In mid-May 1946, I was discharged as
fully recovered and sent to a new work camp. In its general inadequacy,
it was just like the previous camp; the only difference was the better
washing facilities here. There was also some limited weak electric lighting.
On the other hand, this camp too was overfull, with about 2000 men who
were almost all assigned to work in the mines.
I discovered during my first descent into the pit that the conditions here were quite different. There was actually no entrance at all, no descent and no ladders. We went underground on a sharp declining slope about 2 km long, a daily back-breaking affair. The long passage was completely unprotected. Broken support timbers, garbage, overturned wagons, torn ropes, broken-off slabs of stone, pieces of railing, pipes sticking up out of the depths; avoiding all this required an unprecedented degree of alertness. We had to crawl through parts of the passage on all fours, on wet and slippery ground, and with only a weak pit lamp. At the end of this long passage, we reached the first intersection, and the path continued in the same way downwards from one tunnel to the next. The shaft had four adits in all, and the deepest one was approximately 3 - 4 kilometers away. The two lowest passages used horse power, while the upper ones were equipped with American electric railways. The war prisoners were in charge of the horses; Russian women worked the electric trams.
A thick cable on rollers led to and from the lowest adit, a drop of about 35 degrees. Empty wagons were supplied by this cable to the adit and then brought up again when they were full.
I was assigned to this lowest adit. Although the production system in this "modern" mine was somewhat mechanized, we could only work the 70-centimeter-high seam face by kneeling. The daily quota was five tons when the mine was working at full capacity. The work procedure was as follows:
An electric cutting machine run by a Russian woman cut the coal into approximately 1.5-meter-long slabs, which were then distributed to the prisoners to be broken up into pieces. These pieces of coal were then immediatelyloaded into a shaking chute, that carried the coal to wagons waiting in a side passage. The full wagons were then pulled in sets of four by a Russian work horse up to the main passage, where they were turned on the a rotating plate and clamped onto running ropes to be pulled above ground.
If this operation had functioned well, we would all have been overcome with exhaustion in very little time due to the extremely high quotas and the still-insufficient food rations. Once again, however, the general Russian inadequateness came to our rescue: there were inevitably several major technical breakdowns during every shift.
In the propaganda, it was always emphasized that the Russian industry provided everything. And it was true. Fully modern, in their sense of the words, conveyorbelts and shaking chutes were available. But the belts often broke and the chutes fell apart. Even then, there were supposedly enough number of mechanics who could be called in for repairs - they were just never around when they were needed. Work tools, especially coal shovels, crowbars, etc., were distributed (if not generously) by the management, but would then either be appropriated or broken by the Russians. There was also a sufficient number of electric coal trains, but often no electricity. And when there was electricity, the trains often derailed off the poorly constructed tracks. There was electric lighting at important sections of the main and side tracks, but the lights were rarely on, as the bulbs were often stolen by the civilians. Thus, coal would be cut and broken up, but often had to wait to be carried away because there were not enough wagons.
In spite of all these deficiencies, the quotas still stood as usual. They had to be met, irrespective of whatever else happened. The quotas ruled the prisoners and pressured every civilian, from the lowliest foreman to the highest mine engineer. Woe be to those who did not meet the quotas.
When it was realized near the end of the month that, in spite of all efforts, the quotas were not going to be met, the famous Stakanovite system was put into effect. For the Russians, Stakanov meant special work production. Stakanov overruled every holiday. Officers, soldiers, clerks, craftsmen, engineers, every man and woman made a special gift to their father Stalin by crawling around for twelve hours in the earth to bring up coal. It mattered little that inexperienced people were put into great danger. The main thing was that more coal was produced. This was their "festival". This "festival system," which we naturally rejected in every way in our hearts, was also demanded of us from time to time. The whole camp -- all the officers, secretaries, cobblers, tailors, barbers, artists, doctors, and orderlies -- everyone had to show up.
We were awakened at 4:00 AM. The camp
band played during breakfast
Union had supported the Germans energetically from the beginning. Russia looked upon herself not as the conqueror, but as the liberator of Germany --this is more or less what we were told every day.