Tag Archives: 1905 revolution

Zionist movement in Latvia 1918-1940

The elected Jewish politicians in the middle the Latvian Zionist leader Mordehai Nurok

The elected Jewish politicians in the middle the Latvian Zionist leader Mordehai Nurok

On 18-19th century the nationalist movement became popular among many nations among Europe. Nationalist idea presented the unity by ethnic and cultural means and formation of a national state. For each nation the nationalism manifested in different ways. For French and British nationalism evolved into imperialism. For nations under foreign rule like Latvians the nationalism evolved into struggle for self determination. For the Jewish people their unique position in Europe made them create a specific type of nationalism – Zionism. For the nation left without homeland living in Diaspora among many places of the world the Zionism meant many things. First the rejection of assimilation and conversion to Christianity instead openly display their Jewish identity and demand equal rights in countries they lived. Second the ultimate goal – the creation of a Jewish state in their historical homeland in Middle East. Zionist movement appeared in late 19th century and reached Latvia that had significant Jewish population. At first it was rather weak, but after the foundation of the Republic of Latvia it became prominent even among other Jewish movements among Europe. This article is about these Zionist movements in Latvia, who were they and what they meant for Latvians and the Jews.

The Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook born in Grīva, Latvia

The Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook born in Grīva, Latvia

The term Zionism was first used by Nathan Birnbum on 1982 in Vienna. The roots of the idea were at least 20 years older and expressed by thinkers including Rabbi from Bauska Mordechai Eliasberg who said people is only possible in their homeland. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook who was born the Grīva present day Latvia on 1865. He is regarded as one of the most prominent religious thinkers who developed these ideas further. Ultimately this Latvia born scholar became the first Chief Rabbi of the Ashkenazi Jews in British Mandate of Palestine. But, the Zionist idea on the political level was raised by Jewish physician from Odessa Leo Pinsker. His book Auto-Emancipation published in Berlin on 1882 outlined the idea of the political Zionism. In his pamphlet he urged his fellow Jewish people to strive for independence and self-determination and reject assimilation and conversion that will not entirely remove anti-semitism. A state governed by Jews in the place of their own was further elaborated by Theodor Herzl in his Judenstaat – The Jewish State on 1896 and made the zionist idea widespread. There was a reason why one of the first proponents of Jewish national idea came from Russian Empire like Rabbi Cook and Leo Pinsker – the Jewish rights were in backwards state comparing to Western Europe. Thats why the ideas of Leo Pinsker where not generally accepted in Germany but praised in Russia.

The first Zionist organization in Russia was BILU society on 1882. On 1884 it was replaced by Hovevei Zion society. They established branches in Liepāja, Daugavpils, Krustpils, Bauska and other cities within present day Latvia. They did not manage to start colonization of Palestine owned by the Ottoman Empire. The boost was given by more practical ideas of Theodor Herzl and formed in the First Zionist Congress in Basel Switzerland on 1897. Russia’s Jews faced pogroms as early as from 1880ies causing them to look for common political ideology of defiance. Herzl works were known in Latvia and evolved in different movements. Some called them Palestiophiles, among them V Kaplan, L Shalit,  Z Berman J Tron and others. They split up in political and spiritual Zionists. The third movement was Socialist Zionism organized in movement Poaley Zion and Ceire Zion who worked in Riga, Daugavpils, Ludza, Tukums and many other places. They were outscored by the Bund who were Jewish Marxists who played major role in the 1905 revolution and enjoyed greater popularity. As Marxists they rejected national and religious ideas instead focused on social issues and rights of the Jewish workers.

The First World War disrupted the lives of Jews in Latvia. Many were deported from combat areas in false accusations of spying, many took refuge by themselves. Large portion of them ended up in Russia. Together with Latvians, the Jews had the most organized refugee support societies. After the fall of the Russian monarchy on 1917 the Jewish movement split up in many ways. Many joined the Bolsheviks, others stayed true to the social-democracy regarded as Mensheviks. The Bund in Latvia rejected the communist party. Others in the light of the events in Palestine saw chance in revival of Zionism. The 1917 Balfour Declaration promising “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” however failed to match the Zionist expectations. The Zionist Leader Chaim Weizmann made agreement with Arab leader Emir Faisal for Jewish-Arab cooperation that would give Palestine to Jews, while Faisal receives a united Arab kingdom within Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Faisal’s logic was that Jews were wise and rich enough to turn Palestinian desert into garden while Arabs have the great kingdom in Baghdad and Damascus. However, the Allied powers failed his expectations by creating the Palestinian Mandate governed by British, giving Syria to France and Iraq to UK.  Such betrayal to the both to Arabs and Jews created a decades of war and hate still not solved until this day.

Meanwhile for Jews in Latvia there were three choices: support the Bolshevik Latvian Soviet Republic that was hostile to religion and national self-determination.  Support the Germanic Baltic Duchy that may give some rights to the Jewish minority or support the Republic of Latvia that promised equal rights for all nationalities in Latvia. At first the third choice did not seem obvious- the Latvian Provisional Government was weak and seemed short lived. However, some Jewish representatives joined the Latvian Peoples Council from the start. After the victories over Bolsheviks and Germans on the summer of 1919 the third choice was now the primary one. More than 1000 Jews took part in the ranks of the Latvian army. Some were decorated. After the independence was won it was time for Jews in Latvia to make out what is best for themselves.

The Republic of Latvia was a champion of the minority rights in the post war Europe. Jews finally had chance for their own schools supported by state, cultural movements and political parties to elect in parliament and local municipalities. The 93 479 Jews in Latvia (according to 1935 census) were different kind of people. Some of them were traders, shopkeepers, craftsmen, doctors, teachers, workers and poor. And different was their political and even religious views. In 20 years of independence the Jews in Latvia failed to create united organization to represent the entire Jewish community. The zionists were not united among themselves. The socialists and orthodox opposed them and each other. So the Jewish political climate in Latvia was diverse.

Zionism in Latvia had many wings. The Histadrut Chazionist party founded on 1919 represented the general right wing bourgeoisie Jews. They had sections in all Latvia, their idea was to create a national zionist center in Palestine and improve the lives of Jews within Diaspora. Other aspect of their ideology was to increase the Jewish involvement in the agricultural and industrial sector. Party was influential at first but failed to get elected in parliament only in some municipalities. Only the Constitutional Assembly from 1920  to 1922 had one elect Zh Thorn. The party contributed to the creation of the Palestine Bureau that was a center of communications between Zionists in Latvia and the settlers in Palestine. Also it organized the emigration from Latvia to Palestine. Party made many youth organizations Chatio (Hope), Bney Zion (the sons of Zion), and Herzlia. The youth organizations worked in cultural, sports and social fields.

An alternative Zionist movement was the religious Zionism movement Mizrachi. Judaism was the main force uniting Jews around the world. However, Judaism was not primary nationalistic and rejected political solution to the Jewish problems. As mentioned before the two Rabbis from Latvia Mordechai Eliasberg and Abraham Isaac Kook were the ones who promoted the middle way between secular and religious solution. The idea of combining both truths for the common good of the Jewish people created the religious Zionism that accepted secular state as part of the messianic way. The religious values can be kept in the Jewish state, thus for the religious Jew moving back to their ethnic homeland is a obligation and the Zionism is the will of G-d. Not all orthodox   Jews agreed on that, however the Mizrachi party in Latvia was quite influential.


Mordechai Nurock (left) speaks to the president of Latvia Alberts Kviesis (right)

 Mizrachi (the Religious Center) party was run by rabbi Mordechai Nurock was born in Tukums on November 7 1879. He served as rabbi in Jelgava, on 1903 he took part in the Zionist Congress. He moved to Russia during the war and played key role in refugee organizations. He also joined the All-Russian Jewish Committee and established a religious Jewish group known as “Tradition and Freedom”. On 1921 he returned to Latvia and was elected in the parliament. He was consequently elected in next three elections until 1934. Nurock was active man, both in Latvia and abroad. He cooperated with many organizations and contributed to their work. He was well recognized among the Latvian politicians, his main allies however were the Social-Democrats who were mostly in the oppositions. The anti-semitic Latvian press always pointed to Nurock as the main patron of the two short lived leftist coalitions. But, Nurock was just and tolerant towards his opponents and supported democracy. The coup by Kārlis Ulmanis on May 15 1934 came to his disappointment and created opposition. In result his movement was rejected by the regime. On 1940 the Soviets exiled him to Turkmenistan. His wife and two children were killed in the Holocaust, while he was freed on 1947 and moved to Palestine. After the creation of the State of Israel he was elected in the Israeli Knesset on 1952 he was elected as minister of Postal service, he was also a candidate for the President of Israel. He served in the Knesset until his death on 1962 November 8 becoming the most successful Zionist from Latvia who actually took part in creation of Israel.

However, there were people who rejected the both general secular way and the religious way.  They were the left wing Zionists or Socialist Zionists. Already mentioned  the Poalie Zion (The Workers of Zion) and Ceirei Zion were already known before WWI. In socially unequal Latvia the left wing Zionism was apparently popular. Their leader Max Laserson was elected in many elections and stood united with social democrat organization. One of his main ideas was the Jewish Political and Cultural autonomy in Latvia greatly extending the Jewish rights. Also Baltic Germans and Russians pushed for the same making the Latvian legislators fear the creation of “state within state”. His proposals were not entirely rejected but politely “delayed” in parliamentary commissions. His socialism was not radical but more moderate achieving unity and progress in both national and social means. The left wing Zionists opposed the idea employed by the right wing and religious Zionists that Hebrew language used only in Torah and religious rituals should be brought to life.  Instead they insisted on keeping Yiddish the mix of Hebrew and German that was main language for Jews in the Eastern Europe. Not all Jews in Latvia used Yiddish as primary language. In Courland and Riga some preferred German; in Latgale some spoke only Russian. The both parties argued over the teaching of Hebrew in schools and the common ground was not achieved; some schools taught only in Hebrew, some in Yiddish. But, Hebrew was never used in the daily lives of the Latvian Jews.

On 1931 the Ceirei Zion united with their counterpart Zionist-Socialist party and created the United Party of Zionists-Socialists of Latvia”. But, the new force never made it to elections on 1934 after the coup they were banned by the anti-left wing Ulmanis regime. Max Laserson survived the Holocaust and made it to Israel and was elected in Knesset.


Zeev Jabotinsky

The Zionist movement was not complete without its far right wing. And Latvia played significant part in it. After the Zionist hopes to achieve statehood with the help of the Balfour declaration failed there was common sense of disappointment. The parties mentioned above continued to work on diplomatic solution and start colonization of Palestine. However, the hostility between Arabs and the new settlers resulted in violence. Palestine was not entirely devoid of Jews before the start of Zionist movement. The small Jewish population living there for centuries were generally tolerated by the Muslims who came there on 6th century. However, now the influx of the new settlers raised hostility boosted by the British inability to control situation in their mandate. This made some to come to conclusion that the only way to achieve Zionist goals is using radical force, by using self defense and armed response both to British and Arabs. This was a radical thinking for Jews in those times, as Jews living in other countries had no real militaristic tradition since the fall of Kingdom of Israel. The main leader of these people was Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Born in Odessa 1880 October 18 Jabotinsky started as moderate Zionist. He came to militarism during WWI when he pushed for the Jewish Legion within the British Army to fight the Ottomans. In 1915, together with Joseph Trumpeldor, a one-armed veteran of the Russo-Japanese War, he created the Zion Mule Corps, he saw action in Palestine as Lieutenant within the 38th Royal Fusiliers. After demobilized he started to train Jewish Self Defense corps. After his unit was repressed by the British he became even more radical. In 1920, Jabotinsky was elected to the first Assembly of Representatives in Palestine. The following year he was elected to the executive council of the Zionist Organization. He was also a founder of the newly registered Keren Hayesod and served as its director of propaganda But after having major disagreements with moderate leading Zionists he left the Zionist Organization.

Jabotinsky considered that his political carrier is over. Then he was invited to Latvia and Lithuania to hold lectures. On 1923 he arrived in Riga to speak in  front of student organization Hatiho. As he preached his radical views he was told that he has no rights to preach them if he is not intending to create a political movement. That made Jabotinsky think over his intention the local students of Riga inspired him to start a new political movement called Zionist Revisionism. It was to revise the Zionist policy that failed to achieve its goals on 1917.

The logo of the Jabotisky Betar

The logo of the Jabotisky Betar

As Riga was the cradle of the revisionist movement the first of its organization was established in Latvia. The Latvian Union of Zionists-Revisionists came to being on 1925. The main Jabotinsky organization Betar is claimed to be founded in Riga. Betar soon spread all around the Europe and made its way in US and even Australia. In Palestine the Betar was often viewed by the British as terrorist organization. Some more radical offspring’s as the so called Stern Gang  or Lehi and Irgun were responsible for terrorist acts against the British like the King David Hotel bombing and the murder of the UN negotiator Folk Bernadotte on 1948. But, Jabotinsky movement major achievement was the contribution of making strong Jewish military to defend the new state of Israel. The Israeli Defense Force was created from these Jewish self defense units. Also major political parties like Likud and Kadima are followers of the Zionist-Revisionist movement. Without the Zionist-Revisionists the creation of Israel would not be possible and the fact that Riga was the starting point of this movement puts Riga as important place in the history of Israel.

The other wing of Zionist Revisonism active also in Latvia was Joseph Trupeldor movement. Joseph Trupeldor was a charismatic war hero that became famous in the Battle of Tel Hai on March 1 1920 where died in battle. Already famous war leader he was recognized as the national hero. To his honor a youth organization “Brit Josef Trumpeldor” (The Union of Josef Trupeldor) was created and was active in Latvia. The organization employed a militaristic lifestyle, marched in uniforms and often were called the “Jewish Fascists” because of their brownish uniforms. The brown color was to resemble the Palestinian desert and brown British uniform Trumpeldor wore. The organization made major contribution to youth sport and education.

There were two major opponents of Zionists among Jews in Latvia. The Bund that was the oldest socialist party in Russian Empire was still true to their pre-1918 views and rejected nationalism. They also opposed the teaching of Hebrew. Other major opponent was Agudat Isroel lead by Rabbi Mordechai Dubin. Influential politician and businessman was a Orthodox Jew who opposed moving to Palestine and create a new state before the arrival of the Messiah. Instead he pushed for staying in Latvia and maintain the religious traditions. He supported the teaching of Hebrew but only for religious means. Dubin who once even visited the US president Herbert Hover, had great influence on the Latvian politicians even Kārlis Ulmanis. Dubin however broke his principals when he made major effort to save thousands of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany stranded in Latvia. One part of them was sent by him to Palestine because for Dubin the main prinicipal was to save help his common people regardless of his views.

Kārlis Ulmanis banned all the Zionist parties after his takeover. But, he banned every party regardless their nationality even his own Lavian Farmers Union. But, Ulmanis was not against Zionism in general as he saw nothing wrong of Jews moving away from Latvia and leaving more space for Latvians. Zionists except left wingers worked and non-political movements. The marching Trumpeldor’s were tolerated by Ulmanis. Then came the 1940 when the Soviet occupation closed all the Jewish societies and took over their property. Many of the Zionist leaders were arrested, sent to Siberia or shot. A year later Nazis destroyed the entire Jewish population in Latvia.

But the story of the Zionist movement in Latvia does not end with that. While the surviving Zionists worked in Israel, the Zionist movement, the Jewish national movement in Latvia appeared again in 1960ies as response to the anti-semitic Soviet policy. But that is another story to be told in future.

Selected Sources:

Волкович, Б. (2012) Сионистское движение в Латвии (1918-1940) 2-е изд., доп. Daugavpils

Sinkēviča, Eva (2014) Reliģiskā cionisma kustība Latvijā: vēsture,organizācija, ietekme. Promocijas darbs. Latvijas Universitātes Teoloģijas fakultāte.

Walter, Laquer (2003) A History of Zionism. From the French Revolution to establishment of the Sate of  Israel. Shocken Books. New York.


Comments Off on Zionist movement in Latvia 1918-1940

Filed under Historical Articles

Jews and Latvians in the 1905 Revolution

The Bloody Sunday on the January 22 (9 according to Julian calendar still used in Russian Empire) was a wakeup call for many nations across the Russian Empire. For Russians it was a fight for more political and social rights. For Latvians it was fight also for greater national rights. This was shared also by the Jewish people living across the Russian Empire. Their main strive was to defend themselves from the violent anti-Semitism and abolish all restrictions towards them. Together with Latvian revolutionaries they were united under one common goal – to bring down the oppressive absolute tsar Nicholas II monarchy. The revolution of 1905 was one of the interesting moments in history where despite cultural and ethnic differences the Latvian and Jewish revolutionaries fought together and even averted the anti-Jewish pogrom attempt in Riga.

Russia was stranger to Jews until the first partition of Poland on 1772 . After the final land grab on 1795 Russia gained enormous territories of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  For centuries Poland had large Jewish population. They were in large numbers in present day Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia. The 1897 First All-Russia national census counted 142 315 Jews within modern borders of Latvia 7,4% of the population. To keep Jews from moving to Moscow or Petersburg Russia introduced the Pale of Settlement (Черта́ осе́длости) a territory for permanent Jewish settlement and it was forbidden to live outside it. Originally only the eastern Latvian part of Latgale was within the Pale of Settlement as it was part of the Province of Vitebsk. But, a sizable Jewish population already lived in Courland. Despite many restrictions Jews managed to settle or work in Riga. Northern Latvian part of Vidzeme renamed almost unreachable to Jews with very small population. Jewish youth faced hard conscription rules for 12 years to serve in army, taxes were higher for them.

During the reign of the liberal Tsar Alexander II the Jewish relations with the state eased but after his assassination the relations gotten again to worsen level. Reactionary forces blamed Jews in the murder first pogroms took place. Pogrom – a large scale violence soon became a synonym for major violent attacks directed towards Jews. A violence that led to a political response from the Jewish nation. One part of them joined the Zionist movement that called for unification of the Jewish people under national means. They rejected assimilation and conversion to Christianity as it would not completely erase anti-Semitism. As Jews will always be regarded as strangers no matter how emancipated in the society they are. There were Zionist movements in Latvia, but their part in the revolution of 1905 was insignificant. And it’s another story to be told in future. The main force of the 1905 revolution was the far left social democrats and within them the Jewish Bund.

The Bund represented the masses of the Jewish workers or the so called Proletariat. Although Jews were always stereotyped as wealthy traders, large masses of Jews worked for 14 hours in a day with low wages and lived in poor unsanitary conditions.  Plus the nationally based restrictions made then to unite under the Red Banner that promised equal rights for all nations. The Bund was founded in Vilnius on 1897 as the Universal Jewish Labor Union in Poland, Lithuania and Russia. Later it was commonly known as the Bund (alliance).Bund was the first major Jewish party in Russia and also the first social democratic party. As the Russian Social Democratic Workers party (RSDWP) was founded a year later. Bund joined them and took active part in the strikes and demonstrations. The Russian authorities persecuted them and arrested their leaders. Later because of the national differences on 1903 Bund left the RSDWP, but cooperated with them during the revolution. While the Bund rejected the nationalistic Zionist ideas, they agreed in need of having Jewish schools and keeping the national traditions. However, they were strongly against the role of the religion and insisted on secularity.

The industrialized Riga and other parts of the Baltic province was no stranger to the workers movement. Some Jews  like Jankel Epstein from Daugavpils were first to direct the movement. Bund was popular among the Jewish students within the Riga Polititechnical Institute some of them were ejected from it. Daugavpils with major Jewish population –  most of them workers was the main headquarters for the Bund. They took part in all strikes and protests including the major First May demonstration that took place in many cities of Russia. Because the demonstration in Vilnius caused rough government response by publicly whipping the organizers, that in response caused attack on the general governor, in Riga local Bund members created a armed resistance group. The external Bund bureau however asked to resort from violence.

The Russian defeat in the war with Japan led towards economical downfall. On January 9  (22) 1905 in Petersburg the large peaceful crowd marching towards the Tsars main palace asking him to listen to their petition was fired upon by the Tsars guard causing bloodbath known as the Bloody Sunday. The largest country in the world with modernizing society, but with decadent absolute monarchy went into rage. Nicholas II witnessed the murder of the Alexander II  who was killed by anarchists despite abolishing serfdom and intending to write a constitution. Because of this, Nicholas II was slow and reactionary to reforms. But, the people across the Russia had enough of this. So as the Latvian people.

The leading force of the Latvian revolutionaries was the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party, united with Bund on January 13 it hosted a demonstration march in Riga for the fallen comrades in Petersburg. The large demonstration of 10 000 people lead by LSDWP leader Ansis Bušēvičs marched from Moscow Street to the city center. Despite Buševičs calling to end the demonstration and lower the red flags , large parts of crowds did not listen and moved towards the armed cavalry of Cossacks.Police and Cossacks responded with fire killing more than 70 people. Many tried to cross the frozen river Daugava to escape the shooting and drowned. Among the killed were five Jews and 9 wounded. The fallen were young men 22 year old Eliass Epstein, Michael David Abramovich of the same age, 17 year old Izrail Jaschikov, Chaim Jankel Sperling 18 years old and 22 years old Michail Ucca. Two among them were from the Bund.

Revolution sparked out in Latvia. Bund started major activities. On 1905 and 1907 two general strikes were held in Daugavpils. An odd form of strike was held in Riga on 1905 May and June a strike of the producers and traders of the kosher meat that left the kosher eating Jews of Riga without kosher food for almost a month. It’s not known how significant was the kosher only population that suffered from this as not all Jews applied to the religious rules. On summer of 1905 the rural workers in Kurzeme (Courland) issued a general strike and Tsarist government issued a state of war within the Courland province. On September 16 the Jewish-Latvian students of the Riga Politechnical institute issued protest in support of the striking field workers.

When the protests resorted to arms Jews joined Latvians in armed assault against the Riga Central Prison to free their imprisoned comrades. In the night of September 6 to 7 47 Latvian and five Jewish fighters raided the prison and freed two main revolutionaries J Lācis and J  Šļesers. Also the famous LSDWP commando who became an anarchist Jānis Žāklis later known as the Peter the Painter whose mother was a Lutheran Jew. He took part in most of the armed actions against the Tsarist authorities. However, later he became too violent and was rejected by his social democrat comrades.

The use of violence was a great issue for the Latvian revolutionaries. At the end of the 1905 the revolution was close to failure. On December 9 armed uprising begun in Moscow. Some Latvian, Russian and the Bund called for armed uprising in Riga too. They even insisted on storming the Fortress of Daugavgrīva where the main Riga garrison was stationed. The majority of LSDWP was against such bloodshed, however the Bund did not back down and joined the radical Russian social democrats who wanted the uprising. In long frantic talks from December 11 to December 16 the LSDWP convinced the Bund not to start uprising and general strike. On December 18 the interim Baltic general governor general-lieutenant V Sologob arrived in Riga and started the punishment expeditions.

In one cause the Bund and LSDWP was united without question. Do not allow any pogroms in Riga and elsewhere around Latvia. LSDWP as marxist party was against anti-Semitism and called for general human rights regardless of nationality. Even the future Latvian nationalist leader Arveds Bergs called for full cooperation between Latvians and Jews and asked to give them full rights. On the other side the Latvian monarchist Fricis Veinbergs published anti-Semitic slogans supporting the pogroms.

The 1905 revolution again ignited the pogroms in Russian Empire. The last major pogrom took place in Kishinev modern day Moldova. While Tsar openly condemned this, in private he expressed support for anti-Semitism that could unite nation in support for his regime. The major radical supporters of the Tsar Nicholas II were the far right radicals often with ultra-orthodox views. These people were called the “Black Hundred” (Чёрная сотня). The ideals of the Black Hundred were mix of Russian imperialism, chauvinist nationalism, and religious fundamentalism. Together with violent anti-Semitism the Black Hundred was the first early fascists. Sadly this form of Russian far right is gaining prominence again in the modern day Russia.

It was not just Black Hundred that was responsible for waves of pogroms in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. On October 18-20 in Odessa 400 people were killed. The Tsarist police although condemning the attacks and trying to arrest the perpetrators, often did nothing on purpose as they believed the majority of the revolutionaries were Jews. Tsar and the Church condemned the attacks, but they also thought that they help them to quell the revolution. Such pogroms could take place in Latvia also but were stopped by the joint Latvian and the Jewish efforts.

First violent attacks against the Jews took place in city of Ludza. But, they were small scale attacks on shops and were stopped by locals. Daugavpils was filled with rumors about coming pogroms in April but did not happen. On August the Riga port workers turned violent and wanted to attack the Jews. This time the police and Cossacks stopped them. On October 17 Tsar was forced to issue his manifesto that gave some of his powers away. The reactionaries blamed the Jews and on October 18 a pogrom started in Kyiv. Then in Riga the local Russian workers who supported the Tsar became violent. They mostly lived in the Moscow district where many Jews lived too and were angry that they liked the new freedoms granted by the weakened Tsar. Riots started on October 22-23. However, these riots only were a attempt to start a pogrom.

On October 22 first clashes between the Russians, Jews and Latvians took place on Lielā Kalna Street near the Orthodox Church. The angry Russians were from the Kuznetsov porcelain factory who assaulted both Latvians and Jews. The fight was stopped only by the arrival of the Cossacks. After learning the news both the LSDWP and Bund decided to form the self defense groups to defend both Latvian and Jewish supporters.

On October 23 the workers of the Kuznetsov factory gathered for a patriotic march a small crowd of 100-150 men. Despite having support for the Black Hundred, there was no such working Black Hundred organization within Latvia at that time. The marchers holding the pictures of Tsar and holding icons marched along the streets of  the Moscow district. The marchers started to attack everyone who they disagreed with along the way even Russians. Bloodshed erupted between the marchers, Cossacks and the LSDWP and Bund armed units. Among them the future foreign minister Fēliks Ceilēns. Angry mob joined by homeless and scoundrels attacked the Jewish shops reached the Yaroslavl street 44/43 (now Ludza street) where the Jewish Social home was located and was ready to attack it.

Fortunately the Jewish defenders along with Latvian comrades had already taken the defensive positions. Attackers were held back by the fire, and the Cossacks rushed to the scene to stop both of them. The major pogrom attempt was stopped although later in separate incident one Jew named Jankel Poplak was killed. Also Jew Zalman Gurevich was killed before him. 4 Latvian self defenders were killed in the clashes. 2 Latvians were killed by the angry mob. 3 Russians died along. A total of 47 people were killed or hurt. Majority of them were Latvians. Meaning this was not just pogrom attack against Jews but also against Latvians. As the Russian monarchists regarded Latvian revolutionaries as enemies too.

On October 24 the governor of Vidzeme Nicholas Zvegincev banned all patriotic demonstrations with the pictures of the emperor and the Russian anthem. With Tsar still in place this was clearly attempt of preventing pogrom. Similar clashes on the same time took place in Daugavpils resulting the death of the Jewish combatant Aron Feldman.

The major pogrom was avoided in Riga, because there was no major support for it among Latvian population. Also the Riga Tsarist police and the Cossacks were on the active side of the law. And of course the Latvian-Jewish joint defense groups fought off the Russian radicals. This is a rare event when pogrom was prevented in the major city of the Russian Empire. Other cities were not so fortunate.

After the failure of the 1905 revolution both the LSDWP and Bund worked underground. The outbreak of the First World War caused many Latvians and Jews to take refuge in Russia. The Pale of Settlement was broken. The Revolution of 1917 again took Latvian and Jewish leftists on the streets. Some joined the Bolsheviks. Other sided with democratic Republic of Latvia. During the period of 1918-1934 both LSDWP and Bund took part in the Latvian politics and worked together.

Selected Sources:

Stranga, Aivars (2006) 1905-1906. gada revolūcijas lappuses. Žurnāls Latvijas Vēsture. Nr.2.

Stranga,Aivars. (2008) Ebreji Baltijā no ienākšanas pirmsākumiem līdz holokaustam 14. gadsimts-1945. gads. Rīga. LU Akadēmiskais Apgāds.

Mendels, Bobe (2006) Ebreji Latvijā. Rīga. Šamir.

Comments Off on Jews and Latvians in the 1905 Revolution

Filed under Historical Articles

Latvian Anarchism – The Story of the Peter the Painter

Peter the Piatkow or Jānis Žāklis wanted poster on January 30 1911

Peter the Piatkow or Jānis Žāklis wanted poster on January 30 1911

On January 3 1911 the fires of the Russian revolution reached the East End part of London. The British police was trying to arrest a group of politically motivated burglars with anarchist views from Russia. After many hours of erratic gunfight including artillery canons commanded by the Minister of the Interior Affairs Winston Churchill the two men of the gang were found dead, but the third one – supposed as the gang leader Peter the Painter or Peter Piatkow was nowhere to be found. The police started out a search, even placed wanted posters showing a photo of him. But, the notorious anarchist from Russia was nowhere to be found and his true identity was a mystery for many years. Various movies were made about him, many historians tried to find who really was this mysterious man. Yet, there is a reason why this blog post is dedicated to him. For the gang that caused so much trouble in London were not simply  anarchists from Russia. They were anarchists from modern-day Latvia, exiles of the revolution 0f 1905 – 1907. Anarchists were the pioneers of the modern-day terrorism long before Islamic radicals. And Latvians including the Peter the Painter were one of them. Thanks to historians such as Phillip Ruff the identity of the world-famous Peter the Painter became more clearer it was the Latvian artist and revolutionary known as Jānis Žāklis.

Jānis Žāklis was born in Saldus in 1883 a small town in the Courland province. According to Lutriņu parish church register book he was born on July 19. He had older brother Kārlis (1879) and older sister Anna (1880) and two younger sisters Šarlote Marija (1885) and Katrīna (1890). His possible cousin Kristaps Žāklis (1826-1889) was the illegitimate son of the German baron Heinrich von Mirbach and the maid Marija from the Neuhof mansion. She was forced to marry a Latvian called Ādams. A possible reason for the deep hatred of Germans within Jānis Žāklis. His father Jānis was a Latvian, but his mother Margrieta Tālberga according to official documents were a Lutheran Jew. A woman wealthy enough to buy a land from the baron, but disliked by the relatives of his husband because of her Jewish origins. Also a baptized Jew was usually excluded from her Jewish family circles.

Jānis Žāklis had a good education. First he went to Jaunmuiža school until the age of eleven. There he met teacher Gustavs Lācis later recognized as the participant of 1905 local uprisings. Jānis Žāklis then went to Kuldīga, had four years at the private school. At the age of sixteen he went to the German Classical gymnasium of Kuldīga. Money for education was provided by his father Jānis and uncle Juris Žāklis a colonel in the Russian engineer battalion located in Belarus.

A seemingly wealthy young student fluent in German, Russian, French and Yiddish was forced to quit his studies in 1901 and left Kuldīga. A reason was a poor health and not enough money. But, the good reading skills and intelligence lead to him to socialist ideas a common trend within Latvia brought from Germany. In 1901 he went to town of Talsi and met Jānis Linde the bookshop keeper. Together they founded the first illegal social democratic organization. Third man the 27-year-old Jūlijs Kažmers from Riga who made contacts with underground Baltic Latvian social democratic workers’ organization (BLSDWO). On 1902 Žāklis, Linde and Kažmers were leading the Talsi Committee of BLSDWO.

In 1903 the tsarist police caught a good friend of Žāklis Fricis Ratkalns. A 20-year-old student was spreading out leaflets of socialist slogans. He was reported by his schoolmate and arrested afterwards. Police made a search in and discovered his handwritten proclamations. He was tortured and forced to name Žāklis as the one who gave the proclamation text. Police tried to arrest Žāklis and searched him all across nearby areas. But, he was already in Belarus with his uncle in Babruysk. Belarus was no stranger to the revolutionary movement. In 1898 in Mensk the Russian Social Democratic workers party (RSDWP) was founded. Babruysk was a center of Jewish revolutionary party Bund activities. On 1903 Bund was already forming combat units to counter possible pogroms.

On May 1 1904 Babruysk workers made a general strike. The railway station was blocked, a crowd of 800 people with Jānis Žāklis along them. On May 28 he was arrested for spreading out illegal socialist literature. He was taken to local prison. His prison photograph perfectly resembles the man later seen in British police wanted posters. Žāklis wrote pleas of appeal to Courland provincial police. He was however accused together with Fricis Ratklans of anti-governmental activities. Ratkalns however managed to escape to Great Britain before the trial. The local Minsk authorities no longer needed him and set him free on April 27 after he paid the bailout sum of 300 rubles. Žāklis came to Valmiera in Vidzeme, but soon came to rural areas around Sabile in Courland. He was under police monitoring and made money as a house painter. Also to divert police attention he regularly wrote them about his poor health problems. Because he was far from giving up politics.

Jānis Žāklis in Belorussian prison

Jānis Žāklis in Belorussian prison

The Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party was founded in 1904 and had its Talsi-Tukums branch. Žāklis managed to sneak past his police monitoring and made in Riga at the end of 1904. As painter and artist he tried to enter the center of the Latvian political activities. The police finished the investigation, but failed to put him on trial since Ratkalns was gone. His case was closed so as the one in Belarus. On January 11 1905 police returned his personal documents. On January 13 a massive workers demonstration in Riga ended in bloodbath as the tzarist police fired at the crowd. The Revolution of 1905 in Latvia had begun.

Jānis Žāklis vanished from the police’s eyes and became a rogue. He was never again known by his real name, his undercover name was “surveyor”. A possible choice for such cover name was the famous Latvian novel by brothers Kaudzītes “The Times of Surveyors” where during the land reform a viscous bandit Grabovskis poses as surveyor and steals enourmos money and is failing to be caught causing many tragedies. Possibly inspired by the novel Žāklis chose such surname.

After the bloody events of January 13 where 64 people are known to be dead, Žāklis became an active member of Latvian Social Democrats. As the head of the Central Committee technical commission, that was responsible for making terrorist activities, Žāklis was assigned to gather weapons and money. A force of 200 men that robbed magazines and army patrols to gain weapons. In short time Žāklis was the commander of the revolutionary battle units. He was responsible for blowing up the Jelgava-Riga railroad and damaging the telegraph lines. On May 1 1905 a general strike was called. Despite social democrats refused to take an open part in it, fearing the armed tsarist patrols bombs killed police guards around the park of Grīziņkalns. The organizers were Žāklis and Pēteris Lapsa.  Since the official Marxist teachings forbidden the use of individual terror, that was most adjacent to anarchist moves of those times the Latvian Social Democrats on June 1905 decided to put an end to such activities.

Despite the LSDSWP calling not to start an open armed uprising, on the same time the Liepaja war sailors angered by the maggots in the meat begun an uprising, but were defeated. The armed actions were sporadic and caused tsarist authorities to strike back. On August 19 a state of emergency was called and many revolutionaries were arrested. Then on September Žāklis took the command of a rescue operation to release his comrades in the Riga Central Prison. Jūlijs Šleserrs and Jānis Lācis two senior fighters were sentenced to death. The large prison was assaulted on September 7 by 52 men from Latvian Social Democrats and the Jewish Bund. Žāklis was the commander. Four attack groups formed by him infiltrated the prison and managed to rescue Šlesers and Lācis. Under heavy gunfire the attackers made back to their safe houses achieving one of the most notable victories of the 1905 Revolution.

October – November of 1905 was a struglesome period. The general strike of October 13 and following Tzar Nicholas II manifesto promising open elections of the State Duma and the new constitution. The Riga was under the dual rule between the workers Federal Committee and the Tsarist authorities. Local Black Hundred was looking to start up pogroms against the Jews, on October 22 Žāklis with his comrades stopped the pogrom from taking place. Latvians social democrats managed to defeat the Black Hundred on the street battles on the next consequent days. Jews were rescued from the similar fate in Kiev, Kishinev and other cities across the Russian Empire.

A state of emergency was again called in December. Latvian countryside erupted in flames, mansions were burned, towns were taken over in gunfights. On November 24 Žāklis together with Lapsa arrived at Skrīveri from Riga and attacked the mansion of the Riga Regional General Governor August von Henning. The mansion was burned down and Henning was killed by the Žāklis orders. In following counter strike by the general Stern the revolutionaries crushed the tsarist forces. Only on December 1 reinforcements managed to crush the rebellion. But, Žāklis and Lapsa escaped killing the rest of senior tsarist officers. Bloody revenge made by the punitive expeditions killed thousands of Latvian peasants. But, Žāklis was gone was always.

Žāklis became more violent alienating his social democrat comrades not prone to such violence. On December 20 Žāklis organized a night raid on factory Provodnik that was occupied by raging Russian dragoons. To stop the constant abuse of the workers and even rapes, the revolutionaries surprised the sleeping dragoons murdering 17 and injuring 20 of them. All weapons and ammunition were taken away. However, the party leadership was not impressed and noted the anarchist tendencies within Žāklis. He was replaced by Mārtiņš Luters Bobis as commander.

On January 1906 large numbers of revolutionaries were arrested. On January 17 armed group of revolutionaries attacked the Riga Secret Police building releasing Mārtiņš Luters Bobis and Fricis Svars one of the killed gang members in the Sydney Street siege. Together with Žāklis he raided the Provodnik factory. He was arrested on December 31 and betrayed by one of his comrades Ziediņš. In following days police arrested more revolutionaries including Mārtiņs Luters Bobis. Žāklis was not one of them. A plan was devised and it succeeded attacking the main building of the secret police in the city center during broad daylight.

Žāklis with Luters and three other comrades made it to Petersburg. There they immediately started the armed revolutionary activities- attacking post offices, banks and shops. It was called expropriation by them to gather money for underground activities. Despite infiltrating two secret police agents within the Latvian group, tsarist police failed to stop them from attacking the Union bank in Helsingforss (Helsinki, Finland). Bank was robbed stealing 170 thousand rubles. Six Latvians were later arrested, but Žāklis was on his way to Germany…

As the revolution in Latvia and Russia was heading towards defeat, Žāklis was in Western Europe organizing arms contraband to Russia. Then trough Switzerland he went back to Latvia, no longer a social democrat but an anarchist. Rage addict Žāklis was impressed by the anarchist teachings of “invisible cycle of revolutionaries” and the “invisible dictatorship” that would instore order by using force not law and authority. Inspired by the ideas of Bakunin and Kropotkin Žāklis brought their home to Latvia and inspired many others.

In anarchist Latvian  newspaper “Freedom” Žāklis called anarchism a natural way of Latvian life not influenced by foreigners. Žāklis called his group of supporters “Myself – words and action”. Latvian Social Democrats were not sufficient in the views of Žāklis to start a massive revolution. Many who thought so too left the party and became radical anarchists. The party was in the shake-up started by Žāklis. On August 15 1906 a manifesto by the Žāklis group was issued. Žāklis rejected any use of organized orders, party ranks and commitees instead promoting independent action. The state was rejected instead calls for full break up of social society and resources were issued “Let’s go and take all by ourselves!”. Žāklis published his brochures in the summer of 1906. He was the main anarchist ideologue in Latvia.

The confiscated weapons and literature of the Latvian revolutionaries including the anarchist magazine "Flame" (Leesma)

The confiscated weapons and literature of the Latvian revolutionaries including the anarchist magazine “Flame” (Leesma)

The police had enough of Žāklis and his anarchists. 110 police officers were killed in the clashes with them. On August 14 1906 on night time; police surrounded the house in Stabu street 65. Two Žāklis comrades Kārlis Krieviņš and Anna Caune were reported of hiding there. Police approached the doors and demanded to open them. In return anarchists opened fire. In the desperate gunfight until four of clocks of August 15 the couple resisted until they were killed. Similar events later took place at the Sydney street. The code of law for the anarchists was never to surrender.

The crackdown on anarchists were long and painful. More gunfights erupted, some were shot on the place, others were arrested. But, Žāklis again escaped together with his mistress Lidija Švarce also known as Marija and Anna, “yours black girl”. He was reported to be in Pskov, on the end of  1906 he left Latvia completely. Posing as Peter Piatkow probably went to US. In 1909 he was reported to be in Philadelphia where the famous photo of him used in police posters was taken. Despite the fact that the president of US William McKinley was assassinated by the polish anarchist Leon Czolgosz, who was inspired by other Baltic anarchist leader Emma Goldman on 1901, US proved to be an easy hideout for anarchists from the Russian Empire.

In US Žāklis met Fricis Svars again, and five others involved in the the Houndsditch murders. There they published Latvian anarchist magazine “Freedom”. But, just writing anarchist ideas was not part of their struggle in the US. The expropriation was again used. On 1908 February 6 Žāklis, Svars and Hartmanis robbed two merchants in Woburn, Massachusetts. In police chase two policemen and one local were shot. The robbers escaped.

In the spring of 1908 Peter Piatkow returned to Europe still hoping to restart the anarchist fight in his homeland. But, the lack of money was the reason for more robberies. On April 10 three armed Latvians invaded the Scottish Royal bank in  in Lancashire  county. In resulting gunfight and chase, two were arrested. Posing as local poor Englishmen the robbers may have been connected with Žāklis. Žāklis in mean time was in Switzerland then in France to study medicine and chemics. In Marseille he was soon under French police watch, but again sneaked out. Posing as a builder and an arts student Žāklis enjoyed the seaside and plotted more anarchist activities.

Jānis Žāklis in the middle on board of the French ship in Marseilles. About 1908-1909

Jānis Žāklis in the middle on board of the French ship in Marseilles. About 1908-1909

Latvian anarchists were still acting in Latvia, where local police still tried to find the mystical “surveyor” who they thought still hides there. Meanwhile in Boston Latvian anarchists caused another gun fight by attacking local pub. One was killed, others escaped. The police investigation showed that the attack had connections with Fricis Svars– Žāklis close comrade.  Many other armed attempts of robberies took place across Europe.

But that was not enough. On July 18 1909 Russian police caught Jānis Lapiņš who was arrested for shooting at some Mr Štāl. While during interrogation he confessed to be sent to Latvia by orders of the Latvian and Russian anarchist rig. Lead by Russian narodnik Alexey Telpov the group summoned him to transport literature and weapons. Along with him four men under false names arrived in Latvia to start an anarchist armed struggle. They called themselves “The Baltic Federation Anarchist group “Avanger”. The group was arrested, but two of them Alfrēds Dzirkalis and Juris Laiviņš managed to escape, two who later were involved in the Houndsditch Murders. On October 1909 Fricis Svars in London was visited by his cousin Jēkabs (Yakov) Peters who was for a long time considered as the real Peter the Painter. A experienced revolutionary during the 1905 struggles, he was still true to the social democrat cause and was angered by the ideological shift of his cousin Svars. He left London after three months to become a famous Bolshevik, a member of Cheka during the Civil War in Russia. He perished in 1938 purges.

In London on 1909 a Latvian anarchist group “Flame” emerged. Svars, Hartmanis and called Max Smoller. Also a Russian – Latvian couple Nina Vasileva and Wiliam Sokolov. The anarchists conducted a similar operations long before the Houndsditch Murders. Similar works of crime were donned before by drilling a hole in the roof they entered the jewelry shops and stole the goods. Three such thefts were recorded in the criminal archives may have been the work of the same gang that did the Houndsditch Murders.

On October 1910 Jānis Žāklis arrived at London and head directly to Fricis Svars. Introduced as Peter Piatkow to Svars mistress Ljuba Millstein. He spent the night at Dzirkalis apartment. On November 4 1910 the trio moved to the Grove street house Nr.4. The Russian secret police made a report of Latvian anarchists attempting to unify the separate groups in one congress along London. On April 14  according to Russian intelligence a special committee was made and led by Jānis Žāklis. The journal “Freedom” issued gratitude of cash flows from the London group. The last issue before the Houndsditch Murders of “Freedom” had an annual financial report made by a “surveyor” or Žāklis. A committee that needed substantial financial funding that could only gathered by use of expropriation according to views of Žāklis.

The Post Morten photo of Hartmanis who died at the night of December 16

The Post Morten photo of Hartmanis who died at the night of December 16

On December 16 Jānis Žāklis gathered his group in the Grove street apartment. The attempt of breaking into the rear of a jeweller’s shop at 119 Houndsditch was discovered by the adjacent shopkeeper who heard constant hammering and informed the police. Nine unarmed officers — three sergeants and six constables (two in plain clothes) — converged on Exchange Buildings. Sergeants Bentley and Bryant knocked at the door of No. 11 Exchange Buildings, unaware that the first constable on the scene had already done so, thus alerting the thieves. The gang’s leader, George Gardstein or Hartmanis, opened the door, but when he did not answer their questions they assumed he did not understand English and told him to fetch someone who did. Hartmanis left the door half-closed and disappeared. Growing impatient, the two sergeants entered the house to find the room apparently empty, before they became aware of a man standing in the darkness at the top of the stairs. After a short conversation, another man entered through the yard door, rapidly firing a pistol, while the man on the stairs also started shooting. Both officers were hit, with Bentley collapsing across the doorstep, while Bryant managed to stagger outside. In the street, Constable Woodhams ran to help Bentley, but was himself wounded by one of the gang firing from the cover of the house, as was Sergeant Tucker, who died almost instantly. The gang then attempted to break out of the cul-de-sac, Hartmanis being grabbed by Constable Choate almost at the entrance. In the struggle, Choate was wounded several times by Hartmanis, before being shot five more times by other members of the gang, who also managed to hit Hartmanis in the back. They then dragged Hartmanis ¾ of a mile to 59 Grove Street, where he died the next day. Constable Choate and Sergeant Bentley died in separate hospitals the same day. Police found dead Hartmanis in the Grove Street apartment and made the connection with Jānis Žāklis or Peter Piatkow who owned the apartment.

London was shocked by the murder of two unarmed policemen. A scare of “murdering foreigners” errputed in the London press. Police soon established the connection with the dead Hartmanis and the rest of the anarchist group. In Fricis Svars apartment they found various documents of communication between anarchist groups. “Flame”, “Fighter”, “Freedom” in the US and also “The Black Flag” in Paris. A plan was to create an international union of anarchists.

Ljuba Milstein arrived at the police station on December 18. Forced by her Jewish family to wash away all the suspicion from her she reported the man blamed for the murders. It was Svars, Hartmanis and Sokolovs.  Žāklis did not take direct part and stayed home at night. She was asked to care of dying Hartmanis which she could not bare it. Consequent arrests were made, Jānis Laiviņš was arrested who was part of the anarchist network. Then mandolin teacher who was present at the Grove Street meeting on December 16 reported Jēkabs Peters the cousin of Sivas. He denied any connection, but was arrested.

500 pounds reward for reporting encouraged a unanimous informant on January 1911 1 to report the possible location of Fricis Svars.  It was Charles Perelman the owner of the house where Svars and Žāklis lived. Svars had given him a letter addressed to his father and the father of the brother Sudmaļi. And also Perelman revealed the location where the Svars was hiding in the Sydney Street 100, Stepney, along with William Sokolov.

Fricis Svars who resisted the British police to the last blood on January 3 1911

Fricis Svars who resisted the British police to the last blood on January 3 1911

The police secretly surrounded the hiding spot. The plan was to get them by force, no talks about peaceful arrest were considered. The house was evacuated, but the surrounded bandits showed no sign of life. At eight of clock police sent officer Benjamin Lyson to throw rocks at the second floor window where the Latvian were hiding. After rocks had no effect, the concrete brick “did the trick” and Lyson was shot Brauning and Mauzer pistols. He was shot down but survived.  A Sydney street siege had begun. For more than an hour police was kept away in significant length from the Latvians. Sporadic shooting did nothing to harm them. The Ministry of War was informed and Secretary of Interior Affairs Winston Churchill was called while being in bath. Churchill called the London Tower garrison. The Lieutenant Hugh “Jack” Ross, two private first class along with 17th men of the 1st Scottish guard. Armed with Lee Enfield guns the soldiers took the both sides of the streets. Driven by “curiosity” Churchill arrived  at the site and took the full operational command work. A never seen before action by the state minister.

Churchill wanted to play out the role of the war commander and asked to bring two machine guns and even artillery cannons. They came too late, when battle was already over. While still figuring out how to enter the building, the bullet hit the gas pipe and the house erupted in flames. The firefighters arrived only to be halted by Churchill who insisted that the building must be burned down to flames with Latvians inside. But, despite the heavy smoke surrounding building two Latvians Svars and Sokolovs still recklessly fired at the police. More Scottish guards were called the Maxim machine gun was mounted. Then Sokolovs was shot in the head and died. Svars put down on the ground still fired his gun until 13:50. British police and Winston Churchill may not know the number one law of the Latvian anarchists – Never, never, never surrender!

After the roof fell in the firefighters finally came in.  And the first and last causality on the British side appeared as the one of the firefighters got hit by massive building block. Two burned bodies of Fricis Svars and William Sokolov were found. Police arrested Jakob Peters, Miljtein,  Trayonsk, Laiviņš  and Fyodorov who were connected to “Flame” group. The closed trial failed to prove their direct guilt and most including Jakob Peters were set free. But, the man who rented the Grove Street apartment where the gang planned the  Houndsditch robbery – Peter Piatkow, Peter the Painter or Jānis Žāklis was nowhere to be found – again….

Posters of Jānis Žāklis showing his photograph made in US were spread all around London. Police however, knew that Žāklis was not present at the scene of the Houndsditch shootings. But, Peter the Painter became an urban legend similar to the Jack the Ripper. According to 1932 MI5 report Žāklis was hiding in some apartment belonging to some Wagner. Also shared with Latvian anarchist named Valdis, who later served at Canada Housman Guard. Žāklis escaped the police search in and made his way to Netherlands. Later he was reported to be in Brussels. His comrades were dead and his plan of starting up the revolution in Latvia had failed. He was on the run again, the Russian secret police reported to London that he is hiding in Germany. The British police decided that they lack enough proof to hunt Žāklis and did nothing.

Ljuba Milstein was pregnant from Fricis Svars when he died on the Sydney Street. Together with Alfrēds Dzirkalis she left for US and raised the son of Svars Alfred Driskol   together. Jakob Peters remained in London and later returned to Russia and became close associate to Vladimir Lenin. Juris Laiviņš returned to Latvia and was arrested by force. He was released on 1917 and not heard until 1926 when he was photographed in 1905 memorial arrangement. Nothing more about him is known afterwards.

Jānis Žāklis was last seen in Germany 1912. Žāklis possible moved to Australia. The Australian police from 1911 to 1917 arrested three persons who they thought they were Peter the Painter. All were released because of the lack of evidence. The distant relatives of Žāklis were know to live in Australia after WW2. Peter the Painter could possibly entered Australia as disguised businessman to more easily pass the naturalization tests. There with his wife Lidija Švarce he spent the rest of life as Australian businessman.

The movie dramatization of the events of January 3 1911. 1960 Movie the Siege of the Sydney Street

Latvian anarchist movement went to decay after the Sydney Street siege. At the end of the WWI Latvia was the battleground between the national independence movement, Bolsheviks and the Baltic Germans. There was no room for anarchists anymore. But, the legend of Peter the Painter moved on. He was featured in many films and songs. The 2012 TV drama Titanic even placed him above on the board of the sunken ship. The first to be wounded on January 3 1911 officer Lyson later claimed that Peter the Painter was no other than Joseph Stalin himself. True, Stalin was also involved in robberies or so-called expropriations. But Stalin is known to never left Russia before 1945 when he arrived at Potsdam. The Peter the Painter was Jānis Žāklis a man from Latvia. One of the most famous Latvian adventurers, anarchists and the man who was never caught by any police force around the world. A true legend of its own.

Selected Sources

Rufs, Filips. (2012) Pa stāvu liesmu debesīs : nenotveramā latviešu anarhista Pētera Māldera laiks un dzīve. Rīga : Dienas Grāmata

Latvijas revolucionāro cīnītāju piemiņas grāmata / redkolēģija: S. Ziemelis (galvenais redaktors) … [u.c.] ; Latvijas KP CK Partijas vēstures institūts – PSKP CK Marksisma-ļeņinisma institūta filiāle, Latvijas PSR Zinātņu akadēmijas vēstures institūts, Latvijas PSR Centrālais valsts vēstures arhīvs ; [pēcvārds krievu valodā]. 2. pārstr. un papild. izd. Rīga : Liesma, 1976-1987. 2 sēj.

Bērzinš, Jānis. (Ed.) (2006) 1905. gads Latvijā: 100 : pētījumi un starptautiskas konferences materiāli, 2005. gada 11.-12. janvāris, Rīga. Riga: Latvijas Vēstures institūta apgāds


Comments Off on Latvian Anarchism – The Story of the Peter the Painter

Filed under Historical Articles

The 1905 Revolution in Latvia

Piektais gads (Cirulis)

The 1905 revolution in Russia is mostly known for its Bloody Sunday and the Battleship Potemkin and the Jewish pogroms. But in Latvia, then part of the Russian Baltic provinces the revolution of 1905 was a wakeup call and the beginning of social and national liberation. The revolution took place on the streets of the cities, rural areas and forests. Latvian revolutionaries fought Czarist police and Baltic German landlords. Not only that, the fire of the revolution lighted up in Helsinki and London as the actions of the Latvian revolutionaries reached international level. There are many aspects of this revolution that need separate articles. This is a concise survey of the 1905 revolution that took place in Latvia.

In Russia the causes for the revolution was the great social inequality, the defeat in Russo-Japanese war, national divide and the despotic authoritarian government by Czar Nicholas II. For Latvia, one of the main reasons was the national inequality between Latvians, Jews and the Baltic Germans. Despite most Latvians enjoying relative freedom for education and carrier, the overall situation was still against them. In rural areas Latvian peasants were still fed up with the Baltic German landlords, from whom they had to rent their lands and work for them. The movement by intellectual Latvians faced many restrictions. Latvian press was censured; the rights for political activities were stripped down and the use of Latvian language was limited in public places. Latvians faced double oppression from Baltic German elite and Russian administration. Also Jews and Poles in many cases felt the same oppression. Latvians were also no strangers to war with Japan; many Latvians were sent to frontlines and the Russian navy that was destroyed in Tsushima, originally left from the port of Liepāja.

However, the main movement for revolution was not the nationalists, but social democrats who aspired from teachings of Marx. At the end of the 19 century the New Latvian movement had lost it original power for it could not answer the new emerging problems created by industrialization. The New Latvians were mainly middle class intellectuals, descendants of the Latvian farmer families. Their main strives were education, making their own business and national conservation. The rising working class needed different answers and many found them in internationalist social democracy. The main pushers of this new kind of thinking were The New Current movement that expressed their views in the newspaper “Daily Sheet”. The main person behind the paper was the new student Jānis Pleikšāns who called himself Rainis. He and his colleges took the ideas of social democracy from Germany where there was already an official Social Democrat party. Their ideology was internationalist and was based mainly on working class of whom only 5,6% were Latvians. While they certainly talked about the rights of the Latvian landless peasants and Latvian education, their cosmopolitism did not go along well with Russification policies that weakened the Latvian national strength. Latvian social democrat slogan was: “The worker has no fatherland!”

On 1897 at Vilnius the Jewish social democrats founded the General Labor Bund party. In 1898 the Russian Social Democratic party was born. Latvian Social Democrats became more and more inspired by their Russian and Jewish colleges. On 1899 Russian Authorities closed down the “Daily Sheet” newspaper and forced Rainis and his colleges to exile.

The one of the first Latvian political movements emerged in 1903 in Switzerland. Latvian exiles founded the Latvian Social democratic Union. Their first congress took place in Riga on December 29-30 1905. The party did not last long and was outmatched by Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party that was founded in 1904. There was a great difference between these two parties: the LSDU was more national oriented while LSDWP was overall internationalist. Their main leaders were Miķelis Valters, Ernsts Rolavs and Kārlis Skalbe. Their political platform was full rights of self-determination, the formation of Latvian parliament, and in case of break up of Russian empire – the formation of independent Latvian state. The LSDWP did not believe in full independence, but fought for free Latvia in united free Russia. As their colleges in Russia they desired to overthrow the Czarist regime and then establish autonomous social democratic Latvia. In the end the LSDWP was the main force behind the 1905 revolution.

The start of the 1905 revolution in Latvia is considered the January 13 (26 January according to Western calendar) when in Riga a large crowd of people marched along the Moscow Street to the city center. A day before a general strike was called in Riga and other cities. The action was inspired by the bloody events in Petersburg at 9 (23) January. The crowd singing revolutionary songs and waving red flags were stopped by junior officer squad at the Iron Bridge near river Daugava. As the protesters tried to break trough the soldiers opened fire killing more then 70 people and injuring more. The precise death toll of the Latvian Bloody Sunday is not known and varies in the different sources.

The general strike was one of the biggest in whole Russia. However, after winter passed the fires of revolution reached the country side. Thousands of landless peasants were united by the revolutionary ideas of equal rights and mainly the free land for all. Land workers started strikes against German landlords. Demonstrations waving red flags took place near churches sometimes protesters invaded the church mess and held revolutionary gatherings. Such sights were not common in Latgalia where Catholic and Orthodox churches were respected. The Lutheran church was associated with the Baltic Germans.

The peasant demonstration at Dundaga 1905

The peasant demonstration at Dundaga 1905


On 15 (28) June almost at the same time when mutiny on battleship “Potemkin” took place, the Russian sailors at Liepaja took arms. The reason was the same as in case of “Potemkin” – maggots in meat. Sailors took over the guardhouse and forced commanding officers to flee. However, on 17-18 (30-1) June reinforcements came from Riga and disarmed the sailors. 138 men were taken to war tribunal.

When Baltic Germans started to took arms to protect themselves, the blood spilled on the countryside. In Sesava church two barons opened fire against people calling “Down with the Czar!” and in return Latvians killed one of then injuring the other one. Baltic Germans asked for help from Russian army. Russia sent ruthless Cossacks, Germans themselves formed self-defense squads. Latvian peasants attacked the German mansions, took away their arms and money. In August LSDWP formed fight groups. In Riga 1000 men joined the ranks. On the night of 6 -7 September (19-20 Sept) a group of 52 men raided the Riga Central prison rescuing two of their comrades Lācis and Slešers. In this daring raid few Jews from Bund also helped their Latvian comrades. Latvian Jews took active part in the revolution. While in other places in Russia bloody Jewish pogroms took place, there was a relative unity between Latvian and Jews. Instead on 22-23 October Latvian social democrats helped to stop rioting in Riga Moscow district that could turn in t0 Jewish pogrom. The main leader of the Latvian Jewish revolutionary movement was Simon Nachimson.

At 12-13 (25-26) October General Strike in whole Russian empire took place. Latvians also took place in it. Czar Nicholas II was forced to issue a “October manifesto” where he promised to give people freedom of speech and meeting. Also a freely elected State Duma parliament was promised. Latvians met this with great joy and gathered in many demonstrations. At the Grīziņkalns Park in Riga 80 -100 thousand people gathered to celebrate “freedom”. However, there were bloodsheds between loyalists and revolutionists. At countryside locals abolished local Czarist municipalities and elected their own people. The October Manifesto did not ease the situation but heated up it as people were asking for more. In the end Czar was forced to  use armed force and break up the revolt.

 At November great battles erupted in Kurzeme (Courland). For a short time Russian authorities only controlled Liepaja and Jelgava. A large bloody battle took place in the city of Tukums. Latvian militia managed to chase away the dragoon squad and infantry. Then Russian forces tried to recapture the city, Tukums was bombarded by cannons. Revolutionaries were forced to retreat. Russian suffered great causalities. Similar events followed in town of Talsi. The last bloodiest battle took place at Aizpute on 16 (29) December. Revolutionaries lost 100 men.

On 17 (30) January 14 revolutionaries raided the Riga Secret Police headquarters. The aim was to rescue LSDWP Central Committee member Jānis Luters ‘Bobis’ and Pēteris Liepa. The Secret Police building was located at Aspazijas Boulevard in the city center. The building was guarded by 160 soldiers and there were more on the city streets. 14 men managed to slip trough the heavily guarded streets and invade the secret police building by surprise. Six men with them Jānis Luters ‘Bobis’ and Teodors Kalniņš were rescued. Police men fled the scene, but 160 Russian soldiers barricaded in their rooms.

Situation in Latvia was so extreme that the Russian authorities decided to send reinforcements. On 12 December 1905 a state of war was issued. The Russian punishment corpus lead by general Orlov entered Latvia to completely suppress the revolution. At the morning of 20 December revolutionaries raided the rubber factory Provodnik where 60 Russian dragoons were located. In four minutes 30 revolutionaries killed 17 and injured 20 dragoons.

General Orlov the leader of the Punishment corpus

General Orlov the leader of the Punishment corpus

In the country side the revolution had gone to extreme. Latvian peasants started to execute the German barons and burn down their mansions. Many architectural wonders like the castle of Stāmeriene were burned to ashes. 449 mansions were burned down. As the Orlov men came the bitter fights and executions erupted all around. The core of the Orlov army were Cossacks from North Caucasus. People were tortured and executed. For the first time some few thousand Latvians were sent to Siberia.

The burned down mansion of Stameriena

The burned down mansion of Stameriena

The revolution was completely defeated in 1907. 2041 revolutionaries lost their lives, 7-8 thousand men were imprisoned, 427 were executed and 2652 were sent to Siberia. The fires of the 1905 revolution reached the outside world in the following years. Latvian revolutionaries escaped Russia and continued their fight. Jānis Luters Bobis was the leader of the attack on Helsinki (Helsingfors) bank and lead the arms smuggling from the West. On 26 February 25-30 Latvian fighters invaded the bank owned by Russian state in the main city center. Their gain was 100 to 150 thousand rubbles. Social democrats called the bank robberies- “expropriations”. Joseph Stalin also started his revolutionary carrier with expropriations. Latvians managed to bring in to Latvia a large numbers of arms, explosives and money.

Some years later in December 1910 a group of Latvian anarchists lead by the Peter the Painter or Peter Piatkow started a wave of attacks on jeweler’s shops in London killing two officers. On 2 January 2 police became informed about their hiding spot at Sidney Street they blocked the street and started siege. Despite being outnumbered revolutionaries had superior weapons and showed stiff resistance. The Tower of London was called for backup and Home Secretary Winston Churchill arrived. He directed the siege and after six hours of shooting the field artillery strike set the building where Latvians were hiding alight. Churchill prevented fireman to dose the flames, instead he waited for Latvian attempt for escape. But, no doors ever opened and instead they found two burned bodies. There was no sign of Peter the Painter however.

The mystery of the Peter the Painter still lies unsolved. There are no clear facts of what happened to him after the Sidney Street siege or what  was real his identity. Some historians associate him with later Cheka agent Yakov Peters. British historian Philip Ruff first suggested that Peter the Painter was Latvian painter Gederts Eliass, however in his latest book he points to Latvian far leftist Jānis Žāklis.

The revolution in Russia in 1905 was a peoples and nations revolution. Similar national sentiment was present in Estonians, Lithuanians, Caucasians, Poles and Jews. Many Latvian Social democrat leaders exiled and continued their fight against Russian czarist regime. Some became anarchists. While others came to conclusion that international revolution is not the answer and started to fight for full national independence. In 1914 the First World War erupted and in 1915 it came to Latvia. It was the time of next Latvian national awakening – formation of the Latvian national rifleman regiments and the birth of Latvian Republic in the end.

Monument of the 1905 revolution at Grīziņkalns park in Riga where many demonstrations took place

Monument of the 1905 revolution at Grīziņkalns park in Riga where many demonstrations took place

Comments Off on The 1905 Revolution in Latvia

Filed under Historical Articles

The 13 January in Riga 1905, 1991,2009

The monument to events of 13 January 1905

The monument to events of 13 January 1905

There are many theories about the mystical power of the number 13. Some say that its simply a number and all bad associated it’s just  a superstition. Others however note the great power of this number the powerful events good or bad that brings significant change. Those who believe the power of number 13 can turn to pages of the Latvian history and see what happened in Riga in January 13 on year 1905, 1991 and 2009. It was a release of great energy that brought destruction and even deaths and made significant changes to whole nation. The 13 January is a mythical date in Latvia associated with revolution, violence and change. And since five years have passed since the last great 13 January lets take a look of what happened here in Riga at this date.

1905 13 01

In the end of November 1904 in largest Russian imperial oil production city Baku a one day general strike took place. Few days after that a general strike in largest metal production factory in Petersburg took place. Soon many common factories in the city joined them. In 9 January (22 January according to Modern Julian Calendar) 150 000 people joined in march to the Winter Palace to give petition to the Czar about improving their living conditions. At the first ranks the workers marched with pictures of the Tsar Nicholas II and the Saints. The march was led by the Orthodox priest Gapon who later turned out to be agent of Czarist secret police. When  people approached the Winter Palace they were met by Tsars guard corps. It’s not clear who gave the order to fire at the unarmed crowd, its doubtful that is was the Czar Nicholas II himself, but the guards opened the fire killing  around 130 people making the first Bloody Sunday in 20 century. It was beginning of the 1905 Russian revolution the movement against the Tsar autocracy. Russia was in deep economic crisis and in despair after the humiliating defeat against Japan.

Latvia was no stranger to troubles of Russian Empires. Riga was one of the largest industrial centers in Western Russian provinces with large workers class. The main political movement in Latvia at those times were the Latvian Social democratic Workers Party. The living conditions for Latvian workers were slightly better than their compatriots in Russia, however the national factor was also eminent as the Latvian workers struggled against the autocracy by Russian Authority and local Baltic German elite.

The Social democrats issued a general strike in 12 (26) January in protest of innocent victims in Petersburg. The strike moved to Liepaja, Venstspils, Jelgava, Daugavpils and went on for 12 days.

In 13 January some few ten thousand workers singing revolutionary songs with red flags marched from Moscow suburb on the Great Moscow street to the city center. On the present day Railroad bridge at the time the Iron bridge the protestors were stopped by Riga junior officer school soldier company. The signal of warning was given by the drummer and the order to crowd to fall out was issued. But crowd continued to move ahead. The pressure of last rank marchers to the first rank marchers were so great that the first line of soldiers were pushed back. They took away the drummers sword, one junior officer got hit in the head by a rock. The protestors climbed on the bridge on started to throw rocks at soldiers some even had pistols. In this moment from Kungu (Lords) street another junior officer company came. The protestors were now besieged. When the protestors started to take away guns from soldiers hands, the officer gave the order to fire. Three rounds of fire were held at the protestors as the snow turned in bright red. A panic and disorder came out as the some attempted to jump on the icy river Daugava to escape. But the ice was too thin and many drowned.

73 were killed , 200 wounded and the number of the drowned were unknown. Also the police pristav Bilev was fatally wounded. Seven soldiers were wounded. One of the wounded was the young poet Antons Austriņš. His friend the famous poet Jānis Akuraters who also was in the crowd was so worried about his friend that the idea of new revolutionary song was born. “Ar kaujas saucieniem uz lūpām! (With battle cries on the lips)” lyrics by Jānis Akuraters and music by Jūlijs Sproģis became the symbol for Latvian leftist revolutionists.

The 13 January ignited the revolution in Latvia that went on for two years. The revolution was present in the streets of Riga and other cities and the peasants also joined by uprising against the Baltic German landlords. Although the events in Latvia followed the spirit of the Russian social democrats and communists the nature of them was more nationalistic as Latvians hoped to achieve national autonomy from Russia and break the local Baltic German tyranny. The revolution at the end was crushed by bloody punitive expeditions and repressions. Today some historians and philosophers say that the Latvian revolutionary spirit was killed in 1906 and resulted in Latvian passivity to resist foreign and internal injustice for years to come.

The manifestation in Riga at the 13 January begining the Time of the Barricades

The manifestation in Riga at the 13 January beginning the Time of the Barricades

1991 13 01

The center of the main events in January 13 was not in Riga, but in Vilnius Lithuania. By that the revolution in three Baltic states had already started, but this time it was a national revolution to break away from the collapsing Soviet Union.

In 11 March 1900 Lithuania declared  full independence from the Soviet Union. This was met with great resistance from Moscow and the president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev who now started to revert his own reforms. All the attempts to stop Lithuanian breakaway failed and in the following months Latvia and Estonia also declared the restoration of independence. A conspiracy was born within the corners of Kremlin and the KGB building to initiate a provocations in all three Baltic countries to install direct presidential rule from Moscow to effectively halt the restoration of the independence.

The task was given to local Kremlin supporters (Interfront in Latvia, Yedvistvo in Lithuania), local KGB and Interior ministry units (OMON in Latvia) and the Soviet Army.  The deadline for it started in January 1991. In 2 January the Soviet Interior forces stormed the main building of the Lithuanian communist party central committee and the press center. Next day in Riga the OMON did the same with the Latvian press center. In 7 January a commando units were sent to three Baltic states “to aid the mobilization of the youth in the Soviet Army.” The commander of the Baltic War region Fjodors Kuzmins promised that no active actions will not take place until January 13.

Next day in 8 January the large crowds of Lithuanian Yedinstvo (Intefront) supporters took the streets to demand resignation of the Lithuanian nationalistic government. Mob attempted to storm the parliament building and were pushed back by land guards and police loyal to the national government. Next day the Lithuanian government lead by Kazimira Prunskiene resigned over issues of raising the prices for food products. Latvian government in mean time declared the entry of the Soviet special forces illegal and asked for people not to make any contacts with them.

As the fear of the Soviet reaction is the air in 12 January the Latvian People’s Front issues a All -Latvia manifestation in 13 January with goal to support the democratically elected Latvian government. In Moscow the Latvian prime minister Ivars Godmanis meets the Mikhail Gorbachev who promises to not allow violence in Riga, while secretly plotting one with his KGB colleges.

In the night of January 13 at Lithuanian capital Vilnius the attempt to stop the Baltic independence starts. Soviet tanks along with special forces team Alpha storm the Lithuanian parliament, TV and Radio building and telegraph. The time seemed right as it was night and the world’s attention was driven to Gulf War. But, the Soviet military was not expecting a resistance from unarmed crowd that gathered to defend the TV tower and TV studio and the Supreme Council building (parliament building). In the struggle between civilians and tanks 14 people were killed leaving Soviets to withdraw instead of attacking and making more casualties.

The reaction in Latvia was immediate, as in 04:45 the leader of the Latvian People’s Front Dainis Īvāns on the state radio called people to protect the states strategically important buildings from possible Soviet attack. In 14:00 500 000 people gathered to 11 Novembra Krastmala the same site where the events of the 1905 took place. A protest manifestation condemned to events in Vilnius  and called to the defend Riga. The Time of the Barricades had begun. It was one of the landmark moments in history of the Latvian national unity.

Riots in Riga 2009 January 13

Riots in Riga 2009 January 13

2009 01 13

In 2009 it was all different in Latvia. The economic crisis and the great dissatisfaction with the parliament that lead to crisis made many people to come out and protest. This time it was no longer foreign oppressor it was the own elected parliament Saeima.

In the beginning of the 2009 the opposition party Society for Different Policy and 25 other NGO’s signed a petition to the president of Latvia Valdis Zatlers to dissolve the parliament and to make a just, democratic and competent state order. The signers asked people to gather at the Dome Square at 13 January to hold the “peoples meeting”. Soon after that an unknown people on the internet called for violent uprising and gather near the parliament building. The call was investigated by the Security Police. The parliament building is just a street away from the Dome Square.

The gathering took place in 17:30 in 13 January. Ten thousand people came with posters and flags. On the stage many publicly known people held speeches and singers played songs. Many times the call for dissolving the parliament was heard.

The meeting ended with people moving to parliament building. During the meeting some may notice suspicious young people masked in robes with backpacks and group of Russian youngsters waving flag of Russia. There was a aggressive sentiment along the crowd and possible a special unit of provocateurs who drove it even further.

And then the sudden  a fights erupted with police and the protesters and people started to throw cobblestones at the parliament building. Apparently someone had necessary equipment to get the cobblestones out of the ground and by that a fire of stones, eggs and bottles were thrown at the police and the parliament building. If that was not enough the crowd tried to break in the parliament building that was closed at that time.

After the hour of struggle the special forces came in and pushed the rioters from the parliament building. The riot was pushed back to Dome Square. However, now rioters turned to vandalizing state and private property in the streets of Old Riga. The windows of the National library were shattered, Finance and Economics ministry were vandalized. A special site for “revolutionaries” was the alcoholic drinks shop that was demolished and robbed. Some say that the crowd even had intention to attack the Monument of Freedom.

Riots were eventually stopped. 50 people were wounded, one schoolboy rioter lost an eye. 13 police members were wounded. The president of Latvia Valdis Zatlers reacted by issuing the three demands to the government to solve the imminent problems or to face resignation. In 16 January a riots broke out in Vilnius on the similar scenario when peaceful gathering turns in the attack on the parliament building.

Only in 2012 first 15 suspects were sentenced for taking part in a riots showing utter inability by law defenders to handle such situations. Although numerous footage showing signs that the outbreak of riots were planed in advance, the Security Police issued that the riots were spontaneous.

The rioters were mainly from the young generation both Latvian and Russian. Many of them jobless or studying for their own money may had violent resentment against the state. Many after the 13 January riots thought that Latvia is again on the revolutionary spirit as in 1905 or 1991. But, no great riots or uprising has not happened again in Latvia after that. While people of Greece constantly rebel the austerity policy set by foreign powers, Latvia peacefully and  almost reluctantly came trough the crisis. Many probably felt ashamed by the vandalism in 13 January and the notion that they did not achieve much.  Yet the 13 January 2009 is a symbol for many small rebel organizations such as antiglobalists and Russian nationalists. Their leader Vladimir Linderman formed a party called the “13 January Movement” that now is called “For native language!” showing the real nature of the 13 January 2009 riots.

These were the three most important 13 Januaries in the history of Latvia. Today in 2013 January 13 a rather peaceful meeting was held by Solidarity meeting to commemorate the 1905 13 January. Only one person was held by the police. The future will keep secret what will happen in future 13 January’s, but lets hope it will bring only good for Latvian people.

Comments Off on The 13 January in Riga 1905, 1991,2009

Filed under Historical Articles