Losha came to Anna one night with some troubling news: “Anna, there is a new list. You are on it.”
“The List” was short for the Deportation list. Thousands of Latvians had been shipped to Siberia’s harsh labor camps, while thousands more were tortured and killed in Communist death chambers. Latvia’s tiny population of 1.2 million was decimated; only one half of her people remained.
“The List” was a death sentence to those whose names were found on it. Sadly, the list grew daily as Latvians, Communist sympathizers, and others in fear for their own lives, cooperated with the occupying forces by reporting on and betraying their friends, family, and neighbors. Only the very brave would tell their friends and family in advance if someone they knew and loved was on the dreaded list.
Anna’s heart fell and she knew she had a big decision to make. Should she stay in Latvia and attempt to evade authorities, or leave her homeland, perhaps forever?
Anna was now remarried to a good man named Karlis and was living in Riga, Latvia’s capital city. Karlis was eventually drafted into the war, leaving Anna and Irena, now three, to fend for themselves. It was during this time that the tug of war for Latvia between the Germans and Russians continued. Things were better in Latvia when the Germans had control. Around this time the Germans pushed the Russians out of Latvia and declared Marshall law.
With great sadness, Anna decided that leaving Latvia was in her and Irena’s best interests. Anna packed up their humble belongings, placed Irena in a baby carriage, put a loaf of bread in her lap, and walked towards Riga Harbor. Her new husband had arranged safe passage on a refugee ship bound for Germany. It was a long walk, and as they moved between war zone and neutral zone, they had to crawl on their bellies at night to avoid detection.
At last they entered Riga Harbor and boarded the crowded refugee ship. Anna looked around and noticed something striking: there were so many women and children!
“Where are all the men?” she asked to nobody in particular. She watched the boat slowly pull away from Latvia’s coastline, the only home she had ever known.
Anna looked down at her three year old daughter and squeezed her hand. Irena looked up at her with her blue eyes and sweet smile. Irena was such a good girl, and Anna was thankful. When she looked back up, Latvia’s coastline was gone.
A couple of nights later, as Anna was tucking Irena into her tiny bed, she heard the growing rumble of war planes, many of them, flying overhead. From somewhere along the coast line she also heard the wail of air raid sirens. All of the sudden, all of the lights turned off in the ship. Anna and Irena were it utter darkness.
“Mommy,” Irena asked too loudly. “Why are all the lights off?”
“Hush child,” Anna said. “we need to be quiet so that those airplanes don’t hear us.” So there they sat, Anna cradling Irena, in complete darkness and silence. They waited.
After the planes had passed, the lights eventually came back on. Anna wanted to know why the lights had all turned off, so she found a ship mate.
“Oh don’t you know?” He asked casually. “If they see our boat, they will bomb us,” he said simply.
They continued on and arrived in Germany a few days later.
The only problem was that the country of Germany, during this stage of World War II, was about the absolute worse place a young widow refugee and her little girl could possibly be.
To read Part IV, click here (this is a great one by the way): Escape from Latvia Part IV — Bombings and Miracles in Germany