The camp commandant announced, “All men must go to work”. They were given saws and axes to work in the forest. They were paid for their work in roubles.
There was a sawmill (birza tartak) outside the camp and we now worked with timber (which we had cut at the last camp) brought from the forest to this mill. There was an electric generator, which powered the woodcutting machines (and also made it possible for us to have electric lights). The men cut railway sleepers or building materials, while our brigade of seven girls stripped the bark and then cut the logs into blocks for the power plant and pit-supports.
Towards the end of our time in Monastyrok, Father managed to buy a cow (the best one) which had a calf. So, for a while, we had meat, milk and butter. I had had sores on my arms and legs caused by vitamin deficiency which soon got better with the improvement in our diet.
But on Christmas Eve 1940, I was far from happy: for the last two weeks Zosia had been in the hospital in Priwodino. I was going with Father to share “opłatek” with her. It was 15.30. When the nurse saw us she said “Zosia is already covered”. I had no idea what she meant, but my Father started crying. I had never seen him like this before, with huge tears rolling down his cheeks. When the sheet was lifted I saw Zosia’s pale face and realised what had happened and then I also started to cry. We were told that Zosia had died at 14.45 – if only we had arrived a little earlier!
My Father took her home with us and made a coffin for her. Christmas Day was very sad for us. We gave Zosia a simple funeral. My Father himself (with tears in his eyes) buried her in the fir forest, in the cemetery at Monastyrok. Poor Zosia, she only lived to be 14 years old.
On 15 April 1940 we and a few other families were moved to a new place, Monastyrok. The enormous gate at the camp entrance frightened me. It was surrounded by a tall wooden stockade with guard towers at its corners. It looked like a prison; however, I soon discovered that the towers contained no guards and the gate was only locked at night.
This camp was close to Priwodino on the River Dwina, just south of Kotlas. The name of the “posiolek” came from the Orthodox Church, and was now used as a storeroom, canteen and shop.
After almost three weeks of a nightmare journey, we arrived at Kotlas in the Archangelsk Oblast.
After sleigh rides, long walks in a huge snowstorm, temperatures of -40oC, then a train ride on the narrow gauge railway, we arrived at our first camp – Kotowalsk on 1 March 1940. About 200 people were packed into one large barrack. It was very stuffy but we couldn’t have the door open, as there was a snowstorm blowing outside. The old people and the children were going down with illnesses and there was no doctor.
Copyright© Kresy Family