The Origin of the Surname “Ziverts”

Forgive me, this is going to be somewhat of a rambling post – hope it’s not too hard to follow my train of thought!!

My great-great grandfather Indrikis Ziverts was born around 1875 (judging from his wife Jule Dzerve’s birth year – 1877). As to where is still a mystery. I have not found a record of his baptism yet. He purchased Skrundenieki farm on Brinkenhof estate in 1895. At this time he was already married to 17-year-old Jule Dzerve. Where did they marry? I’m not sure, but Jule was from Purmsati estate, Gramzdas draudze – south and west of Brinkenhof. In 1896, Indrikis and Jule had their first child – a son – at Skrundenieki. His name was Klavs Jeannot, and he was baptized at Embutes draudze, named for one of his godparents: Klavs Jeannot Ziverts, who is listed on the baptism as “father of the master of the farm”. So Indrikis’ father’s name is Klavs..?

There was only one other Klavs Ziverts besides Indrikis’ son at Brinkenhof estate. The revision list for Brinkenhof tells me that he came to Kalna farm at Brinkenhof from Nodegi estate (west) in 1883 with his wife, Line (who he had married at Embute draudze in 1881) and his daughter Matilde (born at Nodegi and baptised at Embute in 1882). Klavs and Line had 2 more children before 1890 who were baptized at Embute, whilst the family was living at Vanagi farm in Brinkenhof. The revision list also tells me that his father’s name was Lauris and mother was Margreete.

Searching back further for Klavs, in the Brinkenhof revision list again, he appears with his father Lauris, mother Margreete and 4 siblings, arriving at Brinkenhof, Mucenieki farm from Paplaka estate around 1858. While Lauris and family remained at Brinkenhof, Klavs, aged 17, left almost immediately for Dizdroga, or Lieldroga estate. The residents of Lieldroga seem to have attended north Durbe draudze, but there is no record of Klavs to be found there. There are no revision lists on Raduraksti for Lieldroga, or Nodegi, or Paplaka for that matter. When Klavs married Line at Embute, he was 40 years old. Line was 19. Was Klavs married before? It seems likely. My theory is that Klavs had another wife who passed away, and some children sometime between 1858 and 1881. My Indrikis could have been one of these children.

If I can find them, and prove this, I will know my Ziverts family line back further than the year 1800. I have found Klavs’ older brother Adams’ baptism at Virgas draudze. The residents of Virgas draudze did not take surnames until midway through the year 1837. However, luckily for me, “Lauris” is a fairly uncommon name – he’s actually the only one I’ve found so far – so finding Adams, son of Lauris and Margreete, was relatively easy even without surnames. Adams was born, the first son of Lauris, wirt (landowner or master of the farm) of Čakšes farm, and his wife Margreete in 1836.

Knowing that Adams was their oldest son, (from the Brinkenhof revision lists) I guessed that Lauris and Margreete were likely married a few years prior to his birth. I found their marriage in 1834 at Virgas draudze. In another stroke of luck, Virgas kept detailed marriage records. Lauris was the son of Janis, wirt of the farm Kalna Ziverti in Paplaka estate and his wife Lise. Margreete was the daughter of Evalds, son of wirt of Pleiku farm in Purmsati estate (I can find what Margreete’s surname would have been , if I can locate a sibling’s baptism based on the knowledge that they probably lived at Pleiku farm and the parent’s names) and Marija.

So Lauris was married in 1834. My guess at his year of birth is 1811-ish. Based on his year of birth, his father Janis was probably born somewhere within the years 1770 and 1790. Now, to find Janis’ baptism would be especially difficult, since I don’t know his parent’s names ahead of time. I could try to find a Janis born at Kalna Ziverti within that time period, but Janis is just so common of a name, and I don’t know if he purchased Kalna Ziverti or was born there, that I just wouldn’t be able to say for sure if I had the right baptism..

What’s interesting is that I traced these Ziverts back to a farm names Kalna Ziverti. Which name came first? The farm or the family? I have a few theories:

  1. The family took their name from the farm. Janis was the first to adopt the name, and all of his sons inherited it as well. Perhaps the farm was first named for some German landowner with the name Sieberts/Siewerts, years earlier.
  2. The family IS the old German Baltic landowner family, originally named Sieberts/Siewerts and they named their farm after themselves.

Given that Janis Ziverts owned Kalna Ziverti BEFORE laws were passed making it easier for peasants to purchase land, I am almost inclined to believe theory number 2. Also, the fact that Janis Ziverts, his son Lauris, and great-grandson Indrikis all were able to purchase land indicate that the family might have had some money. Klavs doesn’t seem to have actually owned a farm, but is listed as “Hofesleute” or “manor-dweller” on his 1883 Brinkenhof Revision list record. But without further research, I won’t count my chickens before they hatch! I must find Indrikis’ baptism. That is priority #1 for the research of the Ziverts line!

A Penny for Your Thoughts: Helmut Oberlander

 

Helmut Oberlander was born in Ukraine in 1924 to ethnic German parents. He left Ukraine during WWII and immigrated to Canada in 1954 with his wife Margaret. He lived (and still lives) in my hometown of Kitchener, Ontario, where he ran a successful construction business. He attained Canadian citizenship in 1960.
After forty-six years of living in Canada, the Canadian government, in an initiative to remove suspected war criminals from Canada, began a process of denaturalization and deportation against Mr. Oberlander, who was 71 years old at the time (1995). Over the years, his case was debated, attracting national media attention, and his citizenship being revoked and reinstated (reinstated in 2009).

 

The reasoning behind this debate? During WWII, Ukraine’s story is not much different from Latvia’s. The Nazi’s pushed the Soviets east through Ukraine in 1941. As they invaded his village, 17-year-old Helmut Oberlander was recognized by a Nazi unit (Einsatzgruppen D, Special Detachment 10a) as someone who could speak both Russian and German, and they forcibly conscripted him to use as an interpreter.  This unit just happened to be a particularly well-known mobile death squad, responsible for the mass murders of tens of thousands of Jewish, Sinti and Roma people.

 

Mr. Oberlander has maintained that his duties within this unit were strictly non-violent (consisting of listening to intercepted Russian radio communications, acting as an interpreter between occupying German forces and the local population, and guarding supplies). However, captured Nazi documents do disclose that he was awarded a second-class service cross in January 1943 for his role in the Einsatzgruppen. Later that same year, his unit was dismantled and absorbed into the German army. When Germany was defeated, Oberlander became a British POW. Presumably he became a displaced person after that, and he reunited with his family in Germany near Stuttgart in 1947. In Stuttgart, he married his wife and worked as an apprentice bricklayer, studying construction engineering.

 

He and his wife applied to immigrate to Canada in 1953. Part of the immigration approval process was an interview in which many questions were asked, but did not inquire about past military service. 

 

In April 2012, the Simon Wiesenthal Center (a Jewish human rights organization in Los Angeles) named Oberlander as one of their top 10 “Most Wanted” Nazi war criminals. Oberlander wound up on the list after 3 others died of old age, bumping him into the top 10. They hope to deport Mr. Oberlander to Germany where in 2011, a man with a similar story named Ivan Demjanjuk was convicted without any evidence of a specific crime.

 

I’m no WWII or human rights laws expert, but… the man was a teenager when the Nazi’s pretty much said “do this or die”. They took him from his home, to which he never returned again. In my eyes, he is another kind of victim of the Nazi regime. It was an absolutely terrifying time in our human history. Everyone in Europe did what they had to do to survive the Nazi and Soviet terrors of the WWII era. Jews, Germans, Latvians, Ukrainians, Roma, Catholics, Lutherans. You did what you had to do to survive. If the Soviets or Nazi’s knocked on your door, put a gun in your face and said “You and your family, or the family next door”, not a soul, regardless of colour or creed, would have said “no, please, take us instead”. It’s been 58 years since he came to Canada, and 69 years since his Einsatzgruppen unit was disbanded. Likely, no one is still be alive to be able to testify for or against him in court.

 

On one hand, I fully agree with the views of the Simon Wiesenthal Center – what happened should never be forgotten, and the masterminds in charge or anyone who willfully committed atrocious acts of genocide should definitely be brought to cold, hard justice but… Where do you draw the line?

 

Is attempting to have someone convicted of either murder or accessory to murder with absolutely no evidence really justice served? …Really?

 

Trying to imagine my own family in the position of the Jewish people during WWII is obviously not very hard. The Soviets were the mass murderers of my Latvian ancestors. If there was a man still alive today who was a Russian engineer and he was ordered to drive one of the trains that pulled the cattle cars full of Latvian deportees (my own great-great uncle and family as an example) to their doom in Siberian Gulags… would I really want him persecuted today? Did the engineer really have a choice? What if he had said “no, I won’t drive this train”… Would he have been shot? What would I have done in his shoes?

 

Would I want this engineer persecuted now, a lifetime later?? …Stalin, yes. His top ministers, generals, advisors? Yes. (although really, if you were Stalin’s top general and he said “I want to kill a bunch of Latvians so we can better control their country, what do you think?” If you said “that’s a terrible idea and I am going to stop you!!” You were probably going to be killed on the spot). So, the engineer… would probably be best left alone, as an elderly man who has seen too much and suffered enough.

What do you think?

Ancestor Story: Arvids Akerfelds

1. Early Life

Arvids Martins Akerfelds was born on September 30th, 1927 at “Skrundenieki” farm in Nikrace, the second of fourteen children born to Janis Akerfelds and his wife Anna (nee Ziverts). Skrundenieki was owned by Anna’s brother Arturs Ziverts at this time, and there were nine people residing there: Arvids, his parents, and his older brother named Arturs (presumably for Arturs Ziverts), his uncle and aunt (Arturs Ziverts married Katte [nee Akerfelds], two Akerfelds siblings married two Ziverts siblings), their first child Alberts, and finally both his widowed paternal and maternal grandmothers, Jule Ziverts (nee Dzerve) and Ieva Akerfelds (nee Sedols).

Arvids Martins Akerfelds, c. 1940 in Latvia

Between the first and second World Wars, Latvia underwent some drastic political and social changes, including writing a new Constitution, establishing a Parliament (called the Saeima) and electing Latvia’s first president, Janis Cakste. A new influential political party was also formed, called the Latvian Farmer’s Union, headed by Karlis Ulmanis which helped pass reforms to divide State property which had once been owned by German landowners and make it available to Latvian peasants who could now own the land they lived and worked on. This boosted agriculture greatly in Latvia, which in turn helped boost the economy even through the worldwide Great Depression in the 1930’s. The number of farms increased significantly. Latvia began producing electronics, cars and even airplanes.

The Ziverts and Akerfelds families grew rapidly in this peaceful time. A census was taken in 1935, at which time the number of residents at Skrundenieki had grown to 20, all Akerfelds or Ziverts, except for one Arons Tevlovs, listed as a cattle buyer and seller. Perhaps he was a migrant worker of some kind. Arvids would have worked on the farm as a child, like everyone else living there, and he attended the equivalent of elementary school at the Nikrace pamatskola from 1936 to 1943 (ages 9-16) with his many brothers and sisters and cousins. Another census was taken in 1941, showing 24 residents (Tevlovs was gone).

2. “Displaced Person”

By mid 1939 however, the situation in Latvia had severely bleakened. On October 5, 1939, Latvia was forced to sign a “mutual assistance” pact with the Soviet Union, which gave the Soviets permission to station 25,000 troops on Latvian territory. On June 16, 1940, The Russians accused the Latvians of violating the terms of their pact. The very next day, the Soviet army took control and occupied Latvia. A rigged election was staged, and a puppet government was put into place. On August 5th, 1940 Latvia was officially annexed by the USSR. Arvids would have seen at least one of his uncle’s entire family deported by Soviet officials who had taken over the government to Siberian gulags (forced labor camps), mostly for being supportive of the Farmer’s Union political party. These families would not return.

With WWII in full-scale, the Germans invaded and occupied Latvia between 1941 and 1944. Compared to the terrors of the Soviet regime, the Germans would have appeared to be the lesser of the two evils to some Latvians. German military forces managed to push the Russian forces back east, and retained control of western Kurzeme in Latvia until mid 1944. Being occupied by Nazi German military forces was actually good news for the Akerfelds/Ziverts, as luck would have it, this allowed them to escape from Latvia before the horrific Soviet regime took control once again.

In early October of 1944, Arvids and the rest of the growing Skrundenieki clan were forced to leave their home and flee west, as the Soviet army made it’s way through Latvia from the east. Both Anna and Katte were pregnant, 7 and 9 months respectively. The clan stopped for a few days in the large, German-occupied port town of Liepaja, where Katte gave birth to the seventh Ziverts child. On October 23, 1944, the German military forcibly evacuated the group to Gotenhafen, a major German-controlled port town that is now known as Gdansk, Poland. Here they were put in a camp for foreign workers, but only for days before being transferred to a gathering camp at Kelsterbach, Germany. Another few days later, in November 1944, the Akerfelds family went to Echzell, Germany, where the men were employed at a sawmill owned by Hermann Mogk III. They were separated from the Ziverts for a while at this time. Here Anna had the twelfth Akerfelds child, and here they stayed until they were liberated by the US Army in July of 1945.

In September of 1945, WWII was officially ended, and in October the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) took on full responsibility for all those who had been displaced by the war. “Displaced Persons” camps were set up all over Europe to house these people until they could be repatriated. At this time, Arvids’ father was employed by the US Army as labourers in Wiesbaden, Germany, presumably helping to rebuild damaged infrastructure in the area. Arvids himself was employed as a labourer by the Wiesbaden DP Camp. The family next found themselves in Bidingen in February of 1946 and Dieburg in May. In October of 1946, Arvids was employed as a lumberjack by the DP Camp in Darmstadt. Here he stayed with his family, his father employed by the US Army once again as a bricklayer until 1947.

3. Belgian Coal Miner

The UNRRA tried to repatriate all displaced persons, but many would not (or could not, depending on your viewpoint) return to their country of origin. Many Latvians, in particular, did not wish to return toLatvia because it was still under Soviet control. Most other countries were reluctant to accept huge numbers of refugees, but on January 23, 1947 the Belgian Government, the US military authorities and the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees established a framework for the resettlement in Belgium of displaced persons currently in the American zone in Germany and guarantee them employment in the Belgian coalmines. Arvids took this opportunity, whether by choice or force I am not sure. He left his family in the DP Camp in Germany and went to Waterschei, (now called Genk) Belgium. The story is that he met his future father-in-law here, but I can’t find proof of this yet, as Karlis Vinakmens was living in Chapelle-lez-Herlaimont and worked in different mines.

He worked in the coal mines until August of 1949 when (for reasons yet unknown to me), he illegally returned to Germany and wound up in the Hanau transit camp. Why he returned to Germany is speculation, but his parents and youngest ten siblings had been cleared for resettlement in the USA in May 1949, and it’s possible he returned to try to go with them, or at least see them off. At Hanau, there was a vocational training centre for displaced persons, but I am unsure if he received any training. He was at Hanau until at least January of 1950. His parents and all siblings, save for his elder brother Arturs, left Germany from the port of Bremerhaven, aboard the SS General Harry Taylor on August 19th, 1950, bound for Berthoud, Colorado. Whether he was able to see them beforehand or not, I do not know.

Arvids Martins Akerfelds, taken from a document recorded upon his return to Germany in 1949

4. Labor Service Days

Arvids was in Germany for the second time from 1950-1957 working for the US Army Labor Service Co.  He was a part of the 7132 LSC, stationed first at Mannheim-Kafertal, Germany, then Ettlingen,Germany at the Rheinland Kaserne. This was a transport unit, and it was tied in closely with the 7566 LSC. More on the 7566 and 7132 LSC here: http://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/ancestor-story-karlis-vinakmens/

Apparently Arvids’ job with the Labour Service Co at this time involved driving important figures to sports games, meetings, and other events. One of the items in my grandmother’s possession at the time of her death was his German “Furherschein”  like a driver’s license, and a document titled “Reiseausweis” which seems to be some sort of passport, supporting this story. My grandmother also had a lot of photos of Arvids in his Labor Service days. A gallery is here: http://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/old-photos-labor-service/

Arvids Martins Akerfelds, from his German "Fuhrerschein"

Near the end of his Labor Service days, Arvids was living in close quarters to Karlis Vinakmens, his wife Berta and their 3 daughters. The story is that Karlis Vinakmens asked some sort of refugee authority for some money to purchase a farm, or a large manor house to be used as housing for the LSC men and their families. A large mansion was purchased and split into apartments. While living in such accommodations, Arvids and Karlis’ oldest daughter Rasma fell in love. Sometimes, Arvids would climb out of his apartment’s window to climb onto a balcony that led to Rasma’s window, and they would meet this way.

5. Canada

When the Vinakmens left for resettlement in Canada in 1956, Arvids, who originally had hoped to join his family in Colorado, decided to try and switch his VISA application to Canada instead, to follow Rasma. This took time and he was not able to leave for Canada until the end of January 1957.  In the meantime, during their separation, he and Rasma became engaged inter-continentally, via the mail. Arvids sent Rasma a silver-toned ring with his initials, “A.A.” engraved on it, and he wore one with her initials “R.V.”.

What is really interesting about Arvids’ trip to Canada is that he did not travel on a boat, as was par for course for displaced persons at the time, but on a plane. The money for his ticket was loaned to his future father-in-law Karlis Vinakmens by a Latvian-Canadian man in Kitchener, a family friend named “Kurmis”, which Arvids eventually paid back once he was employed in Canada. http://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/09/12/lockheed-super-constellation-dalid/

Arvids married Rasma Vinakmens on August 10, 1957, seven months after being reunited with her in Canada. (http://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/wedding-wednesday-arvids-martins-akerfelds-and-rasma-lilija-vinakmens/).The pair welcomed their first of three daughters, Irida one year later.

Arvids worked for a company called GenLabor based out of Waterloo, Ontario at first. I believe he was involved with construction for the duration of his stay in Canada, and he was a foreman for MWM construction company at the time of his death in 1982. While on the job, he perished after choking on a piece of celery from his soup he had brought for lunch. The circumstances of his death are sort of shady, it was not just the celery that killed him, he also had an enlarged heart and a few other contributing factors that ultimately led to his death at age 54. Arvids died on April 16, 1982, leaving behind his widow Rasma, and three daughters, ages 23, 15 and 13.

Arvids Martins Akerfelds, c. September 1957 in Kitchener, Ontario

http://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/tombstone-tuesday-arvids-and-rasma-akerfelds/

Ancestor Story: Where in the World is Jule Dzerve?

Jule Dzerve, mother of Arturs and Anna Ziverts was born December 29, 1877 in Purmsati pagast in western Latvia. Her parents were Jukums Dzerve and Lawise Bittner (her father’s name, a traditional Latvian one but her mother’s sounds more typically German). She was baptised “Jenny Jule Ida Dzerve” at the Gramzdas German Lutheran parish church. She married Indriks Ziverts June 18, 1895 (or so we can assume, since that is the date she began living at Skrundenieki farm {info gleaned from the 1941 Latvian Census}). She had 9 children that I know of: Karlis, Peteris, Fricis, Arturs, Lucija, Anna, Arnolds, Olga and Ida.
When her husband Indriks passed away (somewhere between 1920 and 1935), her son Arturs inherited the farm and was responsible for her care and upkeep for life, as per his father’s will and testament (also pinched from the 1941 Latvian Census).
Of course, she fled with her family in October of 1944. She turned 67 years old that year, and this must have been a very difficult journey for a senior citizen. She was with the Ziverts clan in Gotenhaufen/Kelsterbach/Friedberg/Bidingen/Dieburg between 1944 and 1946, and the last recording I have of her is a record of her leaving Dieburg for Darmstadt on October 21, 1946.
In most documents from the ITS I received about her, she is listed with Arturs, Katte and their children, but herself, Olga and Ida are usually listed after the main family, and may have had to fill out some of their paperwork separately as single persons.

Arturs and family left Germany in March of 1949, I know that since I have the SS General Langfitt’s Passenger Manifest. But no Jule, Olga, Irma or Ida.
I do also have a form that states that Olga and Irma were successfully resettled, going from Hochfeld DP Camp in Augsburg to Calesburg, North Dakota, USA on December 6, 1949. Why didn’t Irma go with her parents, Arturs and Katte? And what of Ida? (I remember reading somewhere that something was wrong with Ida and she could not work hard labor. I can’t remember where I read this and can’t find it again – can’t stress enough to importance of keeping your records straight!)
My theory is that Jule perished while in Germany. She would have been around 70 years old, in forced labor camps on tight rations. I just don’t know if she ever made it to the USA with her family.
I have written the ITS again regarding Jule… awaiting response..

A snippet from Arturs Ziverts IRO Assistance Application

A snippet from Arturs Ziverts IRO Assistance Application

Places of Interest: Allied-Occupied Germany

Allied occupied Germany, c 1947. The black square outlines the portion shown in the map below.

(click to enlarge) Places of interest within Allied-Occupied Germany. From the North, going southward: Marburg, Fulda, Giessen, Butzbach, Echzell, Friedberg, Budingen, Hanau, Wiesbaden, Frankfurt, Darmstadt-Dieburg, Bensheim-Auerbach, Mannheim, Ettlingen. Gaggenau-Bad Rotenfels, Augsburg.

In the period immediately following Germany’s surrender in WWII, German territory was split into zones occupied by different Allied powers for administrative purposes. British, French, Soviet and American zones were established. All of my Latvian ancestors fell into the American zone, located in the German states of Hessen, Bavaria, the northern part of Baden-Württemberg, and the ports of Bremen and Bremerhaven.

Germany remained occupied like this from 1945-1949, but Allied powers kept military bases in many German cities for many years, during the Cold War period especially. The American Army still has forces stationed in Germany today (as they do around Europe). The US army’s headquarters in Germany were located in Frankfurt am Main, a city which was the site of a large airport (the one that Arvids Akerfelds flew out of in 1957).

Two such American military bases that are of interest to my Latvian ancestors were located in Mannheim-Käfertal and Ettlingen. Karlis Vinakmens, in the 7566 LSCo, and Arvids Akerfelds, in the 7132 LSCo, were stationed at both. The bases were called “Kasernen”. “Kaserne” is the German word for “barracks” (a “barracks” refers to a permanent housing for military troops, being either a complex of housing units, or one large building).

The military accommodations in Mannheim were large, and known as “The Benjamin Franklin Village” and consisted of several different barracks: Taylor Barracks, Sullivan Barracks, Funari Barracks, Spinelli Barracks, Coleman Barracks, and Turley Barracks. These buildings, along with an American high school and middle school located in Mannheim have been in use since 1947 and are still in use today, scheduled to be vacated by 2014.

In Ettlingen, the Rheinland Kaserne was home to American troops and support from 1950-1995, and prior to this was home of many displaced persons from the end of the war up until its use as a military facility. It is a large grouping of buildings. The facility is still standing today, it’s historical buildings have been turned into housing units, a high school, private offices, a research laboratory, a movie theatre and sports centre, pubs, and a park and children’s playground.

Much information is easily found on these kasernes with a quick Google search, but very little of the information pertains to the Latvian Labor Service. I am still very underwhelmed at the amount of information available about what the Labor Service men were all about.

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!