Tarzier Memoirs

Part II   War and Awakening



The year was 1921. Two years had passed since Father’s death. After spending a year fighting for Latvia’s freedom, I was given furlough to get the farm back on track. Peteris, age eighteen, and I did our best to do replace Father’s tireless hand, but our heart wasn’t in it. Jüle, our mother, moved about mechanically. She hadn’t gotten over the death of her companion of decades, and she never would. Organized religion didn’t offer much in the way of spiritual help, so we were forced to look elsewhere.

The Revival was nothing new to us, because our father himself had participated in, and welcomed, the unorthodox currents of religion swirling through Latvia. As cynical young men, we initially scorned spiritual phenomena as an empty show to induce belief, but now we were desperate for hope, for solace, for a new start.

I especially remember one summer night that put joy where despair had been, whether joy came from God or not, and marked a turning point in our lives. After a long day working the fields, we rode our bicycles to a Revival group meeting in a cottage an hour away from our Druviena farm. It was near midnight, but this was summer in a northern latitude, when dusk flows into dawn almost without a break, and the dirt road stretched ahead of us like a pale ribbon in the twilight. After this eerie ride, we met the group and prayed with them the rest of the night, kneeling in a circle, our heads bowed to the ground.

As was the custom, the prayer circle was used to pose questions to Spirit. Whoever was moved to do so offered answers, in turn, to those questions. Foremost in Peter’s and my mind was, what to do next? How were we to escape the Antichrist rule on earth, the depths of Hell that had swallowed our father, and how should we prepare for the coming of the Lord? But questions such as these preoccupied not only Peteris and myself. They concerned relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances after turbulent years of war and revolution, persecutions, dawn raids and interrogations at the hands of the Russian secret police.

One answer our group received, over and over, and especially that night, was to leave for Brazil, the refuge chosen by the Lord. This guidance was apparently based on the book of Revelation, in which the Bride (His Church) shall take refuge “in the desert to a place prepared to her by the Lord, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.” (Revelation 12:6). We ignored the fact that Brazil was in the tropics and not a desert in any way.*

In the delicate light of dawn, we pedaled back to the farm to work the fields one more long day. But our mood had changed, from grief to euphoria, from uncertainty to one-pointed resolve. We knew what to do next. The message was one of doom, to be sure, but it offered a ray of hope: we must get out, no matter the cost. Time was short, the doors of the Kingdom were closing, the time of God’s grace was ended, and after 1923 nobody would be saved.
Without our father’s guidance to tell us otherwise, and under the spell of altered states of consciousness, Peteris and I did not for a moment question that God Himself was speaking. Had Father been with us, he would have insisted on testing the prophecies in the light of the Scriptures. We did not know then that gifts of Spirit, however much euphoria they elicit, should be examined carefully, or, according to the Bible, “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” We ventured into a mysterious spirit world with no guide but ourselves, and without a strong Scriptural foundation.

But we were babes in God. We accepted every word uttered in prayer as coming from God Himself—after all, replies to our questions usually began with “Thus sayeth the Lord.” Thus energized, we readied ourselves to await the Second Coming in distant Brazil. In a world that would end soon in fire and brimstone, there would be no need for possessions, keepsakes, or memories. So convinced were we of this outcome that we liquidated the farm and all implements, machinery, and livestock. Much to my later regret, in our feverish state of mind we also disposed of family heirlooms such as the Glück translation of the Bible into the Lettish language, a precious document that had been in our family for generations. We also burned more personal treasures, such as our father’s sacred poetry and his love letters to Mother, painstakingly written in his fine penmanship.

Eventually 2,500 Latvians, Peteris and Mother among them, would emigrate to start a communal life in Brazil, a country foreign in every way. However, another painful separation was in store for me. Peteris and Mother quickly obtained travel documents, but I, officially still a member of the Latvian military forces, fell into a different category. In order to leave the country, I had to secure a permit from the Latvian Ministry of Defense in Riga. I regarded the permit as a mere formality—our country was now free, the war effort now limited to protection of territory. After serving more than a year in the machine gun platoon, surely I had paid my dues.

However, to our profound consternation, I walked empty-handed down the steps of the Ministry of Defense. My passport application had been summarily rejected. Without papers, I could not legally leave the country. Rather than delay their departure, I bid a tearful good-bye to Mother and my brother Peteris at the Riga train station. They were headed for the German port of Hamburg, to await the sailing of the steamer Tucuman and crossing of the Atlantic. I made a solemn promise: I would soon join them. As their train headed southwest, my train chugged on eastward, back to Druviena and my sister’s farm. I cannot describe the pain I felt with this new parting.

After weeks of frantic activity to prepare our exit, the idea of staying behind in Latvia, with no family and no home, was as welcome as a bone in my throat. Yes, I planned: I would defect, sneak across the border, and find my way to Hamburg, on foot if need be. The Latvian contingent would be spending several days or even weeks in Hamburg, and in any case I could board another vessel to Brazil. But, in the midst of my dreams, lulled into a half sleep by the movement of the train, I had a premonition: something unusual awaited me back home.

And what awaited me was unusual; in that I was not disappointed. Barely off the train, I was summoned to report to the local constable, who escorted me to military headquarters. There they charged me with desertion. To this day I regard this accusation as ridiculous and unfounded, because I was on official furlough—a deserter I certainly was not, not yet anyway. But I had applied for a passport, and for them this was proof enough that I planned to avoid more military service by escaping to Brazil.

The colonel in charge snickered, “Well! We will show him the Brazil.” I was summarily shipped off to remote Daugavpils, an old military fortress dating back to Tsarist times, a few kilometers from the southern border between Latvia and what is now Belarus. Formerly a proud member of a machine gun company, I arrived under guard as a prisoner. Next morning at inspection the commander barked with obvious glee, “Ah, here is a deserter.” I straightened up to my full 5’5” and replied, “Not at all, Captain, Sir. I fought for our country’s liberation and I am on furlough.” He said no more and ordered me to be at ease.

Thus began my remarkable year of service in the Daugavpils fortress. I was placed in charge of an automatic weapons unit, a battalion office, and a warehouse. Usually such positions were held by noncommissioned officers or a junior officer with special training, so this was an odd assignment indeed for a deserter. My only explanation is that the Lord Himself blocked my exit and sweetened the pill with a dignified assignment. The year in Daugavpils gave me time to think and get perspective on the prophecies of doom. Looking back on it, I was not meant for the life of the jungle, and I am glad God placed a boulder on my path.

Upon my discharge in 1922, I returned once more to Druviena. I stayed temporarily at my sister Otilija’s farm, located close to our former home in the rolling hills of the Latvian countryside. A huge store of sadness, held back by the excitement of the year’s events, now came crashing upon me. Memories flooded back: the old birch woodlands, now familiar, now strange; young calves frolicking in the spring; the pond where we cooled off in the summer heat; Father squirting milk from the cow’s udder straight into Peteris’ mouth. The spirits of the land spoke to me from birch groves, creeks, and gullies. Brazil was no longer an option, and the life of a farmer had lost what little appeal it once had, but what else was there to do? I had become a stranger in my own country.


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