Alfred Valdmanis and the Politics of Survival

Alfred Valdmanis and the Politics of Survival

GERHARD P. BASSLER
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 456
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442670747
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  • Book Info
    Alfred Valdmanis and the Politics of Survival
    Book Description:

    Valdmanis's wily political manoeuvring in Latvia, Germany, and Canada from 1938 to 1954 is more the stuff of fiction than history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7074-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
    Gerhard P. Bassler
  4. Note on Spelling and Translations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations and Glossary
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-9)

    To the student of mid-twentieth century Latvian and Canadian history, the name of Alfred Valdmanis evokes contradictory and ambiguous associations. Born in 1908 near Liepāja (Libau), Latvia, and killed in 1970 in a highway accident in Alberta, Canada, he lived sequentially in three countries under at least ten different political regimes, including Tsarist, Imperial German, liberal democratic, Latvian authoritarian, Soviet communist, and German National Socialist. Between 1938 and 1954 he played key roles in six of these regimes, and his name is connected with some of the period’s most controversial issues. In 1954 his promising career abruptly ended with his...

  7. chapter one Wunderkind in Reborn Latvia: Background, Education, and Civil Service Career, 1908–1938
    (pp. 10-38)

    Alfred Valdmanis struck Newfoundland Premier J.R. Smallwood ‘as a Latvian, of medium height and build, with the lithe body of an athlete, a handsome and very intelligent face, and a clarity of expression in English that impressed everyone who met him.’ Newfoundland broadcaster and politician Don Jamieson found ‘nothing particularly striking about the man except for an almost manic intensity in the deep-set eyes of his slightly Slavic, rather handsome face.’ ‘The little man with the square forehead and brushed-back hair that used to be characterized as Prussian’ impressed senior Newfoundland public affairs commentator Albert Perlin, however, as ‘an odd...

  8. chapter two ‘The Most Active and Influential Member of the Cabinet’: Minister of Finance, 1938–1939
    (pp. 39-72)

    Shortly before he resigned as minister of finance, Ludvigs Eķis made some revealing comments about his successor’s agenda that may serve to put Zemgals’s fulsome praises into perspective. In a confidential conversation with the German envoy Eckhard von Schack, Eķis disclosed that constant disagreements with Andrejs Bērziņš over economic policy had triggered his own resignation from the cabinet and subsequent acceptance of the post of Latvian envoy to Warsaw. The law of 17 January 1938 (which allowed the Credit Bank of Latvia to liquidate any business at its discretion). Eķis complained, had been passed over his objections and during his...

  9. chapter three ‘Better to Die Standing Up Than to Keep on Living on Your Knees’: War, Resignation, and Soviet Occupation, 1939–1941
    (pp. 73-103)

    The outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 hurled Latvia and its Baltic neighbours from the backwaters of international politics into its maelstrom. Virtually overnight, the Ulmanis regime had to accommodate entirely unanticipated constraints on its policies. Almost immediately, Latvia was hit with disruptions of trade and acute shortages of raw materials. Then followed the imposition of Soviet bases and the exodus of Latvia’s ethnic German population. The sudden realization in October 1939 that the Hitler–Stalin Pact of 23 August 1939 had doomed Latvia’s freedom of movement, if not its national sovereignty, generated divisions in the cabinet...

  10. chapter four ‘Elected to Lead and Manage Latvian National Affairs’: The Janus Face of Collaboration, July 1941 to November 1942
    (pp. 104-138)

    By the time Alfred Valdmanis left his hiding place in the woods and reappeared in Riga on 4 July 1941, three days after the arrival of German troops, the atmosphere had changed radically. Stalin’s devious and brutal regime had smothered any potential resistance against the German invaders and had reversed long-standing attitudes. The general mood had suddenly turned pro-German and anti-Jewish, although prior to 1940 Latvians had harboured neither feelings of friendship for Germans nor active anti-Semitic sentiments. Indeed, the new occupiers were being welcomed as liberators and expected to facilitate the restoration of national independence. Meanwhile Jews were being...

  11. chapter five ‘Make No Bones about His Antipathy to the German Regime’: The Janus Face of Resistance, November 1942 to May 1945
    (pp. 139-174)

    The resistance record of Alfred Valdmanis after January 1943 defies belief. However, his experience was not as unique as it appears at first glance. Collaboration and resistance, far from representing fixed positions, frequently marked opposite poles of a continuum of changing wartime attitudes everywhere towards the occupiers. David Littlejohn uses the metaphor of an hourglass, with collaboration the sand in the upper bulb, to illustrate this change. At first ‘collaboration predominated and resistance was negligible. As the war progressed, however, and the prospects of German victory receded, the sands of collaboration began to run out while those of resistance multiplied.’¹...

  12. chapter six ‘I Had Committed All My Heart and My Efforts to Latvian Exiles’: Refugee Politics, 1945–1948
    (pp. 175-219)

    At the end of the Second World War close to one-quarter of the entire population of Germany was displaced persons (DP) and refugees. Half of these (some eight to ten million) were displaced Europeans of non-German background, eight million of whom were repatriated during 1945–46, leaving a ‘hard core’ of about one million by 1947. Valdmanis estimated that some 265,000 Latvians (that is 19 per cent of the population remaining in Latvia in 1945) found themselves as displaced persons in occupied Germany. Of these, 45,000 had come as contract and forced labourers, 30,000 as soldiers, and 190,000 as refugees.¹...

  13. chapter seven ‘Starting Anew Like Our Fathers Did after the First World War’: Immigrant in Canada, 1948–1950
    (pp. 220-246)

    Alfred Valdmanis immigrated to Canada on 13 October 1948 accompanied by his wife Irma and their four children. They came to stay. Disembarking at Quebec City from the SSEmpress of Canada, they entered Canada with a minimum of bureaucratic red tape, a balance of U.S.$10,000 in Valdmanis’s American Express account in New York,¹ and a professorship in economics for him at McGill University in Montreal. For Irma, the cross on Mount Royal was a good omen; it gave reassurance that Canada would be good to her and her family.² For many, if not the majority, of Valdmanis’s fellow countrymen...

  14. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  15. chapter eight ‘Develop or Perish’: The Challenges of Newfoundland, 1950–1953
    (pp. 247-277)

    The anxieties that Alfred Valdmanis suffered as a result of the collapse of the Nova Scotia gypsum project were short-lived. In May 1950, almost at the same time that the Nova Scotia deal was falling through and not the least owing to the reputation Valdmanis had acquired in connection with that project, even greater career opportunities opened up. The call came from the former British dominion of Newfoundland. Having chosen the benefits of union with Canada in a 1948 referendum, Newfoundland was now looking for an economist to direct the diversification and modernization of its backward fishery-centred economy.

    Union with...

  16. chapter nine ‘The Past, Instead of Helping to Rebuild, Denies Itself’: The Latvian Refugee Community and the Shadows of the Past, 1950–1954
    (pp. 278-309)

    From the day of his arrival in Canada, Alfred Valdmanis took pains to project an identity guaranteeing not just survival but resurgence to prominence. He had ensured his survival under communism, National Socialism, and postwar Allied security screening, thanks to an uncanny talent to cultivate vital personal contacts. In the openness of New World democracy, however, his networks of contacts became obsolete. Wanting to rely increasingly on his revised image, Valdmanis found his Old World images resurfacing to hound him everywhere.

    Indeed, as this chapter illustrates, the past adhered to him like a shadow: It coloured the news about his...

  17. chapter ten ‘Only One Could Topple Him from His Height – Himself’: Newfoundland’s ‘Economic Tsar,’ 1952–1954
    (pp. 310-327)

    By 1953 it was obvious to critical observers that Newfoundland Premier Joey Smallwood’s industrialization scheme was in trouble. To this day most Newfoundlanders regard Alfred Valdmanis as the chief culprit and a con man – some even contend that he accepted the assignment knowing that failure was certain – whereas Smallwood’s economic strategy was allegedly based on sound growth-centre theory, that is, establishing industries that create spin-off products and employment.¹ The history of Smallwood’s so-called new industries program and its ultimate failure transcends the scope of this study and remains to be written. Nevertheless, the available evidence identifies Smallwood’s imposition...

  18. chapter eleven ‘Something Had Happened and a Culprit Had to Be Found’: Con Man or Scapegoat? 1954–1957
    (pp. 328-367)

    Two weeks after Alfred Valdmanis had terminated all official connections with Newfoundland, Premier Joey Smallwood opened the final round in the enigmatic Latvian’s career. It was a bombshell. At 5 a.m. on 23 April 1954 Smallwood called the Canadian Press representative in St John’s to tell him that Valdmanis had just been arrested in New Brunswick on criminal charges of extortion. He was accused of pocketing large sums of money from various firms he had been dealing with on behalf of the government of Newfoundland. Apparently Smallwood had not suspected any personal dishonesty when he had demanded Valdmanis’s resignation from...

  19. chapter twelve ‘Maybe My Luck Is Used Up Already, Maybe Not’: Epilogue, 1956–1970, and Conclusions
    (pp. 368-390)

    Alfred Valdmanis served just over two years of ‘hard labour’ in Newfoundland that ended on 1 January 1957. Released without fanfare, he was immediately hustled on board a Trans Canada Airlines plane for Montreal under the alias of A. Smith. However, he was noticed at the St John’s airport by twoEvening Telegramreporters who had obtained advance information of his parole and flight plans. Fellow passengers aboard his plane observed that Valdmanis did not leave the aircraft on any of its five stops. Picked up at Montreal airport by his wife and two male friends, Valdmanis refused to talk...

  20. Notes
    (pp. 391-444)
  21. References
    (pp. 445-456)
  22. Index
    (pp. 457-472)