Jews of Latvia 1941-1945
Jews of Latvia: Names and Fates 1941-1945 - Using the Website
by Marion E. Werle
One of the most valuable resources for researching pre-World War II family members in Latvia is the website called Jews of Latvia: Names and Fates 1941-1945. The website, which is available in three languages (English, Russian, and Latvian), is the result of a project headed by Professor Ruven Ferber of the University of Latvia, in cooperation with multiple organizations, including the Latvian State Historical Archives and Yad Vashem. The project is dedicated to identifying and memorializing the names of the approximately 70,000 Latvian Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. The individuals were identified through a variety of sources, mainly, but not exclusively, archival. The newly updated website reflects the fourth stage of the project, as described in the “Methodology” section, namely adding photos from pre-war passports and documents. One advantage to the Names project is that it also identifies individuals who survived the war, most having fled East to the interior of the Soviet Union, who often returned to Latvia when the war was over. Many of their descendants are still living, so the project, in conjunction with other resources (e.g., Yad Vashem Pages of Testimony, online family trees, DNA), is an invaluable aid in locating living relatives.
The website was redesigned and updated in January 2022. The presentation and navigation are entirely different, compared to the original website. The database itself has been enhanced, with the inclusion of photos and passport data, if available, for the person being profiled. As with the original website, the city of Liepaja is excluded, due to the parallel efforts of the Liepāja Jews in WWII website. which documents the names and fates of the 7,145 pre-war inhabitants of Liepāja. The old website required knowledge of where the person resided. The new website has removed this requirement and has added a number of search filters, including place of birth, and residence before and during the war. The “surnames” feature of the old website, which linked directly to the search page for the given surname, no longer exists, and has been replaced with a PDF document that lists the correct surname spellings, which must be manually entered onto the search form.
The following discussion describes how to use the new Jews of Latvia 1941-1945 website. Note that navigation back to the main homepage from any subordinate informational pages is not intuitively obvious: clicking on the University of Latvia logo on the upper left of the screen will return the user to the homepage. This is not documented anywhere on the website.
Below is a partial view of the Jews of Latvia 1941-1945 homepage.
Note the bar on the top right, in Latvian, English, and Russian. There is a dropdown menu in each language; the topics in the dropdown are also repeated on the right side of several informational pages. Under the Database section, there are pages for Search Options, Surnames, and Sources. The project standardized on German spelling for given and surnames. As such, users should consult the PDF list of Surnames, an alphabetical listing, and find the spelling(s) closest to the one being searched. From the website, click the "Surnames" option from either the dropdown at the top of the page or the menu at the side of the screen and hit the List of Surnames button on the next screen to access the listing. The user needs to note the spelling and enter it manually on the search page. Surnames typically have Yiddish, Russian, Latvian, and German surname variants, but the search engine will not find a name that isn't spelled the same as it is on the list. Search the list carefully, as sometimes there may be more than one spelling for the same name included in the database, e.g., Rosin, Rosein, and Rossein, with different entries under each spelling.
The search page may be accessed by scrolling down from the banner heading on the homepage. There will be three sections, in Latvian, English, and Russian, with a blue button under each one.
Select the “Search the Database” button in the language of choice to get to the Search page. Alternatively, it is possible to enter a surname in the search box below the search buttons, although there are fewer options available than using the button to navigate to the Search page.
Once on the Search page (see below) there is a search box with a few sort options, relevance being the default. Clicking on the alphabetical listing at the top of the page will display all surnames beginning with a given letter, but typing a name in the search box is preferable.
Entering a surname in the search box, for example, “Minsk,” produces a list of people with the surname, as well as a number of filtering options, each of which can be expanded.
The filters work one at a time, and sequentially, to narrow down the list of results. So, for example, if the user selects "Female" under the Gender filter, it will only show the females from the list. The remaining filters are specific to the result list. If the list of females shows people born in five locations, only one of those five locations may be selected, for example, Dvinsk, which further reduces the list of results. Only one option per filter per category can be chosen at one time, and it narrows down the choices that were made from previous filters.
It is not possible to do a generic search to find people of a given surname who were born in either Riga or Lithuania (for example, a family originally from Lithuania who moved to Riga, where their children were born). The geographical filters (place of birth, place of death, place of residence before the war, place of residence during the war) are not arranged alphabetically, and town names and spellings are not standardized. Depending on when a person was born, they may show as being born in Dvinsk or Daugavpils, according to the geographical name at that period in history. If a source document shows that someone lived in a location followed by a question mark (e.g., Daugavpils?), the both Daugavpils and Daugavpils? will show as separate locations, not necessarily sorted together.
If the initial surname search is successful, a list of people with the surname (including maiden name) is returned, along with their date of birth and their prewar and wartime residence. Clicking on the person of interest brings up the full record for the person. Some people are listed with thumbnail photos, and others have a space where a thumbnail image can be added, presumably as passport photos are added to the database.
A sample summary entry looks like this:
Click on the person's name to retrieve the corresponding full entry:
This record has more information than most. Unlike a majority of Latvian Jews who died in ghettos or at the hands of Einzatzgruppen in local forests, Boruch lived in the Riga ghetto, was transported to Kaunas, and then to a work camp that was part of the Dachau satellite of camps, where he died a few weeks before liberation. The Search Options page from the drop-down tab explains the contents of each of the fields, including the various fates of the individual. In some cases, the Fate field is left blank, presumably because it is unknown.
The Sources field lists the source of the information in the expanded entry. In many cases, these are archival documents, e.g. House Registers, Lists of Inhabitants, and Passports and Passport Books, that are held by the Latvian State Historical Archives. Many passports and passport books have been indexed and are part of the JewishGen Latvia Database, with original copies on FamilySearch. Other archival documents may be obtained directly from the Archives, citing the entry in the Jews of Latvia: Names and Fates 1941-1945 database, which will make it easier for the archivists to find. Sources also include information provided by surviving descendants of family members.
It is important to note that people who survived the war are also included on the Names and Fates website. In these cases, the person's fate may be listed as "Fled," "Red Army," or "Survived," and the wartime residence will typically show that the person's war residence was a location in the interior of the USSR. Online family trees from various genealogical websites can often assist tracking down living descendants, as can the names of family members who provided information to the project, listed in the Sources field.
If a person did not survive the war, it is worthwhile looking for a Page of Testimony in the Shoah Names Database on the Yad Vashem website. Depending on who filled out the PoT, and when it was submitted, the submitter may prove to be a living relative.
To recap the search procedure:
Consult the alphabetical PDF list of Surnames to find the correct spelling of the surname of interest. Be sure to look for alternate spellings.
Click on the Search the Database button toward the bottom of the homepage in the language of choice (Latvian, English, Russian).
Enter the correctly spelled surname from Step 1, above.
After the results are displayed, add one or more filters (gender, marital status, region, place of birth, place of death, place of residence before the war, place of residence during the war, occupation) from the right side of the screen, if desired.
Click on the thumbnail summary of the person to retrieve their full profile.
Note that clicking on the University of Latvia logo on the upper left of the screen will return the user to the homepage.
This is a summary of the website as of this writing, shortly after the release of the new design. The JewishGen Latvia SIG will update this page to reflect any future changes made to the Jews of Latvia: Names and Fates 1941-1945 website.