Days and Lives :: Suffering

Prisoner: Alfred Martinovich Mirek

“A mechanical engineer from some airplane plant washed a big cell only to get an empty bucket that used to contain oatmeal. It had not a single seed—it was scrubbed clean with a wooden spoon when the oatmeal was given out to prisoners. But when he rinsed the walls of the bucket with boiling water from the tea kettle, and then carefully washed them with his hands, the water at the bottom of the kettle became murky and smelled of oatmeal. He drank it blissfully and greedily, savoring every mouthful. ... [When we were transported to the camp,] in the train car each of us got a 300-gram piece of bread and two small herrings for the entire trip. This ration was well thought through: the herring quenched our appetite, and it didn’t matter that we got extremely thirsty. Each of us could use the restroom only once a day, alone. I remember well how two of us peed into their boots, and when we arrived and exited at Sukhobezvodnaia station, each of them got out half barefoot, poured out the contents of the boot and put it on right after.”

Despair of a Prisoner

Dehumanization

The indignities visited on prisoners did not stop with the hunger and the cold. Prisoners were frequently reminded that even their bodies were no longer their own.

Former prisoner Nadezhda Grankina recalled the indignities experienced by women arriving at a prison in Suzdal:

In the middle [of the cell], opposite the peephole, stood a table. Fifteen of us were called in. The duty officer came in and announced that anyone who attempted to resist would be severely punished…In came two women in uniform, who began to search us. They looked in our hair, inside our mouths, and between our toes and fingers. Then they ordered us to get dressed again and left. Two other women guards came in. One was wearing a rubber sheath on one of her fingers, and the other was carrying a glass with liquid in it. ’Take off your underpants and lie down,’ one of them said. Horrified, we huddled like sheep in a corner, not saying a word and trying to hide behind each other. Finally a young Austrian [female prisoner] spoke up: ’Oh, this is nothing to be afraid of,’ she declared defiantly, and lay down on the table opposite the peephole. The cover on the peephole continually scraped open and shut. A vaginal search: we also had to endure that. All of us had been brought there from maximum security prisons, and none of us could possibly have had anything illegal to hide. This was a simple act of barbarism.