Current events spark memories for Reno woman

Val Hoover, of Reno, holds up a replica of the Latvian flag. The emblem of her native country’s flag helped to save Hoover and 20 other Latvians who were rounded up during World War II and put in displaced persons camps. (Photo by Erin O'Neill)

RENO — Though she was only 7 years old at the time, Val Hoover, of Reno, vividly remembers her family’s turmoil during and immediately following World War II.

The separation of immigrant families that has dominated the news recently brought those thoughts back to the forefront of her mind.

Val, short for Valentine, was born in Latvia which was occupied by Nazi Germany in the 1940s. Anyone not racially acceptable or who opposed the German occupation, as well as those who had cooperated with the Soviet Union, were killed or sent to concentration camps in accordance with the Nazi Master Plan.

“We were in a holding place in northern Germany, near Burgdorf, about a week after the war. It was a displaced persons camp and it was me, my dad, my grandmother and my three sisters,” Hoover recounted. “My mom was in Siberia, my two brothers were in Latvia and my baby sister died of starvation.”

Hoover explained that all nationalities were together in this holding place in a British zone. A “displaced persons camp” is a temporary facility for displaced persons, whether refugees or internally displaced persons. Two years after the end of World War II in Europe, some 850,000 people lived in displaced persons camps across Europe, among them Armenians, Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Yugoslavs, Jews, Greeks, Russians, Ukrainians and Czechoslovaks.

“There were mostly Russians, some Ukrainians and a number of Latvians. A couple of British trucks came in and everyone was excited to see the Brits — except it was Russian soldiers that came out,” she said. “The soldiers came to repatriate the Russians — ‘pigs’ they called them — who they said abandoned their country.”

As luck would have it, the husband of one of Hoover’s cousins was wearing a lapel pin which showed that his nationality was Latvian, not Russian.

The document the soldiers had stated only to repatriate the Russians. Hoover sadly recounted that they never heard from the others who were taken away from the camp. She suspects that they were tortured or killed.

“They said we were good people and they didn’t take us, all thanks to that flag,” she said.

Hoover carries a replica of the flag along with other mementos to remind her of her homeland –and of others who did not survive.