Update: This photo is of my grandmother Rasma’s cousin Yuri Vinakmens son of Arnolds and Valentina, who stayed in Latvia when Rasma’s family fled. This picture was probably contemporary with the last time Rasma and Yuri ever saw one another.
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!
Šlokenbekas (Latvian), Schlokenbeck (German), Шлокенбекъ (Russian)
Slokenbeka is Latvia’s sole remaining fortified manor house. Originally belonging to the Livonian Order, the manor/castle was first mentioned in documents from the mid 1500′s. It is located on the eastern side of Tukums, in the village of Milzkalne, in Engures novads, and draws it’s name from the small stream that runs near it called Slokas. Today, the manor exists as a historical tourist attraction and part museum, housing old farming artifacts and displaying examples of fortified defensive walls and gatehouses.
The earliest known residents were a German noble family named von Buttlar, and it passed through several other noble families – Schenking, Putthammer, Brueggens, Grothuss, Medems and Blumerings, through the ages. Matthias Dietrich Rheinhold von der Recke, a successful maker of liquor and spirits, purchased the manor and his family owned it from 1848 to 1920. During World War 1, the German army had a military hospital established at the manor, and after the war ended ownership of the manor passed to the forestry ministry of Tukums. A restoration project began to take place around 1977, to help turn it into what it is today.
Both Vinakmens and Veisbergs families are listed in baptismal records as living in Slokenbeka at different points of Matthias von der Recke’s ownership of the manor. Whether this refers to living on the actual manor grounds or on the manor’s surrounding estate property is up for debate – likely it refers to farms on the estate property surrounding the fortified manor, but who knows? Either way, the manor would have been a close, familiar landmark to the Vinakmens/Veisbergs families.
While browsing the Tukums church records I noticed Mikelis Veisbergs and his wife Line Brugis must have moved to Tukums from Rezekne sometime after the birth of their daughter Emilija Karline Veisbergs (my great-great grandmother) in 1885. Their son Julius Robert’s baptismal record in 1896 states Slokenbek as his family’s residence. A baptismal record of a daughter of Fricis and Anna Veisbergs also exists in the same year at Slokenbeka. Perhaps Fricis and Mikelis Veisbergs were brothers, who migrated to the Tukums area together.
Janis Rudolfs Wihnstein, son of Vilis and Emilija was born at Slokenbeka in 1905. How long the family stayed there is unknown to me, perhaps their next two sons Arnolds and Karlis were also born there, in 1911 and 1913. It would make sense, since the family’s fleeing to Russia at the beginning of World War 1 would coincide with the German military hospital being set up at Slokenbeka – perhaps it was the advance of the German army that pushed Vilis and his family east to Russia.
Arnolds Roberts Vinakmens was born March 14, 1911, probably in Tukums, Latvia. He was the second son of Vilis Augusts Wihnstein and Emiija Karline Veisbergs. Arnolds, like the rest of his siblings, went to Russia (Siberia) with his parents and two brothers sometime around 1914, only to return home (with a new sister, Alise) a few years later, during the Russian Revolution.
Arnold’s father Vilis abandoned his family sometime after the birth of his last son Fricis in 1921, and his older sons, Arnolds included, left home to find work. Arnolds worked for the railway in Latvia. He married an ethnic Russian woman, Valentina Ivanova Fedorova (born December 19, 1912) sometime around 1936, and their first and only son, Juri (pronounced “YOU-ree”) was born on December 13, 1937 in Daugavpils, one of Latvia’s largest cities located in southeastern Latgale.
Sometime after Juri’s birth, likely after 1941, Arnolds and Valentina moved to another large Latvian city, Valmiera, (located in northern Vidzeme) where Juri attended elementary school and Arnolds once again worked for the railway.
Arnolds is listed in the book “These Names Accuse”(http://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/11/05/these-names-accuse/). However, I am going to assume this is not because he was arrested and deported by Soviets, but because during the German occupation of Latvia following the mass deportations of 1941, being that Arnolds lived on the other side of the country as the rest of his family, perhaps his family lost communication with him and considered him “missing” when the Latvian authorities asked people to report those family members who had been deported. His key number of “4″ indicates that he was reported as “missing since the last days of Soviet occupation”, his last address known being Daugavpils.
Arnolds and Valentine moved to Riga in the latter half of the 1950′s, where they had a small house and a large garden (my own Opa and Oma Karlis and Berta also kept a large, beautiful garden) on an island in the Daugava River. Their son Juri moved to St. Petersburg, Russia (then called Leningrad) to attend a Military Academy. He would become an officer, stationed in the Far East of Russia, and later in his life he became a successful doctor.
Arnolds and Valentine (Valija) lived at their house in Riga and enjoyed summertime visits from their grandchildren for many years. As they aged in the early 1990′s, they moved to St. Petersburg to be closer to their son Juri, so he could help care for them. Arnolds passed away in 1993, at the age of 82, and Valentine passed away in 1995, aged 83.
Amazing, Arnolds was the last Vinakmens sibling for me to learn his fate. All five Vinakmens siblings lived until at least the age of 80. Quite an accomplishment, given the circumstances they faced!
Arnolds Vinakmens was born in 1911, probably in Tukums. He was the second son of Vilis Augusts Wihnstein and Emilija Karline Veisbergs. I have very little information about Arnolds.
He is listed in “These Names Accuse” as a deportee of June 14, 1941. Registration and group no: 17668/4, last known whereabouts: Daugavpils. The 4 in his case number means he was likely either in the military, or a communications or transport official or employee who was evacuated by force to Russia.
One of my great aunts, Arnolds’ niece, recounted to me that Arnolds had a wife named Valentina. They lived in Russia near St. Petersburg and had two sons, one of which was a violinist and one a painter. So, if he was deported, he must have stayed there, and he was probably already fluent in Russian, since his family lived in Russia for a few years when he was a child.
Indeed, today there are Vinakmens in St. Petersburg. Whether or not they are descendants of Arnolds I don’t know yet, but I am attempting to find out!
After learning how to spell “Vinakmens” in Russian Cyrillic (“Винакмен”), I searched the web. I found a few hits on Facebook.com, of those living in St. Petersburg. Knowing that Vinakmens is not a common surname, and the fact that they lived in St. Petersburg like my great aunt had told me, I decided to send messages. Bingo! I found myself speaking to Arnolds’ grandson, who seems just as interested in family history as I am.
One of the questions asked by the International Refugee Organization of people displaced by WWII was “Do you wish to return to your country of former residence?” For most Latvians, the answer was no. Not because they did not wish to return home, but because “home” was now occupied and controlled by communist Russia, a regime they had seen destroy their families and friends, more merciless than the German Nazi’s had been. Most certainly a resistance fighter like Karlis Vinakmens, or a German collaborator like his little brother Fricis, could not imagine returning home, as the Soviets would have persecuted them immediately, likely with fatal results. The Akerfelds and Ziverts families had seen brothers and uncles, along with their wives and children heartlessly arrested for no good reason, to be deported to Siberia and die slowly of exposure.
Most Latvian families wished to immigrate to Canada, the USA, Australia, and even Argentina is recorded on one IRO application I’ve seen. It seems they were not sure where to go, did not care, so long as it was not part of communist USSR.
“Do you wish to return to your country of former residence?” – “Nein” (No)
“If not, why?” – “Weil heimat eisenheim von USSR okkupier. Herscht kommunistische diktatur und terror. Ein bruder getoete und andere nach sibierien deportien” (Because my home country is occupied by the USSR. The government is a communist dictatorship. One brother was killed and nother was deported to Siberia)
Every one of my family members’ IRO applications says the same things: Arvids Akerfelds’ simply states “Political Reasons”, Fricis Vinakmens’ says “I do not like to live under present communist regime”.
After being caught between two great warring world powers in WWII, Latvia had held out hope that the Allied victory would mean the USSR agreeing to recognize their sovereignty. They had hoped that the Allies would restore free independant Latvia. This was not the case, for Latvia and other Soviet-occupied countries (Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Lithuania, Estonia, etc) who would remain under Soviet control until the late 1980′s and early 1990′s.
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).
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!