People worked in the “tozep banya” . They were cutting a brownish color material, this material would become coal in time. The Russian people use it for heating. They were cutting it in water. The weather was very cold and they had to work with water up to their knees. Not to mention the food was very poor and not enough. The work was hard with long hours; 10-12 hours per day, six days a week. So there is no need to mention that people didn’t last for a long time. They told me I had to work there. After the first day of work I came to the conclusion that the only way out of here is the cemetery. I was not wrong about that; people died like flies. The ones who didn’t die and became sick were transferred to the hospital for a few weeks until they fattened up a bit; so they could go back to work. Sometimes I wondered if those who died where in a better place than us here. Sometimes I had even questioned “God” why he allowed this kind of suffering to go on. After a few weeks of this kind of work I became very weak with diarrhea and lost a lot of my weight; which was not much to begin with.
They transferred me to the hospital for some fattening. The hospital was poorly equipped, and the majority of medicine was vitamins. People were in so bad shape that their teeth came out just by gently pulling on it without any bleeding. Lots of people became blind after sun down. The only good thing was at least we had two meals with vitamins and were in a warm place. For many of us it was even difficult to walk to the bathroom. When I was feeling a little better they gave me things to do. One of the chores was to go with the doctor woman and carry the tray containing vitamins and wound dressing material. They also gave cod liver oil to drink. I found out after I took it a few times I felt better. As weeks passed by, I got stronger and picked up a few more pounds. I looked a little better, they saw this change in me and told me soon I will be returning to work.
I was walking behind her. She was a good looking lady doctor with rosy cheeks so when she made rounds I always volunteered to help her. I said to myself, I would rather die then go back there. Maybe I was lucky to get out of there this time, but I am sure the second time I won’t be that lucky.
I had a friend, an older man (Ferenc) in the woodwork shop and I managed to talk to him and told him that they would be sending me back soon. I asked him to find a way for me to go to work in the wood work shop. He promised me he would do his best to get me there. The next day he went to the shop foreman and told him that he needed a helper, because the work was getting too much for him and he wouldn’t be able to do all the work in time. He also mentioned there was this young boy who’s father was a cabinet worker and he knows a lot about working with wood. With great difficulty he managed to get me there. I was so grateful, at least, it was a warm place which was needed to glue wood. I told myself “God” gave me another chance for life. I was working there for a few months. I had a chance to interact with the outside people, the real Russian people. They were very poor themselves. I found a way to trade with them different things. Like they were short of soap; not that we had a lot. I decided to make small wood blocks and cover them with soap and sell it as a bar of soap. In exchange for the soap they gave me tobacco, which was not really tobacco but grass. The grass I sold in the camps for sugar and bread. That time I didn’t smoke and was always hungry. I was a tall skinny young boy. That was the age when I was supposed to grow into a strong, young man. I was just glad to survive from one day to the next.
I was doing my little side job, but later on the people got smart. Before they bought any soap from me they pierced through it all the way with a needle to make sure it was soap. That was the time for me to start a new thing. My mind was always on food. I was always hungry. I did anything and everything to put my hand on extra food.
(Many of the stories my father wrote down where random. Where one ended the other picked up… For clarification purposes peat moss mining/mines “tozeglap/tozegmoha/banyak” took place in Russia’s swamps and bogs. In 1929 over 40% of the Soviet Union’s electricity came from peat; declining after its peak in 1965.