04 February, 2001
Author: George Irbe
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A pretty good and rather interesting life
I was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1935. My mother divorced father in 1939 and re-married. I have a half-sister who was born in 1940. Latvia was invaded by Soviet Russia in 1940, as per the Molotow-Ribbentrop Pact, and ceased to be an independent republic. It was the onset of the Red Terror. My mother ran a small women's dressmaking shop with a couple of employees. Therefore she belonged to the capitalist exploiters class and had to be eliminated. We were slated for deportation to almost certain death by starvation and unbearably brutal slave labor in the concentration camps of the Soviet Gulag. In June, 1941, mother was warned by an acquaintance (turned communist, but apparently with some human decency left in him) not to be home on a certain night. She understood the cryptic message and escaped with me and my little half-sister on a crowded train crammed full with Red troops. That was a stroke of luck; the Cheka had no way to check the papers of people on that train. We escaped to a very remote corner of the country. I still have memories of the crowded railway car, and the relief of the grownups some weeks later when a German motorcycle recon squad pulled into the farmyard one misty summer morning. Now at least we could stop living in constant fear.
The Latvians had been the serfs and servants of German lords since about 1200, when the Teutonic order persuaded the Latvian tribes by generous use of sword and chains to become good Christians. Therefore, even according to Rosenberg's (Hitler's expert on race) classification, Latvians were #2; that meant: behave and follow orders and you have a chance to live.
We had another narrow escape in 1944, this time by ship, from the port of Liepaja to Danzig. The Kurland peninsula had been cut off by the Soviet armies, so there was no longer an escape route to the west by land. Liepaja was being bombed when we got on what turned out to be the last large evacuation vessel to leave Latvia. It was crammed full with refugees. I have the memory of looking down from the deck of the ship on the docks where my most beloved gentle horse stood abandoned, still harnessed to the wagon which I had driven for weeks, but which in reality he had navigated using his own great wisdom. I cried, not because of the frightful circumstances we were in, but because we were abandoning my loyal friend to a cruel end.
In transit we had to change trains in Berlin, where we were given a taste of allied bombing at night. Eventually we were settled in an "eastern workers" camp, in what was then Sudetenland, now the Czech republic. The camp was actually an auditorium with bunk beds taking up most of the floor space. Able-bodied men who had not been called to military service had to work. As for food, we got the same rations as the locals.
We were not so lucky in escaping danger the third time. We did not manage to flee to the west before the arrival of Soviet troops. I recall us sheltering under a large oak tree during a fire-fight between the Russians and the retreating Germans. A mortar round exploded high up in the branches of the oak tree; it was as if the tree was there to save us from harm.
The first couple of nights after the Soviets arrival were wild ones. My sister's father was with us, as well as the man who would eventually become my mother's third (and last!) husband here in Canada. My sister's father spoke perfect Russian. We looked for safety in a brand new POW camp which was only half-full. Other civilians had also found this island of temporary safety. The Germans had fled, the Russian POWs stayed put because there were still sporadic exchanges of fire all over the area. The POW camp was the safest place to be at the moment. At night Soviet officers came into the barracks, pistol in one hand, flashlight in the other. They were looking for young women to rape. Pretty ones were led away to serve the officers of the glorious army of the socialist motherland! My mother escaped being taken because she was clutching my little sister to her chest. My sister's father lost his boots, which he had foolishly removed before lying down for the night!
Soon we started walking west, trying to avoid major highways on which there were control points. The days were sunny and hot (this was in May). My sister rode in a small wagon pulled by the men. I had to walk. Food was scarce and hard to get. There was pandemonium: looting and sporadic killing all over the place amidst a veritable Babel of people from all corners of Europe. We walked for about a week and covered some 300 km. Finally, one foggy morning, we were trudging along a trail in the forest. This route was chosen by design; we had a good map of the region, and by asking the locals, found out where the demarcation line was. There were control points on all roads. The only chance to sneak across into the American zone was through the forest.
I still remember in my mind's eye crossing a small creek, scrambling up the steep sandy bank on the other side and encountering the huge dark-green shape of a Sherman tank. Sitting in the turret was a round-faced young man with the friendliest grin on his face; he was chewing gum. Nobody had to explain to us that we were now safe! Safety seemed to radiate from that man. From that day I have had nothing but the highest regard for Americans.
Life in the Displaced Persons camps was an adventure for young boys. In fact I deem myself privileged to have had an interesting childhood, the kind that only war can bring, providing one is not injured and does not lose ones parents. John, who was to become my second step-father, came to Canada in 1948. Canada only took single and healthy men at the time. He worked for two years on the rails in B.C., then came east to Toronto. Mother with the two of us got sponsored by a church in Midland, Mich. We were there about a year, then came to Canada and mother married John.
I assimilated quickly, developing the thought processes and attitudes in the Anglo-American tradition. I got a degree in Eng. Geol., U of T, 5T9. Starting already in the summer of 1956, I worked in the north country for Ontario Hydro and for mining exploration companies. My most memorable summer was working in the mountains of the Yukon. I have done the typical geologist's exploration work in New Brunswick, much of northern Quebec and all of northern Ontario. If any young man wants to develop a real appreciation for this pricelessly beautiful land, have him work, winter and summer, in its wild parts. That is what made me into a Canadian.
But my career was not to be in geology. The rugged gypsy life of an exploration geologist has its drawbacks. I had no place I could call home and no social life to speak of. Fortunately, thanks to the versatility of an engineering education, I eventually managed to switch career tracks to a different field which also happens to be in one of the earth sciences. I ended up working as a physical scientist/climatologist for the Hydrometeorological Division, Atmospheric Environment Service, Department of Environment of Canada. I spent 26 very interesting years doing work I fell in love with, even though it was financially not as rewarding as what one could earn in the mining industry. The work revolved around the Great Lakes. We were responsible for keeping tabs on the quantity of water entering the lakes basin, and evaporative losses from the lakes. Indirectly, we were also supporting research in water quality. My one distinctive accomplishment is the creation of the Great Lakes water temperature climatology, a copy of which can be found also in the US Library of Congress, and of which I am understandably proud. I was in charge of gathering the temperature data by infrared remote sensing, first from aircraft, later from NOAA environmental satellites. It takes years of sustained effort to come up with a climatology. This one ran for some 20 years.
In the course of the job, I had to spend hundreds of hours in low-level survey flights over the Great Lakes, and smaller lakes all the way up to James Bay. Here also, I was in touch with so much of the natural grandeur of our beautiful province of Ontario.
I married late, in 1972. We decided not to have children. I particularly doubted my abilities to be a good father. My sister, who has now retired after a lifetime as a primary school teacher, has a son who now has two sons. My wife's sister has two sons. One of them already has three sons. We don't regret our decision, seeing how much effort it takes to make a child "fly straight" nowadays.
From my youth I had been an avid student of the history of WWII. I wanted to understand why people reveled in such great evil, why so much blood was shed, and why so many of the survivors of the blood-bath were forced into exile. I was also interested in politics, political philosophy, and ideology, since ideology and politics had played such a major role in determining my fate. I have read every famous general's memoirs and most other histories of that conflict. Throughout my life, which includes the "Cold War" era, I have paid close attention to international events and conflicts. After I was retired (one of those early retirement incentives, in order to cut the numbers of federal employees) I could pursue my pet subjects in earnest. I finally had the time to read some of the works by the great thinkers of our species, ancient and modern. I have also became quite well informed on what was really going on in Palestine 2000 years ago.
As a result of my studies so far, I have developed a clearer understanding of the historical and psychological roots of the evil that reigned over much of mankind in the 20th century. Three of my major essays deal with this topic: "The Roots of Evil," "Leftists," and "The New Jewish Question." I have also succeeded in clarifying my understanding of the eternal and transcendental matters that are variously known as faith, belief, or religion. I now have substantiated my understanding of, and faith in, God. Despite the quite natural fear of physical death common to all sentient beings, I can anticipate with great expectation the journey of my soul to dimensions which are unimaginable to us while in this life. Three of my essays, (1)"God, His Laws, and Mankind", (2) "How It All Comes Together: God, Life, Soul", and (3) "Finding God in Three Stages" try to explain my beliefs.
I was truly fortunate that while working as a geologist in northern Ontario I had a chance to buy a small cottage on a spring-fed lake which is situated on the watershed divide between Lake Superior and James Bay. Until the mid-1990s, this lake was accessible only by rail or by float-plane. Without exaggeration, it then was (now man has ruined it in the name of jobs and progress) the best brook trout lake in all of Canada. I had 30 years to enjoy this paradise in the heart of the north; just about every animal and bird species of the north was there to observe up close, to admire, and to thank God for creating it all. There I enjoyed lots of the Aristotelian kind of leisure.
I want to conclude by stating that I feel that I have had a very interesting life, filled with many of the goods that go toward a happy life. I have had my share of luck and good fortune. I have also had my share of misfortune and emotional hurts but they, too, are part of the complete life. The hurts leave scars, but they also teach one about fortitude and resolve.
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