'Kiwi' finds true identity, 66 years on

Last updated 07:15 20/05/2011
IDENTITY FOUND: George Jaunzemis, 69, who was separated from his mother in the final days of World War II, displays a photograph showing his parents.
AP

IDENTITY FOUND: George Jaunzemis, 69, who was separated from his mother in the final days of World War II, displays a photograph showing his parents.

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Peter Jaunzemis went by the name George for more than six decades, but always wondered whether the Latvian refugee who brought him to New Zealand and raised him there was really his mother.

"She didn't act like a mother," Jaunzemis, 69, said of the woman, Anna Jaunzemis. "She was cold, she never took me in her arms and never referred to me as her son."

Jaunzemis, recently discovered his true identity through the help of the International Tracing Service, ITS, in the central German town of Bad Arolsen, some 66 years since he was spirited away from a displaced persons camp in Belgium.

He visited the archive Thursday to view his original file.

For more than a decade, Jaunzemis sought to trace his Latvian family roots, searching first through archives in New Zealand, where he grew up and served 27 years in the air force, then in Latvia, where he moved in 2000 after marrying his wife. He found nothing, not even a birth certificate.

"I was getting nowhere, trying every variant I could think of, but it felt like I was turning in circles," Jaunyemis said.

Finally, a friend who was tracing her own family history suggested he turn to the ITS, which holds troves of World War Two-era documents, including refugee lists, registers from displaced persons, or DP camps, and missing persons requests filed with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Margret Schlenke, who heads the ITS department for missing persons, immediately found a file for Jaunzemis. But it also held another name, Peter van de Velde - a boy with the same birthdate as Jaunzemis who had been removed from his mother at a DP camp in Belgium in June 1945.

The file, stuffed with more than 150 tattered, yellowing pages, contained old photos and letters from Jaunzemis' natural mother, Gertrud van de Velde, who for years sought for her son. She died in Brussels in 2009, months before he first wrote to the ITS.

Nevertheless Jaunzemis, who now goes by Peter, said he is relieved to finally know who he is and that he has family, a nephew and a cousin in the eastern German city of Magdeburg, where he was born.

"I am at peace with myself now," he said. "Before I felt that I was something that had dropped out of the sky."

On Saturday, Jaunzemis returned to Germany for the first time since the war. His nephew welcomed him with a big hug.

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- AP

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