European Memories

of the Gulag

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His sentence of ten years’ forced labour

“We hadn’t hurt anyone. We hadn’t even fired a single shot. We were kids sent to the front by the Germans and, in spite of that, there were sentences of death and 10, 15, 20 and 25 years… I was one of the lucky ones, I only got ten years and deportation for life from the military tribunal of the third Ukrainian front.

That meant that after the ten years, I could never return home, I was leaving for eternal exile in the Far East.

Of course, at the start, we didn’t even understand it, we didn’t believe it, we couldn’t grasp it. And we knew even less that on our arrest we had immediately become Soviet citizens so that they could sentence us as such…

I was alleged, under Article 58.2, to have prepared an armed insurrection against my Soviet motherland. And under Article 58.9, I had been an agitator against my motherland… a legal nonsense! 

We, of course, couldn’t understand a word of Russian, we only saw that we were surrounded by armed guards… first, they wanted to execute us! That was the order of one of the commanders, to execute young prisoners sentenced under Article 58. But then another officer came with another order from Comrade Stain: it had to be the military tribunal that officially sentenced us to death.

So after six weeks of unpleasant imprisonment we were expecting to be sentenced to death. To our surprise, some of us only got ten years.

It may seem ironic, but believe me: when the interpreter, a Ruthenian woman whose Hungarian wasn’t very good, showed us her ten fingers because she didn’t know the word for ten, and said, “that’s what you’ve been sentenced to, you have been bad, you are going to Siberia”, we were relieved! Siberia meant life for us.”