The details of my (and my brother’s) birth are unknown. My memories begin in Latvia. DNA tests strongly indicate that we are of Belarusian-Jewish origin, meaning that we might have been born in southeastern Latvia or in Belarus bordering on southern Latvia. Our mother is listed as “Miss Sinegins” in our personal records. Russian authorities stated our years of birth, mine 1937, my brother’s 1939. We plucked the specific dates out a bowl.
In 1943, I was about 6, my brother about 4 or 5, when our assumed mother felt it necessary to turn us over to the Baldone Children’s Home in Latvia due to ill health and extreme poverty. About a year later, the orphans and caretakers at that home trekked to Riga, Latvia’s capital city, to be transported to the Majori Children’s Home. We were there but a few months when we all were transported by ship, under German oversight, to Germany in October, 1944. We along with many other orphans resided at several homes and residences. Approximately half of our group of 130 orphans was transported to America after the war. Some died. Many were transported to other countries, and some remained in Germany due to ill health or other factors. My brother and I resided in foster homes and at a children’s home in St, Paul, Minnesota, until 1950, when we were adopted by the Rev. Victor Boe, former Dean of Men at Concordia College, and Hilda Boe, former librarian at the college.
I became a Lutheran pastor like my adoptive father. Following ordination, I served as a missionary in Nigeria. I have served at many parishes, and continue to minister at a small congregation in Iowa at age 80.
My prayer is that this book will fulfill the will and mission of God in Jesus Christ. The most effective means of achieving this is through direct person-to-person communication, by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. In the absence of the Spirit, this and all other publications have no meaning or purpose. Words and inert objects alone cannot transmit God’s power, and we cannot convert anyone to the way of Christ. He does this through us, at his own timing and initiative. His light always conquers all forces of darkness. When we try to pressure anyone toward change, freedom of choice may manifest in resistance and rebellion.
Through the Spirit, my hope is that every reader of this book will obtain inner strength for daily living, through the most difficult times in life’s journey. Go and seek out a genuine, live Christian. Open your inner eyes, unblocked by prejudice and self-worship, and see the stars and saints of light all around you! There are multitudes! Life in Christ is a day-by-day miracle, totally impossible by any human strength or ambition. If Christ and his empowerment are not present at our very weakest point, he is not our savior at all. When we become fully rooted in Christ, we become a new creation, beautiful and wonderful! Jesus is ever at your door, knocking to walk into your life. Let him in, now, during this life! Without him, all the highest glories of this life evaporate, guaranteed. Choose life over death, joy over sorrow, harmony over conflict and war!
Jesus says we cannot be held accountable for what we do not know. May this and similar testimonies tear away your inner blinds, forever, for your sake and eternal destiny! Hope, light, and joy lie before us all!
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About the Author
My brother and I were orphans during WWII in Latvia and Germany. DNA tests indicate Belarusian-Jewish origin. We are listed in the survivor’s list at the National Holocaust Museum. I became a Lutheran pastor like my adoptive father, and served as a missionary in Nigeria. My wife and I have been blessed with 4 children and 12 grandchildren. I have served numerous parishes in the Midwest, and continue to joyfully minister at age 80.
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Dark Days of Insecurity and Fear
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abrahams seed, and heirs according to the promise.
(Galatians 3:28-29, NKJV)
The profound truths that we are all one in Christ Jesus and that we are Abraham's seed became very real to me as I got older. The promise that Paul was referring to here is this: If we belong to Christ Jesus (are in Him who is Abraham's seed), then we are Abraham's offspring and his spiritual heirs. This is what permits us to be members of God's family, His adopted children.
The Nazi Occupation of Latvia
Nazi Germany completed its occupation of Latvia on July 10, 1941. Latvia became a part of Germany's Reichskommissariat Ostland — the Province General of Latvia. Those who were not racially acceptable to the Nazis or those who opposed the German occupation, along with those who had cooperated with the Soviet Union, were killed or were sent to concentration camps.
The Germans of this time were particularly focused on eliminating Jews and Gypsies. Thirty thousand Latvian Jews were shot in the autumn of 1941. The remaining population of Jews were rounded up and put into ghettos. In November and December 1941, the Riga Ghetto became very crowded and to make room for the imminent arrival of German Jews, 30,000 Jews in Riga were taken from the ghetto to the nearby Rumbula Forest where they were shot to death.
During the years of Nazi occupation, 90,000 people in Latvia were killed. Approximately 70,000 of these were Jews and 2,000 were Gypsies. The remainder consisted of people from various backgrounds. Resistance in Latvia was very confusing during this time, because it included people who were resisting Soviets on the one hand and Germans on the other. In addition, Soviet supporters were resisting the German occupation. The nationalists resisted everyone who tried to occupy Latvia.
Many people within the resistance movements ended up joining the German or Russian armies. Very few were able to live as independent bands in the forests. Some Latvians resisted the German occupation with great bravery. One of these was Zanis Lipke, who risked his life to save more than fifty Jews.
During World War II more than 200,000 Latvians ended up in the rank and file of both occupation forces (German and Russian), and approximately half of them were killed on the battlefield. This was what life was like in my homeland of Latvia during the Holocaust.
So, as you can see, Eastern Europe and Germany were enshrouded by dark clouds of fear and uncertainty when Tolja and I were very little boys. One night, for example, we heard that many people, mostly Jews, were being rounded up and massacred by the soldiers we could see walking in the distance between wooded areas. (During this time Russians were deporting various leaders and others to Siberia, as well.) My mother took us to a barn, which became our hiding place that night, and several other people were there with us.
One day, not long afterward, my brother and I saw a procession of people following a horse-pulled hearse. Most of the people were wearing black as they marched toward a cemetery. We wondered what was happening, because we did not understand anything about death or dying. Not long thereafter, however, our mother took us to the funeral of a young girl.
We watched with rapt attention as the casket was lowered into a freshly dug grave by four men holding two long straps. After the casket was lowered, dirt was shoveled on top of it. The girl's mother wailed and cried very loudly, and everyone, including us, was gripped by sadness and even some fear. At one point it seemed as if the girl's mother would fall into the grave on top of the casket because she was leaning precariously over the open grave. I wondered if she wanted to join her daughter in the burial.
During the springtime, the cemetery became a place where my brother and I would run and play while our mother would sit on a bench in the sunshine and listen to the birds singing. It was a very serene and idyllic setting. There was something very special about the peace I experienced in that natural setting.
We did not worship in any particular church or synagogue, though Tolja said that he had faint recollections of us going to a church when we were quite small. Whatever the case, I developed a God-consciousness that grew out of my deep respect for the word Dievs, which means God in Latvian.
Major events were soon to transpire at our home and the sense of peace we had experienced began to dissolve. Our mother became sick and called for a doctor. I remember that he used a two-piece, wooden stethoscope to listen for her heartbeat. Not long afterward our mother told us, "I am dying." We had absolutely no idea of how to respond to this dreadful announcement that she had shared very matter-of-factly with us.
Our mother struggled to provide for the family. There was hardly any food in our home, except for soup bones and broth along with some bread. We would chew the beef off the bones for several days until the bones were completely white. We were literally starving and had no idea what might happen next. Lack of proper sanitation and access to nutritious and adequate food in the war environment contributed to our destitute situation.
Our mother told us that we would be going "someplace" before long. In one way this was exciting news to us, but we did not really know what she had in mind. We began to wonder where we would be going and how we would get there.
Before long our mother took us to a local tailor to have us measured for clothing. A few days later we were neatly dressed in brand-new jackets and pants, which were most likely made from army blankets. We were given new mittens, and our mother put some paper money into our coat pockets. She then took us outside to wait, but we did not know what we were waiting for.
After a while, a greenish-gray bus that had bullet holes in its side appeared. Our mother took us to the bus, hugged us tightly, and helped us to get in. We thought we would all be going on a long journey together. It was only then that we realized she would not be accompanying us. Both Tolja and I began to scream and cry as the doors of the bus closed. It was a terribly frightening time. As the bus pulled off, we lost sight of our mother. It was the last time we ever saw her! Other passengers tried to comfort us. They gave us candy and eventually we fell asleep.
When we awoke, we found ourselves wrapped in blankets and riding in a horse-drawn carriage. Some adults were with us. The carriage took us to the state-run Baldone Children's Home in Latvia. It became our new home, at least for a while. Tolja and I grew very close to each other during this time, inasmuch as we were all the family we both now had. Adapting to a new home environment was not easy. We cried our hearts out, yes, but after we lived through the initial shock and arrived at the Baldone Home, we began to adapt quickly to the new environment. We came to regard the other children as part of an extended family, along with numerous, caregiving parental figures and aides.
Parting with us was no doubt a hurtful experience for our mother. We did not comprehend her grief. We were more concerned about our own destiny. The sense of closeness I lost with my parents, I eventually regained through adoption and marriage.
Both my brother and I had become totally dependent on our parents for all our basic survival needs, much like infants still in the womb, and we were frightened by being suddenly severed from this line of support. We, like most infants and children, had an attitude of entitlement. Within the resultant crying and screaming is an element of anger, resentment, fright, and panic.
Without tender, loving care infants can wilt away and even die. But our experience showed us that such care can be provided by nonbiological caregivers. When children are torn away from natural ties, other adults can enter the picture as surrogates. As it turned out, we were much better provided for throughout our journey than are many babies and children in abusive households. Some are abandoned, aborted, or left to die.
For those who took care of us, we are most grateful and for all the human "angels" who materialized along the way. We learned early on the difference between nuclear and extended family bonding. The latter is much more common in parts of the world where the population is ravaged and decimated by disease, warfare, and tragedy. The nuclear family, as we know it, is foreign concept for many around the globe! We adapted, and we survived!
A New Home
I was glad that Tolja and I were at the new location together. He was at least one familiar face among so many totally strange, unfamiliar faces. I did not bond closely and intimately with the other children, but such close bonding is frequently not present even in nuclear families.
At times we felt insecure and intimidated by the new people, new surroundings, and our new home. We moved into a large two-story brick building (the Baldone Children's Home) where a very kind, middle-aged lady greeted me and led me to a wooden bench. As I sat there, I noticed a little girl who had pus-filled sores all over her body. She seemed very depressed and alone. It seemed as if no one wanted to get near her. Even so, she never complained, but I noticed her weeping from time to time.
The lady who greeted me had a son who was only a few years older than me. He was a very friendly boy who had a knack for telling fantastic stories, most of which I believed with some reservations. I noticed that he had a rubber tube that was attached to his body. He kept it curled under his shirt. I assumed that this was to help him with his digestive system in some way or another.
Anytime any of us developed an infection, even a slight one, the nurse would take us to a small, medicine-filled room. We would have to take off all our clothes so she could examine us and smear salve on the infected places on our skin.
Sometimes we were able to play freely with one another, but I usually kept to myself. Once, when the subject of God came up, some of the boys engaged in mockery. It was very disrespectful. They would lower their trousers and put their buttocks near the window and say, "See! That's what we think of God!" And then they would laugh. I found this to be very disturbing even though my knowledge of God was extremely limited at the time.
Nonetheless, my God-consciousness began to develop at this early stage, and I detested it greatly when anyone would mock Him. I began to wonder how I could learn more about Him.
Much of our time was spent outdoors, mostly in the nearby playground. We would play in the sand pit, and many of the children believed that if we pounded sticks into the sand it would rain. I thought this was an interesting theory, so I decided to try it out on a sunny but partly cloudy day. Guess what? It rained! However, I did not like rainy weather very much at all, so I decided I wouldn't try that again!
The caretaker (handyman) was always very nice to us. He took care of the horses and chickens, and would sometimes let the older boys take the horses and their wagons into town. I noticed that he had lost some of his fingers. I asked him how this happened and he explained that he lost his fingers due to an accident with a saw.
He showed us how to comb and part our hair. He said that parting our hair on the left side was the correct way, and that's the way I've parted my hair ever since.
A funeral procession caught my attention one afternoon. A long line of somber persons walked before and after the casket, which was covered with a wreath and beautiful flowers. They were singing a dirge in slow rhythm as they approached the Baldone Children's Home in which the funeral was held. One man played a violin. It became my impression that this funeral was for the little girl with open sores that I had observed soon after I arrived in my new home.
They served split-pea soup to all of us who attended the funeral. I remember that most of the food that was served in the home was excellent. It was certainly far better than anything I'd eaten before.
Signs of War
In the early spring of 1944, the signs of war appeared dramatically in our area. Several tanks could be seen among the trees to the west of our building, and lines of soldiers in military vehicles with guns attached to them were moving along the road to the east of our building. Even while we were picking blueberries nearby we would encounter groups of soldiers who were resting on the ground.
It was explained to me that these soldiers were Germans — our "friends" who would liberate us from Russian captivity. It was all very scary, as these soldiers began to occupy our home. They set up their rifles on tripods on the yard in front of the building and pointed them at moving targets, usually model airplanes that were pulled along on horizontal wires. Thank God those rifles were never live-fired or pointed at us. Just hearing the gunfire was scary enough, though. Sometimes the soldiers would eat honey from buckets and when they were finished, they would throw the buckets in our direction. I can still remember the delicious taste of that honey, which we lapped up as a delicious treat.
However, we were soon forced out of our rooms on the upper floors, and we were compelled to sleep in the tunnel that we approached through the kitchen. Soon thereafter we were on the move, inasmuch as the situation in the home had become very critical for the children, and our helpers and our counselors knew we could no longer stay there. We had stayed at the Baldone home for about a year.
Then we began to walk to Riga. Most of us walked the entire way, approximately twenty miles, but some rode atop the horse-drawn or oxen-pulled, fully loaded wagons. As we headed out on a gravel road, we all paused at a small shed by the road where we watched the ladies make strawberry jam sandwiches. On top of our empty stomachs, they were delicious!
We heard what seemed to be a distinct humming sound when we put our ears next to some utility poles. These sounds likely came from the transformers. Closer to Riga we saw dead horses and cattle along the roadway. It was a scary sight for us to behold, partly because we were uncertain as to whether or not the animals were actually dead. We wondered if they might still be alive and would be capable of jumping up and lunging at us. We saw one farmer frantically attempting to round up his cows, which had been scattered by strafing and bombing planes. Unfortunately, most of his herd had apparently been killed!
Whenever we would hear the approaching sound of warplanes, we would jump into the woods, but much of our journey was relatively quiet. While walking through the wooded area, I found a small, thin, black plastic canister with a creamy white substance within it. I licked it, not realizing it may have been highly toxic or even lethal. Fortunately, we did not set off unexploded hidden bombs that were often found on active battlefields. We stopped for rest, snacks, water, and body relief all along the way. Eventually we reached the city of Riga, Latvia.
Many of the buildings there had been bombed out and were reduced to piles of rubble. We sometimes entered these partially standing buildings. We attempted to board a streetcar, and we pulled on an inner ceiling cable to make it go, but no luck. The electric power cables had been blown apart. Some German officers were directing traffic by using metal-handled discs, but the traffic seemed hopelessly bottled up!
In one of the partially damaged buildings we were served freshly cooked carrots in bowls, but a bomb exploded close to us and shattered glass got into our food, rendering it inedible. In the same building or in one very much like it, we spent the night sleeping in the basement on a layer of straw that was atop a dirt floor. Mice scurried all around us! Most of the buildings were badly damaged already. We did not notice much additional bombing and strafing in that particular location.
We were placed on a long, flat-bed trailer and taken to the Majori Children's Home in the Jürmala suburb of Riga. It was about fifteen miles away, near the Baltic Sea. We were positioned as our names were called off. One teenaged girl wanted desperately to go with us, but when she was not accepted, she cried out in utter frustration and threw down a packet of photos and possibly even her ID documents. No doubt there were quite a few children and teens who had been orphaned by the war and were begging for survival provisions, protection, and caring homes. (When we visited Riga many years later, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, we observed many beggars on the streets, and some were very young. This reminded me of the children begging many years ago.)(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Out of the Holocaust"
Copyright © 2018 Peter Volodja Boe.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Dark Days of Insecurity and Fear 1
2 Stormy Clouds of War 13
3 A Whole New Beginning 33
4 Malente 51
5 Müssen and Rohlsdorf 69
6 Special Outings and Events 95
7 Klingenberg 113
8 A New World across the Atlantic 127
9 Adopted! 147
10 Christ Is at My Helm 171
11 Walking through Open Doors 177
Insights and Scriptures 183
Publications by and about Peter Boe 189
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