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.)

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/

Wordless Wednesday: US Army Labor Service Daughters?

Germany, c 1951. Rasma Vinakmens and 2 friends, the year her father joined the US Army Labor Service Co.

Rasma Vinakmens and the same 2 friends, Germany c. 1955

These two girls beside my grandmother are sisters Olga and Reina Petrausken, displaced persons from Lithuania.

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

Organization: The US Army Labor Service Co.

This is the topic I’m just beginning to research, and am quite new to. The long and short of what I know so far is, when the DP Camps closed shop, the US Army hired Germans and other DP’s to help repair war torn Europe, and sometimes keep security watch. I am finding relatively little information regarding this time period – suprising, because you would think that because it was the US Army, there would be immaculate records kept somewhere.

Both Arvids Martins Akerfelds and his soon-to-be father-in-law Karlis Vinakmens found employment in the Labor Service Co (LSC). Is this why they stayed in Germany after the majority of their families had been accepted to the US and Canada? Perhaps they were denied immigration rights, or were low on the priority list since they had already been accepted for immigration to Belgium as coal miners. Whatever the reason, Karlis and family would stay in Germany, employed by the Labor Service until 1956 and Arvids until 1957.

It seems that Balts (Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians) were fairly highly regarded by the US Army. They had special insignias and patches distinguishing them from others, and units of strictly Balts. Also it looks like they were living significantly more luxuriously than while in DP Camps.

Karlis was a part of the 7566 LSC from 1951 onwards, and Arvids the 7132 LSC from 1950. Both units were stationed at Mannheim-Kafertal at the time, and then later Ettlingen near the city of Karlsruhe. More about Allied-occupied Germany here: ‘http://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/places-of-interest-allied-occupied-germany/

 The 7566 LSC were active sportsmen and upheld a sense of Latvian community and culture for themselves and their families. A chapter of the “Daugavas Vanagi”, a charitable Latvian  refugee relief organization was established amongst the men. In their spare time, they held organized concerts and lectures, as well as sporting events. They were the first LSC unit to begin building apartments and housing for their families in Germany. I cannot say much aout the 7132 unit yet, but one would assume that their story is similar, being a twin Latvian unit stationed at the same location.

Here is a site of interest on the topic:
http://www.usfava.com/LaborService/
http://www.usfava.com/LaborService/baltic.htm

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.

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/

Old Photo: Where is This Rollercoaster?

Do YOU know where this rollercoaster is??

This is a picture of my grandparents Arvids Akerfelds and Rasma Vinakmens. On the back of this photo is written “Mai 1955″, so they were definitely in Germany. Arvids looks like he is still serving in the Labor Service, although where he was stationed at this time I do not know. Some of my grandmother’s other photos from around this time period are labelled “Freiburg”. I haven’t been able to find any information about where this rollercoaster might have been!