On Sunday Oct 27, 2013 at Magic City Morning Star News we featured a photograph of Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga.
Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga is the author of the forward to "Insula - Island of Hope" for which we published some publicity material on Oct 27, 2013
The Editors and Authors of the book, Ventis Plume and John Plume have provided Magic City with a rather large volume of material from the 453 page book, and today we present to you the first in a series of insights into this fascinating look at the history of Latvia and its people.
"Insula - Island of Hope"
Foreword Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga
They all had lived a peaceful life in their native Latvia. Then the war came, with two successive foreign occupations, and the next thing they had in common was the flight from their homeland, moving West, always West, away from the front lines of World War II, away from the danger of the advancing Red Army and the likelihood of a second Soviet occupation. Their parents had survived the first one, even though some had had their names on the lists of those to be deported to Siberia. Now they were ready to face unknown dangers, just to get away from the danger they knew.
Book Pages: 453
By horse-cart, on foot, on land and by boat, they fled Westward, through Poland and then nightmarish wanderings through a collapsing Germany. They survived Allied bombings and Soviet torpedoes, suffered fear, hunger, cold, disease, and as well as other challenges. Some were relatively lucky, others less so.
They were small children or adolescents at the time. Some left only with their parents and possibly brothers or sisters. Others left in larger groups, including aunts and uncles and grandparents. Their only thought was to flee, sometimes with detours to the South, which turned out to be no safer. They left behind their homes, their possessions, their way of life and everything else their elders had lived and worked for all their lives.
This book tells their stories--the stories of those who survived, told in their own simple, artless words, many decades after the events. Just the highlights, just the bare bones and general outlines of what happened, for the full details of each story would require a full novel. In this book, they have done their best to set down the experiences of their early lives. For the record. And as you read these stories, you will come to know the individuals who told them, and get to imagine what it must have been like in those days.
They were among the millions of refugees from Eastern and Central Europe who were left stranded in a Germany defeated and devastated by the end of World War II. A Germany in ruins that had caused their plight by starting the war, but had nothing to offer them now that the war was over.
They all started from different places and conditions in Latvia. They all had wonderings unique to each. But then fate brought them all together in the same foreign place at the same historical moment. They all wound up taking residence in the same refugee camp in the same picturesque setting of the Bavarian Alps. It was to become their haven of refuge for the next several years. Their elders called the place Insula-- the Latin for island, for it became an island of Latvian life among the local Germans, the occupying Americans and all the other nationalities of stranded refugees.
Looking back on it, their stay in Insula was but a brief episode in their lives. But for young children and adolescents, the few years spent there coincided with that formative period when time seems to go by much more slowly, and every day--no matter how seemingly ordinary--brings meaningful new experiences. Brief as their accounts are, you can see each personality developing its own individuality in interaction with a unique social environment. Social distinctions had been brutally leveled out, and the Latvians all found themselves homeless, destitute, and helpless against the whims of everyone from foreign statesmen to petty bureaucrats.
Their stay in Insula marked them forever. It helped to heal the traumas they had just endured. It gave them much needed stability and security, no matter the quality of their life there. It gave a solid basis to their education, in conditions hardly designed to ensure it. Most of all, it gave them a solid sense of Latvian identity, which helped them to maintain a strong sense of their own personal identities through all the vicissitudes that awaited them as adults.
This book is not a work of art; it is an account of real lives, recounted in their own words by those who lived them. It uncovers an aspect of WWII that hardly ever gets mentioned in English-language accounts, which mostly focus on battles on the Western front and the celebrations of the glorious victors. It sheds some light on the experiences of millions who were displaced in this war--the Displaced Persons known only as DPs. Torn from their roots in different countries, the UNRRA had had the good sense to regroup them by nationality in camps of various degrees of comfort or discomfort, after it became clear that the large majority refused to return willingly to their Communist homelands. After a few years of feeding them more or less adequately or inadequately, clothing them in donated used clothes and warming them with army surplus blankets, the IRO, successor to the UNRRA, insisted on scattering them to the four winds, to the US and Canada, to Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Australia, Pakistan, Tunisia and Morocco.
At first many countries, including Great Britain, Belgium and Canada only wanted hale and hearty single men and women. Later, reluctantly, refugee families with children were accepted as immigrants. Old people and anyone with a detectable illness, however, had to be left behind. Grandmothers and grandfathers, who had gone through hell and high water to remain with their children, had to be left behind. Many of them died a lonely death in the same Insula, where at first they had found safety together.
During their stay at Insula, the Latvians formed as strong bond as any they might experience, say, in boarding school at Eton, or at Oxford or Cambridge. Years later, most would recall Insula with warm nostalgia. In spite everything they had been happy there. They had had a close-knit community with an astounding array of cultural and educational activities. They made life-long friendships, some of which continued despite the oceans and continents that came to separate them. Insula had been a meaningful part of their lives. Remembering Insula was the same as going back to the time when they were young, innocent and able to take joy where they could find it. In many ways they were privileged, compared with other refugee camps. Certainly compared to those I experienced in the British occupation zone. Their quarters were better than most, the food in the American Zone was significantly better and definitely more abundant.
They lived in one of the most picturesque regions of Europe. They received skis and skates from U.S. Army surplus and could enjoy winter sports, hiking, swimming and mountaineering activities that under normal circumstances would be reserved for the natives and the children of the rich from elsewhere.
The book also gathers brief accounts of what happened to them later, once the refugee camps were closed down by the IRO and people had been scattered across on four continents as immigrants. Since their camp was in the American occupation zone, many of them obtained sponsorships to go to the USA. By all accounts, their first experiences there were not always rosy, and many years of more hardship would pass before they achieved success and stability. The reader can follow the lives of those whom he or she first met as youngsters, and see how they grew up. It is a fascinating picture.
In spite of all that these children of war had gone through, there is not one failed life among the lot of them. Not one who became isolated on the margins of society. No one fell by the wayside.
The success of the rest of their lives bears testimony to the indomitable strength of the human spirit. But there is also a sad note to it. By the time Latvia became free again, in 1991, much of their life was behind them and they had taken root in the lands that had given them refuge. The roots of their children and grandchildren ran even deeper. Very, very few could pick up the thread of their Latvian lives, although some did, as in my own case. Their departure was a loss to Latvia and remained so.
There is another lesson to be learned from these lives, and one can only hope that officials from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees get to read these stories and reflect upon their implications. What was it about Insula and hundreds of other WWII refugee camps that made them so incredibly different from most of the refugee camps of today? What was it that made these camps into islands of civilization, education and culture, rather than hell-holes of violence, rape and murder? The stories in this book should give some answers.
We, as former Latvian refugees who have gone on to lead "normal" lives, raise these questions as a challenge to the civilized world, in the name of all those other refugees who remain in untenable situations and whose lives have been permanently put on hold. They, too, deserve better.
President of the Republic of Latvia (1999-2007)
Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga was President of the Republic of Latvia 1999 to 2007. She successfully implemented Latvia's foreign policy interests by guiding its entry into the European Union and NATO and raised the nation's recognition in the world through her work at the UN and other international activities. She was named Special Envoy to the Secretary General on United Nations reform in 2005. She was vice-president of the Reflection Group on the Future of the European Union 2020-2030 and is Chair of the High Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism of the EU.
Vaira Vike was born in Riga, Latvia, but left her home with her parents at the end of World War II. She spent part of her childhood in refugee camps in Germany, attended schools in French-administered Morocco, and in 1954 settled in Canada. After obtaining a Ph.D. at McGill University, she worked for many years as a professor of psychology at the University of Montreal and has gained recognition as an interdisciplinary scholar and expert on science policy.
In 1998, she returned to her native country to become the Director of the newly founded Latvian Institute and was elected President of the Republic in 1999.
Dr. Vike-Freiberga is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, the Club of Madrid, and the European Council on Foreign Relations. She has been awarded 37 Orders of Merit (First Class) and 17 honorary doctorates, as well as many prizes and honors, including the 2005 Hannah-Arendt Prize for political thinking, the 2009 Hayek Medal for promotion of freedom and free trade, and the 2010 Konrad Adenauer Prize for her work in the political construction of a united Europe.
Former President of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga is a recipient of 2011 Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom. In accepting the award, Dr. Vike-Freiberga stressed the need to educate societies about the Communism regime, and condemned prejudice and hatred everywhere in the world, regardless of ideology - Communism, Nazism or terrorism. The Medal is awarded to individuals that have demonstrated a life-long commitment to freedom, democracy and opposition to communism and all other forms of tyranny. Previous recipients include Vaclav Havel, Pope John Paul II, and Lech Walesa.
Book Title: Insula - Island of Hope
Book Pages: 453
Ventis Plume and John Plume, Editors
Other excerpts and photographs from 'Insula - Island of Hope' include:
November 16, 2013 Stories of WWII Latvian Refugees (at Kingscalendar.com)
November 10, 2013 Photograph of the Week: Insula - Island of Hope
November 10, 2013 Insula Began in Bruckmuhl (Excerpt from 'Insula - Island of Hope')
November 3, 2013 Photograph of the Week: Watercolors of Insula by Leo Trinkuns (1899-1948)
November 3, 2013 Forward to Insula - Island of Hope by Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga
October 27, 2013 New Book about Latvians Displaced by World War II