Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Minsk, Pinsk and Dvinsk?

Dvinsk, also known as Daugavpils or Duenaburg, is Latvia’s second largest city, situated 140 miles southeast of Riga, Latvia’s capital (Dvinsk is the city’s Russian name).

Dvinsk became a Jewish center in the Baltics beginning about the year 1784. A census in 1897 noted that 44% of the city’s 69,700 residents were Jews. On the eve of World War I, 55,680 Jews resided in Dvinsk. The Jewish population surged in the 1830s when Dvinsk was included in the Pale of Settlement, the Russian regions that were open to Jewish residence. As such, both Chassidic and Mitnagdic Jews lived in Dvinsk. The city’s two communities not only lived in peace together, but its two internationally renowned rabbinic leaders were true colleagues and friends. Rabbi Meir Simcha Hakohen (1843-1926), the leader of the Mitnagdic community, served as the rabbi of the Kahal Sha’ar synagogue for 39 years. Rabbi Hakohen is also known by the names of his two famous scholarly works, the Or Sameyach, a commentary on Maimonides’ halachic code, and the Meshech Chochmah, a Bible commentary.

The Hassidic community based at the “Planover Minyan,” was led for 50 years by the renowned Rabbi Joseph Rosen, known as the Rogatchover Ga’on (the genius from Rogatchov), who also authored a volume called Tzafnat Paneyach, titled for the Egyptian name given to Biblical Joseph. It is also notable that in 1865, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, who would become the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Palestine, was born in Griva, a suburb of Dvinsk.

Dvinsk fell under Russian hegemony from 1893 until 1920, when Latvia declared its independence. Latvia fell under the orbit of the U.S.S.R. in 1940-1941 and from 1944 until 1991, when the U.S.S.R. fell. On June 26, 1941, the German army occupied Dvinsk. Days later, the town’s men were ordered to appear at the town square. Some were imprisoned and sent to forced labor camps, and others were murdered. The Nazis forced the Jews into a ghetto on July 26, 1941, where they murdered most of the town’s Jews. Of the 28,000 Jews who lived in the area, the Nazis killed about 20,000, of which 13,000 were from the ghetto.

The Nazi extermination of Dvinsk began on August 12, 1941, corresponding to today’s date, the 19th of Av.

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