Today it is our privilege at Magic City Morning Star News to bring you one of several excerpts from Insula - Island of Hope which is a 453 page collation of stories written by Latvians who, being displaced, spent time in a refugee camp in Germany at the end of WWII. We have already been provided with some material from the book, for instance photographs for our photograph of the Week Section: (Watercolors of Insula by Leo Trinkuns (1899-1948)) and the Foreword to "Insula - Island of Hope" which was written by former Latvian President Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga
Today's excerpt was written by one of the editors of the book, Ventis Plume, and we have been provided with some photographs. In the coming weeks we will provide more excerpts from this extremely interesting book. R.P. BenDedek firstname.lastname@example.org
Insula Began in Bruckmuhl
The war ended for us when the Americans arrived in our area May 1, 1945, along with a fresh snowfall. When I walked to the Gasthaus, I noticed white cloth flags draped from the windows; the residents of Willing were signaling their surrender. Finally, the war was over and we had been liberated. The village Gasthaus, where we received our daily milk rations, had turned into a billeting place for the American troops. This morning there was no milk delivery. For several days we subsisted on the flour and canned meat that Dad and Mom brought home from Bad Aibling when hungry people opened warehouses. Eventually, Dad and other men from our barracks found jobs with the American army in Bad Aibling and Rosenheim. Dad brought home white bread and other leftovers of food we had not tasted before.
|My brother, Janis (right), with friends, 1945|
In June of 1945, a group of Latvian refugees arrived at Bruckmuhl, 40 km (25 mi) southeast of Munich, from Thuringia, which the Americans turned over to the Soviets. The Latvian refugees settled in the Wohldecke Fabrik (blanket factory) right on the bank of the Mangfall River. The river flows through a level farming valley skirting the foothills of the Bavarian Alps and joins the Inn at Rosenheim 20 km (12 mi) east of Bruckmuhl. We lived only four kilometers from there in the small village of Willing just outside Bad Aibling, which later became an American air base.
Bruckmuhl is a small hamlet on the Mangfall River, located about 40 km southeast of Munchen. Only a few miles south of Bruckmuhl, the Munich-Salzburg autobahn crosses the Mangfall River valley by the longest and highest bridge in the autobahn system. The bridge is 1,075 feet long and 220 feet high. It was blown up in April 1945 shortly before the end of the war. However, it was repaired with an extra pylon and restored to service. One has to get down to the river and look up to appreciate its height.
We packed our skimpy duffel and moved there. I remember living in a large open room on the second floor. We had double bunk beds that we draped with blankets for privacy; it was a rather noisy place around mealtimes or before bedtime.
In Munich, a Latvian news bulletin had a brief article (in Latvian, of course) about Latvian refugees in Bruckmuhl. Translated to English, it read:
"...that since June (1945) 410 Latvians had settled in a former blanket factory building at Bruckmuhl near Bad Aibling. The rooms are bright and large. Food is adequate, plenty of milk, potatoes and cabbage but no fruit.
The group has formed a self-government committee overseeing the life in the camp, which is clean and orderly. Medical services include a medical clinic, 12-bed hospital, and dental office. Social and cultural life includes lectures and literary discussions, religious services, kindergarten, elementary and high school classes, English language courses, and choir. Many participate in various sports and games of chess. Several members of the camp wearing Latvian folk costumes participated in an international song and dance evening organized by UNRRA at Bad Aibling.
The camp is under the direction of Aleksejs Azelickis, an engineer. Here in residence are Fricis Roze, Rev. Jekabs Osis, and Dr. Janis Vieze, MD; agronomist Teodors Rublis; engineers Bruno Danisevskis, Roberts Erdmanis, and Karlis Gailitis; painter Karlis Tilts, pianist Elza Gusmane, Dr. Velta Klasons, MD, dentist Austra Lejnieks; teachers Brunhilde Ziemelis, Paula Munderovskis, Matilde Eglitis, Auguste Rutulis, Nina Brenholms, and Vera Fuksis."
I cannot recall much about the ordinary day in Bruckmuhl other than a group hike to Wendelstein. We rode a narrow-gauge train from Bad Aibling to the base of Wendelstein. Then we switched to a cogwheel rail that brought us within a short hike to a hotel at 1840 m. What impressed me most was the last segment of trail. It was built along a vertical cliff leading up to the hotel. On the way back, we walked to the camp instead of taking the train. The group included thirty to forty people. After fifty years, I remember the faces but only few names.
It was a beautiful and peaceful summer slipping into a golden Bavarian autumn when one day we received an order to pack up and clear out. We loaded aboard the green U.S. Army trucks. The convoy snaked onto the Autobahn and sped south. Just short of the Austrian frontier, the trucks turned off at the Bad Reichenhall exit and pulled up in front of a military barracks. It turned out that this well-built installation was in a despicable condition. The buildings were trashed, the windows were broken, and cots were without mattresses. Before the dour UNRRA officer could order the people to unload the trucks, a young man in civilian garb walked up to him and calmly explained that this facility was unsuitable for human habitation.
After a lengthy debate, the UNRRA official gave in to the young man, who had stood his ground. Then, driving at breakneck speed on the narrow and winding Alpenstrasse, the trucks turned onto a small road that stopped in front of a two-story blockhouse with an arch entrance. This was our new home.
|My brother flies over ski jump on the sled our dad built for him in Insula, 1946|
In the autumn twilight, one could make out the shapes of seven two-story buildings, some connected by covered passages. The facility had not been fully completed, interrupted by the sudden end of war. Although unfinished, it had adequate lighting, heating, and plumbing to provide a livable shelter for homeless people. It was located deep in the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden, where Hitler and the higher-ranking Nazis had built their retreats. It was a magnificent place with alpine scenery of snow-capped mountains, dark green woods, and clear mountain streams. Above all, the ever-dominant mountain, the Watzmann, soared high above the camp. Such a view would leave anyone awestruck.
The soft-spoken man who persuaded the UNRRA official to change his mind was Alexis Azelickis. Mr. Azelickis had help from Mr. Erdmanis and several others who were articulate and spoke English. Their persistence made the DP Camp Insula at Strub b/Berchtesgaden possible.
When we arrived that dark October evening at the former OKL Kaserne, not all the buildings were vacant. One was already occupied by Polish and Yugoslav boys. They were eventually repatriated to their home countries. The number of the camp occupants changed daily. On April 6, 1946, Insula had 47 Estonians, 4 Lithuanians, and 456 Latvians. In January 1947, about 200 Latvians arrived from Mannheim, increasing the Latvian count to 656 persons. Although the population fluctuated daily with people arriving and leaving, it is doubtful whether the total number of refugees at Insula ever exceeded 1,000.
|Photograph of Insula 1948..After spending the winter of 1944-45, the last months of war, in the labor camp of Willing, we savored Insula as a rather friendly and cheerful place. In March 1949 we said farewell to our friends at Insula and left for our new home in the United States.|
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