Tarzier Memoirs



This book revolves around one event, the arrest and murder of my grandfather, Karlis Tarziers, in Latvia in 1918-19. He was gone almost three decades before I was born. Others get to sit on their grandfather’s lap and to hear his stories. They remember the touch of his hands and the sound of his voice. Their selves are formed in part by his presence. Mine was not. Yet his murder resonated in my family’s consciousness, and still does. My father Pedro (Peteris), Karlis’ son, dismissed the event with a worn, laconic phrase: “My father was buried alive by the Reds.” That was all. Perhaps I could have inquired: How? When? Who could have done that, what kind of people were they? But I adopted the family’s stoic attitude, and asked nothing. I grew up thinking that Granddad had been buried Indian-style, his hands tied behind his back, in a vertical tube in the earth. Much later, I eagerly sought the truth, which turned out to be more banal, if no less painful. The story of Karlis’ death is told by my uncle Robert Tarziers, in Passing of the Patriarch.

The other story told (primarily in Spirit Speaks) is that of the Revival, the transcendent spiritual experience that swept over Latvia in the years following World War I. My mother Emilia often spoke longingly of supernatural fires that seemed to come from God himself. However, her husband, my father, had nothing but scorn for what he saw as her ignorant, naive credulity. Robert, Pedro’s brother, adopts a less judgmental attitude—that, perhaps, there is more to our universe than meets the eye, and that the prophecies offered grain among plenty of chaff. In one of the many ironies of this tale, Robert, apparently more open to unusual experience, stayed in Latvia, while Father followed the prophecies he claimed not to believe in, and moved to Brazil with the Revivalists.

The fact that Robert was charged with desertion and confined to the Daugavpils fortress is given as sufficient reason for his decision to stay behind. But the fact remains that, when finally given the chance to leave upon his discharge from the military, he had completely lost interest in Brazil. Of course, Latvia was now basking in the euphoria of independence. Another factor in Robert’s change of mind was that he had spent a year in a military milieu, away from the powerful spiritual connection. But he must have been torn by his longing for his mother, brother, and the fellow Revivalists who had left (see Alone in Latvia). Staying behind meant forging new relationships, loves, a new profession nearly singlehanded.

When writing about the Revival, Robert takes pains to point out how it was wrong, misguided, perhaps even the work of the Devil—as if he were struggling not to believe in the experiences he had participated in. There is also a clear note of resentment against the prophecies of the Revival movement and the people from whom they came, resentment and disbelief very much alive in the 1980’s, when he was writing these pages—even though a few of the prophecies had clearly come to pass, and even though remaining in Latvia almost cost him his life and that of his family when the Russians returned in 1940. Latvia was drenched in blood during World War II and the following decades, and Stalin made a point of exterminating organized religion in any form—a better example of the AntiChrist would be hard to find. But a tone of deep bitterness pervades Robert’s writing, even to the extent of blaming the emigrants for the extinction of spiritual fires in Latvia.

Robert talks about his brother’s attitude towards charismatic spiritual experience in the section entitled Brazil. Indeed, my father Pedro scoffed at anything that did not come from the intellect, thus completely closing himself off from the mysteries and wonder of the Universe. His split with my mother was profound, in this area as well as most aspects of their relationship. In search of enlightenment, she nursed greasy, dog-eared tracts by the Swedish mystic Svedenborg, the writings of Krishnamurti, and the dread-provoking verse of Nostradamus. Father claimed to believe in the Bible, only the Bible, and in a literal interpretation thereof—if it said that the world was created in six days, it was really done in a week’s time. Not an easy feat for a man who put logic on a pedestal.

I would like to tell more of the exodus to Brazil and the travails of an Old World community transplanted to the jungles of Sao Paulo state. That story would nicely complement Robert’s detailed account of his family’s escape to Sweden and the US. Unfortunately, I have only what Robert wrote down and what I can recall. Father, quite the writer, kept a journal in a growing stack of hardbound ledger books, in Portuguese and Latvian. That document is gone forever—Mother ripped out and burned every page of his journal (not a small task!) upon his sudden death in 1972. She later explained to me, “His journal had nothing for you. You wouldn’t want to fill your mind with that stuff. It was a lot of filth.” I suppose by “filth” she meant complaints about their intimate life or lack thereof, a source of enormous bitterness and pain for Father. Thus that precious record is gone, sacrificed to their unforgiveness of each other.

I suggest reading the last section, To a Far Shore, first of all. It is a chilling tale of Robert’s escape from Stalinist terror with his family. Parts of the manuscript, such as the history of religion in Latvia and the biographical tribute to William Fetler, are probably of little interest to most of us. I include them for the sake of completeness and out of respect for this document of my uncle’s life. Old Latvia, with the the innocence of childhood, tells of Peteris’ longing for his native country. Part II, War, details the Latvian Baptist Revival in the aftermath of World War I, and Part III, Two Decades of Freedom, is a tale of Robert’s personal sacrifices to spread the Baptist faith to the most remote corners of Latvia

I welcome your questions, suggestions, and discussion. May you be as happy reading this book as I was to work on it.

Monica Tarzier
San Luis Obispo, California, 2003


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