by Hilary B. Bisenieks
I try to talk to my dad most days, even if it’s just to say hi and make sure that he’s doing ok, since I’m three thousand miles away from him. He’s hard to talk to sometimes. It happens.
He wasn’t born here. He grew up in Riga, Latvia, during the War. He says that he remembers June 14th, 1941—the undesirables being herded onto trains by the Bolsheviks. He didn’t know much about the Western Front of the war until D-Day. The Eastern Front was right on his doorstep.
During the War, we were allied with the Soviets, so it became easy to ignore the things that the Bolsheviks were doing. It wasn’t the Holocaust, but it wasn’t great either.
Nobody much thinks about the Baltic States. Latvians had to fight on both sides, for the Soviets because they were forced to, for the Germans in the hope that maybe after the war, their homeland would regain its independence.
When my father and grandmother left Riga in 1944, they were passed by thousands of German soldiers going the other way. They got out in time, but they were hardly safe. They lives in displaced citizen camps in Austria. In Vienna, they were bombed by the Americans during the day and by the British at night. My grandmother made something like a living having to clean toilets for Nazi officers. They lost everything except the clothes on their backs during an air-raid.
I’m sure my father would still recognize the sound of a Lancaster bomber or a B-17 flying overhead. Some things you never forget.
Things you never forget.
American’s are very good at simplifying complex things to try to understand them. People are very good at simplifying complex things to try to understand them. If I walked down to the heart of Dimond right now and asked someone what the War was about, they’d say the Nazis and the Holocaust or the Japanese and Pearl Harbor. Those are fairly understandable. I don’t think most people could find Latvia on a map of the world. I don’t think most people know it exists.
With the Cold War, the Soviets became enemies, but we weren’t concerned with what they’d done to create their Glorious Union; we were afraid they’d nuke us off the map before we could shoot back.
My father was in this country by then. He grew up in Ann Arbor, an outsider, ausländer, as he had been in the Austrian countryside in the winter of 1944, where the German school children threw snowballs at him. He discovered science fiction and fantasy, all the worlds he could escape into.
But he didn’t forget.
We shouldn’t, either.