Sunday, 16 December 2007

Letter from Russia

Last week, an old friend of my aunt Ciocia Dziunia found this letter that my mother had sent her from exile in Russia. Dated July 1940 (below), the letter tells of daily life of a 12 year old girl on a Soviet labour camp. My mother's family was deported there as 'enemies of the People' in February 1940, along with hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens that had found themselves living under Soviet occupation after WW2 had broken out.

My mother writes that everyone over the age of 13 was working at the lumber camp chopping down trees, while she, as a junior, would rise at 5:00, join the queue for food, buy bread (brown loaf - 1 rouble 20 kopeks, white loaf - 2 roubles, 10 kopeks), and oily, watery soup with noodles (41 kopeks a bowl). At 12:00 there'd be lunch followed by another queue, then washing and mending clothes, and more yet queuing at 6:00 pm.
The camp, she writes, was surrounded by endless forest; it consisted of four barracks, mess hut, offices, bakery, baths and a de-lousing hut. There's kipyatok (hot drinking water), a place for sharpening saws and axes, a well, a summer club; a school and a nursury is being built for children from the age of three months to three years so that their mothers can go to work.
There were 400 people at the camp. My mother writes that she weighed 38 kilo, and as thin as a mosquito. She signs off apologising for her handwriting, as she's slowly forgetting to write in Polish (the schooling in the camp being in Russian).

Their labour camp, Spetspos'yolok 17, was over 20km from the nearest railway station, a place called Punduga, north of Kharovsk in the Vologda Oblast.

My aunt on my father's side survived Auschwitz; also well into her eighties, she receives a federal state pension from the German government. German Chancellors over the decades have wept openly at Warsaw's Umschlagplatz. Germany has atoned for its sins. But Russia? Not a bit of it. Kicking off WW2 in unison with Hitler, invading as many countries between September 1939 and June 1941 as Nazi Germany did, Russia still claims to be the victim. And my grandfather, a Polish citizen, is no doubt claimed as one of the "26 million Russian war dead". Alongside millions of Ukrainians, Belarusians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Moldovans, Transcarpathian Ruthenians and Karelian Finns forcibly turned into Soviet citizens after the start of WW2.


Aphelion said...

It's a shame that your family suffered so much in the war, and all that for nothing, for the folly of Hitler and his cronies! Yes, that's true, Germany has atoned, but sometimes I ask how things would have been if it had won the war. Would it have apologised? Not very likely; the winner is always right...I'm ashamed of what my country has done to others in the past, and I hope and pray it won't happen again, ever!

W-wa Jeziorki said...

Hitler's crony in 1939 was Stalin's Russia. Without the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, WW2 would not have broken out - it's as simple as that.

May war never blight the face of Europe ever again.

Aphelion said...

That's right, and it's a shame that it happeend, and that similar things keep happening all over the world. One can only hope that humanity will "grow up" at last and learn to live together peacefully!