Jewish Community of Klaipėda

Contact Feliks Pozemskij, Klaipėda Jewish Community chairperson, tel. 8-650-21335 email

Activities of the Klaipėda Jewish Community The Klaipeda Jewish Community currently has more than 200 members. The community organizes celebrations of Jewish holidays, marks important dates on the Jewish calendar, holds cultural programs, organizes Sunday school for children and leisure activities for the elderly, and provides and distributes welfare, including money, services and material goods.

History of the Jews of Klaipėda

From the 15th to the 20th

Century Klaipeda was formerly called Memel. Jews appeared in Memel probably sometime in the 15th century, although the first historical source is from 1567. On April 20, 1567, Albrecht, Grand Herzog of East Prussia, ordered Jews to leave the city within 21 days and never to return. The ban lasted until the mid-17th century. Even after it was lifted, Jewish settlement in Memel was strictly controlled and limited.

Only in 1662 did Fredrich Wilhelm, elector of Brandenburg, grant the right to live in the city to an individual Jewish merchant. Frederich Wilhelm sought to strengthen Memel’s trade ties. Moshe Jakobson the Younger because the first legal Jewish resident of Memel. Within several years, however, he, his children and servants were exiled from the city for his overactive speculation in salt.

As late as the 18th century the ban on Jewish settlement in Memel was still in force. In 1777 Moses Mendelssohn came to Memel to trade. Besides being a merchant, he was also a famous Jewish philosopher, the spiritual father of the Jewish Haskalah (enlightenment dedicated to modernization and incorporation of secular culture in a renewed model of European Jewish life). He was also the grand-father of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, the well-known composer. Mendelssohn’s renown in Europe was of no aid to him in getting permission to settle in Memel. He was forced to live in Konigsberg.

The situation only changed a century later. The French Revolution gave equal rights to Jews of France. This revolutionary innovation spread to the countries conquered by Napoleon and partially survived even after Napoleon was toppled. The favorable situation of Memel (a large port that didn’t freeze over in winter and with autonomy, located far from the capital of Prussia) and a favorable turn of events (the Crimean War, which isolated Russia from the normal trade routes) led to a marked increase in the number of Jewish residents: from 45 people in 1813, to 887 people in 1867, to 1,214 people by 1880.