52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Week 23: Martins Akerfelds

Click HERE for last week’s ancestor.

My next “trend” I’d like to write about are NOT my direct ancestors, but are siblings of direct ancestors, with rather incredible stories.

Martins Akerfelds was born in 1902 near the village of Tomsk in Tomsk oblast, Siberia. His family – mother, father, two older brothers and a sister – had moved there a few years prior, from Latvia – the Kurland province of the Russian empire at the time. This Kurland-Siberia trip is a path quite a few Latvians took at this time in history – land was very cheap in Siberia, especially because the Russian empire was keen to grow the population and work the land, colonize the vast expanse to the east. Tomsk was a growing city at the time, with two universities, the Trans-Siberian Railway nearby, and the discovery of gold to boost the economy. It must have seemed like a golden opportunity at the time.

The opportunity was lost though, because Martins’ father Jekabs became ill shortly after his birth, and the family made a quick move back to their original home in Nikrace pagast, Latvia. Martins’ mother Ieva was pregnant with his little sister when his father Jekabs died in July 1904, apparently of kidney disease. Ieva gave birth soon after to a daughter she named Katte. The family lived at Cepli farm on the old Lieldzelda estate and Ieva remarried in 1908 to a fellow widower named Janis Blazgis. Martins attended Nikrace pamatskola (elementary school). He eventually married his half-brother’s widow, Anna Zveja sometime in the early 1930’s and lived at Jaunzemji farm which was owned by Anna’s parents. His brother (my great grandfather Janis) and sister lived on an adjacent farm with their large families. Martins himself became a stepfather to Anna’s three children, his half-nephews.

Martins was a young man when Latvia gained her first stint of independence. The Latvian people had more freedom and opportunity than ever before, new political parties were formed as Latvians were finally able to begin to choose their own types of government (as opposed to being ruled by German land barons or the Tzar). Having been an agricultural laborer his entire life, Martins became a supporter of a new political party called the Farmer’s Union, like many other Latvians, who were a very agricultural people. His became the owner of Jaunzemji after his parents-in-law passed away sometime before 1935 and he joined the local Aizsargi unit – a small, local defense police force. Martins and Anna added one more child to their family, a daughter born in 1937. Things seemed to be going well for Martins at this time.

This period of Latvian independence Martins grew up under came to a sad end when World War Two started. Soviet Russia occupied the country, and under their communist regime began to effectively squash any future attempts to regain sovereignty by Latvia. They did this by declaring Latvians in any position of power or wealth enemies of the state. This included all Latvian military personnel and political figures, right down to bank managers, large-scale land owners, the Aizsargi and people deemed in support of the Farmer’s Union political party. This was a dangerous time for these people, and who began to slowly be arrested or go missing.

The arrests and disappearances culminated on the night of June 14, 1941. In a well-organized and planned move, Soviets stormed the houses of a huge list of people, “enemies” all over Latvia. These arrestees were given a few minutes to pack some essentials, then taken to the local train station. Not just the men who had been deemed enemies, their entire families. Wives, children, infants, elderly. Women and children were herded into train cars designed for hauling cattle, and then men separated and put into different cattle cars. Family units were separated in this way, and many (if not, most) never saw their loved ones again. The trains were bound for Siberian gulags – strings of prison labour camps in the harsh Siberian landscape. The journey to prison was a harsh one. With many being unprepared for such long travel, the sick, weak, very young and very old were most at risk at this point. Many died on the way. The camps were notoriously brutal – disgusting cesspools of filth, long hours of labor every day, and little food or shelter. While the Nazis were committing gross atrocities against Jews in western Europe, another genocide was taking place in the east – a slow, sad and painful genocide that has somehow missed the history books.

Martins, Anna and their 4 year old daughter were arrested the night of June 14th, 1941. Anna and her young daughter were sent to the Krasnojarsk camp, and Martins went to Vyatlag camp in Kirov. Anna and her daughter were eventually released, separately in different years, mind you – 1946 and 1947. But Martins had tragically died of exhaustion and exposure in Vyatlag on May 17, 1943, aged 41 years old. Martins was coincidentally born and had died in Siberia.

I had assumed the worst for Anna and her daughter, 9 years old at her release (imagine a child growing up in a prison labor camp, then being released alone without her mother and no father) but recently I discovered some of their descendants, which shed a little happiness on this very sad story. Martins’ 9 year old daughter had made it back home to Latvia and had grown up, married and had three children of her own.

2 thoughts on “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Week 23: Martins Akerfelds

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