The Siege of the Towerless Fortress

This post is our translation of an excerpt from Aurel State’s The Road of the Cross (Drumul Crucii), the chapter with the same name, which gives a taste of life in Soviet camps during WWII.

At night, after the sound of taps, they gathered in groups near the barbed wire that secured the quarantine area and talked in whispers about the crazy life which had betrayed their beliefs and youthful enthusiasm. That life was now cruelly torturing its victims by putting them on hold.

Second lieutenant Mateianu, Marius and Arion’s military school trainer, an incisive but self-controlled man of expressive ugliness, who had a calling for being a public accuser, described the break between those who survived typhus and those who survived starvation.

‘We were in the upper camp’, and he pointed East, ‘three kilometres from here, in the former Oranki monastery. In May ’43 food started to come in: white flour, powdered eggs, American canned food, dishes and even tablecloths. Food was stored in a Roman style church with wall paintings of athletic saints, in the doubtful taste of Late Renaissance. A byzantine image of humbling beauty, painted in nuances of white, shined from above the iconostasis. It was the scene of Resurrection …. with a Christ shot in the head by a chasovoy[1]. Be on the watch’, he advised us, ‘if you ever get there when the trucks with bags arrive, just look at it! It is balm on soul.

So substantial food was brought in the camp where people had died of starvation. They said an order was given, to prevent prisoners from dying. During winter dead bodies were stacked like logs. Transportation could not cope with the number of deaths. In several days five thousand Italians had died. They reached the camp, frozen skeletons, entered the bathrooms and melted down while they were waiting for their clothes to come out of the delousing ovens. They were being sent to the other world already deloused. Some 13,000 of our nationals, the most resilient of the nations tried here, have died during these years. The common grave is beneath the footbridge, on the left, where the climb to Oranki starts. See how we are becoming stupefied? We are getting rid of them in a number. But beyond each figure there is a life, just like ours. And someone is still waiting for each one of them in the outside world! They were not killed in war. They were defenseless people, killed under the banner of the common good of humanity!’

[1] sentry

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