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"Erna's Life" a story of survival during WWII

Apr 1, 2015

Erna Roberts tells the story of how her family escaped Soviet-controlled Latvia.

Erna Roberts has had a full life. As a survivor of the WWII Nazi takeover of her homeland, Latvia, as well as two separate Russian occupations, still living on her own at the age of 97 is the least of her feats.

Her experiences are the subject of "Erna's Life," a new biography written by Janice Whelan and Erna Roberts.

Whelan describes Roberts' life growing up as something of a fairy tale, surrounded by forest, flowers, and castles where she grew up in the country. Her father was a successful businessman with woodworking factories.

Roberts says she can still recall the first Russian takeover. She remembers standing on the university steps, about to go home, and watching Russian tanks pass by.

Her mother greeted her when she got home by telling her that they didn't have a country anymore.

Roberts' father's construction business was taken away and he was only allowed to visit without any other involvement.

Then, her mother, grandfather, and brother were sent to Siberia. A Russian solider empathized with her situation because he had not been able to see his family for years, so he allowed her to say goodbye to them.

When Germany took over, Roberts' father was allowed to take back his business, but his land wasn't returned.

Roberts' journey to America happened by luck. She says to this day she does not know how her husband's uncle in America was able to locate where they were, but he sent a message saying that he would pay their way to the United States.

Whelan was a childhood friend of Roberts’ daughter and was shocked when she was told her story.

Whelan says she came to realize, "Everyone lives in their own reality and we assume everyone's reality is ours."

In the beginning, Roberts says she kept her story secret, telling none of her coworkers at one of her first jobs.

Her boss eventually discovered her past when a salesman shared a newspaper story with him that included a write-up on her father's death that outlined his legacy as a Latvian millionaire, and their family's story.

When he asked her why she never told anyone she replied, "Why should I? I'm just like every other employee here."