LIEPAJA (Ger. Libau ; Rus. Libava ), city in Kurzeme (Courland) district, Latvia; one of the oldest Baltic ports. Jews were permitted to live there from 1799, and by 1850 they numbered 1,348 persons. In 1840, 13 families (78 persons) left to join the agricultural settlements in *Kherson province. By 1881 it had increased to 6,651 following the completion of the Libava-Romny railroad, linking Liepaja with the leading industrial and commercial centers of the Ukraine. By 1897 the community had risen to 9,454 (c. 14% of the total population) and to a peak in 1911 of 10,308 (out of a total 83,650), consisting of the old-established residents of Courland among whom German cultural influences pre-dominated and Jews who had moved to Liepaja from various parts of Russia. The old Jewish residents were prominent in the export trade in grain and lumber, while the newcomers were included in the low-economic strata. The Jews also owned 11 of the 43 factories in the city, and about the same proportion of factory workers were Jews. When Latvia became independent after World War i, Liepaja lost its Russian hinterland, which was a severe setback for the development of the city. The Jewish population declined, from 9,758 (19%) in 1920, to 7,908 (13.81%) in 1930, and 7,379 (12.92%) in 1935. It nevertheless remained the third-largest Jewish community in the country, after Riga and Daugavpils (Dvinsk). Before World War i and under democratic government in Latvia (1918–34) a number of social and political groups, prominent rabbis, and communal leaders (including N. *Katzenelson) were active in the community. The Hebrew writer J.L. *Kantor was *kazyonny ravvin from 1890 to 1904. He was succeeded in 1907 by Aaron Nurock, who later served as community rabbi until 1937. He was also a member of the Latvian parliament for one term. There existed a Hebrew public school with 400 pupils, a Hebrew Tarbut school (140 pupils), a Yiddish school with 350 children, and an Ort vocational school. The community maintained among others, an old-age home, orphanage, a clinic, and a tuberculosis sanatorium. In 1940 the Soviets nationalized the economy and exiled 50 property-owning families. They left the Yiddish school operating with a Soviet curriculum.
[Joseph Gar /
Shmuel Spector (2nd ed.)]
Liepaja was occupied by the Germans on June 29, 1941. This was followed at once by anti-Jewish excesses and mass arrests. On July 24, 1941, 3,000 Jews from Liepaja, mostly men, were taken to the lighthouse at Schkeden and put to death. Jews from the surrounding towns and villages were concentrated in Liepaja, and on Dec. 15 and 16, 1941, another 3,500 were murdered. Four hundred Jews lost their lives in February 1942. In June of that year, a ghetto was set up, where 816 Jews were confined; it was liquidated on October 8, 1943 (the eve of the Day of Atonement), and the remaining Jews were deported to concentration camps.
Only a few dozen Liepaja Jews survived the war. The city was liberated by the Red Army on May 9, 1945, but most of the Jewish survivors did not return, preferring to stay in Displaced Persons' camps, from where they eventually left for Israel and other countries overseas.
M. Schatz-Anin, Di Yidn in Letland (1924), 19–24; L. Ovchinski, Di Geshikhte fun di Yidn in Letland (1928), 123–32; Le-Korot ha-Yehudim be-Kurland (1908); Yahadut Latvia (1953), 241–3, 359–61; M. Kaufmann, Die Vernichtung der Juden Lettlands (1947), 299–304. add. bibliography: pk Latvia and Estonia, ed. Dov Levin (1988).