Latvians Latinos and Ex Nazi's A True New Braunfels Story: Esteban Erik Stipnieks...

 

Three Truths: A slightly twisted world is normal if you grow up in it....second the human creature seeks to establish something approaching normal.  Third as a Christian I believe in judgment by God as a believer their has to be some compassion. 

It looked like a suburban neighborhood it looked like an upper middle class to upper-class neighborhood of a small town.  In April 1978 New Braunfels hung between the two.  For all practical purposes it was just that: civil servants, teachers, doctors school administrators and pensioners who have saved were living the American dream or at least pursuing it. The story though comes dramatic when you look at the background of the neighbors and what some of their civil service jobs entailed. 

741 Laurel Lane: Alvarado household.  Joe Alvarado technically ethnically was a Lipan Apache if you know Texas history the Apaches were forced south as the Spanish played an enemy of theirs and it backfired.  The band was pinched and assimilated into Latino culture of New Spain.  Irma Alvarado had the blood of Spain a court Jew somewhere along the line Native blood had entered the line and the branch of the family was kicked out of some fortune that remained after Anglo domination.  Irma could be firm and focused as well opinionated.  Joe Alvarado was hired by New Braunfels Independent School District as an assistant band director to the legendary Joe Rogers.  He was now a counselor at New Braunfels middle school.  His wife taught at Seele elementary.  He was to New Braunfels what Jackie Robinson was to MLB.  Joe loved music he was naturally gregarious warm his wife a bit of Peppermint Patty.  Irma was an elementary school teacher.  They had been mentored by Latinos within NBISD.  Joe was hardly what one could describe as a fire brand.  He did though smash the color barrier on the hill living beyond a line integrated the white only neighborhood.  His son was a student at Carl Schertz elementary his daughter was a few months short of entering the terrible twos.  Recently his in-laws have moved in and brought a fairly large section of the block three lots and re divided them.  It helped having family with a good reputation on NBISD staff in addition to resume and willingness to takes less than stellar pay.     

721 Laurel Lane: Stipnieks household Maris Stipnieks wore two hats Army National Guard aviator flying UH-1 and OH-58 out of Austin.  He was also a postman.  He had born in DP camp Wurzburg after World War II.  His twin sister had been born stillborn to a mother his fathers second wife.  Maris spent the first five years of his life in DP camps around Germany.  The family had settled in Wilmington.  He had enlisted before the draft date and went through helicopter primary school Ft Wolters.  He was now a Vietnam vet.  When the Warrant Officer Candidates were bussed to Denton he met his wife Anita Tamez who was with her sister Irma at Texas Women's University.  Anita had gone from teacher to administrator being the principal at couple schools in Austin.  She had been hired by NBISD as a central office staffer.  Central office was decaying old school building.  She was working a combined masters PhD program at UT.  Her eldest daughter was at Lone Star her name proudly Latvian Aurora Birutha Stipnieks.  His son having trouble reflected a bi racial heritage Esteban Erik Stipnieks.  Esteban's first name reflected a resurgent pride en la raza.  Esteban would not become the tag till later his kindergarten Teacher Mrs. Munoz would insist on calling him Esteban.  The three lots were purchased by him and his father in a desperate attempt to get the family together.  Only two of the lots were built on Maris's family of 4 and Alexander along with his wife lived on White Brick fronted Balcones.  If you were going from Laurel Lane to Encino the White brick would be the first house you see on the right. 

White Brick On Balcones home of Alexander and Austhra Stipnieks: Alexander had fled a Soviet death sentence in Smiltene Latvia.  He had barely made it out of town before the Soviets arrived.  Once WWII began he had been a slave laborer of the Nazis.  He had seen fire bombing his eldest son had been drafted into the Latvian legion and narrowly avoided death by jumping off a repatriation train. Agris had hated his step mother.  It was in that heated time of Agris being deployed to Vietnam and while Agris had been at Ft Sam did the German town 30 miles to the North East of San Antonio come into site.  Austhra was now decaying with Alzheimer's.  Alexander loved the role of being spoiling grandparent to the two grandchildren he had lots of access to. 

Southeast diagonally across the street from Stipnieks: Star crossed lovers of the Swastika.  Did they have family in the DDR an obit 1998 in the Herald Zeitung did not say.  One had dreams to build rockets to sail to the stars the other studied the stars to steer them to.  Having a Phd in rocket science after Hitler took power made career choices if you wanted to or not.  World War II meant that one would turned to making missiles.  After World War II not just making rockets for war and peace was needed but studying the rockets of the proverbial foe of the Germans the Soviets.  This civil servant had commuted to a location in San Antonio where his expertise in rocketry was used he had made a career studying what the Soviets were dong for the American defense establishment.  Maris Stipnieks would later speculate that family of the scientists lived in the hell of the DDR or had been killed during the war.  He was not the only German ex Nazi in New Braunfels doing this work but he was the only former Nazi who lived across the street from the only Latvians in the German town.  A flurry Holocaust denial letters to the editor, and conversations with retired military indicated they were others.

New Braunfels played a role in the Cold War and it played it well.  If one wanted a town to hide German scientists in close to military complex and have near iron clad secrecy New Braunfels was perfect.  New Braunfels was within commuting distance DOD intelligence installations in San Antonio.  Its German community was tight lipped and closed circle.  A tail out of the security complex could be spotted and once in New Braunfels.....the scientists could disappear into the woodwork and maintain ties to German culture.  The fact that I am writing this several decades after the fact and it is generally not known shows how well New Braunfels kept the secret.

Alexander passed away April 22, 1979 Alexander's son who had been in Latvian legion flew up from Australia to bury the body in Latvia still occupied by the Soviets.  Alexander's two brothers had been reeducated in Siberia and one had been sent to Auschwitz.  Agris Stipnieks inherited the house.  Austhra died in December 1981. April 1982 Maris would climb on a rock jetty/Concrete Gotland island her ashes were in the Baltic.   

For the second generation and the postwar side life continued.  CW3 later CW4 Maris Stipnieks would be a part of the military build up under Reagan his older brother would work at the Mill in New Braunfels.    Gints Stipnieks and his tale in the Latvian legion was not trotted out when he visited from Australia.  Three half brothers fished Landa Park, went downtown San Antonio with family of course and spring 1984 the Stipnieks clan had a barbeque with the Alvarado's.  731 Laurel Lane became purchased.  The Stipnieks clan had a blending of three races.  Agris had married a German girl from Grafenour.  Later in the living room where Alexander's body was given one final showing a joke "he needs to go across the street for lessons" in reference to second generation military going into intelligence.  I was in 4th grade at the time implicit was the statement that joke was not to be shared.  Maris would get to enter full time status with the National Guard being listed as Guard technician.  In December 1988 he would take his son (myself) his wife Anita, to Germany and he would see where his grandfather swam across Kongisee and view the town he had been born in Wurzburg.  Aurora had dark eyes blond hair and had a great time as an exchange student 1988-1989 in Denmark.  September 1989 Maris would participate last USA v USSR competition before the Berlin wall fell the ethnic Latvian would be the last place team USA it swept the top places 1-7.

An Intelligence analyst living across the street from Latvian ex patriots who were related by marriage to the family who integrated a previously all white neighborhood.  It was all so mundane yet ironic at the same time.  For us children we were Americans with oddball past that affected our present.  Denise Stipnieks Agris's youngest daughter the army brat tomboy who finished high school at NBHS 1980 had bitter memories of a high school where family and name meant more than.  Joseph Alvarado would go onto play Trombone in the Mighty Unicorn band....Dawn as she was called played Tennis, flags with the band, and later Unicorn handler at New Braunfels high school.  It was while she was Unicorn Handler that the Berlin wall fell.  An independent Latvia...still appeared to be a pipe dream.  My freshman year would see me fail to letter in cross-country or debate.  I would speak at speech debate tournaments.  I would read in Jennifer Balmanno's classroom of Soviet tanks only killing 2 Latvians as the cries of independence were made again.  Access to norteno culture was easy from Tamales, Cima, LaMuer Tejana, trips to Tios in Alice and Grandmother Tamez.  Coming across Tejano roots was difficult as coming into contact with dissolved limestone swimming in the Comal.  The concoction of culture was the fabled Wurst taco Kolbassa link slatthered in melted velveeta and whole cream on a frijole (refried beans) layer on flour tortilla.

Latvia was a place I could not go but in metaphor or stories.  On the front porch Agris told me about seeing White Phosphorous burn the arms off of people quite alive when he was a boy in Germany.  July 1991 I would visit Gints and Birutha I would hear more of the horrors of WWII being caught between Stalin and Hitler.  Two trips to Australia and two trips to Europe inevitably had were to an extent trips to Latvia.  The Baltic Sea in 1982 was a part of me. I would hear how a minor hit by Midnight Oil almost intersected my uncle's life that was July 1991.  In 1988 in December half the world away I saw the first fishin holes my dad fished.  I would also see him touch a Nazi 38mm anti tank gun in the Australian war memorial with affection relating how he fired on Soviet tanks rolling into Riga during WWII.  Talking Birutha I heard of being made to walk to school past a pile of dead bodies in the snow...by the Nazis the deprivations of DP life.  Her warning: Never assume civilization as a given.  Being caught between two genocidal maniacs was hell.  Mi madre would tell me Austhra had two insults.  If she called you a Nazi she hated you if she called you a Soviet she would delight in your torture! Travel restrictions had been eased for Latvian family that lived in Smiltene under Soviet occupation an Australian shopping center was over whelming.  The house of Gints was jokingly referred to as the Latvian embassy he lived in Australian Capital territory. 

At New Braunfels high school watching a TV news program of HS students called Channel 1 the news processed August 21, 1991 Latvia was free.  December 26,1991 The Soviet Union ceased to be.  May 1992 Agris would die knowing Latvia was free.  DDR ceased to be as Agris got to see some of the anticipated fireworks.  Quietly stealthily New Braunfels the Cold War present had ended.  A retired couple on Balcones, a widow in the the White Brick renters in 721, Alvarados and Alvarados Duex living next to each other By that time Maris in Chinook school his wife moved a wrung up assistant superintendent. The Cold war faded to memory.

As the Stipnieks family returned to New Braunfels a murder suicide occurred in New Braunfels.  Even in the obit in the Herald Zeitung the scene seemed half tragic (A German couple without family) committed murder suicide.  The scene described was almost an SNL skit a shotgun a mattress in garage an orderly suicide note explaining they did not want to be burdens and did not want to leave a mess.  Were their distant family victims of Erich Honniker of the DDR?  Did they die in WWII? Only God knows.

It is still today a quiet upper middle class upper class neighborhood the German heritage of New Braunfels continues to fade.  If you do not know the story you would not realize you are on a historical site of the Cold War. From 741 Laurel Lane to Balcones and Encino the Cold war was real.  In those houses La Raza pride mixed Latvian history Texas German culture, painful war memories, united pursuit of the American dream the American lifestyle.  For the Stipnieks clan and their German expat neighbors the taste of communism was real and battle had only known a break for very limited time followed by a change of leaders.  New Braunfels was at the same time cloak of secrecy, happily ever after, and place of respite.  For those of us grew up in that world we knew nothing else.

    

 

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