The years will pass; I will not be on this earth. My daughters, or maybe my grandchildren, may become interested in where their father, or grandfather, came from. Thus I am writing my life history.
I was born the 25th of June, 1907 at Digaini farm in Base district. (Birth certificate shows 12th of June, 1907 in Moscow – Moscow was an error and the date from the old calendar.) I was born into a large family, we were five brothers and two sisters. The oldest brother was Adams, after him came sister Leva, brother Arturs, sister Alvine, myself, brother Janis and brother Alberts.
Father’s farm was in a beautiful hilly area at the crossroads of Alsunga-Aipute road and Liepaja-Aizpute road.
My first memories are from when I was six-years-old, before 1914 – the start of the first World War. Father was not keen on farm work, he employed a farm labourer (manager) to run the farm. At the crossroads father built a small house and opened a shop with goods that are necessary on farms: kerosene, sugar, flour, salted herring, tobacco. The shop was about one kilometre from the farmhouse.
Next to the shop there was a room where father lived. Since I was not at school and father needed someone to talk to, I lived with him at his shop. I was not happy about this because I did not have my older brothers to play with. Also, father was very strict. I was scared of him because he would not let me eat any sweets. All the sweet boxes were kept on high shelves that I could not reach. Once, when father was cutting wood outside, I climbed up the shelves. Just as I got up father came in and I got a belting for being disobedient.
Our lunch was brought from the farm by one of my brothers or sisters. Father made breakfast and dinner himself, usually tea and sandwiches. In the evenings father sent me in the shop to get some sugar; it was sugar cubes so I was able to put some quietly in my pocket.
As the war neared, father shut the shop. One sunny day at lunch-time father asked me to go and check on the shop to see if everything was in order – no breaking-in or stealing. I had a good look, nothing had been touched. I was just starting for home when I saw the German horse patrol with tall lances held aloft. In fright, I tried to hide behind the building but they had already seen me. They rode around the building from both sides. I was very frightened, I thought that this was my last hour because of the terrible stories that were told about the Germans. They asked – I still remember – “Russe” (“Russian?”) I just yelled that I didn’t understand. By this time the rest of the patrol had arrived; 15-20 men. “Aber here is eine kinder.” (“Here is only a child.”) They all laughed very loudly to see me so frightened with wet running down my legs. Then, the Germans, still laughing, rode away toward Kuldiga. I was very happy to be safe, having survived meeting the Germans face-to-face.
Some days later, refugees started pouring in along the road. The loaded carts with all of their belongings, and the farm animals: cows, sheep, were all mixed up with the Russian soldiers.
My father and the family also joined this exodus. After travelling about ten kilometres towards Kuldiga, we went up a side road into the forest. We stayed in a clearing in the forest. The carts were parked and animals released to feed, minded by my brothers and sisters.
After three days, my oldest brother and the manager went back to Digaini farm to see what had happened. Along the road towards Kuldiga there was a constant stream of German soldiers. They found that father’s brother, Ansis, and his wife and son Kola (my age) who had come from Liepaja, were not trying to escape as Ansis spoke German. We had not taken the pigs when we left, and when my brother Adam came back to the forest to report he said that all was quiet but father’s brother Ansis had taken over the place and had even killed a pig. He thought my father and the family had gone a long way, maybe to Vidzeme, as our neighbours had done.
After a week we went back to Digaini with all of our animals. Father’s brother Ansis was very surprised with our actions. Life went on, but my mother was not happy with Ansis and his family living at Digaini and that they were not making any plans to leave and return to Liepaja. In the evenings I overheard mother reminding father to tell his brother to leave because their keep should not be the family’s responsibility. Father did talk to his brother, but Ansis became very angry. They had an argument and then a fight. The next day, Ansis went to the German military police and lied that father was a Russian spy and that he had a gun. Ansis had given father the gun and he had not handed it over to the police. The next day we saw two military policemen with Ansis turning into our road. When I saw them I became very frightened; I had a bad premonition. From fright, I hid in a large ditch in the apple orchard, which was covered by scrub. I heard Ansis calling out for father to give up his gun. Father said that he had no gun. Then, the two German policemen started to beat father until he could not stand up anymore. Father admitted to having a gun hidden in the stables. They found the revolver, completely rusted and not in working order. The policemen searched the whole property looking for Russian spies. When they did not find anything they seemed satisfied.
At dusk, I crawled out from my hiding place, still very frightened at what I had seen and heard. The policemen and Ansis were still there. They were given supper and spent the night at our place. The next morning they were given breakfast then told father to be ready to go with them for further interrogation. Father went with them optimistically, but it was the last time that he saw his hard-earned home. He was put in jail in Kuldiga to await a military court hearing. The hearing happened two months later. Ansis’ wife, under oath, said that Russian spies had been sheltered at Digaini; a complete lie. Ansis refused to give evidence. Because of the gun and the testimony, father was sentenced to four years hard labour at a concentration camp in Germany. Before he left we had a chance to say goodbye at the prison in Kuldiga.
It was winter, no snow, only cold. I remember it so clearly as if it were today. I walked or ran next to the carriage as I had no warm clothes and it was freezing. The parting was tragic, first father said a prayer to God to look after us, then he directed my oldest brother Adam to take his place and look after all the other children and see to their upbringing and schooling. We were given half an hour. There wasn’t much talking, only crying as we knew that we would not meet again. I was only eight-years-old but it left a lasting impression on me for the rest of my life. I was the youngest to go and see father, my mother, Adams, Leva, Alvine, and Arturs came too.. The two younger brothers, Janis and Albert, stayed at home.
That was the beginning of German occupation in Kurzeme; the Germans went close to Riga but stopped at Daugava River. We occasionally received a card from father who could only write a few words in German saying things like “I am feeling good, praying for you.” Two years later we got notification that father had died at the concentration camp. When I was in Germany at the end of the second World War I wondered which part of Germany my father died in, I do not remember where the cards were from – I was young and could not imagine that one day I would be wandering around Germany.
For the first year of the German occupation during the First World War there were no schools in the country. Somehow, a teacher who spoke German and came from the city had obtained permission to teach Latvian language and writing. She opened a school about three kilometres from our house in a very old building with low ceilings. It had tiny windows and the ceilings and walls were black in smoke. It was one, large, long room with plain tables and benches. In this room crowded fifty children of all ages eight to eighteen. We were divided in groups, the older and the younger. Even the air was hard to breathe. If someone farted and did not admit it, they were checked by sniffing down their collar and then sent out to ventilate. Around this building were wild bushes on the hillside and at the bottom of the hill there were pits where gravel was dug to repair the roads. That is where we played traditional children’s games. The school did not last long. After Christmas, a school was opened in Birze district by a teacher named Janfelds for 50-60 students. Again, it was one large room, but it was light just like a real school.