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R.P. BenDedek

Excerpts from 'Insula - Island of Hope' (Latvian refugees in Germany WWII)
By From Insula - Island of Hope
Dec 1, 2013 - 12:27:46 AM

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Excerpts from
Insula - Island of Hope by John and Ventis Plume

As the Stand-in Editor of Magic City Morning Star News over the last four years, it has been my job to prepare for publication what articles are sent to us. Over the last six months we have turned our focus to aiding authors promote their books. The most efficient way of doing this is to request from them extracts or other articles in which we can place the details and photographs of their book.

One book that came to our attention is called 'Insula - Island of Hope'. It is a collection of stories written by Latvians who spent time in a refugee camp in Germany.

"Insula" is the Latin word for island. It is a fitting name, for the Latvian refugee camp was located in the Bavarian Alps: an island of Latvians set apart from the Germans who lived there, the American soldiers occupying the land, and the other various refugees. They stayed at Insula for only four years, but, for the Latvian refugees, it became a haven. It was a secure, safe place to live after the turmoil they had endured, and it became a springboard for new lives abroad in North and South America, Australia, and even North Africa.

The authors, Ventis and John Plume spent some of the formative years of their young lives in Insula. Their tireless research gathering stories, of compiling, writing, and editing has resulted in Insula: Island of Hope. The book also features a frank and informative foreword by Dr. Vaira Vike-Frieberga, former Latvian refugee and president of the Republic of Latvia from 1999-2007. These powerful memoirs of survival amidst the ravages or war serve as an inspiration to readers, who truly learn what it meant to Latvian refugees to have Insula, their island of hope.

John and Ventis Plume have been very generous in supplying a lot of material from their book, and that includes photographs. Photographs such as this one.

Insula c. 1948

It has been my pleasure to publish at Magic City quite a number of articles in which are provided stories and photographs provided by the Plume brothers, and today I am taking the opportunity to publish this particular article which I published at Kingscalendar some weeks ago. Below are listed the links to all excerpts and photographs concerning 'Insula - Island of Hope' that have been published to date - and there are more to come.

Having personally known some people who spent time in concentration camps and then refugee camps in Germany, I know that these stories are valuable in educating young people in the realities of life, most particularly in the areas of politics, war and compassion. If you enjoy these small excerpts from the book, then you can go to the link provided underneath the photograph of the front cover of 'Insula - Island of Hope' and proceed to purchase a copy.

R.P. BenDedek
Email:
rpbendedek@hotmail.com

Excerpts and photographs from 'Insula - Island of Hope' already published at Magic City include:

November 23, 2013 Photographs of WWII Refugee Camps (Latvian Insula)

November 17, 2013 Photograph of the Week: Men's volleyball team at Insula in 1946

November 17, 2013 Twin Sisters, Many Journeys: Excerpt from 'Insula - Island of Hope'

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

To commence this composite article today, here is a photograph of John and Ventis Plume, accompanied by some information that goes with that photograph.


John and Ventis Plume in Berchtesgadener Alps, 2003.

Ventis and John Plume were born in Latvia prior to World War II, to a forest ranger and his wife. The Soviet regime in 1941 had their father listed for deportation to Siberia. Tipped off by a friend, their father escaped the mass arrests by hiding out. In 1944, the family, with thousands of other Baltic refugees, fled to Germany. Five years later, they arrived in the United States of America to begin a normal life. Thus began a long journey that would lead them to a new life in a new land, guided by the grace of the Creator.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis Grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And Grace will lead me home.

"Amazing Grace" by John Newton

Why We Left by Ventis Plume

In the twentieth century, one of the most serious crimes ever committed against humanity was forcing people from their homes and native lands and allowing them to exist on bare subsistence during periods of flight and homelessness. At the end of World War II, there were between nine and twelve million refugees in Western Europe. No one really knew how many people were displaced from their homelands, but the number was enormous.

"If the nineteenth century was the century of the emigrant, voluntarily seeking a better future, the twentieth was the century of the Refugee, driven from home and native land by force of outrageous circumstance and despairing of a better future." So wrote Dr. E.T. Bachmann in an article for Service to Refugees, Lutheran World Federation.

At the end of the Second World War, more than 120,000 Latvians were among the millions of refugees in Europe. The Baltic people left their home countries in 1944-1945 by force or willingly in great numbers. These people were placed in a category of refugees given the technical name "Displaced Person." Not all refugees were Displaced Persons, technically speaking, but all Displaced Persons were refugees. The group of refugees called Displaced Persons comprised those refugees who came under the care of the United Nations at the close of the Second World War.

The exile of hundreds of thousands of people from the eastern countries of Europe to other parts of the world is one of the most poignant of the many tragedies with which the road to victory has been strewn. The people of the Baltic countries Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania endured three occupations under foreign powers over five years. During these occupations, they were deprived of their independence and freedom. They suffered because of wars waged on their soil between two great powers. They saw thousands of their fellow citizens deported. Some of their men were forced to take up arms for foreign powers. Many were taken into forced labor camps. In every way, they suffered persecution and deprivation at the hands of occupational powers, both during and after the war.

On August 23, 1939, the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, between Germany and Soviet Russia, was signed in Moscow. This pact meant a delimitation of zones of interest of these two great powers in Eastern Europe. The consequences of the agreement were tremendous. Germany attacked Poland on September 1, 1939, thus starting the World War II. Soviet Russia proceeded almost immediately to put into execution her plan for the absorption of the Baltic countries. She began by forcing them to sign pacts of mutual assistance with her. These pacts provided bases to be established on Baltic soil; however, Soviet Russia expressly and solemnly pledged that she would respect the independence of the Baltic countries.

In spite of these assurances, the forcible destruction of the independence of these Baltic countries was to begin only a few months later. They had adhered to the agreements of the Pacts of Mutual Assistance and had allowed Soviet troops to use bases on their territory. However, in the middle of June 1940, Russia invaded these countries.

Special Soviet emissaries arrived in each of the three capitals in the Baltic States. At this time open intervention in the internal affairs of the three countries began. A Communist-inspired revolution was common. Puppet governments, consisting of men chosen by the Soviet Legations, were forced upon the countries. New elections were held with complete disregard for the electoral laws of the various countries. All those people nominated for election to office who did not uphold the principles of the so-called "Working Peoples Union" (Communist controlled) were disqualified or arrested for subversive activities against the "people's government." The elections took place in an atmosphere of terror and intimidation, and were a mere fa├žade designed to mislead public opinion abroad by adorning the intended annexation of the three Republics with a semblance of legality. The three Baltic countries were "incorporated" into the Soviet Union.

The months that followed were months of unrest; torture, arrests, and executions were a daily occurrence. Many leading personalities in public life, as well as countless unknown patriots, disappeared without a trace. Tens of thousands of people men, women, and children were deported to Siberia and arctic Russia. The conditions under which they existed there defy the starkest description. The statistics alone speak of what was done to these nations.

From Estonia alone, 60,910 people of all classes were deported to Russia; 7,129 had first been sentenced to ten to twenty-five years at hard labor. About 1,800 Estonians were killed. In Latvia, more than 60,000 people disappeared, including 20,000 women and 9,000 children; 1,700 people were killed. In Lithuania, it is estimated that at least 50,000 civilians were deported to Russia and 3,000 persons were killed by the secret police. The head of the family was usually separated from the others. Mothers were often separated from their children, who were put in training camps for Komsomols (young Communists).

The German attack on Russia took place in June 1941, and one invader replaced another. A new period of oppression began for the Baltic people. The Nazis set themselves to laying hands on everything that the Russians had left, although conditions during this occupation were not as bad as during the Russian occupation. A great number of men in Estonia and Latvia were forced to enter the Estonian and Latvian legions, formed by the Germans to fight against the Russians.

Both occupations were met with resistance. The resisters held out stubbornly for the free right and independent sovereignty of their people. Under German totalitarianism, compulsory mobilization, which was defied, ran parallel to ruthless conscription of forced labor. Under Russian rule, many were removed to Siberia, but under German authority, tens of thousands of people were sent to Central Europe to serve in the forced labor camps and to provide workers to benefit the Nazi war machine.

Near the end of the war, in the autumn of 1944, the tragedy that had befallen the Baltic people reached a climax as the Soviet troops moved nearer from the East. The people were panic-stricken and lived under the fear of a second Soviet occupation. Many of the people fled to the West to Germany, France, Sweden, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, and Austria. Approximately 30,000 Estonians fled to Sweden in small boats, while others who had tried this route of escape perished in the sea. Some Latvians also escaped to Sweden.

After enduring two hostile occupations, many Balts sought asylum in the West, free from the Soviet clutches. The long march westward was not an easy decision for the people to make. They knew that the last days of bitter fighting would center in Germany. The trip had to be made on overcrowded trains, small ships, or on foot. Many families and persons were separated by the authorities in travel, because of the shifting of trains or the necessity to avoid battle areas.

In the following pages, you will learn about people who were young children and adolescents during this period of upheaval and resettlement. These are their stories, their accounts of the events as they witnessed them. More than half a century later, the impressions may have crystallized but they will never be totally erased from memory.

Email: jkplume@gmail.com

"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...." Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga (Photo: Bundasarchive Bild 183-1990-0518-028 Bernd Settnik)

The forward to 'Insula - Island of Hope' was written by former President of Latvia Dr. Vaira Vike- Freiberga. You can read the forward at Magic City Morning Star News. The following is the Biography of Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga

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.

Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Prof. Imants Freibergs

Excerpts from another section of the book

"Fleeing From The Soviets"

An Excerpt from "Whisper in a Storm" by Sylvia A. Zeltins Vadas

with commentary by Victor and Rolf Zeltins

Our Roots are in Bajari

Bajari is the name of the Latvian Noblemen back in the misty past. To me, it means roots. Bajari is the home where my mother was born and the place she brought me and my brothers back to. I still refer to it as Oma's Homestead.

My grandmother, Elizabeth ("Oma") , worked in a shoe salon which Frederick Strauss owned in Liepaja. One day, Elizabeth was hurrying along a narrow hallway and encountered a good-looking gentleman wearing a flying mackintosh. As she brushed past him, the crocheted shawl that she was wearing got caught on the man's coat. Blushing, she looked up into the amused face of the owner. It was love at first sight. They were married in Liepaja in 1901.

Frederick sold the shoe business and bought Bajari in the heart of the most fertile piece of Latvia, Zemgale. He built a new home for his new bride and her mother. Frederick and Elizabeth had two daughters and a son: Margaret, the eldest and my aunt; Auguste Ilona, my mother; and Voldemars, my uncle. My father, Antons Zeltins, was born in 1903 in the town of Valmiera. He met and married my mother, Auguste Ilona while he was billeted in Bajari when serving on a border patrol between Latvia and Lithuania. They were separated in 1937. My older brother, Harry Victor, was born in Jelgava in 1929. My younger brother, Rolf was born in Jelgava in 1930 and I was born in Auce in 1932.

We lived in Bajari and attended school in the nearby town of Vadakste in southwest Latvia. My favorite childhood memories are of Oma's garden, picking mushrooms and berries in the nearby forest, and the peaceful forest solitude.

War Comes to Latvia

In spite of Russia having signed a non-aggression treaty with Latvia in 1932, the Russian Army invaded Latvia on June 17, 1940, starting a reign of terror. Many innocent people were imprisoned, tortured, or simply murdered. During that time, my mother went to work in Riga and in the winter of 1940 she sent for us to join her in Riga. I was sad to leave Bajari.

On June 13 and 14, 1941 during the nighttime thousands of Latvians were arrested and loaded on freight cars for deportation to Siberia. A week later, on June 22, Hitler declared war against the Soviet Union. I remember one day we heard the air raid sirens and ran for the bomb shelter! All the factory workers crammed into it. We heard the shelling by the Russian artillery, trying to shoot the German planes down. Then we heard the heavy droning of the German bombers as they headed for the nearby airport and for the bridges across the Daugava River.

I crouched in a corner of the shelter. My whole body turned into a tense aching ball. I was shivering, my teeth were chattering and I felt sick to my stomach. Then all went quiet as we heard the long, drawn-out sound of the siren telling us that the air raid was over. We had just lived through our first air raid. We did not know from one day to the next whether we would live or die. Then one day an eerie silence covered the city. The Russians had retreated to the east. The German troops entered Riga on July 1, two weeks after the mass deportations to Siberia.

The workers returning back to work in factory offices discovered lists with names of workers who were to be deported to Siberia. The names of all our family were listed. Obviously, we were grateful that the Germans had liberated us from the Russians. We had escaped deportation to Siberia. It may seem strange to some readers that the Latvian people did not show hostility to the German troops, but rather seemed to welcome them.

(At the beginning of the occupation, the atrocities committed by the Nazis were unknown to general public, even in Germany, much less so to the population of Latvia. It was not surprising that the people welcomed the German troops drive out the Soviets.)

Rolf Zeltins

"On the way, we came across villages that had been burnt and looted looking like ghost towns. When we came to Berlin we saw destroyed houses and buildings and Russian soldiers chasing women and raping them in the streets."

Victor Zeltins

We came to an office where refugees were being registered. Those who had lost their identification papers could receive new ones. Mother told us to wait outside while she went to find out more information. After a while Mother came out and gave us instructions:

"Zeltins will no longer be our name because it is recognizable as a Latvian surname. Now our name is Strauss."

Mother's name was Auguste Zeltins but now she became Ilona Strauss. Now my name was changed to Silvia Strauss. Mother also had a certificate stamped by the German mayor using a potato carved with a star, inking the star with red ink and stamping our documents. This document was to be shown to the Mayor of any town or village we passed through. It really did wonders. We were entitled to obtain bread, when there was any to be had.

We spent one night with many other refugees crowded into the bombed-out railway station of Berlin. We were all sleeping on the cold floor of a former restaurant. There was no roof and we could see the stars. But at least we still had the walls around us and other people for company. We felt quite safe. We were so crowded that all four of us could not lie down and sleep at the same time. While two of us sleep, the other two had to stand. In the middle of the night we switched places.

According to Victor and his map, ahead of us was Juterbog and Wittenberg. We started out and somewhere along the road, a young German woman, "Blitz-madel" joined us as we walked on.

We lived on the sandwiches that we had received from showing our certificate to the village mayors. Sometimes we passed abandoned farms where we could occasionally find some carrots and pick a few peas for food.

We were getting very tired. There were days when we could not reach our goal of 40 kilometers any more. My foot was still hurting. Rolf had trouble with his feet too. Rolf's boots were worn and he could feel the sand coming in through holes in his soles. Luckily he came across a pair of discarded army boots with worn heels. Immediately he changed his boots. However, he still suffers the consequences of that event. It ruined his feet because of the way the boots had been worn. These were the legacies of World War II for him. He developed a war-neurosis, a hatred for Communism, and crooked feet.

Book Title: Insula - Island of Hope
ISBN: 978-1-61863-383-5
Book Pages: 453
Price: $22.95
Ventis Plume and John Plume, Editors
Email:
jkplume@gmail.com

I hope you have enjoyed these excerpts from Insula - Island of Hope

R.P. BenDedek
Email:
rpbendedek@hotmail.com


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