The Deportations of July, 1949: the Road to Siberia

July 6th, 1949–a new wave of deportation to Siberia. Transported in train cars for cattle, many die on the road. This story from Do Not Avenge Us is through the eyes of Margareta Cemârtan Spânu.

They gathered all of us in the evening and pushed us into the train cars as if we were cattle: all around there was only dung, straws, and dirtiness. There was one shelf on each of the two sides and two small barred windows. A man could not go through the window, but they still had bars!

The people came in as they could, put their luggage down, and slept on the luggage. There was no air because the doors were immediately closed. When you were suffocating or could no longer bear the stench, you were going to the window to breathe a bit.

This is how we went toward Siberia. Once every three days, they stopped the train in a train station to supply it with water. They allowed one from every car to come out with a bucket to fill it. But what was a bucket of water for thirty-five people? It was only for one day, and we only had drops of it. Then, we were again thirsty and thirsty, especially because we received some salty fish for food, and even that only once every three days.

We had our bodily necessities in a hole in the floor of the train car. We, children, were not very ashamed, but the young lads and girls were so ashamed! Especially the girls; they asked their parents to stay in front of them, to cover them. You could not even think about washing your hands or anything.

Next to me, on the shelf, there was a woman around seventy years old; she was tall, lean, and she lay down all the time. She was lying there with her eyes open, staring at the ceiling. She fell asleep at times; she dreamt, but she was always silent; from time to time only, she exchanged a word with bunica (grandmother).

One time, dad looked at her longer and told me: “Hey, go and touch her,[1]is she cold or warm? She seems dead!”

“How dead?” I asked, because I did not even know what it meant back then.

I touched her, and she was cold. Looking at the white skin around her mouth, the people said that she had been dead for two days.

We began knocking hard on the door, to make the soldiers open so that we could tell them. But they did not open; they only asked what the matter was. Cazacu Petre, who knew Russian, shouted: “We have a dead woman here, she must be taken down because of the stench!”

“Harasho! Harasho!”[2]

They opened only the fourth day. Just imagine: 40 degrees outside, sweat, so many people unwashed in the car, the dead woman there, decomposing, and we were breathing this air.

The fourth day they took her out. And I remember how bunica was looking at her compassionately, saying: “Why didn’t she say that she was hurting? Look, I have a candle, and I would have held her the candle if she said…[3]But she was quiet, and look how she died, like the pagans! Where will they bury her, and who will know where her tomb is?!…”

Bunica was lamenting so much. She did not cry, but she was lamenting terribly! And not only then, but later as well, whenever they stopped the train to throw out one of the dead, she lamented that there is no one to communicate home, to the relatives, to let them know where someone died and where that person is buried. What if the dogs will eat him? And she began to pray harder and more often so that it would not happen to her as well, that God would keep her alive until she goes back home, to die there.

After this, we went for another week or so, day and night, without stopping. By now we were really animals. We had scabies and lice all over, and everyone was whining about something. Someone was vomiting, another one could no longer move, another asked for water, but there was no water. We were thumping on the train cars for nothing. They did not open!

Finally, after one week, they stopped the train on a bridge, above a river. But the train was very long. I remember that, whenever there was a curve, Emil went to the window to count the cars: he could count until forty or so, and then he lost count. When they stopped the train, one part was before the bridge, one was on the bridge, and the other was after the bridge. They opened the doors. The people in the cars on the sides of the bridge started to come out. But we were over the water. Where could you get out, in the river? You had to cross all the cars to get out. Do it if you can, because the soldiers were shouting: “Five minutes, you have five minutes! Go, wash, and take some water, each of you in whatever you have!”

But who had what? A bottle, a bucket, a flask… Dad took a pot, Emil a bottle, and we ran all those cars until we got to the bank. But it was already full. The people had put their heads into water, and they were drinking like the cattle. Perhaps two-three cars out of the forty managed to string over that bank. We were waiting for our turn when all of a sudden a young guy jumped into the water and began swimming. When the soldiers saw it, they started to shoot in the river. He was going into the water, then coming out, then going back in, and the soldiers were shooting all the time. Then they began to shout at us: “Nazat! Nazat!” That is, go back to the cars; otherwise, they would shoot us. There was such an agitation because some people were just coming out of their cars and we were thronging back; there was shouting, cursing—a true hell. In that whirlpool, Emil got lost. A soldier hit his back with the gun, and Emil shouted aloud, “Daaaad!” Dad heard it, but how could he go back, when we were so crammed into one another? I was holding onto dad’s pants, crying, and dad was calling Emil, without moving. Finally, we found him, barely walking and holding on to his back. He had a big large bruise for a long while after that moment.

With great difficulty, we arrived at the train car, and we sat down as we could. Some cursed that boy who ran because he created problems for us, and we could not get washed or take water. Others blessed him because at least he escaped and could tell the people how the Russians tormented us in the train cars. I remember that I was upset with him because he messed up everything, and I wanted to wash, to take water, to be full…

The train started and we went again until we arrived into a city, where we stopped. They allowed one man from each car to come out to take a bucket of water; even that man was flanked by guns. If they allowed at least ten men in each car to take a bucket, then maybe we would have each had a little.

After we calmed down somewhat, we heard that in one of the cars, while the train was on the bridge, a woman threw her four months old baby in the river through the whole in the floor and drowned him. When the people came back from the water, they asked her: “Where is your child?”

And she answered honestly:

“I finished him! I could no longer endure to see how he was dying before my eyes, and I do not have milk in my breast! If I had water to drink, milk would come, but there is no water. Look, I have three children here, what do I do with them? They took my man, and I do not know anything about him. What was I to do?!…”

Of course, many scolded her; others took her side, saying that the child was bound to die, one way or another, if she did not have anything to feed him. I remember that bunica condemned her, saying, “It should not have been her to take his life, but God! She should have left him fade by himself; she should not have committed this sin! Great sin has fallen upon her head!…”

[1] The word used here in Romanian is “a achipui,” a regionalism.

[2] “Good! Good” in Russian. The meaning is better expressed by, “okay, okay.”

[3] In the Orthodox Christian tradition, people light a candle when one is about to die.


About Tavi's Corner

Blogging on ancient philosophy, communist persecution in Romania (including deportation to Siberia), and Orthodox Christianity. I've translated books from Romanian to English, and I also write about them from time to time.
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