I want to tell you more about Arvīds Pūrs, about whom I have already written here and here. He was conscripted in the German Army in 1944 and served in the Latvian Legion. He met the end of the war in Lunden, Germany, but at the end of the summer, he was transferred to the Zedelgem camp in Belgium.
Between February and 27 October 1945, he kept a diary.
Speech by Churchill and the King of England. What is new for the world? For the English, this day is Sunday. Today is said to be the day of the final capitulation of the German troops. (...)
In the evening, while standing guard, I heard the radio through the open window. Jazz music was playing - dancing, applause, and shouts at the end of the dance. The English and the Americans celebrated Victory Day.
And I, a soldier who had been at the front for 10 days, who had not fired a single cartridge or any other weapon against the enemy in those 10 days, was interned by the victors. (...)
At dawn on 25 July 1944, we were suddenly awakened by Russian tank fire. During the night, unnoticed, they had approached Jelgava. That day marked the beginning of my refugee journey. Currently, the war is over, and I am an English prisoner of war in Germany. (...)
We crossed the Rhine at Duisburg. Its bridges had been blown up, and sections were lying in the river. Traffic crossed two temporary bridges. The fighting around Duisburg had been heavy, and the city had been reduced to a heap of rubble.
The ruined factories, some of which were still in operation, emerged from the devastation. All the towns we passed through had suffered greatly in the war. Individual farms had also suffered. Without exception, the stations had collapsed, with burnt-out trainsets and blown-up locomotives standing on their tracks. (...)
As we pass through Belgium, we are accompanied by the open hostility of the population. A torrent of swear words from men, women and children is hurled at us. They are all swearing and waving their fists. The boys throw stones at the train.
A woman sees the train, stops picking potatoes, starts swearing and waving her fists. Finally she lifts her skirt and shows us her bare bottom.
At a station where we are staying for a long time, English soldiers are called to guard us. The inhabitants, having got the news from the railwaymen that we are not Germans, hand us cigarettes through the fence. (...)
I have already been in the war for a year. During this time I can count the times when I have been fed. Until I was conscripted into the army, I did not know what hunger was. Daddy's farm and Mommy's tireless hands took care of me. (...)
The peasants [in Belgium] are rather badly dressed, one could almost say worse than our country folk. The peculiarity is that in the farmhouses you do not see the dogs, which are an inseparable part of the farmhouse in our homeland. And it's not because we are afraid of thieves. (...)
Everywhere, as in Germany, housing and outbuildings are under one roof. You don't see piles of manure on the other side of the house here as in Germany. The kitchens are in a separate annex to the houses. As far as I could see through the door, kitchens are very clean.
Potatoes are quite common, and at the moment, when we pass, all the fields are being dug. I saw only a few working with machines. Mainly by hand, with a hooked 4-fork to pull them out, then pick them. (...)
You see a lot of meadows, which are fenced with wire as in Germany. There are also many electric paddocks, but there are relatively few cattle to be seen, as in Holstein. You also see very few horses. Would there be fewer cattle here, but one would not think of the vastness of the pastures?
The other possibility remains that our German friend has freed the peasants here from horses and cows, which is probably why the peasant's fist was raised against us so many times when we came here.
I have never seen a shepherd sitting at a cattle ring as in my native land. Whether it was Germany or Belgium, the cattle were penned or tethered. (...)
I sold my last flint for cigarettes. This trading started with the Belgian guards exchanging tobacco for our things. Tobacco was further exchanged for nutrition. (...)
On another occasion, one of our group had arranged with a German soldier working in a warehouse to exchange a gold ring for ten loafs of white bread and five tins. This was done in the dark of the evening, and the German was "sold" a brass ring made in the camp. Our Lithuanian brothers in the third compartment "exchanged" cans filled with mud against our tobacco. (...)
Today a Soviet officer visited the first compartment of the camp. As he walked around the barracks, he asked if anyone wanted to return to their homeland. No one, including the deputy officer, Cēsnieks, came forward. (...)
I have been to the warehouse several times for boots, but they are always one size too small. Once they were number forty-seven, but in a sad state, and I did not take them. Instead of boots, I use wooden boards cut to the size of the foot, with strips of canvas tied across them. (...)
In the questionnaire on leave, I applied to the group who had no family in Germany and would not be able to find work after leave. The vast majority of us applied for this group. In connection with this survey, there were rumors that the order had come to leave us. The papers for leave were said to have been drawn up for those under eighteen, those over fifty; those who had relatives in Germany and the disabled.
You can read more about the Zedelgem camp in the virtual exhibition created by the Latvian National archives. Unfortunately, the site is in Latvian only.
You can read more about Latvian Legion in English here.
Passports of Legionnaires who ended up in the West can be found in the Latvian State Archives. They can only be viewed on site at the archive, but you can check whether a person's passport is held by the archive in the online database.
P.S. The original diaries of Arvīds Pūrs have been handed over to the Latvian War Museum.