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Kurzeme and Zemgale, both parts of Kurzeme/ Kurland Duchy (1561 - 1795) and later Kurzeme guberniya of the Russian Empire and until the foundation of independent Latvia (18 November 1918) were called Kurzeme Jews (Kurländische Juden, Kурляндские евреи). The capital, Jelgava (Mitau, Митава), became the provincial administrative center. Many Jewish families from North Germany and Brandenburgh (Prussia) settled in Piltene district in 1571. Later came settlements in Aizpute, Kuldīga, and Jelgava, Jēkabpils, Bauska and other places. Jews coming from Germany gradually formed Kurzeme's Jews regional group, German and Yiddish speakers.  Jewish entrepreneurs, revenue administrators, and tax collectors helped Kurzeme's nobility modernize. During the Northern War (1700 - 1721), the majority of Kurzeme's Jews were killed or fled, replaced by a new wave of German Jews in the 18th century, mainly from the Kingdom of Prussia, tripled the population that reached 9,000 at the end of the century. Mainly traders and craftsmen, around 200 had German higher education and were physicians, pharmacists, lawyers, and teachers - a Jewish part of local intelligentsia with the spirit of enlightenment. Jews played a significant role in making Kurzeme more European. Then, under Russian rule, Jewish life for these German speakers became tougher but not as bad as in other provinces of the Russian Empire. Hence, many Jews from Lithuania and Belorussia moved to Kurzeme in the 19th century swelling the 1850 Jewish population to 23,000, in 1881 to 47,671,  in 1897 to 51,169 (@9% of the province). Two thirds lived in Jelgava (16,7%), Liepāja (14,7%), Aizpute, Jēkabpils and Tukums (40-50%), and in Bauska and Jaunjelgava, more than 50%. Jews in the 18th century founded a money exchange in Kurzeme in the Jelgava marketplace that served almost the entire province's nobility. They dominated trade, big guilds and associations, directing the flow of trade in corn, linen and timber in particular to and from Poland, Lithuania, and Germany despite their smaller number, discrimination, and administrative restrictions. Jewish tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths, glasscutters predominated while jewelers had a monopoly. One founded the match factory "Vulkāns" in Kuldīga. Jewish contribution in medicine (93 of about 500 doctors registered in Kurzeme's province from 1825 - 1900, were Jews) was great. Kurzeme's Jews since 1730 forms social organizations like the Chevra Kaddisha, Bikur Holim, Chevra Pole Zedek, Talmud Torah, and others. The 19th century Jewish school system shared 22 private schools and 142 religious community schools with 7 state schools. During the First World War, Kurzeme's and Zemgale's Jews probably loyal to Russia were thought to be German supporters. In spring 1915 when the German army was approaching, the 40,000 Jews were deported to southern and middle Russia in Poltava, Yekaterinoslav, Vladimir, and Voronezh provinces. Kurzeme's Jews community sundered, only Liepaja's and Aizpute's Jews remained after the German army arrived. Ironically, the Jews welcomed them as saviours. In 1918 with the end of Russian Empire and German defeat, Latvia became an independent state, the former Kurzeme province Jewish community only in Liepaja with 9671 Jews (68% of the remaining Jews in Kurzeme and Zemgale. After signing of Brest Peace Treaty between Germany and Soviet Russia, deported Jews returned to Latvia in total to 1925 about 9,000. Their number increased from 20,233 in 1920 to 22,548 in 1925 reaching in Kurzeme 14 883 and 7,665 in Zemgale. Most moved to Riga for a better economic conditions. The 1935 census showed 12,012 Jews in Kurzeme (4.1%) and , 353 in Zemgale (2,46%). The exigencies bonded Kurzeme, Zemgale, Latgale and Riga Jews joining in one Latvian Jewish community. On the 17 November 1918, a day before the proclamation of the Republic, the Peoples Council recognized Jews as national minority in Latvia with no restrictions of rights. A new center of Kurzeme's Jewish life formed in Liepaja, but for Zemgale's Jews, Jelgava. Economic stability was theirs. They were leaders in medicine, pharmacy, and dentistry. Education thrived. Kurzeme's and Zemgale's Jews experienced the best times in 1920 - 1940. The 1939 agreement between Nazi Germany and Bolshevic Soviet Union meant annexation to USSR. In 1940 - 1941 Soviet occupants deported many Jewish public workers, arrested and deported politicians . One third of the deported died.  In 1941, June - July Kurzeme and Zemgale saw the first wave of Nazi Holocaust bestialities in Latvia startomg in Grobiņa (a small town 10 km from Liepaja). June 23 to 24, Jews were killed by German Security Forces Special 1st division at the local cemetery. In Liepaja on June 30, local German and Austrian Jews were caught and killed. On July 3. killing of Liepaja's Jews began and then the Liepaja district Jews. Jelgava Jews met by killers' squad in June. In Bauska, German soldiers killed the first five Jews and on July 15, 1941 sterilized 56 Jewish men without anesthesia, killing 55 in Bauska and Bauska district. On July 11 in Putnu forest, German SD and local butchers killed Auce's Jews. On July 15, they massacred Jews in Ventspils. Most terrible Holocaust atrocities happened in Kurzeme on December 15 -17, 1941 when 2749 town inhabitants were killed at the Liepaja Shkedes dunes. By the end of Summer 1941, more then 90% of Kurzeme's and Zemgale's Jews were dead. Those alive were put into concentration camps and ghettos and in 1943-1944 sent to Kaiserwald, Auschwitz, and Stutthof. Boy as mascot in Holocaust. Examination of life and work mentioning of Jews in Kurzeme. [March 2009]
Last Updated on Monday, 17 January 2011 13:50
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