Anna’s husband, Juris. Sadly, Erik never met his grandfather.
Anna and the entire group of men were surrounded by Russian soldiers and forced, at gunpoint, to begin marching towards town. Anna was the only woman in the group and the last person in line. She had heard the stories, and she knew what was happening was very, very bad.
As she quietly marched with the other men, suddenly, in her mind, there appeared a picture of her tiny, three month old daughter, Irena. Irena! Who would take care of her? What would happen to her? Irena was safely staying with Juris’ parents in the countryside, but how long would she be safe?
“Please.” She spoke in Russian as she twisted around as much as she could and tried to make eye contact with the guard behind her. “Please let me go.” The guard continued to look straight ahead and then butted her with his rifle. Anna turned back around and kept walking.
About a minute later, Anna turned around and said in a frantic whisper: “I have a newborn baby girl at home. Please, please let me go.” The guard looked at her quickly but then immediately looked straight ahead while remaining silent. She stumbled and righted herself, then turned back around to look straight ahead.
A few moments later, in one last attempt, she twisted around and whispered: “please, sir. Please let me go. I just had a baby, she’s only three months old, please let me return to her.” Anna stared intently at his eyes while continuing to walk forward. The guard would not meet her eyes, but for a quick second she thought she saw a softening in them. After what seemed an eternity, he finally made eye contact with her.
The guard spoke softly and forcefully: “Turn around and go. And don’t ask any questions.”
Sensing this was her one moment, she quietly and softly stepped out of line, backed away from the group, and then ran as fast as she could into the night. She stole one more glance at her beloved husband. The last image she had was of the back of his head as he was led farther away towards town. He didn’t even know she had left the line.
Anna was torn. Should she keep running? Or go back to the Russian soldiers and plead for the life of her husband? It was a miracle that she had just been let go; she knew that. What would be the chances that they would let her husband go as well?
With great sadness and resolve she chose to turn around and return to her apartment. Sleep was elusive that night, and Anna tossed and turned until dawn.
The next morning she walked into town and was told that the Russian soldiers had taken all the prisoners to the town prison. Upon reaching the prison, she learned that the Russian army (the NKVD) had already left the town, and in the process, had hastily executed its prisoners during the night!
Anna was stunned! What happened to Juris? Was he executed? Or did he manage to be released by some miracle?
Anna hoped against all hope and went inside the prison to look for her husband. She found another woman digging in the dirt, looking for something. Anna looked at her with questioning eyes, while recognizing that this woman was the wife of another man rounded up with Anna’s group the night before. Oh no! They both looked at each other with a sense of knowing as Anna dropped to her knees and began digging in the dirt a few feet away from this woman.
A few minutes later her nightmare was confirmed as she recognized Juris’ clothing peeking through the ground. She gasped! As she continued to move dirt away from the clothing, she found the face of her beloved. She was stunned to see that her once handsome husband was completely disfigured! It was clear that Juris was not hastily executed the night before, as she had been informed. Instead, his eyes were gouged out and ears cut off, tongue ripped out, and his jaw had been broken. In addition to this, he had also been shot! It was clear that he had been tortured at length.
Anna burst into tears and continued to cry over the dead body of her husband. The woman next to her had also located the body of her husband. The two women cried guttural cries in unison for a very long time, as the ground underneath them turned to mud.
Finally, Anna left the prison in a stupor, barely making it to her apartment. She collapsed on her bed in a heap.
After a long time of crying, her thoughts returned to her present circumstances, and of course, to her sweet baby girl.
She knew she had to get Irena – and also to let her husband’s parent’s hear the terrible news. However, a friend had told her that the city had been sealed off by the Germans. She would not be able to leave the city!
Not knowing what to do, Anna sent word to her older brother Losha to come and help her. He came to her apartment and she burst into tears once again.
Looking straight into her eyes, he sternly declared: “I am so sorry about Juris, Anna, but you need to be strong. You need to be strong for Irena!”
Anna met his gaze, and with her blue eyes red with tears, she nodded and said “yes.”
The two of them hastily packed a small sack of food and a change of clothes and left the apartment. Under the cover of darkness, both Losha and Anna evaded the German guards and escaped the city, crawling on their bellies to avoid detection, and walked the 30 kilometers to Juris’ parents’ home. They eventually made it to her husband’s family home and told them the awful news that their son had been executed.
To read part III, click here: Escape from Latvia part III, the List