New Book – Rebuilding Post-war Britain – Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian Refugees in Britain, 1946-1951

I am really excited to announce that my new book Rebuilding Post-war Britain – Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian refugees in Britain, 1946-1951, has now been completed and is due to be published in June this year (2017) by Pen and Sword Publishers.  It has been a long haul, with lots of ups and downs, but I have had a lot of help both from the publishers and also from members of the Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian communities who have donated photographs, stories and even helped with proofreading.  Anita Laima Woronycz has been amazing with helping me to check the book is as free of errors as possible, while Alexandra Mazers contributed the photos for the front cover.

You can pre-order the book on various websites, including Amazon and direct from the publishers, which I have listed below, and I will provide a bit more information about the contents of the book nearer to the publishing date:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rebuilding-Post-War-Britain-Lithuanian/dp/1473860571

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Rebuilding-Post-War-Britain-Paperback/p/13617

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(Group of Baltic DP nurses in the UK, one of the photographs used in the book, kindly donated by Alexandra Mazers)

 

 

‘Something True’ by Alexandra Māzers

Introduction by Emily Gilbert

I am really excited to publish the latest blog post by Alexandra Māzers about her Latvian family history.  Alexandra (Alex) is a second generation Latvian who lives in Devon in the UK, and has spent the last few years researching her Latvian family.  Alex’s father came to Britain as a child, on the European Volunteer Workers’ dependent relatives scheme, after the Second World War.  In the summer of 2014, Alex and her father returned to Latvia for the very first time since he had left in 1944.  They returned again this summer, in 2016, to visit some of the relatives Alex had found through her research.  Something True is the story of her father, and the 5 Lat coin that meant so much to the refugees who left Britain, a symbol of an independent Latvia and their homeland, which they had all hoped to return to, someday soon.


Something True

I have to tell you something true. There’s another woman in my father’s life.

My mother knows all about her – I expect lots of husbands and wives do. Sons and daughters, also. Whenever my father sees her, his eyes well up with tears of pride and he’s away, some place, happy. I think. My mother’s always been very understanding. She believes that you should follow your heart, a path she has happily trod these past 53 years of married life. My mother was just 17 when she met my father and he a little younger than that. To call my father a work-in-progress – what husband isn’t? – goes without saying and that other woman of his came with the deal. And so – faced with the choice – my mother did what every woman has always done and followed her heart. Because that’s something true also.

This other woman’s name is Milda. She’s the woman on the face of the 5 Lat Coin.

To describe my father a work in progress is actually no exaggeration. He was born that way, several weeks premature. His family name as a child was Cimds, which is the Latvian for “glove”. He was born so small you could literally fit him in the palm of your hand and so, the name stuck.

Cimds was born in Riga, March 1944 under a sky red with fire. His newborn cries drowned by the sound of exploding bombs and pistol shots. The Red Army were advancing. Hell had broken loose. Cimds didn’t know what was happening, but his family did. The events of 1944 – what was happening around those little cries – would change his and their paths forever.

The 5 Lat Coin was born under a better sky. Clear, blue. The only sound you could hear when the 5 Lat was first produced was the sound of people living their lives. There were no armies marching, just a country being a country in its own right, for the first time in centuries. Independent. Free.

The people of Latvia had fought long and hard to call themselves Latvian in their own country and now it was the people of Latvia’s time. Latvia was its own Republic. Pride in that united a country.

To commemorate the achievement in 1929, the 5 Lat coin was produced, designed by artist Richard Zarins.

On the reverse is the Coat of Arms of Latvia and on the front, the woman who lives in so many people’s hearts even today – the Artist’s muse –  Zelma Brauere wearing the Latvian traditional headdress with ears of corn thrown over her shoulders. Once put into circulation the coin was given a nickname.

Milda.

Every country needs a symbol, something to be proud of as Milda rapidly came to mean Latvia to the people of Latvia. With every passing year that sense of national identity associated with the woman on that particular coin grew. Children would be given a shiny 5 Lat coin to put in their piggy banks on birthdays and find in their stockings at Christmas.

For Latvians, Milda was more than just a coin. Sure – she was about Latvia. But every bit as much she was a token of faith. A hope in this new future.

Unfortunately – as I told you in the beginning. I have to tell you something true. And part of that is that life can turn and bite you most when you very least expect it.

Unknown to the Latvian people, a secret accord was under way. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In 1940 – thanks to that agreement signed between Hitler and Stalin the previous year – the Soviet Army were to roll roughshod over the Baltic grinding all three formally independent countries under heel as they went.

Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. Republics no more. The West sat on their hands and let it happen.

On the March 25th, 1941 – at precisely 1 pm – Milda was taken out of circulation. And then the deportations began, first under the Soviets and then under the Germans. Everyone it seemed wanted to be Baltic. Everyone welcome. Everyone except the people already living there….

Come October 1944, my Grandfather – Cimds’ dad –  came home from work, breathless. Scared. Cimds’ mother was crying as were his Grandmother and two sisters.  Everyone was running around packing what they could. What was important. What could be carried. The skies were screaming now and Hell was literally the other side of a river. Cimds, being a baby, didn’t understand what was happening around him but the people he loved were visibly scared and my father watched whilst everything fell apart around him. After being kicked out of the Baltic in 1941 by the Germans, the Soviets were coming back with avengance. My family made it out on the last boat leaving Riga. Both my Grandparents had witnessed family taken by soldiers already. It wasn’t going to happen to their children.

Little Cimds doesn’t remember the journey, how they got to Germany. He doesn’t remember the train journey when the children around him died. He doesn’t remember the bombs or hiding from the Red Army following them even into Germany. He doesn’t remember his parents and eldest sister crying in May, 1945 when his older sister died. He just remembers there was a point and then she was suddenly no longer there.

Cimds’ earliest memories are of smaller things. Child sized things. Hunger and cold. To this day my father can’t stand the slightest chill. Even in the summer, at night – the slightest chill has him shivering and his oldest surviving sister was always the same.

Hunger, cold and the endless DP Camps. This was the size of my father’s world. Being moved from one place to next. His eldest surviving sister remembered all of it. She was a young girl and not a small baby, told not to look back. Being older, my Aunt looked back, often. She saw the planes, the flames, the places they had barely escaped from, burning behind. She remembered who was on their side and when nowhere was safe.

The displaced were stuck in the middle of insanity. But to my father, it was simply where he grew up.

At the end of the war, my family ended up in at a barracks in Lubeck along with so many other refugees. Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians all with no home to go back to. The war may have been over, but for them this is where an uncertain future began. The army they had fled from, had taken their homelands. With no home to go back to value – your heritage, where you were from – get to be the only things other than family you have.

Schools were set up to educate the children who had witnessed the war. Books and papers were printed to keep the spirit of a homeland alive….and they did. Children would dress up in traditional dress keeping memories alive and Milda once more became the face of home.

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Latvian choir in Lubeck DP Camp

Many of the refugees, when they packed in haste, took with them only what they could of value, what was important, just like my family. The 5 Lat may not have been worth anything as currency, but the coin was made of silver and Milda herself once more came to represent what she always had – but more than simply just where these people came from – she also symbolized faith that there would be a future.

A better one.

Milda traveled with many of the refugees across Germany, witness to all the families who carried her throughout. She had survived like they had and she was important. She stood strong just like the Freedom Monument in the hearts of all those that had left Latvia and her meaning grew strong like the hopes of the refugees. She is a symbol of better days. Not just those behind. She’s a token of faith in what’s to come.

Many coins were made into broaches to be worn with national costume, a token given to fellow Latvians, keepsakes to remember them by and of home. My Aunt – Cimds’ eldest surviving sister – had one made into a brooch which she cherished her whole life. Cimds remembers his sister wearing Milda with pride. I too – Cimds’ daughter – remembers my Aunt’s brooch. Growing up in England at a time when Latvia wasn’t even on the maps of the world. I would gaze at her and ask my Aunt who she was and listen as she explained Milda’s importance.

But my father never had his own Milda. Not until 2014 – 70 years after he and his family left Latvia – Cimds took a brave step.

He finally went back home.

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The 5 Lat Coin

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Alex’s father, Cimds, as a boy in Lubeck DP Camp

For his whole life, my father had only ever had his family’s memories of Latvia, but this was all about to change. Cimds had grown. The child who could fit in the palm of your hand when he was born became my father, Imants, and in 2014, Imants went back to Latvia to make his own memories.

Retracing his family’s steps, he visited Riga (where he was born) and – outside the church where he was baptized – the only place he knew where his whole family had once stood all around him – I placed in the palm of his hand a coin…. but not just any old coin, of course.

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Alex’s father returning to Latvia

I gave him a 5 Lat of his very own. Something for him, something to cherish and keep always, a part of Latvia. A part of him.

The moment I placed Milda in his hand I saw a shine in my father’s eyes….and a journey felt finally complete. My Dad was finally home.

*           *           *           *

I am writing this in 2016 and much has changed since that day. I have written about my family before, starting with “Another Country Called Home” and I am so very glad I did write. You see, through writing it has helped me find my father’s family – our family. They read “Another Country Called Home” and after all these years of looking for them in 2016 our family was reunited once again in Latvia. Turns – out all along – they had been looking for him.

You see, I told you I needed to tell you something true. And the truth is simply this. In the end, it’s all about faith. Our family met-up for the first time since 1944 earlier this year –  a journey Cimds’ daughter and – this time – Grandson shared with him. Upon leaving to return to England, a coin was placed in my son’s palm,  the Grandchild of Cimds’ hands and it was  Milda, of course. Something for my son to cherish forever.

And so Milda lives on in another generation – to be the other woman in some yet-to-be-met young girl’s life who lies ahead for my dear boy as my mother lay ahead for my Dad. And she is out there, yet. I know this – because that’s what Milda is about.

Sure. She’s about where you came from, home. But more – Milda’s a token of faith for thousands, that ahead, there lies a future.

And the home – and life there – you have yet to make.


In Memory of Milda, a lady I am finally getting to know through my beloved family the two sisters that share my name. Milda Mazere, an Aunt who – like my Aunt – was strong and loved dearly.

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Milda Māzere

All photographs are courtesy of Alexandra Māzers.  Artwork courtesy of Mark  Māzers.

Balt Cygnet EVW scheme in Britain 1946-47- Conditions of Service document

Below is a copy of the Conditions of Service for Baltic women employed on the Balt Cygnet EVW Scheme implemented by the British Government between 1946-47, where Baltic women refugees were recruited from DP Camps in Germany to work in hospitals in Britain, an area experiencing severe labour shortages in the post-war period.  This document can be found in the National Archives, London file ref: HO1052/445 (no. 169).  This document relates  to the extension of Balt Cygnet where older women (aged 40-50) were now considered for recruitment (the initial phase only considered younger women and mainly only for TB Sanatoria).  I apologise for the poor quality, but the original document was copied and then scanned. Thank you to Alexandra Mazers for the featured image from Lubbecke DP Camp.

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Nikolājs Soikans – Latvian DP artist in Britain

Nikolājs Soikans is a Latvian artist who came to Britain after the Second World War via the Westward Ho! European Volunteer Workers scheme, arriving in 1947.  While many artists, writers and other creative professionals re-emigrated overseas during the 1950’s, Soikans remained in Britain, residing in Leicester until his death in 1980. Soikans has been recognised as one of the foremost Latvian exile artists of this period, and also as a prominent Latvian graphic artist of the twentieth century.

Soikans is particularly interesting in relation to Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian DPs in Britain, because of the lino and woodblock prints he produced in the late 1940s and early 1950’s depicting the experiences of Baltic refugees in Britain, as well as earlier experiences of war and displacement.  The book Izstumtie (‘The Outcasts : linocuts and carvings 1948-1954′) presents these lino prints and woodblock prints in one volume and shows many of the feelings and experiences of Soikans and fellow refugees, as European Volunteer Workers in Britain.

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To describe these refugees’ resettlement in Britain as a culture shock is an understatement.  Many of these Latvians and their fellow Baltic and East European refugees had grown up in the countryside, in Soikans’ case in Ludza, Latgale. Ludza is a small town in a predominately rural and sparsely populated area in the south east of Latvia not far from the Russian border.  Purpotedly Latvia’s oldest town, Ludza provided an idyllic environment for the young artist to grow up in, with his artistic family, including his siblings, one of whom, his brother Juris, was also to become a successful artist.

Born in 1926 and just a teenager when the Second World War broke out, Soikans was drafted into the Latvian Legion during the war, later becoming displaced in Germany at the close of hostilities.  As a result, he was separated from his family and his siblings, and ended up in Lübbeck DP Camp in Germany.  From here, he was recruited onto the Westward Ho! EVW scheme and came to Britain in 1947, working initially in coalmines and textiles, before settling in the Leicester area of midlands England.

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In 1948, Soikans was married in Rochdale.   Soikans had a successful career, studying economics at the University of London Institute of Export, and gained senior positions in several large companies, including the Caterpillar brand. Having begun professional art training before his displacement in Latvia, Soikans found opportunities during his displacement in Germany to link up with other artists and learn different techniques.  Once settled in England, he was able to carry on his artwork, producing hundreds of works and exhibiting across Britain and internationally.

The book Izstumtie showcases some of Soikans most well known works, specifically, the lino and woodblock prints he produced in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  The black and white prints portray the difficult and alienating experiences of many of the Latvian refugees who came to Britain during this period, as well as earlier, often traumatic experiences of war and displacement.  Themes of the book include alienation, despair, the culture shock of working in the industrial areas of Britain and the heavy drinking many Latvians turned to, as a way of coping with their situation.  The prints also depict dreams of a return to the homeland and traumatic wartime and displacement experiences, including the horrors of the Soviet occupation and deportations.

In the English introduction to Izstumtie, Janis Andrups writes about the depiction of the refugee in Soikans’ prints:

In the rubble-heap-like dwellings left behind by the industrial revolution the man experiences the same massification and routine as of the camps.’  ‘All he ever wanted and longed for was to remain a free and distinctive individual.  Instead he is an outcast, a strange being from another world, a more human civilisation, which has either existed, or is yet to come’.

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img016Home Office records show that Soikans was naturalised  in June 1962, and was at the time of gaining British citizenship, a resident of Desford in Leicestershire.  Although his decision to become a British citizen suggests some stability and settlement in his mind, Soikans spent his life in Britain separated from his homeland family and his Latvian homeland.   His brother Juris spent some time in Germany before returning to Latvia, while a sister also displaced by war, emigrated to Australia.  Brother Juris also became a successful painter exhibiting internationally.  In the later stages of his life, Soikans turned to painting landscapes, adopting the expressionistic style.  He died on 21 February 1980 in Leicester.

Like Soikans, other Latvian artists also came to Britain on the EVW schemes and they will be the subject of a future blog post. I welcome any additions, amendments or thoughts on this article.

Source of artwork:

Nikolajs Soikans, Izstumte; linolejuma un kokgriezumi 1948-54, Venta Press, London, 1965. 

Website links to information about Nikolajs Soikans:

https://conspirationtheory.wordpress.com/category/artists-from-latvia/

https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=lv&u=http://www.ludzasbiblio.lv/lv/vecaks/novadnieki/makslinieki/soikans-nikolajs&prev=search

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=TM3oCAAAQBAJ&pg=PA977&lpg=PA977&dq=nikolajs+soikans&source=bl&ots=AUU21Aabty&sig=pHsQYYoUqvmK8q-x62NH0zrw1QU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjFya27mqbPAhUDJcAKHYAmD4wQ6AEIUzAO#v=onepage&q=nikolajs%20soikans&f=false

https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=lv&u=https://www.vestnesis.lv/ta/id/84986&prev=search

 

Transcript Excerpt: First Generation Latvian woman interviewed in 1997

Below is an extract from a transcript of an interview I carried out with a first generation Latvian woman living in West Yorkshire who I interviewed in 1997.  The individual has given permission for their interview to be published.


How did you come to Great Britain?

Well, we were in Germany and we had erm, I came to work here.  I came to work in the hospital.  I was going to…I mean we realised, to start with, I realised we won’t be able to return to Latvia so we had to go somewhere else and more or less, this was nearer, it was in Europe, it was a bit nearer Latvia and there was an opportunity to work in hospital so I came like that.

 Right, so were you in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany?

 I was.  Yes I was in Displaced Persons Camp in Germany but I actually did work for British forces while I was in Germany I was, I could speak English and I was working for British forces.

 Right.

 I was a tracer.

 Tracer, what’s that?

(Laughs -shows what a tracer is)

Right.

Yeah, that’s what I was.  So I was familiar with the…well I could speak English and it was erm, I didn’t speak all that well English when I started well I think I was young and young people take more erm, sort of risks and opportunities and I thought you know, well I’ve got to learn something, you know I’ve got to learn a language and its very…

Right, so how old were you when you came over then?

I am born in 1923.  How old was I?  Erm, ’47.  I came here in 1947 so that makes me twenty what…?

24?

Yes, something like that. Yes, I’m 24, yes.  And then I worked…you see I was married already, but I lived…my husband…he worked for the British forces as well.  We both were.  And he stayed in Germany and I came to work in a hospital in London.  I was just a domestic, because I have no set of medical training and he came, my husband came to England as well and then I joined him later on and I worked for, erm, as I could speak English there was a camp, a transit camp near York and I worked there for a couple of years, really till they closed the camp down.  And that was it.

 So, how did you end up living in Leeds then?

 Well they closed the camp down and I looked for a job and I came to Leeds then, just sort of to look, and I found work in, It was a wholesale chemist.  I worked near a railway station, the buildings pulled down now.  I worked there for a few years.

 Right, can you tell me how you went from Latvia to the Displaced Persons Camp?  Could you tell me the story about that?

From Latvia, we were sent to work from Latvia.  The Germans sent us to work in Germany.

Right.  Why did you decide to accept the offer to come to Britain rather than wait on?

Erm, there was nothing to wait…we knew there was no chance to go back to Latvia.  There were Communists – Russians.  We didn’t want to go there.  There was no chance whatsoever, so we had to take the opportunity to go somewhere.  We could have stayed in Germany perhaps but it was…I didn’t want particularly to study and again when you are young you are probably a bit more adventurous and why not do something about it, you know sort it out?

 So, did you come under the Balt Cygnet scheme or the Westward Ho! scheme?

Baltic Cygnet.

Since coming to Great Britain have you maintained a strong Latvian identity and culture?

Erm, I have maintained some.  I mean you can’t forget your past.  But, erm, and I don’t know really whether I’m…what to call myself now.  Well, I’m very fond of England now and I’m very, very fond of Yorkshire and I…I mean I get on with people, with English people very well indeed and I like the countryside.  I do lots of walking.  For a while I was volunteer warden in Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Really?

Yes, so I know the area very well indeed, and so erm, but I still, I know I wasn’t born here.  I was born somewhere else and whereas people talk well it was like this when I was a child, well when I was a child I was somewhere else.  I wasn’t here.  So there is some identity.  So there is something left isn’t there?  But I’ve never been back, mostly because I haven’t any relatives left, any close relatives left in Latvia.  That was probably main reason.  And again, I was happy while I was there and they always say you should never go back where you’ve been happy and its been too many years and so I’ve never been back really now.  That’s it.

 Do you feel fully integrated into British society?

Like I say, in a way I do yes.  Erm, I suppose I do really.  I don’t know really.  What does it mean are you integrated?

Do you feel like you are an outsider or do you feel like you belong here?

I think I belong, yes.  Sometimes, you see when I was working for this walking club you know and I said ‘why have I got this accent?’, and they said ‘what we don’t think of your accent, you know, you’re you’, you know like that, and erm, on the other hand I’ve heard Yorkshire people say, some have very sort of erm, very strong feelings about being Yorkshire and I sometimes think you can’t really be really Yorkshire if you’re not born in Yorkshire.  Have you noticed that?

 Yes.

That again is there.  But I suppose I am integrated as much as is possible.  Yes I think so.

 Do you think you a stronger or weaker sense of Latvian identity now that you did when you first came to Britain?

 Latvian identity?

Yes.

Weaker, weaker, much weaker now, yes.  Oh yes.  I think I would probably feel an outsider if I went back to Latvia, I would feel an outsider there definitely.

 So you would feel an outsider in Latvia?

 Yes, I think so.  Oh, I think so, yes.  I don’t think I would fit in any more.  No way.  I’ve been over 50 years now in England, in Yorkshire longer than anywhere else.[Laughs]

Are there times when you are especially aware of being a Latvian and when?

Not any more, no.  Not any more.

What about in the past?

Oh I remember past, yeah, and past is dead, and like I say I was happy when I was home and my parents were there but that’s all gone really.  Sometimes, I still feel, yeah, I still go to this…you’ll probably ask that question as well, I go to the club and I quite enjoy that as well, but then again I sometimes think oh I can talk more with English people.  We discuss things better.

So, are most of your friends are English?

English, yeah, yeah.  I’ve still got some Latvian friends as well but nothing sort of…yeah, I would say probably more, because there are not so many.  English people go walking and you sort of develop friendships and there are some people I have known for years and years and you know, we still keep sort of up.

Right.  Do you often forget about your Latvian identity, the fact that you are a Latvian, and you just don’t think about it or is it always there at the back of your mind?

Erm, I tend to forget…It’s probably, erm, you haven’t forgotten really, I don’t know really how to say.  I’m not often reminded of it really.  I just, yes, sometimes I feel, I know, like I say, I know where I come from and I know, sort of you know, I would never deny that.  I would still have the accent anyway.  But, I don’t think of it often really and  sometimes I ask my friends, ‘Well, how do you take me?  What do you think of me?’, well they say, ‘You’re [her name]'[Laughs].  So that’s what I am you know and they sort of accept me like that and you know, I feel comfortable you know, it depends on the people I’m with, not really who they are.

Can you tell me a bit about the Latvian community in Leeds and how its changed in the last 50 years?

We aged.  It was a very strong community and at first it was very good for us because it was somewhere to go, somewhere to meet people, we weren’t, erm, I missed Latvia very much when I first came here, very much for quite a long time and just to meet somebody Latvian, it was like sort of meeting a close relative really right at first, the first years, and so it was nice to go, to meet, to do something, and to take part in something  various activities, that was quite important to start with.  Now, when children were born I knew, well sort of we knew really that we probably won’t be going back to Latvia quite soon really, but for a long, long time it wasn’t possible.

 When was it that you realised that you wouldn’t be going back?

Oh, we realised straight away we wouldn’t go back as long as there was a communist government.  We wouldn’t go back no way and then it’s only sort of later when it was possible so you know, erm, but you can’t really change what you are, you can’t sort of come to this country and say look I’m not Latvian any more I’m English or something.  You can’t do that.  You’re not, you know, you’d be kidding yourself, you’d be cheating yourself.  And then my children were born I wanted them to feel a home here since we weren’t going back I was going to help them to feel them to belong here, to belong somewhere.  They’d have to have a home somewhere.  And of course that did change my attitude and well I was always sort of, you know, I always liked England.  I’ve never been  unhappy really.  I always liked it.  I missed home and I sometimes used to think, well why, wouldn’t it be nice if I could go back to visit and then come back here, but I was never sort of well I can’t stand it here I didn’t like it, I never felt like that really.  I sort of came with open mind and I thought well we’ll accept good things and bad things, erm, that’s how it was.

So the community was very much larger and more vibrant  to begin with and then it gradually sort of changed?

Yes, gradually, gradually, yes, it changed gradually, it didn’t change suddenly, it was quite a few years I was feeling, I was feeling quite homesick at times really.

How did the Latvian community help you in the first few years?

 It was sort of a little home from home, you know. Yes, there were people with similar feelings and you know, we were together and erm, sort of various activities, it helped a lot in those early years really.  It was really very good for me anyway, and yes, I used to have quite a lot to do, I still do if anythings needed, but I feel a bit different now (laughs).

 How has the restoration of independence changed your life as a Latvian in Great Britain?  How did you feel?

Oh, yes, it was…I don’t know it has changed.  At first I was very happy and people used to come from Latvia to visit and it was, erm, sort of nice to know that they are free, they’ve got their independence now.  Well, then I realised its not for me any more because I didn’t have anybody there any more.  They were all dead.  My parents were dead.  I’ve got a brother but he’s in England and my husband’s mother died.  He didn’t have anybody.  There was nobody there.  There was nobody to go to really so we were going…and of course I had my children, my two sons here, they were both married, married English girls so they wouldn’t go back.  They wouldn’t want that.  So it was out of the question and I wasn’t, by that time I wasn’t really missing it any more. That was it, that was finished more or less then.  But it was nice to know that they had, that its changed things, things have changed for them over there but I still never really considered going back.  Like I say its too long, I’ve been away too long really. [continued….]

All That Remains by Alexandra Mazers

Introduction by Emily Gilbert

I am delighted to publish this blog post by Alexandra Mazers, the third in a series, which takes us on a fascinating journey through her unfolding family history.

As we learned in her first blog post ‘Another Country Called Home’, Alexandra knew very little about her Latvian family history when she embarked on this journey three years ago.  Her father had arrived in Britain as a child after the Second World War, along with his parents and sister, but Alexandra knew little about what had happened to the wider family, and also the family farm.  Alexandra has spent hundreds of hours searching archives, websites and family history sources, looking for long lost family and piecing together the tiny fragments of her family history.  In ‘All that Remains’, Alexandra adds more layers to this unfolding history.

All artwork by Alexandra’s brother, Mark Mazers.


All That Remains

by Alexandra Mazers

She’s like a mouse, the young girl. The way she steals into the abandoned farm, furtively. Wanting neither to be caught or seen. Of course, it shouldn’t have to be this way. This ruined shell was once her home. The contents now, like its former owners, pulled from the place and taken as if the property of others. Someone else’s possession to take. Her Grandparents. Her Mother. Her father. Her Brother. Just taken. These were the times they lived in now and the little mouse-girl knew this. This is why she was so very furtive and so very small. She didn’t want to be taken herself.

In the yard at her feet she finds two photographs just lying there. Proof of a time very different to this, though the children in them to her are strangers. The photographs are very old and clearly once cherished. She peels them carefully from the stones, not liking the wet feel of the paper and card but knowing they are all that remain. So she takes them because they are hers now and she leaves and throughout all the years that pass she keeps them safe…

67 years later in Devon, England a woman the little mouse-girl could never imagined could exist will see a copy of those same photographs and weeps – partly because she knows the people in them- but mostly because they were valued enough to save.

The farm was – and where it stood, still is – called Zebri. It’s on the banks of the river Lielupe in the heart of rural Latvia and had been there for many generations. By the time it came to the time of my Great-Great-Grandfather and his wife it was a home to many, many children. With my Great-Great-Grandfathers passing to each of the boys came a small inheritance with which they made their way in the world – Zebri itself fell to the eldest daughter who carried on as the host of the farm, working the land and the roots of our family grew deeper and deeper with every passing year. Her family carried on taking care of the farm and the land. It became the cradle for all the descendants of the man who first bore the family name. Every summer harvest the sons would go back, their children with them, helping farm the land and harvest the crops. The children would run bare foot with the soil of their ancestors between their toes whilst the adults work.

Laughter and children playing …

Zebri 4

This was the heart and soul of a family that was thriving. But! Of course….The world had its own business about it. Times inevitably change.

The occupations started, first by Soviet Russia then by Nazi Germany …. and then by the Soviets again. Of course, it didn’t just happen in Latvia, it happened in Lithuania and Estonia also. When Germany invaded Poland, it started a war. When Stalin rolled into all three of the Baltic Countries nobody in the West batted an eyelid. And after the war was done, Latvia and the other Baltic Countries became Socialist Republics.

Children stopped playing at the farm. No more happy laughter. Families started to disappear. The farm started to get emptier and quieter. Then – on the 25th March 1949 – the guardians and protectors of the farm who had stayed were forcibly removed.

It was called Operation Priboi. Thousands of innocent people, whole families taken away from their homes by armed soldiers and loaded into cattle-trains – their destination : Siberia. Families were given numbers and sentenced to hard labour on agricultural combines. Most were taken wearing only what they stood in when they were taken. From tiny babies to the very old. These people’s crime …?

They were farmers. That was all the wrong they ever did the world and that was to be that. Latvia was under Soviet Occupation and the farms collectivized. On March 25th  1949 this is what happened all over the Baltic. In Latvia alone around 42,000 people were forcibly deported, this as I mentioned happening in Lithuania and Estonia too.

If you do your maths, the numbers are horrific. Very few survived Siberia. Fewer still ever got to go back home.

But at Zebri, a tiny little mouse-girl managed to escape the deportations. The soldiers, you see – they missed her. She was barely more than 16 and left to fend for herself and, thanks in no small measure to her own bravery, this young woman – little more than a child herself – became the guardian to her ancestors and back she stole to the farm to save what she could – to preserve the memory of her family, of her home. Of what was taken. Of what became lost.

I am so very, very grateful for what this ( now) grown woman once did. Whose thin arms gathered whatever they could carry and beneath who’s feet were found two battered and fading photographs. You see, the photographs that she found and picked up that day are of my side of the family.

Marija (4)

Pauls un Emīlija (1)

They are of my Grandfather and his sister, just some of the children that bought laughter and life to the farm, who felt its soil under their feet and between their toes as they ran and played throughout the summers with the others.

My Grandfather disappeared from Latvia in 1944 and never got to return. He and his youngest children left with many thousands of others just before the third occupation began and the Iron Curtain descended. For years we have been looking and searching for what remains of our family and we have finally found them thanks to the brave young girl and the other woman left, two sisters who have kept our family name.

Zebri the farm no longer stands. With no family to cherish her she fell, of course. Crumbled back into the land upon which she first rose. Where Zebri once stood is simply now a corn field ….

But two wise and ancient Oak tree still stand witness to her past, to the family who laughed and played and worked there and felt that same soil between their toes, summer after summer. Year after year. And, who knows. Perhaps will do again.

We’re none of us a country, you and I – or even a place. We’re those people that came before us as well as who we are. As long as we remain, they do along- side us, with eyes to see and hearts to feel and smiles to smile a smile.

In the end time makes both a ruin and a joke out of everything, everything passes and that you can’t escape – but whilst we live we can be who we are and that way those who made us remain also because they are us.

And we, in our turn, are them. We are, all of us, what remains.

And although we may be all that remains – scattered like those old and faded photographs or lost like that brave little mouse darting among the ruin of what was once a home – we’re enough.

Because we remain, who we came from also endure.

This coming year for the first time, I’ll walk in that same field my Grandfather and his sister ran and played in with their cousins and brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers. I’ll walk there with my own son and my father – and we’ll touch the same tree’s they touched together and we’ll walk under the same sky and we’ll stand upon the same good land. And we will not be alone. We never were.

We may in the end be all that remains. In remaining, that’s more than just enough. In remaining, and being found – we are everything.

With a huge ‘Thank you’ to the Brave Little Mouse who found the photographs and became their guardian and custodian and a huge ‘Thank you’ also to the two sisters who have kept our name alive and beating strong.

Which makes me who I am.

With love to my Brothers.

Alexandra Mazers, April 2016.

 

A message from Alexandra August 2016:

“And on the 20th August 2016 my Father, myself and my son did walked hand in hand with the woman who kept our family memory alive ” Our brave mouse girl ”  ….we found the two ancient Oak Tree’s that stand as guardians to our ancestors farm. Dreams came true x”

Alex1

Alex2

 

Lithuanians in Wales: an article by Anita Šovaitė-Woronycz: ‘Greetings from Wales’

Introduction by Emily Gilbert

The article below: ‘Greetings from Wales’ by Anita Šovaitė-Woronycz, was first published on the VilNews website in November 2015.  I wanted to include this article on this blog because it gives a fantastic overview of the history of Lithuanians in Wales, about which very little is known in comparison to that of Lithuanians in Scotland and England.

After the Second World War, Lithuanians, along with Latvians, Estonians and other Eastern European nationalities, were recruited from Displaced Persons Camps in Germany to work in undermanned areas of employment in Wales as part of the European Volunteer Worker (EVW) schemes, Balt Cygnet and Westward Ho!  The main areas of employment EVWs headed for in Wales were hospitals, agriculture, forestry and the Welsh coalmines.

Anita’s parents were among those recruited for the schemes between 1946 and 1951, and initially came to work in England on the Westward Ho! scheme, her father (along with his brother and parents) arrived via Hull in 1947, and Anita’s mother and Grandmother arrived in Cheshire in 1948 (her maternal Grandfather and aunt had also arrived in Britain in 1947, as had some of her father’s other relations).

The two families both ended up at a  hostel in Alsager in Cheshire, a former Royal Marine’s training camp, which became a hostel for the EVWs, including nationalities from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine.  It was here that Anita’s mother and father met, taking part in many of the organised activities at the camp, such as scouting and folk dancing.  They subsequently both started working at the Royal Doulton factory where: ‘Mum gilded fine china and Dad hand-painted figurines’, and they were  engaged and later married in 1958. Anita was born in 1959.

The family’s connection with Wales started in the 1950s, when Anita’s grandparents moved to a  farm in Carmarthenshire initially working with a Ukrainian couple before continuing  on their own with some help from Anita’s father.  After some further moves, Anita’s uncle and father set up a new business in Cwmbran in 1981, and over the next two years most of the family also moved out there; initially Anita’s paternal grandparents, and in 1982, following graduation from University Anita also moved to Cwmbran, together with her parents, brother and maternal Grandmother.  In 1983, Anita  married and moved to a town in Monmouthshire close by, where she has lived ever since.

Both Anita’s parents  were heavily involved in the Lithuanian community in Britain: her father Eimutis Šova, was Chairman of the DBLS (the Lithuanian Association in Great Britain) for a time and was also ‘a scout leader, an accordionist’ and ‘Ambassador of Goodwill from the City of Kaunas to the City of Cardiff, Founder/Chairman of the Maidenhead Branch of DBLS’, and editor of the fortnightly newspaper “Europos Lietuvis” (Europe’s Lithuanian”). He also translated the autobiography of the first leader of post-Soviet independent Lithuania, Vytautas Landsbergis, as well as participated in and organised many social, cultural and political activities within the Lithuanian community in Britain.  With her parents as active participants of the Lithuanian community and having a large extended Lithuanian family around her, Anita was a frequent participant of Lithuanian community activities when she was growing up, including Scouting and folk dancing.

The Wales Baltic Society was formed in 1991 (initially as the Cardiff Baltic Society) as a response to the nationalist uprising in the Baltic States, to raise awareness in Wales of the situation in the Baltic States and to bring exiled Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians in Wales together.  The Baltic Times noted in 2000, that:

The initial purpose of the society, which now has 60 members, was to campaign for the recognition of independence for the three Baltic countries, as well as to help them forge relations with Wales.”

After independence the Wales Baltic Society continued furthering contacts, promoting friendship and increasing awareness about the Baltic countries through research, education and publicity. In a small way, it also provides practical and financial help.”

Originally the Cardiff Baltic Society consisted of “members of the exiled Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian communities in Wales and a handful of Welsh people (later to include politicians) plus other interested parties.” Then later, “The Wales Baltic Society has seen many of its members pass away over the years, but has also welcomed new members from across the Baltics.

Anita is a co-admin of the Facebook page of the Wales Baltic Society, which helps to connect Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians in Wales and beyond, by sharing information relating both to the Baltic States and the diaspora in Wales and globally.

I would like to thank Anita for allowing me to publish this great article on this blog, which will add to knowledge about Lithuanians in Wales.  If you are interested in finding out more about this subject, I have included some links at the end of the article for further information about Lithuanians in Wales (as well as about Latvians and Estonians in Wales about whom little is also known).  I welcome any other information about Lithuanians in Wales to add to this post.

Link to the original Article:

http://vilnews.com/2015-11-20790

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Greetings from Wales!

By Anita Šovaitė-Woronycz
Chepstow, Wales

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Think of a nation in northern Europe whose population is around the 3 million mark
–       a land of song, of rivers, lakes, forests, rolling green hills, beautiful coastline
–       a land where mushrooms grow ready for the picking,
–       a land with a passion for preserving its ancient language and culture.

Doesn’t that sound suspiciously like Lithuania? Ah, but I didn’t mention the mountains of Snowdonia, which would give the game away.

I’m talking about Wales, that part of the UK which Lithuanians used to call “Valija”, but later named “Velsas” (why?). Wales, the nation which has welcomed two Lithuanian heads of state to its shores – firstly Professor Vytautas Landsbergis, who has paid several visits and, more recently, President Dalia Grybauskaitė who attended the  2014 NATO summit which was held in Newport, South Wales.

We know very little about Lithuanian inhabitants of Wales prior to World War II. There must have been some, but documentation is difficult to find. Our guess is that a number may have arrived as workers via the DP camps of Germany after the war, and we know that others moved here after spending a period of time elsewhere in the UK. My own parental grandparents left Stoke-on-Trent in the 1950s to run a farm in Carmarthenshire where they also hosted Lithuanian scouting courses in its grounds. Decades later, work opportunities brought other members of the family, myself included, to settle in South East Wales. On the other hand, Rhyl in North Wales, became a popular retirement place for Lithuanians from the Stoke area who had enjoyed holidays at the seaside town.

Time passed. Lithuania declared independence from the USSR. Let’s fast forward to the bloody events in Vilnius of January 12th – 13th 1991. In direct response, a meeting was called in Cardiff to discuss how to help raise awareness in both in Wales and throughout the UK. This is how Cardiff Baltic Society (later Wales Baltic Society) was born. It brought together members of the exiled Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian communities in Wales and a handful of Welsh people (later to include politicians) plus other interested parties.

In July 1991, one of the founder members of Cardiff Baltic Society, the now late Anthony Packer, then lecturer in Education at the University of Wales, Cardiff, led a delegation of educationists to Vilnius to advise on the reconstruction of the Lithuanian school curriculum. During this visit, he went privately to the headquarters of Sajūdis to deliver a message of support from the General Secretary of the Welsh political party, Plaid Cymru (the Party of Wales). This was the first ever such message to come from any British party. A special friendship between Wales and Lithuania was thus forged and continues to this day.

Fast forwarding another few months we find that the Soviet Union has fallen, that Lithuania has been recognised internationally as a country in its own right and Wales-Lithuania links have continued to grow. In no particular order, here are some examples of those links:

  • A rowan tree grows in the Welsh National Garden of Peace in Cardiff. The tree was ceremoniously planted by Lithuanian MP (now MEP) Laima Andrikienė. Members of the Baltic Society were in attendance along with Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West and a representative from Plaid Cymru.
  • An official friendship agreement has been established between the Vale of Glamorgan in South Wales and the city of Jurbarkas in Lithuania.
  • The then Cwmbran-based Eimutis Šova was appointed Ambassador of Goodwill from the City of Kaunas to the City of Cardiff.
  • Professor Vytautas Landsbergis has visited Wales on several occasions and it was put to him that his autobiography, “Lūžis prie Baltijos” could be adapted for an English-speaking audience. Eimutis Šova, by now Chairman of the Baltic Society and the Lithuanian Association in Great Britain, was able to translate the whole script from his Cwmbran home, whilst editor Anthony Packer worked from his place in Penarth. The result was a book entitled “Lithuania Independent Again”, published by the University of Wales Press in Cardiff and launched in the year 2000 at the Welsh Assembly Rooms in the city. I know – I was there with my mother and brother. Sadly, my father Eimutis did not live to see this event, a celebration of the completion of a project in which he played a major part.
  • In 1994, The “Versmė” Choir of former deportees and political prisoners from the city of Jurbarkas travelled all the way to Wales by coach. They toured the country, stopping at various towns to give joint concerts alongside their counterpart Welsh choirs. They were hosted by local residents in each town as they went along. Welsh representatives from each leg of the journey would join the tour bus for a while, but Eimutis Šova and his wife Rūta went the whole distance to navigate and act as translators. One of the highlights was a visit to the famous International “Eisteddfod” (festival of music, literature and performance) at Llangollen. The tour also took in the village of Aylesham in Kent, due to its links to Wales through mining, including a Male Voice Choir, and its proximity to Dover. Recently, the Versmė” Choir celebrated its 25th anniversary and a book called “Dainuojanti Versmė” has been published to mark the occasion. The trip to Wales is well documented in the book.
  • In 2002 Anthony Packer became the Honorary Consul of Lithuania in Wales. Just before his death from cancer in January 2014, he was presented with the Order of the Diplomatic Star by the Lithuanian Ambassador to the UK, Asta Skaisgirytė-Laukšienė. This award is the highest for services to diplomacy given by the Lithuanian government. The ceremony took place at the Cardiff and Vale Marie Curie Hospice, where Anthony spent his final days.
  • Many Lithuanians have come to live and work in Wales since Lithuania became a member of the European Union. The 2011 census recorded 1,353 Lithuanian-born residents in Wales, although that number will have changed since then because, as EU citizens, they are entitled to come and go pretty much as they please. These Lithuanians have an agenda separate from that of the Wales Baltic Society and more information can be found on their Facebook page, “Lietuviai Velse”.
  • The Wales Baltic Society has seen many of its members pass away over the years, but has also welcomed new members from across the Baltics. The Society continues to hold regular events, both social and informative, including an annual lecture in memory of the late Jill Hutt who was the first to call for a society to be formed in Cardiff, having learned about the horrific events in Vilnius through a Lithuanian friend. Have a look at our Facebook page – you’ll be most welcome.

Diolch yn fawr! Thank you very much! Ačiū labai!

Anita Šovaitė-Woronycz

Chepstow, Wales, November 2015

Facebook Links to Groups and Events in the Greetings From Wales article:
https://www.facebook.com/Wales-Baltic-Society-137441349626105/?fref=ts&__mref=message_bubble
https://www.facebook.com/Lietuviai-Velse-159315472134/?pnref=lhc&__mref=message_bubble
http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/local-news/man-penarth-received-knighthood—6484265

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The Versmė Choir of deportees and political prisoners from Jurbarkas. Seated are some of the tour organisers and choir mistress.

 

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The Versmė Choir on the tour bus with Rūta Šovienė (in blue)

 

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The Versmė Choir at the International Eisteddfod in Llangollen.

 

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Commemorative postcard –  Lithuania joins the EU – can you spot the flag on the Welsh dragon?

 

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Lithuanian and Welsh choir mistresses shake hands with a little help from Eimutis.

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Versmė Choir 20th anniversary book – documents the Welsh trip.

 

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Wales Baltic Society Christmas Party.
 

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Made in Wales – English version of the autobiography of Vytautas Landsbergis.

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Commemorative beer mat …Wales celebrating Lithuania’s entry into the EU.


 

Further information about Lithuanians (and Latvian and Estonian EVWs) in Wales, including numbers of recent Lithuanian migrants to Wales:

Labrit (Wales Baltic Society) website:

http://www.labrit.co.uk/page12.htm

 

Great article about the Latvia – Wales connection and the Wales Baltic Society:

http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/2622/

 

A fantastic booklet containing stories of EVWs who worked in the Welsh coalfields (including a Latvian man pp 23-28):

glo-allpoles

https://www.museumwales.ac.uk/news/?article_id=336  (background to the booklet above)

 

General information about Lithuanians in Wales, including recent census data:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithuanians_in_the_United_Kingdom

 

Government stats on recent Lithuanian migrants and links to further information:

http://gov.wales/docs/statistics/2009/090827sa28en.pdf

 

Links to genealogy sites/info:

https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Wales_Emigration_and_Immigration

http://lithuaniangenealogy.org/links/

 

Short films about EVWs in Wales, including Estonians:

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/pathe-industrial-survey-no-7-mines-need-d-p-labour/query/DISPLACED+PERSONS

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/music-of-the-nations/query/wales+estonians

 

House of Commons discussion on EVWs in Denbigh, Wales (1948):

http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=1948-11-18a.561.2

 

Article and information about Andris Taurins, Chairman of the Wales Baltic Society and Honorary Consul for the Republic of Latvia:

http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/9924993.FIRST_PERSON__Latvia_s_man_in_Abergavenny/

http://www.consularassociationinwales.org.uk/contact_latvia.asp

 

Welsh branch of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wales:

http://www.draudze.org.uk/en/?ct=rietumanvelsas