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Hava Volovich. “Mummies” camp

We were three mothers. It was allocated a small room for us in the barracks. Bedbugs cascaded here from the ceiling or from the walls like sand. The whole nights we collected them from the children. And during the day we must be at work delegating the care of our kids to any active old woman, who ate the food which was left for the children. Nonetheless, Volovich writes, for a year I stayed at the little bed of my child every night, stripped the bedbugs away and prayed. I prayed that God extended my agonies even for a hundred years, but did not separate me from my daughter. Maybe I could be a beggar or even crippled, but I should be released from the restraint together with her. I prayed that I could bring up and educate her groveling at feet of people and begging for alms. But God did not answer to my prayers. As soon as the child began to walk, as soon as I heard her first wonderful words caressing the ear such “mama”, “mummy” we were put in a portacabin and taken to the “mummies’” camp in the winter cold, dressing in rags, where my angelic squab with golden curls turned soon into a pale little shadow with blue circles under the eyes and parched lips.

Hava Volovich.  Mummies camp

Volovich worked first at tree felling, then at sawmill. In the evening she brought a bundle of wood in the camp and gave it to the nurses, who let her see the daughter in addition to the usual dates in exchange for this.

I saw how the nurses made reveille for the kids at seven o’clock in the morning: wacked them up by poking, kicking out of the unwarmed beds. <…> They changed undershirts and washed the children in ice water pushing them into back by the fists and spouting obscenities. And kids did not even dare to cry. They just groaned like an old man and hooted. This terrible hooting sounded from the baby cots the whole days. Children, who should already sit up or grabble, lay on the back tucking the legs to the stomach, and emitted these strange sounds like a pigeon’s suppressed groan.

There was one nurse for seventeen children in the camp who had to feed, wash, dress the kids and keep the ward clean. She tried to ease her task. The nurse brought calescent porridge from the kitchen, dispensed it in the bowls, snatched the first available child out of the beddy-bye, twisted his arms behind his back, roped them to the body with a towel and started to cram hot porridge in the baby like in a turkey: spoon after spoon leaving him no time to swallow.

Eleanor began to wither.

I found bruises on her body during my visits. I will never forget how she pointed to the door by her emaciated little hand clinging to my neck and moaned: “Mammy, go home!” She did not forget the bug-ridden place, where she saw the light for the first time and was always with her mother. Little Eleanor, which was one year and three months old, felt soon that her entreaties about the “home” were helpless. She did not reach out for me at our meetings anymore, just silently turned away. Only on the last day of her life, when I took her in my arms (I was allowed to breastfeed her), she was wide-eyed looking somewhere to the side, started to knock my face by the weak fists, pinch and bite my chest. And then she pointed to the crib.

When I came with a bundle of wood in the group in the evening, her cot was already empty. I found her naked body in the morgue among the corpses of adult prisoners. She lived in this world only one year and four months, and died on March 3, 1944. <…> That’s the story how I made the most serious indictable offense becoming a mother the only time in my life.

Hava Volovich.  Mummies camp

From the book "GULAG" by Anne Applebaum, published by Corpus.

Перевод: Надя Нирванова