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.

Old Photo: Where is This Rollercoaster?

Do YOU know where this rollercoaster is??

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!

Ancestor Story: Fricis Vinakmens, Part 2

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.

Marianna and Fricis, c. 1990

Ancestor Story: Fricis Vinakmens, Part 1

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

Wedding Wednesday: Arvids Martins Akerfelds and Rasma Lilija Vinakmens

Arvids Martins Akerfelds and Rasma Lilija Vinakmens were married August 10, 1957 at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.

In this picture, besides immediate family members: Zigurds Melderis, Ansis and Mudite Berzins, Janis and Eleonore Zommers, family friend Peteris Skrastins and Alfons Preiss.

The decals and license plates on the closer car says Racine, Wisconsin – this must have belonged to Rasma’s Vinakmens cousins from Racine! (Nice ride!)

Tombstone Tuesday: Karlis and Berta Vinakmens

This is the headstone of Karlis and Berta Vinakmens, in Parkview Cemetery, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. My opa Karlis lived to be 88 years old, and oma Berta was 91 when she passed.
You can see the oak leaves Karlis was so fond of carving on the left top corner, and a rose on top of oak leaves on the top right (perhaps for Berta’s love of flowers and gardening?).
The cross with the sunburst in the middle of the headstone is the symbol of the New Apostolic church, which Karlis and Berta converted to whilst here in Ontario.
The words “Vieglas Smiltas” literally translate to “Light Sands” which my mother tells me has a “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” type meaning.