Genetic Genealogy

It would appear that I have opened a brand new can of worms in my attempt to break through some of these Latvian genealogical brick walls – I tried a new method. I tested my mother’s autosomal DNA using Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder test. The whole process from ordering the kit to receiving our results took about 2 months. I received her results last week and have been on a reading bender ever since, looking for ways to interpret what we’ve been given.

The first thing we’ve been given is tools to calculate “Admixture” – her ethnic heritage. Family Tree DNA gives us the vague and somewhat confusing results of 89% Eastern European and 11% Finland/Northern Siberia. But a myriad of other admixture tools found at GedMatch give us a clearer, more Baltic approach – ~60% Baltic, ~30% North Atlantic, and a few other small minorities mixed in (always a hint of something from the Caucasus area).

The second type of hints we’ve been given is a list of “Matches” – people who share a segment of 7.0 centiMorgans (cM) or more of autosomal or x-chromosome DNA with my mother, suggesting they could be anywhere from 20th to 3rd cousins, depending on the amount of DNA shared.

It gets pretty technical, but the jist of it is, if you share a segment >11cM with someone, there is a >99% chance you share a common ancestor within the last 7 generations. 10cM = 99%, 9cM=80%, and it rapidly drops off from there, with less chances for smaller segments. Other things to consider are amount of segments shared – sometimes it is only one large segment, sometimes a medium sized one, plus a few other small ones.. it’s quite open for interpretation. I decided to focus first on those who share a segment of at least 10cM, since they seem the most probable. We have 59 matches at this level. You are able to see any data your matches have put in for their ethnicity and surnames in their family trees, as well as an email address to contact them at.

We have 4 matches that were predicted to be between 4 and 4.5 generations away, with German, German/Swiss, German/Swedish and Polish roots, although ¾ identify as German + one of the other ethnicities. 6 matches estimated at 4.8 generations away are of Russian, Polish, Latvian and Lithuanian ethnicity. From 5 generations back there are hundreds of matches – almost 2,000 in total, including some smaller segment matches.

I’ve noticed some recurring themes:

  • There seems to be a strong Lithuanian connection, particularily from the Samogitia/Telsiai area of Lithuania – not surprising given it’s proximity to my ancestor’s homelands in southwestern Latvia near the border with Lithuania. These matches seem to share particular segments of the 11th and 12th chromosomes, should that end up pointing to anything significant.
  • There’s also a strong Swedish connection – I’ve got a long theory that it could be from my Akerfelds family who’s ancestor appears to have been a mother of several illegitimate children living at an estate in Nikrace pagast owned by a Swedish baron (Baron de Bagge, Dinsdurbe estate)
  • There’s a pronounced Finnish connection, with a strong presence on the 4th chromosome
  • There’s definitely the probability that there’s some Baltic German mixed in at some point in the last 250 years
  • For some reason we have a load of matches with seemingly British Isles ancestors all matching up on a particular segment of the 19th chromosome, which I find interesting. There’s also a few Russian matches with that spot.
  • There’s a total mash-up of Eastern Europeans matching on a similar segment on the 3rd chromosome – from Hungarians, a Romanian and a Serbian to Slovakians, Swedes and Lithuanians. Is this that rogue “Caucasus” gene? Or the result of some Viking conquests?
  • There’s one particularily strong match with southern Estonian roots, and although many of the Latvian matches I’ve found seem likely to match up with my Akerfelds side down in Kurzeme, many of them also have a Northern Latvian connection, especially near Valka (right on the border with Estonia)

For now, it’s hard to say what to do with these hints. Something that could help solve some riddles is testing more family members – one potential 3rd Akerfelds cousin is completing some testing, results now pending. There’s a chance he will not show as an autosomal match to my mother since they are theoretically relatively distant, but he also has the ability as a male to test his Y-chromosome, a direct male lineage for the Akerfelds. If I can get a known male Akerfelds relative of my mother’s to test his Y chromosome as well, I can verify 100% that two Akerfelds ancestors I’ve found are definitely related, which is another theory of mine. Also using a method called “phasing” at that point I could distinguish which of my matches, and therefore which ethnicities are likely to have come from my mother’s Akerfelds side or her Vinakmens side. This could potentially help me locate more family records for all those blanks I’ve yet to fill in in my tree.

Until more testing is completed and I learn more about DNA, what I’ve started to do is contact my matches that are obviously Latvian, to see what their family trees look like and if I can help them expand those trees so we can find a common ancestor. So far I’ve got related families living in Saldus and Liepaja, totally within my mother’s paternal home-area.

The search continues! And the really interesting part is that as more people test throughout time, your own results just keep growing. Go on and try it out, people!! Maybe we’re related!

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Week 11: Ieva Sedola

Click HERE for last week’s ancestor.

Ieva Sedola was my great, great grandmother. She was born January 31, 1869 to Janis Sedols and Made Stromane of Jaunzemji farm on Berghof estate (Kalnmuiza in Latvian, later known as Sieksate pagast). She was baptized February 9, 1869 at Valtaiki parish church. Her godparents are noted as Ieva Stromane, maiden, Lise Krumina and Mikelis Sedols, youth. In 1892, aged 23 she married Jekabs Grinbergs alias Akerfelds at neighboring Embutes parish church, BUT I have recently discovered that she had a bit of a past. She had given birth to an illegitimate child in 1890, a son whom she named Janis Sedols and baptized at Valtaiki church. She named Klavs Sedols and his wife Ede and Janis Sedols (quite possibly her little brother) as his godparents. Illegitimate children were not unheard of for this time and place, but were still somewhat of a scar on the reputation. There were laws about fathers paying support for their illegitimate children, but since no father at all is acknowledged on Janis’ baptism, it is more probable that Ieva was all on her own, wanting to keep the father anonymous and not receiving any sort of support.

Ieva and Jekabs had two children while living at Muizaraji farm on Lieldzelda estate. They had another son named Janis in 1898, but shortly after his birth the family left the parish, and no baptism for Janis exists at Embutes (or anywhere else in Latvia that I’ve searched). Ieva took her 4 young children, all under the age of 10, and made a very long trip with her husband a long way east to the city of Tomsk in Siberia where he sought (yet unknown) better employment opportunities. It is possible Jekabs either worked for the Trans-Siberian Railway (although the railway bypassed Tomsk to the south), or a gold mining operation (gold was discovered in the area around that time) or possibly, but quite unlikely that he was attending one of Tomsk’s two new colleges. It is even possible that he just went there to farm and settle, since land was given away to willing settlers in an effort to colonize Siberia at the time. Ieva had a fifth child in Tomsk in 1902 named Martins.

Tragedy struck Ieva and her blossoming family when Jekabs became ill after Martins’ birth. The family returned home to Lieldzelda estate, my guess is to be close to family. In July of 1904, Jekabs passed away at the young age of 34, and his church burial record states that his cause of death was kidney disease. Ieva was a young widow at 35 with 5 children and one on the way – she was pregnant with Jekabs’ last child. Daughter Katte Akerfelds was born that November. It must have been a tough few years for this family – Ieva, being pregnant or with a newborn and her older children would have had to work to earn their keep somewhere. In 1908 she married fellow widower Janis Blazgis, and so far I do not know of any children from this union, though it is possible.

Ieva’s oldest son, the illegitimate Janis Sedols married Anna Zveja and made Ieva a grandmother for the first time in 1914. Anna’s parents Janis and Jule Zveja owned Jaunzemji farm in Nikrace pagast, just a bit south of Lieldzelda and it’s entirely possible that they allowed Ieva and the rest of her children to come live with them when Janis married their daughter. Which would make sense, because Ieva’s younger son Janis Akerfelds and daughter Katte married a son and a daughter of the neighbouring farm’s owners, Indrikis and Jule Ziverts. Ieva, widowed for a second time after Janis Blazgis’ death sometime after 1918, moved in with them in 1924 to the Ziverts’ farm named Skrundenieki. The farmhouse was more than one hundred years old, lit by oil lamp and supplied with water from a spring. There were four rooms – and quickly they were filled with more grandchildren for Ieva as her children’s families flourished. Ieva would have enjoyed a simple, rural life surrounded by a large family at this time.

Ieva died sometime between the ages of 72 and 75 – She is present on the 1941 Latvian census, but was not with her family when they were forcibly evacuated to Germany in October of 1944. She was more than likely buried at Embutes parish’s cemetery, and one day I hope to find this out!

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 10: Emilija Karline Veisberga

Click HERE for last week’s ancestor.

Emilija Karline Veisbergs was born October 25, 1885 to Mikelis Veisbergs and his wife Lina Brugis of Taunaga farm in Struzani pagast, just north of the eastern city of Rezekne in the Latgale province of Latvia. At the time, it was a part of the Russian Empire. Emilija was baptized at the Lutheran church in Rezekne in November just a few days after her birth, and her godparents were Karlis and his wife Karline Zvikelis and Karline Brugis. Her parents were married in 1882 at Rezekne church, and she had one older brother named Janis Rudolfs Veisbergs, born in 1883 at Gribuli farm in Struzani pagast – her parents were not particularly bound to any farm. This is of note, because after Emilija’s baptism, the family disappears from Rezekne church records. Where and why they went is a mystery to me that I am still working on, but for the next 5 years following Emilija’s birth they are nowhere to be found (yet). Then they pop up out of nowhere in Dobele parish in 1890 and 1891 to baptize two children while living at Dobe and Rumbenhof. Then they disappear another 5 years, only to pop up and baptize two more children at Tukums Lutheran church while living at Slokenbekas estate.

I don’t have a clue why they were moving so much, certainly it had something to do with Emilija’s father Mikelis and work, but it seems that Emilija spent her childhood and teens travelling around, not staying in one place. She must have settled in for a bit after her parents went to Slokenbekas though, because in November 1904 she married Vilis Augusts Vinakmens at Tukums Lutheran church. Emilija gave birth to their first son, named after her older brother Janis Rudolfs in 1905 at Slokenbekas. Her next two children were baptized at Kandava parish, northwest of Tukums in 1911 and 1913 (the latter being my great grandfather Karlis).

Then World War One broke out, and Emilija, like tens of thousands of other residents of Kurzeme, packed up and left their lives behind, seeking refuge from the German advancements into the Russian Empire that was their home, and moved with her husband and three sons to somewhere in modern Siberia (I’d wager a guess at somewhere along the Trans-Siberian Railway). Vilis found work at a meat packing factory and the family subsisted, although definitely in hardship as refugees. A fourth child was born in 1916 – Emilija’s only daughter named Alise. Shortly after her birth, the Russian Bolshevik Revolution gained steam, and the communist Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. Strikes, civilian unrest and communism closed the doors at Vilis’ meat packing factory, leaving the family without income. Luckily, World War One soon ended and Emilija, Vilis and their four children were able to move back to Tukums sometime between 1918 and 1921.

The end of World War One was an interesting time for Latvia – the area as a country gained independence for first time in modern history as part of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk (well, long story short anyways). Latvia experienced a time of great national awakening, strong nationalistic pride. People who had once been peasants belonging to German landowners in the Russian Empire were suddenly proud, free Latvians and the economy boomed. Emilija gave birth to her fifth and last child, Fricis in Tukums in 1921. Sometime after Fricis’ conception, Vilis left Emilija for a younger woman. After all they’d been through, he turned his back on her and their children. This must have been tough, with five children ranging from age 16 to newborn. Her eldest son enlisted with the army and worked in a communications unit in Riga, surely sending money to help Emilija and his siblings. Her next son got a job with the railroad and lived mostly in Valmiera and Daugavpils. Her third son also enlisted with the army, this time in the navy, his unit stationed at Liepaja. Emilija lived in Tukums with her two youngest, unmarried children. Daughter Alise worked at a pharmacy and son Fricis became a mechanic.

Emilija, Alise and Fricis moved into 11 Talsu iela in Tukums on March 1, 1940. Emilija was working as a housekeeper, likely nearby. The last bit of evidence I have about her life is the 1941 census of Latvia. After that, World War Two ravaged Latvia, many awful things happened. Latvia’s short term independence was lost to waves of occupation by both Soviet and Nazi governments. Emilija must have been incredibly worried about her older children, scattered around Latvia, as their involvement with the military and railroad would make them stand out to Soviet and Nazi occupiers as potential “Enemies of the state”. She must have lost communication with her son Arnolds in Daugavpils after the mass Soviet deportations of 1941, since his name is found in a book called These Names Accuse – a list compiled by the Latvian government of those reported missing and likely deported after the deportations. Youngest son Fricis was forcibly conscripted by the German Todt Organization in 1942 and sent off to the Eastern front in Russia. Near the end of the war, Tukums became the site of particularily awful and violent fighting and bombing as the Germans began to lose and the Russians pushed the eastern front back westward. I’ve been told that Emilija became one of the civilian casualties, meaning that very likely she passed away in 1944, around age 59.

Emilija had a relatively short and tough life. The good news is that in the face of all that hardship, all five of her children lived into their eighties, Alise was at least in her nineties when she passed away – if she is not alive still today! (I have no further news about Alise but she was living the last I heard). Emilija’s descendants are scattered around the USA, Canada, Latvia and Russia today.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Week 5: Janis Akerfelds

Click HERE for last week’s ancestor.

 

Janis Akerfelds was born September 30, 1898 in the Kurzeme province of Latvia, which was a province of the Russian Empire at that time. His parents were named Jekabs Grinbergs alias Akerfelds and Ieva Sedola. Jekabs and Ieva were married at Embutes parish church in 1892 and had two older children, Ernests and Anna. Janis’ documents state that

he was born in Nikrace, however he was not baptized at the local Embutes church. Shortly after his birth, his family packed up and travelled east to the city of Tomsk, in Siberia. Tomsk is one of the oldest cities in Siberia, and around the turn of century was a growing place. A recent discovery of gold and the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway which passed through the city of Novosibirsk to the south, along with the Russian Empire giving land for free as incentive to settle the area made Tomsk Oblast (province) an attractive place to go to have a try at making a better life for a peasant farmer like Jekabs. There were also two universities recently founded in the city. It’s possible that Janis was baptized either in Tomsk, or somewhere eastward along the way from Nikrace to Tomsk. Jekabs and Ieva had a fourth child, Martins, while living in Tomsk in 1902.

Tragedy struck the family and Jekabs must have fallen ill while in Siberia, and the family came home, presumably to be near the rest of their extended family, to Nikrace. In July 1904, Jekabs passed away at age 34. His wife Ieva was 5 months pregnant with their fifth child, born in November – Katte. The family lived at Cepli farm in nearby Lieldzelda at the time of Katte’s baptism in November of 1904. Shortly thereafter, revolution broke out in the Russian Empire. Violence and unrest spread throughout Latvia, Kurzeme in particular. By 1906 things had calmed down again, but the revolution left lasting impressions on the majority of Latvians, who were poor peasantry.

Ieva remarried in 1908 and fellow widower Janis Blazgis became Janis’ stepfather. The family grew and remained in the Nikrace area. Janis attended Nikrace pagastskola (elementary school) before becoming a farm hand and a bricklayer. In April of 1924 Janis, his sister Katte and his mother Ieva moved in to Skrundenieki farm, owned and operated by the Ziverts family. Janis and Katte both married siblings Arturs and Anna Ziverts, children of the head of the farm. It’s likely Janis and Anna were married first, based on the birth of their first child in 1925. Katte and Arturs weren’t far behind, their first son was born in 1926.

Janis and Anna would go on to have 14 children in total between 1925 and 1948, and Katte and Arturs had 8. Skrundenieki was a centuries old, small farm. It had four rooms and had a spring as a water source. All 26 people between the two families lived and worked there. Janis’ brother Martins at some point acquired a neighboring farm called Jaunzemji, which had previously belonged to his wife’s parents. The 1920’s and 1930’s passed peacefully, although Janis and Anna lost two children – one as an infant, apparently fell out of a highchair and hit her head, and the other was named Elvina, aged 12, who stepped on a rusty nail and died of tetanus.

Then came the 1940’s, and World War Two. Latvia was essentially invaded and occupied by Soviet Russia, and the Soviets wasted no time in attempting to squash Latvia’s nationalist outlook and “russify” the population. They systematically arrested and executed key people they deemed “enemies of the state”, who were in reality, important political, military and social figures. This culminated on the night of June 14, 1941 when in one single night, tens of thousands of “enemies of the state” were awakened in the night, given a few minutes to gather what belongings they could carry, and told that they were arrested and to be sent to hard labor camps in Siberia, also called gulags. Entire families were deported to Siberia – men, women, elderly, children, infants in an incredibly inhumane manner – in rail cars designed to transport cattle. Many people died in the gulags either due to starvation, exhaustion or exposure. This was the fate of Janis’ little brother, neighbor Martins who died in May of 1943 after 2 years in a camp in Kirov. Janis would have seen Martins, his wife and 4 year old daughter all deported that night, and would not ever see them again.

Shortly after that atrocity, the German army began to have some decisive victories against the Russians on the Eastern front, pushing the front lines east, back across Latvia. Latvia was occupied next by Germany in July of 1941. Suddenly new people in Latvia had targets on their backs, and again many mass executions and arrests were made, this time mostly against Jews and Roma. Tens of thousands were murdered under the reign of the German occupiers, who would remain in command for the next 3 years. And although a far cry from ideal, it seems that German occupation was more tolerable than Soviet occupation for Janis and his family – at least they weren’t being killed. But by 1944 the Germans had been taking heavy military losses and the Soviet army was again able to push their way west through Latvia. Kurzeme being the western-most province was the last stand for the German army in Latvia, and when it became clear that they were defeated, they began evacuating their troops through the ports of Ventspils and Liepaja. They also made a point to forcibly evacuate many Latvians who they took with them as prisoners of war. This was the fate of Janis and family. The residents of Skrundenieki farm (including two pregnant matriachs, Anna and Katte, and Arturs and Anna’s elderly mother Jule Dzerve) were forced to abandon their homestead in October 1944, and board a ship at the Latvian port town of Liepaja bound for the German-controlled port of Gotenhaufen. Katte actually gave birth in Liepaja three days before they left, and Anna was 6 months pregnant.

From Gotenhaufen, the family next went to a gathering camp for foreign workers at Kelsterbach, Germany and next, to a sawmill owned by a man named Hermann Mogk III. The entire family worked there, likely gathering resources to support the German war effort. All except Janis’ eldest son Arturs, who at age 19 was deemed old enough to strike out on his own – the Germans used him at a Daimler-Benz plant in Bad Rotenfels, where he lost his right hand in an accident. Janis’ last son was born in December, 1944 while at Echzell. Here they stayed until their liberation by the Allied forces in May 1945. The war was over, Hitler had committed suicide, but still a major loss was that Latvia now remained under Soviet control. Janis’ eldest son Arturs was reunited with his family at this time.

When the International Refugee Organization assumed responsibility for all the people around Europe who suddenly found themselves without a homeland, Janis stated that he would not like to be repatriated to Latvia because he did not want to live under the communist regime. Instead, the family would remain in Germany for another 4.5 years, mostly in the city of Augsburg. Here, his son Arturs, who was now in his twenties, married a local German girl named Luise Gottle, and joined the German workforce. Second eldest son Arvids was accepted as a refugee by Belgium and went there to earn money as a coal miner. The rest of the family waited to be accepted by another country to start their lives anew. During the 5 years they remained in Germany as displaced persons, Janis worked for the US Army in the labor service corps.

Katte, Arturs and the Ziverts clan went to Berthoud, Colorado in March 1950 and Janis’ family followed soon after in August. Janis left his two eldest sons and his mother in law Jule behind in Germany, but brought his wife and ten youngest children to their new home in Colorado, where there was a growing Latvian exile community large enough to organize their own Latvian Lutheran church parish.

Janis passed away in 1970.

Tracing Marija

A little more digging during my lucky streak yielded me more documents regarding my Sedols family from Valtaiki parish. I discovered the death record of my 4x great grandmother Marija’s first husband, and with luck, he passed away just in the nick of time to be recorded with his surname – Paukši. Mikelis Paukši died at age 32 in 1837 – the same year Marija went on to marry Kristaps Sedols. Knowing his first name, the farm he lived on and his wife’s name allowed me to pinpoint the baptism records of their children, my distant 5x great half-aunt and uncle. I worked backward, found their son Ermanis first, still with the Paukši surname, and then his older sister Made:

pauksimarija

Baptism
137. Kazdanga estate/Strebuki farm/Mikelis and Marija’s child Made

pauksiermanis

220.Ermanis
of Kazdanga estate/Strebuki farm
child of Mikelis Paukši and his wife Marija
Godparents:
1. Ermanis Kronbergs
2. Ilze Paukši
3. Didrikis Simsons
Baptized by pastor Katterfelds at Neuhausen (Valtaiki) parish

I continued working my way through the records backwards in time and found Marija’s marriage record to Mikelis, a record that would have led me to a key fact in learning about the generation before her  it happened a few years later… alas, Marija married Mikelis before adopting a surname of her own – the surname of her father. No parental Iinformation is listed, to my dismay.

Mikelis from Kazdanga estate married
Marija from Muizaraji farm, Perbone estate.

No surname, but a lead: Marija was born at Muizaraji farm at Perbone estate. Mikelis was 32 when he died in 1837, so he was born circa 1805. My guess is that Marija was also born at this time period, 1805-1810, maybe closer to 1810 since she went on to have more children with her second husband after 1837. From here, I can attempt to locate her baptism record by scanning for Marijas born at Muizaraji farm, Perbone estate 1805-1810… but if there are more than one I won’t be able to distinguish, since I have no evidence of her parents’ names. The above marriage record could be the dead end on this branch of tree! But I am just happy to have traced Marija this far.

Document: The Marriage of Kristaps Sedols and Marija

A fresh set of eyes and a random tangent of curiosity won me another family document today. The family tree branch I’ve been able to trace the furthest back so far is the Sedols-Stromanis branch. Janis Sedols married Made Stromane in 1865 at Valtaiki church, and that marriage record was a rare gem of a document, recording both parties’ parent’s names and the farms they were from (rare in my area of research!). Janis’ parents, my 4x great grandparents were Kristaps Sedols and Marija, of an unknown surname so far and they lived at Strebuki farm, belonging to Kazdanga estate.

Residents of this area began using surnames in 1834-1835 – before that point it becomes more difficult to trace church records and determine which families are which. In a stroke of luck, Kristaps Sedols and Marija were married in 1837, with full surnames:

@Marriage of Kristaps and Marija, Valtaiki draudze 1837

 

Kristap Sedohl, jungen of Strebuk, at Katzdangen
married Marie Pauksche, wittwe

Marija Paukši! At first I was excited, thinking perhaps I had nailed down another Latvian family surname, until I confirmed that the word following her name is indeed “wittwe” or in English: widow. Paukši must have been her first husband’s surname, and her marriage to him is not within the years including surnames. To search further back without surnames is also impossible at this point, as I don’t even know Mr. Paukši’s first name, and there were many Marijas at the time.

Nevertheless, this tells me that: a)Marija was likely a bit older than Kristaps and probably has a few children from her first husband, which could also help explain why I only found two for her second marriage, b)my 4x great grandparents were definitely married in 1837 at Vailtaiki parish, and c)the Sedols family was attached to Strebuki as early as 1837 – which may disprove my theory that they are from the not-too-far “Sedoli” farm and that this is the origin of the name.

Usmas Pagast, 1944

When the war was over and my great grandfather Karlis Vinakmens and his family were living in Allied occupied Germany, my great grandfather wrote a letter outlining the details of his final days in Latvia before becoming a Nazi POW. I am not sure exactly to whom the letter was addressed, but it was probably some Latvian authority. This original letter is kept in the archives of the Latvian Occupation Museum in Riga. The museum’s historian Uldis Neiburgs was kind enough to send me copies, and a wonderful lady named Ilze translated it to English for me.

After the war, Latvia remained under communist rule until 1991. Talking about these events would have been extremely dangerous, and much is unknown about the events discussed here. This might even be one of the only eyewitness accounts of the what happened, and to have been written down in 1946, while still so fresh in my great grandfather’s mind makes this letter significant. Without further ado, his words:

“When I found out about the Latvian partisans I immediately wanted to join. It was also becoming increasingly difficult to avoid being conscripted into the German army and I could no longer stand the way that the Germans were operating in our country.
12/10/1944 Lt Rubenis battalion arrived at Ilziki near Usmas. My wish was met by the battalion commander Rubenis who enlisted me with the Minumetaji as a strelnieks (rifleman). As Ilziki didn’t have many rooms and our numbers were growing each day there was nothing else to do but build bunkers in the forest around Ilzikiem. My section settled into a bunker but others moved into the houses called Irbi and Vanagi which were part of the settlement of Ilziki.
At the start of November I fell ill with malignant tumors (that is the correct translation but surely he means something less serious, perhaps boils or ulcers?) so I was moved to Irbi where the battalions ambulance was billeted. There I was living with the mechanics group from the battalion, and I stayed with this group when the Germans started to annihilate Latvian partisans.
Even though we came from different areas of Latvia, we managed to get along and live together because we all carried in our hearts the love of our homeland.
Even though initially the Germans tolerated the partisan groups in Kurzeme, later they started to eradicate them. The Germans had hoped that the groups would provide them with the highest possible numbers of recruits for their own army, therefore they allowed them to flourish. But the partisans refused all German commands to join the German army and this caused the change of heart of the Germans.
Then the Germans asked the partisans to hand over all Latvians who had deserted the German army. They replied that they were Latvians within their own country, were not guilty of any crime against their own country and would not be given up. Seeing that the Germans were not getting anywhere with the partisan leaders their response was to annihilate the groups.
From 13/11/1944 to 14/11/1944 the Germans broke into all the houses where the partisans were sleeping to arrest or kill them. From the news it was apparent that only our battalion had succeeded in avoiding the attack. It was decided to go into the forests of Ilziki pagast to save our freedom. We followed forest trails around the eastern shore of Usmas Lake in the dark, moving towards Renda.
15/11/1944 we were not far from Lielbrenda and in the morning light we couldn’t dare continue marching. We rested through the day so that we could move again under cover of darkness.
15/11/1944 – 16/11/1944 we moved on without incident and in the morning we were near the Upati Forest guards house. There we fed the horses and we ourselves also rested as we still had a long way to go. As we were now tired we stayed well away from main roads moving only on forest trails and this enabled us to travel in daylight.
Not far from Perkonu house we were overtaken from behind by two German vehicles, a truck and a car. It turned out that in the truck were ?French? soldiers who were going to arrest two deserters.
After a while 2 German officers arrived. So it was that we took away the pleasure of these two thieves of Kurzeme (direct translation to give you the heartfelt emotion with which this is written). We stopped them as it was not in our interests for them to continue either their journey to arrest the deserters or to return to their command post.
Initially the German officers were very worried but in later talks with our commander they said that here around Kuldiga partisans had not been outlawed. It was only around Talsi where General Jekelns had given the command to annihilate partisan groups. They even named the houses in which local partisan groups were living. They suggested our commander drive back with them to their command post to discuss which houses the battalion could occupy and live here.
As it happened, our battalion commander accompanied the Germans to their post for discussions, our battalion stayed where we were, awaiting the outcome of the talks. In the first day of talks no decisions were made because the senior German officer was not there, so discussion continued for a second day.
17/11/1944 When the battalion commander arrived at the German post he was surprised to come face to face with Jekeln. Jekeln was very put out that the partisans had earlier evaded him but now he had caught them and for a final time he was ordering them to lay down their arms and surrender or they would, without exception be exterminated.
In a quiet calm manner Lt Rubenis answered, and they were his final words on the matter: “I want you to drive me back to my men in the forest, they have no intention of laying down arms nor of surrender.” Jekeln smirked “You are surrounded by SS battalions and you will be wiped out to the last man.”
Our battalion commander returned fairly crestfallen, the choices open to him were not that good, driving back he saw columns of Germans marching towards our area. Our lookouts also reported the German presence and movements. Our battalion commander called for our attention and in a few words told us what had happened. He told us to form up in readiness for battle that would come with the German attack. It was not possible to guess when this attack would come.
Already at 17:00 hours on 18/11/1944 German “starki” (artillery? rockets?) fly over us. In the forest at night they found no targets.
Dawn on 18/11/1944, the sunbeams are shining through the spruce trees, it’s a beautiful emotional scene of the men sitting together sunbeams playing over them as they sit around a campfire discussing what has happened in the previous year and todays celebrated/heroic acts that they anticipate are still to happen.
Seated are Briedis, Zarins and Kapastins with his wife, who would not be separated from her husband even in this difficult path of walking in the footsteps of the partisans. The battalion’s mechanic group Adjans, Aire, Zigurs, Ozolins, Kalnins and me had our flag flying here under the grey spruces of our homeland that the SS are so determined to destroy.
That was what 18/11 was like for Latvian partisans in 1944 on the left bank of the Abavas not far from Lielbrendes.
The morning was quiet, even so the battalion prepared for the fight. At 9:30 the first German “starki” (rockets) appeared and that revealed the position of the German heavy and light artillery, that started firing. The gunfire echoes in the forest and the fronds of the spruce rain down like snow flakes falling on the fighters clothing.
At 10:00 they started to advance their attack with German foot soldiers and their automatic fire. From the partisan side can be heard about 10 shots that are not without result. The partisans are not attacking, only taking defensive positions. As the Germans were not trying very hard, relying on their superior numbers and fire power they did not achieve their desired result. Some Germans lost their way and ended up being taken by the Latvian fighters.
As darkness was falling the Latvians started to push back the German attack and in places quite quickly the Germans in retreat found themselves on the banks of the fast flowing Abavas River and in their rush they couldn’t find a way to cross. The strongest partisan weapon fire forced those still left alive into the current and here now the fast flowing Abava achieves its goal and the majority drown. The German soldiers are driven by the current to the Venta River. Lots of German corpses litter the forests of Kurzeme and their losses are heavier than the partisans.
The most painful loss for the partisans is the loss of their commander, Roberts Rubenis, who not long after being wounded in the stomach and leg, died of his wounds. The command is taken over by v.v. Druvins. After the German encounter the battalion moves on as there is no reason to wait here.
Again a couple of times through the night there are a couple of encounters with landmines left behind by the houses that the battalion used. The strongest resistance is around the ‘Novadnieku’ houses. Even so v.v. Sulcs who is at the front of the column finds them.
On the 19th we camp in a swampy forest to rest and decide that our commanders, Lt Rubenis funeral will be carried out at Usmas cemetery. Having taken command Druvins gave a short speech in memory of our fallen and also mentioning our country’s National Day (18/11 is Latvia Day). He thanked us all for our heroic fight now so fatefully linked with 18/11.
Doubly significant is this day because it brought us victory over a superior enemy. Finally Druvins invited us all to sing the Lords Prayer(?) As many hundreds of mens chests/hearts overflow with prayer and their eyes blink back tears even after years of fighting – for those who are lost. In the distant forest there echo the songs last words, silence rules the moment as in a holy place, our homeland forest, we fighters stand, heads covered only by the grey spruces, bitter sweetness overlays the silence.
Again v.v. Sulcs recounts the conversation between our fallen commander and the German officers. With what arrogance the Germans dealt with the Latvians. Latvians can only fight, there are no other steps that can be taken against the German occupiers said v.v. Sulcs. They have taken our brothers, our sisters, and parents to their country not for some festivities but for hard/cruel work. They have destroyed our fields and pastures, our towns, stolen from our homes, we have to take the fight up to these invaders to the end even if it costs us our lives. And we will show no mercy to these, thieves of our country concluded v.v. Sulcs.
Over the night 19 to 20/11/1944 the battalion marched further and during the day of 20/11/1944 we came to Diskiru house in the region not far from where the Abavas joins the Venta and here we stay.
Making use of this rest period I ask permission from my commander to visit my family which is living in the small village of Valdemarpils, and having been granted permission I take to the road.
To avoid the areas in which partisans are being hunted and where Germans have put up strong control points I travel in a long diversion through Kuldiga along the Kuldiga and Tukums pagast boundary through Talsi and finally arrive at Valdemarpils.
Here at Valdemarpils is another bit of bad luck. Everyone who has come here from elsewhere, if they haven’t documented evidence of having lived here for 3 years, they are being forcibly removed to Germany. As I’m not on the residents list I was stopped and together with all the exiled, including my own family, we were taken to Ventspils and then by ship to Germany. It should be noted that in Valdemarpils this action was undertaken by communists with the help of Germans. They didn’t even allow the town council to distribute food parcels from those who had relatives who had somehow escaped deportation.
In this way on 8/12/1944 we left Ventspils. I have no further knowledge of my fighting comrades and have had no further news.”