These photos are not our personal photos but are photos from Uzbekistan during this time period. Continuing with our Pop’s story as told to a journalist and later translated into English.
In the spring of 1933, the authorities deported our whole family along with thirty-five other families to a concentration camp in Uzbekistan near the city of Samarkand.
We were herded like animals into a railroad freight car that was used for transporting pigs. They packed us in so tight that we could only sit upright. There was no room to lay down. As soon as the doors were shut, we all began to cry. It was a terrifying situation. We slept as best we could that first night and when we awoke, we started crying again. Traveling with us in that boxcar were our distant relatives. They had two daughters. One could sing and play the guitar quite well. Her playing and singing quieted us. The guards actually appreciated her talents. At both stops, they allowed us to replenish our water supply and beg for food at the stations. And so we arrived at the concentration camp which was actually a large farm.
I remember that sometime during the first days of our arrival there, an inmate came up to us and said, “Look at the remains of this turtle. This is what we were reduced to eating this past winter. There are no more left. You came here to die of starvation.” That was encouraging. We were assigned various barracks. It was early spring. The grain was just beginning to sprout and the fruit in the fields was just beginning to ripen. I and other children would steal melons at night. They weren’t that tasty but they weren’t that bad either. Reminded me of cucumbers. Our daily food ration was woefully inadequate considering the hard work that was required of us. When the wheat harvest began, I was at the in-between stage. I was too old for kindergarten but too young for work in the fields. I didn’t fit anywhere and that bothered me. My brother’s work required them to thresh wheat. As they were working, they would allow kernels of grain to fall into their shoes and pockets and so would come back to the barracks every night and give them to my mother. She would then crush them into flour and bake them into bread by means of a little outdoor stove which she built in an isolated area. Because the barracks were not heated in any way, we concluded that the winters could be deadly. Added to that was the very real prospect of starvation. And so we as a family decided that escape was our only chance of survival.
Ellen’s note: When The Hiding Place (Corrie Ten Boom’s Story) came out in the theaters we went with my parents to see it. I remember my Pop really moved emotionally by the railway scenes and he told us it brought back memories of he and his family being herded off to Uzbekistan. Also I remember my parents talking about having to stand in lines to get a loaf of bread.