It all started in the archives of the Latvian War Museum, where Oskars Gruziņš, member of the Horizon 2020 Marie Curie Innovative Training Network project “Children Born of War: Past, Present and Future,” was studying the personal letters of Latvian soldiers forced to fight on the side of the Waffen-SS in World War Two. Later, archivists at the War Museum, having been acquainted with the subject of Gruziņš’s PhD dissertation, on children born to local mothers and fathered by Soviet or Third Reich soldiers in Latvia, forwarded an email to Oskars from a Gunter Stribning in Germany.
Gunter, a German national born in 1942, was looking for assistance in his work to unravel a family mystery. Sometime in the 1960s, Gunter’s aunt, the sister of his father Christof Stribning, revealed to him that his father had once mentioned to her an affair and a child born of that affair in WWII Latvia. Christof had been stationed in Riga, Latvia, during the War, as a telecommunications specialist in the Luftwaffe. According to his aunt, Gunter’s father had developed a relationship with a local women, who later had his child. Lately, Gunter, now 72 years old, has devoted his time to finding out if he has a half-brother or sister in Latvia.
After exchanging several emails, Gunter decided to visit Latvia and share with Oskars this family mystery. As supplementary information to his oral-history interview, Gunter brought with him a portion of his family archives related to the mystery. All of these materials, created by his father, along with Gunter’s four-hour testimony, can now be found in the archives of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.
Gunter’s father, Christof Stribning, had been an avid amateur photographer throughout his life. Yet, among the many family photographs, only a few remained of Christof’s time in Latvia. Whether the photos have vanished, or were destroyed by Christof, seems to be one mystery that may never be solved. Yet, significant was the fact that two of the surviving photos were of a mystery women in Latvia.
What had survived, and came as an immense shock to the researcher and, later, to enthusiasts of Latvian history, were two rolls of film recorded by Christof during the War. Christof had been one of the rare individuals who at that time owned an 8mm camera. During the War, he had taken silent footage of his travels and significant events. These private films, which later were cut and edited by Christof, contained moving images of the mystery women, everyday-life in Nazi occupied Latvia and other never-before-seen materials of immense historical significance.
The nearly-thirty minutes of footage show Christof’s wife and children in Nazi Germany, and his travels in Prussia and the Baltic countries. The majority of the films contained images filmed in Nazi occupied Latvia of important events and everyday life. Notably, they contain footage of old-town Riga, devastated after the aerial bombardment of 1941, Latvian Legionnaires, men forced to serve in the Waffen-SS, Christof’s workplace, a telecommunications hub for the Nazi war-effort in Riga, Russian POWs, being forced to build Nazi war facilities in Latvia, men of the so-called ‘Russian Liberation Army,’ playing traditional Russian music and dancing Russian traditional dance while dressed in Nazi military fatigues, and Jewish captives, forced to sort the belongings of their compatriots after the liquidation of the Jewish Ghetto in Riga. Themes on the micro-level included a film of a tram derailed in Riga, various views of Riga streets, life in the Latvian country side, sunbathing at the Latvian seaside and other everyday moments in Nazi occupied Latvia.
The significance of this material cannot be overstated and, as a result, this find has had immense coverage by Latvian media outlets. Gunter’s family story and his search was described in a full-page article in one of Latvia’s main newspapers, Latvijas Avīze. Gunter’s search and his father’s films were featured in the morning news cycle of Rīta Panorāma and was written about in LSM.lv. Finally, the premier of these films at the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia was attended by some 120 guests and was covered in the main evening news show of Latvia Panorāma and a special Facebook post was created by the news network.
With this wide media coverage and growing interest in Latvia, Gruziņš has already received many comments and suggestions regarding Gunter’s family story. He hopes that, in the near future, Gunter’s family story will be one WWII mystery solved.
Christof Stribning and unknown woman, c.1941. Jūrmala, Latvia
How the films looked when they were donated to the Musuem of Occupation.
Oskars Gruziņš and Gunter Stribning, during Gunter’s visit to Riga. August, 2018.
Image of unknown women taken from the films, c.1941. Jūrmala, Latvia.
Guests of the event meeting with Oskars Gruziņš after the event, January 2019.
Oskars Gruziņš giving an introduction to the films, prior to the screening. January 2019.
Guests at the premier of Christof Stribning’s films, January 2019.