Anatoly Smilingis : Facing death

 

At “Second section” village, there was such a mixture of people that Lithuanians, Poles, Chinese, Iranians and Germans got along well together. The Iranians, who the Lithuanian women romantically called “Persians”, came from the upper classes and stood out for their elegance and outspokenness. But they could not, or would not, adapt to the harsh conditions of exile. Anatoly tells the tragic story of their death, adding that it haunted his nights long afterwards:

One December morning, four “Caucasian Persians”, skinny and ragged, were sent out to work in the forest. They were given tools. Anatoly’s job was to lead them to the worksite and come back later and count how much timber had been cut. They trudged about one kilometre in the icy cold, and the Persians found it hard to keep up. At the worksite, Anatoly explained to them what they had to do in a mixture of Russian, Chinese and Lithuanian. The Persians were only interested in one thing: keeping warm. So Anatoly made a fire and left them a few logs. At nightfall Anatoly came back for them, but, seeing no smoke, began to get worried. He thought they might have run off. When he got to the place, he found them sitting frozen stiff. They had all died of cold.
In exile, death was a daily occurrence and you had to learn to cope with it, whatever the season. Several times Anatoly had to transport bodies in the depths of winter for the exhausting ritual of burial. He describes one of these “operations”: the corpses were drawn by horses to the cemetery in Postkeros. This happened twice a day. In the cemetery, the snow had to be cleared, then holes dug with axes, hard work in permafrost conditions. He would dig, then cover the corpses with snow. The complications came with the spring, when the snow thawed. Starving stray dogs came and ate at the bodies, before the Chinese came hunting the dogs, which they ate. So farm workers from the kolkhoz were called to help bury a second time the corpses gnawed at by the dogs.

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Cemetery of special settler village “Second section” (Vtoroj ucastok), 1942-1964
© Anatolij Smilingis


All available extracts:

  1. The death of the “Persians”
  2. The ritual of burial