"Lauris, the journey you mapped out for me to find my Latvian family was a 10-strike...to use the bowling term. I had no idea I could find someone who would serve as researcher, translator, tour director, AND driver through the Latgale countryside, where virtually no one - including my one key blood relative - speaks any English."
The trip to my native Latvia uncovered the mystery of the first six years of my life as a WW II orphan. For 65 years, I did not know the names of my parents, nor even my real birth date. On my arrival in the United States in March 1949, my papers identified me as Marija Platacs, born May 30, 1943, at Andrupene, Latgale, Latvia.
I was one of 74 orphaned Baltic children airlifted from a Displaced Persons Camp in Hahnenklee, Germany who arrived in the United States via Oceanic Airlines in 1949.
My adoptive father and mother (The Rev. Dr. John Frederick and Selma Futchs) welcomed me into their family in Boulder, Colorado. They presumed my birth father perished as a soldier.
Neither my adoptive parents nor I expected to learn who my birth parents were while Latvia remained under Soviet rule from 1945-1991. Even the search I made for my parents in 1963 (when I received a letter giving information from the principal of an orphanage I stayed at) confirmed that both parents were deceased.
This year, I decided to return to the land of my birth to search for records about my parents, and see if I had any living relatives. To prepare for my August trip to Latvia, I went to the Latvian Embassy in Washington, DC in late May. I presented papers they requested for the search.
An embassy official reported that she found I was born on May 30, 1943 to Bronislav Platacis and Salomeja Platace (different suffixes are used to determine gender). I learned their birthdates, and my birthplace: Rusišku Sādža, Andrupena, Latgale.
No death dates were given for either parent, so, I thought they still might be alive, and there could even be some living relatives.
In June, the American Latvian Association told me Lauris, a resident of Riga totally fluent in English and Latvian, helps overseas Latvians search for – and then take them to - their relatives in Latvia, just the kind of specialized guide I needed for my trip. Lauris identifies himself a “family detective” on his website.
After researching databases and making telephone calls, he gave the astounding news that I had one living aunt in Cesis (Leonora Platace, my father’s one surviving sibling), and a half-brother (Andris Platacis) near Jaunpils (the son of my father’s second marriage). We would meet both of them in a car journey through Latgale in August.
The three-day trip traced the movements of my parents and me, starting with their marriage in Andrupene, my birth in 1943, and the years following that. I learned that my father died at age 78 and my mother at 68.
My father was a Soviet partisan fighting against the Nazis. His father August and August’s brother were also partisans whose activities were being watched by persons sympathetic to the Nazis. That led to the midnight raid by Nazi forces of the homes of both August and Bonislavs on March 13, 1944.
Not only were my grandfather and uncle captured, but so were my grandmother Helena (August’s wife), my mother, and me, just a few months old. We were all taken to Rezekne prison, nearly 50 km from Andrupene. August was shot there and his brother was later sent to a concentration camp in Germany.
Within days, Nazi troops took my grandmother, mother and me to the infamous Latvian “death camp” at Salaspils, 220 km away (12 miles south of Riga). On entry, the camp officials separated my mother from me, never to see each other again.
Before the Soviets marched on the Salaspils camp in October, 1944, Nazis evacuated everyone, sending my mother and grandmother to the Konigsberg concentration camp in Germany. The German forces sent me to Riga Orphanage, which they also evacuated to Hahenklee, Germany weeks later.
Tante Leonora, who babysat for me when I was just a few months old regaled me with family stories. She explained that after my mother returned from her prison camp experiences, she rejected my father’s wish to reunite. They divorced and started second families.
She also told me that my father searched for me, from 1951 to 1959. He was misled by the Riga Orphanage who gave him the name of a family in Riga that adopted me, only to be turned away by them, leaving him in tears. He also placed ads five times in newspapers.
My journey included Andrupene Church where my parents were married and I was christened. I saw the house where I was born and planted trees at the gravesites of my mother in Andrupene and my father in Dobele. His son, Andris, accompanied me.
I saw Rezekne prison and the Salaspils memorial, haunted by The Metronome (sound of a heart beating). Just as affecting was Ancupani Hills outside Rezekne. That was where grandfather August was among the 8,000 prisoners shot by the Nazi forces, where August’s brother was forced to dig the ditch for his brother to fall into after being shot.
The war experience that destroyed my immediate family did, nevertheless, have its survivors and did not stop the Platacis family line (which I was able to trace back three generations to Abrams Platacis of St. Petersburg, Russia). I am one survivor who slipped through the few chance openings in Salaspils camp and the Riga Orphanage, able to make a life in America. And I have three nephews in Scotland to meet, the three sons born to my brother Andris.
"I could never thank Lauris enough for his work with my family in July 2013. It was truly amazing."
We traveled to Latvia during the 2013 Song and Dance Festival; my mother, sister and cousin came along as going to Latvia was something my grandma always told us we should do. Wanting to visit the sites where my grandparents had lived I organised a driver for some days trips while still in Australia. We only had the address to my Grandfather's farm and my Grandma's birth place.
The first day with Lauris, he picked us up from the agreed location on time. He was friendly, funny and spoke great English. This first day we traveled to Tukums to the house where my grandmother was born, this house was now the town museum so we were able to go inside. It was lovely to look around the town and reminisce about my grandmother's stories of a pig which would follow her to school every day.
On the second day, we had agreed to travel to Cesis, where my grandfather was from. We knew the address for the farm was incorrect and that the family that now lived there had looked after my grandfather's sister, Vera, until her death in 2002.
We had a nice morning playing around at the Turaida and Cesis Castles. At the Cesis castle Lauris spoke to a lady and questioned about the address. She directed Lauris to a potential place just outside of the town. We went out to the location and were somewhat overwhelmed by the number of farms with the same name, but Lauris picked one of the farms and found an old lady Astrid, through Lauris she told us about Vera and her cows. She also said if we had gone to any of the other farms around they would not have known Vera. She directed us down to another lot of farms a little further down the highway. After some further directions from another lady; Lauris found the farm. Not only that, the family who had looked after Vera - Ingrid, Zeltite and Anete also. They were dressed up and on their way out and we had just got there in time. It was a brief 10 minute meeting but it was full of tears and translations through Lauris. They had been trying to write to my mother but were using another incorrect address. We are now still in contact with the family through email with Anete on a regular basis. I hope to return to Latvia sometime soon and visit the family and the farm, and potentially recruit Lauris again for his fantastic translation and investigatory skills.
Whether you are looking for an entertaining day trip, or searching for long lost family members; I couldn't recommend Lauris enough. His playful and warm nature, made our time utterly entertaining and rewarding beyond belief