Memel (Lithuania)


Memel is a port city on the Baltic Sea where the Dange River flows into the Kury Vay in Western Lithuania. The Jews adopted the name Memel from the German Memelburg, instead of the Lithuanian Name Klaipeda. Evidence of Jewish residence exists from the 15th century. A Jewish cemetery was consecrated in 1823, and the shul was built in the 1840s. In 1860 Rabbi Israel Salanter came to Memel. In 1938 there were 600 Jews in Memel – 12.5% of the total population.

After World War I, the Jews invested their money in real estate in the city and the countryside. There were Jewish estate owners and farmers. The close link to Germany meant that Anti Semitic activities were prolific in Memel from 1933 onwards. 50% of the Jewish population left before the end of 1938. The Germans occupied Memel in March 1939. Those Jews still remaining then left for Kovno and other places in Lithuania. When the Jews in Prussian were emancipated in 1812, many Jews from Poland and Lithuania came to the city and became leading traders in grain, lumber and linens.

There were private Jewish banks, and Jews opened factories and employed Jewish workers. Workers and artisans were 40% of the Jewish breadwinners. In the early 1930s, 20% of the city shops, and factories were Jewish owned. Local industries included flour mills, wood processing, textiles, tobacco and chocolate.