From 1944 to 1945, the approaching Soviet Army forced many Latvians to find escape routes to other countries. According to one source, about 250,000 people became refugees. Many got stuck in Courland, and some 50-60,000 were murdered by Soviet troops in Poland and Germany. After the war, approximately 6000 Latvians found refuge in Sweden, 120,00 in West Germany, 3000 in Austria and 2000 in Denmark. In later years, Latvian emigration spread to the United States, Canada, Australia and other countries. Some succumbed to forced repatriation by the Soviets; most expected to voluntarily return once Latvia was free, though that rarely occurred.
Although Tom Petty uses “refugee” metaphorically, his song captures the meaning of the word. “This was a reaction to the pressures of the music business,” he said. “I wound up in a huge row with the record company when ABC Records tried to sell our contract to MCA Records without us knowing about it, despite a clause in our contract that said they didn’t have the right to do that. I was so angry with the whole system that I think that had a lot to do with the tone of the Damn the Torpedoes album. I was in this defiant mood. I wasn’t so conscious of it then, but I can look back and see what was happening. I find that’s true a lot. It takes some time usually before you fully understand what’s going on in a song—or maybe what led up to it.”
For the opening lines of The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers wrote: “It happened that green and crazy summer when Frankie was twelve years old. This was the summer when for a long time she had not been a member. She belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world. Frankie had become an unjoined person and hung around in doorways, and she was afraid.”
The following is an interview with 83-year-old Mirdza Balas, a librarian in the Sonoma County system. She drove the bookmobile and subsequently became manager of Sebastopol branch, from which she retired in 1989. Balas relates her memories of growing up in Latvia before and during World War II and moving through Europe as a displaced person before she came to the United States in 1957.