Romuald's story

Trying to get enough to eat

Photo of Romuald and brother After a few days the NKVD told us that those who will work will have a priority in getting accommodation in the permanent barracks. My father was not eligible to work (too old) but my mother and I volunteered. I wanted to work with my friends who were pulling logs of wood to the river on horses but they didn't take me. NKVD said that I was too young.

My job was to carry mortar to the plasterer. Every once in a while the plasterer, usually a woman, would yell at the top of her lungs "Rastvoru" (Mortar) then we would get couple of shovels of the mortar and bring it to her. They were working on the permanent barracks. The barracks consisted of a long corridor in the middle and had one room units on each side. Each room was about 8' x 12' feet. There was enough room to put two narrow beds against each wall and a small table in the middle. At the end of the corridor there was a communal kitchen. The construction of the barracks was very simple: two layers of boards 1"x 6", separated by studs, leaving about 4" between, constituted the inside and outside surfaces of walls, the space between the two layers of wooden boards was filled with wood filings which formed the insulation. The walls were plastered inside and I don't remember how they were finished outside. The whole idea was pretty practical and effective, except that after certain time the wood filings did settle down and the upper part of the structure was practically uninsulated which in Siberia was very bad idea. Anyhow, this was the housing, Soviet style.

We were paid for work, but it was not much (I think it was 180 rubles per month) and there was practically nothing that one could buy with these money, it was more profitable to go to the river, Ob, and fish. At least you could get something that you could eat. Ob, the second largest river in Russia after the Volga, at that time, was river full of fish. It was not unusual for me to bring home 15-20 lb of fish or more. We had fish in every possible shape and form: fried, cooked, dried for the future winter time and so on.

As soon as it became known that my father was a physician, many Russians having more confidence in a Polish doctor than their own, started to ask my father to see their sick. My father, in return for the medical visits, since he was actually not licensed to practice, didn't take any money but did not refuse if they offered something to eat. So, more fish, because the Russians hardly had anything else. But soon after us there arrived a lot of Lithuanians usually rich farmers (Kulaks-in Russian) and they brought with them large amounts of food. So, when they started to call my father he would bring home a piece of pork lard or something like that. That was valuable. My mother would save it for winter, which everybody was afraid of. Besides fish the only other sources of food were either black market or the dining hall of the Vostochnyi Poselok. At the black market one could get some potatoes that the locals would sell. Sometimes, in Barnaul, it was possible to get some meat, but that was very expensive.

We were getting 500 g. of bread per day. Under normal conditions there would be enough of other things to eat and one would not be hungry. If one gets only the bread and nothing else, 500 g. is definitely not enough. I remember, once we were fishing, and a Russian boy, who was fishing next to me asked me to take care of his "zakid". Zakid was a long string that had several hooks attached to it. One end of the string was anchored a the bank of the river and the other had a stone that was thrown into the water across the river. After some 15 minutes you pulled the zakid out of the water and usually there were several fishes on the hooks. So, this boy disappeared for a while. After half hour he came back and said: "Well, I just had my 500 grams of bread, and that's until tomorrow." To me this simple incident symbolized the quiet resignation with which Russian people accepted their fate in times of war.

Once somebody told us that at a distance of about 15 km. there is a kolkoz (collective farm) and there is a lot of potatoes left in the ground after the tractor finished to excavate them. Armed with shovels and sacks a group of us, mostly young people, went to the kolkoz. What we were told was true: there was a lot of potatoes in the ground and soon we filled our sacks of potatoes. As we were almost ready to start our walk home, several men on horses came from the kolkoz, beat us with their whips and confiscated our potatoes. I was lucky in that I saw them coming early enough to hide in nearby bushes and I escaped the whipping and confiscating of my potatoes but others were beaten pretty bad. This was a bitter awakening to the fact that we were in the Soviet "Paradise" and from time to time they reminded us that their justice is not what is commonly accepted. Although it was obvious that these potatoes will rot in the ground it was not allowed to take them from the kolkoz territory no matter what. We could deduce from this that he or she will rot himself in the Soviet Union like those potatoes.


Romuald Lipinski
19th April, 1998

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