Yakov Peters - Early Years

Early Years

He was born in Brinken volost of Hasenpoth uyezd (Courland Governorate), in a poor farmer's family on December 3, 1886. He became a member of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party in 1904. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1905 he was arrested in 1907 for the attempted murder of a factory director in Libau, but was later acquitted by the Riga military court in 1908. Peters emigrated to England and lived in London where he was a member of the London Group of the Social Democracy of Latvia and of the British Socialist Party. In 1911, he achieved notoriety in Britain when he and four others were arrested and put on trial in the aftermath of the Sidney Street Siege, which followed a failed jeweler's shop robbery at Houndsditch in which three police officers were killed. Despite some incriminating evidence (in connection with Peter the Painter), Peters and his companions were acquitted to the dismay of the Home Secretary Winston Churchill.

He married May Freeman, the daughter of a London banker, and together they had a daughter, Maisie Peters-Freeman (born 1914). After Peters had returned to Russia in May 1917, following the February Revolution, and become deputy head of the Cheka, he invited his wife and daughter to join him there: upon arrival in Russia, they discovered that Peters had a new family. Maisie, despite appealing to British authorities, died in the Gulag in 1971.

In Riga, Peters became one of the leaders of the Social Democracy of Latvia working at the front-lines of the Northern Front. During the German advance he moved to Valmiera where he was an editor of the party newspaper Cīņa. Peters was a peasant representative of the Governorate of Livonia to the Democratic discussion initiated by Kerensky.

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