European Memories

of the Gulag


Three resettler villages. Arrival and building

1. “Then we set off with horses from the narrow-gauge railway to the village. The village was about half a kilometre, a kilometre away. We each carried our own stuff. They took us to a house built the way they are in Siberia, of logs, typical as we later saw. It was divided into four rooms, a corridor and four small rooms. They put five families of us in that house. The first night, we could not lie down or stretch out, there were only the walls and nothing else. The house only had plank partitions to separate it a bit. We lay down as best we could on our bags and got attacked by the bed-bugs. When the bugs attacked we got up and saw they were everywhere on our arms, they were biting everywhere and we did not know where to put ourselves. Everyone was hungry after the journey and no one had had a hot meal. The next morning we all placed stones outside and those who had saucepans or buckets began to cook something to eat, something hot. Those who had something; there was no shop. The first night, when we got into the house, we barricaded the front door.

We thought, you never know, there were strangers around; the local people carried knives because they had been told we were bandits. We shut ourselves in, barricaded on the inside so the local people would not get into the house where we were spending the night. That’s how we moved in.”

2. “The place was called Moyga. As usual out there, they had only built a few huts, but everyone had to be housed. So they dumped three or four families per room, as many as they could. In the middle of the room there was a barrel with holes in it and a chimney coming out to heat the inside a bit.

The door had no hallway, it opened directly outside. When we started heating in winter, it was about –40°C outside, bitter cold. Inside, the walls were of unseasoned wood and the water condensed and ran down them; you had drops falling on your head. We had no floor because there was no sawmill.

So we had to make floor planks by splitting logs. We split the logs into planks, which we used to make a sort of floor. The same for the ceiling: we had to cover it up a bit and we used that type of plank. We took great pine logs, two or three metres long with no branches because they were easier to split. We put a layer of earth on the floor to make it warmer. When they built the huts, they didn’t dig any foundations. They built on tree stumps or posts. Instead of foundations, we piled up about a metre of earth against the sides up to the windows so the cold would not get in from below. That’s how we spent our first winter.”

3. “The village did not last long, perhaps only three years. We cut down all the forest, they may have got their sums wrong, they didn’t realise the Lithuanians were so hardworking and would work so quickly. When we’d finished cutting down the forest, it was too far away, the narrow-gauge railway had reached the mountains and couldn’t go any further. They had to transfer to another valley, so they started to build a new village in an area where there were plenty of forests. It was only for another few years.”