Osvalds Akmentins – A Latvian Writer

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Osvalds Akmentins once said that the years which he spent living in Latvia were now memories which could never be forgotten. In his dreams he was able to retrace each step and see each place and sometimes these dreams would become nightmares. Nightmares where he was chased, then caught and taken away. A lot if Latvian immigrants felt these fears since they had to flee Latvia with their families afraid for their very lives leaving everything behind. Of his years spent living in Latvia he says that they were not easy ones. At the age of nine he became a shepherd in the country. Those boys who lived in the country usually became shepherds at this age watching over flocks of sheep or herds of cows spending all day in the field. When Akmentins became older he became a farmhand and went from landowner to landowner working for his supper so to say. During this time his father had saved enough money and wanted to buy Akmentins a country house so that he could become a landowner himself and have others working for him. However it was Akments dream to get out of the country and to head for Riga, the capital of Latvia. After several unsuccessful atempts he finall mangaged to land a job at an alcohol factory. So in the fall of 1937 Akmentins began working in Riga and attending university in the evenings. He was very proud of the fact that he managed to work himself up and was promoted to administration. At this same time he began writing short stories for newspapers about his work place and the things that happened there. When everything seemed to fall into place came the time of occupation and Akmentins and his family had to flee. At this time he was 30 years old and recalled that the fear factor was so great that they couldn’t seem to get far enough away. The sound of cannon fire was all around and bombs were dropping from the sky. When they finally reached Germany Akmentins said he felt like a pauper because he had nothing and he couldn’t even speak a foreign language. After spending several years in Germany AKmentins chose to go to America. When he arrived by ship in Boston he said the ship was iced over, had had an accident but finally did make it to port. In Boston he started looking to make contact with other Latvians. The first Latvian he encountered was a former consulate from Latvia called Jekabs Zibergs who helped him get orientated in his new surroundings. Through his help Akmentins was able to publish his first book “American Latvians” (“Amerikas Latviesi” in Latvian). In 1964 Akmentins wrote a book about former U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Latvians in the Vaidava region of Lincoln, Nebraska. The book received a review in “The New York Times” and was reported on various news agencies. In Latvia they heard about it through the Voice of America. Afterwards life returned to usual. Akmentins said he didn’t have the knowledge to make more money out of it. He continued to write articles and to associate with other Latvians. Akmentins felt that he was part of a second generation who had to live through the irony of fate. He said that he liked history and found it interesting but that it was an unpleasant feeling when history played with you.

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