The Jewish community of Rezekne was formed in the late eighteenth century, simultaneous to the design and construction of the city. An area designating eight blocks of houses specifically for Jews was included in the original plans for Rezekne. By the early nineteenth century, Jews made up 90% of the total population. The population grew to 6,500 by the late nineteenth century, but many left in the wake of World War I and immigrated to Riga and Palestine. By 1935, the Jewish community was just 25% of the total population. Rezekne was occupied by the Nazis in July 1941, and mass executions started soon after. Many Jews were sent to Daugavpils ghetto for labor, and then Kaiserwald concentration camp in Riga. There were very few survivors.
The Green Synagogue was built around 1845, during the peak of the Jewish population in Rezekne. It is one of the few wooden synagogues that has been preserved in Eastern Europe and is the only one of eleven synagogues in Rezekne to survive World War II. It was spared demolition because it was used as a holding pen for Jews before they were sent to concentration camps. After the war, a few hundred Jews came to Rezekne—some returning to their home and some coming from other towns—and services in the Green Synagogue started once again.
How We Helped
WMF’s Jewish Heritage Program assisted the local community in completing an architectural survey and a conservation plan so that further repair work could be pursued. The conservation work is now being run by the Norwegian government, which is covering 85% of the costs and using the project as a training program for Norwegian and Latvian craftsmen. Work is expected to be completed in 2014, and the goal is to establish the synagogue as a museum and cultural information center dealing with religion and tolerance.
Why It Matters
Green Synagogue is one of the few surviving examples of the once-ubiquitous wooden synagogues of Eastern Europe. It is a significant place for both the local Jewish community as well as Rezekne as a whole. Green Synagogue’s conservation provides an opportunity to train local artisans in wood conservation and will result in a sustainable, communal, and educational re-use for this important piece of heritage.