Stanisław Szczepaniak, born in 1921, Polish.
Before the war, I lived in Stanisławów. My father was a judge and that was why I was sent to Russia. On 13 April 1940, many families from Poland were deported, mostly military and police families. The deportees were taken away from their homes at night. My family, that is, my mother and sister and I, were one of those whom they did not manage to handle at night, and we were luckier than others because the commander of the three Bolsheviks who came for us was not a very brutal man. They gave us time to pack our things. The truck took us to the freight station and shortly afterwards we were placed in a train car. As our fellow sufferers told us, the deportation was being carried out everywhere in the same way, the only difference being that some houses were searched. Whole families were deported: sick and elderly people too.
During the journey, two people died and one child was born. There were about thirty passengers in the train car. The atmosphere was depressing – women were crying, young people were sad and silent. Only after a few days, when everyone had accepted their fate and calmed down a bit, did we start talking and even joking, because we had to do something to kill time. The food, as always in Russia, was poor. Once a day we were given soup or groats and half a kilogram of bread per person. One person was allowed to leave the train car to pick up some water, also once a day.
After almost three weeks, we reached our destination: a sovkhoz in northern Kazakhstan. The local authorities gave us an indifferent welcome, but the people were friendly for a while. Later on, the locals’ friendliness turned into aversion as a result of agitation by the party.
The residential area consisted of a dozen or so wooden state houses and private ones built of earth. The train station was 50 km away, and the nearest doctor – 20. It took two weeks for letters from Poland to arrive, while newspapers came with a few days’ delay. In the sovkhoz, we were placed in a state barrack. In summer, countless bedbugs made our life in that building even more enjoyable. There were also quite a lot of cockroaches. In winter, water would freeze and the furnaces would generate smoke. In some sovkhozes, Poles were allowed to have some rest, but in others they were immediately rushed to work. We did the same job as Russian sovkhoz laborers, but we were not used to hard work, so we were not able to keep up with them as far as meeting the work quota was concerned. We arrived just when the spring work had begun in the fields. We would work then by day and by night. Young boys would spend whole days running in the fields and burning small piles of straw left from the previous year. Slightly older boys played the role of the so-called pruepszczyks [?]; their task was to clean plows pulled by tractors. Strong men operated sowing machines [seed drills]. Then, the time came when we did not have to hurry at work, but nobody was idle either: we carried manure, bathed and sheared sheep, prepared fuel for winter for the sovkhoz. It was very difficult to get fuel for oneself. There were no trees in those parts at all. As fuel, we used straw or dried manure cut into cubes. During the harvest period, we collected straw for ourselves, but it was hard because we worked 14 hours a day and it was difficult to borrow bulls to pull the straw. It was even more difficult to get fuel in the kolkhozes. We received straw for trudodni [working days]. Poles did not have many trudodni, so they received little straw. In February, nobody had any fuel, so the only thing we could do in that unpleasant situation was to steal it. We stole what could be burned and what was owned by the sovkhoz. More boards or even ladders would disappear every day. In winter, the living conditions became more difficult. In summer, we got food in the following way: we would go to the neighboring kolkhoz, where we could buy some flour and potatoes. In winter, we could only communicate with the sovkhoz’s headquarters. You had to manage the supplies collected in summer reasonably. In the local shop, you could sometimes buy half a kilo of bread and some dried fish once every few weeks.
In July 1941 I was sent, without my family, to build the Akmolinsk-Kartaly railroad line. A few thousand people went there, but only young people, not whole families. We lived there in barracks with a roof that leaked during rain or in train cars full of bed bugs.
After the amnesty was announced, only a few people who were considered sick by the doctor were allowed to return home, but they were not paid for their work. Everyone else had to escape. Later on, I wrote a letter to the camp, asking them to send me the money I had earned, but I did not receive any answer. Nobody made it difficult for me to leave to join the army, but I also received no help. I was given a train ticket and food for a few days in the Polish outpost. Soon I was in Buzuluk.