Monday, 25 November 2013

Basket of Songs 10

Staburadze (Staburags)

In this series, I have been posting pages from a hand written song book left to me by my father.  The book is titled Bakset of Songs: Let our Songs Ring out, Brussels Prisoner-of-War Camp December 1945It is also labeled with my father's initials J Č. Click on the following link : Basket of Songs to view the rest of the series.

Ilze, who has been doing an incredible job of translating the Letters from Latvia series has been kind enough to provide a translation of the song titles and a summary of the themes involved. The songs individually over the coming weeks and where I can, I will link to a performance of the melody. At this time, I won't be posting full translations for most of these songs -the Leters from Lativa series will be taking priority.


Song 10 in the book is titled: Staburadze or Staburags.


A high cliff on the banks of the Daugava culturally significant to Latvians but now completely submerged by a Soviet era Hydroelectric dam.
Page 9 of Basket of Songs - Brussels Prisoner-of-war camp, December 1945
A rendition of this song can be found on Youtube:


Monday, 18 November 2013

Basket of Songs 9

Lēni Lūdzot - Gently Pleading

In this series, I have been posting pages from a hand written song book left to me by my father.  The book is titled Bakset of Songs: Let our Songs Ring out, Brussels Prisoner-of-War Camp December 1945It is also labeled with my father's initials J Č. Click on the following link : Basket of Songs to view the rest of the series.

Ilze, who has been doing an incredible job of translating the Letters from Latvia series has been kind enough to provide a translation of the song titles and a summary of the themes involved. The songs individually over the coming weeks and where I can, I will link to a performance of the melody. At this time, I won't be posting full translations for most of these songs -the Leters from Lativa series will be taking priority.


Song 9 in the book is titled: Lēni Lūdzot - Gently Pleading.


My heart is troubled, I wish my love was here to comfort me.


Page 8 of Basket of Songs - Brussels Prisoner-of-war camp, December 1945

A basic (google) translation of this song can be found at Dziesmas.lv along with the original text. Again, no Youtube version. We need more Latvian singers to upload songs!!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Basket of Songs 8

Dzimtenes Meitenes Dziesma - Song of the Girl at Home

In this series, I have been posting pages from a hand written song book left to me by my father.  The book is titled Bakset of Songs: Let our Songs Ring out, Brussels Prisoner-of-War Camp December 1945It is also labeled with my father's initials J Č. Click on the following link : Basket of Songs to view the rest of the series.

Ilze, who has been doing an incredible job of translating the Letters from Latvia series has been kind enough to provide a translation of the song titles and a summary of the themes involved. The songs individually over the coming weeks and where I can, I will link to a performance of the melody. At this time, I won't be posting full translations for most of these songs -the Leters from Lativa series will be taking priority.


Song 8 in the book is titled: Dzimtenes Meitenes Dziesma - Song of the Girl at Home


A real Latvian rushes to defend this most beautiful land on Earth and his girl is wondering where he is now.

Page 7 of Basket of Songs - Brussels Prisoner-of-war camp, December 1945

Again, I have been unable to find a rendition of this song on Youtube. I have been able to find a transcribed version of this song and I ran it through google translate (clink on the link below) - not the best but it will do for the time being...

Dziesmas.lv

Monday, 4 November 2013

Basket of Songs 7

Bakarolla

In this series, I have been posting pages from a hand written song book left to me by my father.  The book is titled Bakset of Songs: Let our Songs Ring out, Brussels Prisoner-of-War Camp December 1945It is also labeled with my father's initials J Č. Click on the following link : Basket of Songs to view the rest of the series.

Ilze, who has been doing an incredible job of translating the Letters from Latvia series has been kind enough to provide a translation of the song titles and a summary of the themes involved. The songs individually over the coming weeks and where I can, I will link to a performance of the melody. At this time, I won't be posting full translations for most of these songs -the Leters from Lativa series will be taking priority.


Song 4 in the book is titled: Bakarolla.


A humorous song about love

Page 6 of Basket of Songs - Brussels Prisoner-of-war camp, December 1945 
Unfortunately, I haven't had much luck recently locating versions of these songs to link. I have a heap of audio cassettes of my father singing and I may search them for matches at a later date (and post some audio recordings). In the mean time, if you find a version (or translation) of this song online, feel free to post it in the comments below.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Basket of Songs 6

Rudzu pukes - Cornflowers


In this series, I have been posting pages from a hand written song book left to me by my father.  The book is titled Bakset of Songs: Let our Songs Ring out, Brussels Prisoner-of-War Camp December 1945It is also labeled with my father's initials J Č. Click on the following link : Basket of Songs to view the rest of the series.

Ilze, who has been doing an incredible job of translating the Letters from Latvia series has been kind enough to provide a translation of the song titles and a summary of the themes involved. The songs individually over the coming weeks and where I can, I will link to a performance of the melody. At this time, I won't be posting full translations for most of these songs -the Leters from Lativa series will be taking priority.


Song 6 in the book is titled: Rudzu pukes- Cornflowers


Cornflower blue is the sky of my country, cornflower blue are my girl's eyes.
Page 5 of Basket of Songs - Brussels Prisoner-of-war camp, December 1945

There are other songs by the same name on Youtube however the lyrics do not match... If you can find a version of this song online anywhere, please post a link below!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Letters from Latvia - Nica 27th of January 1948

Janis CIRKSIS was a displaced person (DP) after the Soviet union annexed Latvia and the Baltic states during WWII. This is a continuation in the series of letters that he received from his homeland, translated into English. To see the other letters in the series click HERE.

For more information on Latvian translations please see the Latvian Translations page.


This is the 14th Letter in the series. 


Nica, 27.1.48
We greet you with lots of love, Janis, Lidija and Ilmars!

Yesterday we received your letter written on 25.11 with namesday greetings for mum and me and a few days ago, your greeting for Christmas and the New Year. Thank you so very much for these greetings. We had been waiting for some lines from you for quite a while and had almost begun to worry, but we still thought they’d come. And now they have come! The letter written on 25.11 had taken two weeks longer than usual and came later than the greeting written on 9.12. But now we are so very happy again that everything is well with you, as well as it can be in a foreign place. – We sent our last letter to you on Christmas Eve and a greeting at the New Year. Before that on 28.11 and 16.12. It appears that we have received all of each other’s letters up to now and they have not been lost, which is so good. The postman tells us that you, dear Janis, write to us most often of all of the people over there to their relatives at home. Thank you so much for that. It is so good to receive even a line from you, then we know that you are not lost to us and unknown and our minds are then much more at peace. As long as we know that you are well and have enough for the needs of daily life.

Although it is sad to be far away, we can hope and believe with certainty that you will return home and be alright. – Brother dear, don’t feel guilty that you cannot help us. It is not your fault, it is fate, which is making you suffer more than us. I think that we here at home can still be happier than you in exile and so it should sooner be us who feel guilty, that life is being kinder to us than to you. And we can imagine that your Lidija has a lot to reflect on about your fates. And are women not more sensitive to everything than men? May God help you, Lidija, in your work and may it distract you and help you forget, to some extent, but I think that in a foreign place you cannot work with such love as at home. However, work with sick people is good work, isn’t it and it seems to me that it suits you. And while I am at it, I am curious to know what town or hospital you worked in when you were in Latvia? And where do your parents live? So you were happy too, when you received news from your own parents.

Everything is fine here at home, we are all well and pass each day little by little with the ordinary everyday and winter jobs. The weather this winter has been very changeable. Now it snows and freezes, then again there is a snowstorm and then it is thawing again. The last two weeks we have had more serious winter weather with good sleighing conditions and in the daytime minus 4-8⁰C. But now it is gradually starting to thaw again. But maybe it will hold and snow again. Father goes to the forest now for firewood. He did not have to do woodcutting work in the forest, he was assigned as a saw sharpener to other woodcutters and I was spared that work as well. Mum is spinning wool again now, we are preparing to weave cloth, we will also weave towels and a few other things. I am also making up some wearable items of clothing on the sewing machine and doing some mending. I have learnt to make up some simple items of clothing quite well, although it is still not so easy for me. Sometimes I stop working for a while, read a good book, strum the mandolin, which I like to do and am getting better at, although not really good yet. It is a pity that there is no other instrument in our house. Last winter Baris left his small accordion for me to play, which I then strummed quite often, but only without the base of course. I am still singing in the church choir as well.  At Epiphany we choir members arranged our own Christmas celebration at the Pavils’ place, which was really lovely and I will not forget it for a long time. We recited, sang to a set program, and we girls together had provided a nice festive table. After the program we just spent time together. We sang, danced, played games, danced folk dances too and all felt like members of one family. – There are choirs forming in the school too now – men’s and women’s, which might later form into a mixed choir and go to Riga in the summer for the song festival. I have also started to attend, there is a large number of singers. The new men’s choir performed on Sunday already and properly outsang the women. We now want to practice to pay them back. We are learning mostly folk songs, also patriotic songs about the Fatherland, the homeland. If you go out somewhere, life seems brighter, not so grey and dull, more stimulating. – So now I have said everything again that was on my mind.– How did you, our dear ones, spend Christmas? 

With very, very loving greetings, your family at home.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Basket of Songs 5

Lietus Lāses - Raindrops

In this series, I have been posting pages from a hand written song book left to me by my father.  The book is titled Bakset of Songs: Let our Songs Ring out, Brussels Prisoner-of-War Camp December 1945It is also labeled with my father's initials J Č. Click on the following link : Basket of Songs to view the rest of the series.

Ilze, who has been doing an incredible job of translating the Letters from Latvia series has been kind enough to provide a translation of the song titles and a summary of the themes involved. The songs individually over the coming weeks and where I can, I will link to a performance of the melody. At this time, I won't be posting full translations for most of these songs -the Leters from Lativa series will be taking priority.

Song 5 in the book is titled: Lietus Lāses - Raindrops

When raindrops knock on your window, that will be like a quiet greeting from me.

Page 5 of Basket of Songs - Brussels Prisoner-of-war camp, December 1945
The renditions of this song found on youtube seem too Jazzy to be likely (contemporary) renditions of this song... If you find a good rendition online somewhere post a link in the comments and I will update this post.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Letters From Latvia - Nica 24th December 1947


Janis CIRKSIS was a displaced person (DP) after the Soviet union annexed Latvia and the Baltic states during WWII. This is a continuation in the series of letters that he received from his homeland, translated into English. To see the other letters in the series click HERE.

For more information on Latvian translations please see the Latvian Translations page.


A blanket of snow covers the Čirkšis family farm.
Christmas time in Latvia, 1947: The tree decorated is decorated on Christmas eve with candles, the temperature is -15 degrees, the church bells are ringing and snow blankets cover the land. 

Christmas time in Australia 2013: Christmas decorations are on sale in supermarkets starting in October already! No one would dream of attaching a candle to tree outside let alone inside your house and Christmas is characterised by 30 degree + temperatures and total fire bans.

Despite all of the differences, I remember reading Latvian poetry at christmas time, a tradition that connected me (as much as possible for a non-latvian speaker) to the country of my ancestors. I was a good tradition that fell by the wayside over time. Perhaps this year, I will read Latvian poems to my children and maybe one day, we will experience a white christmas in Latvia.... But now I am dreaming so here is the 13th letter in the series:

Nica, 24.12.47
Our dear Janis, Lidija and Ilmars!

It is Christmas Eve and we are missing you and yours most, dear Janis, so we want at least to send you our very loving festive greetings. – We have already finished all the jobs. Mum, grandmother and I have already been to the sauna to bathe, now father and the foresters are there. Everything is clean and tidy, yesterday we decorated the tree, which is a bit more colourful this year. And I have to think about you so much, my dear brother, you are away, you are not in our midst and have spent so many Christmases already far away, in foreign places. We wish that Christmas will be as happy and as bright as possible for you, mummy wishes that for you from her heart and hopes so much that we will be able to celebrate next Christmas all together, much more happily. This year we will stay strong in our hope and be patient, we will send you the most loving greetings and good wishes in our thoughts. Tomorrow night we will light the candles on the tree – then the foresters will come over, they are our nearest neighbours. We will be with you in our thoughts and I will try to imagine that you are in our midst even for a moment….

The church bells are ringing – they are ringing in the Christmas Eve. It is so lovely and festive. I have to go to the church tonight to sing, our choir will sing at the service. Nature too is clad as for a festival, in a white coat of snow. The road is good for a sleigh ride. The cold at night at about -15⁰C, in the day the cold eases up and then there is a snowstorm, at the moment the weather is fine.

Otherwise we are alright. We are working and living as of old, all just as before. – Here in the Soviet land we have new money, more valuable. The prices for farmers’ produce are not fixed. There is a lot of produce at the market, the farmers go to the market at Christmas to trade and to buy clothes. -  Our very, very best wishes to you, our dear Janis, Lidija and Ilmars and have a happy, bright Christmas! We will be with you in our thoughts! 

Mummy, grandma, dad and Kate.

It's a little early in the year but if you have a Latvian Christmas tradition or story post it below!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Basket of Songs 4

Mirdzot šķēpiem - Gleaming Spears

In this series, I have been posting pages from a hand written song book left to me by my father.  The book is titled Bakset of Songs: Let our Songs Ring out, Brussels Prisoner-of-War Camp December 1945It is also labeled with my father's initials J Č. Click on the following link : Basket of Songs to view the rest of the series.

Ilze, who has been doing an incredible job of translating the Letters from Latvia series has been kind enough to provide a translation of the song titles and a summary of the themes involved. The songs individually over the coming weeks and where I can, I will link to a performance of the melody. At this time, I won't be posting full translations for most of these songs -the Leters from Lativa series will be taking priority.


Song 4 in the book is titled: Mirdzot šķēpiem - Gleaming Spears


Latvian Riflemen enter a town, the girls’ eyes gleam, next morning they go to battle, and the girls then weep and tend the graves.
Page 4 of Basket of Songs - Brussels Prisoner-of-war camp, December 1945
The Latvian Riflemen are renowned for their valour in WWI. Largely they fought on the Communist side of the war however they were really fighting against the German Barons in the hopes of a free and equitable Latvia - little did they know what Russia had in store for them. A brief history of the Latvian Riflemen can be found at the Latvian History Wordpress page.

A rendition of this song can be found on Youtube:



Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Letters From Latvia - Nica 16th of December 1947


Janis CIRKSIS was a displaced person (DP) after the Soviet union annexed Latvia and the Baltic states during WWII. This is a continuation in the series of letters that he received from his homeland, translated into English. To see the other letters in the series click HERE.

For more information on Latvian translations please see the Latvian Translations page.


The 12th instalment of the Letters from Latvia series is a little soapy. It deals mostly with Janis' breakup with Vera (the girl at home) and his decision to marry Lidija. This appears to be a little less scandalous now that Janis has apparently explained the circumstances of their breakup. 

The themes to the letter are interesting but even more interesting to me is the subtext. If we look at this letter, and the other letters more broadly we may notice that Katrine's language is deeply philosophical and somewhat poetic. I can't help but think that the original Lativan would be even more so.


Sincere greetings to you, our dear Janis, Lidija and Ilmars!

Dear Janis, we recently received your letter written on 3.11, which was so long, you told us so much about yourself and so I was so very, very happy when we received one from you again. Some such explanation, our dear Janis, we would have been happy to receive from you sooner. Everything that you say about your first love, about being disappointed in it and that you had already broken up with Vera when you left, lifted a weight from the heart, as if lifting some guilt from you. Dear brother, I know that you were already kind of “disappointed” in Vera, but I did not know it all nor that you had already broken up. I know and understand how it is in the teenage years when a young person “searches on earth for that which does not exist on earth”. It seems to me that it is not exactly due to not knowing, not understanding life, but more because then you really don’t want to believe that the things we aspire to, that we dream about, might not happen, not be fulfilled. Then adult life seems like something that can grant everything. For me it was not in matters of the heart, but in the ordinary course of life. Home life seemed to me so empty, silly, bad and everything, and in my faith in goodness I imagined that the good and noble things, which I saw in my mind, existed only somewhere else, and I wanted to be there and I tormented myself with these delusions. Now I could almost laugh about it, for I have almost forgotten those thoughts and I wonder how could I not see the reality of life. People are the same everywhere. Good and evil are found everywhere. And no one, it seems to me now, can be completely bad or good. Reading about your disappointment because of your ideals, what I just told you comes to my mind, which was something similar to your disappointment that happened to me in those years and I can completely understand you, my dear brother. Now we have both grown older and become a bit wiser. You have found your real, human earthly love in your dear life partner Lidija and I no longer make my soul flee or shrink in front of everything that is around me and live in non-existent far places but am learning to experience life as it really is, to experience it as deeply as possible and that is where the real joy of life is to be found, life’s meaning and reality and beauty and fulfilment. I know what it is to love, even though I have not yet loved, or found my real destiny. I don’t like to just trifle. You can have friendship, but once there is talk of love – then it is all over. So I am telling you this, dear brother, so that you and Lidija will know something about me too, we are so far apart that we can only know about each other through what we tell each other, or what we can tell from photographs. Dear Lidija, I am sorry that I have caused you a bit of pain, but I could not do otherwise than to write that. I couldn’t know you well enough yet, to think that I was wrong. I seemed as if you had sort of taken away all Janis’ rights even to speak about his own heart and that could be hurtful us too. That is why it is so good that you have now written everything yourself, which is what I wanted to suggest by what I wrote. So now our doubts have gone and we believe much more in your life’s happiness together. We believe and it is much easier. Don’t fear, Lidija, that we might scorn you. No, we could never do that, when you are Janis’ life’s happiness. I hope and believe that we can all have a harmony that will not stand in the way of your happiness together but will add to it. We are not the kind of people that like to be on bad terms with others.

We celebrated cousin Anna’s wedding very nicely, and are gradually preparing for Christmas. How happily will you celebrate it? …We will at least be together in spirit, in one Homeland. – Live well! With very loving greetings to you all - your family at home.


PS Old Mrs Straupenieks has asked us to ask about Valdis.She has not received any letters for a really long time.___  
As always, I welcome your comments below!

Monday, 7 October 2013

Basket of Songs 3

Laša kundze - Mrs Salmon

In this series, I have been posting pages from a hand written song book left to me by my father.  The book is titled Bakset of Songs: Let our Songs Ring out, Brussels Prisoner-of-War Camp December 1945It is also labeled with my father's initials J Č. Click on the following link : Basket of Songs to view the rest of the series.

Ilze, who has been doing an incredible job of translating the Letters from Latvia series has been kind enough to provide a translation of the song titles and a summary of the themes involved. The songs individually over the coming weeks and where I can, I will link to a performance of the melody. At this time, I won't be posting full translations for most of these songs -the Leters from Lativa series will be taking priority.


Song 3 in the book is titled: Laša kundze -Mrs Salmon. It is a humorous song.


Great excitement in the deep because the eel is going to marry the salmon.


Page 3 of Basket of Songs - Brussels Prisoner-of-war camp, December 1945.


A rendition of this song can be found on Youtube:




Monday, 30 September 2013

Basket of Songs 2

Neskumsti meitene - Don't be sad, girl.

In this series, I have been posting pages from a hand written song book left to me by my father.  The book is titled Bakset of Songs: Let our Songs Ring out, Brussels Prisoner-of-War Camp December 1945. It is also labeled with my father's initials J Č. Click on the following link : Basket of Songs to view the rest of the series.

Ilze, who has been doing an incredible job of translating the Letters from Latvia series has been kind enough to provide a translation of the song titles and a summary of the themes involved. The songs individually over the coming weeks and where I can, I will link to a performance of the melody. At this time, I won't be posting full translations for most of these songs -the Leters from Lativa series will be taking priority.


Song 2 in the book is titled: Neskumsti meitene - Don't be sad, girl.

Don’t be sad, girl, that I have to go away. Remember our times together. If you are feeling sad, go to our special place and you will hear my voice, which will not let you be sad.
Page 2 of Basket of Songs - Brussels Prisoner-of-war camp, December 1945.

A rendition of this song can be found on youtube:




Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Basket of Songs

Let our Songs Ring Out!

J Č

Brussels Prisoner-of-War Camp
December 1945

In this series, I will be posting pages from a hand written song book left to me by my father. Actually I never knew it existed until he died so I never had to opportunity to hear many of these songs. Ilze, who has been doing an incredible job of translating the Letters from Latvia has been kind enough to provide a translation of the song titles and a summary of the themes involved.

Music has always been an important part of Latvian culture. I say it a lot and it is mentioned in may of the letters my father received from Latvia but it really can't be overstated. I did a quick google search and I was pleased to find that this isn't the only songbook to survive the post WWII POW camps. www.latvians.com has an introduction to the Zedelgem POW camp here and they have preserved another Latvian Songbook here

I will be posting the songs individually and where I can I will try to post a link to a performance of the song. Some of them are popular songs about love and the homeland, others are less well known soldier's songs, at least one appears to be unique to the camp. At this time, I won't be posting full translations for most of these songs -the Leters from Lativa series will be taking priority. If I happen to find a translation online however, I may post a link to it...

The first page is the cover:
The front cover of "Basket of Songs" handwritten by my father at the POW camp in Zedelghem, December 1945

The first song in the book is titled "New Year 1946", it was written about the hardships endured by the Latvians at the Zedelghem POW camp in Belgium where Latvian soldiers were held by the Western Allies. The song is hopeful for a better new year. This would appear to be a unique song and I wonder if anyone has sung it since new years 1946...

Song 1: 1946. gads Jaunais gads - New Year 1946
As per usual, please feel free to post comments below. If you know of any recordings of this song, let me know!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Letters From Latvia - Nica 28th of November 1947

Janis CIRKSIS was a displaced person (DP) after the Soviet union annexed Latvia and the Baltic states during WWII. This is a continuation in the series of letters that he received from his homeland, translated into English. To see the other letters in the series click HERE.

For more information on Latvian translations please see the Latvian Translations page.


Just a quick post today to keep the letters coming. Again, in this letter are many names of the people who lived near my grandparent's farm in Latvia at the time. It could prove useful to others searching for their family origins. 

Of particular note to me personally, is the mention of Peteris CIRKSIS by my grandmother Katrine CIRKSIS (she shared her name with her daughter, Janis' sister). It is difficult to tell at this point if she has been informed of Peteris' fate however it appears that there is still hope that he is still alive. She also mentions a lighthouse which may turn out to be the final resting place of Peteris. For more information on Peteris CIRKSIS and his story as I know it see my post on Who is Peteris CIRKSIS?




The Family home in Nica during winter.
Sincere greetings, our dear Janis and Lidija.
 About a week ago we received your letter, in which Lidija wrote as well, and the photo of you two together, about all of which we were again very happy in our hearts. We can then picture you much better and your life far away. – Lidija, you have doubts about the future, whether we will want you as a member of our family, whether we will like you. For myself I can say already that I really like you and if you are dear and pleasing to Janis and you both get on well together and have no doubts in the future, then there is nothing else for us to say and we can only be happy about it. If Janis is happy, then we are even happier and we have no reason or wish to bear any malice towards you, dear Lidija, and to think of you as a stranger. I hope that this will reassure you both once again. Our mother would also like to write something to you, which we will enclose. Life here at home goes on as usual in a regular work rhythm, the autumn jobs are gradually giving way to the indoor winter jobs, although the real winter has not started yet. We did go to Liepaja on the sleigh once though, but past the Krumi dune there was not much snow left. On the way there in the morning, when there was frost, we got there very well, marvellously, but on the way home as far as Bernati at a walking pace only. After that, by Katrina’s day, the snow had melted completely and there was rain but now there has been a bit of snow again and the daytime temperature is around 0⁰ C. There are dark snow clouds along the sea, if it snowed we could go to cousin Anna Zutis’ wedding tomorrow by sleigh. She will be married tomorrow to a Rudis Puris from Otanki, he has his own small farm. So you see here in old Nica many couples are again joining their hands for a lifelong commitment. We’ve got two weddings to go to in one month. And, dear Janis, we also celebrated Katrina’s day on Monday night. We ourselves have been invited out so often and attended so many celebrations of our friends and neighbours that we could not do otherwise, it would have been shameful if we had not invited people to our place in return. And generally speaking everyone really celebrates their “special occasions” hard these days. This is something similar to what Mum talks about – the “dance parties” of her youth during the First Wold War. And on such evenings there is much more closeness and comradeship than at official events, which is good for me and for everyone now. The forester.couple came, the Pavils couple, Kate Murens, Valdis, the pharmacist with her husband, Peteris Kaupelis, Zanis Jurmalis, also Peteris Melveris had come home on leave after six years in Narva and so we invited him. Vera and Zigrida came too. So we sang and danced at bit, musician - Janis Pavils, who is a farmhand there. Yes, we are living well here in our country, we try and have a good time, but can you do so, in a foreign place? I wish that once and for all the burden was lifted from you and you could return to us – to our beloved Homeland! May God help you all! For now, with a sincere, loving greeting! - your family at home.

(Next part in Janis’ mother’s writing)

Greetings from mammucite to you in distant exile. May the hand of God guide you in the future as it has up to now, for I feel that I have not prayed to God in vain even though I knew nothing about you  and I don’t know anything about dear Peteris, but still a quiet voice in my heart said that they will be alive for you. And truly I was picking berries when Anna Ruskis came around and said that you are alive. And I can’t describe it to you, my whole body started to tremble and the tears started to flow, for a great joy had happened to me and I am still hoping for such great mercy from God for dear Peteris. I don’t know if I will be around to experience that or not. I cannot yet believe that he is dead. I received the news that they are digging out by the lighthouse and I should go there, but I had to fall on my knees and pray to God so hard that the last words that pass my lips are God stand by him today and in my dreams I am always finding three little things, like my three children. So I will tell you how it was about Katrina’s day, for there would be no joy in my heart for it without you two but you know, dear son, how Katrina was when you were here on leave. On fleeing from home she said no matter if we lose the home as long as health is alright and now she sings in the choir, goes to namesday parties, so I invited her friends over to have a good time, because I was convinced that that was the best medicine for her health. So, dear son, lead your present life in your own way, if you are well, I will be even better, I will be alright as long as I live I just worry that I might live to see unpleasantness between you and may God grant that you live your life quietly and peacefully. I had a free day today so I have told you a bit about the burdens on my heart. When you come home we will talk for 7 days without stopping. I embrace you in my arms with so much love.
As per usual, if you know any of the people mentioned in this post or if you just want to talk about live in Latvia during the Nazi or Soviet occupations please post a comment below. I will be glad to hear from you.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Letters from Latvia - Nica 14th of November 1947

Janis CIRKSIS was a displaced person (DP) after the Soviet union annexed Latvia and the Baltic states during WWII. This is a continuation in the series of letters that he received from his homeland, translated into English. To see the other letters in the series click HERE.

For more information on Latvian translations please see the Latvian Translations page.


It has been a while again since I last posted a letter. This is partially due to me exploring other avenues in relation to my family tree and partially because I have been a bit busy / lazy recently. I am on leave at the moment so I intend to cue up some of the letters to auto publish so that I am releasing them more consistently in the future. 

The next letter in the series has a number of interesting features in terms of life in Latvia directly after WW2 and also on a personal level. My father used to tell me that his mother was a very hard worker and these letters confirm that. In this day and age in Australia, sawing and chopping wood is usually considered (rightly or wrongly) a man's job. Of course women are perfectly capable of doing such tasks  but popular culture seems to have placed them squarely in the man's domain. For this reason it surprised me to discover that chopping firewood was actually a job reserved for my grandmother! Perhaps in those days this was common but it doesn't seem to be anymore. From now on, when (on the rare occasion)  I am call upon to chop wood, I will think of my grandmother and how she would likely be doing a better job than me!

On a personal level this letter mentions several friends, relatives and neighbours. These are people that I may be able to contact in the future. Perhaps they have photos or stories about my relatives, perhaps I have photos of their relatives... Maybe one day they will Google their grand father or grandmother's name and they will find this web page. If they do I hope they will leave a comment below.


Best wishes to you, dear Janis and Lidija, on the anniversary of the beginning of your life together!!!  
Your family at home.

Nica, 14.11.47
A sincere greeting to you, our dear Janis!

We received your letter of 28.9 already on 1.11 and your greeting on father’s namesday a few days later. Thank you so much for the letter, your photo and father’s greeting, about which he was proud and happy. But you wrote that you have received my letter written on the 2nd September, but I didn’t write on such a day, and so I was concerned about where such a letter could have come from, and what might be written in it. But maybe I did write it and one or the other of us has mixed up the dates. I wrote on the 30th August, which you have received, before that on the 12th July, but after that only on the 17th September and from then on twice a month. We received your letter on the same day as we sent one to you. We were very happy to receive the photo, especially I.  I have to say that it seems to me that you, dear brother, and your wife are very well suited to each other, even though she is older than you. If you did not have this age difference, I think there could not be a better suited couple than you two. And I can say the same about Lidija’s sister and her husband. And about Janis’ friend – in the photo the tin can in his hand suits him well, but in life you can’t replace a child like that. And so I am expressing my opinions about your whole group of friends, with whom you have been photographed. We are very, very happy to see you, even in a photo, as you look now, at present. I can truly say that you look the same as you were at home, you haven’t changed a lot, the same dear face, the features in which I see something so familiar and characteristic of the both of us, yes. Even though you don’t look unhappy, I don’t think I would be wrong to say I see a kind of pain in you… And how could it be any different in your circumstances, in your fate to be away in a foreign place? Still we are all happy that you are fed, clothed, that you can at least maintain your health, strength and energy until you return home, to the land of your birth, and that you can study something and that you have a faithful, dear friend, your wife Lidija, with whom life in a foreign place can be more bearable than it would be without her. – And you receive our letters in three weeks, that is really not so long, we usually receive yours in a month and a half, sometimes sooner. We are now sending our letters to you by airmail, I want to see how long they will take to reach you now. I was thinking I would not put flower petals in the letters any more, it might seem too sentimental to you, but now I am happy that you have felt it as it was meant. I will put in some such real “palpable” greeting from your home every time now. – We are gradually getting the outside jobs done. Father will finish the ploughing today. Mum and old Cukurs will have finished sawing and chopping the wood.  The rubble of our destroyed barn has also been removed. So the yard will be tidy and the shed full of firewood. This afternoon father and I will cart and spread manure on the strawberries and raspberries, also the gooseberry beds, so the weeds don’t grow. Last Sunday and Monday we were at Mrs Pavils’ wedding, that is, Mrs Pavils, whose husband died a couple of years ago,  married Klavs Aigars, the brother of the forester  Mikelis Aigars, who has now been working in the forestry as a bookkeeper. In the German period he was a forester at Otanki. I don’t know if you know him but he will be a good neighbour for us. There were four couples married on Sunday, you wouldn’t know the others, and five children were christened. Our cousin Anna Zutis will be married on the 29th November to someone from Otanki. I don’t think we will all go there. But it is better to be among people. Then the gloom seems to recede, your heart feels lighter and life seems to have more sense and value. Last spring Janis Zutis got married too, to Maiga Vecvagars,   who (lived?)  by the Idaz pub bridge, who is also 15 years older than him. They are living in Liepaja. Our very best wishes till next time, your family.
Any thoughts or suggestions? Post a comment below! 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Postcards from Sibīrija (Siberia) - 25/8/1950 From the Pirtnieks

Relatives from the Pirtneiks side of my family, Siberia
Finally, the digitising project is finished! I have had about 1500 family photos digitised over the last year or so - several technical problems plagued the project, which is why it took so long. Not all of them relate to this blog but there are several photos that are important to the Čirkšis family history.

One of the benefits of digitising photographs - and publishing a blog about them - is that you take a closer look at things. Many of the photos I have, have Latvian writing on the back of them. A lot of the writing is illegible, at least for a non-Latvian-speaker (I know I should learn!) but occasionally I can decipher enough to work out what the photo is of.

This particular photo had been sitting in an album and I had never taken it out to examine it though, I had some idea that it must be the Pirtneiks (my grandmother's) side of the family. Today, while I was checking off the scanned photos to ensure they were all there, I glanced at the back and found some very clearly written Latvian!

A quick google search and I discovered that my gut instinct was correct! This is indeed the Pirtnieks - though I still don't know their first names or their relationship to me. It appears that some of my family was deported to Siberia around 1950.

The letter is signed but the signature is unreadable to me. Can you read the signature at the bottom? Do you know who these people are? If you have any clues, post a comment below! In the mean time, I have a few tricks up my sleeve that may help me identify my long lost relatives so stay tuned!

"Sibirija 25/8 50 g. Par mazu atminu no pritnieku gimenes" From Google Translate this means something like "Siberia 25/8 50 g. For a small memory from pritnieku family"



Thursday, 1 August 2013

Who is Peteris Čirkšis?

Peteris Čirksis as a young man

As some of you will know, for about a year now I have been trying to discover what happened to my lost uncle Peteris Čirkšis. As with many things in my family history, I neglected to ask questions of my family members while I had to opportunity. Perhaps I was too young to care about history, perhaps like most young people, I thought I knew everything already. But also I think I was probably too young to know what questions to ask.

So what do I know about Peteris?

I know he was the son of a farmer who was able to acquire a small patch of land after the Latvian war of independence.  He was born in 1922 in Nīca near Liepājas, Latvia and died in 1941 at the hands of the NAZIs. These are the facts. But who was he really?

The only account I have of Peteris' life comes from what I remember my father telling me about him. But memory is a fragile thing, second hand memory is even worse. As a researcher what I want is confirmed and verified facts. State documents, personal diaries and letters to verify personal accounts. With that in mind, this is what I know about Peteris, the person.

While my father was always very practical, Janis used to tell me that Peteris was more academically minded. He achieved very good results in school and was accepted into university. While at university he became involved in the Communist movement and when the Russians invaded Latvia, he would have viewed this as a positive thing (at least initially).

But then came "Baigais Gads" the "Year of Terror". Tens of thousands of men women and children were woken in the middle of the night before being forced into cattle trains bound for labour camps in Siberia. Many didn't survive the journey, many more died in the harsh Siberian winter of their first year of forced labour.

I don't know the extent of Peteris' involvement in the Year of Terror but I know he was disgusted by the actions of his comrades. Far from the ideallic promise of a utopian society, the communism Russia brought to Latvian was Hell on earth. He felt trapped, now involved in the movement, if he tried to leave he and his family would no doubt be themselves, deported or killed next.  Peteris told Janis that he would have to move to Russia so that at least he would not have to subject his own countrymen to such brutal oppression. 


Peteris Čirksis' confirmation?
When the NAZI's invaded in 1941, Peteris was one of the many Latvians who were ready to greet the Germans a liberators from Soviet brutality. Rather than retreating with the Russian army as other communist supporters did, Peteris decided to stay in Latvia. To me, this indicates that Peteris' involvement in the communist party was minor. 

Sadly, this was to prove to be a fatal mistake. Janis told me that Peteris was shot my the NAZIs in a case of mistaken identity. Apparently Peteris Čirkšis shared his name with another person who was involved in the mass deportations of innocent people to Siberia.

It is interesting to note that whether the story is completely factual and verified or not it has formed a powerful part of the Čirkšis family narrative for me. Thus, it is one of the aspects of the family story that I have been seeking to verify. Who was Peteris? Where and what did he study? How and why was Peteris killed?

This week I may have at least part of that answer. The International Tracing Service has been helping me try and track down the fate of my uncle for about a year now and it seems we now have something of a result. A few days ago, they forwarded some information found by the Red Cross:

Peteris Cirksis, born in 5th December 1902 in Nica parish, Latvia. Occupation – peasant, family – married, citizenship – Latvian, place of living – Nica parish, Liepaja district, “ Smilgas”. He was involved in Red Police and the Executive committee, was the election commission director, was involved in the deportation of families. Punished (in the original document-Exekutiert) with death in 1941 (no concrete information given, the document is damaged).
At first I was disappointed, was the story I was told about my uncle untrue? But then I noticed a very important detail. The person mentioned in this record matches my uncle's description except the date of birth is completely wrong! Not only are the day and month out by miles but the person mentioned was 20 years older than my uncle! This means that there was another Peteris Čirkšis who was, by the sounds of it, deeply involved in the Russian puppet government in Latvia. If this is the death record of my uncle, it appears that he was indeed killed in a case of mistaken identity!

So that is where my research is at now. I have made other enquiries into the details of Peteris' life and I will continue to do so. I plan to republish this post each time I receive more information - the Letters from Latvia series will no doubt eventually contain some details of Peteris' fate. In the meantime here is a copy and translation of a poem by a famous poet given by my uncle to my grandmother:

A poem originally written by Pavils ROZITIS that my uncle gave to my grandmother. Transcription below.


The book with the cross on it, by Pavils Rozitis
Mother, from your dear hands,

Carried through the torments of life,
I got the book with the cross on it
So that I would feel pain more deeply. 
An equal fate binds us,

And therefore your gift is beautiful,
You bequeath you pain
To me, who has the thirst for torment in his heart 
May over your greying head

The light of the sun shine from now on,
For you lived in pain too much
Then, when my strength was small. 
Now I can break iron with my hands,

My heart is like steel in all torment
Mother, you will believe, and let me
Hurry on in life. Your steps are slow. 
But place the book with the cross 

In my heart, so that it is not lost
Your pain, which is on every page,
Will bless me even in my grave.