By Gerhard P. Bassler
Alfred Valdmanis is better identified in Canada for his notorious position in preferable Joey Smallwood's scheme to industrialize Newfoundland. A Latvian immigrant, he used to be appointed Director basic of monetary improvement in 1950 with the knowledge that via his connections to Europe he might appeal to German and Baltic industrialists to the remoted, rural island. His effect used to be dropped at an abrupt finish whilst, in 1954, he was once charged with defrauding the govt.. The media, latching directly to his murky prior and his attainable association with warfare criminals, made him the scapegoat of Newfoundland's difficulties, portray him as half comic, half sinister villain.
This used to be now not the 1st time his identify was once attached with debatable matters. Valdmanis's wily political manoeuvring is extra the stuff of fiction than historical past. among 1938, at age 29, and his ironic downfall within the shelter of Canada, he used to be a finance minister of pre-war Latvia, a central authority legitimate throughout the Soviet invasion, a sensible collaborator below the Nazi profession, then, a chum to the Allies, a spokesman for Latvian POW and displaced folks, and an adviser to the govt. of Canada. during this first critical biography of Alfred Valdamis historian Gerhard Bassler casts the tale of this political manipulator and chameleon in new phrases: the usually tragic outcomes of the desire to survive.
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Extra info for Alfred Valdmanis and the Politics of Survival
Instead, they social- Wunderkind in Reborn Latvia, 1908-1938 27 ized in the working-class milieu of the Saldnieks who made their living operating street kiosks and selling newspapers. These connections proved beneficial to Alfred Valdmanis during the Soviet occupation of 1940-1 when some of his childhood friends and acquaintances from Liepaja achieved significant positions in the Soviet government. 61 Alfred, born when his mother was twenty, was the oldest of four sons among the five children. Three (Alfred, Osvald, and Emils) earned university degrees and ended up in exile in the West, while the fourth (Fridis) chose to stay in Soviet Latvia as a left-wing union leader.
9 However, according to Holocaust survivor Margers Vestermanis, Jews were not singled out for special discrimination by Valdmanis before or during the war. 'Though denounced as a quisling, Valdmanis had no connections whatever with wartime massacres of Jews,' Vestermanis has attested. 'Valdmanis collaborated only for the benefit of Latvia and not of Germany. He cannot be charged with any traitorous activity,' vouched Samuel Levitan. 10 Incomplete and unconvincing as some of these reminiscences may be, concludes Smallwood biographer Richard Gwyn, 'there was never any doubt of Valdmanis' talent for survival.
Although not claiming any German ancestry, and adopting the Latvian spelling of Alfreds Arturs Aleksandrs in his Latvian passports of 1928 and 1933, Valdmanis found it occasionally expedient to assume a German identity as Alfred Waldmann. Alfred's father Ansis (Hans) was a teacher. Part of his education apparently had been in the obligatory three-year Russian teacher-training program introduced after 1885. While opening to Latvians new opportunities for social and economic advancement, this russification program actually fuelled the Latvian national awakening.