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Guiding Questions:

  • What are examples of how Joseph and his family lived a traditional Jewish life?

  • How did World War I affect Joseph's birth?

  • What does the photograph tell you about Joseph's family? (He is the boy third from the left)

Joe was born to a Jewish Latvian family in Nizny Novgorod, Russia. They had moved there for a short time during World War I before moving back to Riga. About 40,000 Jews lived in Riga, composing a bit more than 10% of the city's population. It was a flourishing, lively place to be Jewish in the early 20th century. Riga enjoyed a few synagogues, a Jewish sports society, a Jewish theater on Skolas Street, a Jewish Educational Society, and various Jewish newspapers published in Yiddish and Hebrew.


His father, Abram, was born on November 27, 1882 in Jelgava, Latvia, a city about 40 km. southwest of Riga. He was a master tailor who specialized in jackets and worked out of his home workshop. He was a quiet man who in his spare time made picture frames and doll houses out of wood. 


Abram was learned and observant in Jewish customs. He led all the Passover services and Shabbat prayers from memory and they would sing the songs like L'cha Dodi and Shalom Aleikham as a family. On Shabbat, at times, he would go to the Peter (Peitav) Shul.

His mother, Beila, was born on December 23, 1880. Joseph mentioned that his mother was born in Jelgava, although one genealogical record shows she was born in Zhagare a town near the Lithuanian and Latvian border. He remembered her as pretty, kind, and devoted to her family. She kept a traditional kosher home and made sure the family went to synagogue on the holidays. She took care of the home, cooked, baked, and did all that was necessary to raise a large family. 


Abram and Bela raised six boys and two girls and two other infants died during World War I. The oldest was Sam (born September 09, 1907), Preidel (Paul) (Born November 01, 1909), Haim Wulf (born July 01, 1910), and then Harry (1914). The genealogical record shows that perhaps Harry's given name was Raphael.


All of those children were born in Jelgava, which indicates that Jelgava was where the Brandmann family lived before World War I.

Joe was born on January 09, 1918 in Nizhny Novgorod, which hints that the family fled to Russia during the war for safety and then when they returned to Latvia they moved to the capital, Riga.  In Riga, they lived at Lacplesa 114-25. 

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The Brandmann Family c. 1923
Bela and Abram Brandmann
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Likely view from Joseph's family home
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Brandmann Family House location
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