Предлагаю для прочтения историю одной семьи волынских немцев, которая затрагивает их депортацию из Волыни в 1915 году, о том как они затем вернулись обратно в 1917 году и что после этого произошло. История записана на английском языке:
Robert Kienert – Autobiography
My dear listeners,
It was an ordinary day when I had
the idea to record my life story on tape – my memoir, as they say. I
believed that this would be a very interesting story. After all, I had plenty
of adventures in my life. But first, let me introduce myself: My name is Robert
Kienert – I am sure you have already recognized my voice. Today, I want
to take you on a stroll through the story of my life. The individual stations
of this story and its course have shaped my personality to this very day.
Meanwhile, I am well over seventy and you must know that I always ponder
everything when I am alone. Especially at night, when I cannot sleep, I begin
to ponder, and the past returns once again. And that is what I want to share
with you today.
Of course, I am no longer able to
explain everything in great detail. It has all been way too long for that and
some things I have forgotten, too. I would say: This is more like a summary of
my experiences, as far as I am able to remember them. Still, I believe my story
will certainly be interesting and give you a bit of an idea of my adventurous
I want to thank you in advance for
listening so patiently. I have one more request: It is too exhausting for me to
speak these words myself. Please forgive me if you hear someone else's voice
When I first saw the light of day, it was May 8th,
1902. It was spring and the country turned green and flowery as it does every
year. Of course, I did not yet notice much of that. But I can imagine that this
day was not particularly pleasant for my parents, especially for my mother. At
that time, women still gave birth at home, and most of the time they were on
their own. And that is what it was like during my birth. You must know that my
cradle stood not in Germany
but deep in Russia.
And things there were not so easy. Now, don't think this made me a born
Russian. No, no! I am German, and my parents are, too, of course.
So, I was born on May 8th, 1902, in Fasova, a
larger village with about 2000 inhabitants, near Zhytomyr. All of this is in
Volhynia, near Ukraine's
northern border, a beautiful and exceedingly fruitful country. Volhynia was
primarily inhabited by Germans, especially emigrants from Germany who,
since they tended to be hard-working people, were not doing badly at all
– but that does not mean that it was the land of milk and honey! When,
and for what reason my grandparents came to this country, I do not know.
Surely, they were told – to put it in a funny way – that bananas
are growing straight from the trees into one's mouth there. To this day, I am
surprised and sometimes I cannot even believe that they found the courage to
emigrate. And to Russia
of all places, where an uncertain fate and a certainly hard life was awaiting
them. But no matter. They were young, after all. They were enterprising and
daring enough to step out into the world! That is how our family's adventure in
the expanses of Russia
My grandparents (my grandmother's name was Dorothea but we
always called her Dora, and my grandfather, whose name was Heinrich just as my
father – Heinrich was a very popular name in our family, by the way),
they came from West Prussia. It wasn't that difficult to acquire land in Russia. You
could take as much primeval forest as you wanted. There was plenty of it, after
all, and it didn't cost much, either, almost nothing.
My grandparents had taken over a large field at the time. I
don't remember exactly how large it was, they always said it was approximately
100 hectare – 100 dessjatine, as they say in Russia. That was quite a large
piece of land.
Grandfather, a hard-working man, had opened an oil and grit
mill where the area farmers had their harvest products milled. A lot of
rapeseed, poppy seed, false flax and linseed were grown for personal
consumption. This way, my grandparents were able to earn some money.
They lived this way for many years; they may have had to work
very hard but they lived quite well. My father was born there and my mother,
too. Her parents – their name was Zandern – lived in the same
village. Later, they moved to Emelufke. Even though land and primeval forest
were available almost for free, it was initially very difficult to farm all of
it. Large trees had to be felled in the forest, almost all of them oaks, sometimes
more than two meters in diameter. The kind of machines we have today were
unheard of at that time. All work had to be done by hand and with human
strength. For my grandfather, all of that was much too hard. He was soon
entirely exhausted, and I remember that he died in his 65th year.
I was just a few years old then. Later, when I was about six
or seven years old, my father purchased a lot in Piserufke. That's about ten
kilometers from Fasova. The plot was good but small, and so father sold it
again after three or four years in order to buy a new piece of land in Emelufke
where my mother's parents had since moved. Again, he sold his land after
several years and purchased a new lot of about 100 hectare in Anderejufke. That
is where we stayed.
The new plot was a very good piece of land. It had three
little houses on it and a small stable, too. One of the houses was a
workers’ house, which means it housed people who worked for us. My
mother's parents later moved into the second house, and we moved into the third
house ourselves. We lived there for many years. I spent my childhood there.
The climate in Volhynia is very good. Very mild and easy to
tolerate. Of course, we didn't live as comfortably as we do here and as we are
used to it here, where one can buy anything ones heart desires. We only had
cake here and there on a Sunday. "Bake something wheaty," Father
would say to Mother – and most often, that was streusel cake. That was
all we knew there.
But we all had enough to eat. There was always plenty of meat
and even more fruit. We ate fruit summer and winter – fruit is naturally
plentiful in Volhynia. The harvest was almost always abundant. Fruit was dried
or candied or canned by the sack-load and so there was plenty even in winter.
Vegetables were scarce and almost never for sale. At the
most, vegetables were grown for one's own consumption. The fields bore mostly
grain, just like here, but we also grew millet. Like I said, we ate a lot of
meat there. So there were ample pigs, horses, cattle – and small livestock,
too. We never lacked meat.
Thinking back, I have to say that the time we spent there was
not so bad. At least, for me. Well, I was still a child, after all, naive, and
I lived happily and carelessly for the moment, just like all children do. Of
course I had to work hard to help my parents – as did my four younger
brothers, Ephraim, Daniel, David and Adolf. And often that was hard for us. But
it was still very nice.
We lived well; Technology as we have it today was not around
back then. I remember the time well when Father traded in livestock. We didn't
transport cows or cattle like we do today. That was not possible. When I was
ten years old, I often had to lead cows. Ten to 15 kilometers, always three
animals attached to one rope. Believe me, it was not easy. But still, we did
fine and were content.
It was 1915, one year into World War I – which mostly
took place in the west – when we, along with the other Germans who lived
there, received orders from the German consulate to sell everything and return
to Germany, if possible within the next six months. Of course, there was a lot
of upset. After all, many believed that the Word War was now starting up in Russia, too!
Several people were afraid of what was to come and so they followed the
consulate's request and moved back to Germany. But most people stayed,
and we did, too. Father said: "Let's wait and see. I'm sure it won't be
that bad." And that is how most people thought at the time. But if we had
known what was to come, we surely would have moved back, as well.
But God had different plans and so we stayed, and fate took
its course. Soon after, there was no turning back. For now, things were still
peaceful but the war with Russia
was starting. On July 10, 1915, we suddenly received orders from the Russians
to leave our property. Within ten days, they said. We were all deep in shock.
We tried to sell as much as we could to earn some money
– of course, at knockdown prices. Our only goal was to get rid of it. The
Russians who bought from us made good deals. A cow sold for five or six rubles.
Anything that stayed behind was never seen again.
When the deadline was up, the Russians put together a trek.
Thankfully, we were allowed to take horse and cart, which we filled with
anything that was worth taking. Then the displacement began.
The Russians accompanied our trek from village to village
– first to Kiev, then via Chaniov to Saratov, more than 300
kilometers with horse and cart in four weeks. The suffering was immeasurable.
No home, no roof over our heads. We could neither cook food nor properly wash
up. We were driven further and further. The cries of confused children and the
moaning of the old and sick were pitiful. They were the worst off. Thankfully,
war was still far away and we were not followed by tanks and gunfire. But that
was no real comfort. Considering that the Russians themselves had nothing and
considering how impoverished they were in their own country, one can imagine
how appalling our own situation was. I can still see those people with their
sad and haggard faces, trying to relieve the distress as much as possible. But
what could be done? We lacked everything and the Russians kept driving us on
Meanwhile, it was bitterly cold. If you know winter in Russia, you
know what that means. The great dying began. Weakened by weeks of stress and
strain, people started dying off like flies. Anybody old, sick and weak
succumbed. The misery grew and grew.
In this situation, the Russian government sent a new order:
They stopped our funeral procession and forced us to sell or simply abandon
horse and cart and anything in or on it. Now we only had left what we could
carry with our bare hands.
Our journey now continued by railroad. What a drama! And
impossible to think of the terrible revelation at the end of this ride!
The Russians had put together a train of cattle cars and we
were loaded into those. It was already evening and everybody ran into the cars,
head over heels. Everybody wanted to get in as fast as possible – for
one, it was bitterly cold, and for another, everybody believed that we would
now proceed faster and the misery would soon be over. The Russians had put up
potbelly stoves in the cattle cars along with some wood and so we were at least
able to fend off the bitter cold somewhat. But that was all. Human beings must,
after all, relieve themselves here and there, especially the children, who were
still very little, and the women who are in particular need of hygiene. But
there was no place to wash. All we had for a toilet was a bucket that was
emptied each time the train stopped. The stench was terrible, of course, as you
can easily imagine. But nobody concerned themselves with this. The Russians
simply locked the doors and didn't care about anything anymore. No wonder, the
stench of sweat and waste – and along with it the mood in the cars
– became worse and worse as time went on.
Night fell. Darkness and cold added to the fear and misery.
It was bitterly cold despite the potbelly stoves. The train did not depart
right away, however, but stayed in the station for some time. As fate willed,
my mother's parents, the Zanders, were separated from us and loaded into the
car behind us.
It was around 4 am when we finally felt the train move.
Nobody knew the destination. Most people slept – what else was there to
do? There was nothing to see. Everything was closed up and shut, and sleep
makes many a burden easier to bear.
The train drove hour after hour. We had long lost any sense
of time. It was a long time before we finally stopped. We were simply put on
the holding track and the Russians came and opened our doors. It was 4 o'clock
in the afternoon and we were allowed to leave the cars so we could move our
legs and get wood and water and other needed supplies.
Father immediately went to the car behind us to see how his
parents-in-law, the Zanders, were doing. But something terrible had happened!
The Russians had simple uncoupled the car that held the grandparents! Or maybe
simply left it somewhere, who knows! Instead, they had attached a car with
Russian refugees from the front. We never saw the Zanders again.
It wasn't until many years and much research later that we
found out from acquaintances that they had been transported to Tashkent,
which is at the Chinese border. That is where they died later on, both within a
fortnight of each other. I will leave it up to you, my dear listeners, to gauge
how shocked we were. The loss of our loved ones hit us very hard. Surely, war
brings millions of such separations. But believe me: the terror of those
affected never decreases.
The Russians did not leave us any time for conversation. We
had to get back into our cars and soon the journey continued. After about three
weeks – during which we often stopped for one or two days when we were
simply parked on a holding track – we arrived in Chelyabinsk. Chelyabinsk
is a large city in Siberia, just behind the Ural Mountains.
Here, too, we were immediately placed on a holding track and simply ignored.
Each car held approximately 50 people and you can imagine what was going on in
We had been parked a week when Father simply went to the
Russians and asked if we couldn't just stay here. To his surprise, they told
us: "Yes, you can stay here." I am sure I don't have to tell you how
happy we were! Finally, pain and misery had come to an end. We were able to
take our destiny into our own hands again.
Since nobody cared about us anymore, Father immediately went
and tried to find an apartment for us. And he did find one. There was a house
that stood empty because the Russian inhabitants had died of cholera six months
prior. It was supposed to be disinfected but since there was a war, nobody
asked too many questions. We rented the house together with some neighbors from
back home and moved in.
We had one room and a small kitchen for us: Father, Mother
and five boys. It was a bit tight, that's true. But no matter, the train cars
had been tighter – and after all, we didn't own anything besides what we
carried with us.
The Russians who lived there were very friendly toward us.
They held no grudge or anything – after all, we were Germans, who were at
war with them! But all that happened in far-off Europe;
here, nobody cared. People simply said: "You are poor refugees!" and
that is how they treated us. They brought us straw, too, with which we covered
the floor in the room that was available to us. That is where we settled down.
There was also an oven in the room, a real, big oven with
room to sleep on. I should mention that Russians always sleep on such a stove
during winter, the entire family sleeps on it. A petch is what they call it. It is heated with wood, which is
usually plentiful. This kind of oven is a true Russian tradition. It belongs to
Russian farmhouses like cold and winter belong to Siberia.
Speaking of winter: Winter in Siberia
is a truly terrible thing. Especially when living under primitive conditions as
we did there. Overnight, everything freezes and is soon buried deep in snow.
Temperatures go down to 40 or 50 below zero, and life itself freezes. It all
begins around mid-September and lasts nine months. Once over, summer returns
equally quickly. Within a few days, snow and ice disappear – the cracking
of the ice on the rivers and lakes sounds like distant gunfire.
Almost overnight, the sun burns hot from the sky and causes
millions of flowers and blossoms to appear. Nature's awakening from her icy
sleep is quick and without hesitation. Speed is essential: Summers in Siberia are short and hot. After only three months,
everything is over again. Winter begins anew with the first nightly frosts.
That is how hard and unforgiving the Siberian climate is. And
a man who did not plan ahead was in deep trouble! People who were in captivity
in Siberia can tell you a thing or two about
The next morning, father went with a few others to buy
groceries. We had some money – that was not the problem. Besides, we also
received some help from the Red Cross: About five rubles and sometimes also
food or a soup from the Russians. It was bearable.
After we had lived there for a short while, Father went
looking for work. He found a position with a Russian who lived about three
kilometers away. He could work for five rubles a month there, which was sorely
little but at least it was something. Thankfully, food was cheap. One ruble
bought quite a bit of groceries. One day, Father came home and told me:
"Robert, you have to come with me to the Russian. He wants you. You will
work for him and care for his horses."
And so I went with him. The Russian owned about six horses,
and I was supposed to feed and care for them. But that was not an easy task,
especially when it came to drinking! The water had to be fetched from a place
about 200 meters away, and since it was winter, everything was frozen about one
meter deep. I had to hammer a hole through the ice and carry the uprising water
to the stable in a bucket. The animals also got hay and oats, which I brought
in from outside. Of course, I also had to keep the stable clean.
When evening came, I asked the Russian: "Where should I
"Come with me," he said. I went with him and he took a sack and
stuffed it with straw and took me to the kitchen. There was a bench where I
laid down to sleep. He gave me two blankets. My God, what a night! It was about
40 below zero. While he slept on the warm oven, I lay on the bench freezing
terribly. But what was I supposed to do about it? I simply had to get used to
Of course, I had enough to eat. As usual, there was a lot of
meat and also other meals. Only no vegetables. Each day, I was given more than
enough fruit, dried or canned; there was no lack of it. But as I said, I never
laid eyes on any vegetables.
The people were very kind to me, too, I cannot complain, I
wasn't doing badly. And yet, when I came back home one day, I said to my
father: "I will not go back. I am afraid. There are so many rats in the
stable, it's unbelievable. Those animals are enormous and so bold, they scare
away the horses and eat their food straight from the manger. When you've killed
a cartload full of them, new ones show up the next day to take their place. I
don't even know where they all came from. I don't want to go back there!"
And Father said to me: "Okay, my boy, stay here. I am
fed up, too. The wages are too low and the work is way too hard. Lugging heavy
sacks all day for five rubles a month is more than anyone can take. The wages
are too low. Let's be done with it."
Shortly thereafter, Father found a new position at the
butcher’s, and I was allowed to work there, too. We did very well there.
There were 18 employees, and we made mostly sausages and smoked foods. One day,
the butcher's wife said to me, "Goluptchik",
that means boy, "you have to come with me. You have to herd cattle for
five or six days." The butcher had bought cattle from a farmer and they
had to be tended until they were picked up for butchering. So we left by sled
– it was winter, after all. Suddenly, it began to snow. The snow was so
thick you could not see your own hands. Since there are no streets or paths in Siberia, it was very easy to get lost. This was
particularly dangerous in the winter because of the wolves which are quite
numerable there and which you could often hear howling at night. Those beasts
don't have much to eat during the winter, and with their pack they attack
whatever they can get a hold of. So, losing your way is quite bad, especially
when night surprises you. What could we do? We had to stop half-way at a farm
and wait for the next day.
Overnight, the snow fell more than one meter deep. The next
morning, the weather was good again and we could continue our journey. The
farmer we traveled to had a house that was typical for the Siberian
countryside. In the city, the houses are built from beams and planks and
boards, and the roofs are covered with straw or – if you had enough money
– with tin. Roof tiles and shingles were unheard of. Also, there are
electric lights in the city. Out in the country, everything is different.
Houses are built by laying sod pieces on top of each other, about one meter
thick. The walls are caked with clay and furnished with small, smooth glass
windows. Wooden beams and boards are placed on top, and the whole thing is
covered with straw. And that's it. Petroleum lamps are used for lighting.
Most of these farm cottages only have one room. This farmer's
house was such a cottage. One corner of the room held the oven, the petch, and
the other housed a table with benches – all of them very primitive, of
course: The table and bench legs were simply poles that were driven into the
floor. Then boards were placed on top, and done. The man had covered the floor
with straw up to his knees. There was no toilet. There were no toilets anywhere
in the countryside – they were unknown. (In the city, yes. In the city,
it was like it is here.) If you had to relieve yourself you just hopped into
the bushes behind the house. There – like most everywhere in Siberia – you would find the Siberian wandering
toilet. It consists of two sticks – one for leaning on and one for
fending off the wolves.
And there we were. The butcher's wife drove off again and I
remained to care for the cattle with the farmer. The animals were outside in a
fenced-in paddock. And they stayed there through the night, despite the bitter
cold. But they tolerated it well. Once a day I had to let them out to drink:
first, snow had to be removed from the watering hole, and then a hole had to be
hammered through the ice, as usual. When the animals were satisfied, we drove
them back to the paddock. I fetched hay from a large pile there and laid it
against the fence for feeding. That was my entire work.
The evenings were terrible. It got dark early and it was
always very cold. And especially: bitterly boring. The Russian slept on his
warm often and, once again, I had to sleep on one of the benches. Despite fur
coat and felt boots, I suffered miserably most of the time. I was barely able
to sleep, it was so cold. A fortnight later, the butcher's wife came back and
at that point, I was very discontent. I cried and told her, "I am not
staying any longer, I want to leave." And she took me with her.
Father and I worked at the butcher’s for about half a
year. When the work became worse, we quit. Father soon took a new position
– we had to live, after all, and even in Siberia
that is not possible without money.
Father had heard that felling trees in the forest brought a
lot of money. And so we went into the forest. Everybody came along: Father,
Mother, my brothers Daniel, Ephraim and David and Adolf, and I, of course. Our
neighbors from back home, who shared our apartment, came too.
First, we had to walk two hours to get to the place where
trees were to be felled. We had arranged to stay for several days to spare us
the back and forth. We headed out, carrying everything we needed. Now, don't
think you can just walk into the woods. There were no paths. And the woods are
different from here – the forest is primeval, grown without management
for thousands of years. We were told the place and the direction and then we
had to figure out how to get there. Of course, there was much to behold:
Flowers and plants bloom in abundant beauty because the forest grows untouched
and undisturbed. Someone familiar with nature and interested in botany will
certainly get their money's worth here – as far as he has time for such
things. The road to the worksite is cumbersome and the work to be done is grueling.
I was just about 15 years old at the time, and the oldest of my siblings. I am
mentioning this so you can imagine how difficult it was for us to earn our
living back then. Primeval trees are, as a rule, very old and very strong. It
is not rare to find trees that measure several meters in circumference. Felling
such a trunk with axe and saw takes quite some time! But that was not the end
of it. The leaves and branches had to be removed, as well. That was not so
easy. We all had to work hard.
Soon it was evening. We set up a camp for the night where we
could cook and sleep. But there was not going to be much sleeping. Sure, a
summer evening in the Siberian woods is quite wonderful. Experiencing this, in
untouched nature, oh yes, when the sun sets and the heat of the day diminishes,
when the voices of the forest and the song of the birds get quiet, and when the
sky, aglow in every color in the face of the setting sun, slowly grows pale and
when darkness begins to spread bit by bit between the trees and one's thoughts
start wandering between day and dream – then, we can feel the freedom of
nature and the adventure that is our lives. After a day of hard labor, one
sleeps soundly in the forest under the open sky – or so you would think.
But as I said, there was not much sleeping that night. Night fell, and with it
came the dread and the fear.
For some time we had been hearing the rustling and breaking
of twigs and branches around us. And when darkness had fully arrived, we could
see them: wolves! There they were, and they had surrounded us. We had started a
large fire and in its glow, we saw the shadows of the animals as they rushed
through the underbrush. Their eyes shone like glowing embers at us,
threatening. We heard them yap, and their howls were dreadful in the night. For
them, we were prey and food for their hungry stomachs. The circle they had cast
around us became smaller and smaller. At this point, all of us were on our feet
and we had positioned ourselves in a circle around our camp – sleep was
unthinkable. Each of us held an axe or some other weapon, a hatchet or a knife,
ready to strike or stab mercilessly when the attack came. However, it appeared
that the wolves were quite afraid of our fire, which we fed again and again to
keep it shining brightly. They circled us tightly but they did not come any
closer. This is how it went until dawn, when the nightmare was over and the
animals suddenly disappeared.
Dead tired, we went back to work that morning. But since we
had not slept the night before, we didn't make much progress. When evening came
again, we went home. We had decided not to spend another night there. It was
far too dangerous.
We went back one more day and then we were tired of it. A two-hour
walk in the morning, another two hours at night, that was too much. We were
exhausted just from walking! We had lost all interest. And so we soon gave up
this work, as well.
After that, Father tried self-employment and succeeded. We
opened a butcher shop. An axe, a cleaver and anything else we needed was
acquired or purchased. It is not hard to run a business in Russia. No
permits were necessary – there are no trade offices like we have them
here. And nobody had to pay taxes. Back then – despite the war, the country
was still peaceful and quiet – you simply started to work. Nobody cared.
As long as there was enough money to purchase what you needed, all was well.
However, we needed a fire insurance policy – a private one, of course
– but there was no concrete requirement for this either. Where we lived,
life was quite uncomplicated, almost no comparison to Western
Europe. Especially, there were no official requirements, as there
are in Germany.
Even though World War I was raging in Western Europe and in
the westernmost parts of Russia,
we did not feel any of it. On the contrary, the Russians were very friendly
toward us. I have never seen them accusing us and we didn't experience any
reprisals. Surely, during a drunken brawl we may be accused of being German
– "You Germanskis!" they would say. But that was it. We were
never hurt. Not even the police cared about us. Everybody was free to do as
As I said, Father opened a butcher shop. The Russians came
and brought us living pigs and we slaughtered them and sold them by the pound,
especially to the many German refugees who lived there. But the Russians came,
too, since they were able to find things a bit cheaper than elsewhere. They
especially liked to buy bacon. There was always much demand for bacon. Later,
we mainly tried to purchase pigs that had already been slaughtered. That was
less work. However, the slaughtered pigs were frozen solid. Meat sales in Siberia are different from here. There are no halves
– the pigs remained whole. Only the innards are removed; and pigs are not
sold as halves or quarters or as ham or shoulder ham. No, they were sold by the
piece. We just chopped straight through the pig with our meat cleaver –
each piece as large as desired. As far as I remember, our business did very well.
Father earned well and we did not live poorly.
In 1915, I celebrated my confirmation in Chelyabinsk. As I said, there were many, many
Germans there and we also had a German pastor who held services. His name was
Wasen. I remember that I was in a large hall with many other young people and
that I was confirmed by this pastor. But that is all I remember.
While we had the butcher shop, there was little work for me
at home. Whatever needed to get done, my parents were able to handle. That is
why I went to a flour shop where I delivered flour. I did earn a lot in tips
while I worked there, but otherwise my income was very low and I only stayed
three months. I was promised better pay in an apothecary shop. There, I had to
rinse out little bottles that were needed for medical purposes. But that, too,
did not go well. At first, I was supposed to earn well, but later, I wasn't
even given half of what I was promised. I was given just about two rubles a
month and that was too little. And so I went to find different work.
For some time, I worked as a hotel boy. I had to do all sorts
of little jobs, for example bringing something in or carrying something out,
making fires for the guests in their rooms – there was no central heating
– or running errands, and many, many other things that had to get done.
But my wages were pitiful. Here, too, I was only given half of my promised
wages – two to three rubles a month. Given the work I had to do, this was
nothing. Of course, I ate for free at the hotel.
It all sounds so simple but reality was cruel. When, after
much searching, you finally found work, you could not impose conditions –
such as regular work hours or a fixed hourly wage or free weekends, vacations
or even sick pay and such. Those things only exist in modern-day Germany. In Russia, all of
this was unheard of, and nobody asked for it, either. If you didn't like the
work or somethings else, you didn't have to take it. Who cares if you had work,
money or the necessities for life? Nobody! Welfare was an unknown term. And you
had no rights! If, after a week or a month, you ask for your wages and the boss
only gives you half, you have to accept. Surely, you could sue but that costs a
lot of money, which you don't have. And even if you did, that doesn't mean you
would win. Bribery is the deciding argument in Siberia
– at least back then it was.
Once you accepted a position, you had to labor morning till
night without complaint and do whatever the boss tells you to. If not, you were
free to leave.
After I had given up my work as a hotel boy – again
because of poor pay – I found a job with a Russian Jew. I have to say, it
was not a bad position. The people were good to me and the work was not too
hard. The man had a kind of taxi service. Of course, not with a car, oh no:
Horse and buggy, as it was customary at the time. It is funny to think about it
now: Today, we have cars or we order a taxi, by phone, of course, and we can
quickly accomplish whatever we wish. Yes – now and here! Back then, in Siberia, all of this was very, very different. There was
no telephone, people didn't even know about it. Certainly, in the cities there
were phones but not in the country. If you wanted or had to travel, provided
you could afford it, you had to be content with horse and buggy. Either you
owned one yourself or you rode along with someone else or rented one. Nobody
was in a hurry. Everything was much more contemplative and stress-free.
Everybody had time.
But it was also less comfortable and more cumbersome. For
you, my dear listeners, the thought and idea of driving through the expanses of
Siberia in horse and cart is wonderful: past
never-ending fields, past tranquil, quiet lakes and through dark and silent
forests where nature reveals herself in her entire beauty. And especially in
winter, when rivers and lakes are frozen and villages, fields, and forests are
covered in deep snow. As you know, there is a lot of snow in Siberia.
Yes, gliding across frozen rivers in a sled with jingling bells, ice cracking,
white steam rising from the horses’ nostrils into the blue skies,
landscapes along the banks of the river appearing and disappearing like grey
shadows from the evening mists – I have to admit, fairytales could not be
more beautiful. Yes, but only in the imagination of those who have never experienced
it or only know it from romance novels.
But in Siberia, this is part
of everyday life. Who is familiar with the drudgery of such a journey, who can
guess which dangers are lurking? I have experienced such a sleigh ride with my
family. I will say more about that later.
I should mention that the only
way to travel in winter in Siberia is by sled.
Any cart would sink into the snow with its tires, plus there are no paths or
streets in the deep snow – those are sparse in this country, anyway. The
only travel paths were the frozen rivers.
But back to my new position. As I said, the Russian Jew had a
sort of taxi company. I was given two horses and a cab and was sent to drive
anybody who inquired from the railway station into town or the other way around
or to any other place. The cab fit approximately eight to ten people and it was
always well used. I did this work for an entire summer. The wages were
miserable here, as well, but I received many tips, which made it all worthwhile
– with five or six rubles a month, I earned my living.
When I returned home after a successful day and handed the
earnings to my boss, he was always very happy and became generous. He was good
to me, I cannot complain. I was given tea and white bread – kalach,
as it was called – and I did well, otherwise, too.
But one day, I had a bad experience. I was driving along
with a cab when two Chinese men waved to me. I stopped and they got in. They
asked if I knew where the brothel was. I am sure you are surprised to hear this,
but those exist in Russia,
too, though only in the larger cities, such as Chelyabinsk, not in the countryside. The poor
muzhiks had no money for such things. Desire and interest, maybe – after
all, even in Siberia, people are not made from
wood. But due to the lack of money, life in the country was a bit more
civilized. I told the men that I knew the place and they requested that I take
them there. It was about three kilometers away and I drove them.
When we arrived at the brothel, they told me to wait and went
inside. I waited outside for a long time and finally became restless and
worried that they would not come back. And so I went and knocked – I
wanted my money, after all! Soon they came out but they were very, very angry.
The pulled a sheath knife – a djendjal,
as it is called there – and they came after me. Surely, those scoundrels
had spent all their money on the whores and now wanted my money to pay the
bill. But I was quicker! I gave up on the fare, whipped my horses and took off.
I would have much rather whipped the two of them than my poor animals, but I
suppose it was better this way. When I later told my boss, he said I had acted
I should add that Bolšój Ulica, the Grand Street, was not as grand as its
name suggests. Many Tartars lived there, who ate mainly dog, cat and horse meat
and who simply threw the animals' bones and heads into the street – and
nobody cared. Often, the stench was terrible, especially during the warm
When summer came to an end, I soon had to give up my
position. During those years in Siberia, I had
many different jobs but at times I was unemployed. In those times, I went with
my mother to the train station to unload coals. Sometimes, we took Ephraim
along. I often had to accompany Mother and my brothers, anyway, because none of
them could speak Russian. Only my father and I had mastered that language and
were able to communicate well.
The work at the train station was very hard. We had to unload
cars full of coals that had arrived or reload the coals into another car that
were then taken away by a locomotive. Those were not small, gravel-size coals
– oh no! Large pieces, sometimes weighing two hundredweights – what
drudgery! We were paid 50 kopeks per train car. That was not much, but on the
other hand, we could buy quite a few things with it. An egg sold for about four
kopeks at the time and a pound of butter for 20 kopeks. Or a pound of meat,
even, cost 20 to 25 kopeks. Food was cheap. But think of it: 50 kopeks for an
entire car – nobody here would even lift a finger for 50 kopeks, and
compared with today's local wages we slaved away for peanuts, as they say. And
sometimes, we didn't get anything. Exploitation was part of daily life and if
you wanted to live, you had to work very hard.
I never really experienced a cultural life in Siberia – such as a movie theater and the like. The
Sunday service was often the only place where we met up with the many Germans
who lived around us. We might see each other while swimming in the rivers and
lakes during the summer; of course, there were always many Russians present, as
well. They enjoy bathing often and feel quite free while bathing, not shy at
all. After all, this was often the only fun they were able to have, which is
understandable considering that Russian villages have no running water. Showers
were unheard of, as well, even in Hotels. At most, there was a tub to stand in
and wash. However, there are banyas everywhere – those are saunas, and
the Russians use them excessively, especially during the winter. In the
country, every farm has a banya, but there are some in the cities, as well.
Those are communal saunas, such as we find them here in public swimming pools.
It cost 10 kopeks to join the fun. I would like to add here
that 10 Kopeks are about 10 Pfennig if you compare the ruble to a German mark.
So, 100 kopeks are one ruble, and that means that 10 kopeks for a visit to the
sauna is quite a bit of money. After all, 20 kopeks can buy a pound of butter
or even a pound of meat. And as I said earlier, we only got 50 kopeks to unload
a large car-full of coals! You did not necessarily have to use the communal
sauna in these places – individual cabins were available for rent, as
well, but that was very expensive – you had to pay 50 or 60 kopeks or
sometimes even a ruble. I, myself, also frequented such saunas, of course only
paying 10 kopeks, and I enjoyed going as often as possible – by the way,
I still do to this day."