of the Gulag
Last day’s work in the camp
I had to sign a paper. It was our repatriation. We hadn’t heard this word before. It wasn’t a rehabilitation or an amnesty, but a repatriation, they were letting us go home. I must admit, we did not jump for joy, because we knew that when the Soviet Union promised something, nothing would happen. But we had to sign – and while we were signing, 88 people can’t sign a paper in one minute, it took quite a time – the door opened and the director of the furniture workshop came in. A very important man. He shouted, he swore, he screamed that they wanted to ruin him because, he said, if these 70 men didn’t come to work tomorrow – we’d been told that we wouldn’t have to go to work the next day – then he wouldn’t be able to fulfil the third quarter plan and the quarterly bonus would be lost and if that was lost there would be no end of year bonus. I don’t know if you realise, but under the Communist regime, in our country too, fulfilling and even exceeding the plan was their God. Out there, we understood that. We looked at each other. I was one of the delegation of three who went up to this influential man, “We understand your distress. They want to ruin you. But listen, we, the Hungarian prisoners, we will guarantee your bonus. We volunteer for the six days so you get it.” He couldn’t believe his ears. In the forty years of the history of the Soviet Union, nothing like it had ever happened. You can imagine, good lord, we were going to show who we were! They had beaten us about, but self-confidence, that sort of thing, was very important. In fact, honestly, after ten years’ forced labour, six days was not so great a sacrifice. But for our self-confidence, our self-esteem, it meant an enormous lot. In short, don’t complain, notice and be aware of small pleasures, don’t say from the outset “I’m better” but show in due course that you’re different. You realise that, don’t you? That is the energy to survive.