Former Insula residents gather in Toronto

Every other Wednesday evening the Latvian Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto has a barbeque dinner. People gather there to sample Ingo Kārkliņš’ charcoal-broiled dishes. Among the guests attending the Aug. 9 dinner were 27 former World War II refugees and residents of the Displaced Persons camp Insula at Berchtesgaden, Germany.

Velga Zaļais-Jansons and Igors Svistunenko organized the evening of Insula residents and their relatives. The former Insula residents came not only from Toronto and vicinity, but also from the United States—from as far as Alaska. Among them was Andris Spura of Montréal, who along with his mother had spent the last few months of the war at Berchtesgaden. Both had survived the aerial bombardment by the Allies of Adolf Hitler’s Berghof on April 25, 1945.

Former Insula residents had their first reunion in Berchtesgaden in 2003. In May 2005 their memoirs were compiled and edited by two brothers and former camp residents, Ventis and John Plūme. The first printing of Insula Displaced Persons Assembly Center: A Latvian Memoir sold out in January, but copies of the second printing of the 346-page work are available from John Plūme, who may be contacted by e-mail at The book includes a nearly complete listing of the 650-700 residents of the camp.

During the Aug. 9 dinner, the Plūme brothers presented the library of the Latvian Canadian Cultural Centre with a copy of the book. Last year, they presented the book to several libraries in Latvia.

Several people from younger generations were among those who shared memories. Stories and discussions continued to a late hour, when tables had been already cleared and other guests had long gone home. 

(Editor’s note: Information for this story is based on Latvian text contributed by Harijs Jansons and translated by Ventis Plume.)

Former Insula residents

Former residents of the Displaced Persons camp Insula gather for a photo outside the Latvian Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto. (Photo by Tokuro Narazaki)

Presentation of book

Daina Upeslāce-Csapo, assistant librarian of the Latvian Canadian Cultural Centre, accepts a copy of the Insula book from brothers John and Ventis Plūme. (Photo by Tokuro Narazaki)

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

2 thoughts on “Former Insula residents gather in Toronto

  1. We could always do better everything, but sometimes we come up short. Here are names for group photo:Front L-R: Regina Spalans-Aunins, Velga Zalais-Jansons, Ausma Burvis-Sudmalis, Skadrite Zalais-Brencis, Dzidra Udris-Buls, and Isolde Rose-LeBrie. Back row L-R: Gunta Burvis-Usis, Juris Svistunenko, Velta Burvis-Mattews, Igors Svistunenko,John Plume,Ventis Plume, Maris Rutulis,and Janis Udris.

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