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Finding One’s Family and Identity – after 66 Years’ Time

George Jaunzemis has never known who his mother was, what his real name was or where he was born – vital questions the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen could clear up now – that is 66 years after the end of the Second World War. This week Jaunzemis is going to meet his family and see his birth place Magdeburg for the first time. “I feel the relief of someone who finally knows who he is. It is very emotional an experience to suddenly come to have a family”, said the 69-year-old.

George Jaunzemis was born on 29th October 1941 in Groß-Ottersleben near Magdeburg and given the name of Peter Thomas. The Second World War had just ended when his mother Gertrud married in that place the Belgian national Albert van der Velde, a man who presumably had been staying in Germany as forced labourer. Having adopted Peter, he and his small family went to Belgium. It is evident from records held in the ITS archives that the mother who, being a German national, had illegally entered the country, was sent to an internment camp for three months’ time. So, mother and child got separated. Following her release from the camp, Gertrud and her husband were searching for her child for years – in vain. The Latvian national Anna Rause, later on Anna Jaunzemis, had taken care of the child meanwhile, had called it George and taken it with her to Germany. After jointly staying in Displaced Persons’ camps in Lübeck and Munich, the two left for New Zealand in 1949. George Jaunzemis lived there until 2000 when he moved to his wife to Riga, Latvia.

Solving the Tracing Case  

The ITS archives in Bad Arolsen hold a child tracing file on George Jaunzemis alias Peter Thomas giving details on the Allies’ search for the lost child and including his right name. They also keep records on the emigration of Anna and George Jaunzemis. Helped by the National Red Cross Societies in Latvia and Belgium and above all by the town authorities of Magdeburg, the ITS needed a year only to clear up the true identity of Jaunzemis and find his family in Germany. Being able to discover and provide both, Peter’s birth certificate and his mother’s marriage certificate, the town authorities of Magdeburg gave the decisive clue to solving the case. “This is an outstanding, a non-routine case also for us”, Margret Schlenke, Head of the Section Tracing and Clarification of Fate at the ITS, gave her comment.

This week Jaunzemis will come to know his nephew who lives in Berlin and two cousins living in Magdeburg. “I am determined to celebrate my birthday – the 70th – in Germany this year”, predicts Jaunzemis.