Austra Zalcmane was born in 1935, the daughter of a local historic leader of the Aizsargi, a paramilitary organisation formed during the Latvian war of independence that back the authoritarian regime of Kārlis Ulmanis (1934-1940). The hierarchy of the organisation was soon targeted by Soviet repression and Austra’s family were evicted from their home.
On 14 June 1941, the family was arrested and separated. Her father was sentenced to forced labour and did not survive. Lilija, her mother, brother and sisters were deported to the Krasnoyarsk region. Her little brother died there, her mother and the three girls suffered hunger and illness.
In 1946, Austra and her sisters were allowed to return to Latvia, as part of a measure concerning Latvian and Estonian orphans and half-orphans in the special settlements, and were fostered by their aunt. She went to school and became a primary schoolteacher. Her mother returned in 1957 under the amnesty for all the special settlers.
Austra is the sister of Lilija Kaijone.