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?

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.

Leitnanta Rubeņa Bataljons

Crazily enough, the other day I stumbled across a quote from Karlis in an article by a man named Uldis Neiburgs, a researcher for the Latvian Occupation Museum. This article directly outlines all activity by Karlis’ Resistance Movement unit. Now If only I could translate it well…
The good news here is, there is someone out there researching and documenting these events. Mr. Neiburgs has to have come across documents regarding Karlis, for he has written about him twice. I have emailed Mr. Neiburgs… wish me luck on the response I receive.

 Here’s the quote:

Leitnanta R. Rubeņa bataljons nākamajā dienā uzbruka SS obergrupenfīrera F. Jekelna štābam, izsitot to no nometnes vietas mežsarga mājās “Novadniekos”. Bijušā rubenieša Kārļa Vīnakmens atmiņās varam lasīt:

“Kā lielākais negadījums, kas vien var būt, pāršalc kureliešu rindas vēsts, ka kritis bataljona komandieris. Viesulim līdzīgi cēlās vīri, metās prettriecienā, lai atriebtu šo sāpīgo zaudējumu. Ar rokas granātām un durkļiem tiek SS vīri atsviesti atpakaļ. Vēl mēģina griezties tie pretīm, bet te nu kaulu zāģis dara savu. Nu jau ašāki zib vācu naglotie papēži, un, neizturot straujo prettriecienu, tie savā aizmugurē nonāk pie straujās Abavas. Daudzi aiz bailēm, daudzi no spīvās uguns pļauti sakrīt straumē, un te nu ložu neskartos pieveic Abavas straujie ūdeņi. Un, kas arī mēģina tikt otrā krastā augšā, to graiza ložu šaltis.”

Latvian Occupation Museum: http://www.omf.lv/index.php?lang=english

Old Photo: Karlis’ Aviation Wings

Not being a military buff in the least, I first looked past the hints and tips to Karlis’ military story. Looking harder for clues, I noticed his insignia in the below picture, and set out to learn what these meant.

The top one is an eagle, typically used  in many different countries for Air Force units. My search first upturned a plethora of German Nazi Luftwaffe eagle insignia, the same eagle, but with a swastika in it’s grasp, facing the opposite direction. But Karlis’ eagle doesn’t appear to be holding a swastika. With a little more digging I came across THIS website. So he was part of the Latvian Navy! I guess that explains his uniform! A naval aviator.

The second insignia pictured up there turned up THIS website.

A sniper as well! If this picture truly was taken in 1934, he was only 20 years old. Again, not much of a military buff myself, but these are some fairly exciting puzzle pieces!
Note that his picture was taken at K. Levinson’s photo studio in Liepaja. There was a large naval base at Liepaja.
A LINK to a site devoted to historic Latvian aviation:
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