Ilze Berzins

This is a story about a house, a rather special house and about what happened to it, most specifically since the year 1991 when Latvia regained its independence. The house has style and is somewhat stately as far as private country homes go. It sits on a hill in the picturesque town of Alūksne in Vidzeme.

My maternal grandfather, Jānis Krēsliņš, built this house before the First World War after his first house was burned to the ground by angry tenants ( who were in fact friends squatting for free). The buddies had been told to leave since my grandfather was getting married and needed the house for his family. To spite him the freeloaders burned down the house.    

The new house stands on the corner of Jāņkalna and Lielezera streets and overlooks the town of Alūksne.  From its windows can be seen beautiful Lake Alūksne in the distance.

As a journeyman perfecting his craft of master artisan in ceramics, my grandfather had traveled extensively and his vision for his home was influenced by the stately homes of Germany.  

Work on the house began in 1909 but the First World War intervened before it was finished. Much of the War and the immediate aftermath, my grandfather spent in hiding from the Communists. He was considered wealthy since he was a master potter and tile stove setter. His wealth consisted mostly of IOUs and my grandmother, Johanna Krēsliņš (nee Hermanovitch), taught sewing to make ends meet. Since my grandfather had no business skills it was up to my grandmother to sell pottery and run down the debtors. As soon as the children (including my mother) were able, they were put to work in the pottery. My mother as a little girl was also hired out as shepherdess of a small herd of cows. 

During Latvia’s War of Independence in the wake of WWI the house became the headquarters for the Finnish officers who were stationed in the garrison. After Latvia finally became independent in 1920 the country flourished. Yet my grandparents struggled on. My grandfather, who was always generous with his friends, seemed to forget that his family came first. My grandmother, who also was extremely kind and generous, did put her family first. The family was quite large and included her sisters and brothers.  Her priority was to finish the house for the extended family and she managed to save enough money for work to continue.

In addition to the original pottery my grandfather built a new pottery which included workshops fully equipped with the best tools money could buy for his nephews. One was an electrician and the other a cabinet maker. Exploiting my grandfather’s generosity neither one ever paid a centime in rent or repaid him for the tools.

In 1936 calamity struck again when my grandfather died. My grandmother was left to struggle on alone. Difficulties mounted. The workers in the pottery, who had already been stealing from my grandfather when he was ill, walked out because they did not want to work for a woman. The only potter my grandmother could get was a Jewish convict who had murdered his wife when he had found her in bed with someone else. Money was very scarce. To sustain her family my grandmother was forced to rent out rooms in the house.

Then came World War II. My grandmother was put out of her own house when the Communists occupied Latvia and the Communist party members put in proletarian tenants/squatters.  

Thus began the destruction of the beautiful old house. The Communist government decided to straighten Jāņkalna Street. As a result, the foundation of the house was exposed and undermined.       

But the house was so well built that it took another fifty years of willful neglect to bring it to its knees. Major acts of vandalism hastened its ruin: downspouts from the gutters left to empty at the base of the foundation, fires set by squatters in the attic, damage wreaked by squatters using the wood floors as firewood and the concrete floors as chopping blocks.

From 1940 to 1944 there was an interlude during the German occupation when the house ownership was returned to my grandmother. But from 1944 to 1991 the house was owned by the Soviet State and, as mentioned above, subjected to terrible abuse.

In the 1980s the abandoned pottery and workshops were converted into a home. And so, in 1991 when Latvia regained its independence, this part of the property was no longer considered a part of the original house.

The new town government was left with a sorely dilapidated building that it had no idea what to do with. Or maybe someone did have an idea.  Like, for example, how about saddling the “rich” American heirs with this property in ruins?

The first move was to put the building on the National Register of Historic Buildings.  This way the building had to be restored and could not be demolished. This could mean a nice income for the town and some of its important people.

But first to the heirs. Who were they? My oldest uncle died in a drowning accident as a youth before WWI. Then came my mother. Her sister, Anna, died in childhood of scarlet fever. Another sister was killed by a stray bomb in the Post Office Square in Riga in 1940 as the Soviets retreated from the oncoming German army. Her younger brother died near Smolensk in midsummer 1944 fighting the onslaught of Soviet troops bearing down on the Baltics. Another brother died in infancy. The only other surviving sister was my Aunt Ruta living in Oregon. My mother, who lived in Maine, had two surviving sons. My brother Peter and myself. A newborn daughter had died near the end of WWII in Germany and in 1947 my mother lost a one-year-old son. As for the rest of the heirs: my Aunt Ruta has one daughter, my cousin Irene.

Because my Aunt Ruta and Uncle Kārlis initially made several trips to newly independent Latvia someone must have gotten the bright idea to get to these naïve Westerners and have them rebuild the house. My aunt was told that it would cost about 1.2 million lats to restore. She knew that was way beyond our means even if we had been seriously interested in regaining the property.

So here was the tactic. A pleasant lady who was an architect and member of the town council decided that she would like to restore the house and use it as a school and gallery of textile art (my grandmother’s vocation.) My mother, being the oldest heir, was contacted if she would agree to this. My mother and aunt agreed that this would be just fine. Ah, but a problem arose; before my mother could will the property to the town she must first take ownership. Would she kindly sign a power of attorney to this nice lady to act on her behalf? Mother did so and we did not hear from the nice lady for a long while. Then on one of my aunt’s or uncle’s trips back to Latvia someone from the town council told them that they must ask for the land too, not just the house. My uncle requested the land. Again long silence. 

Finally my mother received a notice that, since we had requested the house and the land, we now must immediately repair the house since it is about to collapse onto the road which had been realigned too close to the foundation of the house.

We were given a deadline to submit a plan which had to be approved by the Historical Registry. We had to also find new housing for the tenants who had no place to go. (No matter that they were drunks and had never paid a centime in rent.)

My mother was livid, both at her sister for requesting the land and at the town for trying to saddle us with the expensive repairs and tenant problems. At first my mother responded with counter-threats, then with silence.

After a couple of years of this, the town council finally gave up. Sometime in 2002 the town stated that it would gladly accept the house as a gift and would see to it that it would be properly restored.

I visited in 2006. The place is still the same, inhabited by drunks, the doors without locks. Yet, despite large cracks in the walls the place is still standing, a testament to the solid construction techniques used by my grandfather. There was no question of boosting a little here or there. In order for it to be restored the house would have to be totally rebuilt.

The massive rock foundation has shifted. The solid walls have three layers. The outer walls are bricks laid flat covered by stucco, the middle layer is upright logs, and the inner layer bricks placed on edge and finished with plaster. My grandfather had indeed built a fortress which he intended as a family home for many generations to come.

But it’s a sad sight now. The masonry tile stoves are totally demolished. My Aunt Ruta never had the heart to enter her childhood home and I myself never got beyond the unhinged front door.

I prefer seeing the house through my mother’s eyes in its glory days.


Comments:

33 Responses to “GRANDMOTHER’S HOUSE IN ALUKSNE by GEORGE BUTLERS”

  1. Marga writes:

    George sounds like your mum from the very beginning was onto those remnants of Soviet Latvia but still held on to a romantic dream. I never cease to be amazed at how deaf and blind the summer visiting Arzemniek-Latvians remain.

    • ilzeberzins writes:

      Yes, Marga. But there are happy stories too. At least I know of one. A friend of George (huge 6’4’muscles+) couldn’t be intimidated by the Russians or locals and now lives on his family property with a Latvian wife, kids and dogs.
      I’ll get George to write up the story in the next comment.

  2. George writes:

    Marga, despite the fact that I am an incurable cynic, I still believe that there is some good among humans, be they Latvian or whatever. As you can tell from the story, even before the Soviets, there were people including relatives who were into freeloading.
    As to my childhood friend from Boston (we both were born in Boston) who returned to Latvia even before the fall of Communism. He possesses the qualities of toughness, determination, adaptation and smarts to live and thrive there. He was able to repossess the family estate near Jelgava as well as the family apartment building in Riga. He has married a local and has two beautiful daughters. He knows how to deal with the Russian and Latvian oligarchs and bureaucrats and I think that his physical stature has something to do with it. I don’t think there are a lot of people out there who feel strong enough to want to mess with him.
    Another friend from Germany was able to get his stepmother’s home in Latgale. (He was found as a newborn infant next to the railroad tracks during the great deportation of 1940.) It took many trips to Latvia and probably a few bribes but now the locals treat him with respect and make sure his home is not damaged when he is away. Even though he is short in stature most people don’t want to tangle with him.
    It takes a certain type of personality and certain circumstances in order to be able to deal with post-Communist Latvians.

  3. Marga writes:

    Point taken! I had hoped to be the bridge between my ancestors and my Australian born decendents, even dreamt that some of my grandchildren fix up the old farmhouse and farm the land. My sister applied to get back only what had belonged to our father ‘house and land’and gifted it to me in 1999. The local authorities (at then Vietalva) overlooked the word ‘and’. They then sent one of ‘theirs’ on pretext to visit his sister in Sydney. A letter came addressed to my sisters but in my name which read–

    Sidneja 7.4.00 Cienita Marga kundze. Esmu Maris Pilskalns no Vietalvas, ciemojos pie radiem Sidneja. Jusu adresi man iedeva Vietalvas ciema iedzivotajs. Velos aizbraukt uz Kvinslandes pusi, loti veletos satikties un parunaties.Iemainas kops esam brivi nepasakamas. Ja Jus mums piezvanitu par tel.———- jeb uzrakstiet savu tel. numuru. And like a fool, after several days I responded!!

    I guess I’m just too old, too poor and too tired to keep fighting for my impossible dream.
    Marga.

    • ilzeberzins writes:

      Will you stop that, Marga!
      –too old, too poor, too tired…
      Shame on you. You are my age. Poor? Probably not. Tired? Who isn’t.
      That being said, I probably wouldn’t go on fighting since perhaps your kids aren’t that keen on Latvia. If they were, they would do the fighting for their heritage.
      As for myself, I would like to fight for my apartment in Beki House. I would have to be in Latvia to do that.
      Who knows where I’ll be.
      The house here in Ottawa has been sold so we are leaving. For where? God only knows.

  4. Marga writes:

    Sorry Ilze, my mistake. Has the bar from middle age to old age been raised again? Damn, but when can I start saying I am old? I’ve been watching some I thought were, and they seem to be having a great time free of obligations and cares. Seriously thats the life I too already lead.

    As for my children taking up my fight, too many obstacles, each still with original spouse and with three children apiece—AND therefore NO SPARE CASH.

    I am fascinated with your idea, that of getting that apartment at Beki. How will you go about it? Guess with a Lawyer for a brother you must be knowledgable in many things legal, but besides working for DOA in Latvia, what other experience have you had with the justice system there?

    My criminal case against Pilskalns, for misappropriation in 2006, ended dismally. The Court case was totally unlike anything I’d seen on’Judge Judy’. No swearing in of witnesses(the ones who bothered to turn up)on the bible, instead they were told it was a criminal offence to lie. Right, noone lies in Latvia. Witnesses were not cross-examined, and written statements of absent witnesses were accepted into evidence.

    • ilzeberzins writes:

      I will shame my brother into giving me the apartment. Trust me on that one.
      As for “old”: both George and I feel about 30 or so. BUT when I ‘need’ my age I use it. As in: “How dare you speak to me like this?! I’m your grandmother’s age! Shame on you!” and variations of the same. Yep, there sure are freedoms and privileges especially when you want to tell someone off. And what can ‘they’ do to you?– get you fired?

  5. Marga writes:

    Ilze, good luck with your brother. I so hope love and old Latvian family values prevail.

    As for you and George still feeling like 30 year olds, that’s wonderful. I too often still feel about that age until I catch my reflection in something or other or I attempt to keep up, even walking, with one of my 1,5,9,12,16 or 20 year old grandchidren.

  6. ilzeberzins writes:

    Well, Marga, I don’t have grandchildren to keep up with but I know what you mean. The things that bothers me the most are certain ungainly mouvements I seem to be making. Whereas in years past I would gracefully glide out of a car or leap up from a deep couch now it’s a bit of an effort. Yeah, I hate that.

  7. Marga writes:

    Ilze, sorry that I digressed from George’s story and reverted to our discussion on ageing. You maybe should not have deleted that subject from your blog. At our age we could continue with that subject forever.

    Back to Georges positive stories of 6ft 4inch brave strong young ones reclaiming their valuable Riga ancestral heritages in Latvia, marrying one of the many Latvian beauties and producing similar offspring.How I wish there could be more of those stories. I personally have had the pleasure of meeting an Australian who had met a Latvian beauty in Hungary, for some time lived with her family in Bauska,had a beautiful baby and returned to Brisbane for the warmth. A beautiful couple envyably in love.

    Alas, those stories are few and far apart. Not many of the Western migrant old folks, who have lived for the last sixty years in the countries that have given them safe refuge can afford to reclaim and maintain residences in two countries. Only movie and pop stars can afford that luxury but many Western Latvians attempt it.

    I unfortunately have reason to have no trust in Latvia’s justice system. I am in a position to know, have had two others here to to compare with.

    1) Hope the rule of law will apply, employ an Advocate who thinks like you and really wants to help you (my way).
    20 Employ an English speaking Advocate who can write frowery submissions and only asks for 30% of the outcome(one friends way).
    3) Utilize the help of a newly acquires friend from Latvia, a businessman who can afford to live here, along with his wife and beautiful baby in an expensive high-rise for six months (onother friends way).

    GUESS WHO OF THE THREE HAD A SUCCESSFUL OUTCOME????????

  8. ilzeberzins writes:

    I can’t guess at all.
    Now, to be fair to my brother,he did all the heavy lifting re regaining Beki.
    Some luck was involved as well. The bureucrat involved with the Zemes Gramata was a University friend of my parents. This sped things up a lot.
    Still, the locals were adept at squeezing as much money as possible out of our family. Yes, the land belonged to my mother but some hideous outbuildings the Communists had erected belong to the State. Let’s have foreigners buy them back. A couple of outbuildings were valued excessively high. What to do? Let the locals keep the outbuildings (now used as auto repair shops) and let them do business on Beki land, or give in to the shakedown?
    I don’t know how things stand right now.
    Still, it is clear that hundreds of thousands of dollars would be needed to restore some semblance of order (and protection)for the property if one wanted to live there. A public road had been built through the property so cars race up and down at all hours. I bet all kinds of illicit ‘bizness’ goes on.

    An idea would have been for all of us Arzemnieki to get together to pool resources and expertise but, Latvians being Latvians, that would never have worked.

    To date two of my Arzemnieki friends(my age)who settled in Latvia are now dead.
    Gundars Valdmanis was member of Saeima at one time. As a young man he was brilliant and a wonderful friend. But booze got him.
    Similarly Peter Zalite, a handsome well-educated man, succumbed to booze.
    I don’t know the whereabouts of Maija Blauberga, an intelligent lawyer who also settled in Latvia. Also booze.

    Booze and Latvia could well be the theme of another blog.
    My brother once said that the danger of booze was one of the reasons he wouldn’t like to live in Latvia. Is there something about the Latvian make-up that makes them “vulnerable” to booze?
    George says something about enzymes. It has been said that the North American Indians lack a certain enzyme which makes them more susceptible to intoxication. What about Latvians?

    I myself took full advantage of Latvian’s drinking practice. A little shot in a cafe on the way to work in the morning with a good friend. That was so nice. A dark foggy November morning and a warm cozy cafe and good company.
    George worries about my liver so I’m restricted now.
    But once he’s working as a physician again I’ll find myself a warm smoky cafe and lift a glass to all my old drinking buddies.

    • Marga writes:

      Ilze, escape via booze in Latvia smacks of despair and hopelessness to me. In Riga 2003 a double dose of my prescribed anti-anxiety medication, still did not turn off my mind nor allow sleep. I, a cheap drunk, who either falls asleep or throws up after more than just a few nevertheless tried that. Did not help. Soberly I had to face grim reality.

  9. George writes:

    These comments all lead in many directions but… I think one of the big problems is that those who emigrated were pretty much of similar social standing, education and political views.The children were brought up in the illusion of the ‘golden years’ of Latvia. As if that was a condition that lasted forever. Those emigrants that did not fit into this group fell away early leaving a ‘hard core’ of dreamers that worked incessantly for the reinstatement of the ‘golden years’. Life moved on in Latvia as well as elsewhere. Latvians were not always kind and honest with other Latvians whether as emigrants or among those who stayed, though we like to believe otherwise. 1991 was when both the Latvians living in Latvia could throw off the yoke of the Soviet Regime and the emigrants could return to rebuild THE DREAM. Well as they say in Latvian ‘Krejums un sūdi peld par virsu’ cream and shit floats to the top. Leaving most everyone else disillusioned and heartbroken. In a way it is all about dialectic materialism. Latvians are just like anybody else morally or ethically, subject to the same cravings for wealth and power and those who can prey on those they perceive to be weaker.

    • Marga writes:

      Similar Social Standings? George I question that. From my perspective in 1950, as a then eight year old I was all too aware of a real class distiction amongst our group of immigrants.

      • George writes:

        You are right to question that statement. One must be careful when one makes generalizations. Now reflecting back, there were class differences but it was not obvious to me then.

        • Marga writes:

          I was too young back then to differentiate. But looking back now the ones who were on top of the tree were probably the ones who had been wealthy or had belonged to one or other of the fraternities.
          My parents were from the country, good folk and, as I mentioned, my father was a wounded WWII veteran. I remember one of our earliest Latvian community gatherings in Brisbane. I remember it well because I was induced to recite a poem — I, a lively, noisy but contradictorilly introverted and shy child hated being put on stage. I think it was a function for the start of Daugavas Vanagi in Brisbane. The honoured guests were the veterans. There may have been three or four of them there. The irony was that my father never signed up. Original purpose of Vanagi was gone and membership became a new status symbol.
          And I wonder why I can’t remember, as children, some of those here I now meet. Could it be that I was not not considered good enough for them to play with ? I’m now old and know how things are.

  10. ilzeberzins writes:

    True what you say, George.
    When I was teaching English in Latvia to a pair of architects I happened to speak of a vehicle my father (or grandfather) had been using. The response from the architect was anger. “You had a car!? Well, My grandmother was a ‘setniece’ (caretaker).”
    Growing up in Canada I thought all Latviand had gone to university because my father was so active in “korporacijas”.

    Another incident sticks in my mind: The present inhabitants of the workers’ cottage at Beki were hostilwe to me and to my brother. “Your father left but mine didn’t.”
    Of course it took money to leave. And many of those who fled were on a ‘hit list’ as being bourgeois landowners.

  11. George writes:

    Envy or ‘apskaust citu’ has always been around. When my mother was a child other children resented her for living in such a prominent house. The other children were able to play and had unlimited leisure time. My mother herded cattle from morning till night and when she was older she and her siblings worked in the pottery again from morning till night when they were not in school. My grandmother was always under way selling pottery from a horse and buggy in the surrounding farms and villages or chasing down creditors on foot. My grandfather when not living away on the building site of his tile masonry stoves, was up at three in the morning to walk up to an hour or two to get to his jobs and then late in the evening he would return home. When he died he still owed 200 Lats (a lot of money in those days) on the house.
    Many of those Latvians who emigrated during WWII were originally from poor backgrounds but had worked hard to gain an education in order to become members of the so-called bourgeoisie. Among the emigrants were also farmers who perhaps had less education but had fought hard in the First World War and War of Independence to own and work their own piece of land.

  12. George writes:

    Now among those who stayed: My paternal grandparents would not leave. My grandfather the son of a tenant farmer worked in a factory as a machinist ‘atslegnieks’ in Riga. My grandparents owned their own home which was a duplex in Čiekurkalns with a small garden. The house had been left to my grandmother by her father. My grandparents had fled Riga during WWI to Pskov where they endured starvation and illness. My grandparents had resolved never to leave their home again come hell or high water. And hell it was, with the little garden providing enough to survive when others went without. My grandfather worked into his seventies at the same factory never once revealing his political views. The Communists left him alone. The house is now owned by the family that cared for my grandmother in her last days.
    Another relative who was a seamstress and had worked for my maternal grandmother and was a sworn Communist ended up in Siberia for stealing fabric dye from the factory and selling it on the black market. There had been no other way to obtain food and being proletarian and a Communist did not make one immune from deportation.
    An acquaintance of my parents who was quite the Capitalist between the World Wars decided at the last moment to stay in Latvia. Because he was a specialist in precious metals and had the knack for survival he was spared deportation and one might even say he thrived. But the system got to him so much that in his later years he reverted to the bottle.

    • Marga writes:

      And how sorry we all felt for those left behind. My father fought for Latvia in both World Wars. In the First as a youth ‘conscrition got him’. When decommissioned in March of 1921, he had attained the rank of lieutenant. March of 1944, by then aged 46, he was again conscripted soley because he had been an officer in the WWI. Other neighbours managed to ‘buy out’ their much younger sons from that fate. Fortunately my father was charged only with looking after horse at Opocka. As his division was retreating back into eastern Latvia, to get news of our whereabouts my father briefly went AWOL and into the path of an airraid. Bad shrapnel wound the result!

      In Australia we did not have it easy either. My father by then aged 52 and mum 44 had three daughters to feed, shelter, cloth and educate. It hurts me to know that still now, in present day Latvia the Legionnairs are considered deserving of their fate and therefore its considered just to ‘uzmest’ their descendents.

      • George writes:

        Opocka? That is where my mother’s brother died 64 years ago today. Katram savs liktenis. Among our friends and relatives in Latvia legjonari are honoured but there are too many people in Latvia who do not. Sometimes because people are afraid to be politically incorrect. The false information is still perpetrated both in the East AND West that the Latvian Legion was Nazi.

        • George writes:

          Not 64 years but 66 years ago.

        • Marga writes:

          What are the odds? Maybe your uncle and my father met! George have you read Valdis Lumans book Latvia in World War II? Highly recommend it.

          My father was the youngest of six sons born when his mother was already aged 37 and his father 59.

          His oldest brother, Andrejs Mezmalis, served in the Russian Army and was good friends with the Estonian, Johana Laidoners(later to become General). The summer of 1914, while home on leave, Andrejs had with him Laidoners War Academy textbooks with handwritten notes in the margins. Andrejs was soon to sit the entrance exam.

          One day the postman from Plavinas arrived with a telegram along with an extra horse. Andrejs was ordered to return to his unit immediately. No news for some time then another telegram— Andrejs had died a hero—in Poland by the banks of the Bzura River. The date, 29th November 1914. Fearing outbreak of War in Latvia, his possessions had been sent to Mrs Laidoners in Estonia.

          My father too,later in Riga,had cause to use the books and had some explaining to do of how they happened to be in his possession.

  13. ilzeberzins writes:

    Beki was given back to my mother. The vast property had areas for small gardens which had been cultivated by locals from Talsi. One such person asked if now they would have to pay rent. As my mother’s representative I said of course not. The fellow had a car and was driving back to Talsi. I asked if I could go along. I still remember his displeasure when I did not offer him money. I thought he would have been insulted but this was not the case. Arzemnieki were expected to hand out bits of money here and there. And rightly so. We had so much more. I regret not giving the guy money. Several other instances come to mind. In Riga in a store a woman asked for half a wiener. The clerk said halves were not being sold. Woman complained bitterly and I stood by… however moments later a couple of kids took off with my winter fur-lined gloves, followed me out the store, kicked me in the back hoping I would drop my shopping bags. I didn’t.
    So it went.

    • Marga writes:

      Ilze, Arzemnieki are not entirely responsible for living standards in Latvia, well maybe some, those like me or others who want to get back what was once ours leaving them to lose what has been theirs for so long. In 1995 we too met a man who was kind enough to drive us 15kl further after we were stranded at Plavinas. I offered to pay him. He refused to accept but I left 10lats on his dashboard anyway. I think he was too proud to say he could do with the money.

  14. George writes:

    Getting back to this point: Can a Latvian be trusted just because he/she is Latvian? I grew up in the US and Germany with a close number of friends who were Latvian and could be trusted with money, belongings and even, perhaps I would go so far as to say, with my life. From this experience one is tempted to extrapolate to all Latvians one meets and to trust them too.
    Bitter disappointment has followed. First let me say that those friends who have survived over the many years and some new ones as well as relatives reunited in Latvia I still trust unequivocally. But throughout my life in the West there were Latvians who were devious and outright crooks. So how could we ever expect to trust those Latvians who spent 50+ years living under Communism?
    Perhaps I can list some Latvians, without mentioning their names, who my parents trusted only to be bitterly disappointed. The wife (Latvian parentage) of my father’s childhood friend who sponsored my parents coming to the US sued my parents because she wanted things back her father had given to my parents– things such as a baby’s crib she no longer needed and baby blankets for newborn Peter, my older brother.
    Of course before it ever made it to court my parents had returned everything and then some. Misunderstanding? Perhaps, and the father was quite unhappy with his daughter’s actions.
    A Latvian Baptist Minister subcontracted my father to work as an engineer. As it turned out my father never received a cent but the Minister pocketed the whole sum for the job.
    When my father died in Boston in 1967 we had to sell our home. Some Latvian friends offered to store our stuff until my mother and I resettled in Germany. To those families who did this I am eternally grateful but there was one family who cursed my mother for not having died and never gave back the furniture and tools they had been entrusted with.
    So how can one trust a stranger be they Latvian, Tchechen, Russian, German, Polish or Gypsy?

  15. ilzeberzins writes:

    Latvian Baptist Minister! Ca me dit quelqechose.
    Reading my father’s diary I come across Macitajs Blumitis. He was active in recruiting Latvians to come to work on farms in the USA. More often than not these indentured servants lived as slaves. My father rejected the Minister’s advances and we didn’t end up picking cotton in Alabama.

    Trust:
    How can we trust?
    I am very trusting but, when I’m let down, I take out the heavy artillary.

    • Marga writes:

      Ilze, how many people ever can we really trust? Not that many.

      Whatever induced me to place total trust in a complete stranger from Plavinas, a place I now think of as a rodents’ nest? What induced me to place total trust in that one Latvian who is close enough in age to my deceased son? Whatever induced me to, for the first time ever, to give that total stranger a General Power of Attorney? And what induced a Goood Latvian 1000klm from Sydney to translate that General P of A in the most damageing way possible without first making any attempt to contact me?
      Give him his due. Later, after the damage was all done he did locate me here, phone and verbally apologise. I wondered at the attitude of the Latvians my age and younger here. They simply did not want to know about what had happened to me!!

      Hard to believe I’m admitting this but I STILL have to TRUST. I’ve sent off several new P’s of A to my advocate in Latvia. I’m not going there myself anymore. I have to trust her and if I can’t , it no longer matters to me.

      • ilzeberzins writes:

        But I certainly want to know about what happened to you. Many people do. I think it’s important to tell our stories. You have been brave to fight for what is yours. That is justice. I think you will prevail. Don’t give up.

  16. ilzeberzins writes:

    Perhaps this is the time and place for my own very recent ‘bitter disappointment’.
    When PORTRAIT OF A LATVIAN BEAUTY was published it was almost completely ignored/rejected by the Latvian public here in Ottawa–especially by the Church group to which both my parents belonged. “Who wants to read about someone’s mother?” was one comment. Latvian Embassy here in Ottawa could not afford 35$ to aquire it for their library even though I had offered a discount and even though one of the embassy workers was supposedly a ‘friend’. At the Christmas church bazaar where my book was displayed for sale a friend of my husband (and the husband of the embassy lady)snubbed the book by saying that he only buys things he needs and doesn’t need the book. Needless to say he isn’t a friend any more.
    ON THE OTHER HAND:
    People, who did not know my parents and did not know me, wrote me emotional letters about how very moved they were reading this book.

    That being said: is it true then that familiarity indeed breeds contempt?

  17. ilzeberzins writes:

    I’m replying to Marga’s comment about: ‘not being good enough as a child for children to play with’.
    Latvians were and are a snooty lot.
    But let’s remember that many Anglos looked down on us bohunks. And we as kids considered Anglos as a class above us no matter what trailer these Anglos crawled out of.
    As I grew up I certainly didn’t want to date Lat guys. Ick!
    Ironic that I finally find true happiness with an American-Latvian. Though born in Boston, George is more patriotic than many.
    Would I have dated him back then?
    Tall, dark, cultured surgeon? You bet I would.
    What about him? Would he have dated me?
    He tells me that as a surgeon he was so busy he only got to meet other hospital staff. His first wife was a German surgeon. (Now an emminent brain surgeon in N Carolina). And what is he? A fellow struggling to get back into medicine. But what a fabulous 20 year sabbatical!

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