52 Ancestors, Week 2: Karlis Vinakmens

Click HERE for last week’s ancestor

Disclaimer: this could quite possibly be the longest, wordiest post of my 52 ancestors challenge, but if I cut this story any shorter, it would be unjust!

My great grandfather Karlis Vinakmens was born on January 1, 1913 in the town of Kandava, Latvia. He was the third son of Vilis Augusts Vinakmens (Weinstein) and Emilija Karoline Veisbergs. Vilis and Emilija were married in 1904 in Tukums, nearby to Kandava, 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 the western province 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. The political  situation in Russia was not very stable at this time, and the Russian Bolshevik Revolution (The one with Rasputin and Anastasia!) 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 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 modern history. 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 have no evidence that he was around for any longer) 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.

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 Weinstein 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.

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).At this 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. 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).

The next piece of Karlis’ story becomes a little bit mysterious. As World War Two started heating up to the West, the Russian army under Soviet rule (the “Red Army”) invaded Latvia, breaching their previous treaty recognizing Latvia’s sovereignty 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 underground 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 of determined “Enemies of the State” (read: nationalistic Latvians) 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 World War Two came to town and the German army pushed back the Soviets,  invading and occupying Soviet Latvia in late June of 1941.

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.

Karlis joined an underground military resistance group called the Kureliesi. His battalion 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 – he had welcomed his second daughter into the world in August of 1944. Apparently Berta and the two 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 boarded a ship and left Latvia forever. Karlis, Berta and their two daughters spent from December 1944 to May 1945 at Gotenhafen (Gdansk, Danzig), where I believe Karlis was employed as a carpenter (perhaps this was forced labour, since the Germans still controlled this city??).

After the Germans were defeated and World War Two came to an end 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 Andreestrasse (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. Europe at this time was filled with people displaced from their homes by the war. 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 for 3 years.

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 military barracks. 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.

Although Karlis and family had been cleared for immigration to the USA in 1951, they did not actually leave Germany until July, 1956. 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’ headstone can be viewed HERE

Veisbergs Migration

My great great grandmother Emilija Karoline Veisbergs was born in 1885 in Rezekne, the second child of Mikelis Veisbergs and Line Brugis, who  lived in nearby Struzani estate at the time. Mikelis and Line were married in 1882 in Rezekne. What is noteworthy is this family migrated WEST after Emilija’s birth, at a time when most Latvians were migrating EAST to avoid conflict during the Russian Empire’s 1905 revolution. Emilija married Vilis Vinakmens in 1904 in Tukums, halfway westward across the country.

I had given up hope in finding any more information about Mikelis and Line, seeing as they “disappeared” from the records after Emilija’s birth, when I stumbled across them at Slokenbekas estate near Tukums, where I was looking for my Vinakmens relatives. In 1896 and 1900, they baptized two children at Tukums Lutheran church while living at Slokenbekas. That left an 11 year gap between Emilija’s birth and the next child. Again I did not expect to have my questions answered about their whereabouts during that time. And again! I stumbled across two children baptized by MIkelis and Line Veisbergs, at Dobele parish in 1890 and 1891.

So, they were married in 1882. First child in 1884 at Rezekne. Emilija in 1885 at Rezekne. I next found children in 1890 and 1891 at Dobele. And then two more at Tukums in 1896 and 1900.

The Brugis surname can be found in a few parishes in Latgale and Vidzeme. But the Germanic background of the name Veisbergs suggests perhaps Mikelis originated in Kurzeme and had migrated east to Rezekne for a short period, to return later.

New clues!

Virtual Latvian Occupation Museum

I have been thinking recently of my Opa Karlis Vinakmens’ time in the Latvian Resistance movement, reading more about the kureliesi in general, and trying to understand the flow of events for him and how he managed to escape Latvia at the end of it all. I stumbled upon the Latvian Occupation Museum’s virtual site - and found what would have been genealogical gold to me a few years ago. Opa’s name is mentioned, along with a quote by him that had been given in the 1950’s and collected in a book called “Kureliesi” by Haralds Biezais.

Many elaborate, exaggerated stories are handed down about ancestors by word-of-mouth (likely in every family tree!), and I have discovered many of them to be exaggerations in my time researching genealogy. If you ask, it seems everyone is related to some kind of king or prince or war-hero or native American “princess”. I try to take all stories lightly until I find real supporting evidence and documentation. As more information about the kureliesi and Lt. Roberts Rubenis’ battalion surfaces after so many years of fear and silence under the Soviet regime, it seems all of what’s been said about my Opa is true, so far! I can’t help but feel some pride that Karlis was part of such a brave, fierce, nationalistic group as Lt. Roberts Rubenis’ battalion was…

Now, only to corroborate the story of his squashing a German attack on the battalion by hearing a bird sing at night, which was actually a signal being used by the Germans… and winning a medal for it.

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.)

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: Emilija Karoline Veisbergs

Emilija Karoline Veisbergs was born October 25, 1885, the second child of Mikelis Veisbergs and his wife Lina Brugis. She was baptized at Rezekne Lutheran church, in eastern Latgale. Her baptismal record lists her family’s residence as Taunaga estate, and her older brother Janis Rudolfs was born at Gribuli estate just 2 years earlier. Both estates were in modern Struzani pagast (“Struschan” in German). Her godparents were Karhl Swihkel, Karline Sch…., and Karline Brugis.

Emilija Veisbergs’ baptismal record from Rezekne Lutheran church

For ten years after Emilija’s birth, the Veisbergs family is a bit of a mystery to me. They must have left Rezekne at some point and travelled westward, ending up in Tukums around 1896. Mikelis and Line had at least two more children that I have found so far: Julius Roberts, born  in August 1896 at Slokenbekas, and Berta Ida, born in February 1900, both baptised at Tukums Lutheran church. Emilija must have met Vilis Wihnstein whilst living in Tukums, and the next record I have of her is her marriage to him in 1904.

Emilija and Vilis’ marriage record from Tukums Lutheran church

I won’t re-iterate the story of Vilis and Emilija’s children again, but long story short, they had 5 children between 1905 and 1921, before Vilis abandoned the family, leaving Emilija for another woman. Note that there is some pencilled-in writing around their record, perhaps this gives some details as to why the marriage ended, but I cannot make out many words well enough to translate…

The last I have record of Emilija is her listing in the 1941 Latvian census,  living with Alise and Fricis in an apartment in Tukums (more on their census record: http://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/the-1941-census-of-latvia/). During WWII, when her sons (Janis, Arnolds, Karlis and Fricis) all left Latvia, I believe Emilija and her daughter Alise stayed behind in Latvia. Alise went on to marry a man with the surname of Erdmanis, and lived in an old farmhouse in the countryside near Saldus with their two sons. It is possible that Emilija lived with Alise and her husband until her death. I did not ever hear my great-grandfather speak of his mother Emilija, but from my great-aunt I have learned that she died just before WWII ended, a civilian casualty of bombing in the area…

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.