“I do not hold a grudge against the Russians...” Memoirs of a Romanian soldier about the White Hell camp
The Romanian soldier told in his memoirs about how and due to which he managed to survive in the monstrous conditions of the Siberian prisoner of war camp.
A letter from the Romanian citizen Gabriel Antoniu Lavrínczyk arrived in the editorial office of Novye Izvestia, which stated:
“ Hello! In the appendix, I send you the recollections of my grandfather, a Romanian soldier about the war, which have already been published in the Romanian and Spanish media. The story of my grandfather has already helped many people in Romania find out the truth about World War II. Many of those who read these memoirs admitted that they had changed their opinion about Russia and Russians for the better .. "
“My name is Zhuka Petru , I was born on June 20, 1922 in the village of Marka, in Transylvania, Romania. In my lifetime I survived 4 regimes: a monarchy led by a king, Hungarian government, a communist regime, and after 1989 capitalism. The longest was the period of the communist regime, which, as everyone thought, would be eternal. However, I never thought so, since I had seen a lot in my life and came to the conclusion that everything done by man cannot be eternal. You can only talk about more or less long periods of time.
In 1943, at the age of 21, I was drafted into the army, and I ended up in the city of Komarom in Hungary. I was there from October to February 1944, during this period I underwent military training. In February 1944, we were sent to the front, immediately to the front line, directly to the war zone of the Second World War, contrary to my will to fight against the USSR.
At the front, I passed the roads of many countries: Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Belarus, Ukraine .... I fought in the trenches that were dug back in the First World War. For example, in Poland, on the banks of the Vistula River, I ended up in the trenches that I had been digging and in which my father, Zhuka Vasile, had also fought.
The first days at the front were terrible. I did not sleep for several nights in a row, the roar of guns, machine guns, and bombs was difficult to bear. Wounded and dead soldiers were at every turn. So that you can imagine all the horror that prevailed at the front, I must admit to you that my two comrades went crazy after 3-4 days of our stay at the front line. Of course, according to the law of wartime, they underwent a medical examination for simulation, but the verdict was unequivocal - insanity. The most difficult, nightmare moments on the front line were bayonet attacks, that is, hand-to-hand combat.
At the front, with bitterness in my heart, I had to see how multi-story buildings, houses, people, tanks, bridges, trains took off into the air and were compared to the ground. There, at the front, all of us, from the last soldier to the general, had lice. At the front, life is like a lottery ticket: you never know whether you will see the next day, hour, minute.
In January 1945, I was captured by the Russians in the city of Vrano, where I stayed for 2 months, after which I was sent to the city of Zanok, and from there we were sent to Siberia in freight cars. There were 40 prisoners of war in each carriage, we all sat on a wooden floor, there was not enough straw for everyone.
On the day we received a bucket of water for each wagon. Access to it was regulated by overseers. The freight train in which I was staying stopped only for refueling with water and coal. A large red star with a sickle and a hammer was installed on the pediment of the locomotive.
After a month's journey in May 1945, I ended up in Siberia, where I was placed in the first prisoner of war camp, which was called "White Hell." Arriving there, I was shocked, confused, depressed, and thought that I would never get out of it alive. Such a cold reigned there that I had never experienced in my life, the wind literally cut my face, the frost burned him. There, back in May, Russian children sledding, and the snow cover is 20-40 cm.
We were housed in wooden huts blown by the wind, drifted by snow and flooded with rain. We slept on the bunk, without any bedding. Instead of a pillow, a brick was placed under the head. Clothing is the only thing that protected us from the cold. All the time I spent in the camp, I never changed clothes. We wore it until it rotted directly on us. I took off my shirt only after 9 months, when it tore into small pieces similar to butterflies, only a collar remained from it.
During the whole period of my stay in the camp I have never seen a fire, I have never warmed myself by the stove or by the fire. Because of the cold, my toes were frostbitten, and one by one the nails fell off. I visited 2 camps in Siberia. In the first there were 18 thousand prisoners of war, in the second - 75 thousand. I have never seen so many people on such a small piece of land. It seemed to me that the Russians gathered people from all over Europe and closed them here ....
Death prevailed in the camp, human life was valued no more than the life of an ant crushed by a boot. Every morning, instead of "good morning," the first question was "how many are dead?" As many people died at night as during the day. I saw prisoners going to work who fell and died right there. They were taken down to the cellar, and when 25 corpses accumulated there, we dug a hole into which they all dumped, and then we filled and leveled the ground as if there was nothing there. The clothes of the dead were taken away by the surviving prisoners of war.
The “cemetery” was in the immediate vicinity of the camp. The weak physically and spirit had no chance to survive. The camp was the final point of their path, from here it was impossible to escape anywhere except the grave.
It was great stupidity to even think about trying to escape, we were so exhausted and physically weak, especially since in Siberia the distances between settlements were at least 500 km, and all this was taiga, inhabited by wild animals, where no human foot had stepped. Despite this, I was offered to take part in the escape, and later I witnessed the escape, which was undertaken by three - a German, a Romanian and a gypsy. A week later, they were caught, severely beaten and executed.
Belief in God, the upbringing that my parents gave me, and the wisdom that I adopted from the old people of my native village of Mark, helped me not to drop my dignity and survive during the war, and in the camp.
Work in the White Hell prisoner of war camp in Siberia
In the camp, I worked at different sites: in a coal mine, at construction work, at logging in the forest, at harvesting brushwood for baskets in hard-to-reach places. In the Siberian camp, all prisoners worked, even the wounded and sick, who could not stand on their feet. For such, the daily norm was established: to catch 80 flies. At the end of the day, boxes of flies were carried to the camp commandant, who recounted them, choosing a box at random. The prisoner, who passed fewer flies, had problems ....
There were prisoners of various nationalities in the camp: Germans, Poles, Romanians, Hungarians, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Jews, Serbs, Italians, Ukrainians, and even Russians born in exile, etc. Such a peculiar multiculturalism reigned here, where I was assigned the role of a translator. Having come in contact with representatives of different nationalities, from whom I learned a lot, I discovered various traditions that I had never encountered before, but the “Russian soul” that I discovered there made the greatest impression on me. in the camp, talking with Russians and, of course, learning Russian.
The main property of the “Russian soul” is the sympathy and help that Russians provide to those who suffer. This soul is very sensitive and susceptible to other people's suffering. I began to love the Russian language - the language of my warders (tormentors), who appreciated my effort to learn their language.
Therefore, I returned from Russia with a love of the culture and language of those who kept me in custody. They say that this is a great miracle when the captive carries in his heart a love for those who captivated him. I can say with accuracy that there is no miracle in it, just when you get to know the Russians closer, it is impossible not to open your heart to them. Only mutual respect and love can win the war and overcome the barrier of hatred and evil.
I saw that the Russians understood very well that not all who fought against them were fascists ... It was for these reasons that they did not wipe Germany and the German people off the face of the earth. If they judged by the horrors that the Germans did on the territory of the USSR, horrors and cruelties that are difficult to describe in words, the Russians would have the moral right to wipe the Germans off the face of the earth, but they did not, because the “Russian soul” can forgive. Do not forget that Germany, together with its allies, was the first to attack the USSR and came to Russian homes ...
Studying the Russian language helped my COMMUNICATION with those around me. The Russian language helped me UNDERSTAND what is happening around me and what is happening to me. This communication helped me to withstand both morally and physically, for me the process of communication meant FREEDOM, even though I was in captivity. There, in the camp, I learned that freedom is also an opportunity to communicate. Being a prisoner, I felt in a way free, speaking in Russian.
When you are imprisoned, your head remains free and can think of anything, thoughts carry you wherever you want. But a prison for the mind is a harder test than a prison for the body. When your mind is in captivity, you cannot think freely and correctly, but you don’t realize it, it seems to you that you are free and do what you want while you are in captivity .... The fact that who something controlling your mind is awful. In Siberian camps, I learned that the most important and / essential for a person are: FREEDOM, FOOD AND HEAT.
That is why in my 90 years I do not understand the word "international crisis." Every day I hear and watch how people say, complain, complain about the economic crisis. I just can’t understand what’s happening with this international crisis, when you can find discarded clothes on the street and dogs refuse to eat bread. My soul hurts, I suffer when I see people throwing bread in the trash ... This is not an economic crisis, this is a crisis of luxury ...
Food at the White Hell prisoner of war camp in Siberia
Three times a day we received 500 ml of warm and salt water, in which 4-5 grains of pearl barley, and 300 grams of black bread for the whole day floated. Each time I got up from the table hungry and felt the weakness that knocked me down. I would be happiest if I had the food that dogs are now given ....
Occasionally we had the “privilege” to gnaw on the bones that the guards threw into the trash, though I broke my teeth with them. I would eat grass with great pleasure, but this was forbidden. Blades of grass could not be found throughout the camp, the ground looked as if geese grazed on it - dry, scorched. I saw prisoners who were shot for a bunch of grass, they tried to reach out under the fence to pick and eat grass. Any approach to the camp fence was considered an attempt to escape and was immediately punishable by execution. Speaking of grass, I often ate grass (quinoa) stained with human excrement, I wiped it as much as possible, and ate ... Unwritten rules of survival are cruel.
Liberation from the prisoner of war camp "White Hell" in Siberia
The happiest day of my life was the day I was released. A long list was read out of those who could go home, but I still didn’t hear my name, and the list was drawing to a close ... I experienced then such strong emotions that I had never experienced before in my life, a cold sweat broke through me ... Finally I heard my name - it was the penultimate on the list.
I was released on October 2, 1945. Every year I celebrate this day with fasting and prayer, and I still do it. I returned home weighing 37 kg, while before the war my weight was 87 kg. I was so weak that I could not get into the freight car of the train that was going home, I had no strength to raise my swollen legs, and my comrades helped me get in there.
We were released according to the national principle: the first - the French, after them the Poles, Romanians, Hungarians, etc. The Germans were released last. The Russians said they would not release them until they restored everything that they had "destroyed in the war." All the time that I was at war, I was tormented by homesickness, family, the land of my ancestors, the native village of Mark. When I got home, a new blow awaited me - my mother died, and I did not know anything about it, not being able to receive news, since we had no connection with the outside world.
When I got to my beloved village, I came to myself very hard and for a long time. For almost half a year I lay in straw in the sun. I found the village in terrible poverty, for many years we were fed only corn bread, there was no wheat.
Now that I am over 90 years old, I think that people should not fight, war is the greatest stupidity, I am completely sure of it. All problems that arise between people can be solved only with the help of understanding, communication, words, and without weapons! I don’t think that specialists will be able to lead us out of the crisis in which we are and which we constantly complain. I believe that this crisis can only be overcome spiritually. People are estranged from God, from true values and real needs.
I advise those who complain about the crisis to compare their difficulties with the hardships and hardships that my generation has faced. While I was young, I remember very well how one or two cars a month passed on the way past our village Mark. We walked 40-50 kilometers to the city and back, but despite all the hardships, I affirm that my generation was much happier than the current one. Moreover, I can say without exaggeration that in my time relations between people were much warmer, sincere, people were much kinder than today.
I am concerned about the fact that in our society war veterans are not given due attention, their rights are not respected , and our politicians have forgotten that they are sitting in their warm offices, built on the suffering and blood shed by us, war veterans, whom every day getting smaller and smaller. I saw with my own eyes, felt on my skin that war is the greatest evil on earth. Nobody wins the war, everyone just loses.
Despite all the negative and false propaganda addressed to the Russians, Russia has been and remains a great force that cannot be destroyed, as some people think. The strength of Russia consists not only in its size, but also in the character and faith of the Russians. Many tried to defeat Russia: Tatars, Swedes, Poles, Napoleon, Turks, Germans, led by Hitler, etc., but however, nothing came of it. The Russians were never the first to start a war, but they ended the war on the territory of those who attacked them.
I do not hold a grudge against the Russians for imprisoning me, but I am angry with the Germans, who, led by Hitler, made me, against my will, fight against the USSR.
There, in a prisoner of war camp in Siberia, it happened that I was very seriously ill, but thanks to the human support from the Russians, I came to my senses. Despite the fact that I fought against them, they Russians treated me and freed me from hard work in the mine until I recovered. Among the many others I recall, there is the camp’s chief physician, a woman who understood and sympathized with someone else’s pain.
I thank all Soviet citizens, both military and civilians, who, in the name of humanity, have crossed the barrier of hatred created by the war and helped me in difficult times. Historians say little about Soviet citizens who gave part of the food from their poor rations to prisoners who fought against them .... For those who do not know the Russians closely and do not understand the "Russian soul", this is a "paradox of paradox." Soviet people realized that I and most of the soldiers from Hitler’s armies fought against the USSR under duress, being bound by a military oath.
If the Russians who worked in the camp were not so humanly supportive of me, I would not have survived, and thus, I would not have had the chance to get married and create a wonderful family, and have a special grandson - Gabriel Antoniu Lavrinchik, who makes all efforts to develop relations between Romania and Russia.
I insisted that my only grandson Gabriel learn the Russian language, I would open the Russian world for him, lulling him into childhood tales of Russia, Siberia, the taiga, the steppe, the war and the “Russian soul” ... I was his first Russian teacher language, being sure that knowledge of this language will help him in professional and personal life, which happened beyond my expectations.
Thanks to the Russian language, my grandson Gabriel has built a successful professional career, and daily promotes the interests of Romania in Russia and in the former republics of the USSR. It is not for nothing that the Russians speak of him as “Romanians with a Russian soul” and appointed him Honorary Consul of the Russian Federation in Romania.
“There is no fate as a“ programmed ”life path - on the contrary, each person, making his free choice between good and evil every minute, creates his own unique life path ...” (Igumen Nikon Golovko).