What's In A Name Dumes History In Vishki


Geography 101

In the Russian Empire before the Bolshevik Revolution, the Empire was divided into districts known as Gubernias, which were named for the largest city in the district. Our Gubernia was Vitebsk. Our home was a small place called Viski (pronounced "Vishki").

The Vitebsk Gubernia occupied land that now exists in modern day Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia. Viski is in the Southeast end of Latvia, in an area known as Latgale.

In this map from 1891, Viski is spelled Wyschki. This was a German map and of course, in German, a "W" is prounced as a "V" as in "Was ist los?". Russians do not transpose "W" and "V" as the movies would lead us to believe.

You'll note that Dvinsk, known today as Daugavpils in Latvia, was referred to on this map as Dunaburg. This is because the Germans always referred to Dvinsk by that name.

Here is the full map showing where this inset was taken. You can click on this map to view it full size. It's pretty large.

Viski had a lot of Jews! So of course they needed a place to pray. Here is the synagogue of Viski!

The following was printed in JewishGEN's Latvia SIG newsletter: Translated by Yosef Tribuch, with permission from Yad Vashem, from Pinkas ha-kehilot, Latviyah ve-Estonyah, pages 54-59. Editor: Dov Levin. Yad Vashem, Jeruselem, 1988.

Viski Population
YearTotal PopulationNumber of Jews%
19141200850 (est.)70 (est.)

Viski History until World War I

The settlement began its existence in the 17th century. Empress/Tsarina Catherine I was born in Viski. During World War I, the town changed hands several times and a portion of it was destroyed.

The Jewish community was founded at the end of the 18th or the beginning of the 19th century. The Jews were always a majority of the town's population. They were occupied, as expected, in petty trade and crafts, and their earnings were usually confined and difficult. Nevertheless, they independently created a series of important public institutions, amoung them, "Bikkur Cholim" (society to visit the sick), established in 1890. Also under communal control was a public bath-house and more. From the second half of the 19th century onward until the end of its existence, a period of 90 years, the Pluchinsky family served as Rabbis. The first of this family, Rabbi Moshe (Mischel) Pluchinsky, who was known in his youth as the "genius from Suwalki", served as rabbi for more than 40 years. After his death in 1907, he was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Judah Leib Solomon Pluchinksy, who served for approximately 25 years as rabbi, until the middle 1930's. After him, his son, Rabbi Jacob Meir Pluchinsky served as Rabbi. (His torah novellae were published in the monthly Knesses Israel, Tammuz 1939).

In the first years of World War I, a portion of Viski's Jews departed to the Russian interior. As a result of the outbreak of battle in the town during 1917-1919, most Jewish houses were destroyed or damaged. The Jews especially suffered from deprivation and hardship during the Bolshevik occupation (1919).

Between the Two World Wars

In the beginning of 1920, accompanying the establishment of a Latvian regime after the travails of war, the great majority of Jews in the Viski community were living in a state of poverty and the lack of vocational opportunities. Whatever relief there was, came thanks to Jewish medical staff (physician, paramedic, and midwife) who mightily labored here through the financial support of the Joint Distribution Committee, in the areas of hygene and health of the Jewish community, as well as the overall town. The Joint rushed assistance with additional benefits, and granted welfare allotments to tens of needy families. Loans for economic development were distributed to retailers and entrepeneurs from a mutual credit fund that was created in 1921 through the Joint's aid. This important institution lasted until shortly before World War II.

From a statistical survey conducted in 1935, it is apparent that 50 of the 58 shops and retailers in the town were under Jewish ownership. In regard to stores of clothing, shoes, metalwork, knitwear and groceries, all but one were Jewish. 78 of the 158 housing units in the town belonged to Jews. The structures were almost always one-story, wooden, with a yard or attached garden area.

In the course of the 1930's, the number of persons within the Jewish community decreased by at least 20% (from 530 persons in 1930 to 423 persons in 1935). The reasons for this were related to the town's economic stagnation and the lack of trading outlets. Many young people left for studies in the larger towns, or to find work or for [Zionist] pioneer training in preperation for emigration to Palestine. Many families emigrated abroad [to the West].

From 1921, there was a local school that had only 4 classes. The language of instruction was in Yiddish. In the early years, about 60 students attended there.

The first political parties that established chapters in Viski were the "Ze'rei Zion" [moderate socialist Zionist youth movement] and the [Jewish socialist] "Bund". The Bund also opened a youth club. From the 1930's, there were also chapters of the "Ha-Shomer ha-Za'ir" [radical socialist Zionist youth] and "Betar" [Revisionist Zionist youth] movements.

Second World War

Under the Soviet occupation (1940-1941), there began noticeable changes within the Jewish community. As a consequence of the new regime's policies, a significant portion of the stores and workshops were nationalized, and the Jewish public life was liquidated from its previous role. Among others, the local "Chevrah Kaddisha" [burial society] was shut down due to a government edict that was issued on Dec 12, 1940.

With the outbreak of war between the Soviet Union and Germany in June 1941, a portion of the young Jews of the town, especially the leftest elements, escaped to the Soviet Union's interior. At the end of June 1941, Viski was captured by the Germans. During the night of July 28, the local Jews were expelled to the Dvinsk [ Daugavpils] ghetto. On their way, they joined streams of Jews from other towns who were being transported there. As they were passing near the Aglona monestary, the Jews were attacked by Latvians who flanked both sides of the road, and suffered some casualties. After staying several days in the crowded Dvinsk ghetto, the Jews of Viski were told, as were other Jews who arrived from non-urban locations, that [authorities] were apparently ready to transport them to another ghetto. They were taken to the Pogulanka Forest outside town and murdered by gunshot, as part of the infamous terrible massacre of the Dvinsk ghetto known as the Aktion Provinze. Among the victims was the last rabbi of Viski, Rabbi Jacob Meir Pluchinsky. Two Uzdin brothers from Viski, who toiled in a [slave labor] camp near Eisfota digging ditches, escaped. Together with two other Jews, they hid for a long period in the ruins of an abandoned ancient fortress in the area. In 1944, they were discovered and murdered.

In July 1944, the Red Army recaptured Viski.