In between the giant nation of Russia and the lovely and cold Baltic sea sits three small sister nations: Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Before World War II, the rolling hills of Latvia boasted a population of 1.2 million. After that war, only 600,000 of her countrymen remained.
What happened to the other half of Latvia’s people? Sadly, many of them either died or were outright executed, many more were packed up like cattle and shipped to work camps (some as far as Siberia and the North Pole), while the rest bundled up everything they owned, grabbed their young children by the hand, and walked out of Latvia forever, joining thousands of other refugees in war-torn Germany and other parts of Europe. By war’s end, many refugees had died in cities that were destroyed. Of the survivors, most were unable to return to their homeland and were forced to relocate to other countries. Only a few (about 34,000) were fortunate enough to relocate to the United States to begin a new life.
One of these brave refugees from Latvia was named Anna, who, along with her young daughter Irena, fled their country and navigated through Western Europe, barely escaping death on multiple occasions, and lived for several years in a safe zone in Germany, before eventually settling in the United States. Anna and her daughter made a wonderful new life in America.
Irena eventually grew up, got married, and had three sons. All of Irena’s sons are now married and have children of their own, and Anna’s legacy of bravery and perseverance lives on in the lives of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
I have benefited greatly from Anna’s courage, for I married Erik, her favorite grandson. 🙂
This is their amazing story of survival, courage, and God’s protective hand.
Chapter One – Anna’s Early Years
Anna Ancans was born on December 9, 1911 in Malkalni, Latvia. Anna was the youngest of eight children with bright blue eyes and long, wavy, thick brown hair.
Anna’s day started at 4 am while it was still dark, as she lived on a small a small working farm in the far eastern regions of Latvia, where it was her job to herd and watch the cows. She attended school, which was 8 km way, with her brother Losha. They both lived at their school during the week. Anna remembers packing six slices of rye bread, some barley, potatos and – if lucky – a bit of homemade cheese into their little white cloth food bags and hope it was enough for the week. She liked learning, and geography became her passion.
After school, and moved to Riga, Latvia’s capital. There, she worked at the Dzervju Art School and Library. She also worked for a time in bookkeeping and for the Ministry of the Interior. Life was simple, but money was tight back in those days. In order to save money for her one dress or shoes, she often would eat bread and soup in the “Student Kitchen” in Riga, where the poorer students regularly gathered for a hot, cheap meal.
A few years later she met and married handsome Juris Maskalans. Juris was an accountant, he served in the Home Guard, and was a musician and poet. Juris was outgoing with a great sense of humor. He was loved by everyone. He often played his guitar at informal social gatherings, and Anna later said that he reminded her of Elvis Presley. She and Juris married in 1939 at the age of 28.
In June 1940, Russian soldiers – hundreds of thousands of them – were at Latvia’s borders. Soon after, Losha learned that Anna’s entire family was on a list for arrest and deportation. The city of Rezekne was sealed off by the Russians.
One day the phone rang. It was Anna’s older sister Emilija calling.
“Anna, I had a dream,” her sister said breathlessly. “In my dream I saw Latvia’s fields, covered in blood. What do you think that means Anna?”
A nervous shiver ran down her spine and she instinctively reached for her belly. Anna was pregnant. She wondered how this instability would affect her and her new baby. A few months, on February 18 1941, they welcomed Irena was born on February 18, 1941.
1941 was the Year of Terror in Latvia. And one night, that came true for Anna.
About three months after the birth of Irena, Anna and Juris went over to a friend’s house to play cards. While all the men gathered in the living room upstairs, Anna went down to the basement to get some food. Suddenly, she felt the sharp point of a bayonet at her back. It was a Russian soldier – fiercely demanding that Anna tell him who was upstairs and what they were doing. Anna explained that they were simply enjoying a game of cards. Suddenly, she could see more soldiers surrounding the home. She was filled with fear. In just a few moments her life would change forever.
To read Part II – Escape from Latvia part II — Rounded Up
To read Part III – Escape from Latvia part III, the List
To read Part IV (if you only read two parts, read this one and the next) – Escape from Latvia Part IV — Bombings and Miracles in Germany
If you only read one part, read this one – Part V – Escape from Latvia part V – Last Train out of Dresden.