It took us thirty-three days on the train to reach our destination in Russia. North-eastern Russia near the Finland border. The summer was short and the winter was very cold and long. Our train ride was a horrible experience. They packed us in the train carts like cows shipped to slaughter. So many people in each cart that we didn’t have a place to lie down. We could only sit next to each other. Only food we got is bread, sugar and water. If I remember right we got thirty-two grams of bread and about 1-2 teaspoons of sugar a day. When the train stopped then the guards; each train cart had its own guard, counted how many people were in each cart and how many died. They took out the ones that had died; it was a long train with many carts like ours. I could hear them asking “how many dead,” as they got further from us the sound was less loud; finally it died down. Also, each time the train stopped they took the steel barrels down; which were put on the train for urine and fecal materials. Sometimes they took the barrels down, rinsed them out and put water in it for us to drink. People just looked at the water and didn’t want to drink any; although everyone was extremely thirsty. Finally I said to myself, I don’t care if shit was in it, I am very thirsty and need to drink. After I drank, others did too; then the guards took the barrel, dumped out the water and gave us back the barrel for human waste.
It was late fall, but that part of Russia was very cold, winter came very early. The carts didn’t have any heat, just what our human bodies gave out. They took our extra clothing away from us before we were put on the train. The only thing I had, was the watch on my arm. A Russian soldier asked me how much I wanted for it. I told him I want a little extra bread; he said “No!” I still to this day don’t understand why he wouldn’t give me extra food for it. He could have just taken it away from me without any question, but he didn’t.
When the train stopped we tried to find out where we were, but there was no signs at the stations. When we asked the guard he didn’t answer us. The weather was very cold, at first it rained and later it snowed. Sometimes when the train stopped our ration of food didn’t arrive; probably do to the bad weather. The next day when the train stopped then we got double portions of bread and sugar to make up for what we lost the day before. One time during the night when I was very thirsty and no water was available, I had an idea. I found a nail sticking out of one of the train boards and managed to make a large enough hole on the bottom of the cart to put my hand down. I was trying to get some icicles to eat in place of water and some extras for the others. Each day I made the hole a little bigger and tried to used my hat to catch some snow from the ground under the train, that gave us all extra water to drink. This went on for a while, until the guard found out somehow and they fixed the hole and took the nail away from me. I didn’t understand why they didn’t give us enough water.
One of the men on our cart went crazy being locked up all the time. He used to yell and curse at everybody. One night when we all finally fell asleep he took off his shirt, tore it up and made a rope from it and hanged himself from the roof of the train cart during the night. When we woke up in the morning he was hanging there. I think no one did anything about it because he was yelling and cursing day in and day out. No one could sleep or rest for days. I guess people were happy not to hear his yelling, finally we could rest without hearing his voice. In the morning when the train stopped, they cut him down and took him away. We had one less person, a little more space for others. Each time someone died we had more space; finally we had enough room to lay down and sleep.
When our train ride ended, we thought things will change for us, for the better. Things didn’t happen that way. The worst had just started; we would find out as time went by.
(I’m certain that these events, as well as the others in this series of posts will be difficult to read. They are difficult to write as well; and that is the tragedy and realism of war. There are no winners or definitive lines of right or wrong. We can dare to speculate on what “we” might do under similar circumstances; only to hope we never have to make those decisions ourselves. With that…I end this post for the day.-Kat)