the course of the century and constituted in the year 1881 about two thirds of the residents of the city. In the decades after that the number of Jews in Sabile decreased a little, and their part amidst the population went down on the eve of the First World War to only half.

The congregation was founded in 1840. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Izraelson served as its rabbi. He moved from the place in order to serve the community of Goldingen[3] (until now Kuldiga.) The small congregation of Sabile also served as the first stop on the path of other rabbis of the city who came after him, and after a short period of service they went on to serve in the seat of the Rabbinate in larger congregations all over Kurland. Rabbi Mordechai-Uri Samunov, who served as the rabbi of the place from the year 1840, moved in 1847 to Vindau[4] (until now Ventspils). Rabbi Duber Ze'ev Wolf Lifshitz left in the year 1862 in order to accept the Rabbinate in Vindau. In contrast to this Rabbi Tzvi Ralbeh, the brother-in-law of the Rabbi Lifshitz mentioned above, served the community of Sabile over the course of decades - from 1864 until 1900. In his days (in 1897) Rabbi Shalom-Tzvi Tobias founded a yeshiva in Sabile, however it was closed after a few years due to a lack of means. Rabbi Meir Berlin of the family of the Natziv, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin came to take the place of Rabbi Ralbeh as rabbi and as Av Bet Din[5] of Sabile. On the eve of the First World War there were two synagogues in the community of Sabile.

In the year 1915, after the outbreak of the War, the Jews of Sabile were expelled from their city. During the course of the war 3 Jewish public buildings in the place and 18 Jewish private homes were destroyed (in addition to 28 homes of non-Jews).


Between Two World Wars

In the framework of the repatriation after the war there returned to the city only about half of the number of Jews that had been in it. The economic situation of the returning refugees was difficult. About three quarters of them needed assistance. Many were helped with funds that arrived from the United States. At the beginning of the 1920s Sabile was defined by the Joint[6] as one of the poor communities in Kurland and the Joint office in Liepâja assisted the Jews of Sabile even before the offices of the Joint in Riga were organized. Beginning in the second half of the 1920s tens of Jews, and among them young people, started to leave the city. The portion of those remaining went down in 1935 to only 15% of all the residents. In that same year there were in Jewish ownership 37 high-level stores and businesses among 71 of the stores and businesses at the same level. (See the table, following.)


Department or type of business Total Jewish owned
Numbers %
Grocery Store 18 12 66
Butcher Shop 7 5 71
Clothing and Textile Products 8 7 85
Shoes and Leathers 3 66
Iron Products 3 2 66
Housewares 4 2 50
Miscellaneous 28 7 25


Two out of three doctors of the city, and one of the two dentists that were in the place, were Jewish.

Despite its poverty and its small size the community sustained public institutions, starting already in the first years after the war: in 1920 the two synagogues of the community again functioned. With the encouragement of the Joint a Community Council of 9 members was chosen. In the year 1920 The Joint allocated 36,000 Rubles for the credit account that was founded in Sabile. At the beginning of the 1920s a medical association in assistance to the community supplied medical care and medicines for free for the poor. In those same years a national Jewish school with two classes was founded. At the beginning its position was unstable, however with time, and with the help of the financial assistance of the municipality, its situation was improved.

Rabbi Binyamin-Yonatan Cohen served as rabbi of the city He conducted daily Talmud lessons for adults and on the Sabbaths he taught Torah for the simple folk. After his retirement Rabbi Yitzchak Segal arose to the rabbinic seat; he was active in “Agudat Yisrael.” He served as rabbi of the city until the destruction of the community and was tragically killed with the rest of the Jews of Sabile in the Shoah. After the coup of Ulmanis[7] after the re-organization of the communities in Latvia, a Jew by the name of Hoffman served as Head of the community. At his initiative, in 1938 fundamental renovations were made to the building of the Beit Midrash.[8]Two brothers by the name of Slaviatchinski fulfilled the functions of ritual slaughterer, mohel and inspector.[9]

As a result of the departure of the youth from the city, the position of the youth movements was not established in the place. Attempts that were made by the “HaShomer Hatzair-[10] Netzach”[11] to found a branch in Sabile did not go over well. A branch of “Beitar”[12] – the only one of the youth movements that was established in the place – was characterized in the year 1932 as one of weakest branches in Kurland. Few of the Jews of the city took part in Zionist activity: in the year 1926, 40 of the people of the community contributed to the fundraising campaign for the Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael.[13] In 1933 46 men participated in elections for the Zionist Congress.[14]Their votes were distributed as follows: 43 votes were given for the Revisionist[15] list (HaTzohar), for the list of the General Zionists – 2, and for the Socialist Zionists – only 1 vote.


In the Second World War and Afterwards

As a result of the Soviet policy the communal life of the Jews of Sabile was gradually destroyed. Among others the Chevra Kadisha[16] was also closed, following a central order that was publicized on December 12, 1941. The economic changes, whose essential expression was the nationalization of private businesses, increased the trend of emigration of Jews from Sabile. Many, and among them a large number of youth, went out to seek new sources of employment in the large cities, among them the adjacent Ventspils.

After the outbreak of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union in June 1941, a small number of Jews exited Sabile together with the Soviets. On July 1, 1941, the Germans conquered Sabile. In the course of a short time the Jews of the city were chased from their houses, and all of them were concentrated in a building that previously had been under the ownership of a Jew by the name of Perlman. From there they were taken to a site a distance of 5 kilometers from the city, and were murdered by gunshot. A special unit of Latvian police, which also took part in the murder of the Jews of nearby Kandava,[17] (until now) participated in the act of murder. Two sisters, daughters of a Jewish father and a German mother, were baptized into Christianity and remained alive. Their Jewish father – was murdered.

In the spring of 1945 the Red Army entered Sabile. The municipality erected a monument on the communal grave of the martyrs of the Nazis. The synagogue building was converted over the passage of time into a sports venue for the workers of the local factory.

In 1967 two Latvians from among the murderers of the Jews of Kandava and Sabile were put up for trial before the High Court of the Soviet Latvian Republic. One was sentenced to death and the other to 15 years' imprisonment.


Translator's footnotes

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abava Return
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liep%C4%81ja Return
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuld%C4%ABga Return
  4. https://www.britannica.com/place/Ventspils Return
  5. Head of the Rabbinical Court. Return
  6. The Joint Distribution Committee https://www.jdc.org/ Return
  7. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Karlis-Ulmanis Return
  8. Study House. Return
  9. It was quite common for the ritual slaughterer to also be the mohel, perhaps because of his skill with a knife. Return
  10. The Young Guard. https://www.hashomerhatzair.com/ Return
  11. Pioneer Zionist Youth. Return
  12. Brit Yosef Trumpeldor. https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Betar Return
  13. The Jewish National Fund. https://www.kkl-jnf.org/ Return
  14. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/zionist-congresses-during-british-mandate-1923-1946 Return
  15. https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/revisionist_zionists Return
  16. “Holy Society” is the traditional name for a Jewish burial society. Return
  17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kandava Return


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