Monday, March 07, 2005

Ausekliesi - Biruta Abule, Editor

Foreword by Zinta Aistars

Cover illustration by Viestarts Aistars

When a book compiling the memories of alumni and alumnae of a high school for displaced persons, or refugees, of Latvia during World War II was ready for the presses, the editor, Biruta Abuls, came to Zinta requesting an "Afterword." Although the compilation itself is in the Latvian language, the Afterword was to be in English, so that the audience for the book might be even greater. As Latvians were scattered across the globe after the war, some of the new generations, born in "exile," have lost touch with the language of their ancestors. But memories have special value, surpassing all languages...

The following is the Afterword for a book called Ausekliesi--No Pazobelem Pasaules Tales, editor, Biruta Abule, published in late 2004. The director of the school was my grandfather, Ernests Aistars, who was also the author of twelve published novels. Three of his four sons, including the eldest, my father, attended the school.

At the time of this writing, as I page through the galleys of Ausekliesi, I come across excerpts about my grandfather, Ernests Aistars, the director of the Ausekliesi school from 1945 to 1950. I read that he died July 22, 1998. I look up at my calendar. It is July 22, 2004. The years of his absence have flown by, filled with events, changes, moves, discoveries, the daily comings and goings of family and friends, of the world around me. He is gone, but my memories of this tall, lean, wise man remain. My own children are grown. It saddens me that they have few memories of their great-grandfather to cherish.

And then it occurs to me: they will have this book. In it is one of the greatest treasures one generation can bequeath another—its memories. When the visage of a loved one passes away from our presence, we may still find them in family albums, in journals, in photographs, in the stories one person tells another who tells yet another, in various fragments that we share with each other. Even when there is no one to pass along the story, something in our very souls sings that ancient song of our ancestors. Perhaps their memory shows in a gesture we make, one that is exactly as they once gestured. Perhaps our laughter rings out in the same note and gives a similar twinkle to our eye. Perhaps we unknowingly find ourselves picking up a hobby only to later learn that it brought someone in our past lineage similar pleasure. We can’t quite explain it, but there it is. A common memory that lives in our spirits and in our genes, like a thread running invisibly through time, connecting us all.

Of what value is memory? Memory is a way of giving us the stability and nourishment of roots, and for our Latvian nation, who have so often throughout our history struggled to keep and maintain our roots, we have learned the necessity and value of having them. It may well be that those who, for a while, must lose something know its value best. If we have at times been ripped away from our physical homes, we may find our homes in each other.

In these pages, I read of my grandfather’s love of language and learning. I read how my grandmother read aloud to him and to her four sons, as the Aistars family shared this passion for words. I read of my father, Viestarts Aistars, and of his love of art and nature. Here is my heritage. I, too, read aloud to my loved ones. I, too, find my serenity in communion with nature. I, too, look through literature as my prism onto the universe. Even had I never met these people with whom I share common blood, I believe these traits would beat with the same vitality and fire within me. How much richer I am to know this.

To understand our heritage, our common bonds with those who came before us, is to understand ourselves. When we touch their memories, we touch our own hearts, we look upon our own faces. In looking to our past, we are looking at our own future, our children and their children yet to be born. From our heritage, we take our tools with which to build a life for future generations. No matter that fashions have changed, that technology has transformed the world as they once knew it. No matter that some of us do not even speak the same language (and yet, reading this book, some may find inspiration to learn the language of their ancestors). There is a deeper kind of language, the language of hearts, the language of shared blood, that remains the same, understood by all.

With this compilation of memories—as submitted by the alumni and alumnae of the Auseklis school, each in their own words and in their own personal styles—Biruta Abule, the editor, has gathered together a treasure of such memories for all of us to enjoy and cherish. As one of those who will cherish and be enriched by them, I offer my gratitude for all of Biruta’s hard work in putting these puzzle pieces together and creating out of them a book to preserve some small but precious glimpse into our common treasure—our ancestry.


This book is a collection of bittersweet memoirs about a time and place in the distant past, forgotten by many, but lovingly remembered by former students of the Latvian High School Auseklis in Augsburg, Germany. The time is 1945-1950, the place Camps in Hochfeld and Haunstetten, created near the city of Augsburg in Bavaria for war refugees. The stories talk about the camps, the school activities and accomplishments of its students. From interviews and diaries, as well as from general sources, we learned facts, and sometimes fiction, about Latvians in Augsburg. Included in the book is information about all of the teachers, as well as memories of friends who have died. In their own words the participating authors remember their youth and years spent in camp school, the good and the bad times, the trips and the many extracurricular activities. Photos and drawings of long forgotten classmates and places complement the stories. After the liquidation of the Allied supported camps all of the authors of this collection eventually emigrated to the United States or Australia, and some have returned to their native Latvia. The collection was created in order to preserve the memories of life and war as experienced by young Latvian people immediately post Second World War in Germany.

Book is available for a $25 US donation to recover publishing expenses.

Order from:
Biruta Abuls,
140 Country Club Blvd.
Plainwell, MI 49080

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