Our stay in the Altai mountains


The population kept themselves very much to themselves. They didn't come near or speak to us. All that is except one. a young primary school teacher in his twenties who taught near Czaryszkoje but lodged like us in the 'house of the people'. He confided in my father and was curious to know how we lived in our country. He let my father know how surprised he was by his answers. He couldn't believe we lived as they did in the Soviet Union; he thought the conditions were worse. This was because their propaganda had said so and repeated it endlessly from the loudspeakers which were found everywhere. The radio continually broadcast government programmes and news. My father greatly admired this young man and was surprised by his ability to selt the truth from the propaganda as born under this regime he'd never known anything different. Unfortunately the authorities must have found him dangerous. On our return to Czaryszkoje after our three-month stay at Kiedrowka one of our companions-in-deportation who had been given a job in the small local hospital warned us that the young primary school teacher was lying unconscious in the hospital. He had been tortured : the soles of his feet burnt. He lay in a guarded hospital room. We never found out what became of him. It can't have been the conversations with my father which led to his arrest because my father would also have been arrested. No doubt he'd been too frank in talking to people and shown his opposition to Soviet ideology.


We didn't stay long at Czaryszkoje. We were scheduled to move to Kiedrowka to do forced labour. I managed to ask someone questions about it. Exceptionally, they answered me and said how beautiful it was and boasted about the cedar trees and nuts. The reality was totally different ! But first we had to get there. We walked behind a horse~frawn cart piled high with our luggage. The path was narrow and stony, but lined by a dense, pretty forest. Snow was still lying in places and wild leeks were pushing their way through. On arrival several of us were housed in a hut divided into several 'izby' (rooms). A large stove -'ruski' in Russian - took up the middle of the room and around it were several wooden bunks. We shared the room with another family. In order to eat we went looking for wild leeks. To find them we had to climb higher and higher up the mountains because in July the snow under which they grew was scarce. We diced the leeks, mixed them with flour and a little milk and baked them in the oven. There weren't enough of them to satisfy our hunger.

We had scarcely finished sorting out our living arrangements when we were set to work. Near our hut we had to lay the foundations of what was to be a sawmill. To do the work we were given some very old spades. They were wielded by hands totally unprepared for this sort of work. Among these 'hands' were a railway executive, a business woman, secondary school children (at 16 1 was one of these)... We set about our work willingly. In any case we couldn't do otherwise... nobody asked us.

Pop, Dana and StanislawI hurt my heel that first afternoon at work. It soon became infected and I was allowed to remain in the hut. That's how I lost my bread ration or rather the flour given to those officially working on the building site. The flour was given to us at irregular intervals: every one or two weeks. We received one glass per person per day. At the far end of our hut lived one local family and another lived nearby in a house next to a small bridge. This family had a garden and one or two cows. That's how we were able to get some milk in exchange for household linen or clothes ; for example we let them have a sheet in exchange for three glasses of milk a day for one week.

Our'suppliers' (those who brought us our small flour ration) would stop at the end of our hut in front of the guard's lodgings. If we had gathered fruit in the forest they increased our flour ration. Delicious wild strawberries and giant gooseberries as big as small plums were ripening in the mountains. These were gathered and taken to a small factory in Czaryszkoje and made into jam for those Russian soldiers fighting at the front against the Germans. It was impossible for an ordinary person to eat any of these jams or even any sugar. On one occasion, female factory worker out of compassion for us smuggled out in her hand three cubes of sugar. They were to be the only ones we ate in our 15 months of captivity and the only ones she dared to bring out from her workplace.

If there were lots of fruit in the mountains you still had to go looking for them and to know the places to find them and also to be guide at gathering them and therefore have an extra ration of flour. One day the smell of the fruit, tiredness, hunger and the heat made me feel dizzy. I dozed off next to a waterfall. When I woke up I didn't know where I was or how long I'd been there. On arriving back at the hut my father forbade me to go so far away again. We greatly missed the fruit vutiich supplemented our meagre diet. I could only look from a distance at the splendour of the countryside. I marvelled at the beautiful mountains covered in so many different sorts of trees which autumn clothed so well.

Bears were to be found half-way up the mountains in which we lived. They weren't the only wild animals. There were all sorts of game and the men dreamed of having a rifle. In our situation it was totally out of the question ! The highest summit we could see and which was always snow-covered was 'Bietka' (Beluka in Russian). Beyond that was China and Mongolia.

So much richness lay before us while we (the deportees but also the Russian people) were hungry. Our daily ration of a glass of grey flour didn't go very far. I kneaded the flour mixed with water and made thin pancakes so there would be more of them. I then cooked them on the hot bricks of the big Russian stove. I also used to heat on these the little amount of milk I'd been able to obtain. We tried to survive on the wild leeks we'd found. During the months from July to September 1941 we spent in Kiedrowka we had nothing else to eat. We never saw the hazelnuts we'd been told about. In any case the trees were too far away.

I had nightmares because I was so hungry. I would cry out in my sleep "Look out ! The milk's boiling over and is escaping up the chimney". One day I met a young girl about my age when I was taking some bed linen to the family who lived nearby. We got on well straightaway and met two or three times. But soon my father was asked to stop these meetings. I didn't understand why and was very unhappy. My father then explained we must avoid any conflict with the local authorities. My new friend must have received the same warning because I never saw her again.