Alfred Valdmanis is best known in Canada for his infamous role in Premier Joey Smallwood's scheme to
industrialize Newfoundland. A Latvian immigrant, he was appointed Director General of Economic Development
in 1950 with the understanding that through his connections to Europe he could entice German and Baltic
industrialists to the isolated, rural island. His influence was brought to an abrupt end when, in 1954, he was
charged with defrauding the government. The media, latching on to his murky past and his possible affiliation with
war criminals, made him the scapegoat of Newfoundland's problems, painting him as part comediam, part sinister
This was not the first time his name was connected with controversial issues. Valdmanis's wily political
manoeuvring is more the stuff of fiction than history. Between 1938, at age 29, and his ironic downfall in the safe
haven of Canada, he was a finance minister of pre-war Latvia, a government official during the Soviet invasion, a
shrewd collaborator under the Nazi occupation, then, a friend to the Allies, a spokesman for Latvian POW and
displaced persons, and an adviser to the government of Canada. In this first serious biography of Alfred
Valdmanis, historian Gerhard Bassler casts the story of this political manipulator and chameleon in new terms: the
often tragic consequences of the will to survive.
'To the student of mid-twentieth-century Latvian and Canadian history, the name of Alfred Valdmanis evokes contradictory and ambiguous associations.
Born in 1908 near Liepaga (Labau), Latvia, and killed in 1970 in a highway accident in Alberta, Canada, he lived sequentially in three countries under at least 10 different political regimes, including Tsarist, Imperial German,
liberal democratic, Latvian authoritarian, Soviet communist, and German National Socialist.
Between 1938 and 1954 he played key roles in six of these regimes, and his name is connected with some of the
peroid's most controversial issues. In 1954 his promising career abruptly ended with his conviction on charges of
defrauding the government of Newfoudnland. A political chameleon, enigmatic careerist, and charismatic
manipulator, Valdmanis has left his mark on the history of Latvia, Germany, and Canada.'
About the Author
GERHARD BASSLER is a history professor at the Memorial University of Newfoundland.