Ancestor Story: Karlis and the Three Armies

I’m trying to prove the family story that Karlis Vinakmens had been in 3 different armies within 20 years. I am making a little headway as I begin to understand the history of these armies. My mother remembers Karlis saying that if he ever returned to Latvia, he would be killed immediately.

The clue that sparked this challenge is the picture above. The pictures here are said to have been taken in 1934, 1944 and 1954, in the Latvian, German and American armies, with the cross in the middle as a military award.

In Karlis’ International Refugee Organization (IRO) application form, it is clear that something is written about his time as both a Latvian Naval Aviator and as part of the Latvian resistance movement. There is also a section listing his personal documents he had with him in Germany, clearly saying something from the Latvian Resistance movement, and Lettland Luftwaffe Division (Latvian Airforce Division).

Can you decipher the German text about Karlis’ residences? “Im Walde…”

Can you decipher the German text about Karlis’ employment? “Im Walde….”

Can you decipher the German text about Karlis’ documents? “Lettland …Luftwaffe Division… Chief of the Latvian Resistance Movement”

Also as proof of his time in the Latvian Resistance is his listing in an article by the Latvian President’s history commission in 2006, written by Uldis Neiburgs “Association of the Participants of the Latvian Resistance Movement (LPKDA) and Its Documentation about the Resistance Movement in Nazi-Occupied Latvia (1941–1945)” (sidenote: I added this document on the sidebar as a searchable database, for anyone else’s reference).

For the American army bit, Karlis was employed with the Labor Service Co. This is proven in his IRO application form as well and is not much of a mystery.

The German army is the most difficult for me to prove. My best guesses are that he was either: conscripted by the German army during the Nazi occupation, OR he eventually surrendered to the German army near the end of his Resistance Movement days in order to serve the best interests of his wife and daughters, OR he worked for the German army as a displaced person while in Germany. The only possibly concrete evidence of this I have come across is on one of Karlis’ 2 DP Cards, his occupation is “bildhauer” and his other occupation is “ ”C” CO. 30 INF.” which seems to be a listing of an army infantry unit. Whether this is the German one or not I don’t know yet, it could be any army as far as I know at this point. Searching for this kind of information is proving to be a little difficult!

What army is this snippet from Karlis’ DP Card referring to?

Roadblock: Akerfelds

Jekabs Grinbergs alias Akerfelds is Arvids’ grandfather. He was born c. 1870, but as to where, I still have no clue. He married Ieva Sedols in 1892 at Embute Lutheran Church, where they baptised 2 children: Ernest in 1893 and Anna in 1894 while living at Muizaraji farm in Lieldzelda. Then the family disappears until 1904. Their son Janis (Arvids’ father) was born in 1898, supposedly in Nikrace parish (which did not exist at the time, but was rather called Brinki, or Brinkenhof estate)but I cannot find his baptismal record.

The next brother, Martins (for whom Arvids is named) is lrecorded as being born in 1902 in Tomsk, Siberia. It is noted that some Latvians did go to Siberia (voluntarily this time, not forcibly!) for work, and cheap land around 1910 when the Trans-Siberian railway was built, but alas, I have no documents from the Akerfelds family at this time. Church baptismal records do exist in Tomsk, but getting my hands on them is proving to be a challenge.

The next I know is their last child Katte was baptised in November of 1904, back in Embute parish while living at Cepli farm in Lieldzelda, and that same year Jekabs died, his cause of death listed as lung or kidney illness.

I don’t know where to begin searching for a birth record for Jekabs since I don’t know his place of birth, and can’t find listing of his parents anywhere. The exact reason why he went by Grinbergs and yet also Akerfelds is still a mystery to me also. “Grinbergs” is a fairly common surname though, and it is easily assumed that “Akerfelds” was chosen as a way to distinguish a certain family from the other, unrelated Grinbergs families in the area.

 I believe Jekabs had at least one other brother named Ernest, for whom his first son was named, and who was the godfather of his first son. This Ernest Grinbergs alias Akerfelds (c. 1868) married Annlise Grinbergs and they had a few children in Embute parish, Janis’ cousins they would have been. Again, note that during the naming of the Latvians, many different, unrelated families were given the same common names, Grinbergs being one of these common choices. So, probably Annlise and Ernest were not of the same ancestors, even though they shared the Grinbergs surname.

The Akerfelds name though, if chosen to differentiate one Grinbergs family from another, is much less common, since it is basically invented. Since both Jekabs and Ernest chose this new surname to define their families, it is not a far stretch to assume these two were brothers.

Ancestor Story: Akerfelds Fremdarbeiter

When I first pieced together the story of the Akerfelds family and the manner in which they left their farm Skrundenieki in October of 1944 to flee to a sawmill in Echzell, I assumed they left on their own will as they watched the Soviet army march back through Latvia, and fled to the sawmill of Hermann Mogk III, some sort of temporary safe-haven for refugees. A sawmill in the German countryside brought pastoral, green, peaceful thoughts to me, but the more I learn, the more I see this is probably very far from the case.

Many young Latvian men were drafted by the German army as the Russians began pushing them back west. It is entirely possible that the older Akerfelds boys were drafted and used to man anti-Allied, anti-aircraft guns. I have no documentation supporting the Akefelds involvement in this, but perhaps being a part of the German army was not something you would have advertised in days as a displaced person. This could help explain why the Ziverts were in Liepaja periodically as well.

This conscription of Latvians into the German army could also explain the mystery of Karlis and the three armies, but until I learn more I will not jump to any conclusions just yet.

In either case, German army or not, the Akerfelds were most certainly forced to evacuate to Germany by the German army, to be used as foreign forced labourers in the German homeland.

The sawmill was not the safe haven it seemed to me at first. The family was probably used to help gather resources to support the German cause during the war. Reading about eldest son Arturs time at forced labor camp Bad Rotenfels brought this situation to light for me.

Luckily, it was not long before Hitler committed suicide and the Germans surrendered. Echzell became occupied by the American army in May 1945, thus “liberating” the foreign forced workers(“fremdarbeiter”) and beginning their days as “displaced persons”.

…So what became of Skrundenieki, forcibly abandoned in the countryside of Kurzeme in the fall of 1944?

An excerpt from Arturs Ziverts' IRO Application, re-telling his story. The Akerfelds story is the same, except when the Ziverts were in Friedberg, the Akerfelds were in Echzell.

Mystery Monday: Akerfelds in Tomsk

Currently I’m emailing back and forth with someone in Russia about old church records from Tomsk. The email address I obtained by posting a query on http://genforum.genealogy.com/. I’m hoping that Jekabs and Ieva Akerfelds baptised their son Martins in Tomsk in 1902, (and possibly even my great-grandfather Janis) leaving behind some records. They were Lutheran in Latvia, but chances are a Lutheran church did not exist in Siberian Tomsk at the time, so I’m banking on at least some form of Protestant church being located there, in a mainly Orthodox country.

Obviously, English being my only fluent language, speaking Russian (a language that even uses a different alphabet all together) is not my forte. I seem to get by with the aid of Google Translate, (as crude as that is). Google Translate seems to be pretty easy to use for Russian, as long as you stay away from using any sort of slang and keep to your point. I am also lucky enough to work with a man who speaks Russian, so every now and then I ask him to get me through any difficult translations. I am to the point where I can look at a word written in Cyrillic and sound it out, but that knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet is about as far as I get, without a good grasp on the actual Russian language.

This Russian contact of mine is very quick to respond, usually in one business day, although the email comes over night, since Tomsk is pretty much literally on the other side of the world.

Wish me luck that this Russian resource turns up some Akerfelds evidence! Maybe a clue to what exactly they were doing in Siberia!

Ancestor Story: Janis Rudolfs Vinakmens, Part 3

Janis and his family settled in Wisconsin, USA after a brief period in South Dakota. His wife Emma passed away in Wisconsin in 1959 at the age of either 45 or 57, depending on which Emma she turns out to be. Janis eventually remarried another Latvian woman named Zeltite. What I know of Janis in his latter years is that he enjoyed painting. In his niece’s (my grandmother’s) possessions at the time of her death were at least 2 paintings by Janis. Both are of a beach, one is at night and one is during the day.

Janis Rudolfs passed away in Wisconsin in June of 1987, at the age of 82.

All his siblings (except for Arnolds, who’s fate I do not know) made it past the age of 80, which is pretty incredible considering the odds!

Janis Rudolfs Vinakmens, in his brother Karlis Vinakmens' backyard in Kitchener, Ontario c. 1985ish

Ancestor Story: Janis Rudolfs Vinakmens, Part 2

As the Soviet army re-occupied Latvia and pushed back the Nazis in the latter half of the year 1944, the time came for many Latvians to flee, rather than face what the Soviet government had in store for them.  Janis, Emma and their two young children did just that.

I’m starting to think they must have met with Janis’ brother Karlis Vinakmens and his family, as the two families stuck together until 1947. Likely, Janis and company went west to Liepaja, where they were able to board a ship bound for the huge, German-controlled port of Gotenhafen. Karlis and co. spent from December 1944 to May 1945 at Gotenhafen, so it’s quite likely that Janis and family did as well. The two families next went to Hilburghausen, Germany for less than a month, then to Marburg, Germany in June of 1945, where it’s very likely that Janis was employed by the US Army as a labourer, as was his brother Karlis.

The ports of Liepaja and Gotenhafen, route of many Latvian refugees

After Marburg, the brothers and their families were separated. Janis and his family were sent to a place called Ludwigshohe, Darmstadt in Hesse, Germany, on October 21, 1946 while Karlis and co. were off to Belgium.  Here in Darmstadt, Janis and Emma’s third child was born in late 1946.

It’s possible that they were sent to one or two more camps before their time as refugees was over, but I do not have any record of that. The next record I have of Janis’ family is their ship’s passenger manifest. On August 14th, 1949, Janis, Emma and their three children sailed out of Bremerhaven, Germany aboard the SS General C.H. Muir bound for Elk Point, South Dakota, USA.

USS General C.H. Muir: http://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/uss-general-c-h-muir/

Ancestor Story: Janis Rudolfs Vinakmens, Part 1

 

Janis' baptism record, pg.1

Janis’ baptism record, pg.2

Janis Rudolfs Wihnstein was born September 7, 1905 (the above states August 25th, the Julian calendar date) at 5am in Slokenbekas estate, on the eastern side of Tukums. His parents were Vilis Augusts Wihnstein and Emilia Karline Veisbergs. He was baptised October 29th (October 16th, according to the Julian calendar) of that same year, and his godparents were his uncle Janis Rudolfs Veisbergs and aunt Greete Paulina Wihnstein.

Janis grew up in Tukums town, and neighbouring Kandavas district, and was an only child until the age of 6, when his brother Arnolds was born. Janis was around 10 years old when his parents migrated east to Russia in search of jobs. His father worked in a meat-packing factory until the Russian Revolution began, and many factories were shut down, including Vilis’. They returned to Tukums somewhere between 1917 and 1921, around age 15 for Janis, and shortly thereafter Vilis abandoned Emilija and their five children for another woman.

It’s not clear exactly when, but sometime in the 1920′s (likely around 1927), Janis married his wife Emma. Emma is a little confusing, as her maiden name is either Baldins, or Dzelzitis. She is either born August 21, 1913 in Kiegelu pagast, Valmiera aprinki, or September 7, 1901 in Allazu-Vangazu parish. I have conflicting evidence. I have her DP card from the 1940′s, with Janis’, which states Emma Baldins, daughter of Janis Baldins and Natalija Smits, born in Kiegelu. But in newspapers from Latvia in the 1930′s speaking about Janis’ name change from Weinstein to Vinakmens, she is listed Emma-Matilde Dzelzitis, daughter of Janis Dzelzitis and Anna Rosenberg from Allazu-Vangazu. Interestingly, in 1931 they are listed as living in Aluksne as well, not Tukums to Riga. Quite a conundrum!

Whoever his wife was, Janis was part of the Latvian army. My translation is poor, but it seems like he was a Deputy Officer in the army’s communications department. This job would have been based in Riga, and it is here that he and Emma lived when they had their first son in 1938, and daughter in 1943. They lived in Riga as long as they could, until the Soviets moved through Latvia for a second time in 1944. It is possible that they first went to Tukums and met with my great grandfather Karlis, Janis’ younger brother before fleeing westward, as these two families were together for a large portion of their refugee days in Germany.

Ancestor Story: Fricis Vinakmens, Part 1

Fricis Vinakmens was born on May 19, 1921 in Tukums. He was (likely) the fifth and final child of Vilis Augusts Vinakmens/Weinstein and Emilija Karline Veisbergs. At the time of his birth, Fricis already had 16-, 10- and 8-year old brothers, and a 5-year-old sister. His parents had just come back to Latvia from Russia in the wake of the Russian Revolution. It is not clear when, but soon after his birth (or even conception), Vilis abandoned Emilija and their children.

Fricis grew up in Tukums during Latvia’s inter-war independence. His older brothers eventually joined the Latvian army and moved away from home. Fricis himself lived with his mother and sister up until 1942. His mother was a housekeeper, his sister was a clerk in a pharmacy, and Fricis was a mechanic at a private workshop owned by a man named Erdmans (his sister Alise later married an Erdmans… the same man?). When the Soviets invaded Latvia for the first time, they took over Fricis’ mechanic’s shop and declared it a Soviet government-owned business. When the Nazis took over, the shop passed hands to them.

It should be noted that much propaganda was used at this time to try and recruit men to the various German army units. A Latvian Waffen SS unit was formed. To some Latvians, after the horrors of what the Soviets had done to their family and friends, joining the Nazi army was just one way to fight back at the Soviets. Latvians also fought on the Soviet side, and also in the Kureliesi fighting against both sides. It is easy to see that the lines were quite blurred, and Latvians would fight in whatever way they could to stay alive. As the war progressed, the Nazis began suffering serious losses and the propaganda did not recruit enough men to voluntarily join their ranks, so they turned to forced conscription to recruit men into their forces to replace lost numbers.

The Todt organization was a Nazi paramilitary group, named for founder Fritz Todt. This organization in it’s early stages is actually responsible for the construction of the Autobahn highway, and the fortified Westwall along Germany’s western borders. It had been started in the early 1930′s as a large-scale construction and engineering organization. Of course, they required labourers, and in the beginning ethnic Germans worked for Todt. As the Nazi’s grew in power, the Todt’s projects became more and more militarily-focused. During the war, once the Nazi’s began suffering regular defeats, all their German man-power was diverted to military units. Forced labourers, conscripts, and prisoners-of-war from Nazi-occupied countries began to be used as Todt Organization workers. Even Jewish concentration camp prisoners were forced to join the paramilitary group. It is estimated that by 1944, over 1.4 million European men were part of this organization.

In September of 1942, Fricis was recruited by the Todt Organization. As an occupant of a Nazi-occupied foreign country, he was likely forcibly conscripted as a foreign labourer (fremdarbeiter). He was put in the “Schutzkommando” unit as a guard for other prisoners-of-war. They sent him to Riga for a brief training, then to the Russian Front near Leningrad.

More on the Todt Organization (1942-1945 under Albert Speer pertains to Fricis): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organisation_Todt