A short life story of a Latvian who migrated to Australia.
Presented on the historical and cultural background of the country and people of his birth.
[The following is a short life story written by my father in September 2000. My father, born in Latvia, was a Displaced Person (DP) after WWII. From an Australian point of view, Janis' story shows us how important immigration has been -and in my view, continues to be - for this country. I have used Optical Character Recognition software to transfer the story from hard copy to soft copy. As it turns out this is a far from perfect process and there were many error that I had to correct so please forgive any errors that remain.]
My name is Jânis Osvalds Čirkšis (pronounced in English “Yahnis Osvalds Tsirksis"), born on 31" July 1924, in Níca at the South-Eastern corner of Latvia, a small country, the size of Tasmania, adjoining the South-Western shores of the Baltic sea. l was born the second son of my Latvian parents, preceded by a 2 years older brother and subsequently followed by a 2 years younger sister.
3500 to 4000 years ago the Latvian people arrived in this area and had since then established their own life style and culture at great odds, against the expansionist wishes of the much more populous neighbours, the Germans and the Russians. Today Latvians and Lithuanians are the only 2 remaining of the initial 5 Baltic people who, with the movement of the greater original lndo-European people, arrived in this part of Europe. The other three, over the past centuries, did become assimilated by the more populous German and Slavic, in the main Russian, people. The languages of these 2 remaining Baltic people have been found by Iinguists to be the most similar to the supposedly original and common lndo-European language of Sanskrit.
Prior to 1200AD when some priests of the Russian orthodox Church and a bit later the German crusaders attempted to bring Christianity to the Latvian people, they, for many centuries, had practiced their own deeply spiritual religion of natural worship in the selected sacred oak groves in the lush forests of the country. There male priests and female priestesses introduced the general population to the traditional mysteries of their religion. These priests were known (in singular) as “vaidelotis” and "vaideIote” respectively. It may be of interest to know that according to this religious tradition the supreme God (Dievs) was of a male gender, who quite often visited the Latvian people on earth in a disguise of a simple, old man, to obtain a first hand knowledge of their daily lives and behavior. He was assumed to have spiritual sons of God (Dieva dëli). God- ship, by the people, was observable in the whole of God's nature. Both, the Sun and the Mother Earth, were considered to be of a female gender, the life giving Sun having many spiritual daughters (Saules meitas), and the Mother Earth various spiritual male and female gods and goddesses to serve, at their own level and in accordance to their allocated duties, the whole Latvian people as a nation generally, and individual persons in particular.
With the advent of Christianity the Latvian people, after a prolonged resistance, which, in some parts of Latvia, lasted for up to 200 years, all Latvians, for the next 700 years, became subservient to the German Knights of the Crusaders and their descendants and later to the tsarist Russians followed by the communist Russians for the last 50 years prior to 1991, but about this later.
For all these past centuries very little was known in the wider world community about the Latvian people as a nation. This all changed when, during the 1" World War the Latvian Riflemen stopped the rapidly advancing German forces against tsarist Russia along the main river Daugava in Latvia for the best part of two years. By 1918 Germany had lost the war and their army was ordered to return home. In both, Germany and Russia, there had been a revolution. So on the 18"' of November 1918 the Latvian people declared an independent Latvian state. But both, the Baltic Germans, who for the past centuries had been the factual rulers of Latvia, as well as the newly formed communist government in Russia, had other plans for Latvia, which by now had been completely devastated by the war. The democratically, by all the participating political parties, formed government was in a desperate situation indeed. As yet it had no income from the population, no army, no resources of any kind whatsoever. During one short critical time, it had to take refuge on a small vessel in the Baltic sea, under the protection of the British navy, to escape being taken prisoners by the Baltic Germans, who had attempted to establish their own kind of puppet government in the newly formed country. Fortunately a very small group of Latvians succeeded to counter this attempt and it failed. From thereon things gradually started to become brighter for the new country. The people voluntarily joined the armed forces in the war of liberation against the two foes of the country. First the deceptive German forces were driven out , and in 1920 the Soviet Red army forces had been driven to the traditional border between Russia and Latvia when a mutually acceptable Peace treaty between the two countries was signed, in Russia's own words “for all time".
Only now the reconstruction of the war ravaged country could actually begin to take place. An agrarian reform was put into effect by the Latvian government. Latvian people were given the opportunity to acquire land, taken away by force from the Latvian people centuries ago, at a very reasonable price. Low interest reestablishment loans were provided for the newly formed properties. My father, a volunteer freedom fighter, was one of the many who in this way was able to acquire a small 12ha plot of totally, during the war years, neglected very wet plot of land. But the whole nation "rolled up their sleeves" and wholeheartedly participated in this difficult task.
By the time l was born, only a couple years later, this neglected piece of land had been converted into a reasonably prosperous farm, and little Jänis felt few hardships, if any, in his young life. Still, already at an early age, we were expected, according to our abilities, to participate in the activities on our small farm, as our parents were unable to hire any outside labor in the fields. And in a few more years the ravages of the war were nowhere to be observed on the Latvian countryside or in towns and cities. During the following 20 years between the 2 World Wars the Latvian people in general had never been so prosperous before, or even up to and including this very day, when l am writing this story. During these years I completed my primary education and commenced studies in mechanical engineering at a Technical College in the nearby 2"“ largest town of Latvia.
But unfortunately, by the end of the 30ies, things started to look grim for the Latvian, and all the other people of the Euro-Asian continent. In the early 20ies a ruthless tyranny had been established by Lenin and Stalin in the Soviet Union, and from the 30ies onwards, by Hitler in Nazi-Germany. In August 1939 the future 50 years of Europe was determined by the now commonly known Molotov-Ribentrop pact between Stalin and Hitler, dividing the whole of Europe between these two dictators.
Accordingly, the 3 Baltic countries and the Eastem part of Poland were “allocated" to Stalin, the rest of Poland and of Europe to Hitler. The Iatter's invasion of Poland presumptuously started the Second World War. The Western World seemed to be completely "blind" to the fact, that shortly after the German invasion of Poland the same was done by the Red army up to the previously agreed "line", and the brutal occupation with the shortly following farcical full incorporation of the previously independent 3 Baltic countries into the Soviet Russia, breaking the existing non-aggression and mutual defense treaties, as well as the Peace treaties between these 3 countries and the Soviet Union after the First World War.
But the Molotov-RibentropPact lasted less than 2 years. Stalin had only been waiting until the "Western Imperialists” Germany, France and Britain, fighting between themselves bled to death, giving him the opportunity to "liberate" the German workers and the rest of Europe. Early in 1941 massive Red army forces were secretly positioned all along the Soviet-German border under the pretext of “exercises”. But when the Red army soldiers, stationed in the occupied Latvia, began openly to boast that "during the coming winter they are going to liberate the German workers", it must have been impossible for Hitler to “miss the message". France had lost the battle, but Britain was still fighting. During the earlier years Hitler, in his book “Mein Kampf', had warned Germany that it would not be possible to win a war against Russia and Britain at the same time. But seeing that his “good friend" Stalin apparently intended to involve Germany into just that, what was Hitler to do? The only course seemed to pre-empt Stalins “liberation plan", and attack first. Unfortunately, his other good friend Mussolini, the dictator of fascist Italy, had got himself into a spot in Greece, and German forces had to come to the rescue. This delayed the time for a strike against Russia, which became fateful, when the German forces became stuck in the Russian mud at the start of the fierce Russian winter at the doorsteps of Moscow. The delay of the German attack into Russia became very fateful also for many thousands of Latvians, when on the 14'“ of June, 1941 some 14,000 of them, men, women, old people and small children were brutally, in the middle of a night, dragged out of their homes, loaded into cattle trucks and sent away to Siberia.
Therefore, there was no wonder when only some 10 days after these brutalities had taken place throughout Latvia, the German forces were received by the Latvian population with great relief and joy, also hoping to regain their recently lost independence. But this was not to be. Very soon the Latvian people found, that one brutal occupant had only been exchanged by another. During the German occupation many ordinary, innocent people became unjustly imprisoned, executed, sent away to Germany as slave labor in their war industry, and later unlawfully conscripted into the German forces. For example, my 19 year elder brother at an early age was mistakenly executed. Unfortunately, when this was later discovered, it did not bring him back to life. A couple years later, after the heavy German losses at Stalingrad, many East-Europeans became unlawfully conscripted into the German forces, but were, in the main, only deployed at the Eastern front against the now approaching Red army to their countries. For German home consumption one of Hitler's top men coined this motto: "After every East-European killed in action, no German mother is crying” ("Fuer jeden gefallenen Ost-Europaer weint keine Deutsche Mutter").
After the completion of my studies in Mechanical Engineering, I soon became one of those “dispensable East-Europeans", was sent to labor service in Germany and later conscripted into the Latvian Legion. As unlawful as this conscription was, by this time for most Latvians, this seemed to be for us the only sensible action to take, because the Red army had already started to enter Latvia, and we had no others who would help us in this situation. We still could not believe that the Western Allies, after the war, would permit Latvia and the other Baltic states to be occupied by the Russians for the next 50 years. How naive we were in our believes, we only discovered much later. During the last days of the war our Regiment was sent to Berlin against the Russians, who already were entering this city. We had no intention to become their prisoners, therefore, for 5 days, hiding in the forests by daytime and marching by night, we were approaching the Western front, where there were no other German forces apart from a platoon - a mixture of Hitlerjugend boys and some Volkssturm (men over their 65) to be seen. White flags were flying on all German houses in the village. Our commander made arrangements with the local American forces to stop their fire, while we marched over to them, were disarmed, and for the next year became POW's, originally in various camps in Germany, but before the next winter we were sent by the British to a camp in Belgium, where the rest of our division had been sent before us. There we remained until the following spring, when we were released and sent to DP in camps Germany. Those of us, who desired to return to the Russian - occupied Latvia, were free to do so, but very few of us chose to do so.
On arrival in Germany we were accommodated at a DP camp which had, up till now, been a home for some Polish people, who were now on their way of return to Poland. We were all quite exited by the freedom we could enjoy after the month in POW camp. Our DP camp was near a small German town called Hallendorf. When I went there, it was obvious that Germany had lost the war. Very little could be obtained in the shops with the German currency. Soon we discovered that a much better "currency" were the English and American cigarettes and coffee beans, which we in the DP camps received in small quantities. The Germans were able to obtain them only at the "black market". This put us in a better position than the Germans, and we were able to barter to supplement our limited rations in the camp, or obtain other necessities of life, like clothing.
Soon part of us were transferred to a smaller camp not far away, which accommodated civilian refugees from the Baltic countries, who had fled their homes before the advancing Red army, to escape rape, murder and persecution. The internal administration of the DP camps was by people democratically elected by all adults living in a particular camp. At one stage I was elected to this body at our camp.
After a while I became employed by an English occupation army unit, and later in a technical capacity with the British Reparation and Restitution Commission for Germany. I also joined the Latvian branch of YMCA in the Western part of the occupied Germany, acting as the Treasurer with our chapter. While living at this camp l met a lady friend who later in Australia became my wife. Early in 1947 l was able to reestablish contact with my parents and sister in Latvia, who advised me to wait for “ a better weather" before I should consider returning to Latvia. This prompted me to start studying the English language, because "weather" in my country, according-to the following letters, seemed never to improve. For a couple of years I took a part time REFA course in Time and Motion study, as well as became an English teacher for a class of the more advanced students at our camp. After the IRO took over the care of some 2 million refugees from the previous UNNRA organization, we were prompted to start making up our minds about the future: to remain in Germany and become part of this country, or to consider migrating somewhere else. We decided to apply and were tentatively accepted as suitable candidates to emigrate to Australia, far from Latvia and to us an unknown country. In 2 other camps we had to go through all necessary tests, checks and,having been officially accepted, waited at another camp for the boat which would take us to our new country.
After a voyage, which in 1950 lasted about 5 weeks, we arrived at Port Philip Bay where, while still on the boat, everybody had to fill in a customs declaration form giving the necessary details of our limited possessions. Because of my English I was allocated to a young Australian customs officer to assist him in this task. Already at the camp in Germany l had been able to teach prospective migrant classes who studied English, and clearly understood the BBC radio transmissions. Still it was gratifying to experience how easy it was for me to discuss various topics with this young, kind and apparently well educated officer. The first successful encounter with a real "Aussie" gave me quite a boost to my confidence. Especially, when later others, who had been teaching English classes at High -schools in prewar Latvia and later at the various DP camps in Germany, complained about the "Australian Accent" in their first encounters with the other customs officers.
The next morning we disembarked and by train went to the migrant reception centre at Bonegilla. By an interesting coincidence it happened, that our boat left Bremenhafen in Germany on the eve of Jänis day, a centuries old traditional festival at the summer solstice in Latvia, which is my names-day. On the morning at Bonegilla, when for the first time I witnessed the sunrise with my feet on Australian soil, the 31°' of July, this is my birthday. What a coincidence! Or was it an indication that I have arrived in my new homeland at just the right time, leaving my old life behind. I do believe the words of Jesus Christ, that without the knowledge of God, not a hair is lost on our heads.
For the next couple of weeks I assisted an official at the local employment office to select and place the new arrivals in their first jobs in Australia. During this time the Victorian Railways had sent one of their employment officers to select employees as station assistants at the various suburban stations in Melbourne and apprentices at the Newport workshops. I became a station assistant at the Flinders-street railway station, and the teenager son of my girlfriend, an apprentice at the workshops. Near one side of the workshops a camp had been established to accommodate the new arrivals. With the young apprentice I shared the same room at this camp. About a month later my girlfriend was sent to a Jewish family in Melbourne, who came from a European background, as a domestic. This family was very kind and helpful to the new arrivals from the war tom Old Country. A few months later we were able to find personal accommodation. And a couple of years later we purchased some land with a bungalow at one of the new suburbs of the rapidly expanding outer Melbourne. By this time I had been appointed to a clerical position with the Railways, studying to obtain the necessary qualifications for an Assistant Station Master's position. My girlfriend was employed at a local textile factory, and her son was doing well at the workshops.
In a couple more years, after our original work commitments with the Australian government had expired, l obtained a position as Senior Draftsman at a steel manufacturing company, where I stayed until 1964. During these years we had already built 2 family houses on the previously purchased land, my girlfriend and me had got married, and in our sons family, were growing two grandchildren, a girl and a boy. There was no further need for my wife and our daughter-in-law to work outside our houses and they could look after our two families and a few pets. My wife’s sister with her family also
lived close-by in their own home.
In the meantime l had resumed studying and in 1967 graduated with RMIT in Management and became engaged as a works manager, followed by 2 years as a design engineer with a large international agricultural machinery manufacturing company. The remaining 18 years before my retirement l was appointed as a lecturer with two Melbourne based Institutes of Technology. During some of the lecturing years I further extended my education and in 1979 was admitted to the BA degree in the University of Melbourne.
Outside my working hours, I joined the local chapter of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, acted as Chairman of the Leadership Training Commission, and at 40 was given a honorary membership of our chapter.
For many years now l have been a member of two fraternal bodies and various other
Australian and ethnic associations, holding committee positions and performing other duties as called upon by them.
Singing has been my favorite hobby, particularly as a member in a male choir and a
fraternal double quartet. Other of my hobbies are reading, particularly topics about philosophy, psychology and mysticism, as well as listening to classical and lighter good music.
During the middle part of my life l married for the second time, and became the father of my only son Michael Janis, who recently successfully graduated from the local High School and is currently taking a part time course in Engineering at the Clayton Campus of Monash University.
Sinse the disintegration of the Soviet Union (called “The Evil Empire" by a previous President of USA Ronald Regan l happen to agree with that name, but would like to extend it also to the present, in the main by the previous communists run, Russian Federation), the 3 Baltic countries have regained their independence, are now full members of the United Nations, have become associated members of the European Union, and are currently aspiring to become full members of it, as well as members of NATO.
After my retirement l have had twice the opportunity to visit the country of my birth, including the home where l was born. l am the last remaining living member of my childhood family, and could only visit the place where father, mother and sister had been put to rest, not even knowing where the Nazis did bury my young brother. Still, I met and found some 40 of my relations: cousins, their children and grandchildren. Unfortunately the 50 years of Soviet occupation, with the resulting brain-washing, terror, intimidation, deportations and genocide, by mass-deporting tens of thousands of Latvians to Siberia and bringing into Latvia hundreds of thousands of Russian army and Russian civilian- occupants from their country, have left such deep scars in their psyche, that they are no more the Latvian people l used to know prior to 1943, when l was forced to leave my country.
Also unfortunately, while I visited there, and according to the news received now, it appears that, by and large, the currently privileged people of the country are the same ones who were privileged under the communist regime. They have changed their loyalties very rapidly, leaving the communist party, founding and leading a multitude of new parties, which in itself brings about an unstable government due to the mutual infighting among these parties for the best positions in the government and bureaucracy. Most of them do not seem to have any serious loyalty to the country nor to the people who elected them, but only to their own hip pockets. Thus the initial euphoria of the late 80ties, when the fight by the people for an independent state of Latvia actually really began and later in 1991 finally culminated in an independent state of Latvia, to disillusion. Corruption, insecurity and lawlessness is widespread. The moral decay of the past 50 years of communist dishonesty and mismanagement still goes on, and the population becomes apathetic, disheartened and feel betrayed by their elected leaders. The 10% very rich are enjoying themselves on the misery of 90% of the underprivileged. The only remaining hope of the people are the coming generations, providing the Russian Bear is not again given free rain to completely take over our ancestral homeland. So there is currently still a great feeling of insecurity by the people. When the United Nations Organization required that by 1994 the previous Red army, now the army of the Russian Federation, leave Latvia, many thousands of early retired army men and most previous civil-occupants of the Russian administration, of some 700,000 people, were permitted to permanently remain in Latvia. By such an unwise decision the very future existence of the Latvian nation continues to be threatened. Where else in Europe is a place where the indigenous people in their own capital and other larger cities are in minority compared with the previous occupants? How, under such circumstances, will it ever be possible for the Latvian minorities in these places to “integrate and assimilate" the large numbers of Russians, as some of the “smart'?" European Commissars irresponsibly advise the Latvian government to do? Apart from the fact that the greater part of these Russians are completely disinterested to be integrated into the Latvian community, by not showing the slightest interest to learn the language of the now internationally recognized independent Latvian state, but would rather like to 'assimilate" the Latvians into a Russian way of life, giving the Russian language the status of a state language. And if this is not agreed by the Latvian government, then these previous occupants of Latvia, with the full support by the Russian Federation are at every opportunity and throughout the wider world community yelling, that “human rights” are being violated and the "poor Russians in Latvia" are being discriminated against. The United Nations Organization therefore had been obliged to send repeated teams of investigators to Latvia, all of which have found no evidence for all these fabricated accusations. If the ex-occupant Russians find their lives so “terrible” in Latvia, why does not the Russian Federation, as the inheritor of the genocidal actions by the Soviet Union against the Latvian people, take these Russians back to their own large country, where there is plenty of room for all the Russians in the world, including a few hundred thousand earlier occupants, who seemed to be so “suppressed and unhappy by having to live in such an unfriendly Latvia", as they and the Russian Federation would not stop, without any evidence, to claim.
The Latvians as a nations has no other large open spaces to go, except this very small place by the Baltic sea, the only place where they have lived for so long, making no claims on other peoples living space and where they may, hopefully free from molestation by other bullies, live in peace and continue to maintain their unique identity, and centuries old cultural inheritance.
Hereby, now an Australian citizen, on behalf of the country of my birth and its people, l rest my case.
Concluding this short story of my life I would like to sincerely express my deepest gratitude to this country and its people, where civilized law and order still prevails, for permitting me, the thousands of other Latvians, as well as the many other people from all over the world, to migrate here from our often war-tom countries run by deranged dictators, and where now we all together may peacefully live and work together to the glory of God and the benefit of our fellow countrymen. And together with all mankind may cherish our lovely planet Earth, this beautifully small speck in the wider universe of planets, stars, and nebulae.
[signed Janis Osvalds Cirksis, 4th September 2000]