Latvia Under the Soviets

Life in Limbaži During the Occupation

Those who stayed behind. I didn’t do any adjusting on this photo.

I recognize only two people in this photo even though I’m probably related to most of them. My grandmother is in the middle of the middle row between the two little boys. The tall, blond guy is my youngest uncle, Andrejs.
The invasion of Rīga. 1940. (Wiki)

When my parents, two uncles, and other Francis relatives fled Latvia ahead of the Soviet invasion in 1944 my mom’s mother refused to go. I can only guess the reasons for her decision. She didn’t want to live her country, her culture, and the life she knew. She probably thought she was too old to start a new life in a foreign country. Many people thought that the Allies would drive out the Soviets and that their family members would come home soon. Maybe Oma didn’t want to leave the place where her husband was buried. Andrejs was only eleven or twelve at the time so it’s only natural that he stayed with his mother.

The pharmacy in the town of Mālpils where my mother worked.

My parents had been married only about two months when the Red Army invaded. They were living in Mālpils where they met and where they both worked. My father was the postmaster. Mālpils is about 50 miles (80 km) from Limbaži. His family lived in Alūksne, which is twice as far away, close to the border with Russia. My father was also a telegrapher. I don’t know if he tried to contact either family by phone or telegraph. The Soviet army was between Alūksne and Mālpils so making contact was no doubt impossible. My folks felt they had no choice but to flee. During the first invasion of Latvia in 1940, my father barely escaped being deported to Siberia. His name was on a list of those to be deported but a friend saw the list and warned him. My father hid out in the forest for two weeks until it was safe to return. My parents, too, probably thought they’d be able to return when the war was over and that Latvia would be liberated from the Russians. They never dreamed that they’d never see their country or families again.

The cemetery in Limbaži where my maternal grandfather lies buried. The arrow points to his grave.

The Soviets desecrated many graves. When I was in Latvia during the waning days of the Soviet era, I visited Brāļu kapus Bretherns’ Cemetary where Latvian war veterans were laid to rest. The names and dates on the Latvian patriots’ gravestones had been chiseled away.

My Oma and her chickens. I couldn’t do much to improve the resolution of this photo.

My maternal grandparents’ house has a big backyard. Their property was even bigger before the new government decided that it was too big for just one family and took part of their land away. No doubt the backyard chickens helped the family survive the many food shortages during the years of occupation.

We sent packages with clothes, food, hygiene products, cigarettes, gum, and other items they could use themselves, barter, or sell on the black market. We also sent a teddy bear and a big ball.

My cousin, Reinis helping his dad construct a greenhouse.

Andrejs was quite the entrepreneur. Private businesses were not allowed in the Soviet Union. Andrejs didn’t let that bother him. He had a family to support, a wife and daughter as well as his mother and son. Andrejs raised tulips to sell to anyone who’d buy them. Latvians love flowers and give them on many occasions so he did very well. Other Latvians who lived in more rural areas did the same. On the way to Forest Park Cemetery, I saw little old ladies selling flowers in the street. That was not good enough for my uncle. Andrejs traveled all over the western and southern USSR peddling his flowers. His biggest day was March 8, International Women’s Day when every woman could expect to receive bouquets.

An envious neighbor, seeing my uncle’s nice greenhouse, reported him to the authorities. Andrejs was arrested and spent two years in jail for “speculation.” He didn’t let that deter him. Once he was released from prison he went back to growing tulips, except that he moved his greenhouse into the building at the back of the photo above. Out of sight, out of mind.

My uncle was handy with his hands as you had to be because so many items they needed weren’t available in stores. When I visited he expressed his frustration at being unable to find a trailer hitch so he could attach a trailer to his car so he could haul more tulips to market. He’d have to make one himself, he told me.

My Oma and her two youngest grandchildren, Ilze and Reinis. This should have been my lap, too.

My Oma had seven grandchildren but she got to see only two of them grow up. Four of them wound up in Australia. The seventh, me, in the United States. Like my father’s parents, my Oma passed away years before I was able to visit Latvia.

I love this photo of Ilzīte (affectionate diminutive of Ilze) and her teddy bear from America.

I included this photo because it tugs at my heart. I should have been able to play with this precious little doll and her brother. By the time I visited Latvia, they were all grown-up.

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