The gentleman pictured above is Augusts Vaidziba (1882-1941). He was the former Mayor of a little city in Latvia called Durbe. He was the town’s pharmacist and a member of the National Guard. A prosperous man, he owned a beautiful house and a profitable orchard. Augusts had two daughters, Anita and Zenta, and a wife named Maija.
Anita Sofia was already married in 1941. Zenta was still at home with her parents when the Soviets, during the sick era of Stalin, marched into Latvia in 1940. On June 14, 1941, a day that still lives in Latvian infamy, as well it should, the Soviets, who had compiled lists of possible “enemies,” rounded up 15,000 Latvian people. Their property was appropriated by the occupiers and the people, including Augusts, Maija and Zenta, were shipped to Siberia in cattle cars.
This was nothing less than a robbery sanctioned by a cowardly and paranoid occupying force. These people had done nothing wrong. They weren’t even active resisters of the Soviet regime, but potential ones, according to the occupiers, who were afraid of them. They weren’t put on trial or given a chance to defend themselves. They were mercilessly removed from their homes and sent far out of the way.
Augusts was separated from his wife and daughter and sent to a notorious gulag called Vyatlag. He died, or was executed, as many of the Soviets’ perceived “enemies” were, there not three months later. Many people froze to death in Siberia, but three months later, it was only September. Augusts was probably shot.
His wife and daughter survived one exile. They were allowed, finally, to return to Latvia for a time – only to be shipped away to Siberia again, where they were fated to die. The Soviets couldn’t resist using such “tainted enemies” as slave labor, though how the wife and one of the daughters of the former mayor and town pharmacist should be so classified is beyond me, and no doubt beyond anyone, anywhere with even a shred of decency within them.
Shortly after this, the Nazis marched into Latvia and took it over for a few years, wreaking their brand of havoc on the Latvian populace. In 1944, though, the Soviets came back.
Augusts and Maija Vaidziba’s other daughter, Anita, the one who was married when her parents and sister were forcibly removed from their home, made it to the United States. She, her husband and their first daughter hightailed it out town as the Soviets returned, on a cart pulled by a black horse. They knew if they didn’t, they’d be rounded up next, “guilty” by association. They had another little girl while on the road. A third child, a son, was to have been born in America, but Anita died in childbirth when her daughters were still toddlers. A lot of the information Anita could have imparted to them about their family back home in Durbe was lost along with her, and remained a mystery for more than 70 years.
Incredibly, the one who solved the mystery of this good Latvian family turns out to be me, by doing a bit of research and locating a relative of the family who knew the whole story. You see, the granddaughter of Augusts and Maija Vaidziba, who was also named Maija, after her grandmother, was my best friend and unofficially adopted “big sister” for 30 years. She and her sister were the ones who gave me the nickname “Peanut.” She was an incredible woman, artistic to the point she could design or restore just about anything. She didn’t usually have two nickels to rub together yet somehow always had the bearing of a lady “to the manor born” and, it turns out, she truly was. She just didn’t know it. Take a look at the fine Vaidziba house, which is now used as a government building in Durbe:
The Vaidziba orchard was appropriated, too – and turned into a Soviet collective farm.
Fortunately, Joseph Stalin, who was ultimately responsible for ordering these deportations and the genocide that accompanied them, has been dead since 1953. Latvia remained under the thumb of the Soviets until 1991, when the little country regained its independence. The Latvians have paid compensation to those whose property was stolen during the Soviet years, but there was a huge problem with Augusts’ descendants in America recovering theirs: they did not have enough information about their past, let alone their family’s property, to file a claim. Again, this was because of Anita’s untimely death.
My best friend Maija died this past November, and I was lucky to be at her side in her last days. On what turned out to be the final day of her life, she asked me, please, to see what could be done about getting reparations for the rest of her family. She always said I knew how to be relentless, especially when interested in a subject or outraged about an injustice, and God knows I’m outraged about what was done to these good Latvian people. I don’t know how the Soviets could have dared to stoop so low as to have done this to the Vaidzibas, let alone to 14,997 additional Latvians besides. How do you spell “disgraceful”? S-O-V-I-E-T-S!
Meanwhile, with a little help from Google Translate – okay, with A LOT of help from Google Translate – I’ve been doing my best to contact Latvia and find out how to proceed. I send them emails in English and badly translated Latvian, both. I keep getting referred from one person to another, but no way am I going to give up. If there’s anyone out there in Cyberspace who may know of a way to help with this, please contact me through my website, http://www.carolynquinn.net, as all manner of assistance will be cheerfully accepted.
So, look out, world, here I come! “Peanut” is going to keep on this until this wrong is finally made right.