Why We Care.org

I have a black-and-white photograph of myself as a child in Riga, staring solemnly at the camera. I am wearing a blue coat trimmed with white rabbit fur. It was the early 1940s, a time of war and foreign occupation, and my grandmother had gone to all sorts of trouble to find the materials for this coat. I look at this photograph, at my serious, young face, and I am inspired by my grandmother’s act – to make something needed out of seemingly nothing!

My childhood was not an easy one, but I did survive. Having experienced one Stalinist Soviet occupation in 1940-1941, my parents were not ready to endure another one. Three days before the Red Army took Riga, in October of 1944, they fled, taking with them my baby sister, me, and only what they could carry in their hands. They had a faint hope that they might possibly return, but deep in their hearts they sensed that they were leaving forever.

Women and girls anywhere in the world should have the right of choice over their lives and command over the integrity of their bodies.

We kept moving West. Less than a month after leaving Latvia, my baby sister died in a German transit camp. A year later, in Lübeck, my mother gave birth to my brother at a Red Cross Hospital run by Latvian refugee nurses and doctors. In the bed next to her was an eighteen-year-old Latvian refugee girl who had just given birth as well. At the end of the war, her family had become caught in the wild rampages of the victorious Red Army in East Germany. Jadwiga had been brutally gang-raped by a band of Russian soldiers.