Survival

After the mock trial, they were convinced that they would be sent far into Russia and soon.  There were no more interrogations, so they could settle into some kind of survival routine for the time being.  Their living situation was barely humane, with thirty girls in one cell, approximately 15 x 15.  Right now my imagination is going wild when I think of thirty people in a room that size, which would be standing room only!  My mother recounts that there were two or three beds in the cell, so how did they sleep?  There was not too much in fighting as to who would take the beds each night since they were no mattresses on them and they were a breading ground for bedbugs, which they took pleasure in burning to a crisp.  Many slept on the floor with their backpacks as pillows and their coats as blankets.  At least most of these girls were from their underground organization so they were in this situation together.

As each day blended into the next, they needed to fill the endless hours with some kind of amusement.  So they created some sporting events and contests.  Since there were fleas in the cell keeping them company, one of the contests was, who could catch and kill the most fleas, and the winner would get a cube of sugar.  One of the vivid memories I have of my mom is one of her hating, absolutely abhorring fish.  After learning why, it all made sense.  The food served was not exactly five star.  In the morning they would get hot water, called kiepiatok and a slice of bread.  At noon, it was a cup of mush and kiepiatok.  Dinner was worth waiting for because it was fish soup with floating fish bones and fins as well as floating eyes looking back at you.  As long as I knew my mom, a whole fish with head and eyes made her skin crawl.   You may have refused to eat this food at first, she recalled, but after a while you realized you would otherwise starve.  The soup served more than one purpose as it turned out.  To thicken the soup ‘the chef’ would add wheat to it with the outer husk attached which was impossible to swallow.  To further their need for amusement, they turned dinner into a sporting event to see who could spit the husks from the soup the farthest.

It was the fall of 1940 and my mother was still in the Stanislawow prison, on Polish soil.  They new Christmas was coming and they promised each other that they would celebrate with some style.  As they would take daily walks, they would pick up little twigs with the thought of constructing a tiny Christmas tree.  Since the mock trial in September, they were allowed to receive food packages from home along with some warm clothing.  Each of them saved some of their goodies for Christmas Eve supper called Wigilia in Polish and so the preparation began.  From all the twigs and some thread from green blankets, they shaped “the prettiest little Christmas tree you ever saw”, my mother recounted.  Towels were used as a table cloth, and the table of course was the floor.  One of them always stood guard in front of the peephole in the door, so the guards would not see their preparation, and if they heard the key turn with a guard about to enter the room, they threw a blanket over their supper table.

Once evening arrived on Christmas Eve, they were ready for their feast of saved goodies.  Even though a bit stale it tasted divine, mom remembered.  And of course they had to sing Christmas carols.  After all what would Christmas be without carols to set the mood.  In their joy, they forgot to station a person in front of the door and they were caught!  The guard came in, and sent everyone whose lips were moving to solitary confinement.

 

 

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