Liepāja Jewish Cemetery Burials, 1909-1941

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1905-1914 1915-1919 1920-1924 1925-1929 1930-1934 1935-1941

The Liepāja Jewish cemetery was neglected but not greatly vandalized during the German and Soviet occupations (1941-45 and 1945-1991). See photos here. Several burial record books survived and ended up in custody of the 1991 cemetery warden, Mr. Agris Furmanis. The Liepāja Cemetery Administration reclaimed the most recent books, covering the period 1909-1941, and made copies available to the Jewish Community of Liepāja. With the help of Ilana Ivanova, former head of the Community, we obtained copies of these copies, and transcribed them for posting on the Web. Book 1, listing 3564 names and death dates (including 5 between 1905 and 1908), has been transcribed and edited thus far and is posted here; Book 2, giving names and grave locations but no dates, has been transcribed but still needs to be proofed and edited. Both books required major editing, as explained below. We present the data in alphabetical as well as chronological order.

Names. At least 4 wardens worked successively on the cemetery book between 1909 and 1941, recording dates, names, and comments in German, but Jewish dates and father’s names, in Hebrew. Their name spellings tended to be phonetic, without much consistency or concern for the family’s preferred spelling. We have tried to standardize surname spellings to some extent, giving preference to the most common or most authentic variants so that similar names would appear close together, e.g., we changed Bekker to Becker, Oettinger to Ettinger, etc. The original spellings are listed in a separate column. We usually did not standardize uncommon names if the variants were close in alphabetical sequence, or if the authentic spelling was uncertain. Nor did we standardize first or father’s names, except in cases of gross misspelling.

Legibility often was a problem. Some of the writing was less than calligraphic, and some lines had faded badly or were partly obscured by black blotches on the photocopy. Sometimes such names could be recovered by comparison with Book 2. In a few cases, no first name was given at all in Book 1, and if the surname was common, no unique match could be found in Book 2.

From late 1937 on, the Latvian government required official records such as cemetery books to be kept in Latvian. That involved several major changes in spelling, as Latvian has no W, Y, or umlauts, uses single characters for -sch or -tsch, attaches suffixes such as -s, -is, or -a to names, etc. The wardens of that time had only modest knowledge of Latvian spelling, but we were generally able to convert the names back to German. However, some people had made voluntary changes toward Latvian spelling as early as 1930, in order to ensure correct pronunciation. Thus VOGEL became FOGEL, WEINER became VAINER, CHAIT became HAIT, CHATZKEL became HACKEL or HAKEL, etc. We have tried to standardize such spellings to pre-1930 (German) usage, but in many cases the family itself used more than one spelling. We strongly urge all users to check all conceivable variants of a surname.

Dates. They were written in the left margin of the book, which on many pages was partly cut off in photocopying. Some 20% of the dates were partly or wholly unreadable. We recovered most of these dates from the Jewish dates, which were near the right margin. However, on many pages the lower right corner was solid black, making the Jewish dates unreadable. Most of the Jewish dates agreed with the secular dates to within one day, consistent with the different starting times of a day (midnight vs. sundown). But in more than 200 cases there were larger discrepancies, from a few days to a month or more. In most cases the secular date ought to be more reliable, as the wardens lived in a secular society and presumably saw the official death certificate with the correct secular date, whereas they had to look up the Jewish date in a Jewish calendar. Occasional lookup errors seem likely. However, in some cases the Jewish date seemed preferable.

Occasionally both dates were incomplete, only bracketing the true date between two limits, e.g. the 7th and the 17th, or 5 June and 5 July. In such cases we interpolate the date between the two limits and show this date in italics.

Dates prior to 1916 were given on the Julian calendar, which was the official calendar in the Russian Empire. After Liepāja was occupied by German troops in April 1915, the Gregorian calendar 13 days ahead of the Julian calendar÷was introduced, effective 1 January 1916. For most of 1916, the cemetery book still recorded dates on both systems. We have converted all dates to the Gregorian calendar.

Notes. Wardens 1 and 2 (1909-1926 and 1927-1930) often added brief notes: marital status of women, ages of the young and very old, unnatural causes of death, home towns of outsiders, etc. Many poignant stories are hidden behind these notes: a 7-year-old girl killed by a streetcar, six forced laborers who died in early 1917, the synagogue water carrier Abram known only by his first name, a rash of children’s deaths in the summer of 1917 and especially during the “Spanish flu” of 1919, a murder wave, including several double and triple killings 1918/22, four Jewish soldiers who fell in the battle near Libau on 14 November 1919, a man who hanged himself 4 months after the death of his daughter, etc. The last death recorded was on 21 June 1941, the day before the German attack that was to annihilate the Jewish Community of Liepāja. The 33 Jews among the 47 victims of the first mass execution (Rainis Park, on 3 July 1941) were reburied in a mass grave in the Jewish cemetery a few days later. Their names were recorded in some provisional record, and are engraved on a stone marker that was emplaced after the war.

Paul Berkay, Long Beach, CA, USA

Ella Barkan, Tel Aviv, Israel

Edward Anders, Burlingame, CA, USA