Episodes from Camp 1013 Tschasowiar

(by Adam Mersch, translated by Diana Lambing)


The train stopped, the locomotive wailed and halted. The bolts on the wagons were opened and we saw our new 'accommodation' which was to be our home or prison for five years. Watched by the Red Army soldiers, we were set up in columns and taken to a room, which we later found out was the factory kitchen. Here we were first de-loused - we had had enough of these unpleasant travelling companions during our 19-day long transport. We were taken to the municipal baths where both our clothes and ourselves were rid of these parasitic pests. Then we were split up into the two sexes and shown our quarters. The men were put in the Club, a ruin of a building of which there were only a few remains left. There was no roof, nor doors or windows. Everything was now panelled with remnants of wood through which the icy wind from the Steppes blew. An old stove served as a heater and this was fed with left-over green wood which caused so much smoke that it stung the eyes and made it nigh impossible to recognise ones neighbours. Our beds were wooden planks on which we would spend the night, packed like sardines, shivering with cold and wrapped in blankets which we still had from home.

Whilst we sat on the planks in the evenings, discussing our fate, living off our reserve food rations from home, hundreds of rats gathered beneath our feet, fighting and squealing for their lives, and they would only scramble under the planks, screaming, when we threw our wooden shoes at them. Unfortunately, that did not get rid of them; they came back during the night. They bit my father's ear, and whatever else they could, to satisfy their hunger. Conditions remained like this until summer, when we moved into a tent camp.

My father and I worked at the time for Konstruktia OKS (construction). Regarding meals, it was the same almost every day: First course - Borscht soup, which was cabbage water with a few strands of lost-looking pieces of sauerkraut, and some droplets of fat which looked like eyes floating in the plate, all swimming around the plate looking lost. Now and then we would find a sour green tomato amongst the food. We had to eat this 'beef tea' for five whole years. The second course was a spoonful of corn bread or barley / Kascha. That was the height of culinary specialities.

But let us leave the secrets of the kitchen. Later during 1945 we had moved into a building which had since been renovated. The first transport of sick people was set up and was due to leave before Christmas for home. My father, who had grown very weak from diarrhoea and lack of nourishment, and who was physically broken, was also part of this transport. He refused to go and didn't want to leave without me. I, hoping to save him - and also because my mother was alone at home, my brother being in a Polish prison - really wanted him to go. He cried bitterly and on saying goodbye said, "Child, we will never see each other again!" Unfortunately, he was right. He never reached home and died on the way in Focsani hospital.

I was now working on the steam-boiler as a stoker. The work wasn't easy, but it was bearable. We also changed from one workplace to another, depending on what was required, and in the coal mine. The Natschalnik was a real Neanderthal Tovarisch Romantschuk. He couldn't stand us Germans. Ilja Ehrenburg had already stated that 'every day you fail to kill a German is a day lost'. This Romantschuk was a true representative of this theory. We had to clear snow from the tracks in the mornings for the wagons so that the boilers could be filled with coal. But the snow was frozen to the tracks and the handle of my shovel once broke off. I went to the workshop, honestly wanting to repair the damage. Master Doroftei snapped at me, asking why I wasn't working. He went straight to the Natschalnik, who received me in his office straight away with the claim that I didn't want to work and had sabotaged the tool. This was obviously a new concept for him. To support his claim he locked the door behind me, took a hard rubber hose from the wall and began to beat me. I will never forget his grotesque face full of rage and hate. In his rage, he struck and broke my arm in two. An excrutiating pain ran through me and, cursing, he dismissed me, ordering me to go straight back to work. But I couldn't even move the arm and ran through the control to the camp. There, the NKWD officer saw me and asked why I wasn't at work. I told him my troubles and he ordered me to go immediately to the doctor and then to go with her to the district town of Artemowsk. There at the clinic the arm was X-rayed and put in plaster. The broken bones were of course diagnosed. When I recovered I was moved to the horse yard.

Things were bad in 1947. Famine ruled at the time and we were of course given no preferential treatment. But where there is a will, there is a way. My colleague Weimert had found out that a Russian woman always let her cow graze close to the factory wall. So he crept up and began to milk the cow through the barbed wire. His rubber boots served as vessels. The milk did have a salty taste and a penetrating smell, but it satisfied his hunger. There were paradoxical situations which we could only solve through the black market by working for the civilians, or by stealing. To go into all these cases would be too lengthy for this short account.

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The picture above was drawn by my art teacher, Viktor Stuermer, in the punishment camp Workuta am Eismeer. Next to it he wrote the words of the prophet Moses: 'God created Man in His own image'. The picture symbolises how Man behaves towards his fellow men and brothers.

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