Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Mark Webber - December 13, 2004

Life in Russia

And, and what was the daily routine like there?

There was no routine at all. There was a big routine seeing--you could see people trying to--there was no sanitary conditions there at all. People were having a lot of lice. Standing there for the first time I would see all this kind of thing, I remember. And it was the odors um, on, on there. There was nothing to do. Absolutely nothing to do over there.

Was there typhus?

I don't know. I don't think that people got sick. We were not there such long period of time, you see, so I don't know. Um, there was no sanitation when they took us up, for instance, and they tried to cleanse us or anything like this. But there was this creek--this river, so this is where the place--there was also a uh, Finnish bath house standing right by the river, so we would go into that uh, sometimes and take baths. But then they put us to work there.

What kind of work?

Well, the only industry that was there was uh, was uh, cutting down trees--lumbering, and um, we all uh, lumberjacks. They gave us all uh, uh, not me, because uh, I was too young, according to them--according to their constitution, I guess, they couldn't force people of my age to work. Uh, I should go to school, but they had no school for me. I was too old for school and too young for work. The only one in our family that had some school was my youngest sister Rae. And the work consisted--for the adults um, they were uh, taken into the forest, and uh, nobody had held a saw up till then, or a ax, or a, a hammer, or anything like these kind of things. So they learned how to cut trees, and uh, trim, trim off all the branches and the core, and cut 'em into particular sizes, and line 'em up so that um, the manager would come uh, in the evening and measure how much lumber uh, the people produced, and that was how the pay was given--based on what the production was. Earning was very minor, but we were not hungry there, because we were--well, we were rationed bread. They, they gave us at that time a ration. A working person was getting uh, uh, one-and-a-half kilograms of this black, heavy um, bread. Um, so in our family, we had a surplus of uh, of bread. The problem was we didn't earn enough money to buy the bread, even though it was going at highly subsidized prices but the kind of wages that they were paying were so minor uh, that um, we could barely sustain ourselves and buy the bread. And later on, of course, with the surplus of bread, we were uh, able to go to some neighboring villages, you know, five, eight, ten miles away, and uh, trade. The peasants there didn't have any bread, but they had a couple of cows so they had some milk and some cheese, and we would barter with them--get some potatoes from them, and would bring that into our place where we stayed.

This is the dead of winter?

Well uh, the winters there are quite long. I would say probably nine months of the year is frost. And uh, um, then the spring comes. They uh, that's when--the time the river swells up, and uh, all winter long, they were logging these uh, logs that were prepared and cut in the woods, and they brought 'em over to the shores and stack 'em up there, so when the spring came, they would let all these logs go into the river, and they would float down, I guess, to some uh, um, lumber yards, and uh, lumbering machines downriver.

How long were you here?

We were there a total of fourteen months.

And you all survived through that?

Oh yes. Uh, there were no um, uh, deaths. There might have been some individuals. Don't forget we were a small group, and we were uh, maybe fifty, sixty people from--we didn't have anybody from our town, ironically, there. It was a mixture of people from all kinds of different communities that didn't experience necessarily what we did. They didn't force--they weren't forcefully um, uh, made to come to Białystok. They decided on their own to run away. They figured it couldn't be so bad on the Russian side, so they picked themselves up and they ran away.

Was it possible to leave?

No. No, it was considered impossible to leave because under the Russian system, if you don't have an internal passport, they call it uh, document uh, you are subject to immediate arrest when you are stopped to identify yourself, who you are. And we did not have any of these documents. So we did not know actually where to run. We didn't have any maps. We did not have uh, any idea where we could go. We were not--we couldn't go away from there, and we were not uh, put up on Appells, you know, and counted, who is there and who is not there.

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