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

56°01' / 25°54'

Translation of “Subata” 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 192-194).

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[Pages 192-194]


(German: Subbat; Jewish: Shuvitz or Subitz)

Translated by Martha Lev-Zion (z”l)

Translation first published in Latvia SIG, vol. 2, no. 1, April 1997

City in the Ilukste region which is in Zamgale (Courland), on the border of Lithuania.


Population Figures

Year Total
1897 2,047 978 49
1910 2,067 772 27
1920 1,400 533 38
1925 1,713 485 28
1930 1,696 455 27
1935 1,489 387 26


Up to the end of the First World War

History of the City

Old Subata (S.) was founded in the year 1550 on the bank of a lake. In the year 1685, German barons, the brothers von Ost Sachsen, founded New S. on their property on the other side of the lake, and published the foundation regulations of the city. In the year 1795, S. passed over to Russian control. In the year 1819, the two parts of the settlement, the old and the new, comprised 350 inhabitants. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the number of local inhabitants grew rapidly. The population of S. was heterogeneous from a national point of view and included Jews, Russians, Latvians and Poles. In the year 1894, the two parts of S. united into one administrative unit, and the settlement received the status of a city.

After the First World War, S. received the standing of regional city. Although the population of the city decreased after the war, the previous national composition was preserved: three national groups, almost equal in size. In the year 1925, the composition was as follows: Russians - 489 souls; Jews - 495 souls; Latvians - 435 souls. In addition, there was also a Polish minority which amounted to some 151 souls. During this period, the city did not develop. The majority of homes were constructed of wood. The only local enterprises were flour mills.


The Jewish Settlement and its Development

In the foundation regulations of New S., from the year 1686, was a section which forbade Jews from purchasing a public house. We have no information which would allow us to pinpoint when Jewish settlement began in S., however at the beginning of the nineteenth century, there was already a Jewish community in place which employed a teacher [moreh tzedek] and a ritual slaughterer and inspector by the name of Avraham ben Moshe. During the century, the Jewish settlement in S. grew rapidly and towards the end of the century they were half of the entire population of the city. They earned a living through trade and labor. They had an especially large role in the linen trade.

The Jews of S. were pious in their religion and were given to being influenced by Torah learning on the one hand and Chabad hassidism on the other. With the city's rabbis was appointed the Rabbi Eliyahu-Shmuel Lieb, who officiated locally in the middle of the nineteenth century, and after him - his son-in-law, the Rabbi Moshe. The latter also willed his chair to his son-in-law - the Rabbi Moshe Rabinovitz.

In the year 1898 until 1915, the rabbinical chair of S. was occupied by Rabbi Avraham-Benjamin Teitz, who was known for his religious and communal influence in the Jewish community. Among other things, Rabbi Teitz nurtured the activities of the local welfare and even contributed to it from his own pocket. At his initiative, a new beit midrash [religious house of learning] was built. One part of the building was for the Chabad hassidim and the other - to the prayers of the Mitnagdim [those opposed to the hassidim]. In the second half of the nineteenth century, a Jewish doctor, Dr. Julius Aberfeld, was active in the area. On the eve of the First World War, 100 Jewish children studied in three chedderim [small one room religious schools]. Girls received their education at the local national Russian school. At the beginning of the First World War (1915), the Jews of S. were deported to the interior of Russia. Their community rabbi, the Rabbi Teitz, was appointed the rabbi of Poltava, which is in Russia, and subsequently made aliyah to the Land of Israel. During the course of the war, 7 Jewish public structures and 11 private Jewish houses were destroyed.


Between the Two Wars

After the First World War, the number of Jews in S. diminished. This downward trend continued into the twenties and thirties due to the Jews moving to other cities in Latvia, to emigration across the waters, and aliyah to the Land of Israel. In the year 1935, the Jews constituted 26 per cent of the entire population. In the same year, they were owners of 33 stores and businesses out of a total of the 80 stores and businesses active locally. Alongside the merchants were also local Jewish skilled laborers, who in 1928, formed their own organization. In the twenties, local anti-Semitic activity increased: the flagbearers being among others, members of the local Organization of Latvian Youth. They tried to interrupt Jewish events. However, the citizens of the city had reservations about their activities and the police took steps to prevent public disturbances.

In the beginning of the twenties, the Jewish community began activities for rehabilitation and reorganization, with the aid of the "Joint" and with the help of the organization of former Subateans in the United States. In the year 1921, the rabbi of S., Rabbi Ya'akov Epstein, represented the city's Jews at the National Congress of Jewish Communities in Latvia, which took place through the inspiration of the Joint in Riga. The following year, this organization awarded 36 thousand ruble to the coffers of Gimilut Chesed [interest free loan society] of the S. community. An additional development in this matter took place in 1928 with the foundation of the bank called Loan and Savings. In its first year of existence, the bank counted 100 share-owning members. Jews in the small surrounding settlements also asked to utilize the bank's services. Jews in the town of Akniste entered into partnership with the institution. Due to squabbles and poor management, the bank fell on hard times. A loan received from the "Joint” didn't help the situation and the bank stood on the verge of dismantlement. However, through the intervention of Rabbi Epstein, the bank received an additional loan from a rich Riga Jew by the name of Feldhon, thanks to which the bank succeeded in continuing its regular activities. The Organization of Skilled Workers, which was founded, as was already mentioned, in 1928, aspired to form its own bank. The fear of excess competition between the banks raised a public outcry against such a step.

From the beginning of the twenties and up to the destruction of the community, Rabbi Ya'akov Epstein, who was mentioned above, served as the community rabbi. He was born to a rabbinical family in Bakesht, which is in the district of Vilna, was trained in the Slobodka and Slutzk Yishivot, and was killed with his entire household in the holocaust. In addition to the rabbi, the community also employed a ritual butcher and inspector. This role was filled by Avraham Yitzhak Katzovitch. In S., there were three houses of prayer.

In the first years after the First World War, the teacher Israel Katzovitch and his father (mentioned above) established a popular school, in which the languages of instruction were Yiddish and Hebrew. In 1926, the institution had six classes. Part of its budget was covered by City Hall. Nearby, summer advanced study programs for teachers were conducted. In 1930, at that location there was an active Jewish school whose language of instruction was Russian. In cultural and welfare endeavors the local Women's Organization (Freuein Farein) was active. In the 1920's, a branch of the Zionist organization, Hashomer, was active in the area. One of its founders was the teacher Katzovitch mentioned above. 40 of the Jews of S. participated in the elections to the Zionist Congress which took place in 1933. 35 of them voted for the "List of the Land of Israel Labors", 4 for the Revisionists and one vote was given to the list of Hamizrachi.


World War Two and Afterwards

The Period of Soviet Government (1940-1941)

As a result of the policy of general Sovietization, step by step the Jewish public institutions were also destroyed. 120 of the Jewish students studied in the city school, which was reorganized, and counted three national sections, which related to the composition of the local population: Latvian, Russian, and Jewish. Each one was, in effect, a separate school with its own director. The city council also included Jewish members, including the director of the Jewish school.

At the time of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, the city suffered from German air raids. Jewish refugees from bordering Lithuania arrived. Part of the refugees and some local Jews, among them those who held public positions, escaped to the interior of the Soviet Union. The remainder of the local Jews and the refugees remained in the city.


Under the Nazi Conquest

At the end of June, 1941, the German armies conquered S. In summer or fall of the same year, the local Jews and the Lithuanian refugees were murdered in the forest bordering on the city. At first they took the children out to be killed, in plain sight of the parents, in two pits. Afterwards, in two separate pits, they killed the parents. According to one version, even before the Aktion, some Jews of S. were expelled to the Dvinsk Ghetto, and their fate was as the fate of the rest of the Jews there.

On 31 July, 1944, the Red Army conquered S. Almost all of the Jews of S. who returned after the war from the Soviet Union settled in Riga, and did not return to their city. In the cemetery a memorial stone was raised. Each year, the Subateans would come back to their city, to hold a service next to the memorial stone, for the memory of the Jewish victims.


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