Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Excerpt: Of torture on the Eastern front

[During July-August, 1942, my father was imprisoned in Stalag 325 at Rawa-Ruska, a harsh Nazi punishment camp for recalcitrant French POWs, located on what today is the Ukraine side of the Polish-Ukrainian border.]

There was a persistent scrambling and scrounging for anything that could be eaten, including the vegetable peelings and kitchen scraps thrown away by the prison guards, which were then cooked by the prisoners in small, make-shift pots over open fires. In one instance, a root cellar abandoned by the guards after they’d finished all the good potatoes once kept there, turned into a hunting ground for prisoners so starved there was little reluctance to pick at the leftover rotten and frozen tubers. “As we uncovered them, [there was] a terrible smell. We were picking up the feet and the arms of dead men, scattered among their bones. The root cellar had been placed on top of a charnel house for several thousand Russians, dead of typhus!”

My father never ate many potatoes after Rawa-Ruska.

Daddy’s imprisonment at Rawa-Ruska was to mark him physically, psychically and indelibly, as his children would discover decades later. What he never spoke of in any detail to the children was that he was singled out for special punishment and torture there. He was taken for a Jew by his captors, who burned off his eyelashes. That point was well known to his wife and mother, but not to all of his children. I only learned that something awful had been done to my father’s eyes in the early 1970s, when he told me he’d had a hard time letting an ophthalmologist treat his eyes after a storm blew dust and tiny gravel into them. It reminded him too much of what had been done to him.

No comments: