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  • Andrew Andersen

Not so Old Legend about Captain Storms

Canada / June 6 , 2024

Today, there is a palpable sense of a great turmoil approaching. God willing, I am wrong, but it seems to me that upheaval is coming, and for most people, it will not just be bad—it will be very bad. Sensing its approach, some believe they can sit it out passively in their own bubble, forgetting that no one has ever managed to do so successfully. Others (unfortunately, very few) plan to sit it out by turning their home or farm into an impregnable fortress. This option works somewhat better, but it is still only a temporary solution, and a more constructive approach must be sought. However, that is not my focus right now. Thinking about the second option reminded me of a legend I heard in my distant childhood in Latvia, which I believe was the summer of 1971.

That summer, I remember we little kids were actively playing war games, specifically pretending to be guerrillas and punitive squads. It was then that one of the kids (I don’t remember who) told this story, which is more of a legend. Many years later, while serving in the army, I recounted it a couple of times to my comrades, and one of the listeners, a Latvian named Ilmars, confirmed that he had also heard it before, though in a less detailed version. Today, I want to share this legend with my readers.

Once upon a time, in the first half of the 20th century, there lived in Latvia a captain with the surname Storms. His first name has not been preserved in my memory, and it seems that even the person from whom I first heard this story did not mention his first name at all, only his surname. So, I will continue to call him that. Captain Storms' father, from whom he inherited his surname, was a local Baltic German with roots going back to North Friesland and Heligoland Island, while his mother originated from an old but impoverished Russian noble family. The captain himself was married to a Latvian woman, and in the late 1930s, the two-person Storms family acquired a farmstead in Courland, in a remote place on the very border with Lithuania.

Then came another period of turmoil, now known as the Second World War, and in the summer of 1940, Soviet troops invaded Latvia, annexed the country to the USSR, and established the so-called "Soviet regime". Fortunately for himself, Captain Storms was at sea at that time, either on a Latvian merchant fleet ship or on a fishing vessel, thus avoiding arrest and execution—a typical fate for someone of his background and status.

Meanwhile, the Storms' farmstead was confiscated by the new authorities, and the captain's wife was to be deported to Siberia. However, she managed to escape in time, likely hiding with some of her relatives. The new Soviet masters—a couple of Soviet policemen, a Communist who came from Russia, and half a dozen of their local henchmen—ransacked the farmstead and threw a grand party in the main house late that evening. Drinks flowed freely from the cellars of the confiscated farm: strong dark beer, vodka, liqueurs... Toasts to the "people's Soviet government," the "great Soviet Union," and "dear Comrade Stalin" were slurred out. They feasted on homemade bread, bacon and sausages. The next morning, all the participants were found dead, without any signs of violent death. The deceased were buried, and the farmstead gained a bad reputation, standing abandoned until the next summer.

The following summer, in 1941, Nazi Germans conquered Latvia from the Soviets, and shortly after them came Captain Storms himself, carrying a solid Volksdeutsche (ethnic German) Ausweis, which granted certain privileges at that time and place. The captain quickly found his wife, and together they restored their farmstead. After having acquired an impressive arsenal of firearms and explosives, they decided: "Now this is our sovereign territory, and no scum will enter here with weapons. No Schutzpolizei, no partisans, no punitive squads, no SS, no Red Army. Anyone who tries will meet their death here, even if we perish in the process."

Indeed, the very location of the Storms' farmstead seemed to favor its isolation from the surrounding world: on one side, a lake; on another, a swamp; and around it, a dense forest, with only one narrow dirt road leading to the farm (not counting a couple of forest paths known only to the farm's owners). Moreover, being on the very Lithuanian-Latvian border, the farmstead was outside the jurisdiction of the "Lithuania" district of the Reichskommissariat "Ostland," and even for the "Latvia" district administration, it was on the very fringe. Thus, Nazi German authorities left the Storms and their farmstead alone. Neighbors also did not bother them, feeling a mix of respect and almost mystical fear towards the Storms. Rumors even circulated that the captain had landmined the road and other possible approaches to his farm. This was, of course, untrue, but no one was willing to test it.

For about three years, the Storms family enjoyed a relatively peaceful and autonomous life, as the farm provided them with the necessary sustenance, and they needed little more. During that time, the captain taught his wife to shoot well, and in the spring of 1942, they had a baby. The person who told me this story did not know whether the newborn Storms was a boy or a girl, but that hardly matters to us now.

In the fall of 1944, fortune turned against the Third Reich, and by November, parts of Latvia were once again in Soviet hands. By this time, the Storms' farmstead was right on the edge of the infamous "Courland Pocket" (for those unfamiliar, Google and encyclopedias are your friends). It was hardly surprising, then, that one frosty December day, a group of Soviet scouts and saboteurs appeared near the farm of the Storms.

The appearance of the group of aliens did not go unnoticed by the owners of the farmstead, and they resorted to a small military ruse. The Soviet scouts watching the main house of the farm suddenly saw someone wave either a red flag or a large red cloth, resembling the state flag of the Soviet Union, from the attic window under the roof.

Deciding to investigate the farmstead, the scouts moved towards the house. But upon reaching the open space fifty meters from the porch, they suddenly came under crossfire. Positioned at two pre-prepared locations, Captain Storms and his wife opened fire on the uninvited guests with two light machine guns, and within minutes, it was all over. Finishing off the wounded with pistol shots, the Storms dragged the bodies to the swamp and threw them into the mire. However, one lightly wounded scout managed to escape into the forest and somehow reached his comrades.

After this incident, it was hardly surprising that two days later, two Soviet tanks and a truck with a squad of soldiers approached the farmstead along the snow-covered road. Without any warning, the "liberators" opened fire with cannons and machine guns on the main house and outbuildings. The wooden structures burst into flames, and soon the Storms' farmstead burned to the ground. Only the cracked stone foundation and a partially destroyed chimney remained.

However, the Soviet retribution against the defiant and tough farmers was somewhat delayed: the previous morning, the Storms had put on skis and, taking their young child and two backpacks with essential items, including documents and light weapons, set off through the familiar forest to the northwest, towards the Baltic coast.

What happened to them afterward remains unknown. In any case, since then, none of the locals have ever seen any of the Storms. Neither the captain nor his wife returned to their homeland, during Soviet times nor after the restoration of Latvian independence. And what became of the ruins of their farmstead—I do not know. I don't even know exactly where they were located.

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