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.