Insula - A Latvian Memoir -
'Brothers record a heroic period of Latvian history'
by Don Arp
John and Ventis spent five years researching and editing an anthology of stories from Latvians who fled the communist invasion of their country and ended up in Germany, living in the displaced persons camps of Insula near Berchtesgaden. At the culmination of their research, John and Ventis had 30 stories of sacrifice, heroism, determination and optimism of the human spirit in fleeing the brutalities of an oppressive regime that become the book titled Insula: A Latvian Memoir.
The big flight
During World War II, control of Latvia changed hands several times. The Soviet Union removed the government of Karlis Ulmanis in 1940. A few years later, the Nazis pushed the Soviets out. But 1944, the Soviets returned. Prior to the big flight from Latvia in 1944, there were months of unrest - torture, arrests and executions were a daily occurrence. Many public personalities and countless unknowns disappeared without a trace. Tens of thousands faced deportation to Siberia. Others fled the country at night with only the belongings they were able to carry.
John and Ventis, the sons of a forest ranger, were born in Latvia before World War II. During the first Soviet occupation, their father barely escaped deportation to Siberia. A tip from a friend and being able to hide out were all that kept him out of the gulag. The Plumes took part in the big flight in 1944, escaping the Soviets by entering Germany. John and his family lived at Insula for four years before coming to the United States. Others from the camp found new lives in Canada, Australia and a handful of other countries.
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by Alexis Kelner (Aleksejs Kelners)
As a Latvian displaced from his native country, I found John and Ventis Plume's new book Insula - A Displaced Person Assembly Center - A Latvian Memoir a very interesting and fascinating account of Latvian out migrations during the last months of World War II.
A brief section in Insula titled "Where Do We Come From" outlines the early history of Latvia, its brief inter-war period of independence, and in 1940, its occupation by the Russian Army. During the first year under Russian rule more than 60,000 Latvians - landowners, government officials, and other intelligentsia - disappeared into Russia's Siberian versions of concentration camps; and the Russian secret police killed outright some 1,700 individuals. A year later, Ventis writes, "one invader replaced another."
The second invader was Germany; its program of racial purification resulted in the near extermination of Latvia's Jewish population. The Russians retook Latvia in 1944 and reinitiated their version of repression. In the aftermath of the war, they imprisoned or deported to the Gulags well over 100,000 Latvians; in a single day in 1949, the Soviets deported 43,000 rural residents to Siberia.
"This should explain," Ventis Plume writes, "why our parents chose to leave their homeland." During the summer of 1944, Janis and Anna Plume packed some belongings onto a wagon, said tearful good-bye's to their parents, and along with their two sons, Janis (nearing 4 years of age) and older brother Ventis (nearing 12), set out on their escape to an unknown future. The story of the Plume family's westward journey ended in Michigan, U.S.A., with nearly a four-year layover at the Insula Displaced Persons Assembly Center in Berchtesgaden, Germany.
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