BRIEF MOMENTS OF HISTORY
“The Jews appeared in Memel, probably in the 15th century, although they were mentioned in the first document in 1567. By the way, we can talk about them with some reservation – on April 20, 1567, the Grand Duke of Prussia Albrecht gave all Jews a 21-day deadline to leave the city and never return to it. The ban was valid until the middle of the 17th century.
It was not until 1662 that the Jews (of course, not all, but one particular merchant) were granted the right to reside in the city, by the will of Friedrich Wilhelm, the pastor of Brandenburg. He was interested in strengthening trade relations with Memelis.“
In the scientific publication „Jews of Klaipėda Region and Their Cultural Heritage” PhD Martynas Purvinas notes that the Jewish community has been residing in Memel, now Klaipeda, since 1664, which et up the first house of prayer in the city in 1674.
Researchers of Klaipėda University PhD Vasilijus Safronovas and PhD Hektoras Vitkus state that in early modern times, persons of Jewish nationality were not particularly desirable in Prussian cities. A very rare exception was the so-called privileged Jews, who received the legal protection of the ruler, i. y. most often “earned” by their economic talents and financial influence.
“The convenient location (a large ice-free port and autonomy far from the Prussian capital) and the successful conjuncture (say, the Crimean War, which isolated Russia from the usual trade routes) significantly increased the Jewish population in Memel: in 1813- 45 people, in 1867- 887, 1880- 1214. The first Jewish family to receive the rights of the locals was Ber Kogen, who came from Tarogen (Taurage) with his sons Joseph, Aron, and Schmuel. In Memel, they called themselves Wald,s and started a large coal trade here. Jews occupied a considerable place in the national economy, founded many food production , wood processing, textile, ship repair industry companies. They were among the pioneers of the resort’s business – for instance, the second large hotel built in Juodkrante (late 19th century) was called „Tel Aviv“ (translated from the ancient Jewish language – “Spring Hill”). The world’s first amber mine near Juodkrante was also founded by Memel businessmen, Jews Wilhelm Stanten and Moritz Becker.”
There were four synagogues, two sports clubs, a Jewish cultural community, a history and literature club, a women’s Zionist organization, and a chamber orchestra before World War II in Klaipeda. rye Sheinhaus, the editor of the daily „Memeler Dampfboote.“ (engl.“Klaipėda Steamboat“), published in Klaipėda (and an edition is still being published in Germany), established a Hebrew language group. It was on the initiative of this man that a Hebrew-speaking kindergarten operated in Memel.
In 1938 6,000 Jews lived in Memel, į.y. 12.5% of the total population.
“After Germany annexed the Klaipėda region, the Jews fled to Lithuania, mostly to Kaunas. After the Soviet army occupied the Baltic countries in 1940, many of them became prisoners of Stalin’s camps. As paradoxical as it may sound, this disaster saved them- after the Hitlerite invasion of Lithuania in 1941, only a small number survived (220,000 Jews were killed in Lithuania, i.e. about 90% of the Jews living here). “
There were 1,000 Jews left in Klaipeda (formerly Memel) in 1967. No Jewish organizations were operating in the city anymore.
“Today, there is a Jewish community center in Klaipeda, which now has about 300 members. A thuja alley with a memorial sign has been planted in the memorial cemetery of the Jewish community, on Grąžgatvio Street, here you can see a memorial plaque dedicated to David Wolffsohn, a businessman of Lithuanian Jewish origin, a figure of Zionism, and the author of the name of the Israeli flag and currency. Rabbi Rebas Nosonas Veršubskis has been living and working in Klaipėda since 2006. ”