Oral History

Miriam Lewent describes deportation to a village near Tomsk, Siberia

Miriam and her family fled their home when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. They were interned by Soviet forces and deported to Siberia. Near the city of Tomsk, Miriam cut trees to earn food rations. When the Soviet Union went to war with Germany in June 1941, the Soviets released Miriam and her family. For train fare, they sold Red Cross rations they had received and intended to return to Poland, but most of the family settled in Kazakhstan during the rest of the war. There, her father taught Hebrew to Jewish children.

Transcript

We wound up on the Russian side, and we had it very bad because we were a big family. We had no food, nothing. So we tried to get back home which...what belonged to the German side. At that time the Russians took us...there was a lot of people like me. They took us all and they packed us in...uh...trains, you know, not passengers' trains, and they took us to Siberia. Thousands of people, you know. [Interviewer: Tell me about the trip. Describe the train and the trip.] Well, uh...we...we were particularly living at that time, waiting until we get home, in a temple...a lot of families, about twenty families living in one little temple waiting for a passport to go home, back, but one evening...night rather, middle of the night, the Russian army came in and they just started to wake up everybody and said "get up, get up, get up," and they just took us in trucks, and they took us to the trains, and we were closed in, and that's it until in the morning when the trains started to roll. So we rolled for six weeks, and we passed you know each steppe of the Russian country which...it was, was you know Fall, a little colder, then all of a sudden we wound up in Siberia where there was no...I mean the train ended. This is it. Because in the meantime we were so many people and the sanitary things were so unsanitary. There was no place to go to the bathroom or anything and we have...three children got sick...my niece, my sister's daughter...at that time she was about three years old...she got also sick. She was among the three children, and by the time we stopped at the end, two children died in the train, and my sister's daughter, my niece, they took her off to a hospital. We couldn't go no place because we were waiting for the child. So were left near Tomsk, uh which was Siberia and we worked there and we got ra...rations, bread and...[Interviewer: What kind of work did you do?] I worked...I was cutting trees. In order...anybody that didn't work didn't get a ration of 400 gram of bread. So of course, every...even though I was young, but I had to go to work in order to get my ration...ration, how do you say it? Ration, ration of bread. So I went to work in the taigas, you know in the woods and we were cutting trees, you know, by hand, cutting trees, putting trees together, and that's how we earned our bread and water.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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