The headstone of my grandparents Arvids and Rasma. Located in Woodland Cemetery, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. This headstone was not put into place until Rasma’s death in 2007. Another smaller marker at the foot of the plot was installed when Arvids died, 25 years earlier in 1982. I did not take a picture of Arvids’ smaller stone, although I suppose I should have and will in the near future! Karlis Vinakmens’ favoured oak leaves are carved at the top corners, and their marriage date is featured on the intertwined rings in the middle. The rest is self-explanatory.
Zigurds “Ziggy” Melderis
Date of Birth: Friday, October 4th, 1929
Date of Death: Friday, March 10th, 2006
Passed away peacefully on Friday, March 10, 2006 at West Parry Sound Health Centre at the age of 76.
Beloved husband of the late Aija (Latuns) Melderis who passed away in 1994. Loving father of Andy Melderis and his wife Carol. Ziggy will be dearly missed by his special friend Rasma.
Ziggy was born October 4, 1929 in Latvia. A long time resident of Kitchener, he retired as foreman from Warren Bitulithic Ltd. after 34 years of dedicated service. In 1990 he moved with his wife and mother, Vilma, to their home on the lake in Parry Sound to enjoy his many hobbies.
Ziggy’s family will receive friends at the Henry Walser Funeral Home, 507 Frederick St., Kitchener (749-8467) on Monday from 7-9 p.m. and on Tuesday from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. A funeral service for Ziggy will be held in the funeral home chapel on Wednesday, March 15, 2006 at 2 PM. Interment will take place at Parkview Cemetery, followed by a reception.
As expressions of sympathy, memorial donations to the Canadian Cancer Society would be appreciated by the family (cards available at the funeral home). Visit http://www.obitsforlife.com/obituary/113894/Melderis-Zigurds.php for Ziggy’s memorial.
Zig was a close family friend to my grandmother and grandfather. It seems to be that he probably served in the US Army Labor Service Co. with my grandfather Arvids in Germany. I’m not entirely sure what town in Latvia he hailed from, but I believe he may have been a family friend even earlier than the Labor Service days.
He was born October 4, 1929 to Andrejs Melderis and Vilma Riekstins (“Melderis” means “Miller” and “Riekstins” means “little nuts”. He married Aija Latuns and immigrated to Canada after WWII. My grandmother Rasma went to live with Zig in Parry Sound in the late 1990′s, both being widowers. Zig was a wonderful man and I enjoyed many visits to his home in Parry Sound before his death from cancer in 2006, a year before my grandmother would also pass away from cancer.
His mother Vilma lived almost as long as he did – she was 102 years old at the time of her death in 2004(http://obitsforlife.com/obituary/114745/Melderis-Vilma.php), and was still healthy enough to have been living with Zig in Parry Sound until only a few months before her death, I believe.
Janis and his family settled in Wisconsin, USA after a brief period in South Dakota. His wife Emma passed away in Wisconsin in 1959 at the age of either 45 or 57, depending on which Emma she turns out to be. Janis eventually remarried another Latvian woman named Zeltite. What I know of Janis in his latter years is that he enjoyed painting. In his niece’s (my grandmother’s) possessions at the time of her death were at least 2 paintings by Janis. Both are of a beach, one is at night and one is during the day.
Janis Rudolfs passed away in Wisconsin in June of 1987, at the age of 82.
All his siblings (except for Arnolds, who’s fate I do not know) made it past the age of 80, which is pretty incredible considering the odds!
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.
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/
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.
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!
Fricis’ unit was ordered to guard a captured Russian lumber factory near Leningrad (modern-day St. Petersburg), Russia in the fall of 1942. In the summer of 1943, as the Germans were pushed back westward by the Soviet army, the unit disassembled the factory and brought it back west with them and the captured workers in tow. They reassembled the factory again in Lizums, Latvia and resumed production. In August of 1944, they once again moved west to Incukalns, near Riga for a short period, and in September of 1944, as the Nazis began suffering regular military defeats, the unit and factory were sent to the port of Liepaja, where the entire operation was packed onto a ship and escaped to Danzig (Gdansk), from where they travelled to the Todt Organization headquarters in Berlin. (a typical Todt worker uniform: http://en.valka.cz/attachments/11345/uniforma_todt.jpg)
The unit was in Berlin for one week in October of 1944. They were next sent to Peschiera, in northern Italy, for one month of more training. In December 1944, the unit went to Campo Tures, a comune in the Tyrolian Alps. While I am not sure exactly what they were doing here, it is probable that they were helping build lines of defensive structures.
Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945, and the hostilities in Italy between the Nazi army and the Allied forces officially ended. What this meant for Fricis was he was now a prisoner-of-war. He and his unit were sent to a POW camp in Cesenatico, Italy, where he again worked as a mechanic.
In October of 1945, the International Refugee Organization took responsibility for all those displaced from their home country by the war. They began sorting people and attmepting to repatriate them to their countries of origin. At this time, Fricis went to a displaced persons camp in Modena, Italy from October 1945 until May of 1946 when he was transferred to a large DP camp full of many different ethnicities in Reggio Emilia.
Here at Reggio Emilia, he met Marianna Levinski, a Russian girl born in Rostov. Marianna had grown up in Rostov, and was sent to Baranovicy, Poland to live with an aunt in 1939 at age 17. The Nazi’s invaded Poland, and Marianna became an “ostworker” or forced foreign labourer, sent to a camp in Frankfurt am Main, Germany in 1942. Marianna was tranferred to many different places as a forced labourer in Germany and France between 1942 and 1945, before ending up in a German DP camp, then 2 Italian DP camps, then finally Reggio Emilia.
Fricis and Marianna were married in Reggio Emilia, and had a son there in April of 1947. The family applied for assistance to emigrate to Argentina, but were initially rejected due to Fricis’ involvement with the Organization Todt. Between this rejected application and 1953, I have found no documents or information about them. It could be assumed that they stayed in Italy or Germany, working and waiting.
Eventually, the family was cleared for immigration to Canada, and on October 17, 1953 Fricis, Marianna and their 6 year old son sailed on the SS Anna Salen from Bremerhaven, Germany to Quebec, Canada.
Fricis Vinakmens was born on May 19, 1921 in Tukums. He was (likely) the fifth and final child of Vilis Augusts Vinakmens/Weinstein and Emilija Karline Veisbergs. At the time of his birth, Fricis already had 16-, 10- and 8-year old brothers, and a 5-year-old sister. His parents had just come back to Latvia from Russia in the wake of the Russian Revolution. It is not clear when, but soon after his birth (or even conception), Vilis abandoned Emilija and their children.
Fricis grew up in Tukums during Latvia’s inter-war independence. His older brothers eventually joined the Latvian army and moved away from home. Fricis himself lived with his mother and sister up until 1942. His mother was a housekeeper, his sister was a clerk in a pharmacy, and Fricis was a mechanic at a private workshop owned by a man named Erdmans (his sister Alise later married an Erdmans… the same man?). When the Soviets invaded Latvia for the first time, they took over Fricis’ mechanic’s shop and declared it a Soviet government-owned business. When the Nazis took over, the shop passed hands to them.
It should be noted that much propaganda was used at this time to try and recruit men to the various German army units. A Latvian Waffen SS unit was formed. To some Latvians, after the horrors of what the Soviets had done to their family and friends, joining the Nazi army was just one way to fight back at the Soviets. Latvians also fought on the Soviet side, and also in the Kureliesi fighting against both sides. It is easy to see that the lines were quite blurred, and Latvians would fight in whatever way they could to stay alive. As the war progressed, the Nazis began suffering serious losses and the propaganda did not recruit enough men to voluntarily join their ranks, so they turned to forced conscription to recruit men into their forces to replace lost numbers.
The Todt organization was a Nazi paramilitary group, named for founder Fritz Todt. This organization in it’s early stages is actually responsible for the construction of the Autobahn highway, and the fortified Westwall along Germany’s western borders. It had been started in the early 1930′s as a large-scale construction and engineering organization. Of course, they required labourers, and in the beginning ethnic Germans worked for Todt. As the Nazi’s grew in power, the Todt’s projects became more and more militarily-focused. During the war, once the Nazi’s began suffering regular defeats, all their German man-power was diverted to military units. Forced labourers, conscripts, and prisoners-of-war from Nazi-occupied countries began to be used as Todt Organization workers. Even Jewish concentration camp prisoners were forced to join the paramilitary group. It is estimated that by 1944, over 1.4 million European men were part of this organization.
In September of 1942, Fricis was recruited by the Todt Organization. As an occupant of a Nazi-occupied foreign country, he was likely forcibly conscripted as a foreign labourer (fremdarbeiter). He was put in the “Schutzkommando” unit as a guard for other prisoners-of-war. They sent him to Riga for a brief training, then to the Russian Front near Leningrad.
More on the Todt Organization (1942-1945 under Albert Speer pertains to Fricis): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organisation_Todt