Amanuensis Monday: The Baptism of Rasma Vinakmens

My mother had found an old suitcare that belonged to my grandmother recently, and let me go through it to see if I could find anything of genealogical value. While I didn’t find much new information, I did find her German Reiseausweis, Caandian Citizenship certificates and 3 different copies of this curious document:

Certificate of Birth and Baptism

Rasma Lilija Vinakmenis, daughter of Karlis Vinakmenis and his wife Berta Helen Vinakmenis nee Ozols-Ozolins was born on 23 September 1937 at Tukums, Latvia and baptized on December 25, of the same year by the local paster the Rev. Alberts Virbulis at the Evang.Lutheran Church of Tukums according to the Ev. Lutheran ritual.
This statement is based on the Parish Records of the Latvian Ev. Lutheran congregtion at Esslingen.
Esslingen/Neckar Oct. 21, 1954
Pastor Elmars Rozitis
Minister of the Ev. Luth. congregation at Esslingen/Neckar

(Seal)
Secretary to the Archbishop of the Latvian Ev. Luth. Church

Signed by Adolfs Donins, 28. October 1954

This seems to be some form of birth certificate/identification for my grandmother, who turned 17 in 1954 (Where was her original birth certificate?) 

The first interesting thing that caught my eye was the stamp of the Commanding Officer of the 7566 Labor Service Engineer Dump Truck. This confirms that my great-grandfather Karlis was still a part of this Labor Service unit in 1954. Until now, besides handwritten, I had never seen “official” anything from the 7566 LSC.

The second interesting thing is now I know my grandmother was baptised on Christmas, by Dean Alberts Virbulis. Mr. Virbulis was also Dean of neighbouring Kandava parish. I found a picture of Virbulis, at the altar of ther Tukums Lutheran church on the site Zudusī Latvija.

Another name of note is Elmars Rozitis, of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran church of Esslingen am Neckar (who appears to still be alive??).

The last, and perhaps most interesting name is Adolfs Donins. Adolfs Fricis Donins was the OBERSTURMBANNFÜHRER, or Commanding Officer of the 19th Latvian Legion during WWII, until it’s surrender in 1945. Why would an identification document of my grandmother’s bear his signature? Is this perhaps a hint that her father, Karlis Vinakmenis DID serve in the Latvian Legion? I bear in mind that he had been in the Latvian Navy, and then probably jailed in Rezekne by the Soviets until the Germans invaded and “liberated” him. Did they conscript him?? (More on Karlis’ military service.)

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?

Place of Interest: North Durbe Parish

Hunting for records of my Indriks and Klavs Ziverts during their time at “Dizdroga” estate, I began combing through the Durbe church books.

It seems like there were a couple different “Drogas” – Lieldroga/Gross Drogen, Mazdroga/Klein Drogen, Vecdroga/Alt Drogen, Krusat-Droga/Krusat Drogen, and apparently Dizdroga/Disch Drogen (although I have yet to find Dizdroga on a map)

To my suprise, not only did I find residents of Droga at Durbe, but also surnames Sihwarts, Strohmann and Sedols.

In 1872, I found the marriage of Heinrich/Indrikis Siverts and Betty Ozolins. These two eventually moved to Dsirgen estate and baptised a few children there in the German congregation. Heinrich/Indrikis and Betty are named godparents in one of Klavs’ (father of my Indriks) and his second wife Lina’s children, also baptised in the German congregation. A hint I’m on the right track?

Perhaps I should have been looking in Durbe a long time ago!

Other interesting surnames of North Durbe parish: “Nimrod”, “Makbeth”. Someone was a Shakespeare buff! Haha.

Also of interest: Durbe is home to the first set of triplets I’ve come across – in 1877 born to a Jaunzemis family!

Document: Skrundenieki’s Land File – Sneak Peek

I was able to get a glimpse of the highlights of Skrundenieki’s official land record from the Latvian State Historical Archives.

I know this is repetition, but laws passed in the 1860′s allowing people to purchase farms, rather than having all land owned by German nobility. Skrundenieki was first purchased in 1882 by a “Perkons” family, and was probably sold by Alexander von Simolins – Wettberg. I know of Alexander already, since he baptised a daughter at Embute while living at Lieldzelda in 1842. Going along with the Lieldzelda connection – a “Kristaps Akkerfeld” is mentioned in this sale, possibly as a witness to the exchange of money.

In 1895, Skrundenieki was sold for 5019 roubles to the Ziverts family, from Perkons. This is the same year I suspect my great, great grandfather Indriks Ziverts married his wife Jule Dzerve (she would have been 18). The very next year in April 1896, Indriks and Jule baptised their first son Klavs Jeannot at Skrundenieki, and named Klavs Jeannot Ziverts, “wirt” or “landowner” as his godfather. I long suspected this Klavs was my Indriks’ father. Now there is more evidence in this land file. When Indriks, son of Klavs passed away, ownership of Skrundenieki passed to my great, great uncle Arturs Ziverts, in 1930. So it is likely Indriks died in 1929 or 1930.

The good news is: I have already done my research on this Klavs, suspecting he could be my great, great, great grandfather: He was born in Paplakas estate December 12, 1941. His father, Lauris and mother Margreete moved to “Mucenieki” farm in Brinkenhof estate in 1858. The same year, 17 year old Klavs left for “Dizdroga” estate. From Dizdroga he went to Nodega. In 1881, 40 year old Klavs married 19 year old Lina Grinbergs. They welcomed a daughter in 1882 while at Nodega estate. July 16, 1883 they moved back to Brinkenhof, “Vanagi” farm. And I suppose after that, to Skrundenieki!

The bad news: Indriks must be from an unknown first marriage of Klavs, maybe at Dizdroga estate, maybe Nodega, maybe even an unknown place. No revision lists exist for these two. Nodega residents are usually recorded at Embute church, but there is no sign of Klavs there. Indriks could have been born anywhere. My next step is scan the Durbe churchbooks for such a marriage, or Indriks baptism, and hope that Klavs didn’t move around too much more than I know!

Surname: An Akerfelds Etymology Tangent…

Ok, follow my line of thinking: Akerfelds, Hakerfeld, Hackerfeld, Hackenfeld, Hagenfeld, Hakenfeld, Eikenfeld, Eichenfeld…

All my Akerfelds/Hackerfeld ancestors who’s burial records I have been able to find have stated their place of birth as Lieldzelda estate. Unfortunately, they were all born between 1853 and 1870, when Embute’s church books are missing. That being said, there are definitely no Hackerfelds/Hakenfelds/Akerfelds listed prior to 1880 in the books either.

If Akerfeldses (a name with a meaning that doesn’t really make sense “fields, fields”) were born in Lieldzelda, but no baptisms with that surname exist there, what is the reason? I think that the surname was originally different, and through generations of word-of-mouth and Latvian-old German translations, poor literacy and scribes writing down the name as they hear it spoken, evolved to Akerfelds. And “Eichenfelds” is there, recorded in the church books, and is a good candidate from where the name could have evolved. I have long since suspected these Eichenfelds could be my ancestors.

I have indexed all baptisms of children born in Lieldzelda at Embute church. The range of surnames post-1870 is great in this estate (keep in mind Embute’s church books are missing from 1853-1870) so it appears that when laws were passed (mid 1800′s)allowing peasants to move from estate to estate, Lieldzelda saw a fairly large amount of immigration.  From 1852 and earlier, the amount of different surnames shrinks considerably since, for the most part, people were made to stay at the estate they were born on. Redlichs, Ehrlichs, Treuguts, Gutmanns, Petrewitz and Kreischmanns are large “original” families in Lieldzelda (meaning likely their patriarch lived at Lieldzelda at the time of the acquisition of surnames. More info on the acquisition of Latvian surnames HERE).

This is going off on a bit of a tangent and is, as of now, a far reach. But I discovered an Eichenfeld couple who had a child in 1845. Father Mikelis is listed as “Wirt Muizaraji” or “Landlord of Muizaraji farm”. The mother was named Katrine. I can only find one baptism for this couple prior to the Embute church book gap of 1852. Typically, a couple would have had more than one child. Where are the other kids? There is another baptism a few years earlier that also lists the child’s father as “Wirt Muizaraji”, but the surname there is “Reichenbach” (“Reich” = “rich, “Reichen” = “range” and “Bach” = “brook” or “creek”). Coincidentally parents are also Mikelis and Katrine. This might sound a far stretch to wonder if the Eichenfelds and the Reichenbachs are the same couple, but again, prior to 1850, there was not a lot of movement amongst peasants, people usually stayed in the same area, surnames were not as numerous, and ownership of land was usually passed down generation to generation… Rich/Range Creek and Oak Field and Field, Field…

Just a coincidence, two owners of the same farm, a few years apart, having the same name and same wife’s name?

One more hint I’ve collected over the years, is one modern-day Akerfelds recalls his great-great-great grandfather (generation prior to 1865-ish) was named Kristaps. There is indeed, a Kristaps Eichenfelds to be found at Lieldzelda who fits the time period. This Kristaps was married to Marija and they had children Ernests and Ieva in 1871 and 1873, both of whom died in infancy. Kristaps Eichenfelds died in 1904 at age 71 (born in 1833). Child of Mikelis and Katrine Reichenbach/Eichenfeld? There was a Kristaps Hackerfeld in Lieldzelda as well, who’s death record indicates he was born in Lieldzelda in 1866. son of Kristaps Eichenfeld?

Did Eichenfeld turn into Akerfelds/Hackenfeld/etc etc in the 1853-1870 period?

Methodology: Indexing of Elkesem Estate

One of my latest projects has been indexing baptisms at Elkesem estate from 1799-1875. While tedious, this will provide me with a good understanding of who was living at what farm, who was who’s neighbour/landlord, and what families were “originally” there as opposed to who moved in later. Prior to the 1850′s, laws were in place that made it very difficult for peasants to move from estate to estate. It is a rare occasion or circumstance when they did.

So, to see a baptism for a family name as early as 1834-36 (in Kurzeme) at a certain estate likely means that the original patriarch who was given the name during the naming process “originated” there. And since surnames did not exist prior to that… you could say the surname “originated” there. From there you can look at the parents of the child being baptised, and what farm they lived on, and hopefully identify the same family pre-surnames but other, earlier baptisms at the same farms by couples with the same first names.

I may use this same method for Lieldzelda estate, to try and piece together my Grinbergs-Akerfelds family since the Embute church books from 1853-1870 are missing, as well as the Lieldzelda revision lists.