In the beginning of WWII, free and independent Latvia stood as a neutral country. However, in 1939, the Russians and Germans signed a non-aggression treaty known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molotov%E2%80%93Ribbentrop_Pact] which secretly detailed an agreement that carved up Eastern Europe amongst them, marking 2 spheres of influence, German and Russian. Latvia fell into the Russian sphere, and through deceitful tactics was quickly invaded and annexed by the USSR. The following year in Latvian history is known as the year of terror.
Immediately the new Soviet authorities began deporting Latvians to gulags in Siberia[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulags]. People involved with the former government, the military, the Farmer’s Union, the Aizsargi, anyone who was believed to harbor anti-Soviet sentiments, rich or influential people and well-educated people were all the targets of these deportations. This served the Russian government with 2 purposes: their objective of colonizing Siberia, and “russifying” Latvia, weakening Latvian culture.
These deportations culminated on the night of June 14, 1941. Around 15,500 people were awoken in the middle of the night to be arrested. Another 1,000 were estimated to have been shot that night for resisting. They given one hour to ready themselves, and only pack what they themselves could carry. The rest of their belongings were confiscated by the government. They were herded to railway stations, where men were separated from the women and children and the groups were loaded onto cattle or freight train cars. The men were bound for hard, forced labour camps in distant Siberia. The women and children were sent to “administrative settlements” as family members of enemies of the state. Even on their train car journey, the deportees were treated harshly, meager food rations and unsanitary living conditions meant many of the weaker, older, or very young died along the way.
Conditions in the gulags were horrendous. Harsh winters, back-breaking work and poor nutrition meant disease ran rampant though the people. Many men, women and children perished, or were executed by the guards for whatever reason they saw fit. Those who did survive were eventually released years later, but many had ruined mental and physical health.
Cutting short the Soviet’s planned continued deportation scheme, (luckily for Latvia) Nazi Germany invaded Latvia just a week after the mass deportations. Within a month, Latvia was now occupied by Germany and considered part of the Reichskommissariat Ostland. Anyone disobedient to this government or who had co-operated with the Soviets (or was Jewish or Roma, of course) were executed or sent to concentration camps. The Germans conscripted some Latvians into various military groups as well.
As we all know though, the Germans and their Axis allies lost the war. The Latvians had held out hope that the Allied powers (USA, Britain, France, Russia, etc) would help them become independant once again, but this was not the case. At the end of the war, Latvia would once again be occupied by Soviet Russia, known as the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. This occupation lasted from 1944-1991 and would see another mass deportation in March of 1949, along with many more atrocities.