Quota and Tabacco

There was one assistant for my work as a provision manager. He was a graduate of Hikone business high school in Shiga prefecture, and was a Second Lieutenant, who was the main accountant for the branch office. So excellent using the abacus, he was a very faithful assistant for me. He was a good looking fellow with fair skin with round glasses on his round face.

The most important responsibility of the provision manager was to grasp the exact number of people who were there to receive things. I made a chart on a piece of plywood to write the number of personnel for the day in order to write on it with a pencil. However, erasers were hard to get, So I had to use a piece of glass to scrape off the errors. It was pretty hard to keep up with the correct number because of various reasons.

It was really hard to grasp what was exactly going on because there were changes every day. I had to keep up with all the new developments of each group, but each manager who was responsible for their own company did not even know all the details. Each day, some became sick, some were hospitalized, and some came out of hospitals. Some went out to join the labor groups, but some transferred to the work company. All these changes caused small changes in each company, and I did not know everything.

The provision manager also had to calculate how much food was to be received according to the quota of the personnel, depending on the number of the people for the day. For most of them, the quota was the same, and the same calculation was used for them, but the ones who were hospitalized had different quotas to receive depending on the state of their health. Therefore, the calculation for them was different.

There were other things to provide. One was the salary once a month, and the other was to receive and provide tobacco and divide it up once a month. The salary was just a small amount however: only 10 rubles per month for an officer, and 3 rubles for a soldier. Considering the currency exchange rate, it was only 800 yen and 240 yen for an officer and for a soldier.

What were they able to buy with this money? Stores administered by the Soviet Union had inexpensive goods such as one kilo gram of rye bread for 2.8 rubles and one egg for 1ruble, but they did not have things to sell most of the time. So we would go to the free market, but the price was much more expensive there. An officer could only buy three eggs with 10 rubles because one kilo gram of rye bread was 7 rubles and an egg was 3 or 4 rubles in the free market.

In terms of tobacco, an officer received 15 per day, and a soldier received 7 a day. At the beginning of the life in the Gulag, there was not enough tobacco. What was provided was called Mahorka, which was tobacco that looked like straw waste. Soon “Belmol•kanal”with a pipe started to be provided. Approximately five thousand internees in our place were almost all officers, so the amount of tobacco we received every ten days was quite a bit. There were fifteen cases with 50,000 in each case. The group in charge of transportation of food took care of delivering these.

The officers who did not smoke were exchanging their tobacco for bread and other food, which belonged to the ones who loved tobacco. The amount of food itself was just enough for everyone, so there was not too much to exchange anyway, but some people really wanted more tobacco. There was also a way to exchange the tobacco with bread in town. Even though there was no contact of people in town in daily life, once in a while, we went outside the Gulag for farming and so forth. Outings like that gave us opportunities to exchange with people in town.

The thick paper that was used for packaging tobacco was very precious, so Lieutenant Jyuck made sure to come out on the day tobacco was passed out and said “Bumagi! Bumagi!” in order to get the paper. I did not know what he was using it for, but I am sure it was used for exchanging for something. The color of that paper was like cardboard and the surface was rough, but it was very useful because it was strong and big. We often used it for our wall paper.

When we were given Mahorka, it was not easy to roll it and smoke it. Soviet soldiers were cutting the corner of newspapers such as Izvestia or Pravda and rolled the powder of Mahorka, and then made one edge wet with saliva in order to make it into the shape of a cigarette.

Soviet soldiers were really used to making them, but we were not good at it. Sometimes, after lighting it, hot cinders fell out and burnt our pants. Soon, we began to be good at it. We found out the best paper for rolling were the pages used for the Concise English Dictionary. One after another, the pages of the dictionary began to disappear everytime we smoked.

When the Mahorka was all gone, we sometimes dried the used tea leaves. It was not tasty at all, but at least, we could light it and enjoyed the smoke.