Some of my ancestors were Latvian Jews who came to the U.S. in 1904. I'm trying to figure out whether any part of this branch of my family might still exist in the eastern hemisphere. After the Hitler-Stalin pact, Latvia became part of the USSR. The Soviets probably deported about 5000 Latvian Jews to the gulags, and about half of those are believed to have survived. The Germans invaded in July 1941, and of the approximately 75,000 Jews who were in Latvia then, probably only about 1000 survived. Of these, apparently most remained in Germany, Austria, or Italy, rather than returning to Latvia.

Based on these facts, it seems likely that most eastern-hemisphere descendants of Latvian Jews today would be the descendants of those who were deported to the gulags. Where would these people probably be now? People who were sent to the gulags apparently did not have full rights to live where they wished, even after their terms were up, and some were deported multiple times. Is it likely that their descendants would now be living in places like Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk, or more likely that they would have moved to places like Russia or Israel?

There do, for example, appear to be communities of Jews in Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk.

Here are the sources of information I've found so far:

Wikipedia: History of the Jews in Latvia

latvianhistory.com: Soviet mass deportations of 14 June 1941

Wikipedia: Operation Priboi

  • The entire War in the East was a crime. Good luck with your search but hope is the enemy in these matters. Sep 3, 2016 at 3:16
  • 2
    People do not get DEPORTED to gulag, they get IMPRISONED there. You should not confuse resettlement as in the case of Crimean Tatars or Chechens with imprisonment of those deemed enemies of the Soviet rule.
    – Anixx
    Sep 3, 2016 at 13:33
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    My mother's grandfather came from the Riga area in 1884 with his (Jewish) family. I have had good luck tracing the family through these sites, if you haven't seen them already: lvva-raduraksti.lv/en.html (Latvian archives) and jewishgen.org/databases Both sites are free but require registration. Good luck! Oct 1, 2016 at 0:39
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    @Anixx Truly a distinction without a difference. May 1, 2017 at 12:01
  • @FelixGoldberg from the point of view of people in question it definitely would make difference, to live in a camp or not.
    – Anixx
    Jun 23, 2022 at 18:35

2 Answers 2


were deported to the gulags

GULag was an administrative subdivision, so "deportation to GULag" doesn't make sense. People could be sentenced to prisons, ITLs ("correctional labour camps") or "special settlements" which were under GULag's supervision in 1941. All these have different regimes.

People who were sent to the gulags apparently did not have full rights to live where they wished, even after their terms were up

In the 50s 'tis was gradually changed. Germans were released first. Speaking of people from Baltics, the biggest part was released in 1954-58. On 1.1.59 there were only about 7000 remained in Siberia (those who actively struggled against SU).

Actually people from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in the 50s gained the right to return to these republics. But many of them had to settle there according to the special directions and not to return to the places where they lived before.

So it's most likely that their descendants now live in Latvia.

  • 3
    sources would improve this answer
    – MCW
    Sep 3, 2016 at 12:00
  • @MarkC.Wallace Can't find an authoritative source now. But that was a common situation: people who were deported by Stalin could return in the time of Khrushchev. Those who were forbidden to go back, such as Crimean Tatars, are discussed quite often, so some people may think that their fate was "ordinary" among others, but it's not true.
    – Matt
    Sep 3, 2016 at 13:52
  • Thanks for this answer. It prompted me to work harder to search directories in Latvia for variants of the family name, Raisner, and I did find some people with the surnames Reisners and Reisnere.
    – user2848
    Sep 3, 2016 at 15:35
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    This is a very complex subject since "Soviet Bureacracy" had yet to fully established at the time, there was SMERSH running active counter intelligence (it died with Stalin in the 50's), an active War (no distinction between end of World War 2 and Korean War for Soviet Union), many records that have only been released since the 1990's, "historicism" debates, etc etc Sep 3, 2016 at 18:05

You mention "I'm trying to figure out whether any part of this branch of my family might still exist in the eastern hemisphere."

Only a few months ago I confirmed 3 lines of Latvian relatives via DNA from one line with living descendants. Three siblings of my great-grandmother stayed in Latvia when the remainder of the siblings came to the US. The surname is relatively common. And none of us looking for relatives had heard of or recalled hearing about other relatives...until this week when a few letters were found in a relative's belongings dating from the 1940s. It is also easy to lose track of people or generations as women often change their name with marriage. DNA helped with the confirmation. Putting a tree on MyHeritage and Geni also helped. The letters are a touching reminder of the difficulty of life in Latvia in the 1940s.

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