Millions of People Passed Through Death Camps

Millions of People Passed Through Death Camps

On April 11, the world celebrated the International Day of Fascist Concentration Camps Prisoners Liberation. It was on that day in 1945 that the U.S. troops arrived at one of the largest concentration camps, located in Buchenwald. Earlier in March, internationalist prisoners from different countries organized an uprising in this death camp.

By the time the U.S. troops approached, the rebels took the camp under their full control. So, the Nazis were unable to cover up traces of their crimes in Buchenwald. In total, more than 14,000 concentration camps, death camps, ghettos, prisons and their divisions were established in Germany and in the territories it had seized in Europe.

About 12 mln people were killed by the fascists in death camps.

A total of 18 mln European citizens (5 mln of them were from the USSR), including about 2 mln children, passed through these death and ghetto camps. Almost 12 mln people were brutally murdered: burned alive in crematoria, strangled in gas chambers and died from “medical experiments.” The prisoners were starved, raped, tortured and forced to hard work. In addition, their blood was taken for German soldiers, and most often it was children’s blood.

How to Place Gulag-130 in Roslavl

In 1941, a camp for war prisoners was established in Roslavl, a town in the Smolensk region some 400 km to the west of Moscow. In addition to soldiers and officers, the local residents from so-called “guerilla villages” were herded into it, too. They were placed in separate barracks. About 130,000 prisoners of war were killed in this camp. That is why it was called Gulag-130 [an acronym of Main Administration of Camps.]

There is a communal grave with a monument in the city where people tortured in the camp were buried. Every year on April 11th, Roslavl’s residents gather here to honor the memory of those who were buried there after tortures and humiliations by the Nazis. It is only this year that mass events were cancelled due to the coronavirus infection outbreak.

Very young children from “guerilla villages” were taken to the camp with their mothers. Some of them were not even one year old. In Roslavl alone, there are about 400 former young convicts of that death camp.

A reporter for met with three women, who told with tears in their eyes how the Germans had tortured the civilian population. Of course, their memories are mainly based on the stories of their older relatives with whom they were in the death camp -- brothers, sisters, mothers, and grandparents. These are the terrible stories of their families. However, some women have personal recollections of the horrors of being held in this camp by themselves, and this it why it is very difficult for them to recount these memories.

My Brother Starved to Death, my Grandfather was Shot

Elena Karpenko whose family had lived in the village of Kostyri in the Yekimovichi district in the Smolensk region before the war, says that many men and women joined the groups of anti-Nazi guerillas, who were known in Russian as the partisans. Those who continued living at home to help in any way they could. One day a German officer was killed near the village. The Nazis drove everyone out of their homes, gathered them together and executed by shooting eleven teenagers and twelve old men to intimidate people.

“My grandfather was shot too,” recalled Elena and became silent for a while.

“We were all driven to Roslavl and settled in the barracks,” she added with tears in her eyes, “My little brother, who was a year and a half old, starved to death. My aunt Anna was tortured and then hanged... for being connected with the partisans.”

We Ate Queasy Potatoes and Atriplex

Galina Komarova recalls that before the war started, they lived in the village of Lubovskiye Dvortsy. Her parents had just built a new house. The Germans drove them out of it and set up a staff headquarters there. Her mother, Maria Moskaleva moved into a dugout along with three young children. At that time, her elder brother Victor was three years old. If someone in the village had connections with the partisans, those people would be forced out of their houses in any weather with their children and older relatives. Their dwellings would be burned. The Germans did it in order to intimidate people.

In the spring of 1943, the last houses in the village were burned down, and the remaining people were gathered and driven first to the village of Perenka, and then to Roslavl.

At that time Galina was about four years old. She remembers that she fell on the road and could not walk anymore. Her mother had her little brother Pavlik in her arms who was not even two years old. Some young man picked her up and carried her. In fact, that guy saved Komarova’s life. If he didn’t help her, it is hard to predict how it would have ended for her because people who got exhausted were shot. The Nazis did not care whether it was an old man or a child. If you fell and were unable to continue moving, then you would be killed. The way to Roslavl was extremely difficult but they reached it. They were placed to barracks on Krasnoarmeyskaya Street.

“We slept on straw and planks. There was almost no food. Children were allowed to go out to the field to collect atriplex and frozen potatoes, which we called “queasy,” because after those almost rotten potatoes our stomachs hurt. We felt very sick after eating them but we were very hungry.” Galina suddenly relapsed into silence, as she recalled those terrible times.

The room became very quiet. The women were sitting calmly, and each of them was immersed in her thoughts, her own memories and stories.

Earth was Breathing at Communal Grave, and Woman was Hounded with Dogs

After a while, Tamara Matveyeva continued her story. She said that she was the seventh child in the family. They lived in the village of Dalniye Kurgany in the Yekimovichi district. Her father Nikolai Yakovlevich was a Communist and participated in the Soviet-Finnish War of 1939/1940. As the frontline began to approach their village, a car came for them. The authorities offered them to be evacuated but their mother refused. The village was small: there were only 18 houses. It was located near the forest. Many of its residents became partisans, and the rest of the locals helped them, sharing food and letting them in to sleep in the attics in wintertime.

“In 1943, the Germans became extremely brutal. They started burning houses. The inhabitants were sent to the camp in Roslavl. My uncle Foma Yakovlevich and my 15-year-old brother Vladimir with other teenagers were kept in prison where they were tortured. And then, about a week later…” Tamara became silent, and the following words were very difficult to say for her, “My mom was told that my uncle was shot. One of my brother's friends hid and brought Volodya's shirt to the barracks. It was covered with blood. My brother never came back.My mother cried over his shirt.

“Already after the war my mom told me that there was a mass grave near the barracks where people tortured in prison were taken and dumped in a common pit. They were not buried – just covered with earth a bit. There were wounded among them, and some of them crawled when darkness fell. The locals picked them up and rescued some at night. The earth was breathing... corpses and mutilated people were often driven there... One of the women was hounded with dogs in public...”

The room sank into silence once again. Each of the women remembered her own horrible story and the story of her family. Their memories brought back what they and all the inhabitants of their villages had gone through -- burned houses, killed and tortured family members and the exhausting feeling of permanent hunger, which made their small hands pull everything into their mouths inadvertently because they had stomachaches and were extremely hungry. Perhaps, it left the most vivid imprint memory.

After a while Tamara Matveyeva continued her story. “They settled us in barracks without floors and ceilings. There was only the roof there. They gave us turnip, frozen beets and bread with sawdust... We were very sick. The water in our mugs was very cloudy. There was no soap, and we had a lot of head lice.

On September 23, 1943 we were liberated. When we came back home, we ate everything: nettles, dock, mallow, plantain and horsetail...”

They escaped death and lived through cold and hunger but did not give up and survived. Millions of people were tortured in camps, died on the frontlines of World War II and gave their lives for their fatherland. We, their descendants, should live and remember what war brings and how huge high the price of this Victory was for our country and other nations. The memory of that war is still a bleeding wound in every Russian family. That is why we must never forget what the Nazis did. We remember the truth about the atrocities of the German Nazis and will pass it on to our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We must always remember this.

P.S. This conversation took place before the introduction of the self-isolation regulations in Russia due to the epidemic of the coronavirus infection.

On the photo left to right: Elena Karpenko, Tamara Matveyeva and Galina Komarova.

The photo was made by the author.

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