Liepāja (Liepaja, Libau, Libava) | Kurzeme

The Great Choral synagogue in Liepaja. Built in 1872, destroyed in July 1941. Source: Wikipedia Anti-Jewish measures ordered by the German naval commander in Liepāja, July 5, 1941, in German and Latvian. Source: Bunderarchiv, Bild_183-B11441 Anti-Jewish measures ordered by the German naval commander in Liepāja, July 5, 1941, in German and Latvian. Source: Bunderarchiv, Bild_183-B11441 This image, taken in Liepāja, Latvia, in July 1941, shows native Latvians armed and guarding Jews. Source: Bunderarchiv, Bild_183-B11441 Righteous Among the Nations, Robert Seduls (right) and David Zivcon, one of eleven Jews who hid in the home of the Seduls family from the liquidation of the Liepāja ghetto in October 1943. In March 1945, Robert was killed by a Russian shell.©Yad Vashem Johanna and Robert Seduls saved 11 jews by hiding them in their home.  In March 1945, Robert was killed by a Russian shell, but Johanna continued to hide the Jews until the liberation of the city by the Red Army in May 1945. From their family album. ©YIU / Irida P., born in 1940, a daughter of Robert Seduls, Righteous among the Nation. ©Eva Saukane/Yahad - In Unum Irida P., born in 1940, holding a picture of her mother, her sister and herself. ©Eva Saukane/Yahad - In Unum Indra S., born in 1937, the oldest daughter of the Seduls family who hid 11 Jews during the war in their basement. ©Eva Saukane/Yahad - In Unum Indra S., born in 1937, remembered that parents didn’t want the kids to know they were hiding someone because it was very dangerous. Nevertheless, being curious, the two girls found out rather quickly without really understanding what was happening. ©YIU The Yahad team during an interview with the daughter of Robert Seduls. ©Eva Saukane/Yahad - In Unum Indra points out the hiding place in the basement made by her father in order to hide 11 Jews. ©Eva Saukane/Yahad - In Unum The building where the Seduls family used to live alongside another five families. Neighbors didn’t know that the Seduls family was hiding Jews. ©Eva Saukane/Yahad - In Unum The location of the hiding place made inside the basement which saved 11 Jews in Liepaja. ©Eva Saukane/Yahad - In Unum Memorial plate in memory of Robert Seduls and his family for saving 11 Jews during the war. ©Eva Saukane/Yahad - In Unum The building at Tirgonu 22 where 11 Jews were hidden by a local Latvian family despite the danger violent reprisals. ©Eva Saukane/Yahad - In Unum The Jewish cemetery in Liepāja. ©Eva Saukane/Yahad - In Unum The Jewish cemetery in Liepāja. ©Eva Saukane/Yahad - In Unum The memorial at the Jewish cemetery where the corpses of the victims murdered in July 1941 were reburied. ©Eva Saukane/Yahad - In Unum The memorial at the Jewish cemetery where the corpses of the victims murdered in July 1941 were reburied.  ©Eva Saukane/Yahad - In Unum From July 1942 until October 1943 the ghetto of the Liepāja Jews was located between Kungu, Apšu, Dārza and Bāriņu streets. ©Eva Saukane/Yahad - In Unum Memorial near the former location of the ghetto. ©Eva Saukane/Yahad - In Unum The memorial at the execution site of 47 Jews and 5 Latvian communists in Rainis Park, conducted on July 4, 1941. According to some sources 300 victims were shot in the park during the first days of the occupation. ©Eva Saukane/Yahad - In Unum

Exeution of Jews in Liepāja

1 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before:
Rainis Park (1); Fishing port (2)
Period of occupation:
Number of victims:
Over 1,500

Witness interview

Indra and Irida, born in 1937 and 1940 respectively, the two daughters of the Seduls family who were hiding 11 Jews at their home: “At first, the Jews were all hiding on the third floor of the building, [Note: a place similar to an attic]. Later, our father built a hiding place in the basement. It had a separate secret entrance made from cardboard. One time, Indra was too curious and tried to see what was going on in the basement, but father caught her and got very upset. He forbad us to even go near the basement. The basement was 7 or 8 square meters. A heating system was set up down there, so they had hot water. Our mother would put garlic everywhere so that dogs wouldn’t smell people down there. Someone at the bakery might have denounced them because the Germans came to search the house, but they found nothing. They stayed in hiding for 19 months.” (Witness n°55 and 56, interviewed in Liepāja, on October 5, 2019)

Soviet archives

"The first task we were given was [to clean] a Soviet 1.5-ton truck that the Germans had as a trophy. We were ordered to clean it, start it up and cover it with tarpaulin. When the truck was ready, it was used only to transport the victims to the execution site. The people of Liepaja nicknamed it "Black Bertha". When this truck returned, I was in charge of cleaning it. Every time I cleaned it, I came across pools of blood, bits of splintered brain, torn sleeves of shirts and jackets, and hats. This meant that civilians were being beaten up on the way there. On December 13, 1941, the order of Obersturmbannführer Frantz Dietrich was published in the newspaper "Kurzemes Vārds", according to which the Jews of Liepaja were to stay at home on December 15 and 16, 1941. During these two days, about 3,500 people were rounded up and shot day and night in Skede. The victims were stripped naked, and the Germans took their belongings. On February 15, 1942, about 500 Jews from Liepaja were rounded up and shot in Skede. It should be noted that on the way, 22 of them managed to escape in the vicinity of Skede. In addition, they killed their transporter, chased their guards and managed to escape. The next day, the head of the SD Untersturmführer Wolfgang Kigler came to us - the skilled workers - and told us that if the fugitives were not found within twelve hours, he would order the execution of all the Jews in the city of Liepaja. At that time, there were between 800 and 850 Jews left in the city. We replied that it was impossible, they were not in Liepaja. After this conversation, the head of the Jews, Mr. Izraelite, offered a camera to Kigler, who stopped looking for the fugitives and stopped bothering us." [Deposition of Jewish survivor, David Zivtson, born in 1914; GARF 7021-93-2419, pp. 130-143]

German archives

“Our department was in front of the residential buildings, opposite a crossroads. Our accommodation was opposite the prison yard. I could see them taking the Jews there. I heard from comrades that they were arrested and all taken outside Libau in a truck and shot there. (…) The Jews were taken to a forest 12 km outside of Libau and shot there. They had to dig the pits by themselves. The first shooting was carried out by the Schutzpolizei. (…) Later on, the the men of the Schutzpolizei refused to do the shootings, so the Latvian police carried out the killings. I heard that in a single day, 1.500 Jews were shot in Libau.” [Interrogation, Source: B162-2626 RG-14.101M.0343.00000429 Bl. 1226]

Historical note

Liepaja is the third largest city in Latvia and is located 195 km (121 miles) southwest of Riga on the Baltic Sea. Jews first came to the city in the 13th century, but were forbidden from settling there. In 1795, Liepaja was taken over by the Russian Empire and Jews began settling in the city. Jews were given the right to permanently live in Liepaja in 1799, and during the 19th century, the city’s Jewish community grew rapidly. Due to Liepaja’s status as a port city, Jews worked predominantly in commerce and industry. In cultural terms, the Jews of Liepaja were greatly influenced by German culture during the early-to-mid 1800s, and many Jewish families gave their children a German education. The city’s Jewish community also had multiple educational institutions, including a Talmud Torah school (a religious school for boys), as well as schools that spread the values of the Jewish Enlightenment, or Haskalah. The city was also home to many synagogues, prayer houses, and centers of religious study.

Liepaja’s Jewish community continued to grow during the early 20th century. The city’s Jewish population reached its zenith in 1911, consisting of 10,308 people. However, the First World War inflicted a heavy toll on Liepaja, which caused its Jewish population to decline. During the interwar period, some of the city’s Jews founded banks that helped Liepaja recover economically. In 1935, 7,379 Jews lived in Liepaja, making up 13% of the population. Five years later, in 1940, the Soviet Union occupied Liepaja and the rest of Latvia.

Holocaust by bullets in figures

On June 29, 1941, Nazi Germany occupied Liepaja during its invasion of the Soviet Union. As soon as the Germans occupied the city, Wehrmacht soldiers and a detachment of Einsatzgruppe A began sporadically murdering Jews. On July 4, 1941, the Germans shot 47 Jews and 5 Latvian communists in Rainis Park. Similar killings occurred daily after July 4. According to the Soviet archives, about 1,400 Jews were murdered during the first seven days of the German occupation. According to another source, there were 300 victims. The killings were accompanied by the looting and destruction of Jewish properties by the Germans and some locals.

On July 23, 1941, the first mass Aktion was conducted, during which 1,200 Jews, mainly from the local intelligentsia, were murdered in in the vicinity of the fishing port. From August, all the Jews were registered, marked with yellow distinguishing badges and a series of the anti-Jewish measures were implemented. The were, for example, forbidden to walk on the sidewalks.

From December 15-17, 1941, the Germans and their Latvian collaborators killed about 2,800 Jews, Roma and activists in a massive Aktion. Before the Aktion, an order was issued and passed through the newspaper ordering all the Jews to remain at home on December 15 and 16. The Jews were rounded up at home by the Latvian police, taken to the prison and then driven to the Šķēde dunes, approximately 13 km from Liepāja. By the end of 1941, the Germans and Latvian auxiliary police murdered approximately 5,500 Jews in and around Liepaja. On July 1, 1942, the Nazis created a ghetto for the Liepaja Jews. The ghetto consisted of a single block of residences surrounded by barbed wire. It is one of the three largest ghettos in Latvia and existed until 1943, along with the ghetto in Riga and Daugavpils. The Germans executed dozens of Jews for minor infractions. Food rations were insufficient, but many Jews worked outside of the ghetto, so they were able to smuggle food inside. The ghetto had multiple institutions, such as a library, a drama club, and a small synagogue. On October 8, 1943, on Yom Kippur, the Liepaja ghetto was liquidated. 800 Jews were sent to the Kaiserwald concentration camp near Riga, while the elderly were murdered in Liepaja. Most mothers, as well as children under the age of 12, were sent to Auschwitz to be gassed on November 3, 1943.

When the Soviet Union liberated the city in 1945, Liepaja’s Jewish community was devastated. Of the 7,379 Jews who lived in Liepaja before the Holocaust, approximately 175 survived.

For more information about the executions in Šķēde, please refer to the corresponding profile

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