Jānis Razgals (b.1939); “My mother gave birth to me in a field just three months after war was declared. When the Germans arrived in 1941 they were respected by everyone as they dressed well and were more cultured. They always brought chocolate and other treats for the children. My father was forcibly conscripted by the Nazi’s and was captured by the Red Army after the German defeat in the Courland Peninsula. From here he was brought to Pecli and marched to Skrunda where he was put on a train and sent to work in the gold mines of Russia, we didn't see him again until he returned home in 1955”
Sabīne Norvaiša (b. 1932) ; Sabīne lives alone now and has four children and eleven grandchildren. Three of them live nearby and help her, while her son Jānis has emigrated to Ireland and now lives in Cahir Co. Tipperary with his wife and two children. In a telephone conversation Jānis explained; “I came to Ireland to get a job and make money. I don’t think I will ever return to Latvia to live as my children are now settled here and go to school, Ireland is our home now”. It is estimated that in 2011 over thirty thousand Latvians were living in Ireland
When she was young, Margita played a game in which she imagined travelling to different places. She remembersthat she must have been about ten years old because shewas aware that she could not cross the border.“The young people today don’t know what it was like. Iwas lucky; I married an artist who was older than me.He was much more stable and stronger than I was and because of my young age I was glad he was there to guide me. His wisdom, broad mind and inner peace influenced me so much. We managed to create ourown environment, atmosphere and lifestyle that was extremely different from normal people’s lives. It was of course possible because artists were very highly rated during Soviet times. We would often put on our old long playing Jazz records and pretend that we were in Paris. In our minds we were free but in reality we knew we could never cross the borderline of the Iron Curtain. It was not like we tried to escape the reality through music - but we built the world around us and we felt international. It was through jazz music, we subscribedto Domus and Vogue magazines from Italy and spent careless summers with our friends from an artistic background talking about art, literature, and refusing to live the depressing grey life we saw around us”.
The home of Helena Girvaite now lies empty.The laughter and cries of children that once filled the home have now been replaced by emptiness and silence. Her clothes hang neatly in the wardrobe as if waiting to be picked for some event. The Calendar on the wall is dated April 2010 which may give an indication of the last occupancy, while the hands of the clock have stopped at 10:04.Helena lived with her husband who died in 2002. He worked with tractors, ploughing land and travelling around local villages.
Spinning wheel, Bee hives and an broken accordion lie in the loft of the home of Helena Girvaite.Helena has one daughter who now lives in Velikiji Luki, Russia and works for the State Archive. She is married with two sons who also live in Russia. In a letter to her mother in 2002, she tells her that her eldest son, Juris, is about to get married to a Russian girl named Olga. He had just graduated from the military academy while her younger son was still in school. She wrote to her mother quite seldom and had invited her to travel to Russia but it seems that it did not work out. Helena was quite precise at recording details of the farm, such as dates when the hens were to be put on eggs and also kept track of the farm accountslendar on the wall is dated April 2010 which may give an indication of the last occupancy, while the hands of the clock have stopped at 10:04.Helena lived with her husband who died in 2002. He worked with tractors, ploughing land and travelling around local villages.
An old Television set lies in the loft of the home of Helena Girvaite.It is highly unlikely that Helena’s daughter will ever return to the land of her birth. Her mothers’ home is now a reflection of her life. In time the house will be reclaimed by nature and all that will remain will be dust.
Juris Alhasovs (b. 1945) Juris’ mother Velta was four months pregnant with him when she travelled on the roof of a train from Riga to Vilnius, Lithuania. Juris was born in Vilnius and the family stayed stayed there for six months before travelling to Dagestan. They stayed at her husband’s village for about six years where she gave birth to another four children. They then returned to Latvia because Juris had contracted Poliomyelitis and it was felt he would get better treatment back in Latvia. Juris went to study in Saint Petersburg but had to give up his studies as an engineer because of his polio. When he returned to Latvia he worked in a factory. He never married and now lives in the same apartment complex as his mother.
Anna Blūma (b. 1939); Anna was born close to the Lithuanian border into a large household. During the Second World War, German officers gave her family twenty-four hours to leave their home. Forced to move they found shelter in another house which caught fire and they became homeless again. Displaced by war and occupation they eventually came to live in Scrunda. When she was twenty she married her first husband and they had two children. After their marrage broke up, she divorced and married again to Erenst who was a musician. Her husband who was a nationalist and his two brothers were arrested by the Soviets. His brothers were executed and he was deported to a Gulag in Siberia for nine years. After the fall of the Soviet Union Ernest received compensation of 800 Lat for the time he had spent in Siberia. Three days later two men armed with weapons came to their home and demanded the money. Both Ernest and Anna were attacked and within a couple of days Ernest died of his injuries. Overall Anna does not have bad memories of her home but does not like to remember the suffering that she has experienced during her life. She finds it hard to work but realises that she must continue or she will die. She lives alone on her large farm and keeps some cattle, her son in law helps run the farm now. Anna wanted to be photographed with her tomatoes which she loves tending.
Daina Kārkliņa (b. 1956) On a cold winter’s morning in December 1979, Daina went to the shed to work not knowing the tragedy that was about to unfold. After completing her tasks she returned to her house to find it in darkness. When she entered black smoke and heat came out to meet her. She ran back to the shed which was about two hundred metres away and called on her neighbours for help. They removed her three children Aiga, Andris and Mareks from their beds but by then it was too late. When the medics arrived they tried to resuscitate them but by then there was nothing they could do. “It was the worst day of my life”. The tragedy put considerable strain on her marriage and eventually divorced her husband. Five years later she remarried and now has three children.
The harrowing partition of families can be witnessed in empty homes that are scattered throughout the countryside, some stripped bare. Here an old broken suitcase is all that's left in a hallway of an abandoned house near Skrunda.
A doll now broken lies on the floor of an abandonded home near Kuldiga
In the bedroom of an abandoned home a forgotten Teddy Bear sits on top of a dressing table
Jars of pickles on a shelf in a basement of a home near Skrunda.
Wagon wheels stored in the loft of a home, a throwback to past days.
Valdis Freimanis (b. 1953); Before the collapse of the Soviet Union Valdis worked on a collective farm. After the Soviet occupation in 1940 land ownership of over 30 hectares was nationalised. According to Valdis collective farming was very stressful as the farm life was dictated by having to meet set quotas . After independence he took to dairy farming which he found too difficult. He say’s “ the problem now is that all the young people are leaving to Riga and abroad and there is nobody left to pass on skills too.
Lūcija Cāzere (b. 1931)
Skrunda-1; During the Cold War the Soviet Union built more than 40 secret towns. One of these secret towns was located in Latvia outside the town of Skrunda in Raņķi parish and named Skrunda-1. This secret military town which was not marked on any Soviet maps was used for the location of two Dnepr radar installations also know as “hen-house” radar. This former Soviet radar station is now a ghost town. Constructed in the 1960’s the site played a strategically important role during the Cold War as an early warning system designed to track incoming ICBM’s.
Skrunda-1; Boiler House Skrunda-1; Books and manuals lie in a case gathering cobwebs of the Boiler-house office at Skrunda-1
A now empty school classroom at the former Soviet base at Skrunda-1
Cinema Foyer, Skrunda-1; This vast complex of 1,072 hectares had a cinema, nightclub, it’s own hospital and a school to cater for its 5,000 inhabitants. After the collapse of the Soviet Union Skrunda-1 closed and the last members of the Red Army left in 1998. In 2010 the town was sold for private development but still stands empty today.
Anita Ruke (b. 1955), Valdis Rukis (b. 1955); Anita first met Valdis in Kindava when he visited her twin brother.She worked in a shop at the time and Valdis would call to see her regularly. She was 21 when they got married in Ventspils. In 1981 they bought the house they now live in and following the collapse of the Soviet Union they acquired the land around the house. They divorced in 1988 but eventually got back together in 2005 following the tragic death of their son. They grow vegetables only for theirown use and do not make any money from the farm. Valdis getscasual work from time to time but it is hard to depend on this for a steady income.
Felikess Grickevics (b. 1954), Tatjana Sapko (b. 1953) Both Felikess and Tatjana Felikess and Tatjana worked for a gypsy Baron in Riga for thirteen years and lived in a gypsy commune. When the Baron decided to move away they became unemployed and homeless. For one and a half years they moved around before a relative recommended they move to Lenas church commune in Skrunda. They have been here now for about two years. They have been together thirteen years and in January 2013 they got married. In the commune they do housekeeping and also act as caretaker for the church. The rules of the commune are very strict; members of the commune are not allowed to use electronic communication devices, watch television or movies but are allowed to listen to Christian radio.
Biruta Gustovska (b. 1935) Biruta was born in Limbaži, Vidzeme in 1935; she remembers that during the war her family hid fugitives. Biruta recalls how the Germans soldiers were very polite and well mannered while the Russian army personnel were poorly educated and rude. “After the war the Russians took everything and turned our farm into a Kolkhozy (collective farm), which they named Rainbow. We had no freedom and people were always watching and reporting to the authorities, so you had to be careful. We didn’t celebrate Christmas as there was a fear we would be reported”. Following the Russian Revolution,celebrating Christmas was discouraged and it would be a serious matter if a public official were caught partaking in the practice.
Zofija Guravska (b. 1922); “Hanging in my wardrobe is the dress I want to be buried in” says Zofija. She lives alone with her pet dog and keeps a small vegetable garden and some hens. The house she lives in belonged to her parents and she has lived here all her life. Her husband died twenty five years ago and they had been married for thirty two years. Her friends and family have been encouraging her to leave and live in a modern apartment but she refuses; “my parents, two brothers and my husband all died in this house so why should I move. I have lived here all my life and I know I haven’t much time left. What they don’t understand is I would much prefer to die in my home than somewhere strange. I have only gone outside the district once and that was to travel to Riga when I was a schoolgirl”.
The last burial in the old German cemetery in Kurmāle parish was of an infant in 1939. Today the graveyard is largely forgotten except by a few local people. The headstones have been broken by falling trees and the cemetery is now overgrown and being reclaimed by nature. In October 1939 Germany signed an agreement with Latvia to facilitate the repatriation of the Baltic Germans. About 60,000 Latvian citizens of German extraction left Latvia and most never returned.
"Farewell… I will dream of you still as a baby, Treading the earth with little strong toes, The earth where already so many lie buried. This song to my son, is come to its close". - Pavel Antokolsky