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Liepāja

Liepāja, Liepāja County, Kurzeme District, Latvia

To enlarge the map click here The main street of Liepaja before World War II The main street of Liepaja before World War II YVA, Photo Collection 1400/108

Jews began living in Liepaja at the end of the eighteenth century. In 1935, 7,379 Jews lived in the city (some 13 percent of the total population). In the interwar period, the Jews in Liepaja played a major role in the economic life of the city, especially in the areas of trade, manufacture and industry, as well as in the banking sector, and some 40 percent of all the shops and medium-sized and larger businesses were under Jewish ownership. The city had four synagogues. In 1918 and 1920, two Jewish high schools opened in Liepaja.
With the June 1940 occupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union, Liepaja held one of the main Soviet Baltic Sea harbors. When the Soviets took control of the city, a strong resistance broke out on the part of nationalist Latvians. Left-wing elements, especially Jewish ones, played a part in quashing the resistance. During this period, all private businesses were nationalized, many Jews lost their property and all public Jewish institutions were liquidated. Numerous Liepajan Jews were arrested on the night of June 14-15, 1941, and exiled to the Soviet interior. Liepaja was occupied by the Germans on June 29, 1941. Immediately, arrests and murders of groups and individual Jews began.
The first wave of mass murder operations against the Jews of Liepaja began at the end of June 1941, and continued until December 1941, during which some 5,000 people were shot.
On July 1, 1942, the Jews of Liepaja were given ten days to move into the ghetto. On October 8, 1943, they were rounded up in the ghetto courtyard and then transported by train to the Kaiserwald concentration camp. The next day, all those who were found unfit for work – namely children and their mothers, the infirm and the elderly – were sent to the Riga ghetto, where they remained until its final liquidation.
Liepaja was liberated by the Red Army on May 9, 1945. Only twenty to thirty Jews from Liepaja had survived.