Thursday, 19 April 2012

The forests hide deep secrets...Ancupani

I think it was my sixth visit to Latvia when I realised that I was actually quite puzzled that there was very little evidence of all the terrible things that have happened there in the past century. There are very few memorials, for instance. And on closer inspection, the ones there are don't tell either the full or the true picture.

Most of them, like this liberation monument in the eastern city of Rezekne, were put there by the Russians. This one reminds Latvians who it was that liberated them, in a tone suggesting they would do well to remember that.

While the Russians certainly pushed back the Nazis and ended the wholesale slaughter of the city's Jews (more on this later), it ushered in fifty years of suppression which smothered discussion of what really happened in Rezekne (more on this too.)

The truth is that Russians and Germans alike slaughtered Latvians in their tens of thousands. I'm not Russian and I'm not German: I don't have an axe to grind or points to score against this or that murderous totalitarian regime. I'm an English journalist married to a Latvian and in my visits to a country I never expected to go to I have stumbled across episodes of history that have shocked me. And I might add, I've seen a few things already: Rwanda, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Germany.

I was shocked firstly because of what happened in Latvia - virtually everywhere - and secondly, because no-one seems to want to remember.

I said to one Latvian friend: "Why isn't there a memorial there to this shocking thing that happened?". To which she replied: "It wasn't the only place that it happened. These terrible things happened in lots of places."
I guess that might be one explanation.
A friend in Rezekne offered to show us round the city. After we'd looked at the castle and the market and the bus station he said: "Would you like to see the forest where the Germans took a whole village and shot everybody?" A little taken aback, because this wasn't something I knew about, we drove a short way out of town. He led us along a path and into the forest for a short way until we reached a clearing.

"Here it is," he said. "Here WHAT is?" I replied, not sure what he'd brought us to.
"This is where the Germans machine-gunned all the villagers," he said. There were fresh roses and floral tributes - at Easter 2012, seventy years later.
But no information.

"This is Ancupani," he said. "The Germans marched 200 people from a nearby village, including children, and shot them."
At Ancupani, there's not a word of this. Ancupani was where the inhabitants of the nearby village of Audrini paid the price for Soviet partisans shooting two Latvian policemen, in January 1942.
The chief of police Boleslavs Maikovskis ordered everyone to be arrested after the two policemen were shot, and the village was burned down. The 215 villagers, including 53 children, were then executed here.
The savage reprisal was ordered because Audrini was known to harbour Soviet

On the wall of the memorial garden at the end of the execution site are mounted the words 'Vini mira lai dzivotu tu' - They died so you can live.

The doorway leads through to a staircase rising to a stark, simple garden, with no flowers or decoration, simply a statue of a mother with a baby holding an apple in her hand.

The child's outstretched hands seem to emphasise the brutality of what happened here.

And again, there's no explanation of why this statue is here. Not in Latvian, Russian, German or English, like the information boards you find outside Catholic churches or manor houses in some Latvian provinces.

One of those wreaths by the feet of the mother mentions Lidice, the Czech town wiped out in June 1942 in a Nazi reprisal for the killing of the brute Heydrich. The whole world knows of Lidice: its very name a byword for terror, synonymous with mass Nazi murder and cold, callous reprisals. I've never heard of Audrini but the same thing happened here - five months before - by murderers reporting to the same bosses.

Ancupani's forests of death

It's like this all over Latvia. There were massacres everywhere but the fact that Audrini and Ancupani don't rate even a matter-of-fact plaque left me feeling quite shocked. Surely people can't just shrug and say: "Well, this happened everywhere. There's nothing particularly special about this." Can they?

Ancupani was the accidental starting point for my brief journey into the wartime horror of Latvia, with killers German and Russian alike, who divided the country up as the spoils of war then set about murdering everyone in it, or deporting them to slave labour camps.

The sad thing that makes it all so much worse - and I haven't even mentioned the mass murder of possibly 18,000 Russian PoWs, thousands of Jews and an uncounted number of Roma here yet - is that there's not a word that says what happened here.

Time and again, when I see those trees, I know that Latvia's forests hide deep and very dark secrets.

SOURCES: Latvia in World War II By Valdis O. Lumans

1 comment:

  1. It may sound callous when I say that life is different now, hor5rible things happen, they are just a fact o9f life. The memories of such things can tarnish the present -some things are best left in t6he past and we can only hope (as there are no guarentees) that they NEVER happen again.