Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Freiburg im Bresgau II

Last week I wrote about our trip to Freiburg im Bresgau and the Latvian Daugavas Vanagi property there, Bērzaine. I wrote “Located in the hills of the Black Forest and home to a 500 year old university, the city has managed to keep its old town intact despite the wars.” Turns out that’s not exactly the case.

The Münster cathedral in Freiburg im Bresgau 

My grandmother e-mailed me with some of her memoirs from what she remembers of Freiburg during World War II. She was fleeing from Latvia with her family and eventually ended up in the United States, but she wrote that Freiburg im Bresgau was her family’s first stop after leaving Latvia and passing through the many checkpoints en route. She arrived on October 27th, 1944.

Bija skaists rudens, staigājām pa Melnajiem mežiem. Atmiņā skaista universitātes pilsēta līdz 1944. gada 27. novembrim, kad amerikāņi nakts uzlidojumā, galvenokārt ar degbumbām, to noslaucīja no kartes... Ļoti labi atceros to nakti. Tad arī manam brālim Jurim kāda šķemba ievainoja roku, noraujot divus pirkstus... Gribējās Tev to pasacīt.

“It was a beautiful autumn, we hiked in the Black Forest. I remember a beautiful university town until November 27th, 1944, when the Americans wiped it off the map in a night raid with firebombs… I remember that night very well. Then also my brother Juris had his arm wounded, losing  two fingers to shrapnel…”

Over the years my siblings and I have devoted many hours to researching our family tree and the history of our country, our family and Latvians in Latvia and abroad. I have interviewed my grandmother (as well as several other family members) but I am ashamed to say that I had forgotten or never asked about this time in her life.

Var jau būt, ka dažas vēsturiskas celtnes netika pilnīgi nopostītas un vācieši jau daudz savas vēsturiskās vietas ir restaurējuši. Atceros tikai, ka otrā dienā skats bija neticami baigs, vel šur, tur dega, bija daudz cilvēku, kas klīda meklējot piederīgos. Visiem vīriešiem bija jāiet glābšanas darbos. Manu mammu, Uldi un mani aizveda uz kādu mūķenu klosteri, tālāk kalnos. Juris jau naktī bija kopā ar citiem ievainotiem aizvests uz kādu slimnīcu. Freiburgā pēc tam nekad neesmu bijusi. Ja Tu gribi, vari jau par to uzrakstīt, bet tādi stāsti manai paaudzei ir daudz...

“It may be that a few historic buildings weren’t completely destroyed, and the Germans have restored many historical sites. I just remember that the scene the next day was unbelievably horrific, here and there a building was still burning and many people were searching for family members. All the men were recruited for rescue operations. My mother, Uldis (another brother) and I were taken to a convent in the mountains. Juris had already been brought to some hospital during the night along with the other wounded. Since then I have never returned to Freiburg. If you want, you can write about it, but my generation has many such stories…”

A little belatedly I did some additional research on the history of Freiburg during WWII. In May of 1940 the Luftwaffe (mistakenly) dropped approximately 60 bombs on Freiburg near the train station. Then in October of 1940, 350 Jewish citizens of Freiburg were deported to the southern French internment camp of Camp Gurs where they remained until the majority of survivors were sent to their deaths to Auschwitz on July 18th, 1942. Later on, the raid my grandmother wrote of, on November 27th 1944; more than 300 bombers destroyed the city center, with the notable exception of the Münster cathedral, which was only lightly damaged. Freiburg was then occupied by the French Army in 1945, and fell within the French Zone of Occupation. The French Army maintained a presence there until the last division left in 1991. Freiburg’s old city was not kept intact as I had quickly written, rather it was rebuilt around the Münster cathedral following the medieval city plan.

The Münster cathedral as we saw it in June, 2012

There are reminders of the violent history of Europe all around us here in France: monuments, cemeteries and plaques. When traveling to Normandy a main goal was to see the beaches the Americans came ashore on, and on our visit to Amsterdam we walked past Anne Frank’s house. However with my grandmother’s email I was once again reminded how easy it is to forget, even “over here” where it all happened.

Paldies vecmamma, ka dalijies ar šīm atmiņām. To my grandmother: thank you for correcting my mistake, and thank you for allowing me to share a part of your story.


  1. Your grandmother sounds like an amazing and strong woman. Thank you for sharing part of her incredible story.

  2. Wow! Unfortunately all of my grandparents are now gone and I was too young when they died to think of doing any family history. Luckily my aunt (my mom's sister) did quite a bit of family history about their father's side of the family. To my knowledge there has been little to none done about their mother's side. I have no history of any of my father's family from their parents or grandparents. My mom's family landed in Wurtzburg where they stayed until they moved to the US. My dad's family was in Pinneberg until they moved to the US. My father was old enough when he came to the US that he remembers everything about the journey on the ship. I need to document it. I'd really like to explore the cities in Germany where my parents were born.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Like you, your grandmother is a beautiful writer. I haven't had a chance in a couple of weeks to check out your blog, but I'm so glad I went back tonight to review what I had missed.

  4. There are memories of it everywhere in England too. So wonderful that you have this from your grandmother! Going to Normandy is definitely on our list. XOL

  5. I'm so happy for you that you have had the opportunity to sit and talk to your Grandmother about your family history. What a precious gift.

  6. Oh Liene, what an extraordinary post. Thanks so much for linking it to the POTMC. Having lived in Germany as an exchange student in 1989, I understand some of your responses here. Your poor family, to have witnessed such carnage. J x


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