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.

Wedding Wednesday

The wedding of Arnolds Vinakmens and Valentina Fedorova in Daugavpils November 1, 1936 (photo courtesy of Vladimir Vinakmen)

This photo was taken at the wedding of Arnold Vinakmen to Valentina Fedorova in Daugavpils, Latvia November 1, 1936.

Also in this picture are Janis Vinakmens, 4th person from the left, in a military-like jacket. The mother of the bride is standing behind the bride and groom, directly in between them. Karlis Vinakmens might be the young man standing beside her.

This is speculation, but likely Arnolds’ mother was there. Is Emilija Karline Veisbergs the woman standing beside the bride’s mother?

The man standing beside the young man who could be Karlis Vinakmens looks (to me) suspiciously like Karlis in his later years. Vilis Wihnstein??

Beautiful old photo!

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.

Old Photo: Vinakmens Brothers

Janis Rudolfs, Karlis and Arnolds Roberts Vinakmens, c. 1928 (photo courtesy Vladimir Vinakmen)

Finding living relatives in Russia has been a highlight of my genealogical journey.

Besides just finding more family, another benefit is more photos from an even earlier time have survived in the posession of my great-great uncle Arnolds Vinakmens and his family (likely because they did not have to make a frantic cross-European country, cross-Atlantic trip!)

This one above is the earliest photo I have seen of my great-grandfather Karlis, who is still just a teen here. It’s also the only photo I’ve seen of great-great-uncle Janis Rudolfs Vinakmens as a young man, and the first of a few photos I’ve seen of my great-great uncle Arnolds.

I love old photos. Sometimes between the documents and records and scribbling and stories, you still have a hard time gripping someone’s life story until you see a picture, then they come alive!