FROZEN INFERNO ( Part II )
One group of fifteen young men tried to escape on foot from Trofimovsk but en route all of them froze to death.
About the middle of December 1942 there were thirty people in our section, Number 10, of whom only four, three women and myself, could still stand up and go to work. They sent us to the interior of the island, about 7 to 10 kilometers away, to look for logs brought by the current from the upper part of the Lena River. When we found logs, we would chop them out of the ice, tie rope sleighs to them and drag them back to the camp. These logs were for the guards to heat their homes and offices. Our shoulders were all covered with sores.
The remaining twenty-six people lay swollen from hunger and exhaustion or they could not walk because of scurvy and the stiffness of the joints resulting from scurvy when the blood oozed into their joints. Usually the disease attacked several joints. After that stage diarrhea and death normally followed.
The sick used to ask for water, which we could get only be melting ice and snow. So every night I used to creep to the warehouse and steal a few bits of wood and drag them back to our barracks. We would light a barabona (half metal barrel), on which we boiled water and heated bricks with which we warmed the sick people’s feet. When the barabona was lit, the ice on the ceiling would melt and would begin to drip on those lying down; people lay under a sheet of ice.
One night when I had chopped up the wood and lit the barabona, our guards suddenly burst into the barracks. By following my footprints in the snow, they had found the planks and the thief. They wrote down a statement and bound me over for trial. It was Christmas Eve, 1942. My mother lay almost dying on a bunk; her face was so swollen that you could not see her eyes. Her urine was full of blood; she was suffering from an inflammation of the kidneys. She lay on a cold board with a sack for a blanket. I used to warm her with my own body. The peole who collected the bodies came and asked me where hers was.
At night they led me to the trial, held in the adjacent barracks. A table was covered with red cloth and lights lit. Seven people sat on a bench reserved for the accused: five for stealing boards and two because at night they had stolen into the bakery and started to eat bread; they had fainted there. One of them was Albertas Janionis, a drama student from S^iauliai. In the morning they had found them lying there. All the accused denied having stolen boards; one was taking a board to make a coffin for his child, another had found one lying on the ground, and so on. I was sitting at the end of the row. It was a military trial - very fast. Within half an hour the judge had questioned six people and then asked me if I admitted I was guilty.
“Yes, I admit it.”
“Maybe one of the older people sent you to do it?”
“Then . . . maybe you don’t understand Russian very well?”
“No. I understand you.”
The court went out to make its decision. We waited for the verdict. Not much longer, and then our sufferings would be over. Everything would be over. They would march us to the camp 30km. Away; not one of us would make it there. We would all freeze and die in a snow bank. And finally there would be an end.
The verdict: For the bread - three years each; for the boards - one year each. Only I was acquitted, “because of my sincere confession.” Why? I could not go on living, but they left me alive, while others, who wanted to live, wee going to face death. I returned to the barracks. My mother still lay there unconscious. It was cold; a fagot was burning. There was no water. I went back to steal more boards.
A few days later all those who had been condemned were sent to the punishment camp one morning under guard. Shortly afterwards a blizzard blew up. On the second day, a fifteen-year-old boy, Beria Charasas, from Kaunas, returned with one arm frozen (he had been one of those condemned for a board). He told us that fourteen of the prisoners had lost their way during the storm and that probably all of them had died with their guards. They took the boy Beria by dog sled to the harbor of Tiksi where they cut off his arm at the shoulder. That was the price he paid for one board! Among the young men who died in the blizzard were Dzikas and Luminas Bronius, condemned for trying to steal a loaf of bread. In the spring, when the Lena River broke up the ice, which bound it, we would see the ice floes carrying the frozen corpses into the Laptev Sea.
Burials were carried out by three brigades of three people each (Mrs. Abromaitis, Mrs. Marcinkevic^ius, Mr. Abromaitis, Mr. Petrauskas, Mrs. Lukos^evicius, Mrs. Tac^iulionis, Mr. Tac^iulionis, and Mrs. Tautvais^a, who lives in Sweden now). Every day they used to drag the corpses out of the barracks, pile them onto sleighs and, harnessing themselves with ropes, drag them several hundred meters from the barracks and pile them up like firewood. The people in these burial details were in very poor shape themselves and did not have the strength to lift a corpse down from an upper bunk. So they would tie a rope to its feet and, all pulling together, they would drag it down to the ground. Not infrequently a handful of the dead person’s hair would remain stuck in the ice on the wall. When a storm raged, the dead lay day and night alongside the living. The body of Mrs. Daniliauskas, the wife of the director of the Marijampole high school, lay for four days beside her son, who could not get up because of scurvy. Blowing snow filled their barrack so completely that you could get into it only by crawling through a narrow gap in the snow. When this dead woman’s body was dragged with ropes through that gap, her son Antanas shouted after her, “Forgive me, dear little mother, for being unable to follow you to your grave!”
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