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28 June 2011

Jews of Armenia

The history of the Jewish community of Armenia dates back over 2,000 years. The first Jews to settle in Armenia were a large community that arrived in the 1st Century B.C.E., most of whom settled in the city of Vartkesaven. Later King Tigranes II the Great brought with him 10,000 Jewish captives to Armenia, when he retreated from Palenstine. By the middle of the 4th century there was a large amount of Jews who had moved into Armenia, enough so that many towns were predominantly Jewish. It was also during this time that many Jews were deported to Iran by the Persian Shapur II.
While there are some remnants of an ancient burial ground in the city of Eghegis dating back into the 1200's, the Jews didn't begin returning to Armenia until the 1800's. Jewish settlers arrived from Poland and Persia, bringing both Ashkenasic and Sephardic Jews to Armenia. In some cities, such as Yerevan both communities were established.
During World War II many displaced Jews arrived in Armenia, bringing the Jewish population over 5,000. Later the Jewish community doubled in size again as Jews arrived from Russia and the Ukraine in the 1960's.
At this time a family of Jews who trace their ancestry into Armenia have donated their records to the Knowles Collection and will soon be added to the database.

Jews of Switzerland

The Jewish history of Switzerland spans hundreds of years. The first recorded Jews settled there in the very early part of the 13th century. The first Swiss Jews were located in Basel, which was one of the largest Jewish communities in all of Europe,The Jews of Basel, who were mostly from Germany and France arrived in 1213.
Other communities followed soon after, with Bern, St. Gall, Zurich, Schaffhausen, Dissenholfen and Luzerne all having Jewish communities before the end of the 13th century. These communities flourished until the middle of the 14th Century, when events in different cities caused
major changes. In Basel, the community thrived until 1348. Then the Black Death when the Jews were accused of poisoning the water supply. Over 600 Jews were taken to and island on the Rhine where they were burned at the stake. Their children were sparred but were forced to be baptised.
In Bern, at about this same time, the Jewish community was accused of murdering a Christian boy. The Jews were then expelled from Bern, however not much later they were allowed to return.
In the 14th Century, Jews began arriving from places such as Alsace, Nuremburg, France and many of the Southern German cities. During this time Jews were also given limited citizenship. This was not the same that the Christians enjoyed but it did give them some protection and allowed them to live in the cities if they paid certain sums of money. Foreign Jews were not allowed to live in the cities.
During the 14th and 15th centuries, most of the Jews were involved as merchants and money lenders. They did live under restrictions, such as being forced to live in certain neighborhoods and even being told which streets they could live on. They were also persecuted by some of the Swiss people, many times because those same people were in debt to the Jews. These areas became the center of their lives as they built the synagogues and had their shops in these same neighborhoods.
Over the next few hundred years, the Jews who had been expelled returned to their communities. While they did return, it did not always mean that the persecutions had ended. During the early 1400's many Jews faced death. In 1401 all the Jewish residents of Schaffhausen were condemned to death and in fact thirty were burned alive on 25 June 1401.
The community in Geneva wasn't established until the 1780's, but became a thriving community, building a synagogue in Carouge. They later became citizens and had their own burial ground. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, many Jews arrived from Eastern Europe and Alsace. Between 1900 and 1947 many synagogues were built and burial grounds established. In 1947, the Great Synagogue was rebuilt.
During the Holocaust, Switzerland gave refuge to over 20,000 Jews. Because of the neutrality that the government had these Jews were protected. As the war grew the Swiss government took steps to make it harder for Jews to enter the country and over 30,000 were denied access. After the war, things changed somewhat and the Swiss became supportive toward those who faced hardships in their own countries.
In the 1950's they looked after refugees from Egypt and Hungary and then 10 years later they helped those fleeing Czechoslovakia. Today, some 20,000-25,000 Jews live in Switzerland with about a third of those living in Zurich.
Jews from Switzerland will be found in the Knowles Colection - Jews of Europe database.

20 June 2011

Beyond the Pale - The History of the Jews in Russia

To study the history of the Jews within the Russian Empire, one is quick to learn such things as intolerance, expulsion and assimilation. These were all issues that the Jews had to deal with on a daily basis. From the Middle Ages, the Jews were under pressure to fit into the Russian believe that all should form a single people, based on common beliefs, with a common language and common religion.
The history of our ancestors, and the struggles that they went through are now documented in a wonderful website http://www.friends-partners.org/partners/beyond-the-pale/index.html. That site Beyond the Pale- The History of the Jews in Russia, tells the stories of our people. not only through written word but through some wonderful photos.
This site not only discusses the history of the Jews, but talks of anti-Jewish attitudes and intolerance of the Jewish people. As it states on the site "This exhibition depicts the history of anti-Jewish attitudes -- and of anti-Semitism today, a form of intolerance that in our century caused the death of millions of people. The exhibition also portrays the history of Jews in Europe and in Russia to help understand their life, religion and culture. But above all, the exhibition wants to warn of the great dangers of prejudice and intolerance, particularly in times of political uncertainty and increased social tension."
It is so very important that we read and reread the histories of places such as the Pale of Settlement, for if we don't don't learn from the past, what kind of future can we have.

17 June 2011

Jews of Martinique

Martinique is a small island located just north of the country of Trinidad and Tobaggo on the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea. The history of the Jewish community there can be traced back to the early 1600's. Like many countries of the Caribbean, Martinique was first settled by Jews from Amsterdam who had arrived in that country as settlers fleeing the Inquisition of Spain and Portugal.
Most of these settlers who arrived in Martinique were merchants and traders, working for and protecting the interests of the Dutch. Most of the early Jews lived in the larger cities, the business centers. This allowed many of them to become very prosperous and successful.
In 1635, Martinique was conquered by France. For many years this was not a problem for the Jews, they continued to prosper and the community grew. In 1667 the first synagogue was founded in Martinique. Over time however, the French began to grow jealous of the success of the Jews and discrimination against them grew.
Finally, in 1683, bowing to pressure from the French merchants and the Jesuits, King Louis XIV expelled the Jews from Martinique. This led to a group of Jews leaving for Curacao. However a good number of the Jews in Martinique simply ignored the law and stayed. This group of Jews continued to flourish and the community actually grew. The laws against the Jews were finally withdrawn after the French Revolution.
Today, the majority of the Jewish population in Martinique resides in the community of Schoelcher where they have built a synagogue. There is also a smaller group located in Fort-de-France comprised mostly of the Jews who arrived from France and North Africa in the latter part of the 1900's.

13 June 2011

2011 Roll of Honour-Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain

Thanks to Mark Nicholls (right, above), Chairman of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain, and everyone at the society for presenting me with the 2011 Roll of Honour Award. It is truly special to me to be recognize by those I have such respect for.

Jews of Tahiti

In searching through the records of the Jewish communities of Australia and New Zealand, I continue to find occasional references to the Jewish community of Tahiti. This has lead me to try and learn a little more of these Jews of Tahiti.

Not a great deal is known of the first Jews to arrive in the islands, however it was most likely someone travelling with Captain James Cook, who arrived in 1769.

The first Jew to actually live in Tahiti, was probably Alexander Salmon (1822-1866), a French Jew who was a banker by trade and was the son of a Rabbi from London. Ariel Scheib, in an article on the Jews of Tahiti, located at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/, discusses how Alexander Salmon, married into the Royal family of Tahiti, when he married Princess Arrioehau, the leader of the local Teva tribe. Their daughter became the last queen of the Tahiti Islands.

The modern day history of the Jewish people on Tahiti, starts in the 1960's with the arrival of Jews from Algiers. These North African Jews considered themselves to be French, Sephardic and Orthodox. The first Synagogue, was built in 1993 at Papeete. The Jewish Community today is still small, about 125 people, however they maintain a people with a rich heritage.

10 June 2011

Gesher Galicia, Inc.



As any researcher knows, its always best to have help as we look for our ancestors. Sometimes that means visiting with family, friends our other s who share the same interests, as we try to expand those family trees.

For anyone who is researching family in Galicia, a great website is now available for you to collaborate with others. Gesher Galicia, www.jewishgen.org/galicia is that site. As the title page says,


While the entire site is looking like a great tool for researchers, I especially enjoy the section titled, Life in Galicia, which includes articles, photos and videos on an assortment of things about the area. Watching the videos had an incredible effect of bringing the area to life, it was easy to imagine where our ancestors once walked. I would strongly encourage everyone to join together with fellow researchers and help this great work along.


Thanks to Pamela Weisberger for bringing this to my attention.

08 June 2011

The Jewish History of Tunisia

The history of the Jewish people in the land of modern day Tunisia goes back to Roman times. Many of those who descend from the first Jewish settlers believe their ancestors came before the destruction of the First Temple in the 6th Century BCE. In 1883 the remains of an ancient synagogue were discovered in Hammam-Lif. That synagogue dates back to between the 3rd and 5th century CE. These early Jews were mostly engaged in agriculture, cattle raising, and trade.
Under the rule of the Romans and then the Vandals, the Jewish community of Tunis grew in size and really began to prosper as a group. Then in 534, the Vandals were overthrown by Belisarius. This led Justinian I to issue an edict of persecution against the Jews which classed them with the Arians and the heathens.
During the seventh century Jews from many lands made there way into Tunis. First were the Jews fleeing Spain and then Arab Jews who were fleeing Baghdad arrived at the very end of the century. Over the next 500 or so years the Jews went from time of persecution to time of freedom. In 1236, the country fell under the rule of the Hafsite dynasty, which became a time of improved conditions for the Jews. At first the Jews were considered foreigners, and were not allowed to settle in the city of Tunis and built their homes in places such as Mehdia, Kalaa, and the Island of Djerba. However, later they were given permission to settle in a special part of Tunis, an area that came to be known as the Hira quarter.
In 1270, Saint Louis of France was defeated as he led a crusade against Tunis on behalf of France. This led to the cities of Kairwan and Hammat being declared Holy, and Jews were required to leave them or embrace Islam. From that date until 1857 when Tunis was defeated by France, Jews were not allowed to stay the night in those cities and had to have special permissions to even visit those places.
Beginning in the 18th century, the conditions for Jews began to improve as the influence of European countries. In 1881 France invaded Tunisia. This led to Tunisia becoming a French protectorate. Jews, became much safer and began to thrive, many even becoming French citizens. Later, during the time of World War II, Tunisia became the only Arab Country to come under Nazi occupation. When the Nazis arrived in 1942, there were over 100,000 Jews. The Nazis imposed rules to control the Jews, such as being forced to wear the yellow badge, fines and confiscation of their property.
Today, most Jews have left, however there are communities in Tunis and on the island of Djerba, which both number around 1000. While the numbers are fewer, there is still great history in Tunisia, in fact the oldest synagogue in Africa, is the El Ghriba synagogue in the village of Hara Sghirba on the Island of Djerba.

02 June 2011

Centropa.org



One of the benefits of being able to research Jewish families from all over the world is finding great new websites. I have just recently been using a wonderful site for those whose families came from Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and the Sephardic communities of Greece, Turkey and the Balkans. That site is Centropa.org.


Through interviews with elderly Jews, Centropa is building collections that will be treasures for many families. By adding photos to the oral histories, they are truly becoming a "Jewish Witness to a European Century" as their websites states.


Centropa.org is very easy to navigate. Simply click on the link in Red, that says, An Interactive Database of Jewish History. By doing so the page below will appear.


By clicking on whichever country you choose, a brief history will appear and you will the be able to search for those records. I clicked on Poland and the following appeared.


The resources available here for families are incredible, and I believe will only get better. Take sometime and get to know the website, even if you don't have family in these locations, remembering those who gave so much, can only help us know ourselves.