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

56°20' / 26°48'

Translation of “Riebeni” 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 295-296).


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[Pages 295-296]

Riebeni

(Other names: Silajani; Russian: Ribinishki. Yiddish: Ribinishki)

Translated by Martha Lev Zion (z”l)

Small town in the district of Rezkena, in Latgale)

 

Population Figures

Year Total
Population
Jewish
Population
Percentage
1847 --- 77 ---
1897 584 533 91
1920 446 386 87
1925 --- 360 ---
1930 408 348 85
1935 464 317 68

 

To the End of the First World War

R. was founded as a village settlement at the end of the 18th century.

Some tens of Jews settled in this village at the beginning of the 19th century. Most , if not all of them, lived in houses that they built on the land belonging to the owner of the estate. Up to the end of the century, the village was like a town. The number of Jews grew by leaps and bounds, and they constituted the absolute majority of the local population. The Jews earned a living essentially through petty trade, peddling and various trades. At the end of the century, the ownership of the town's lands was in the hands of a road engineer by the name of Karbedzo. The Jews of R. had to pay him land tenancy dues. Anyone unable to meet the payments in the 1890's were forced to work on the estate as day laborers, in order to meet their obligations. The first rabbi of the community from the year 1843 onwards was the Rabbi Wolf Tzioni. In the year 1903, the seat of the rabbinate was occupied by Rabbi Ya'akov Shapira, who learned Torah from his father The Rabbi The Gaon Rafael Shapira from Walojin.

In the 1920's, R. was still a remote town, that was difficult to reach and only rarely did a guest reach it from the outside. Every Jewish family had its own wooden house and next to it a portion of land, on which the family grew vegetables. There were still homes covered with roofs of straw. There was no local doctor and sanitary conditions were totally inferior. Jews scarcely earned a living from petty stores, peddling in villages and trades. According to the reports of the "Joint", which gave aid to R. in the years 1920 - 1922. the sparse community was not able to help itself. With money from the "Joint", a pension fund was set up for the needy and the community bath was renovated. Also, it gave funds to needy families, until charity funds were set up by the community Committee. In addition, a tradition took root here that every Thursday there were women who collected funds or food for the needy. Also the traders would tithe themselves ten percent of their affairs and the money collected was passed on to the needy. In the 30's there were 17 shops in the town, and only one of them belonged to a non-Jew. The local flour mill and the wool working workshop belonged to Christians. From a lack of business and livelihood, many local youngsters left for Riga and other places. Out of 88 houses in town, 66 belonged to Jewish families who lived in them.

The community had two synagogues: The old Synagogue ("Die Alte Shul"), in which prayed the less able, and the "new" synagogue ("Die NeieShul") in which the better heeled prayed. As butcher was Y. Viseman, who also filled the job of teacher. The rabbi of the community in the years 1922 – 1925 was the Rabbi Avraham Benjamin Teitz. After him on the chair of the rabbinate sat the Rabbi Eliezer Zeev Shitz, who was the last rabbi of the community. Avraham Moain, gabbai of the "new" synagogue, represented the community on different occasions.

Without the minimum equipment, there opened here in 1921 an elementary school in Yiddish, in which was also taught Hebrew. Not one single Jewish child studied at the Russian or Latvian school in town. But the Jewish school during all the years lacked the sixth form and in order to complete the grammar school compulsive education law, the students had to go to the Jewish school in neighboring Prieli.

The public and cultural activity centered round the "Young Zionists" [Tzerei-Tzion] (later TZ.S. - united) - the only party with an active branch in the town. At the end of the 20's, under its aegis was founded pioneer youth movements ""Borochov Youth" and "HaShomer Hatzair - Net'zach". In the years 1922 - 1923, a few pioneers from R. went up to Israel. In the 30's a few families also went up. A very few families also emigrated to USA. In the elections of the Zionist Congress of 1933, R. gave 49 votes to the "Working Land of Israel" list, 3 votes to the Mizrachi and one vote to the Revisionists. R. is the home town of the parents of the well known writer Yisrael Zangwil. The Zangwil family immigrated to London before their son Yisrael was born.

 

The Second World War and After

After Latvia was annexed to the USSR, in 1940, and the country underwent intensive Sovietization, there took place also in the Jewish community of R. economic and public changes. As a result of this, the tendency of the young to leave for the capital of Riga increased.

After the war broke out between Germany and the USSR, in June, 1941, Jewish refugees arrived to the surrounding villages, especially from neighboring Liwani. The town itself did not get damaged from the battles. With the retreat of the Soviets, in their footsteps fled tens of local Jews. At least 20 of them were recruited into the Red Army and played a part in the war against the Germans.

In the month of July, 1941, a short time after the Germans entered the city, local Latvians, especially those members of the "Aizsarges" and similar groups, began to kill Jews. Their first victims were especially Jews with Leftist leanings. They were jailed in the prison in Prieli and died from terrible torture. In thus, some Jewish families were murdered because of former grudges and personal conflicts. The killing was accompanied by robbing property and by cruel brutality: gold teeth were pulled from the mouths of Jews while they were still alive and fingers which had on them rings were chopped off.

In the last week of the month of August, 1941 (Between the 23rd and the 26th of the month), the local Latvian police gathered together all the town's Jews who were still alive, 200 to 300 souls, inside the synagogue. From here they were taken to the Aizopa Forest, a distance of 4 kilometers from the town, and were slaughtered by being fired upon. Among those murdered was a family who had abandoned Judaism, Jews from neighboring villages, and refugees who had come here looking for a refuge. Some Jews who had hidden with farmers were discovered and murdered. Jewish youngsters from R. who escaped the slaughter and wandered for some time in the forests, were killed as well. From the remnants of the community who were saved by their having fled into the USSR, was found a list of 274 Jews victims of the Nazis. In the summer of 1944, on the eve of their retreat, the Germans opened up the ditches which were the graves of the murdered Jews and burned their remains in order to erase the traces of their crimes.

In July 1944, the Red Army conquered R. One year afterwards, there began to return to R. refugees who fled into the Soviet Union. For various reasons and also from fear of the Anti-Soviet Latvian Partisans, who operated during the first years after the war in the forests surrounding R., most preferred to settle in Riga and in other cities. The few Jews who returned and settled in the town opened up an investigation with the local townspeople on the fate of the community during the time of the Nazi conquest. The synagogue was found mostly destroyed. A side annex alone remained on its foundation. In 1964, there took place a trial of Latvian war criminals who acted in the area of Rezekna including the town of R. Townspeople who had moved to Riga erected a monument to the memory of the towns martyred on the place of the killing in the Aizopeh Forest and on which was written "To the eternal memory of the Jews of the town of Riebeni who were killed tragically at the hands of the German Fascist conquerors, on 23 August 1941. Family members". Also in memory of individual Jews who were murdered monuments were erected in various places. Every year the survivors of R. have a tradition of holding a memorial for those killed.

 


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