In An Archangel Gulag
Suddenly the train stopped. We quickly scrambled to peer out whatever openings we could find in the carriage. All we could see was snow, and huts.
The guards came to the carriages with dogs, the locks unlocked and the doors rolled open. Commands were yelled at us in Russian, they wanted us all out.
Well, having been in that stinking, filthy carriage not even fit for a farm animal, we could not get out quick enough. We did not so much as climb down the steps of the carriage as fall into the snow. It was freedom, maybe not real freedom, but it was fresh air and freedom to move without touching another human nearby.
We were blinded by the whiteness, the sun reflecting off the snow, I struggled to see, we all did, but then slowly our eyes adjusted.
The guards from the train yelled at us to form a line, our papers were checked and then we were ticked off on a list and pointed to huts, some men this hut, other men that hut.
We were marched to our huts, all the time "Quick, Quick" being yelled at us.
We entered the hut, it was basic to to say the least. On one side were wooden slats, each of us being assigned a space that was to be our bed. Wow, if the railway carriage was crowded, the beds here were equally so, there would be no privacy for anyone.
The Russian officer barked order at us, we would work 6am until 10pm. If we did not work then neither would we eat he told us. We were told to be up at 5:30am and ready for work, before which we would be given a shot of Vodka. The officer laughed, he told us it would help us survive, if we survived. The bastard! I was going to kill someone, I just could not work out who.
And so my time in Archangel started, we were in deep shock, all of us, there was no way to express it, the frustration, the anger, the confusion!
Worked To Within An Inch Of My Life
Working 16 hours a day was taking its toll on all of us, we barely recognized each other, every week that went by we looked thinner, gaunter, more and more lifeless.
The Russians had a name they called us, it likened us to the Wick of a candle, slowly burning away. We were past caring about anything more than surviving, getting food, any food at all and, God willing, some peaceful sleep.
There was a terrible plague of lice that were like the Devils own workers. Where they came from nobody knew, they infested all of our clothes, our hair and they bit us at night. Another man, also called Wladyslaw, showed me a trick.
If we took a piece of infested clothing and buried it in the snow at night (carefully so that no-one knew it was there or it would be stolen), in the morning the lice would have all crawled out of it and were sitting in a clump nearby. The clothing could then be put back on and we would be free of itching and bites for a while.
Something else that began to happen was mens teeth falling out. To see men sick, ill and literally dying each day was terrible, I began to get used to that too, even some of my own teeth began to fall out.