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Max Michelson Family Collection

Identifier: AR 25195

Scope and Content Note

The Max Michelson Family Collection documents the life of the Lativan Jewish family Michelson, who lived in Riga. The main part of the collection are letters written between family members, describing life as a Latvian Jew from Riga, personal problems and family news. Most of the correspondence is written to Clara and Leo Michelson, who spent most of their lives in Paris and Berlin. The collection consists of personal correspondence (Series I), genealogical information about the Michelson family and their ancestors (Series II) and photographs (Series III).

Most of the letters contain personal information, only a few provide historical facts. Biographical information on the family -- especially giving evidence on their marriages and children, their travels and emigrations/immigrations -- can be extracted from their correspondence with family and friends. The correspondence starts in 1914, when Clara was in Berlin, and continues until 1941. General biographical data can be found in her nephew's publication: Max Michelson, City of Life, City of Death: Memories of Riga and in Series II.


  • 1914-1942, 2004-2005

Language of Materials

The collection is in German, Russian, and English.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Access Information

Collection is digitized. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011


Biographical Note

The Michelson family was a well-situated Jewish family who lived in Riga, and owned a family enterprise, the "Stuhlsitz-, Sperrplatten- und Schiefertafel-Fabrik D.M. Michelson Riga," a plywood factory founded in 1888, which produced chair tops, slates and blackboards.

The head of the family seemed to be Emma Michelson, née Hirschfeld, who was born in 1856 in Frauenburg (Saldus) Courland and died in 1935 in Riga. Most of the correspondence is letters from her to her children Clara and Leo. Her husband Max Michelson, who died in 1908, left the family factory to his eldest sons, Dietrich and Eduard.

Dietrich Michelson (born 1879 in Riga, died 1941 in Riga Ghetto) was the owner and director of the plywood factory and married Erna Michelson, née Griliches, in 1915. They had two children: Sylvia, who was born in 1916 in Moscow and died in 1934 in Riga, and Max Michelson, who was born 1924 in Riga. He is now living in Boston. Based on his family papers and his memories, he published a book, City of Life, City of Death: Memories of Riga.

Eduard Michelson (born 1883 in Riga, died 1941 in Riga Ghetto) was the co-owner, engineer and technical director of the plywood factory. He stayed unmarried.

The second of Emma and Max Michelson's children, Clara, was born in 1881 in Riga and died in 1942 in Auschwitz. Most of her lifetime she spent in Berlin and Paris as a writer; she remained unmarried. Most of the correspondence, which is the main part of the Max Michelson family collection consists of letters to her and her brother Leo, because they were living abroad.

Leo Michelson (1879-1978) was an artist, who attended the Imperial Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Russian Revolution of 1917 forced him to leave Russia for Munich, Germany, where he participated in the beginnings of German Expressionism. After 1920 he lived in Paris. He managed to escape the Nazis in 1941 and emigrated to the United States. He died in 1978 in New York City.

The youngest of the Michelson siblings was Thea (Theophile) Sommerfeld/Summerfield, née Michelson (born 1891 in Riga, died 1978 in Birmingham, England). In 1921 she married Arthur Percy Sommerfeld/Summerfield (born 1883 in Melbourne, died 1951 in Birmingham). They lived in Freiburg/Breisgau, where their son Manfred Peter was born in 1923 (he died in 1953 in Brisbane). After 1933 they lived in Paris, later on in Birmingham, England.

As opposed to Russia, Emma and Max Michelson maintained cultural ties with Germany. All the Michelson children and grandchildren were/are fluent in German, Russian and French.

In 1940 the Red Army occupied Latvia and the family property and factories were confiscated. Michelson's family moved to a small apartment and could no longer have servants. The family had survived World War I in Moscow and now tried to survive World War II in Riga, thinking they would do better under German occupation than under Russian control. Little more than a week after Germany's attack on Soviet forces in eastern Europe, German forces entered Riga, Latvia. Although several thousand Jews had escaped eastward with the Soviet army, about 40,000 Jews -- men, women, and children -- remained in the city upon the German occupation. German authorities required Jews in Riga to move into a designated ghetto in October, 1941. The Germans killed more than 50,000 Jews in Riga during the war. Four of the Michelson family members died in the Riga Ghetto.


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The Max Michelson Family Collection documents the life of a Latvian Jewish family living in Riga. The main subjects of the collection are correspondence between family members, who moved abroad and those who stayed in Riga and some family pictures. The collection consists of letters, genealogical information and photographs. Languages: The collection is in German, Russian and English.


The collection is on two reels of microfilm (MF 971):

  1. Reel 1: 1/1 - 1/6 (1930-1931)
  2. Reel 2: 1/6 (1932-1937) - 1/11

Related Material

The LBI Archives also hold the Clara Michelson Collection, AR 25196

The LBI Library has the book by Max Michelson: City of Life, City of Death. Memories of Riga. University Press of Colorado in 2001

Separated Material

Some photographs have been removed to the LBI's Photograph Collection, F AR 25195.

Processing Information

The collection was arranged by format and chronology. Some photographs were removed.

Guide to the Papers of the Max Michelson Family 1914-1942, 2004-2005 AR 25195 / MF 971
Processed by Linda Selma Oberndorfer
© 2009
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from MaxMichelson.xml

Revision Statements

  • May 2009.: Microfilm inventory added to finding aid.
  • February 15, 2012 : Links to digital objects added in Container List.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States