Human dignity and a kiss: a story from the Gulag

Ion Moraru spent years in the Gulag. You can read here one of his stories, published in Do Not Avenge Us.
Ion Moraru, recollecting the stories of his life.

During all this time, the thought to escape had not left me at all, and I thought that the theater that started in the camp could help me because they left periodically to travel to concerts in other camps. It helped that Mr. Beresnevich, a Russian director who was the leader of the group, noticed me and insisted that I join them. He saw in me some feminine aspect and gave me the role of Manea from V. Shcvarkin’s[1]play Foreign Child. Manea was supposed to be a beautiful little Russian, slender, and I did my best to play my role as best as I could. We played the piece in our camp, and now we had to go to the women’s camp for a performance there as well.

The women’s zone was 100 meters away, separated from us with barbed wire. Between the two camps there was a neutral strip, and anyone stepping on it was shot without warning by sentinels. Now, with Khrushchev’s relaxing of the regulations they allowed us at times in the women’s zone because they thought we might get attached to one another and thus remain there even after liberation.

We left the camps in two cars: one was loaded with the props and everything that we needed, and the other full of actors. Beyond the barbed wire, the women waited for us all crowded in the club. They had yellow-earthly faces and faded overalls. We followed the director like a flock would follow its master, and we then started to look around.

Backstage, Mr. Beresnevich took me straight to Lidia  Monastâriova, the leader of the women’s theater. She had been an actress in Ukraine. During the Fascist occupation, she had worked as a translator for an administrative institution, and the Bolsheviks accused her of espionage for the Germans and so sentenced her to forced labor in the camp.

Mr. Beresnevich knew her well, and he left me in her care:

“Lidia, take care of him and make a woman out of him!”

Monastâriova was seven-eight years my senior and was of a rare beauty, spiritual and physical. She was very refined, and she spoke well and properly. She had black, bright eyes, and her whole being was surrounded by a mystery that one cannot describe.

She stayed with me to help me get ready. She took my shirt off and gave me a spotted long dress, that went down to my knees. She gave me a pair of sandals, arranged my wig, my wrap, and perfumed me slightly behind the ears. During all this time, I had the sensation that I was next to a mysterious pyre. At one moment, we no longer found anything else to say to each other, and we remained like this, looking at one another.

She was the first to shake off the spell. She turned to one side, then to the other, looked at me, content with her work, and there was nothing else between us.

The show ended, we received applauses, congratulations, and a small bouquet of artificial flowers made by the prisoners. Monastâriova came to accompany us to the gate of the camp. On the way to the gate, as I was slowly walking next to her, my sinful heart could no longer bear it, I took her next to me and kissed her, in a passionate and masculine way.

This gesture was very bewildering for her, but I found this out only later. For the moment, after we separated, we continued to exchange letters. I told her a few things about me, about Bessarabia, and, with Mr. Beresnievich’s help, I sent her a small album that I made with pictures of my loved ones from back home. She was very joyful and moved by this. Then, I found out that she was liberated, and I lost track of her.

After a while, it happened that I was called to the parlor by a woman. It was Sunday, the day of rest, and I had just returned from my shift. I had not shaved yet and I was dirty because I had not managed to wash the coal off me yet.

They took me to the meeting room, and I saw a distinguished woman, dressed with a long overcoat, with a small hat and a shawl over her shoulders. I thought that it was a mistake or that she may have been one of the researchers that sometimes were conducting studies about the prisoners.

She looked at me for a long while, and then she told me:

“Vaniusha, you do not recognize me?”

At that moment, I saw her black, bright eyes, and I realized that she was the actress Monastâriova. She opened her arms and embraced me. I was very uncomfortable: I was so dirty, and she was so clean and frail…

I asked her how she reached me, and she told me that she was helped by Mr. Leandr, who was respected by administration and who had recommended her, saying she was a relative of mine.

Then she told me:

“Vanea, I am older than you are, and I have my world, from which I come. You are young, you must do your studies and move on with your life. There is no chasm between us, but there is a distance… I came only to tell you that when you kissed me, you brought me back my feminine dignity, my human dignity. You did not kiss me, but you kissed my cross that I have carried up to here with so much pain. You kissed the lips that the executioners burned with cigarettes, that they hit so many times, the lips that were nourished with all the rubbish and rottenness just so that I would remain alive…”

She then told me about the most horrible tortures to which she was subjected. They tied her hair to the doorknob, stabbing her with a needle all over and mocking her body. She also told me how she was thrown naked in a cold dungeon, then taken out to interrogation, kicked and cursed…

Two tears trickled from her great, round eyes, and it seemed that her entire suffering was contained in them.

Then she told me again with sadness:

“There was no stone in the camp that I have not wet with my tears; there was no corner in the barrack where I have not cried for all things that I suffered… I do not know whether you will be able to understand now the entire tragedy that I have experienced. Years will pass, and if God gives you to be a wise man, you will realize what I have suffered… Vanea, I chose you as my confessor, but I am asking you to break the law and to not keep my confession secret, but tell the entire world what you have heard from me…”

She then stood up, ready to go. She took two pictures from her purse, one of hers and one of Leandr Aleksandrovich, and she gave them to me as souvenirs. At the door, she turned around once more and whispered:

“Farewell, Vaniusha!”

After her departure, I did not manage to hide the two pictures, and the guards asked to see them.

“Who’s this old man with his pipe between his teeth?”

Knowing their cultural level, I answered:

‘What do you mean who’s he? He is the grandson of Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Deva from Nepal!”

“And who’s the woman?”

“She is his granddaughter, the goddess of patience and suffering!” I said.

The guard gave me the pictures back with disdain:

“You, the sectarians, are a bit lost! Come, get lost!”

I have not heard anything from Monastâriova since then, and I have never seen her, but I cherish her memory as one of the most beautiful in my life. I also keep the last letter I received from her in the camps, as one would keep a gem. She wrote me these verses in Russian:

Walk on the path without falling with your soul,

And give a hand to the fallen, so that you would save them.

In the name of science and of light, raise your candle,

So that you may give light to the darkness that surrounds us…



[1] I am not certain of the transliteration of the name. In Romanian, it appears as Scvarkin. It may also be Chichvarkin.

The Gulag and the failure of reason


I read an article yesterday about how the gulag is perceived today in the Russian society (see here). I still do not know what to make of it. “Many Russians regard the horrors of the forced labour camps as a necessary evil during a difficult period of Soviet history.” After all, “People fell in love in the camps, people got pregnant; it wasn’t all bad,” as one person said. But didn’t people fall in love and get pregnant during slavery? Can we say that slavery “wasn’t all bad” just because of this?

Perhaps it is just about what society accepts today, and I am not talking about the Russian society, but about all of us. Certain things were pure evil because it is unacceptable to say today that they were not “all bad”; nobody would justify slavery, for example. Apparently, the gulag is not one of these things. We are not appalled when a teacher says, “Was there a military threat from Germany? There was. Were there spies in the country? There were. There was no time to decide who was guilty and who wasn’t. We should remember the innocent victims but I think it was all necessary.” The gulag is acceptable even if it is a form of slavery because the society of the world does not openly condemn it. And how would it condemn it when the country which implemented it does not fully do so? Wouldn’t we hurt their “feelings”? And nobody wants to hurt the feelings of someone like Russia.

I heard one person say once something along these lines, “well, don’t understand me wrongly, I do not justify what they did during the holocaust, but we must agree that medical experiments done by someone like Mengele benefited the human race.” All the people in the group were appalled, and rightly so. Would they have the same immediate reaction with the gulag?

This is not about comparing communist persecution with the holocaust or with slavery because they are not comparable. Evil is evil. It is rather about how easy it is for us, human beings, to fail in using reason. It is “reasonable” to say that we can sacrifice some persons for the good of the many. It is “reasonable” to say that taking entire families (including a few days old children), treating them as cattle and throwing them into train cars, keeping them locked, without water, for days, and then working them to exhaustion and death because this was the only way to have “military and industrial achievements.”

There is a scene in one of my favorite movies, La Vita e bella, in which a teacher explains a mathematical problem. I’ll simplify it: the state pays 4 German marks per day for a crazy person and the same for an epileptic. Taking into consideration that there 300.000 people like this, how much would the state save if these people were eliminated? Can we resolve this mathematical problem? Only if we give up our humanity; we see in this movie (and we see in life) how often we do so…





To my mind, if one can justify the gulag (allow me to emphasize: I am talking about justifying the gulag, not about describing its social and historical contexts), then one can justify anything, and this is scary. It is scary because it says something about us, about our capacity to give up our humanity.

"I came out of the gulag without being bitter and vengeful"

The book Do Not Avenge Us is soon to be published by Reflection Publishing. Before that moment, here is a beautiful testimony to forgiveness. This testimony belongs to Nicolae Istrate.

Now, I am joyful for one thing: I came out of the gulag and these prisons without being bitter and vengeful. I even met the one who tortured me badly, and I did not tell him anything. I did not reproach him anything. I thought about my sins, and I remembered how many times God saved me. So I thought I have to forgive as well, and I tried to find excuses for him: this is how the times were… I tried to put myself in his place, and I managed to forgive him.

I used to meet with many of the survivors who stayed in prison with me. We used to talk. They were surprised that I could forgive, because not all forgave. I used to tell them even when we were in prison:

“We must forgive, so that we don’t come out from here with this hatred, so that we do not go out to get revenge.”

It was not difficult for me to forgive those who wronged me, but it was very difficult to convince my comrades, those who were together with me. After they came back, they thought about revenge with hatred. They really considered getting revenge. There are so many methods; we could have had revenge and no one would have found out. But I did not agree to it, and they began to blame me and wonder whether I was a traitor. They were amazed: “How can you pray for these people who did so much evil?”

I explained to them that I pray for those people so that God would illumine their minds and they would see that they were doing evil. If they had understood, they would have immediately stopped doing evil, torturing so much. This is what we have to do; otherwise, we would remain bitter, and evil immediately is formed within our souls and attacks us first of all. This stain of sin is developed within the soul. This is what I told them.

Later, when some of my comrades from prison began to die, I told those who were still alive that they had to prepare so that they would not leave this world being bitter, but rather peaceful. I used to tell them that we had to prepare to have a peaceful death. You must conquer this peaceful death; otherwise, evilness harms us badly. I am glad I could do this, and I did not find any of them to leave this world in a bitter state.

If I look back, I can say that the prison helped me to get closer to God. All tortures, all atrocities made me understand my only escape was from God. How much they wanted to destroy me, to murder me during investigations! But God helped me and I resisted. I went through all this, and I was freed from prison. Who helped me? Nobody helped in the gulag; God helped me.

I do not regret that I went through this experience of the prison. If I did not go through it, I may have been a totally different man. I may have become a communist, or who knows what other things I may have done. How can I know what I could have done… Who knows what may have happened to me if I did not go to prison? If I think about my situation before the first prison, when I was a school principal, I may have gotten married, joined the communist party…

When I came back, I found that all my colleagues who were like me, teachers, professors, those of the same age with me who had not been to prison—they were all directors. They were already heroes of the socialist work, had cars and all kinds of things. I may have been the same way if I did not go to prison. Now, see, God helped me; I am healthy and I can help one or the other. I thank God for the help He gave me. Each evening, before going to sleep, I pray to God and ask Him for forgiveness for every evil I may have done, and I forgive all who wronged me.

Below, you can see Nicolae Istrate’s testimonies. The interview is in Romanian.

 

The Happiest Day in Siberia — the Death of Stalin

 
 
This is another fragment from Do Not Avenge Us: Testimonies from the Sufferings of Romanians from Bessarabia. Here, Margareta Cemârtan-Spânu remembers the day when they found out that Stalin had died. Stalin died on March 5th, 1953. He is considered responsible for the death of millions of people.
 
 
One week before Stalin died, I do not know what she dreamt, but bunica (“grandma” in Romanian) told us:
“It’s done, we are saved! They will let us go home!”
“But what happened?”
“Look, the tyrant Stalin will soon perish!”
I laughed:
“This is Satan, how could he perish?”
After a week, they called all of us to school, young and old, to tell us that Stalin had died. The teacher began crying: “Our poor man, our beloved leader…” and so on. First, we could not believe it. Then, all of a sudden, we all burst:
“Hooray!!! Hooray!!!”
The natives looked at us and smiled, even though not openly, because they also wanted to be free of this regime. To work so much and to have no bread in the house?! Poor people, they were like cattle, because this is what the soviet system considered them.
When she saw that instead of crying we were rejoicing, the teacher called the director. The director was not really sound because of an explosion during the war. When anger took a hold of him, we were running from his path. We immediately sat down and we waited. He came in and began yelling at us, Moldavians:
“You, the enemies of the people! Look, you have been staying here for so many years and to no end! You have not corrected yourselves; we cannot make anything out of you!”
But we could not care less. How long have we waited for this day! When we were there, this thing was on the lips of every Moldavian: when will Satan finally die, when will he go, so we can see us back home?
The director shouted even louder:
“You must cry, not laugh and jump around! You must cry because our beloved leader died, and it will be very difficult for us without him from now on.”
How come, difficult? However, to avoid contradicting him, two girls who were sisters, Dorica and Aurica, got an onion from a bag, bit from it, and started putting it around the eyes, to make themselves cry. But the boys, our Moldavians, all jumped around and shouted in joy.
This was the happiest day in Siberia!

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.

An encounter with Solzhenitsyn

I was planning to no longer post from Do Not Avenge Us! (the book with testimonies of people deported in Siberia by the communists), but this story is too interesting :). Ion Moraru encounters Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag. The meeting took place a few days after Stalin died.

One of the days that followed, the electricity was interrupted on the yard where we worked. The blackouts were our joy! We ran immediately to the foundry, where people worked with metals at high temperature, and we could warm our frozen bodies a little.

At the foundry there was someone who had come recently, transferred from a brigade in construction. He was a tall, thin man, having a long face, a pointy beard, and a pair of piercing, black eyes. He seemed to be around forty years old. He was a history teacher, had been in the military service and became a captain in the army, and then arrived in the soviet camps as an “enemy of the people.” He did not talk much; when he spoke, he pondered on the word before pronouncing it.

The moment we came in, revived by heat, we began speaking, saying that now, that “the father” had died, we would be liberated and would go home. He stayed at his place and listened to us carefully. Then, he said calmly:

“We will not get out from here so fast! For the Bolsheviks, we are a great problem. The world’s public opinion is in turmoil as far as we are concerned, it supports us, and it protests against the regime. In these conditions, they are forced to liberate us, but they do not know how. Once liberated, we would speak at home and tell what we did, how they treated us, or what we ate, and the relatives will say this to others. We are a thinking biological bomb that they fear more than the atomic bomb. Why? Because the erosion that we will produce in society speaking the truth about the “red happiness” will be the decisive erosion that will lead to the collapse of the regime!”

We did not really try to see what he wanted to say. Why would we bother with so much philosophy? They will liberate us and that’s it! But he was right.

He was an extraordinary man, having great warmth. I liked him from the first moment; I felt him close. However, to be fully honest, I was almost on the point of grabbing a brick—I did not have much intelligence then—to prove to him that I was Romanian. He told me:

“You are no longer Romanian, you are Moldavian!”

He had been a history professor in the Soviet Union, and he was a Slavophil in his core, considering that the Slavs would be the race that would dominate the entire earth. He told me that I was not a Romanian, and that Bessarabia was something different than Romania. I could not make peace with this…

I valued him much even then, in the camp, but only after the fall of the soviets, when he sent each one of us, survivors, his book, The Gulag Archipelago, I realized who he was. I knew from the camp how he wrote the book. The people from his brigade told us that after the guards took from him his written pages several times and then punished him with solitary confinement, the professor stored the entire material in his memory, dividing it and organizing it on the beats of a prayer rope that he kept always in his hand. Then, he repeated the book daily until the day of liberation, just like a prayer, like praise dedicated to the millions of martyrs from the Gulag.

He had within him the soul of a writer… This is a gift from above; it does not happen by chance. You must know the language very well, you must know how to write, how to use the words and contain within sentences the entire idea… This gift is a talent offered from above, only from God. Solzhenitsyn had this gift.

 

"An orphan child is only a bitter tear, a bird without wings"



 
I wrote this story so that people know what communism was, what it brought, especially to us, Bessarabians. Even today there are people who say that it brought much good, and for this good there had to be sacrifices… But what is the good done by communism, socialism? What did it bring? And where is it now, if it was built on sacrifices? Let’s say that we were sacrificed and sixty other millions together with us, for this is what the statistics say, that the Soviet Union sacrificed sixty million lives. What did they do with it? What did they accomplish? Can you build anything on terror? Can you build on bones and blood?!…

This is how Satan entered Lenin, and he began to ruin all harmony. Before, man was free: if you wanted to work, to have things, then you worked and had what you needed; if you did not want to have much, you were in the middle; if you wanted nothing at all, the others helped you, gave you alms. You did not have authority and honor in the village, but you did not die of hunger. You were free and did things according to your conscience. But the Bolsheviks brought terror, murder, and robbery, and this is how freedom died.

How many lives did the “humanitarian” Bolshevism destroyed! The Russians themselves recognize this now when they write about what they did, what they lived, and what they witnessed. They were shocked as well. You, an innocent man, whether old or child, to suffer like this, for twenty years in Siberia? For what? If you know why you suffer, you don’t get upset; if I murdered someone intentionally, then they must punish me! But if you did not do anything, why punish you? So many young people taken to mines in Siberia! They never returned from there! For what ideal?…

A political candidate said recently at “Vocea Basarabiei”[1] that we should not condemn communism and that those deported were taken there justly, because they deserved it!… What did my bunica, Sofia, deserve? Bunelul at least did something: he denounced that Gipsy man that he burned the icons and that he robbed the Romanians… But what did bunica do? She did not even come out of the house! What did my brother and I do? What did dad do, to be condemned to such torments? If we came back, this is a great miracle, and this is only because bunica prayed very much. We resisted with the Spirit of the Lord, purely and simply, and we came back for her prayers. But how many have never returned?!…

If I returned, I was no longer like before. Everything I saw and suffered in the seven years of Siberia is disastrous and irreparable. They truly maimed my tender soul; Satan implanted in me a hatred for my whole life, and I can never forgive him.

If I regret anything out all the things that I went through, I regret my childhood. The other things, no—this is how man must go through life and is allowed by God, so that he is purified of sins. But I regret that wretched childhood! Thinking how my children grew up now and how I was back then, it seems as day and night! I cannot even believe how much I spoiled my boys, letting them sleep more in the morning, eat a better piece of meal; I did not eat to give it to them. Who behaved this way with me? Or how I caressed them, how I cared for them as fast as possible, how I took them to the hospital… Who did anything like this with me?…

Not only at the orphanage, in Siberia, but even home, with the relatives, when I came back. The Bolsheviks embittered people here as well. I got so sick when I was with my uncles that I lost my conscience, but nobody took me to the hospital or gave me medicine. My aunt never caressed me or asked me what was hurting. No; if I had days to live, fine, if not, no! I do not condemn her and I do not hate her. God forgive her; I understood all things later. When could she ask me, if there were so many things to do? Work on the field, give the rate for the kolkhoz, build a house…

You can imagine it, since I did not even have time to talk in details with my boys in the house, to tell them how I lived in Siberia. Only after I wrote the book, my boy put his hands on his head:
“How, mom, and you were quiet all this time?!”

“But when tell you, my dear boy?…”

Sometimes when they were little and wanted a story before bed, I was telling them about wolves, about the forest, but they thought it was a story tale, not the truth.

This is how our communication was because Soviet life was like this: you woke up early morning, took the child to the kindergarten, from there you ran to work, came home in the evening to make some food, to bring the child back, wash him, put him to bed, and then start over the next day. When could I tell them?!…

This is how it was with me, with my childhood… There were thousands like me, tormented and bitten, because an orphan child is only a bitter tear, an unfulfilled desire, a bird without wings…

This is why I pray to God for all my people and for the whole nation to turn His face toward us, in Bessarabia, to deliver us from this terrible Bolshevik plague, so that our children would no longer suffer, but to be again as it was before, when people lived as they learned from the old, beautifully and peacefully…


[1]The Voice of Bessarabia—a radio station in Chisinau.

Deportation to Siberia: "food for the wolves"

This is another story of deportation from Do Not Avenge Us. I have mentioned Margareta Cemârtan-Spânu’s stories before. She wrote the story with the apple with the scent from home. Here, she remembers the moment when the Bolsheviks came to their house and took them to deport them to Siberia, to be “food for the wolves.” Bunica, the grandmother, appears in the story with the apple with the scent from home as well.



Deportation took place on July 6. It was around noon, and we were all working outside. I was sweeping the yard, and dad was mounting some hay with Emil. All of a sudden, we heard a rumble, and we saw a big car coming toward us. It stopped at the gate, and four soldiers and the president of the village’s Soviet came out of it. They commanded dad to take a few things and get in the car with us.

Dad froze because he did not expect this. Then he began to oppose them:

“Why do you take me? Where do you take me? What did I do to you?!…”

And the activist told him:

“You deserve it! I asked you to be a teacher at school, why didn’t you want to do it? Now you’ll teach the wolves in the forest!”

Indeed, the Bolsheviks had asked dad to be a teacher in the village. But how could you teach Antichrist to children? Even bunica was against it: “What can you teach the children, if these people burn the icons and say that God does not exist!?”…

In the meantime, neighbors gathered to the fence and watched, but they did not say anything because they were afraid. If the Bolsheviks had the gun on the hip, could you do or say anything? They had put fear into people, and people feared even their own shadows. Whatever the activists said, they did, and poor people lived like on needles!

However, a woman came close to me and told me:

“Run! Go to my yard! They will not look for you! Go to the cellar, hide!”

I was six years old. I looked at her but did not understand anything: why should I run, why should I be without a dad, a brother, with a stranger? And I did well that I did not run! If I ran, what? Wasn’t I remaining a stranger? And who needs a stranger as a child? But now, whatever we suffered, we suffered together, and that’s it!

So those soldiers were yelling at us:

“Come, faster, faster, come, up, up!”

The people from the fence started to yell at dad:

“Neculai, don’t sit, take clothes! They take you to the glacier, take some warm clothes, take for the children!”

People already knew what Siberia meant.

Dad went in the house, took a suitcase with his groom suit, the shirt, some clothes for us, tossed it in the car, and then went back. We were clinging on his pants and kept going after him crying. He took two other blankets, an old and a new one, and came out with them under his armpit. Then, Grisha the Gipsy, who had come with the soldiers, snatched the new blanket, which had a beautiful glow, and told my dad:

“You don’t need it! We take you as food for the wolves, and you don’t need to be warm there!”

My poor dad began to cry, and we were clinging to his pants, crying as well. My brother could already understand everything because he was older, but I could not understand what was happening; I was crying because of his crying.

Dad looked at the house and the garden crying, but that one, Grisha the Gipsy, did not give him any moment of peace:

“Come, come, faster, come, get up!”

The people began to shout:

“But he hasn’t taken anything! These children are naked!”

Since it was summer, we were barefoot; I was in a small dress, and my brother in a little shirt and shorts.

They, nothing:

“Up, up, come, come! We’ve already lost time with you! Up!”

[…]

Then, they helped bunica in the car. She was not crying like dad; she was not crying at all. She was peaceful, calm. When she was in the car—I seem to see her right now—she turned toward people, like a statue, she made a cross in the air, and she said: “Good people, if I harmed you in any way, forgive me!”

All the others were crying, all the relatives, dad, us, but not her! She was calm, peaceful. Even now, when I tell the story, I feel like crying, but not her. She did not cry at all! I was so amazed…

Then, all of a sudden, she told the girl:

“Masha, run to the kitchen and bring me the small icon with the Mother of the Lord! It is hidden in a corner, behind the cardboard!”

She kept it hidden because the Bolsheviks had destroyed everything.

Tanti (aunt) Maria ran fast, found it, and brought it to her. Bunica kissed it, made the sign of the cross one more time, and said:

“God with us!”

 

"We had no food"

This fragment from Do Not Avenge Us is written by Tamara Oala Plesca, from whom I posted before. The family was in Siberia, after they were deported by the Bolsheviks. Left with no food and no means to provide for themselves, they die one by one…

 

After a while, we moved into a different place, in a small house. He had nothing to eat in this house either. We only drank water with salt. We were dying of hunger, all of us! As I said, the potatoes froze in the land, so the locals did not get to take them out. I used to go to gather some of those frozen potatoes. I could find some things, even fruit of the forest, so I ate things like this. I was looking for arrach or nettle. Mama used to grind it, prepare it, and make some sort of cake out of it. Mamagave us the little food we had, not keeping for herself.

I remember that she used to give all of us a loaf of rice bread on Saturdays. For all of us there, as many souls as we were, she had this loaf of bread. One per week. For six souls, one loaf per week! All the other time, there was only arrach and nettle. Mama made some sort of small cake out of arrach, potato peels, and whatever else we could find there. Bunica had no longer any teeth, and she used to say:

“I cannot eat this wooden board, this arrach cake.”

One evening, my brother came with bread. Such a beautiful smell… And we were all dying of hunger. My feet were swollen, and I could not walk. When we saw that bread, as we were hungry, we looked long at it… But he tied it with some string in the attic. This was on Saturday. We used to eat this bread only on Sundays. We ate on Sundays so that we would have that taste in our mouths for the entire week.

Bunica began crying, and she implored my brother:

“Vasile, give me a piece of bread! I cannot eat this cake. It is as tough as the board. My stomach cannot take it. I don’t have any tooth.”

But my brother told bunica:

Mamuca, dear bunica, you raised us with these hands of yours! You saw many things, and you endured much! Please suffer it until morning. What would I do with these children, who have their eyes fixed on this loaf of bread? If I give you any of it, they are children and will want to have it too. You are older and understand. Please, endure it a bit longer!”

Over night, we did not close one eye. We lay down and looked up to the loaf of bread. We waited, hoping that one piece, one little piece would fall and we could put it in our mouths. Well, when morning came, bunica was no longer. She had cried and cried. She had rivers of tears on her face, and she died.

Life before WWII in one village of Bessarabia

A few weeks ago, I posted a fragment from Ion Moraru’s testimony about his own suffering after the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia. This is a fragment in which he describes life before WWII. It is the description of a peaceful place, where people used to live in connection with the world around them.

 


I was born on March 9, 1929, in the village Mândâc, near the city of Drochia, in Bessarabia.

The village of my childhood was just like all the villages of Bessarabia before the war.

[…]

In the heart of the village there was an old wooden church, where all people were going on Sunday. People were faithful, and not going to church on feast days was a shameful thing.

Even at home, prayer was said before everything. My bunica, Alexandra, had her own rule every morning and evening—even if the village were on fire, even if the house were on fire, she would have not given up prayer! When she was finished, she sat down, combed her raven hair, put it in a bun,[1]and when this ritual was done, she began working! She went to the oven made out of stone and clay, just next to the house, and she did her work there the whole day: two-three polentas per day—polenta with scrambled eggs, polenta with fish, polenta with scraps, polenta with sheep cheese, just like every other Romanian. I don’t know how the Bessarabians did not die from so much polenta!

During feast days, it was completely different because feasts were sacred for us. On Saturday, toward evening, when the sun was going down three spears from the earth, bunicul went to mow lucerne and brought food for horses and cattle, so that he would not have to mow on Sunday. Bunica was also cooking on Saturday, as we were all going to church on Sunday morning.

In those times, people were not very learned; their lives flowed naturally, according to what was given to them. They knew to do many things naturally, following the nature of things.

Bunelul, for example, did not know much agronomy, but he knew with precision when to sow the corn. In the spring, he was just coming to me saying:

“Vaniusha, come, let’s se if it is time to sow!”

There was a large cross made out of stone on our land, on a small hill. Bunelul used to make a cigarette from corn, sit on a stone, and begin puffing that cigarette. After a while, he would stand up and say:

“Let’s go home, for it is no time for sowing!”

I was wondering how he could know. Then I realized where his knowledge came home: the stone was cold. He did not need academic studies to understand that it was too cold for sowing.

[…]

People believed and hoped that this Resurrection will come for them as well. Nobody knew, however, how it would be, and this is why death was feared. As soon as it was heard that someone was about to die, either because of age or sickness, all went to him to ask for forgiveness and waited around to hold his candle because it was considered a sin to die without a candle.



[1] “Foflic” in original, a regionalism.