After working the night shift in the kitchen for a few months, I was given the job to take care of the distribution of sugar. We were supposed to receive 30 grams of sugar a day based on the food quota list. In the beginning, the sugar was made in Cuba and was sent from the US to help Soviet, but it was changed from the beet sugar made in Germany. It was all printed on the sugar bags.
The sugar bag from Cuba was excellent made of jute, but the bags from Germany was actually made of paper: woven by threads of tightly twisted paper . A heavy sugar bag sometimes weighed 100 kg. If each person was to receive 30g a day, We needed a bag and a half or two bags as we needed about 150 kg for the total of close to 5,000 people. We received those bags at the entrance of the kitchen, and carrying them through the center of the kitchen to the small hall way next to the cafeteria was my job. It was so hard for me to carry a bag heavier than 100 kg by myself because I was undernourished --60 or 70 kg was more the weight I could handle alone. I had to ask two people to lift and place it on my back. When the bag was 120 kg, the sugar bag placed on my back felt like a giant rock that was pushing me down: I had to walk step by step, with my best effort.
The stairs consisted of just two steps. Going up was okay, but stepping down was extremely difficult, pressuring my legs so much. I can think about many reasons why I began to suffer from back pain, but the transfer of these sugar bags must be one of them.
The manager of the sugar distribution was Lamberti, a German officer. His was of Italian decent, and was able to speak German, French, and English as well.
I was assigned to become his assistant. Our conversation was mainly in English, but sometimes in German. I have heard that French people would not like to speak in any other language even if they are able to speak it. In the case of Germans, however, it looked as if they wanted to show off their abilities by using other language:in fact he mainly wanted to communicate with me in English.
The distribution of sugar began at 9 am. People in charge of distribution from each regimen lined up in the hall way in front of the cafeteria with their containers in their hands. Summer time is okay, but 9 am in winter is still dark. I took sugar out of the sugar container under the bare light bulb and weighed the amount according to the number of the regiment. The work itself was not that difficult: I matched the number of people in each regiment written on a wooden board with the numbers that the person in charge of distribution would tell me, and if they were the same, I multiplied by 29 and weighed the amount of sugar for the entire members of each regiment. The method of weighing was an old style-balancing scale the weight of copper on one plate and the weight of the sugar on the other plate. I had to do this very quickly.
There were some reasons why only 29g was given for one person. Sometimes, the actual content of the sugar in the bag was not as indicated. At other times, the German baker who used to be a professional baker came
to get some sugar from us whenever he was demanded to make cakes by Russian officers in the salary department. Our sugar was taken away in this way, but it was difficult to stop it. Sometimes, the sugar must have spilled a little bit, and became less an amount as a result.
When 29g did not work, I had to make it to 28g. This is the way of my calculation for each regiment: If it was 29g per person, I multiplied 29 by 30 and then subtract the numbers of people. For example, if there were 89 people, 89 times 30 was 2,670. I subtracted 89 from it. When it was 28g per person, it was a bit tough. I imagined two numbers in my head quickly: the result of 89 times 30, and 89 times 2. The Russians who were watching me do this thought I was like a magician. They said, “Oh, magic!”
It took about one hour to finish such distribution of sugar. In the middle of people staring at what I was doing, I had to quickly calculate numbers as I picked up the right size of copper weight on one plate, and poured sugar on the other plate after scooping sugar from the sugar box with a shovel with my right hand. When there was a perfect balance on the first try, I was very proud.
My job changed from the sugar distribution to the manager of distribution of food and clothing. During that time, I gradually picked up how to speak Russian. In fact, I was able to comprehend the Russian Newspapers “Izvestia” and “Pravda” quite a bit, skipping difficult words. I also developed the Russian daily conversation skill enough to take care of the work.
I got used to writing Russian as well. It was because I had to write the names of 5,000 people every month in order to receive a small amount of salary-10 rubles for officers and 3 rubles for soldiers) I was not sure if my writing was just like receipts of the receivers which I was taking care of instead, or it was simply for recording. Anyhow, writing all those names in Russian was not easy.
I dipped the tip of the pen in ink in order to write those names on an old-type of rough brown paper. Sometimes, the tip was caught on the surface of the paper, and I could not write with speed. Therefore, I sometimes had to stay till late at night to finish the work.