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Was my grandfather a Nazi or KGB agent?

TJI Pick
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Published: 27 May 2022

Last updated: 4 March 2024

When my Latvian grandfather disappeared in 1949, his wife knew he had been a member of a Nazi brigade. But then a pension cheque arrived from the Soviet security agency

THE PHOTOGRAPH WAS probably taken not long before my grandfather disappeared. The edge is uneven. Someone, or something, has been clipped from the picture. What remains is an image barely more than an inch wide, just large enough to capture my grandfather’s face in profile. His hair is slicked back, his eyes squint into the sun, his lips are pursed.

My father tells me it is one of the few images he has of his father, whose name was Boris.

My grandparents had been high-school sweethearts in Latvia during the country’s first period of independence, which lasted from 1920 to 1940. They lost track of each other after school. A few years later, war broke out in Europe. In 1940, the Soviet Union occupied Latvia. The following year, the country was taken by the Nazis. In 1944, most of its territory was returned to Soviet rule.

Each sequential occupation unleashed waves of devastation. When my grandparents met again on the street in 1947 or 1948, I imagine that each was glad to see that the other was alive. Boris told my grandmother he was working as an insurance salesman. She did not ask too many questions about what he did during the war. So much was unspeakable.

The war had created a chaotic field of shifting allegiances. The way Latvia was claimed by one power then the other meant that, by the end, there were people who had fought on both sides.

In some Latvian families, older brothers were conscripted into divisions of the Germany army, while younger brothers were drafted by Soviet forces. Other men joined armed partisan units in the forest to fight a guerrilla war. In 1944, when the Soviets invaded for the second time, the atmosphere in Riga was thick with paranoia.

FULL STORY Nazi or KGB agent? My search for my grandfather’s hidden past (Guardian)

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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