The Liepāja Jewish Community during World War II
The Jews of Liepāja during the Soviet Occupation
In August 1940, Latvia was annexed to the USSR. Liepāja became one of the most important Baltic ports; thousands of Soviet troops and their families settled in the city, improving its economic situation. Before the Soviet occupation, during the leadership of the Ulmanis nationalists in Latvia, jobs in government factories and public offices had been closed to Jews. Now the Jewish residents could work in these positions, including in the city's bank and the municipal culture and health departments. Jews could also join the army and police force, and study at universities and other institutions of higher learning. As the standing of the Jews improved, however, so did the antisemitic fervor amid the Latvian Christian population.
A few months later, the communist leadership began to nationalize private properties and enterprises. Many Jews lost their livelihoods and businesses. Salaries decreased, economic sanctions made trade more difficult, and those found flouting these sanctions were arrested. By December 1940, the Jewish community's cultural, health and aid organizations were closed, including those aiding poor brides (Hachnasat Kallah) and clothing the destitute (Malbish Arumim); the Maccabi sports organization and burial society also ceased operations. The activities of the political parties and youth groups were gradually shut down, leaving only the synagogues and a few aid institutions, as well as the Yiddish school – but only after it adapted its teaching to the Soviet educational syllabus.
In mid-June 1941, more than 50 Jewish families, former property owners in the city, were accused of being "bourgeois" and "enemies of the working class", and exiled from Liepāja. The majority of the heads of these families were imprisoned in the Viatlag Soviet concentration camp in Russia, where most died from starvation and disease. Their families, women and children, were sent to different settlements in the USSR, and most of them also perished. Only a few survived, and were able to return to Latvia after the war.