Jewish Latvia

In June 1941, Germany invaded Latvia and within months, most of the Jewish population there was annihilated. Between the years 1941 and 1944, the Germans and their Latvian collaborators murdered around 90,000 Jews (including 20,000 Jews brought into Latvia from other European countries).

What remains of the once vibrant Jewish communities of Latvia are mostly monuments and memorial plaques marking the places where Jews had lived and died. 

Jewish Riga

The old city of Riga, Jews began settling here in the late 1800's

Although there were Jews in Riga as far back as the 13th century, their rights to settle in the region were severly restricted. With the lifting of housing restrictions in the 19th century,  Jews began arriving in greater numbers.  By 1897, they numbered over 20,000 (8% of the population of Riga),  increasing to 43,672 (11%) by 1935. Only about 150 of these survived the Holocaust. 

The Great Choral Synagogue of Riga

The Great Choral Synagogue was constructed in 1871. On July 4, 1941, three days after the Nazis entered Riga, German and Latvian police set fire to the synagogue  and burnt it to the ground

A memorial plaque at the site relates that  the synagogue was set on fire while the Jews who were inside  were prevented from escaping. Other sources note that about 300 Jews who fled from Lithuania to Latvia were locked in the basement and burned alive.

On the same day, other synagogues in Riga were torched, killing over 400 people.

The Memorial Site

“In the late 1940s the authorities of the Soviet Regime removed the ruins of the Synagogue and laid out a park. In 1988, the Jewish community installed a memorial sign. In 1993, on the uncovered foundations of the Synagogue, the memorial, designed by architects serhejs Rizs and Gunta Svikle, was created with the support of the Latvian Government Jewish Organizations and private donors from several countries. In 2016, the memorial was reconstructed by the council of Jewish communities of Latvia with the support of the U.S. commission for the preservation of America’s heritage abroad.”

(text from one of the plaques at the site)

The Great Choral Synagogue in the 1930's
The memorial site erected upon the foundations of the Great Choral Synagogue.

Altnaj šul (Old-New Schul)- Riga

The Altnaj šul (Old-New Schul) is located on Maskavas street 57 in Riga. 

It was the oldest synagogue in Riga. In 1889, the synagogue was rebuilt in a Romanesque style, following the design of architect Reinhold Schmeling.

The Alt-New Schul was one of the synagogues set ablaze on July 4, 1941.

After World War II, the building was reconstructed as a country house.

The Old-New Schul
Riga Synagogue

Riga Synagogue (Peitav Shul)

The Peitav Shul is located on Peitavas Street in the old city of Riga. Due to it’s location adjacent to a church, sharing a wall with it, the synagogue is the only one in Riga that was not destroyed by the Nazis. It was used as a warehouse during the war. The church’s priest is said to have protected the Holy Ark containing Torah scrolls from destruction. The Peitav Shul is the only synagogue still functioning in Riga.

The Riga Ghetto

On October 25, 1941, the Nazis forced the Jews of Riga (over 29,000 according to German records) to relocate into a small area of Maskavas Forštate which became the Jewish ghetto. A few weeks later, most of these Jews were killed in the Rumbula massacre to make room for a large number of German Jews being transported to the ghetto. The German Jews were later massacred as well.
Photo taken May, 2018: One of the many of the wooden buildings which housed Jews in the ghetto.

Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum

Located within the former Riga ghetto is a partially outdoor museum memorializing the fate of Riga’s Jews under Nazi occupation.  

Along the wall is a list of thousands of Riga Jews who perished in the Holocaust. There is also a replica of a typical ghetto house, a train car, reconstructed models of synogogues which were destroyed and other exhibitions.

Entrance to museum

Model of the Great Choral Synagogue

Names of Riga’s Jews – victims of the Holocaust

Replica of typical Jewish home and furnishings in the ghetto. 

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The Old Jewish Cemetery

The Old Jewish Cemetery lies within the boundaries of the Riga ghetto. The inscription on the plaque reads as follows:

This is Riga’s first Jewish cemetery. It was opened in 1725 and burials continued here until the late 1930s. After German forces occupied Riga in 1941, the prayer house and the mortuary were burned down. The cemetery became a mass burial site for over 1000 Jews killed in the streets and houses of the Riga Ghetto. Following World War Two, many of the cemetery’s tombstones were removed and used as building material. Others deteriorated. The wall surrounding the cemetery collapsed, and the site left uncared for fell into disrepair. In the 1960s, the site was razed and renamed “The Park of the Communist Brigades.” In 1992, the park was renamed “The Old Jewish Cemetery”.

The Old Jewish Cemetery, located at Līksnas, 2/4, was included within the Jewish ghetto.

In the 1960’s, the Soviets removed the graves and razed the grounds of the cemetery turning it into a park. 

Only in 1994,  was a memorial stone with the Star of David erected, without any explanatory text.

This plaque describing the events which took place here, was erected in 2011 with the cooperation with U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.

Bauska, Latvia

Located in southern Latvia near the Lithuanian border, Bauska was known for its vibrant Jewish community and institutions. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Bauska Jewish community played a significant and influential role in the growth and development of the city. 
In 1881, the Jews numbered 3,631 – about 60% of Bauska`s population – but due to harassments and expulsions, the town’s Jewish population dropped to 2,745 (42%) by 1897. Under Soviet rule (1940-1941), Jewish life in Bauska was further curtailed and less than 1,000 Jews remained by the start of WWII.

Bauska was the home of several great Torah scholars including Rabbi Abraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, Rabbi Mordechai Eliasberg and Rabbi Mordechai Rabbiner.

The eradication of the Jewish population in Bauska began in August 3, 1941 when 50 Jews were murdered by the Latvian police. By September 30, all the remaining Jews were killed. 

Posted in Facebook by the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

On 15 October, the Synagogue Garden Memorial was unveiled in Bauska in tribute to the town’s Jewish community.

A MFA representative, Deputy Head of the Latvian Delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, noted in his address that although a memorial cannot replace a functioning house of worship with its congregation but it can nevertheless help explore Latvia’s history and preserve the memory of the Bauska Jewish community for the coming generations.

The Great Synagogue of Bauska was built in 1844. The rabbi serving in the synagogue was Abraham Isaac Kook – a prominent religious thinker and later the first chief rabbi of the Land of Israel. Nazis burnt the synagogue down in July 1941, and almost the entire Jewish community of the town perished in the Holocaust.

The memorial has been put up thanks to the initiative and donations from the descendants of the Bauska Jews in Israel, the USA and the United Kingdom, and with support from the Bauska Municipality Council and the Council of Jewish Communities in Latvia. The author of the memorial is sculptor Ģirts Burvis.

Representatives of the Bauska Municipality Council, members of the diplomatic corps, descendants of the Bauska Jews from Israel and the USA, historians, members of the Jewish community and other civil society organisations were present at the inauguration ceremony.

Panoramic view of the Market square - 2018
Close-up: The memorial in the center on the spot where the synagogue stood.
Bauska Market Square 1925. The center building, partially concealed by a tree, is the synagogue.

The above two photos are of the same square. The synagogue where Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook presided, can be seen in the older photo, It  was burned down by the Nazis in 1941. A memorial was erected on the spot 76 years later.