Klara Hartmann : Life in the camp


“Then a factory was built in Balkhash. In fact, we built the whole town, bit by bit. There were no houses, there was nothing there, it was the desert. First the blocks of flats were built, family flats, proper ones but in the Russian style.

You built them?

Yes, yes. The jobs for each brigade were laid down. One looked after the foundations, others the basic structure, or the walls or beams, and so on, floors, everything. There were so many workers that each one had their own job. And when the flats were finished, we also built a factory where they smelted uranium ore from Hungary.

Some 30-40 kilometres from the camp there was a mine where they also extracted uranium and the uranium also went to the factory. There was ore from Hungary; I know because there were Hungarian goods wagons on which it said “Hungaria”, “Pécs” and “Budapest”, and when the uranium was extracted from the earth we loaded it on these wagons with wheelbarrows, the same wagons that brought uranium from further away. That’s how I know.

It was strange, because they were Hungarian trains. These trains meant Hungary for me. It was hard though, and sometimes it was horrible, but in a way I felt... or rather I feel now, looking back, that in that camp I went through a lot of things that have been important in my life, that were perhaps necessary for my life, my experience... I don’t really know... It was like a school... but a very bitter school.

In the political camp there was mutual respect, solidarity, helping each other. The Ukrainian women got parcels from home and shared them even if it wasn’t very much, sometimes just a little. The brigade chief was Ukrainian too. She got parcels all the time and shared them with everyone. That was a fine thing, a feeling of dignity. We helped each other, never mind whether we were Lithuanian or Latvian or anything else. We made friends and were together.”

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Klara Hartmann in Gödre, 31 August 2009