(A Hungarian Memoir, POW Part 2 – Camp Life)
(Part 2-Camp Life, continues with stories of my fathers experiences and thoughts about life a prisoner of war in a Russian labor camp.)
It was a bitter cold morning on the celebration day of the Russian Revolution November 7, 1946. Ordinarily we would have had our head count outside, but today was special. As a holiday gift from our captures head count was in the barracks. One Russian guard and a prison commander went from room to room to make sure no one had escaped during the night. Escape to where I used to think? We were thousands of miles from our homeland in the isolated town of “Pikolov.” The town located somewhere near lake Ladoga between Leningrad and Finland. It was a small town with a factory in which I and the other prisoners of war worked. Nobody ever told us what they used to manufacture in the factory before the war. The only thing we knew was train loads of machinery arrived from Germany to build a cement factory.
As far as escaping was, it was almost impossible. Very few prisoners were physically capable of walking long distances not to mention the bitter Russian winter and the language barrier. Even the few that where physically fit and spoke Russian fluently would think twice before escaping. Being caught meant almost certain death in the punishment camp; where a prisoner worked twelve-hour days, seven days a week with only one meal.
The head count was in the morning and usually took from one to two hours. Under no circumstances was a prisoner allowed to leave their area during the count. Diarrhea was a common sickness between us and if someone wasn’t able to hold it until the count was over, they were forced to go where they stood.
When the bell would ring it let us know the head count was finished successfully. Immediately after we formed a line and went to breakfast. All of us were organized in brigades consisting of twenty to thirty prisoners. This was the way we worked, ate and slept.
The breakfast was the usual for the past few months or so. The season called for potatoes. Frozen potatoes were cooked in salty water and served with half our daily bread allowance, about three hundred and thirty-five grams. You may ask me, “how was it?” It was great as far as I can remember. Frozen potato soup, cabbage soup, carrot soup, grain soup or wheat husk cereal with a trace of fish was the best tasting food I ever ate. It would be for you too if you were starving to the point of death, barely able to pinch flesh from your bones. Being hungry is not missing a meal or two, being hungry is when day after day, week after week and month after month there is barely enough to fill your stomach. Nothing else occupies your mind except food! Being hungry is when your hair falls out and you can pull a tooth out painlessly without traces of blood. It is when you stop being and acting human and animal instincts takes over. Survival of the fittest doing whatever it takes; lying, cheating, stealing and probably kill just for one thing to eat. If I simply would say, “we had two meal a day,” perhaps six hundred and seventy grams of bread and a leveled tablespoon of sugar. You could say “what are you complaining about?” “You aren’t on vacation, you are a prisoners of war.” I would say, you are right. Was I or the others expecting bacon, eggs, hash browns and toast for breakfast or maybe a nice T-bone steak. But I don’t try to compare the average American meal with the rest of the world, especially the menu of a prisoner of war camp. Not many places eat as we eat in America. The food met the bare minimum required for a human to survive. The people who fed us these “meals” were the same society of people who promised to deliver or create a “working mans paradise.”
To try to convince millions of hungry at home and abroad was the number one priority of the Communist propaganda machine. I say their working mans paradise as very green and unripe.
(Part 3 scheduled for post next week Monday the 24th, and picks up with the “working mans paradise. Kati~)