Now she compares her present-day life to the fascist captivity
Galina Petrovna Afanasyeva, a resident of the settlement of Kildinstroy, is a former juvenile prisoner of the fascist concentration camp in Munich. American soldiers, who released Soviet children from the camp in 1945, called them children of heaven. Americans believed that children managed to stay alive on account of a divine miracle. Until recently, Galina Afanasyeva believed that she had already had her share of yearning. She had to survive hell, when she was a captive of a Nazi camp. Could she eve imagine that she would have to go through unbelievable tortures in Russia at her elderly age? Those tortures could only be comparable to the brutality of a fascist concentration camp.
The house of ghosts and its inhabitants
Here is the address of the Russian reservation, where people were brutally tortured, and where Galina Afanasyeva realized that the fascist horror was not over for her: the settlement of Kildinstroy, Sovetskaya Street, 3. Nobody lives in that desolate five-storied building at present moment. The former dormitory of the former brick factory looks completely abandoned now, although it used to be the most beautiful building in the settlement. Now it has no roof, no doors, which makes the building produce wailing sounds in windy weather. However, twelve families are still registered in the building. All those people still live (according to documents) in the house of ghosts. Twelve families are forced to live in other people’s apartments, because its is not their time to be resettled. They still hope for the better, though.
The enterprise KSM-Kola, which used to own both the brick factory and the dormitory, was announced a bankrupt long ago. The five-storied building was vested to the administration of the Kola region. There were two variants to deal with the building: to spend a lot of money on repairs or to resettle everyone from there. Officials chose the latter. It should be mentioned here that the so-called resettlement has been going on for three years already. All those years the inhabitants of the ghost house have been doing their best to defend their residence. People did not want to move out, even when the authorities ordered to cut the electricity, water supplies and heating power. Nobody wanted to leave even when there was no more canalization in the building. It seems incredible that tens of people managed to live in such a house for three years.
“There was no place to go, - Galina Afanasyeva said, - that is why we had to live under horrible conditions. Every day we hoped that something would change for the better.” A Russian classic once said that concocting complicated plots for novels was not a noble thing to do, because it always pales in comparison with real life. “I had to see the truth of those words myself, when I learned of the living conditions of the dead house. Children would do their homework, while their rooms were lit with candlelight. Apartment walls were all covered with thick layers of ice. Parents would bring water from a stream nearby, men tried to connect the house to street light wires in order to have electricity in the building. In the evening people would gather outside of the building and make a big fire. They used that fire for cooking meals. We had to learn how to survive, so we started adjusting ourselves to those conditions. Men found a big grate somewhere and fixed it above the fire spot. We cooked our meals on the fire once a day. All our saucepans and frying pans turned to smoked pots.”
The evening fire was the best time for the children of the ghost house. Women would cut their children’s nails there, for it was impossible to undress a little kid in an apartment – it was too cold. “It was horrible to look into the eyes of the children, who gathered by the fire. I could not believe it, I did not even realize, which year we were actually living in. Everything messed up in my mind. It seemed to me that those freezing children and their exhausted parents, all of us, including me, did not live in Russia. I thought that we were not living in the third millennium, I thought that we were the prisoners of fascist Germany. It looked like we were warming up by the fire near the barracks of our concentration camp.”
Men in white
Galina Afanasyeva found herself in the concentration camp in Munich, when she was four years old. Galina was born in the village of Plus, in the Pskov region of Russia. Her father was a partisan, he came to see his wife and six children right on the day, when Germans arranged a raid in the village. Galina still remembers something of that horrible day. She remembers how her parents, brothers and sisters were pushed into a train car. She remembers her younger sister Vera stumbling and cutting her leg with a metal dowel. Galina remembers fascists killing a little girl with a bayonet. Her mother held the body of her dead child all the way to Germany. She remembers her father’s desperation, who could not forgive himself for become a captive. Her mother would always count her six children like chickens. When the train arrived in Germany, fascists distributed prisoners to different departments of the camp. “Those departments were like stables. It was always cold and dark there, I was always hungry and I fainted many times over undernourishment.” A lot of people died in those departments, only a few of them were lucky to survive the hell. However, every member of the Afanasyevs family remained alive. When American soldiers opened up the gates of the camp to release prisoners, it did not occur to Galina that they actually released them. Americans spoke the language that Galina did not understand, so she thought that they were as mean as fascists. The six-year-old girl believed that Americans liberated her, when she was given an American chocolate bar. Hungry children rushed to take pieces of the wonderful delicacy. American soldiers’ chocolate stock vanished in a minute. The bitter chocolate taste became the Victory Day association for Galina Afanasyeva. After Americans liberated her, she never criticized the USA, not even for their incursion in Vietnam or Iraq. By the way, Galina had a real shot to become an American citizen. She remembers her parents arguing for a long time, discussing a possibility to go to live in the United States after they were liberated. Her father wanted to leave, but her mother insisted on coming back to their Russian home. They eventually decided to come back to the USSR.
The Soviet Union gave a dull welcome to he Afanasyevs family. Galina’s parents were questioned for a very long time at the border. “Those people were dressed in white clothes: white hats, white coats and even white gloves. I remember that very well, because they beat my mother, and their white clothes was covered with blood stains. Me and my brothers and sisters rushed to protect our mother, we hugged her from every side. Men in white kept on beating her, they looked like butchers with those blood stains from head to foot.” Galina never saw her father again after that day – he was lost somewhere in Soviet camps for former captives.
Everything lies in the hands of God
Galina Afanasyeva tries not to think about the horrors of her fascist captivity. However, the horrid reality of the present time sometimes gets mixed up with the distant past. Galina feels a little girl on such minutes. One cold winter night, when heating power supplies were cut in the ghost house, Galina had her back frozen to the wall. She woke up in the middle of the night and started calling her mother and sisters. It seemed to her for a minute that she was lying on the bunk of the Munich concentration camp, when she and her siblings had to hug each other tight in order not to freeze to death while sleeping. A sailor lived next door to Galina's apartment. The 40-year-old man did not have the energy to live in such a house, so he hung himself. “At that time I though that the period of my childhood that I spent in the concentration camp helped me to survive the hell that I had to go through in the ghost-house.”
For the time being, Galina Afanasyeva is still registered in the desolate house together with 12 other families. All of them rent either rooms or apartments, waiting for their time to be resettled. She has been to a lot of administration offices. Officials’ replies to her were all the same: there is no money at the moment, when we have some, we will buy you an apartment. There was a time, though, when officials made Galina “happy:” she was told that her resettlement problem had been solved. As it turned out, Galina was offered to live in an apartment, in which an old lady was recently stabbed. Galina was too scared to go and see the apartment alone, so she took her friend along. She was terribly disappointed with what she saw: no windows, no doors, no canalization and no water. The only good thing about that place was the heating power and electricity. She had to turn the offer down. The apartment that she rents now does not have water supplies either. Old ladies have to go to the stream to get some water there. However, Galina Afanasyeva does not give way to despair. She still hopes that she will have a place to live some day. The woman, who survived the hell of a fascist camp is sure that everything lies in God’s hands. God does not leave those, who suffer.
Natalia Chervyakova Nord-West Kurier
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov