by Randy Wasserstrom, Cary, North Carolina
In 2004, I went on a genealogical trip to Latvia. In Talsi, I discovered the gravestones of my maternal great great great uncle Solomon (Zalman) Hoffman (1829-1906) and his wife, Chasse (1832-1908). It was a very serendipitous discovery as I had actually been visiting nearby Sassmacken and only stayed in Talsi as it was the closest place with a hotel. I stayed in the hotel with my guide, who told me the Jewish cemetery was nearby and we could walk to it. We walked out of town, across a road and then into a grove of trees where stood the cemetery. Almost immediately, I saw the largest stone in the cemetery and it was the perfectly preserved gravestone of Solomon and Chasse. Voila!
Back in the States, I did research on Solomon, who was the younger brother of my great great grandfather Osser Hoffman (1823-1896). Solomon was born in Sassmacken, and later lived in Sabile and Talsi. His native languages were Yiddish and German. He met Chasse Brenner of Goldingen and they had an arranged marriage about 1850. They settled in Sabile (current name) where he became a merchant and they had five children: Yankel, 1852, David, 1854, Yocheved, 1862, Mere, 1865 and Leib, 1870.
Solomon was a merchant in this small town of about 1000 people, 830 of whom were Jewish. (The photo above is a contemporary picture of the old Sabile synagogue.) He and his family then were part of the majority of the town’s population. In the 1870’s (circa), Solomon and his family (notably Mere) moved to Talsen (Talsi) which was north of Sabile.
It was a beautiful, scenic town and often considered one of the prettiest places in Courland (later Latvia). In 1882 he bought a big estate at Liela Iela 2 (2 Main Street) in the center of town. At this estate, he lived with Chasse and Mere and also started a liquor business. The estate had three cellars, wells and fruit gardens. He became a very well known citizen of Talsen and very probably was also well known in the Jewish community. Other relatives who lived in town were Solomon’s brother, Wulf and his brother-in-law, Lazar Brenner (1839-1909).
Solomon ran the estate and liquor business for nineteen years, until 1901, when he was 72 years old. In June, 1901, he entered into a contract with Talsi County Peoples’ Alcohol Foundation, renting out the premises for three years for 320 rubles, extending the contract in 1904 and 1907. The rental agreement included nine rooms, an entrance from Liela Street, a kitchen, a downstairs pantry and a place for a bathroom.
Daughter Mere met and married Rabbi Zelig Lowenberg (1879-1942) about 1904. He was a native of Piltene where his father was also a rabbi. He was fourteen years younger than his wife! The couple had their first child, Gittel, on December 23, 1906. Solomon gave the house across the street from the estate at Liela iela 1 to Mere and Zelig in July, 1907 (this may have been in his will). The second child (possibly) was Nellie (year of birth unknown) and the third child was Zalman (Solomon), born April 22, 1909. He was named after his grandfather who had died in 1906.
Chasse died in 1908 at the age of 76 and was buried in the Talsi Cemetery in the same location as her husband. Meanwhile Mere and Zelig lived together until 1936, the year of her death. Zalman emigrated to Palestine, circa 1930’s, and eventually and eventually became a newspaper editor. Rabbi Lowenberg was a prominent rabbi in Talsi and also ran a school. He continued in these pursuits until his death at the hands of the Nazis in 1942.