Population 731,800 people
The earliest written records of the Jewish traders, arrived in Riga, are dated back in the late 15th–early 16th century. Originally, the Jews were not allowed to live in the inner city. The first three Jewish families were granted permission to settle in the suburbs of Riga in 1764. The status of “Schutzjuden” – the “Protected Jews,” for those contributed to the city treasury and therefore allowed to live in Riga, was set out in the 18th century. At the same period, a Jewish inn was opened outside of the city walls in Moscow Suburb.
The Jews from the nearest settlement Schlok (Sloka) were granted permission to trade in Riga in the late 18th century. Gradually more and more Sloka Jews settled in the city. The Chevra Kadisha was opened here in 1765. The first synagogue started functioning in the city in 1780. The Jewish community of Riga was registered in 1783. However, it only became officially recognized in 1842.
By 1881 the local Jewish community consisted of 14,222 members, which made up 8,4 % of the overall city population. Several Jewish secular schools along with traditional Jewish educational institutions functioned in Riga in the late 19th – early 20th century. There was also a range of cultural, educational, and public Jewish organizations in Riga.
During the WWI, in 1915 a large group of Jews was exiled from the city.
Riga became the Capital of the independent Latvian Republic in 1920. By that year, the local Jewish community consisted of 24,725 members. The 1920s–1930s was the time when the Jewish life in Riga was flourishing: The Community Council was elected, Jewish hospitals, charity organizations and theatres were opened. The Jewish newspapers and magazines were published in Yiddish, Hebrew, German, and Russian languages. The Jewish children could attend any of 12 primary and 2 secondary Jewish schools. The Jewish Folk University and the Jewish Folk Music Academy functioned in the city.
More than 20 prayer houses and minyans along with 5 synagogues conducted services in Riga during the 1920s. The centre of Chabad was transferred here after Lubavitcher Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn moved his residence to the city.
Riga became the heart of the Zionist movement in Eastern Europe in the 1920s–1930s. Such organizations as “Beitar,” “Keren Kayemet", and several Zionist left wing youth centres worked here.
By 1935 the number of Jews in Riga reached 43,672, which was equal to 11,3 % of its whole population.
After Latvia fell into the hands of the Soviet Union in 1940, all the Zionist organizations were disbanded. The Hebrew schools were closed down. Many famous Jewish public figures were deported on the 14th of June 1941.
The Nazi troops occupied Riga on the 1st of July 1941. Some 30,000 Jews were present in Riga on the first day of the occupation. Almost all of them were shot in Rumbula forest. Only 164 Jewish Holocaust survivors were found in Riga after its liberation from the Nazis.
During the WWII the total number of the local Jewish community members decreased by 2/3. After the war, the Jews returned to their home city from evacuation, from exile, from the fronts and the concentration camps. Some Jews from other towns and cities of the Soviet Union also moved to Riga.
Since the 1960s, the Latvian Capital once again became one of the centres of the Jewish national and Zionist movements. The underground newspapers were published and the underground theatre performed here during that period. By 1970 the Jewish population of Riga consisted of 30,580 people. About 1/3 of them immigrated to Israel during the 1970s.
Latvian Society of the Jewish Culture was formed in 1988, marking the resurrection of the Jewish community in Riga. The first Jewish school in the Soviet Union was opened in the Latvian Capital in 1989. At present the Jewish community of Riga has more than 8,000 members.
Peitav Schul (Synagogue), Peitavas, 6/8. The synagogue with the Art Nouveau façade and the interior of Ancient Egyptian style, designed by architects Hermann Seuberlich and Wilhelm Neuman, was built in 1905. It was the second biggest and one of the most beautiful temples in Riga after the Great Choral Synagogue. During the Holocaust it escaped the tragic fate of other Riga synagogues. It was not burned down because of its location in the city center in dense surrounding of other buildings. During the WWII it was converted into a warehouse. After the war Peitav Schul was one of very few functioning synagogues in the USSR. Now it is the only operating synagogue in Riga. Thanks to the financial support of the European Union, the Latvian Government, the Council of the Jewish Communities of Latvia and the private donations, the synagogue underwent renovation in 2007–2008. The building is included in the List of State Protected Monuments.
Memorial on the Site of the Great Choral Synagogue, Gogoļa, 25, corner of Dzirnavu St. One of the most magnificent temples in Riga was designed by Paul von Hardenak and built on this site in 1871. It was famous for its choir and the cantors. As many as 1,000 people could attend the synagogue at a time. Sharing the tragic fate of other synagogues in Riga, the Great Choral Synagogue was burned down together with the people, locked up in it on the 4th of July 1941. The exact number of the victims remains unknown until now. In 1993 the memorial, designed by architect Sergey Ryzh, was opened on the site of the destroyed synagogue. The decorative elements of the original building, found during the archaeological excavations are incorporated into the structure of the monument, representing the walls of the burned down temple.
Monument to Zanis Lipke and all the Saviours of Latvian Jews. Gogoļa, 25, corner of Dzirnavu St. It was designed by Elina Lazdina, and unveiled on the 4th of July 2007. The falling wall symbolizes the threat of extermination of the Jewish people. The names of the 270 Latvian residents who sheltered Jews during the Holocaust have been engraved on the 7 columns supporting the wall. The central column displays the portrait of Zanis Lipke, who saved more than 50 Jews from Riga ghetto. He was the first Latvian citizen, honored as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.
Jewish School, Lāčplēša, 141. The first secular Jewish school was opened in Riga in 1840. Rabbi Max Lilienthal, the famous German educationalist of Jewish origin was the founder and the first principal of the school. Later the prominent Jewish historian Rabbi Reuben Joseph Wunderbar also taught here. This property was bought in 1887, and later converted into a school, which was in operation until 1941. During the Holocaust it was used by Judenrat – the Jewish Ghetto Council. After the WWII, one of the city schools functioned here. Currently the building ventures Jewish Private Secondary school “Chabad.”
Ghetto (1941–1943), a part of the city, bordered by Maskavas, Jersikas, Ebreju, Līksnas, Lauvas, Lielā Kalna, Katoļu, Jēkabpils, and Lāčplēša streets.In the late August 1941, all Jews present in Riga were ordered to relocate to the ghetto. Some 30,000 people became its prisoners. About 25,000 Jews were exterminated in Rumbula forest during two mass executions, which took place on the 30th of November and the 8th of December 1941. The Jews deported from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia were also kept prisoner in Riga ghetto from the late 1941 until its disbandment on the 2nd of November 1943.
The Old New Synagogue – Altnaie Schul, Maskavas, 57. The original small timber building, rented by Riga Jews and used as a prayer house, was built on this site in 1780. This oldest synagogue in the city was replaced by a brick building in 1843, and reconstructed according to the plans of architect Reingold Schmeling in 1889. At that point, the synagogue received its unusual name “The Old New Synagogue”. On the 4th of July 1941, it was burned down together with the people, which took refuge in it. After the WWII, the building was reconstructed and converted into a residential house.
Hospital Bikur Holim, Maskavas, 122/128. Society “Bikur Holim” caring for the sick was founded in Riga in the 19th century. Hospital Bikur Holim was opened in 1924 thanks to the donation of the Jewish philanthropist Ulrich Milman and with the support of the American branch of JOINT. Dr. Isaac Yoffe was the General Manager of the hospital, which provided services in General Medicine, Neurology, and General Surgery. Dr. Vladimir Mintz, the Head Surgeon of Bikur Holim was the first surgeon in Latvia, who operated on open heart and brain. During the Holocaust the building was used by the Nazi authority as a military hospital. In the Soviet times, one of the city hospitals functioned here. Hospital Bikur Holim re-opened its doors to the patients in the early 1990s.
The Old Jewish Cemetery, Līksnas, 2/4. It was opened in 1725. The Old Jewish Cemetery received its present name shortly after the New Jewish Cemetery started functioning in Šmerlis in the 1920s. The prayer house and the Beit Tahara situated at the cemetery were burned down on the 4th of July 1941. Estimated 50 people perished in the blaze. Some 1,000 people, killed on the streets of the ghetto during the late November 1941, were buried here in two mass graves. The members of the resistance group were shot and buried here on the 31st of October 1942. During the Soviet times, the graves were destroyed and Communist Brigades Park was set out on the site of the cemetery. However, a few fragments of several headstones can still be seen. To commemorate the fact, that the Jewish cemetery was situated on this site, the park is now called "The Old Jewish Cemetery".
The Rumbula Memorial Site, the Spot of the Mass Execution of the Jews, Maskavas, 455. 25,000 prisoners of Riga ghetto were shot in Rumbula forest on the 30th of November and on the 8th of December 1941. Some 1,000 Jews, who were transported here from Germany in the early morning of the 30th of November 1941, became the first victims. The Rumbula Memorial was opened on the 29th of November 2002 on the site where the mass execution took place. It was designed by architect Sergey Ryzh. Boarders mark six mass graves, located in the forest. The large menorah towering in the centre of the area in the shape of the Star of David, covered with rocks. The names of the Jews executed here are engraved on them. The paving stones, forming the Star of David bear the names of the streets of Riga ghetto. During the construction of the new monument the original one was carefully preserved. It was unveiled in 1964 thanks to the efforts of the Riga Jewish activists.
Bikernieku Memorial Site, the Spot of the Mass Execution of the Jews, Biķernieki St, central part of the forest. Some 35, 000 people, among them about 20, 000 Jews from Latvia, Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia were shot dead here between 1941 and 1944. The memorial, designed by architect Sergey Ryzh, was opened here on the 30th of November 2001. The black granite cube, representing an altar, stands in the centre of the memorial. The granite stones with paths between them, surrounding the altar, remind a visitor about a traditional Jewish cemetery. There are small plaques alongside the paths showing the names of Kiel, Bremen, Prague, Riga, Vienna, and other places where the people were transported from and condemned to death. Deeper inside the forest there are graves marked with symbolic stones.
Monument in Memory of the Victims of Kaiserwald Concentration Camp, Meža and Viestura junction. Kaiserwald concentration camp was set up in autumn 1943. Surviving inmates of Riga, Liepaja and Daugavpils ghettos, the Jews from Lithuania, Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia were kept prisoner in Kaiserwald and its branches. Starting from summer 1944, the prisoners of Kaiserwald were transferred to concentration camps in Germany. The last transport left Kaiserwald just days before Riga was liberated from the Nazis. Some 18,000 people were imprisoned in Kaiserwald concentration camp during the course of its existence. The monument, designed by sculptor Solveiga Vasiļjeva was opened on the 29th of June 2005.
A Jewish Club and Theatre, Skolas, 6. The building, designed by architects Edmund Trompovski and Paul Mandelstamm, was constructed in 1913–1914. After it was fully reconstructed, the Jewish Theatre was opened here in 1926. The famous Hebrew Habimah Theatre performed on its stage in 1926, and 1938. The Nazi authorities used the premises as an officers' club. During the Soviet period, the building ventured the House of the Political Education. The property was returned to the Jewish community in the early 1990s. At present, it has become a home for several Jewish public organizations, museum “Jews in Latvia”, kosher café Lehaim etc. The building is included in the List of State Protected Monuments.