David P. Boder Interviews Sophia Zurilis; September 21, 1946; München, Germany

  • David Boder: [In English] This is spool 9-141B. Mrs. Sophia, she at the beginning refused to give her name and wanted to go under only under the name Sophia. But it seems that we later got her name as Sophia Zurilis, or Z-U-R-I-L-I-S. November the 7th, 1950. Boder. One should check up, maybe Zurilis is another person. But for the time being, we are packing away the spool.
  • David Boder: Eh, München, September the 21st, 1946, at Camp Lohengrin, a displaced persons' camp for Baltics, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian. I'm interviewing here, a, eh, teacher, eh, whose first name is Sophia. And, eh, that is all of the name that we will have in this report. Eh, eh, we will have the interview in German.
  • David Boder: [In German] Well, tell me, eh, madam, eh, where were you when the . . . Eh, what nationality are you?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Latvian.
  • David Boder: And from where?
  • Sophia Zurilis: I am Latvian.
  • David Boder: You are Latvian, [unintelligible].
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes, absolutely.
  • Sophia Zurilis: Latvian.
  • David Boder: You are Latvian.
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes.
  • David Boder: And, eh, tell me, where did you live when the Russians came back to Latvia?
  • Sophia Zurilis: They came back in the year 1940.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Sophia Zurilis: I was in Riga.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes.
  • David Boder: And what did you do there?
  • Sophia Zurilis: At a school for girls.
  • David Boder: When? Well, do you want to tell me what happened, from the year 1940 when the Russians came to Latvia and onwards, of the Russian occupation, the German occupation, how you came here to, eh, Munich?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes.
  • David Boder: Well, proceed slowly; you don't need to [unintelligible].
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes. [unintelligible] June 17th the Bolsheviks came into the country. At first they appeared very inoffensive and promised us not to bring about any changes to our political system. Only the government had to be changed, and then only a different administration needed to come, and all else remains unchanged. But after a short period, maybe one, two weeks, after all we recognized they were lying. There were changes instantly. People were, eh, instantly "adopted"Zurilis probably means "deported" here.1 and the, our "Eiszwerge"The word she uses sounds like the German "Eiszwerg," meaning "ice dwarf," the meaning of which is unclear. Possibly, the name of this organization is a similar sounding Latvian name.2, which are an organization of the, eh, of the, eh, Farmers and, eh, those of the farmers, they, eh, were, they were armed and all, and they were also instantly disestablished. All were disarmed.
  • David Boder: Why did the farmers get armed? Were the farmers armed?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Well, that's some kind of a, hm, a land . . . , eh, a lan . . . , a land . . . , a "Landwehr" . . . A "Landwehr" roughly equals a militia.3
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Sophia Zurilis: . . . that we have.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Sophia Zurilis: A, a civilian organization, probably . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Sophia Zurilis: . . . you could say.
  • David Boder: Yes. And what happened to Ulman, the President?Karlis Ulmanis is referenced here.4
  • Sophia Zurilis: Well, Ulman was instantly interned in his Palace.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Sophia Zurilis: And, after that, he was. . .
  • David Boder: Transported?
  • Sophia Zurilis: . . . yes, transported to Moscow, as a, eh, eh, a arrested person.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes.
  • David Boder: Well?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Well, and then, eh, and then immediately it was noticeable in school. We had to adopt the communist doctrine and to [unintelligible] all of the communist, eh, views to the children. And also, we have to, which [unintelligible], we could no longer, eh, eh, teach, eh, religion and we should, we should merely, whenever possible, direct against something.
  • David Boder: Yes. Who forced you to do that?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Well, that were the instructions from the, eh, administration.
  • David Boder: Were there any Latvian communists in the. . .?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes, yes, there were Latvian communists. Latvian communists and, eh, mostly all came from Moscow, the, eh, instructions were from Moscow.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Sophia Zurilis: And all Latvian communists had to subject to that. That's how it was like. Only then, eh, after, eh, yes, we had to change the syllabus completely, there were differe . . ., different school books immediately, in school we had to show them all and, eh [unintelligible] and we had to hang up all the, the big portraits and, eh, all in red. And we were not allowed, eh, the subject Latvian, the word Latvia and our anthem, we were not allowed to sing that. And generally we were not allowed to speak of our flags, the flag was taken down and we were not allowed, eh, to talk of such things, not even in school, neither amongst the others.
  • David Boder: And then?
  • Sophia Zurilis: After that the [unintelligible] heard a lot, people were to be arrested and [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: And well, what is with you?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Well, me, me, yes, yes. Eh, well, I have to say nothing had yet happened to me personally. For me it was very calm at school and, eh, lonely, I also didn't socialize with others and I now know that at the time of the Bolsheviks we were not permitted to speak anything special, because there were spies everywhere. And if you say anything against the Bolsheviks, you are instantly arrested at the [unintelligible] and then disappear without a trace. Many of my friends had disappeared like that, uh, and, eh, eh, after, the relatives went inquiring, but received no answer. Afterwards you only learned that they were sent to Moscow and from Moscow on and on towards Siberia. Well, and, eh, you constantly lived under pressure from the outside. There was always, eh, a terrible fear. At night you heard, eh, the bell ring at the, eh, door, you got scared and thought you went to [unintelligible name of place] and get arrested. Well, my husband, he was a, eh, artist, uh, he didn't have anything to do politically, eh, with the Bolsheviks and such, so it was that nothing happened to us.
  • David Boder: Was your husband a painter?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes, artist.
  • David Boder: Yes, well?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Well, and, eh, and so June 17th then, eh, we learnt that many people got arrested, and we don't know for which reasons, that wasn't told to us, and many got arrested and deported, to Siberia. Well, and I went to, eh, the beach with the children right after the holid . . ., the holidays came, and, eh, then . . .
  • David Boder: I understand. How many children did you have?
  • Sophia Zurilis: I had three children.
  • David Boder: And, eh, where did you go with your . . .
  • Sophia Zurilis: To the beach, to my villa, I had a villa . . .
  • David Boder: Well?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Well, then, eh, then, eh, then I heard, eh, that, that soon the Germans come and the Russians are already pulling out from Riga. And on the 21st, the Germans arrived . . .
  • David Boder: Which 21st?
  • Sophia Zurilis: . . . July 21st came, eh, June 21st, excuse me, June 21st y— . . ., you hear of the Germans arriving. And on July 1st they came in along the beach and we were really glad to be freed from the Russians. Well, and, eh, for a, for some time we were very, eh, glad, but after two months we understood that the Germans want to suppress us just as the Russians did. Well and then, but in school we did not yet notice any special hint . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, again all, which . . .
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes, yes.
  • David Boder: . . . the, the wounded were let go . . .
  • Sophia Zurilis: [unintelligible] we got different books, we knew by heart what we had during the time of Ulman, but they were completely printed anew. But they were not as, as, as biased as with the communists. [Longer passage unintelligible] we realized on every turn that we were regarded by the Germans as a, a, a, eh, as second rate humans. And [some words unintelligible] were a day off, we also couldn't [unintelligible]. And then, eh, afterwards, it was written down in the testimonies that the, eh, the Latvians, that they are a, eh, people, which, eh, will not remain here in Latvia, except maybe, eh, relocated somewhere to Russia [unintelligible]. So, we did not get anything exceptional from the Germans either. But the massive [unintelligible] fear, we did not have that. Because, eh, the arrest was [unintelligible], that was not as big as that of the Bolsheviks.
  • David Boder: There were fewer . . .
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes, yes.
  • David Boder: Well, and how did the Germans behave towards the Jews?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes, well, with the Jews, that was some kind of [unintelligible]. The Jews were immediately in, eh, in, in, in, how is that called . . .?
  • David Boder: In ghettos?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes, the Jews were immediately dr . . ., eh, driven to the ghetto, and then we heard, later we heard they were led out of the ghetto,and shot. Indeed, little was written in the newspapers, it was all [unintelligible], but the Russians had promised it [rest of the sentence unintelligible]. Just like the Russians, eh, [unintelligible] shot the Latvians and others, the Germans did the . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, and what did the Germans do to the remaining Russians, who stayed there?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Well, the Russian, eh, the Russian, the communists?
  • David Boder: Yes, or did they kill the Russian soldiers?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Well. No, eh, soldiers, I don't know that. But the communists, they were arrested. Yes.
  • David Boder: Well, and what did you do, and what happened after that?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Well, and then, then the front steadily closed in and then the, the Germans told us one would have to leave the country, Riga.
  • David Boder: Who had to leave Riga?
  • Sophia Zurilis: The, the population had to leave Riga. Who doesn't want to leave Riga goes without food stamps [unintelligible] and without the [unintelligible] material and, eh, the others, eh, comes to you and you must leave.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Sophia Zurilis: And then the people were already [unintelligible] with, eh, with, eh, with [unintelligible] . . .
  • David Boder: [unintelligible]
  • Sophia Zurilis: I see. Well, me [unintelligible] I did not have to leave, I could stay. And I did not hesitate, and I did not hesitate, because the enemy, he came closer and Riga was already threatened [unintelligible] and also from, from the air, eh, the bombs came and, eh, and so we had to leave after all [some words unintelligible]. And especially for my [unintelligible] the bombs were very [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Where did you live . . .?
  • Sophia Zurilis: We lived in, eh, bunker overnight.
  • David Boder: [unintelligible]
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes. [unintelligible] at the first [unintelligible]. And well [unintelligible] there was something in the newspaper again and [unintelligible] across the, eh, the river, and it was [unintelligible] in the newspaper . . .
  • Sophia Zurilis: . . . and [unintelligible] on toward the port, and from the port straight away into the train, and in Dachau out of the train.
  • David Boder: In Dachau?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes, in Dachau.
  • David Boder: [unintelligible]. What kind of vessel was that?
  • Sophia Zurilis: That was a Danube vessel.
  • David Boder: Danube?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Danube, yes.
  • David Boder: Okay, was it a Russian vessel?
  • Sophia Zurilis: No, that was a German vessel . . .
  • Sophia Zurilis: . . . with the vessels we would all be [some words unintelligible], we would all, eh, be brought to Dachau.
  • David Boder: So, you were [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes.
  • David Boder: So, you personally might [unintelligible] . . .
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes.
  • David Boder: . . . tell me the single stages, what did you do? Did you take your husband along?
  • Sophia Zurilis: No, my husband [unintelligible] in the year 1942.
  • David Boder: He is [unintelligible] not amongst the bodies?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes, yes.
  • David Boder: Aha. And you took along the three children?
  • Sophia Zurilis: No, I'm the only one [unintelligible], got out [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: And, eh, [unintelligible] children [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Only the one. The other [unintelligible] only 1944, in the year 1944 on, eh, August 1st, yes, August 1, 1944 [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: [unintelligible]
  • Sophia Zurilis: The other is only [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Tell me now, did he [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: No, [unintelligible] absolutely the Germans [unintelligible] . . .
  • Sophia Zurilis: . . . the, the Germans together were . . ., did not have an army, but they were [unintelligible] people. So [unintelligible] the son drafted and, and, eh, all had to be recorded, so they are not [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Yes. Now tell me, so you have [unintelligible] a child. A boy or a girl?
  • Sophia Zurilis: A boy.
  • David Boder: Yes, and then?
  • Sophia Zurilis: [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes.
  • David Boder: Alone, with an infant?
  • Sophia Zurilis: [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: [unintelligible] you got picked up?
  • Sophia Zurilis: No [unintelligible / both speaking at once]. [unintelligible] all had to be evacuated, otherwise they would not [unintelligible] life.
  • David Boder: And you don't have any other things?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Well, concerning things, I only took some soap along. [unintelligible] to decide what to take along and, eh, [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: And your children [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Everything, everything remained there. I could only take the things that I have for [unintelligible]. And [unintelligible], so I forgot, I was absolutely, eh, absolutely shattered, I was [unintelligible], I did not know what to do, what shall I do, [whole sentence unintelligible], that I did.
  • David Boder: And you came to [unintelligible].
  • Sophia Zurilis: That [unintelligible] said. Oh, I see, from Riga we were, yes, then we thought like this: at first it was discussed that one should hide to [unintelligible], and then, eh, [unintelligible] a big front [unintelligible] to Finland. And we thought the train will bring us to Finland. But it goes on, it did not halt in [unintelligible], where we thought it would, but it goes on like that, and then to the port in [unintelligible], and then we saw that there we [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: So, how many did . . . how many did take the boat, how many people did . . .
  • Sophia Zurilis: Well, we were 4000 peo . . ., 4000 people. There were [unintelligible] and people, all together.
  • David Boder: Well, how big was the boat?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Oh, I don't know how big, but we were very many, 4000 people.
  • David Boder: Did you have beds to sleep in?
  • Sophia Zurilis: No, no beds, we were all in a bunch that was together. [unintelligible] we must both stay overnight with my son. [unintelligible] more than 50 people and [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: And your husband did [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Well, and then [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes, yes. And then . . .
  • David Boder: [unintelligible].
  • Sophia Zurilis: Well, I don't know, we were around twenty, forty [some words unintelligible].
  • David Boder: And?
  • Sophia Zurilis: And then . . .
  • David Boder: You came to Dachau?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes, that [unintelligible], came to Dachau.
  • David Boder: [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Well, Dachau, that was a transit camp. [unintelligible] was a transit camp, and in the transit camp we were for five weeks. The food there was not all that bad. They had a little butter and, eh, eh, [unintelligible] and paste and, yes, paste, and, eh, eh, bread. [unintelligible] for dinner and for breakfast.
  • David Boder: And how did you [unintelligible] with water?
  • Sophia Zurilis: [unintelligible] at first in Dachau [some sentences unintelligible] . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Sophia Zurilis: . . . [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Sophia Zurilis: [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: [unintelligible].
  • Sophia Zurilis: And then [unintelligible] by [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Only until [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes, from . . .
  • David Boder: [unintelligible].
  • Sophia Zurilis: [unintelligible]. Well, then we had the, the terraces there, and in between a terrace [unintelligible], and there was also [unintelligible], and all was [unintelligible], and there we had to sleep on a cot, on, eh, two places three people had to sleep.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Sophia Zurilis: And [unintelligible]. well . . .
  • David Boder: [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Eh, not yet, not yet. But they betr . . ., eh, betrayed us.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Sophia Zurilis: [unintelligible] a very big, eh, time they saw us [unintelligible]. [unintelligible] and then we were sent to Rosenheim with the [unintelligible] and some other fellows to the, eh, to the job center.
  • David Boder: [unintelligible] beaten?
  • Sophia Zurilis: No, not beaten. Not beaten, but very cold.
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes. And from Dachau to Rosenheim?
  • Sophia Zurilis: To Rosenheim, and from Rosenheim we were assigned to work in the job center. And sent [unintelligible], and then to the [unintelligible] working in the clog factory there for, eh, five hours.
  • David Boder: Yes. Were you paid?
  • Sophia Zurilis: We got 68, eh, "pfennig" an hour.Pfennig used to be the smallest unit of German currency.5
  • David Boder: And how long . . .?
  • Sophia Zurilis: And then I also worked in a, eh, clothing store, in a, in a [unintelligible], and there I also got 68 pfennig an hour. And then [unintelligible], then I was told that it's too much, I can not work that much when [unintelligible]. [Phrase unintelligible], and, eh, there I had to work for five hours.
  • David Boder: [unintelligible].
  • Sophia Zurilis: Five hours. Five hours. [several sentences unintelligible].
  • David Boder: [unintelligible].
  • Sophia Zurilis: But, eh, eh, but [unintelligible], when we wouldn't work we wouldn't receive food stamps. And then we would have to [unintelligible] report our job center, but [unintelligible]. [Full sentence unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Aha. And, eh, you were in the [unintelligible], right?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes, [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: And how are you living in this camp?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Living very well here in Camp Lohengrin.
  • David Boder: Eh, how is it constructed, how, eh, how many people are living here [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: We are four persons in a room. Me and my son, then another [unintelligible] and one of my former pupils. We are four people.
  • David Boder: Yes, so you were [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: [unintelligible]
  • David Boder: Yes. And [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: [unintelligible] a bit, yes.
  • David Boder: [unintelligible].
  • Sophia Zurilis: [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: [unintelligible].
  • Sophia Zurilis: Yes.
  • David Boder: Well, and, eh, what did you have, where did you have [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: I don't know. [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: I don't know what [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Eh, tell me, can you [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: The winter, the winter, no, the winter will [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Latvian Gymnasium?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Latvian Gymnasium, yes.
  • David Boder: And, eh, did it have [unintelligible]?
  • Sophia Zurilis: Well, [some sentences unintelligible].
  • David Boder: [unintelligible].
  • Sophia Zurilis: [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: [unintelligible].
  • Sophia Zurilis: Eh, whose [unintelligible], but not with the school.
  • David Boder: And then, what happened, eh, then, what [unintelligible].
  • Sophia Zurilis: [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: [unintelligible].
  • Sophia Zurilis: [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: [unintelligible] . . .
  • David Boder: . . . [some sentences unintelligible] . . .
  • Sophia Zurilis: [unintelligible]. We then tried to [unintelligible], but the neighbor, an Eastern [unintelligible], our neighbor, [unintelligible], they want to oppress us, and have always oppressed us, eh, for hundreds of years, eh, in the cell, they oppressed us [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: [some sentences unintelligible]. [spool stops]
  1. Zurilis probably means "deported" here.
  2. The word she uses sounds like the German "Eiszwerg," meaning "ice dwarf," the meaning of which is unclear. Possibly, the name of this organization is a similar sounding Latvian name.
  3. A "Landwehr" roughly equals a militia.
  4. Karlis Ulmanis is referenced here.
  5. Pfennig used to be the smallest unit of German currency.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Johannes Barthel
  • English Translation : Johannes Barthel
  • Footnotes : Johannes Barthel