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Hans Tivel Biography by Elizabeth Marie (Tivel) Kowalski



April 9, 1878----January 9, 1974

 

My Father, Hans Tivel, was born in Viljandi, Estonia April 9th, 1878. His Father's name was Henri Tivel, and his Mother was Rita Karu. (My sister, Marguerite, was named for her.) Henri Tivel was a stage coach driver and the family lived above the station. Dad was a very young child at the time and he remembered riding high up on the coach with his father on many trips, and he described the sensation of traveling at such a height. The coach line serviced the public much on the order of the Greyhound bus lines today. New drivers would be exchanged at stations and would continue on with the passengers. Fresh horses would replace fatigued animals.
 
When Dad's mother died, Ella Marie was sent to live with a relative. Eventually his father remarried, and there were four more children--all boys. The names of Dad's half brothers were John, Jule, Edward and Charles. (My brother, Hans Edward was named for Dad's half brother.) Dad's step mother was a Lutheran and the boys were raised in her religion--all except John. Dad's father was of Greek Catholic Faith and it was his wish that he have one of the children baptized a Catholic. John became a Catholic.
 
By now, Henri Tivel and his family were living in Wolmarschoff, Latvia on a farm belonging to a Baron. Horses and cattle were his responsibilities, and the boys helped with the chores. Their estates were huge and they lived a comfortable life in their castles. Peasants farmed the land for the Barons and they lived on the estates in accommodations provided for them.
 
My Father's stepmother could read and write which was rare for women of that day, and she wanted her children to have these literary accomplishments also. Children were not permitted to attend schools until they had some mastery of the skill of reading and writing, and they had to be 14 years of age. Mrs. Henri Tivel taught all of her children to read and write. Dad always spoke humbly of this and always in deep gratitude. Eventually, the boys were enrolled in a Lutheran school and attended for four years. Dad always spoke of these four years as being packed full of knowledge; not only the basic academic subjects but also German, Russian, and Latvian languages had to be mastered. And Religion.
 
At about 18 years old, Dad had finished his schooling. He did not particularly care for the farm as a way of life, and wanted to live in the city. It was arranged that he would visit his mother's brother, Otto Karu, who lived in Riga, Latvia. Uncle Otto owned a stylish nightclub which produced plays and operas. For a long time, Dad had the good fortune to attend all of the Shakespeare plays and many seasons of opera. His uncle taught him the Bartenders trade and during the intermissions at the theatre Dad tended the bar. Constant attendance at the opera fostered an appreciation for the classic music throughout his life.
 
As time moved along, Dad enjoyed this cultural sphere until he became ill with a respiratory ailment. He returned to the Baron's estate in Wolmar where his father still worked. Here he recovered on the farm and once again helped his father with the farm animals and the horses. Perhaps one of the turning points in Dad's life came about when the Baron, owner of the estate where Henri Tivel worked, was conversing in German with a Baron Levenstein, who was a guest at the castle. My father who had been schooled in German spoke to Baron Levenstein in his native language. The Baron was impressed with Dad's intellect and his cultural background and pleased that he could speak the German language fluently, Baron Levenstein promptly offered him a position as valet. Dad was happy to accept and went to Riga once again. This time to live in a castle. His duties consisted of seeing to the travel reservations and baggage, and making sure that the various members of the castle staff kept the Baron's wardrobe in top shape at all times.
 
Thus began a memorable chapter in Dad's life. It was with Baron Levenstein that Dad toured Austria, Germany, and parts of Russia, France, Switzerland, the Island of Corsica, Algeria, and many other places. He learned to speak seven languages fluently. Dad found this a fascinating and exciting way of life and when not traveling he enjoyed the comforts of the castle. Dad remained with Baron Levenstein until the Baron's death. The Baron's brother, also of the same name arrived for the funeral and although he already had a valet, he invited Dad to stay with him until he could find a suitable position for him. Eventually Dad was referred to Count Medim in Kaugurshof, Latvia about 50 miles from Riga and it was arranged that Dad would be employed as the Count's valet. It was during this trip from Riga to Kaugurshof that Dad stopped off to see and hear an ambitious young college student expounding his political ideas. He was a dynamic young fellow as Dad remembered him. His name was Joseph Stalin.
 
Count Medim entertained lavishly. Whereas Baron Levenstein had spent his time seeing the world, the Count spent his time at fox and rabbit hunting parties. When the Barons would go to each others estates for hunting parties they would take their valets with them. While the Counts and Barons were game hunting, their valets would play cards, and generally have their own party. But when the hunt was over and the nobility returned at the end of the day, dirty and disheveled, there was much to be done. Preparing bath water was a long process. Water for the deep Roman baths with steps had to be heated early in the afternoon. Then the soiled boots had to be left for the boot jack, and clothes sent to be cleaned and laundered. Clean attire had to be laid out for the evening party and the fresh hunting clothes laid out for the next day. Such was the carefree life of the nobility in the days before the Russian Revolution.
 
Dad soon tired of the aristocratic atmosphere and the constant partying. Perhaps the years of travel with Baron Levenstein were not easily put in the background. Then, too, pretty Countess Ellen, 17, eldest daughter of Count Medim had become seriously interested in Dad and he had no intention of becoming involved in a romance. In the meantime a Baron Korf residing in Riga, Latvia was making inquiries as to what had happened to Baron Levenstein's valet after the Baron had died. My father had contacted friends that he would like to leave Elli castle should there be another position available. When Baron Korf learned that Dad was available he wrote to him, and Dad accepted the position as Baron Korf's valet. Count Medim was displeased with this turn of events and wanted to keep Dad as his valet. But after eight months as valet for Count Medim, my father left Castle Elli and Kaugurshof.
 
By now, Russia was going through a serious political situation that eventually became a Revolution. One has only to read the history of Russia to understand the impending revolution, then overthrow of the Czar and the chaos that came about as a result.
 
I do not know how long Dad worked for Baron Korf as his valet, but it was during his stay at Baron Korf's castle that peasants began uprising against the landholders, the wealthy Barons. And Baron Korf was no exception. When the Baron's life was threatened Dad hastily arranged train passage out of the country for him. Hurriedly departing in the night by horse, he accompanied the Baron to the train. But the baggage Dad drove by coach to Dwinsk, Poland part of the escape plan. Dad never heard of Baron Korf again. Many of the nobility were taken to Siberia during the Revolution and left there to work hard or to starve, while their castles in the cities were being looted.
 
When Dad returned to Baron Korf's castle from Poland there was a note for him. It began: "If you know what is good for you, you would do things differently..." The warning continued and indicated that Dad's life was in danger for helping a Baron to escape. Dad gathered his things together, and before the peasants could storm and loot the castle he left for Wolmar, 100 miles away. There he went to see his father for the last time and told him goodbye. For my father was now to leave the country himself. It was necessary to pick up a notice from the Chief of Police in Wolmar before he could go back to Riga to get his passport.
 
My father's half brother, Charles, who had been a cabinet maker and ship's carpenter had been living in Lincoln, England for several months and had encouraged Dad to join him there. Charles had rented rooms above a large super type market. The property called "Windsor House" was owned by one Joseph Atkin. Dad decided to join his brother Charles and sailed for England in 1906 on the ship S. S. Hichael. Dad had left Latvia forever.
 
Joseph Atkin had three charming nieces: Emma, Matilda and Elizabeth. In 1907 on September 7th, Hans Tivel married Joseph Atkin's lovely niece Emma Atkin. Some months earlier Charles Tivel had married Emma's charming sister Matilda Atkin. Both girls played instruments in the Methodist church orchestra. My Mother played the violins and my Aunt Matilda (Trot) as she was affectionately named, played the cello. Their Uncle Joseph Atkin also played an instrument in the orchestra.
 
The two couples sailed to Canada where they lived for a time in London, Ontario. Here my sister Marguerite and my cousin Olga were born. Later both families emigrated to the United States. My brother Edward (Ted) and myself were both born in Detroit. Olga's brother Carl was also born in this city.
 
My Mother's sister, Elizabeth (for whom I was named) and her brother Jake remained in England for the rest of their lives. Both remained single. My grandparents Jonathan and Betsey (Jeffries) [Matilda said name Jeffery] Atkin had both died before my Mother went to live with her Uncle Joseph Atkin (Jonathan's brother). My grandmother, Betsey Jeffries Atkin had first been engaged to Jacob Atkin, a third brother in the Atkin family. Shortly before the nuptial date, Jacob died. She chose Jonathan Atkin.
 
As for Dad's family in Latvia and Russia: His sister Ella Marie married a German named William John. The John family had two children, William and Agnes. I remember writing letters to my cousin Agnes, and still have a letter written in German that she wrote to me. My father acted as translator, of course, and he also translated my letter to her into German. We were able to keep track of them until World War II when the United States and Germany were at war. Dad's half brother Edward married a Russian girl named Marie. They had a son named George. I can remember my parents sending clothes and food to them in the early 1920's after World War I was over. Edward, as expert swimmer was however to drown in a river while swimming. John died in Russia during the War. Jule was held in a concentration camp during World War I and was never heard of again. My Grandfather died in his old age in Latvia during the early 1920's. A cousin of Dad's, on his mother's side, named Waldemar, was a bi-linguist and was captured by the Germans during World War II. He was taken to a concentration camp where he was given the job of translator. Through this position Waldemar made every effort to locate the John family and other family members. Letters from Waldemar to Dad, written later from the United States after the war was over, tell of this futile effort.
 
My Father and Mother, and my Aunty Trot and Uncle Charlie all became citizens of the United States. My family eventually moved to Denver, Colorado, where in 1920, my sister Betty Isobel was born, and where she died in infancy. Later we moved to San Diego, California. Aunty Trot and Uncle Charlie also moved to California where they resided in the Los Angeles area. My mother, Emma (Atkin) Tivel passed away on December 13, 1961. My father, Hans Tivel passed away January 8, 1974. Both couples lived to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversaries and beyond. Both couples resided in California to the end of their lives.
 
Elizabeth Marie (Tivel) Kowalski


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