The Beginning of a Refugee Journey
Today would have been my parents’ wedding anniversary.
They got married during World War II. At the time Germans were occupying Latvia. Two months after their wedding they were having breakfast when a German soldier knocked on the door and warned that the Soviet Red Army was invading Latvia. If they didn’t want to live under Soviet rule, they must flee immediately. They did.
My mother was from Limbaži, a town in the Vidzeme region in northern Latvia, not far inland from the Gulf of Rīga.
My father was from Alūksne in the northeast of Latvia. Too close to the border with Russia.
They met in Mālpils, a small town that’s also in Vidzeme, but a bit farther to the south, closer to the capital, Rīga. My mother was a pharmacy assistant and my father was the postmaster. He would go to the pharmacy for prescriptions and she’d go to the post office to buy stamps. Other than that, I know nothing of their courtship. They were married at my maternal grandparents’ home and then returned to Mālpils. During wartime in an occupied country there was probably no opportunity to take a wedding trip.
My mother had no wedding photos among her belongings.ī
Taking the warning seriously my parents fled on bicycles. Someone must have carried their possessions in a wagon or maybe a truck. Their household goods included linen sheets and pillowcases. Towels that my mother had embroidered for her hope chest. These items made it all the way to America. Decades later when I visited my mother’s childhood home, where her younger brother and his family still live I was surprised and delighted to see a handwoven coverlet on my uncle and aunt’s bed that was identical to the one I have at home.
It’s hard to believe and embarrassing to realize how incurious I was about my parents’ marriage, their early years together, and how they got to Germany. My mother spoke very little about that time, my father not speak of it at all. How terrigly traumatic it must have been to leave behind everything they knew and loved, their families, their country, their professions, their entire way of life.
Two of my mother’s three brothers made it out of Lativa; her younger brother stayed behind with their parents. Only one of my father’s three brothers was able to escape. The other two brothers, his sister, and his parents never made it to freedom. Since they weren’t living in their hometowns when they left Latvia, they were unable to contact loved ones and probably had no idea what became of them
I don’t know by what route my parents got to Germany. I never had to ask why they went to a war-torn country where all sorts of horrors were happening. What I do know is that most Latvians would have fled into the maw of hell in order to get away from the advancing Soviets army.
My folks wound up in Berlin when it was being bombed. They found shelter in a five-tory brick schoolhouse. My mother said a bomb cut the building in two as if with a knife. I don’t know how my parents survived.
Eventually, they made it to the Hochfeld Displaced Persons Camp in Augsburg in the American-occupied zone, the German state of Bavaria. I’m not sure how long they were there, four or five years probably. Augsburg is where I was born.
My parents’ story and those of friends and relatives provided inspiration for my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart. Our first two refuges in the USA were Pennsylvania and then Delaware where my parents worked to pay back their sponsors for bringing us to America. Like my heroine, Līvija Galiņa, our ultimate desitnation was Western Washington. One of my mother’s cousins, her son, and her mother found a new home in Seattle on Capitol Hill where Līvija lives with her family. Where she meets her destiny.
The link to my novel on Kindle Vella.