Ancestor Story: Karlis Vinakmens

1. Early Life

Karlis Vinakmens was born on January 1, 1913 in the town of Tukums, Latvia. He was the third son of Vilis Augusts Vinakmens (Wihnstein) and Emilija Karoline Veisbergs. Vilis and Emilija were married in 1904 in Tukums, they had sons Janis Rudolfs in 1905, and Arnolds in 1911.

Karlis was born on the brink of the First World War, and he would be no stranger to wars in his lifetime.  In October of 1915, when he was just two years old, Germany invaded Latvia and occupied all of Kurzeme. Roughly two-thirds of the population of this Latvian province fled eastward, either to the eastern Latgale province of Latvia, or further even to Russia.

Karlis and his family were no exception, and they ended up somewhere in Russia, where Vilis worked at a meat-packing plant. A fourth Vinakmens child, Alise, was born in 1916 here in Russia. Unfortunately for the Vinakmens, the political  situation in Russia was not very stable at this time, and the Russian Revolution was in full swing by the end of 1917. Many industrial facilities were closed down, and the story goes that Vilis showed up for work at the meat packing plant one day, only to be told to go home, because the factory had shut down.

At the end of the First World War, the treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed. I will spare you the details, but what it meant for Latvia (after another invasion by both Germany and Russia) was that in 1920, Russia finally agreed to acknowledge Latvia’s sovereignty, meaning Latvia was a free and independent country for the first time in a long time. This time period bred a strong sense of nationalism in most Latvians, a pride in being Latvian.

With the signing of this treaty, many Latvians who had fled from Kurzeme went back home. It is not clear exactly when, but Vilis and Emilija returned to Tukums sometime before 1921, when their fifth and final son Fricis was born. Sometime after Fricis’ birth (or maybe even conception, since I cannot prove he was around for any longer afterwards), Vilis abandoned Emilija and their five children, for whatever reasons. This only seemed to push the Vinakmens children to strive to succeed, and family lore is that the last time Karlis Vinakmens saw his father, he was a poor, broken old man sweeping the streets.

 2. Free Latvia

Karlis Vinakmens, c. 1934, during his timein the Latvian Navy

During the period after WWI, Latvia enjoyed a brief period of independence, and an economical boom. New, exciting political parties were formed, and the Latvian people had more freedom than ever before. Latvian nationalism grew strong, and many Latvians who had been handed down Germanic surnames began to change their names to reflect their Latvian ethnicity. Whether out of disdain for their father, or Latvian pride, the Vinakmens children changed their surnames from Wihnstein to Vinakmens (both meaning “winestone”).

Karlis attended elementary school in Tukums from 1921-1927, between the ages of 8 and 14. He was an active participant in sports, excelling in sprinting (articles outlining his sprinting times in different competitions can be found at http://www.periodika.lv).

By 1930, his eldest brother Janis had joined the Latvian army, as an officer in a communications unit (Sakaru rotas?). Karlis himself joined the Latvian army soon after as a Navy aviator, stationed at the large Latvian naval base at Liepaja. While his time of service is not completely known to me, pictures suggest that he was probably employed by the Navy around 1932-1936 (ages 19-23). In his time, he possessed a badge suggesting he had earned merits as a sniper.

In the mid 1930’s, Karlis met his future wife, Berta Helene Ozolins. I’ve been told that she was working at the train station in Tukums and that is where they met. They were married November 23, 1936 and welcomed a daughter named Rasma on September 23, 1937.

As early as 1938 (possibly earlier), Karlis left the military and was employed as  a woodcarver (“kokgriezējs”) at a carpenter’s shop located at 12 Elizabetes iela, Tukums. His IRO documents state that his employer was a man named “Teschlers”, however “tischler” means “carpenter” in German, so whether or not this was the man’s true name, or a generalization, I don’t know. Karlis, Berta, and their young daughter Rasma lived in several different apartments in the same area near the train station in Tukums at this time (Rigas iela, then Kaleju iela, then Balozu iela).

3. Latvian Occupation

 The next piece of Karlis’ story becomes a little bit mysterious. The Russian army, under Soviet rule (the “Red Army”) invaded Latvia in 1940. All Latvian military units were either disbanded, or conscripted by the Russians to their army. There was an indignant resistance to this communist occupation, and uderground militant partisan groups began to take form, manned by Latvian rebels who sought a free, independent Latvia.

Under the Soviet government, anyone previously involved in the military would have been in grave danger due to the mass deportations carried out in this first period of Soviet occupation (1940-1941). According to his House Register while living at their apartment on Balozu iela, Karlis left his wife and daughter at home in Tukums to reside in Rezekne (his mother’s hometown) at one point during the first Soviet occupation, between March 3, 1941 and July 15, 1941.  Whether he was in hiding from the Soviets, or whatever else he was doing there is unknown to me, but he returned to Tukums after the German army invaded and occupied Soviet Latvia in June of 1941. I had originally believed the Soviets may have imprisoned him, but some new documents say he was never jailed.

Many Latvians gave this new German Nazi government the same response as they did the Soviets, and the underground resistance movement was strengthened at this time, forming the “Latvian Central Council” (LCC). The LCC published an outlawed newsletter (Brīvā Latvija – “Free Latvia”) propagating the restoration of a free Latvian democracy after the war.

The German army conscripted many young Latvian men to their ranks, at first by using propaganda, and later resorting to full out forced conscription (as was the case for Karlis’ younger brother Fricis). It is entirely possible that Karlis was conscripted at this time, as family story tells of him being a part of the Latvian, German, and American armies. Any documents supporting this though, I have not found, although one would assume perhaps during his days as a displaced person Karlis would not have wanted to advertise any involvement in the German army whatsoever, so perhaps this is why I cannot find any record of this.

4. Kureliesi

Karlis Vinakmens, c. 1944, in his Kureliesi days

Karlis joined an underground military resistance group called the Kureliesi. His unit was headed by a man named Lieutenant Roberts Rubenis, whose objective was at first anti-Soviet, and later anti-German – they wanted to fight all occupiers and re-instate a free Latvia. Much of what the Rubenis battalion did is still unknown to me (and most historians, too – although the Latvian Occupation Museum is researching these events in further depth). I contacted the Occupation Museum’s historian, and he kindly sent me copies of a Latvian Resistance Movement registration card, a questionnaire/application, and three letters written by Karlis that detail the exact events. To be very brief, these brave men gave remaining Nazi forces a run for their money. To be detailed, I will go over this time period in another post!

On November 20, 1944 Karlis asked his unit commander for a rest period to visit his his wife and daughters – Karlis and Berta welcomed their second daughter into the world in August of 1944. Apparently Berta and the girls had already left their home at Balozu iela in Tukums and were living in Valdemarpils, close to Talsi in northern Kurzeme. When he arrived in Valdemarpils, unfortunately, the Germans began forcibly exiling anyone who did not have documentation of living in the town for 3 years or more. The family was taken to the port town of Ventspils, and on December 8, 1944 left Latvia forever.

5. Displaced Person

Karlis, Berta and their two daughters spent from December 1944 to May 1945 at Gotenhafen, where I believe Karlis was employed as a carpenter (forced labour??). After the Germans were defeated in early May 1945, the family went to Hildburghausen, Germany, for less than a month, presumably while the Allied forces attempted to house and organize all the displaced people. Off to Marburg, Germany in June of 1945, where Karlis was employed as a labourer by the US Army. In Marburg they lived at Andrestrasse (Andree Street) #5. Karlis’ brother Janis, his wife and their 3 children were also here in Marburg. And here, Karlis and Berta’s third and final daughter was born in late August of 1946.

6. Belgian Coal Miner

Karlis Vinakmens, c. 1948 in Belgium, on the job as a coal miner

Belgium was the first country after the war to accept displaced persons who could/would not be re-patriated to their homelands. In 1947, the country accepted 22,000 displaced persons as labourers in their coal mines. Some viewed this as a way to obtain cheap labor. In July 1947, Karlis and his family became 5 of these 22,000. The family immigrated to Chappelle-lez-Herlaimont, Hainaut, Belgium, where Karlis worked in the Mariemont/Bascoup mine.

7. US Army Labor Service Co

Karlis Vinakmens, c. 1954, during his time in the Labor Service Co. 7566

 It is unclear as to why (maybe he realized this was not as good of a deal as he had previously believed), but in July 1950, Karlis and family returned to Mannheim-Kafertal, Germany, where Karlis joined the US Army Labor Service Co. 7566. Founded in 1947 by American Captain Moxley, the 7566 LSC was a transport unit. In 1949, Captain Reineke was appointed the commander of this unit. Captain Reineke was a member of the “Lacplesa Kara Ordena Kavalieris”, or “recipient of of a Latvian Military Medal of Honor during the Latvian war of Independence”. The unit was briefly stationed at Mannheim-Kafertal, before being moved to Ettlingen, just south of Karlsruhe, Germany where they were housed at the Rheinland Kaserne.

The 7566 LSC men were quite actively into sports, excelling at table tennis and volleyball. Chess was also a favourite game of the men. Culturally, they organized lectures and concerts, and maintaining a large library. They also were the first unit to begin the construction of apartments as homes for their families.

The Daugavas Vanagi (Daugava Hawks) is a non-profit, non-governmental membership organization that has existed since 1953. Basically they are a Latvian cultural organization supporting Latvian veterans and preserving Latvian culture around the world. A chapter of the Daugavas Vanagi existed within the 7566 unit, and in the 1950′s, a lot of their efforts would have been focused on caring for the Latvian refugee community and their veterans. A family story is that near the end of his Labor Service days in Germany (1955/1956), Karlis asked an organization for the funds to buy a farm, and some LSC men lived there and tended the farm. I now know that this was referring to Berzaine, in Freiburg am Breisgau. Karlis and family operated and lived at this facility between 1954 and 1956. More info to come as I research this further…

Karlis Vinakmens, c. 1954 during his time in the Labor Service Co. 7566

8. Canada

Although Karlis and family had been cleared for immigration to the USA in 1951, they did not actually leave Germany until July, 1956. As to why exactly they decided to come, and leave their Labor Service days behind is still somewhat of a mystery to me. The Vinakmens family boarded the SS Zuiderkruis, departing the port of Rotterdam, Holland and arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on July 17, 1956. Karlis’ youngest brother Fricis Vinakmens had immigrated to Kitchener, Ontario a few years previous, and this is where Karlis and family settled.

Karlis worked for the Baetz furniture factory in Kitchener for 25 years before his retirement, returning to the trade in which he had originally been working back in Latvia on Elizabetes iela. He enjoyed making decorative woodcarvings as well as furniture, and I can remember all my Latvian family members having various carvings (a favourite was oak leaves and acorns) hanging on their walls, or decorative ashtray holders. I also remember a small, ornate doll’s bed that Karlis had made for my mother when she was small.

Karlis lived to be 88 years old, passing away in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada on January 31, 2001, after a brief fight with cancer. He remained healthy and active up until his sickness, and I remember him bicycling from his house, to visit my parents house across town, even in his 80′s.

Karlis Vinakmens and his wife Berta, c. 1995 at their home in Kitchener, Ontario

RIP Opa.

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

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.

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: Arturs Akerfelds

Arturs Akerfelds, c. 1948

Arturs Akerfelds was born August 20, 1925 on Skrundenieki farm, Brinkenhof estate, the eldest child of Janis Akerfelds and Anna Ziverts. He was quite presumably named after his uncle Arturs Ziverts. He would have attended Nikrace pamatskola (pictured in this post: http://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/09/10/14/). Arturs would have spent his early years growing up mostly at Skrundenieki, although it’s possible that he spent some time in the early 1940’s working at other farms, as his younger brother Arvids Akerfelds did between 1942 and 1944.

When his family fled Latvia in October of 1944, of course he went with them, via Liepaja-Gotenhafen-Kelsterbach. Because he was of age at the time to be considered a single adult bachelor, he was separated from the rest of the Akerfelds crew for some time during their DP camp days. It appears that from Kelsterbach, he went to Bad Rotenfels, near Gaggenau, south of where the rest of the Akerfelds ended up (Echzell), from November of 1944 until May 1946 (from age 19 to age 20).

The Nazi’s had put together a camp in September of that year in Bad Rotenfels, that held forced labourers (mostly French) who worked in the Daimler-Benz factory. It is estimated that around 500 of them were killed. At some point, Arturs lost his right hand. Whether in some industrial accident, or as punishment from some Nazi officer, I don’t know. This must have been a terrible injury, as you can tell by his signature that he was likely right-handed to begin with, and had to learn to use his left.

After Bad Rotenfels, he rejoined his family at Dieburg, Darmstadt, Neustadt, and finally Augsburg in 1949. This is where he met a local Catholic girl, Luise Goettle, daughter of German WWI veteran and career house-painter Peter Paul Goettle and his second wife, Caecilia Hummel. Arturs and Luise were married on September 15, 1950 in Augsburg, less than a month after the rest of his family departed from Bremerhaven to resettle in the USA.

In his IRO Application, Arturs states that he would like to be resettled to the USA like the rest of his family,  and he did not want to be repatriated to his home country because of the Russian occupation. But, likely because Luise was not a displaced person and so could not be treated as such for resettlement to the USA, he was released into the German economy in February of 1951. And so Arturs and Luise remained in Augsburg, and had 3 children there: Brigitte, Anna and Artur.

Arturs Akerfelds passed away on January 20, 1998 in Augsburg.

Ancestor Story: The Ziverts’ US Army Services

While I’m on an unusual military kick here, I thought I’d mention that Arvids’ uncle Arturs Ziverts’ family was close by the Akerfelds during the 1945-1950 time period as displaced persons. The Ziverts family consisted of Arturs Ziverts and his wife Katte (nee Akerfelds), their 7 children, Arturs’ two sisters Ida and Olga, and his mother, Jule Dzerve. It seems that Arturs and his second-eldest son Voldemars (the same age as Arvids) also found some employment with the US Forces as the Akerfelds did (although not the Labor Service).
They too went the Liepaja-Gotenhaufen-Kelsterbach route like the Akerfelds, but in November of 1944 when the Akerfelds went to Echzell, Hesse, the Ziverts wound up in Friedberg (also in the state of Hesse) in a forced labor camp. The name of the employer that Arturs worked for was “Conter & Braun”. They worked here at this camp until April of 1945, when they were liberated by the US Army. Once liberated, Arturs and Voldemars were employed by the US Army Tank Divison as labourers. (A note of interest is that when Elvis Presley served in the American Army a decade later, he was stationed in Friedberg at the Ray Barracks), and lived in nearby Bad Nauheim.

Then in July of 1945, they moved to Wiesbaden, Hesse, where the two were employed again as laborers by the US 89 Air Forces Division.
After Wiesbaden, the Ziverts were reunited with the Akerfelds in Bidingen/Dieburg/Darmstadt. Arturs was a general labourer at the first two, and a bricklayer in Darmstadt (like his brother-in-law Janis Akerfelds) In May 1948, Arturs worked for the 8850 Latvian Labor Service as a carpenter.

The Ziverts (Save for Ida, Olga, Irma and Jule Dzerve) left Germany from the port of Bremerhaven, sailing on the SS General Langfitt on March 19, 1950 bound for Berthoud, Colorado.

Timeline: Displaced Akerfelds Family

The Akerfelds finally left their home at Skrundenieki in October of 1944, following the German army’s retreat west as the Soviet army pushed them back across Latvia. Both Akerfelds and Ziverts families had seen uncles and their families arrested and deported to Siberian gulags by the Soviets, and wanted nothing to do with the Soviet regime. One of the types of documents I received from the ITS was a questionnaire filled out by DP’s explaining why they couldn’t be repatriated to Latvia. Every one of the Akerfelds/Ziverts family who filled out this from stated “I do not like to live under the present communist regime”. Arturs Ziverts and Janis Akerfelds added in that their brothers had been arrested and deported by the Soviets.

Snippet from an IRO Application form

The Akerfelds’ Displaced Persons Timeline:
Early Oct 1944 – Forced to flee Skrundenieki by retreating German army. Fled to Liepaja, Latvia
23 Oct 1944 - Forcibly evacuated from Liepaja to German controlled Gotenhaufen, where they were put in a camp for foreign workers
Late Oct 1944  - Tranferred to a gathering camp for foreign workers at Kelsterbach, Hesse, Germany
Nov 1944 – In Echzell, Hesse, Germany where Janis and the older children would be employed at a sawmill owned by a man named Hermann Mogk III
17 Dec 1944 – third last Akerfelds sibling born in Echzell
May 1945 – Allied forces liberated and occupied Germany at this point. The Akerfelds crew were in a DP Camp in Wiesbaden, the capital of the American occupied state of Hesse where Janis worked for the US Army.
Oct 1945 – the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), takes responsibility for the care of all persons displaced by the war
Feb 1946 – Family transferred to Bidingen, Hesse, Germany
4 May 1946 – Family transferred to Dieburg DP Camp, in Hesse
21 Oct 1946 – Family transferred to Darmstadt DP Camp, where Janis was employed as a bricklayer by the US Army
28 Oct 1946 – Second last Akerfelds sibling born in Darmstadt
1947 – Arvids Akerfelds departed for Belgium to work as a coal miner
Jun 1948 – Family transferred to Neustadt, Hesse Germany. Janis working as a bricklayer for the International Refugee Organization
29 Aug 1948 – youngest Akerfelds sibling is born in Neustadt
Sep 1948 – Janis employed by US Labour Service Corps in Bad Nauheim, Hesse. I do know that a 8252 Latvian LSC was stationed here
29 Oct 1948 - Family traversed through a control centre in Fulda, Hesse
May 1949 – Family transferred once again to Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany where Janis worked as a bricklayer for the International Refugee Organization. Likely the eldest son Arturs met his future wife Luise Gottle here at this time. The DP camp here was called Hochfeld
Aug 1949 – Arvids Akerfelds returns to Germany, turns up at Hanau DP Camp, Hesse.
12 Aug 1950 – Family departed Bremerhaven in northern Germany aboard the SS General Harry Taylor, bound for the USA
15 Sep 1950 – Arturs Akerfelds married Luise Gottle in Augsburg, Germany
27 Feb 1951 – Arturs Akerfelds was released from IRO care to join the German economy
25 Jan 1957 – Arvids Akerfelds departs Germany from Frankfurt, Hesse.