5. Dezember 1946
|GEO & MIL INFO|
|Smolensk main station|
|Building site: Setting corners for a small house, ul. Konenkowa (ul. Kozlova?) No. 10 od. 12|
|Works for KMTS(?)||position unknown|
|Farm: Helping up a panje horse||position still unknown|
|Goods station, steep slope, village|
|19th: Begin of First Indochina War|
From 5 Dec 46 the norm system is tightened: with 100-110% work performance there are 600 g of bread, with 80-100% 500g, with less than 80% only 400 g of bread and less products (that’s what they call the food here, flour, millet, potatoes, vegetables). So if you wanted to earn a few roubles in cash to buy something extra, apart from the often inadequate food in the camp, you have to achieve 150% work output. But what’s even worse is that they don’t even credit us for the percentages we genuinely earned. We are constantly cheated by Ivan and the camp nobility, including the kitchen, with the working hours, the earnings, the clothing, the food. Instead of soya flour, there are ground beans, because Ivan has sold the more valuable soya flour and exchanged it for the raw beans. Potato soup made from unpeeled potatoes.
In the long run, the insufficient nutrition leads to severe damage, stomach and intestinal diseases, dental diseases, physical and mental decay. Those who depend only on camp rations are broken and die after 1/2 year. We experienced it. The distrophics running around are wrecks. If they are lucky, they are sent home before they die. Back home they then read the obituaries, “Completely debilitated from Soviet captivity.... buried yesterday.” Or: “... sick forever...” Crimes against humanity are being committed here, which the world public either does not know about or ignores. For two years I have not been able to eat my fill at any meal. Always hungry, always hungry. No more power.
One of us, a farmer’s son, says, “When I get home, I go to our pigsty and get a helping from the feed trough, because our pigs get more nutritious feed than we do here.”
On the plateau behind our Palace of Culture is a village settlement with small wooden houses, typical of the outskirts of the big cities. In one of these houses we talk to a girl who had worked in Germany during the war. She tells us so enthusiastically how beautiful everything was there that we finally ask her why she didn’t stay there. She looks at us in amazement and says: “But this is my home!”
A landser says: “Ivan made two big mistakes. He showed us the Soviet Union and he showed his soldiers Germany!”
Cinemas, newspapers, books and the radio are stirring up hatred against us. One of the worst agitators is the Jew Ilya Ehrenburg. His books are dripping with hatred. His call to the Red Army “Rape the blond beasts” has been heeded a million times over. Nevertheless, it is downright astonishing how little effect this constant agitation has on the population. Among the peasant population it has no effect at all; in the city it is perceptible now and then. We notice it, for example, in the case of one of our Natschalniks who always picks us up in the morning by lorry to go to work. When he is particularly nasty, we know that he had been hounded on the radio the night before.
A landser comes to me to lament his misfortune and to ask for advice. He has received a letter from home saying that his wife has had a child from a Russian of the occupying forces. He is completely depressed and at a loss. I tell him to wait and find out the exact circumstances. Maybe or probably it is a forced child and his wife is innocent.
5 Dec. Sawing wood for KMTS. We bury wood in the snow to sell it later. This is seriously about the question: stealing to escape imminent extermination, or staying decent at the risk of dying.
Railway station (picture). It has been snowing very heavily for days. A detachment is sent to sweep the tracks and points in front of the station building. We are given brushwood brooms and sweep as ordered. From time to time we go into the station hall to warm up. There is also a store (a stall) in the hall. Here the travellers can buy bread and other small things or get hot water to brew tea. A kilo of bread costs 40 roubles. There are few people in the hall and on the platform.
One day the station hall was locked. Neither we nor the Russians were allowed in. But through the windows we could see that the magazine was unusually richly stocked with goods. We were back at work when a train came in and stopped. We swept around the tracks, wrapped in thick furs, and glanced up at the train windows from time to time. Behind the closed windows, the passengers stood looking down at us, silent and curious. Then sometimes a brief nod of the head, a small smile. Finally, one of them pulled down the window despite the cold. We exchanged a few words: Germans! Now a hurried questioning and answering started. They were German technicians and engineers from AEG, who had been obliged to serve in Moscow for 5 years and were now on their way there with their families. They were allowed to buy bread and other things from the store in the station hall. (So for them the store was so full: Look, everything is available in Russia, we are doing well!) They paid only 4 roubles for the kilo of bread.
The next day the hall was open again for everyone. The bread cost 40 roubles again!
If we - the technicians from the train and the plennis on the tracks - now tell one day at home that we bought bread at the same time in the same shop for 4 and 40 roubles respectively, then everyone wonders whom to believe, because someone would have to be lying. But that's not true. They are both right! That's how it is in Russia!
A Stolypin wagon (a Sak wagon.) stops at the station. These are express train carriages, specially built for prisoner transport with every conceivable refinement. And then they already lead a group of Russian civilians, convicts, who board under heavy guard. Heavily guarded columns of prisoners are part of the normal street scene in Russian cities.
It is a freezing cold winter morning. A glistening blanket of snow has settled over the earth like a soft mantle. There is a dense white mist in the air that fills the whole valley and hides the city under its thick swathes. There is nothing to be seen of the earth. It is as if one is floating above the clouds. And out of this white, light-flooded sea of clouds rises the Dormition Cathedral. As if built on clouds, its snow-white walls rise up to the 5 round towers, whose gilded domes stand radiantly in glittering splendour against the deep blue sky. It is like a wonderful vision.
Near this famous cathedral, I work with my brigade on a small house that had been completely destroyed during the war. It is in the same street as the photo shop and the tobacco shop, even very close.(From the opposite side of the street the photo is taken of the cathedral) The house was destroyed down to the foundation walls. Before rebuilding, we first picked out the still usable stones from the rubble and knocked off the mortar with a hammer. It is bitterly cold and we work outside. On two days it was so icy that we went back to the camp at 3 p.m., two hours before the official end of work. We went to this work site without a guard and had a bit more freedom. The very understanding Russian supervisor also rarely showed his face. Who would go out voluntarily in such cold weather? On this construction site I set a record: Within one whole working day I cleaned 12 bricks. But it was also too cold. We didn’t have a single specialist in the brigade, but we started the reconstruction as we had copied from the bricklayers on other construction sites: By setting the corners. The Natschalnik, however, did not quite trust our art and asked with undisguised suspicion whether we were experts. He didn’t believe our assertions, and one day we were replaced by another brigade, which we were quite happy about.
On some sites we work for weeks. In other places we work for only a few days. After we were relieved at the small house, I worked with my brigade at another place in the same city district (for KMTS?). The Natschalnik there, a pen-pusher, was a bit unfriendly, but that has left us cold for a long time. Often they harm themselves with it, because then we also work in a correspondingly unfriendly way. Only once was I angry. We were always driven back to the camp by lorry from here at the end of work, because it was at the other end of town. The lorry was in the yard, a few hundred metres away, but it was 5 p.m., the end of work, and the driver refused to drive us to the camp. So we had to walk all the way.
The Natschalnik suddenly requests 2 men for another job. I go with them. We come to a small farm outside the town. The farmer’s panje horse is lying on the ground in the stable. It had fallen over from weakness and could no longer stand up on its own. With our combined strength and a rope, we put the poor, half-starved animal back on its feet.
Commandos who worked far away from the camp took their “products” for lunch with them and cooked it themselves at the workplace. Those closer to the camp picked up the ready meal from the camp or it was brought to them. In our case, we fetched it ourselves. I took over the business because I could then move around the city a bit more freely. I tied our food bucket to a sledge and set off. My way always led from the current workplace through the rather steeply sloping street past the cathedral. Sometimes I also walk through the market, strolling past the stalls, listening to people’s conversations and occasionally buying something myself. Mostly bread, butter or milk. I have never been treated unfriendly. Only once did a hint of unfriendliness show itself when two adolescent boys, who were standing next to me just as I was buying butter, mimicked my words, “Pol kilo maslo, pol kilo maslo!
The goods station of Smolensk, which is mostly located in the eastern part of the city, has a considerable extension. We unload a wagon of cement here, loose cement! We have to reload it into a lorry with shovels. It could hardly be more primitive. We tied handkerchiefs to our noses, but despite all our precautions, the dust is terrible and we look correspondingly mealy. In addition, the Natschalnik is also quite unfriendly. Nearby lies a pile of logs, 2 m long and 10 cm in diameter. When the supervisor leaves us for a moment, I grab a log and climb with it up the steep slope that borders the railway tracks to the north. At the top of the plain is a village. Here I go from house to house offering my log. No one can use it. Apparently many others have already engaged in the same enterprise. The people are supplied. One young woman says she can’t chop it. She would rather have peat. So on we go. I have already traipse round half the village. I trudge through the snow, which is still knee-high in places, but is already beginning to thaw on the ground. It is slushy and already watery on the ground. The dew is already getting through my felt boots. My feet get wet. Finally I find a house where an elderly couple lives. They take the log from me for a handful of potatoes. During the conversation they tell me that they had once been cheated by a German prisoner of war. They had bought a bar of soap from him and when they went to use it, a piece of wood came out. The Landser had covered a block of wood with a thin layer of soap and let it harden. With such crooked methods, these crooks spoiled our mostly good reputation and disappointed the good-naturedness of the population, most of whom were well-disposed towards us. I very quickly found out who this rascal was: it was the same one who had spoiled our cigarette business back then.
I have to hurry back, because I’ve been away for a long time. From above I can already see the Natschalnik standing by the wagon. I make a small turn and sidle up to ours under the protection of other goods wagons. The supervisor didn’t notice me. Or he thought that as a brigadier I didn’t need to collaborate.
End of work. We stand by our lorry that is supposed to take us back to the camp. We wait for the driver, who had gone into the goods station administration building. Near us is a lorry loaded with white cabbage. One of us slowly stalks up and fishes down a few cabbages, which we immediately stow in our lorry. But an employee of the station administration had been watching us from her office. Like a fury she comes rushing out, runs to our lorry and takes down the cabbages again, swearing constantly, while we look on quite unmoved. Even as she leaves, she turns around again and, anger and contempt in her flashing blue eyes, angrily hurls at us: “Friiitz!” (We are often called "Fritz" here somewhat derogatorily, just as we call the Russians “Iwan”).
Later, we are working again in another part of the very extensive freight yard. We stand waiting to unload a train with construction sand. A women’s brigade with the same job is waiting near us. The train is a few hundred metres away, but apparently has not yet been allowed to enter. It takes too long for the women and they are already walking slowly towards the train. They are already climbing into the wagons, and then we see thin strands of yellow sand trickling down from the freight wagon to the right and left. The women have begun to carefully and unobtrusively unload the wagons. True, the sand they are dropping there is uselessly wasted, because no one is picking up these heaps from the tracks there, but the train is unloaded faster and the women have fulfilled their norm. The bureaucracy is also helped, because they save demurrage.
These women are unqualified workers and, like all unskilled workers in the Soviet Union, are poorly paid. Even if they meet the 100% norm, their earnings are mediocre. So they mainly try to supplement their earnings. They don’t care how the construction company will cope with the lack of sand. The construction company will then also cheat and bungle a little. Somehow it will work out. Nitschewo!
The train rolls up and stops. Now we also get to work. When we open the wagons, we experience a new surprise. Floor boards had been torn out of some of the wagons. One of the wagons only has two floor boards left, and the load consisted of the sand residue that had remained on these two planks despite the shaking during the journey. This was perhaps a wheelbarrow full, but the wagon naturally ran as fully loaded in the freight documents. How the company copes with the lack of sand is a mystery to me. That is one of the many problems of the state planned economy.
A forest detachment is being assembled. 40 men. They are accommodated in a small room of a tiny cottage. No doctor, no medicine, rags instead of stockings, poor footwear, extra night work. 30 fur coats are delivered for the detachment, beautiful, thick sheepskins. The Russian traded these coats in the next village for the peasants’ shabby, worn-out furs and received another lump of cash in return. The peasants’ shabby furs were then given to the forest workers. Everything is in order: the forest workers have received 30 furs, as ordered. - After four weeks, the first sick forest workers come back. Among them was a good acquaintance of mine. He went into the forest as a strong, stocky farm boy and comes back a skeleton, after 4 weeks! I didn’t recognise him and only noticed when he revealed himself. I have seen many half-dead skeletons walking around in the camps, but this time I am seriously shocked. For a few days now, I’ve been bringing him a slice of bread from my evening rations. And that’s all I can spare.
This hunger is not the ridiculous hunger we used to feel in our stomachs when we skipped a meal. This hunger is “gnawing in the guts”. This is not an exact description of the condition, but it comes closer to the feeling. It takes over the whole body, along with the chronic feeling of weakness. The thoughts revolve almost exclusively around food, sleep and percentages. Mental alertness diminishes. Mind and soul wither away in a vegetating body. We become irritable and sometimes even peculical. We sometimes talk about it in quiet minutes and realise that we have changed.
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- Caption of the (still unknown) original source: 420/421 This was the Smolensk railway station. Countless soldiers passed through this Eastern Front hub. On 24 Sept 1943 the town was abandoned and the station building including the tracks were blown up by sappers.
- Source (not online any more): Смоленск Успенский Собор – photo: Владимир Блящев
- here from Carell 1963, opposite p. 177. However, the author had another source available, as the caption of the copy in the diary shows.
- This call did not come from Ilya Ehrenburg.
- cf. Cartellieri p. 297
- KMTS here probably means Контор Материально-Технического Снабжения (Office of Material and Technical Supply, Logistics Office). Such offices exist in various administrations, that of an oblast, a city (e.g. the Housing and Municipal Bureau of the city of Smolensk, until 1992 a Russian state enterprise), road construction, forestry, military units and even the Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for Smolensk Oblast.
- Such events, however, were neither unusual nor unknown (Cartellieri p. 316).
- after the Russian term Вагонзак
- According to the description, this building site was on the eastern side of ul. Konenkova (possibly one of the older small houses no. 10 or 12, numbered as ul. Kozlova on Google Maps), because that is where the photo shop was and from the western side of the street you can take the same photo as the one used by the author, which was taken on ul. Bolshaya Sovietskaya.
- полкило масла, half a kilo of butter; the envy can be explained by the shortage of housing and especially food in the Soviet Union at that time, especially in the reconstruction areas, i.e. the cities (Cartellieri pp. 329 f., 343)”