Four-Day “Death March”

The biggest problem was meals or the lack of food. We got a little bit of rye bread and bean soup. Just like how Soviet’s planned economy does not go as planned, how they provided meals was totally random. Sometimes, we had to wait for a few hours after we arrived at where we were going to stay.

Since I still kept my job of providing the group food, I ended up listening to everyone’s complaint regarding this matter, but I could not do anything about it. Such meals would not sustain our health for long. So, we began to exchange our possessions for bread as we walked. Because of this bartering, our procession became one irregular long line. All the adults and children in the Soviet villages were waiting for us, and showed us hard, black bread that looked like bread mixed with straw and said,”Davai”. ”Davai” is a very convenient word. It is something like “Go ahead.” The actual expression is ”Davai Te”.

What they wanted was not the same. Children generally wanted pencils and fountain pens, and adults wanted cloth, but that was not all. The rate for such exchange was different depending on the village and the person. In the beginning, we were just exchanging anything with them for the bread for the price they wanted, but gradually, we began to negotiate the rate more precisely. It was because what we could exchange became scarce.

We felt we were hungry no matter how much we ate. Or we may have been caught by the scary feeling that we may freeze to death if we didn’t eat. I felt sorry for those who lost their belongings during the transport because they did not have anything for exchange.

I began to notice that the Soviet resident did not have any good food even though they could eat more. Their homemade bread was frozen, hard and was mixed with straw. Some of their bread was so hard that we could not cut it without a saw. Hunger helped us tolerate such things though. We could eat as much frozen bread as we wanted, making it warm on our tongue to melt. There was another type of bread not quite white but a light brown color. That was much tastier.

Our march did not end after one day or two days. The snow storm sometimes stopped but before we knew it, we were covered with another snow storm. Older people and people with physical problems began to drop out. On the third day, the storm became severe. Some people fell down on the road covered with snow and did not move at all, saying, “This is it.” Even if I pulled his hand, he did not wake up and said, “Let me go to sleep. Leave me alone.” No matter how many times I told him, “No, don’t fall asleep. You will die!” In the end, I had to slap his cheek with all my might, but I myself could not help feeling the limit of our physical power. I did not have any ability to pull another person up to keep walking. Thus, I had no choice but to proceed, leaving the advice to get on to a sled. When I looked back, he was still sleeping. Praying that he would not die, I had to proceed. I had no choice but keep helplessly walking trying not to lose the sight of others who were going ahead of me. I was not the only one who had to go through such difficulty. We tried our best to help each other on this march, but when we reached our limitation, we had no other choice.

In the evening of the fourth day, we finally arrived at the destination. It was a small town called Yelabuga. German officers who were already there in the camp welcomed us as if they were the indigenous people.

During this four days of march, there were numerous victims. Some people who were totally exhausted got on to the sled, ending up losing fingers and toes to frostbite. Later, we named this march, “the death march.” We heard that the total distance we walked was a hundred kilo meters. Divided by four days, we walked for twenty-five kilo meters a day. It was not a huge distance, but we had to go through it in the worst condition ever. After twenty-three days of riding on the freight trains, our legs were totally weak, and we suffered tremendously from the freezing cold weather and terrible hunger.