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Hugo Skrastins papers

 Collection
Identifier: IHRC2416

Abstract

Correspondence files related to Skrastins's activities as publisher of Voyageur magazine and as proprietor of Hugo Skrastins Film Company. Correspondents are primarily advertiszers, contributors, and production associates for Skrastins's magazine and films. Also included are several issues of Voyageur.

Dates

  • 1960-1985

Creator

Language of Materials

Latvian, German, some English

ACCESS RESTRICTIONS

Open for use in the Elmer L. Andersen Library reading room.

OWNERSHIP & LITERARY RIGHTS

This collection may be protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials. Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law.

For further information regarding the copyright, please contact the IHRCA.

HISTORICAL SKETCH

Hugo Skrastins was born in Latvia where he was active in theatrical and publishing activities. He left Latvia during WWII and came to the U.S. in 1950. Settling in Minneapolis, he resumed his publishing career producing the Latvian periodical "Tilts" and later the photo magazine "Voyageur", a publication devoted to Great Lakes area ethnic culture and the environment.

Uģis Skrastiņš (Hugo Skrastiņš) was born in 1913 or 1914 in Limbaži, Latvia (then a part of the Russian Empire). Some evidence in the collection suggests the former date, but the U.S. Social Security Death Index lists May 16, 1914. He died Nov. 27, 1999, in Minneapolis, Minn.

During the zenith of his career in exile publishing and journalism, Skrastiņš was best known in the Latvian exile community as the publisher of the Latvian magazine "Tilts" and of many books by classic and new Latvian authors. In addition, beginning in 1965 he began to irregularly publish the "Voyageur" magazine, which presented color photographs and articles highlighting outdoor life in the Great Lakes region. Many of the photographs were taken by Skrastiņš himself. In Latvia, Skrastiņš became active in publishing and the theatre, but the collection appears to have little information about his pre-war activities.

In 1941, according to some evidence in the collection, Skrastiņš was among partisans fighting Soviet troops near Limbaži in northeastern Latvia. By the late 1940s, Skrastiņš joined tens of thousands of other Latvians fleeing to Germany and other Western European nations. He became a resident of the Displaced Persons camp at Meersbeck, Germany, where he resumed his publishing and theatrical activities. By 1948 he had produced the first (and only?) issue of "The New Word," a Latvian magazine of arts and literature.

In 1949, the first issue of "Tilts" appeared, providing Skrastiņš with the rare opportunity to document Latvians‘ migration from the Displaced Persons camps to their news homes, in Skrastiņš’ case the United States (eventually to Minneapolis, although he appears to have spent a brief time in New York). Correspondence, records and photographs from the DP period in Skrastiņš‘ life might reveal much about what camp life was like.

Skrastiņš‘ professional activities in the United States can be categorized under at least three headings: the Hugo Skrastins Film Co., Voyageur magazine, and Tilts. But "Tilts" wasn’t just a magazine. It also was a publishing operation, frequently releasing books and other items, such as Christmas cards. With the possible exception of the film company, which appears to have been a one-man operation in which Skrastiņš produced tourism-related photographs and motion pictures, underlying these activities was a staff of part-time employees drawn from the Minneapolis Latvian community. It appears some business affairs extended further into the community (in one case, for example, a Latvian employee‘s workman’s compensation claim was certified by a Latvian physician in Minneapolis.) Thus Skrastiņš was not only a Latvian publisher, but also a Latvian businessman. Skrastiņš also tried his hand at writing novels under the pen name Kaspars Strūga, producing at least two books, one of which is "Kāvi." The collection includes financial records that, when studied deeper, might reveal the rise and fall of Skrastiņš‘ fortunes through the decades. A cursory review suggests that he was always struggling to make ends meet.

In the early years of "Tilts," for example, Skrastiņš‘ financial records show he was taking in hundreds of dollars each week, but along the way had frequent run-ins with creditors. By the mid-1980s, it is clear that Skrastiņš wasn’t even opening correspondence that looked like it might contain a bill or notice from a creditor. "Voyageur," first published in 1965, and "Tilts," first published in 1949, by the 1970s were in financial trouble and appeared less and less frequently. Skrastiņš tried several avenues to rescue the magazines. In one case involving the "Voyageur" magazine he approached the administration of Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich in the hope that the state could use his photographs and "Voyageur" magazine to promote tourism in the state. In another case, he hatched a plan to publish the magazine in German and turned to organizations in Germany for assistance. Both efforts appear to have been rebuffed.

However, "Voyageur" by 1982 did take a new editorial direction. While it still highlighted outdoor life in the Great Lakes region, Skrastiņš increasingly turned the magazine’s attention to the region’s ethnic groups, apparently trying to appeal to specific niches of readers. In response to apparent dissatisfaction with the quality of color printing of his magazines – but perhaps as a means of controlling costs – Skrastiņš in 1974 spent $26,046 to purchase a color offset printing press and taught himself the art of color printing. In 1977, he entered into a partnership with Dr. Jānis Dimants, Jr., a Twin Cities physcian, to help produce the final issues of "Tilts."

Skrastiņš had a reputation among some in the community as an obsessive collector. His passion led to a rich collection containing many rare and perhaps unique items spanning the history of the Latvian experience from the late 19th century well into the 1970s. For example, the collection contains: Minutes of meetings of the Illinois Lettonian Benevolent Society, formed in 1898 (photocopy, although the original was removed by IHRC and catalogued separately). Photographs from the Latvian colony in rural Lincoln County, Wisconsin, where settlement began about 1897. Ephmera related to the pre-World War II Latvian community in Philadelphia, especially the Philadelphia Society of Free Letts. Photographs of life in the Displaced Persons camp in Meerbeck, Germany, ca. 1948. The unpublished original manuscript of "Sapņotāji un nemiernieki: Pētījumi par agrāko latviešu ieceļotāju garīgām aktivitātēm Amerika," completed by the Latvian American journalist and historian Osvalds Akmentiņš in 1966. Illustrations by the popular artist Reinis Birzgalis used in "Tilts." Correspondence between Skrastiņš and Imants Lešinskis, beginning about 1961 when the latter was still living in Rīga in Soviet-occupied Latvia and working for the KGB. Lešinskis was among those involved in efforts to popularize so-called “cultural exchanges“ between Latvians in the west and those in the homeland. In 1978, Lešinskis defected to the United States. The correspondence between Skrastiņš and Lešinskis sheds some light on Skrastiņš‘ politics. As he warmed to the idea of cultural exchanges – apparently as a way to bring western influence to bear on those in the homeland – Skrastiņš found himself and his magazine "Tilts" falling out of favor with some in the United States who saw the cultural exchanges as nothing short of consorting with the enemy. In 1973, Skrastiņš complalined to Lešinskis that several of his employees had quit because their employer’s cooperation with “the oppressors.“

Without further examination of the collection, it is difficult to say whether it reveals much about Skrastiņš‘ personal life. Almost nothing about his pre-war activities appears in the collection. In the United States, he apparently lived a bachelor’s life with little if any romantic involvements. Correspondence between Skrastiņš and a Dzintra Opsis in late 1957 reveals a brief period of unrequited love between a man in his 40s and a woman apparently at least half his age. Little is known, too, of his relatives back in Latvia. One letter, dated Nov. 2, 1962, and written by a woman in Limbaži with the same surname, was discovered in the collection. While the letter appears to speak to Skrastiņš, it was addressed to an Arvīds Salna, which perhaps was a pseudonym used by Skrastiņs. Perhaps he tried to hide his identity from Soviet authorities given his wartime partisan activities. A final note: Found in the collection was a U.S. government alien address report card dated Jan. 30, 1977, suggesting that Skrastiņš by that time still had not become a naturalized citizen. (This biographical sketch was written by Andris Straumanis in 2005.)

Extent

152 Linear Feet

PROVENANCE

Collection acquired from Hugo Skrastins of Minneapolis, Minnesota via the Latvian Studies Center Library in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1988.

Processing Information

The collection was reviewed and initial descriptions of box contents were provided by Andris Straumanis in 2005-2006.
Title
Inventory of the Hugo Skrastins papers.
Author
IHRC Archives
Date
2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Finding Aid in English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Immigration History Research Center Archives Collecting Area

Contact:

612-625-4800