Children with their parents before their departure to a summer camp in Striape sponsored by OZE (Society for the Protection of Jewish Health), Daugavpils, 1938. (YIVO)

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(Rus. and Yid., Dvinsk; Ger., Dünaburg; among Jews, also called Dinaburg), largest town in southeastern Latvia. Daugavpils, founded in the thirteenth century, became a district capital in the nineteenth century. Jews settled in the town in the mid-1770s. Throughout the nineteenth century and up to World War I, Jews constituted 50 percent of Dvinsk’s total population (increasing from about 1,500 persons in 1800 to about 56,000 by 1914). They lived mainly in the Altstadt, Plan, and Plezer quarters.

Students in a Yiddish school who set up a cooperative for providing tutoring for needy pupils, Daugavpils, early 1920s. (The Ghetto Fighters’ Museum/Israel)

Since Dvinsk was an important railroad junction and large military center, many local Jews made their living from commerce and provisioning the army. A large percentage of the town’s Jews worked in factories established by Jewish entrepreneurs producing wood products (such as matches), cigarettes, and leather goods, as well as for construction projects of the Fridland family.

The Jewish community maintained a well-developed system of welfare and relief organizations, including a hospital, a society for visiting the sick, a soup kitchen, and a home for the elderly. Although culturally Dvinsk belonged to the Lithuanian sphere of influence—with most Jews adhering to the Misnagdic trend—there was nevertheless a relatively large Hasidic community in the town. This set of circumstances often led to bitter disputes and even to the establishment of separate charitable institutions for each of the two factions. Among the Misnagdic rabbis of the town were Re’uven Levin and Me’ir Simḥah ha-Kohen (served 1887–1926). Rabbis Yehudah Leib Zelkiner and Yosef Rozin (served 1884–1936) led the Hasidic community.

Dvinsk’s Jewish educational institutions were the traditional heder, Talmud Torah, and yeshivas, although as early as 1851 several Haskalah-inspired educational institutions began to operate alongside these. These included liberal arts schools for boys and girls, a vocational school, a religious school for girls, a Yiddish-language school, and a ḥeder metukan (“reformed” elementary school). Jewish youths also attended non-Jewish secondary schools.

Zionist Socialist revolutionaries with pistols, Daugavpils (now in Latvia), 1905. The Yiddish and Russian banners displayed include: (right) “Down with the Monarchist Constitution! Long Live the Democratic Republic!” and (bottom) “Workers, All Peoples, Unite!” (YIVO)

At the end of the nineteenth century, many Jews joined the Ḥibat Tsiyon movement and various Zionist socialist parties, including Po‘ale Tsiyon, Tse‘ire Tsiyon, and Tsiyonim Sotsialistim. At the same time, Dvinsk’s branch of the Bund was one of the larger, more active in the movement, drawing its strength mainly from local Jewish workers and at times carrying out large-scale protest demonstrations.

During World War I, more than half of the Jewish residents left Dvinsk. When Latvia was established as a republic, the Jewish population of the town numbered about 12,000. In the interwar period, economic conditions began to deteriorate, partly due to policies adopted by the Latvian government. The burden on Jewish social welfare agencies grew significantly, leading to a major wave of emigration to South Africa, the United States, and Palestine. The Jewish educational and health systems of Dvinsk received partial financial support from international Jewish welfare organizations such as the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Society for the Protection of Jewish Health (OZE), and the Jewish Colonization Association (ICA).

Members of Daughters of Zion, a women’s Zionist organization, Dvinsk, Russia (now Daugavpils, Lat.), 1904. (The Institute for Labour Research in Memory of Pinchas Lavon, Tel Aviv)

Religious life in Dvinsk during the interwar period revolved around the approximately 40 synagogues and study halls established throughout the town. On the political front, despite the Bund’s dominant position locally, various Zionist parties and organizations—among them Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir, Betar, He-Ḥaluts ha-Mizraḥi, and others—attracted significant followings as well. The Jews of Dvinsk were also represented on the town council and in the Latvian Seim (parliament); for example, Bundist leader Noaḥ Meisel was elected to parliament. These developments were accompanied by increased antisemitic manifestations in the town.

After Latvia was annexed by the Soviet Union in June 1940, the situation for Dvinsk’s Jews worsened substantially, and most of their communal institutions ceased to operate. In the first weeks after the town’s occupation by German troops in June 1941, many Jews succeeded in escaping. Those who remained were subjected to cruel abuse; many were murdered by the Germans and their Latvian collaborators. At the end of July 1941, the town’s Jews were forced into a ghetto, and during the period August 1941–May 1942 most were murdered in the nearby Poguļanka and Peski forests. Collaborating with the Germans in the murder of Dvinsk’s Jews were Latvian members of the Commando Arajs, who came from Riga especially for this purpose. After World War II, about 2,000 Jews remained in Dvinsk; by the end of the 1990s there were only about 400 Jews, with one functioning synagogue.

Suggested Reading

Mendel Bobe et al., eds., The Jews in Latvia (Tel Aviv, 1971); Binyamin Eliav, Mendel Bobe, and Elhanan Kramer, eds., Yahadut Latviyah: Sefer zikaron (Tel Aviv, 1952/53); Yudel Flior, Dvinsk: The Rise and Decline of a Town, trans. Bernard Sachs (Johannesburg, 1965); Sarah Feige Foner, Mi-zikhronot yeme yalduti: O, Mar’eh ha-‘ir Dvinsk (Warsaw, 1903); Ester Hager, “Daugavpils,” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Latviyah ve-Estonyah, ed. Dov Levin, pp. 83–106 (Jerusalem, 1988); L. M. Tsilevich, B. Z. Volkovich, and A. Ts. Fishil, eds., Evrei v Daugavpilse, 2 vols. (Daugavpils, Lat., 1993–1999).

YIVO Archival Resources



Translated from Hebrew by I. Michael Aronson