Elza Žiglevica (August 24, 1898 – October 29, 1919)

This Latvian student, and holder of our nation’s highest military award – The Order of Lāčplēsis, was one of the brightest examples of self-sacrifice, by women during the Latvian War of Independence.

Elza was born into the family of a wealthy and patriotic Latvian doctor. Already as a teenager she had donated to Latvian riflemen, money which she had been saving to buy stylish new boots for herself. This gifted and educated girl discontinued her studies, and work as a teacher of mathematics, along with being a Latvian press reporter. Elza did this so she could serve as a volunteer in the women’s aid corps, together with her friends in the defense of (from The West Russian Volunteer Army or so called Bermontians) endangered Riga. During this tragic period the people of Riga witnessed the loss of several victims everyday – falling both as soldiers and civilians. This was because the Bermontians were attempting to do as much damage to Riga as possible by daily artillery shelling of the city from the opposite side of the Daugava river, which was a result of the fact that they were unable to take the city by encirclement. Elza was one of the girls, who applied for the dangerous task of bringing food to the defensive positions in the city, which were under constant fire from the enemy’s bullets and artillery. Later, other participants in the women’s aid corps remembered Elza as being one of the most energetic and helpful ladies: “She was so full of life and enthusiasm, that it seemed almost unnatural for her to feel the fear. She was not frightened either by cannonade, nor by the noise of machine-guns.”

On October 10, during a day of intense artillery fire, some of the volunteers warned Elza, that it was impossible to deliver food supplies under such dangerous conditions. Elza simply replied, that it was also impossible for soldiers to leave their positions to obtain this needed food. While performing her duty, she was severely wounded by a cannon shot. As a result both legs of the girl were crushed. On October 17, her left leg had to be amputated. In spite of this, she still felt optimistic, and dreamed of returning to a normal life and learning to walk with an artificial leg. As some witnesses later stated; in war time it is common knowledge about the lack of many necessities, especially medical supplies. This brave young woman courageously refused to take much needed medicine saying, that injured soldiers need it more. The staff and patients at the hospital were astonished by her patience and kind attitude during her suffering. During this time she did her best to hide her pain in order to avoid causing her family and friends to grieve. Just a few days before her death she whispered to her friend Biruta: “Be so kind and bend over me, so that my mommy does not see my tears.” In October 29, after meeting her beloved childhood priest, this 21 year old girl died in the hospital.

In spite of heavy enemy artillery attacks, her funeral was held on November 2, and was attended by many people. Elza was then buried with full military honors. Her parents received a letter of personal condolence from Prime Minister, Kārlis Ulmanis, which said: “With deep sadness I received a shattering message about the death of your daughter Elza Žiglevica. The hopes of us all have been devastated; that she would recover from her serious injuries and could still be in our midst and, with her bright youthful idealism would continue to inspire all of us with her self-sacrificing work for our homeland. In the struggle for a free Latvia, she will remain as the most beautiful example of patriotic enthusiasm to be found in Latvian women. Forever, she will be a noble example of selfless love for her homeland. She will always be a heroine and source of pride for the people of Latvia.” The name of the student Elza Žiglevica is still written today on the memory desk in the hall of the University of Latvia.

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