Insula the book is a compendium of personal accounts by displaced Latvian families fleeing to Germany in fear of a second round of Russian invasion, during the waning days of World War II.
The idea is fine, many of the stories are quite interesting but being dependent exclusively on personal accounts which go into the most minute details of their experiences gets a bit tough. Being devoid of a narrative, the book is rendered a little bit lifeless because each account is almost a replica of its antecedent.
Backdrop to these stories is circa 1940-45 in the Baltic country of Latvia. The Soviet Union had just invaded Latvia and imposed an oppressive occupation upon the people, killing many while exiling tens of thousands to work camps in Siberia.
To show how bad the Russians must have been. When Hitler, abrogated the non-aggression pact and invaded Latvia the Germans were actually greeted as liberators.
The tide of war once again changed between 1943-1945 and the Russians were pushing the Germans out of Latvia and reoccupying the country. In dread fear of a second Soviet occupation, the respondents tell a tale, often gripping about how along with befriended German soldiers they made their escape from the Russian juggernaut to Germany of all places.
What I found particularly interesting. In their travel west escaping from the Russians you recognize their misfortune: scarce food; a long trek; poor lodging and other hardships. But in comparison to the scantly mentioned Jews, and other refugees interned in concentration camps theirs was a walk in the park.
Regarding Insula itself. It was a camp set up to house displaced Latvian refugees by the newly formed, United Nations relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). In one of innumerable personal accounts, on page 105 a former resident gives this description of life at Insula:
"We arrived in open army trucks at this breathtaking, beautiful place, located in the southern corner of Germany amid a panoramic setting of Bavarian Alps...." UNRRA "saw to our needs for shelter, food, and clothing...."We had a school, doctors, two dentists, technology experts, youth leaders, athletes, and artists."
Sounds more like Club Med than a refugee shelter. While reading these accounts, the irony of the plight millions of others experienced at the end of World War Two is inescapable.
For Latvians, particularly former residents and their families, "Insula-Island of Hope" may be a compelling compendium. To others less germane to this topic, it may prove overbearing.
Jerrold L. Sobel
Jerrold L. Sobel is a published author of over 40 years with articles published in Israpundit, American Thinker, The Jewish Press, and other cyber and hard media in addition to his own weekly blog of 10,000 subscribers.