A Latvian Chanukah Present - Day 5 #latvia

Nancy Siegel


Mysterious Latvian Jewish Entries in Research

by Ann Rabinowitz 

In memory of my great uncle Max Hillman, who was born in Bauska, Latvia, and who started me on my genealogical research, which is so long ago now, I am posting a piece about Latvia every day throughout Chanukah. The posts will be about people, events, and daily life. These posts can also be viewed on the JewishGen Blog at: https://www.jewishgen.org/Blog/

It has been an interesting project to research Latvian Jewish entries in the Historical Jewish Press  database. One thing I noticed is that many times people are referred to by their last name, an initial for their first name, or a title such as Mr. or Dr. and their last name. This makes it quite difficult to find information on the person as there may be many people with the same last name and possibly the same first name. 

When the articles were written, perhaps it was taken for granted that the people  who were being written about were known to the Jews of that time. Certainly, the writers were not thinking of us, decades later, trying to do genealogical research on these selfsame names and personalities.

I’d like to provide several of these mysterious entries I have come across. Perhaps some of you may recognize their identity or you may even be related to them.

So, here we go:

The Palestine Post, Tuesday, October 30, 1934, Pg. 5 

Dr. Muschkat died in Riga, Latvia, age 57, and he was one of the major leaders of the Jewish community of Latvia and a member of the Jewish Agency for Palestine. He bequeathed $100,000 for Jewish welfare work in Latvia. His name may also be spelled Mushkat or Muskat. 

The amount given to the community is rather substantial for those times and there should have been some references to him and his family. There were references to several individuals of that surname who were community leaders, but no Dr. Muschkat. Would be nice to know his first name and who he actually was and what happened to his family.

The Palestine Post, Friday, August 30, 1940, Pg. 3

There were two important pieces of information in this article, which was entitled No Jews in Memel – “Judenrein”:

The first piece of information reported that only one elderly Jewish couple was left in Memel and that they had now been deported to Lublin, Poland. Other references to Memel do not refer to this couple or what their names might have been.

The second piece of information was that Rabbi Dr. Nurock, Chief Rabbi of Latvia, was arrested with forty other Zionist and community leaders and was taken to a remote eastern province of Russia. This was of great interest as many other references to the rabbi stated that he had been killed in the Holocaust.

Almost all of the press entries did not indicate his first name. After checking into other resources, I confirmed that he was Sejm (legislature) member Mordechai Nurock of Tuckums (1879-1962). Looking for the proper person was difficult in this case as there was an entire family of Nurock rabbis in Latvia, i.e. Rev. Zvi Nurock of Mitau, Rabbi Aaron Ber Nurock of Libau, etc. 


The Sentinel, Friday, August 1, 1924, Pg. 2 

The article reported that Columbus, Ohio, philanthropist Joseph “Daddy” Schonthal had donated $3,000 to purchase a summer home for Jewish children at the Riga seashore. The home was to be called the Hermine Schonthal Home in memory of his wife. 

The gift had been facilitated by Joseph H. Hyman, the Executive Director of the Association of Jewish Charities of Baltimore, Maryland, who was a former Representative to Latvia for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Schonthal, who was known for his largesse in donating to children’s welfare, had previously donated money to create a similar home in 1918 in Columbus.

The problem was that there was no further reference to this particular Home becoming a reality in Riga. Perhaps the money was used for something else or the home was given another name. There was a reference to an orphan home in a Riga suburb which was referred to as “Ferien Kolonie” in Assern that was associated with Joseph Schonthal, but I was disappointed that I could not find any further information on this home in English.

Nancy Siegel
Director of Communications
(San Francisco, California)