Amanuensis Monday: On Repatriation

One of the questions asked by the International Refugee Organization of people displaced by WWII was “Do you wish to return to your country of former residence?” For most Latvians, the answer was no. Not because they did not wish to return home, but because “home” was now occupied and controlled by communist Russia, a regime they had seen destroy their families and friends, more merciless than the German Nazi’s had been. Most certainly a resistance fighter like Karlis Vinakmens, or a German collaborator like his little brother Fricis, could not imagine returning home, as the Soviets would have persecuted them immediately, likely with fatal results. The Akerfelds and Ziverts families had seen brothers and uncles, along with their wives and children heartlessly arrested for no good reason, to be deported to Siberia and die slowly of exposure. 

Most Latvian families wished to immigrate to Canada, the USA, Australia, and even Argentina is recorded on one IRO application I’ve seen. It seems they were not sure where to go, did not care, so long as it was not part of communist USSR.

A snippet from Arturs Ziverts' IRO Application form

Do you wish to return to your country of former residence?” – “Nein” (No)

“If not, why?” – “Weil heimat eisenheim von USSR okkupier. Herscht kommunistische diktatur und terror. Ein bruder getoete und andere nach sibierien deportien” (Because my home country is occupied by the USSR. The government is a communist dictatorship. One brother was killed and nother was deported to Siberia)

Every one of my family members’ IRO applications says the same things: Arvids Akerfelds’ simply states “Political Reasons”, Fricis Vinakmens’ says “I do not like to live under present communist regime”.

After being caught between two great warring world powers in WWII, Latvia had held out hope that the Allied victory would mean the USSR agreeing to recognize their sovereignty. They had hoped that the Allies would restore free independant Latvia. This was not the case, for Latvia and other Soviet-occupied countries (Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Lithuania, Estonia, etc) who would remain under Soviet control until the late 1980′s and early 1990′s.

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?

Tombstone Tuesday: Arvids and Rasma Akerfelds

 

The headstone of my grandparents Arvids and Rasma. Located in Woodland Cemetery, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. This headstone was not put into place until Rasma’s death in 2007. Another smaller marker at the foot of the plot was installed when Arvids died, 25 years earlier in 1982. I did not take a picture of Arvids’ smaller stone, although I suppose I should have and will in the near future! Karlis Vinakmens’ favoured oak leaves are carved at the top corners, and their marriage date is featured on the intertwined rings in the middle. The rest is self-explanatory.

Roadblock: Mikelis Veisbergs and Line Brugis

Mikelis Veisbergs (Weissberg) and Line Brugis (Brugge) were married in 1883 at Rezekne Lutheran church. Since they were married in December 1882, it could be assumed that at that time they were in their early 20’s, so they were probably born around 1860-1865.  

Unfortunately for me, there are no Lutheran church records for Rezekne past 1870. Whether or not this is due to the church books being destroyed or damaged, there not being Lutheran church in the predominantly Orthodox city of Rezekne at the time (I don’t know if there was or not), I don’t know. Perhaps there is some smaller parish church that they attended prior to Rezekne’s Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran church being built.

Veisbergs is latvianized from German “Weissberg” – White hills or mountains. I have scanned all available Rezekne Lutheran church books and not found another Weissberg. Brugis however, are plentiful, suggesting that they were probably well-established in Rezekne and had been there for multiple generations. Perhaps some of the Brugis clan may have belonged to a different church, and a clue could be found there. Until I know where to look, this couple is a roadblock!

Marriage record of Mikelis Veisbergs and Line Brugis, 1882 Rezekne Lutheran church (No. 15)

(click to enlarge) Marriage record of Mikelis Veisbergs and Line Brugis, 1882 Rezekne Lutheran church (No. 15)

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.