Author’s note: This is the story of my father’s experience in Latvia during World War II. It does not contain graphic details. It is a call for peace and to learn from history.
This week we awoke to the news, with a sense of horror and disbelief, that the Russian army had begun to invade Ukraine. Although the months before had indicated this was a possibility, somehow many of us believed that this would never happen. Not after what we learned from World War II.
As I watched a video clip of a Ukrainian father saying goodbye to his young daughter and his wife, I had tears streaming down my face. The Ukrainian men, aged 18 – 60 years old, were ordered to stay in the country, to fight the invasion. The tears were a reminder of all the memories I have, of my father’s experience during WWII.
My father had begun studies in Veterinarian Medicine at the University of Latvia in 1940, during the occupation of the country by the armed forces of the USSR.
During a brief period in 1942, the German Authorities attempted to enlist him in the German Armed Forces. He had to flee Riga and spent some time in hiding outside the city on a farm.
However, in 1944, he was seized along with other Latvian men and his Latvian passport (which was his identity document) was confiscated. He was transferred to a forced labour camp in Germany and was there until 1945 when they were rescued by the Allied Armed Forces.
The reason that I share this story with you today, in 2022, is that my father never fully recovered from his experiences during the war. For many years, he couldn’t discuss it with the family because the memories were too painful for him. I was able to share these details with you today because my father wrote detailed notes of that time period which he didn’t discuss with me until the later years of his life.
He often had a recurring nightmare of a knock at the door, with the army personnel entering to ask for his identification papers. During the last week of his life, he had that nightmare again, as he lay in the hospital bed. I was standing in the hallway at the hospital, outside of my father’s room. I could hear my father’s voice, calling for my mother, asking her to go to the door. The trauma from the war had remained in his memory, right till the very end.
So, for those of us who never believed that the world would be faced with this type of worldwide situation again, this week has shown us otherwise.
The one difference is that today we have access to social media and if we stand united in our voices, we can all call out for peace.