(The conclusion, of the “Potato Story,” and the start of the aftermath. We have almost reached the end f the memoirs. There is more to write, but sometimes things are left up to the imagination. Kati~)
“The Potato Story” Conclusion and part 1 of the “Aftermath”
When I walked up to my room in the barracks, to my surprise nobody was sleeping. The time was about midnight when someone lit a homemade oil lamp. They lifted me up in the air on their shoulders and carried me around the row of bunk beds. I went to the fireplace where the fire had already died out, but the brick walls were still warm. They asked me what happened and where I was. I just couldn’t talk from the shaking, I cried. Not from the pain I felt from my fingertips, I just cried; there was no explanation for it. Eventually I started to become myself again and removed the loot of frozen potatoes, that weren’t frozen any longer. I began to warm up even more which in turn caused the pain in my fingers to become worse; once again I started to cry, this time from the pain. The old friend of mine went outside to get some snow and started to rub my fingers with it; somehow reliving the pain.
All the potatoes were laying on the floor and someone made another fire. We started to feast on the potatoes and talk. They told me they were watching through the window; following every episode until I ran away from the potato pile and disappeared by the side of the barracks. They told me it was like watching a movie. There was cheering and laughter knowing I was under the canvas only a short distance away from the guard.
Finally after everything was done, we went to sleep. I hardly slept from the returning pain. Six o’clock we got up to go to work. Winter time in that part of Russia meant short daylight. Day break started after eight a.m. and the dark came right after three p.m. Because of the morning darkness, we began work in the factory at eight a.m. I felt tired but otherwise alright except for my fingertip. I could go to the prisoner hospital but I knew they would question me about how my fingers got frostbite. I was afraid I could not give them an acceptable explanation and it was a sure way to get into trouble.
So I went to work, covered my hands with a mitten. Besides a Russian “boss,” we had a prisoner head cabinet-maker from who we took our orders. The head cabinet-maker was living in the same room in the camp and knew the story. He tried to cover it up as much as he could in the wood-working shop. The pain didn’t stop so I finally went to him. I told him I wanted him to sent me outside to cut wood boards. He said, “you crazy, it’s too cold outside.” I told him that was the reason I wanted to go. Then he caught on to my idea. I went outside, selected and began cutting some wood boards. Surprisingly my fingers didn’t hurt me as much outside in the bitter old, then inside in the warm wood-workers shop. About an hour later I came back in and started to complain. He called the Russian guard, who then started to yell at me on how stupid I was to go out and work “without” mittens. I said I lost them in the camp or someone stole them. He looked at my fingers and told me I had to go to the hospital. The head cabinet-maker told him to write it down on paper, how it happened for the record. He did.
That same night I was a patient in the prisoner hospital, sleeping on a normal bed, with more nutrients and bread; so by prisoner standards I ate better food. For that brief time it was a heavenly feeling to watch the falling snow from a warm hospital bed.
(“Aftermath” to be continued….Kati~)