of the Gulag
The life of an “ice child”
In 1941, Irena Ašmontaitė-Giedrienė, her brother and sister were deported to the Altai region with their mother, who was expecting her fourth child. A year later, they were moved to the far north of Siberia near the River Lena delta, as “physically weak” workers. She recalls disease and death in her family:
“It was 1942. My mother fell seriously ill, she was working… somewhere or other… they built a hut, she started working in the hospital they set up there, it was a hospital unit, a few rooms. When she fell ill, they sent her to hospital there, because scurvy, famine and disease had started. Every day they would bury 10 or 12 people. There was no cemetery, just big pits. Trofimovsk was on a sort of ice island, they dug holes in the ice. They were all laid out on top of each other, hundreds of them, thousands.
My brother was taken on by a fisherman brigade, he was 15. My younger brother was born in the Altai region, he wasn’t yet one year old. They put the three of us in a children’s home. It was a big hut with the hospital on one side and the home on the other. We moved into the home. A little while later, we woke up one morning and found our little brother dead. A careworker took us to see our mother. She was in the hospital, she couldn’t speak, she was all puffed up, she just asked where Romukas was, our little brother, he wasn’t with us. We said he was dead. She shut her eyes, tears fell, and they took us away. Three days later, the careworker came and told us our mother was dead.”