Through the eyes of one child and the memories of many orphans
On February 10th, 1942, Father was called by the Polish Army Commission in Wabkent, to go to Guzar, where Polish soldiers had to undergo medical examinations before enlisting in the army. Father's examination qualified him for a category "A" - the best of health - and he was admitted to the Officer's Company for fourteen days of military quarantine, where he received a full uniform and a pass. He was assigned to take command of 230 cadets and eventually transfer them to Persia later. Some of them had stomach ailments resulting in dysentery and some others had signs of typhus, which came back to haunt my father soon afterwards.
It was arranged that Mary had to go to work during father’s absence in order to bring food home until such time that father was allowed to come back for us. Mary, only fourteen years old at the time, was working in the cotton fields and doing a similar job to what our dad had done when he was with us. Her job, with a partner, was to fill stretchers with rich earth and transfer the soil to fortify the cotton beds for growth. My job was to stay at “home” and prepare meals.
On weekends, we would go downstairs to join the Polish mother in the courtyard with her two kids, to sing songs and tell stories. One night, during one of our visits, a couple of young Uzbek men were standing by the door listening to our singing. After about half an hour, they left, but we continued singing. At around 10:00pm, we said good night to the family, went up the ladder and noticed that somebody had been in our room and stolen the flour and oil from the shelf. We were shocked and afraid because we did not know who was responsible for the theft, but suspected a man downstairs whose wife just had a baby and needed more food. We suspected the men who came to listen to our singing were probably the guards for the person who had taken our food.
On Monday morning, Mary did not show up for work. The supervisor had heard about the theft, so he sent his partner on an errand to pick up some food for us. He brought us a couple of buns – what a luxury for us to enjoy the taste of real bread again! He told Mary to be at work after her breakfast. When she came back after 5:00pm, she brought some wheat and a bottle of oil that the supervisor had given her to compensate for the stolen goods. This helped us survive for another week.
In summertime, the Uzbeks would store stacks of sugar canes up on the roof in front of our entrance to the hut. Mary and I would break off pieces and suck out the juices inside. They were sweet, so we got some of the calories needed to give us energy. We were told that they were meant for the horses in one of the units of our clay complex, and they were soon removed. The horse’s stable was also our toilet, for there were no other ones.
One day I saw somebody’s hand holding the top of the ladder, when I came closer I noticed a cup being held with the other hand. It was Mrs. Bertlitzowa’s son Mark with a cup of soup. I took it and thanked him for being so brave and accomplishing this dangerous task, but warned him about doing it again. He just smiled and waved goodbye. Being younger than I am, I often wondered how he had accomplished it.The soup was excellent and Mary and I really appreciated their mother’s cooking.
On March 16th 1942, Father asked his War Commandant for permission to pick up Mary and me from Yangi Yull. His request was granted and he was given three army trucks with drivers, for us and other families. On the way, Father bought two loaves of bread to bring to Yangi Yull for us. It was getting late so they all had to spend the night at a warehouse. When Father woke up in the morning, he noticed a cut in the bread bag and no loaves - just the small pieces were left at the bottom. He was distraught, but Mary told him that his concern meant more to us than the stolen bread, so we emptied the damaged bag and shared the leftovers amongst the three of us.
The next day it started to rain. We packed some of our meagre belongings but Father told us to leave everything except for the blankets, and give the rest to the poor Uzbeks. Mary told him that they were the ones who stole the food from us, but he did not want to punish them, for they were also under the Russian regime and they, too, suffered the same as we prisoners had.
The trucks were waiting for us outside the complex, so the two of us plus Mrs. Bertlitzowa and the kids, climbed in. He gathered as many people as he could fit inside the trucks and, with the children sitting on the laps of the adults, nobody complained. We were all just happy to get out of this living hell.
Father, himself, sat at the very back corner of the truck. He was so excited that he did not even notice the rain falling on his hat and streaming down onto his lap. One of the men scolded him for not taking care of himself and instead favouring us lucky people whom he helped to escape.
The trucks had to pick up some other civilians so, as we got closer to the city, we had to abandon the vehicles. The Uzbeks supplied us with camels to help us with the luggage, but we had to walk the rest of the way into the city of Bukhara. It was a hot afternoon and, with our tight shoes, we limped along to keep up with the camels - we did not think we would make it. We tried to encourage each other, as father told us we were almost there. We saw the outskirts of a large city, and energized that we had finally reached Bukhara, we picked up our bundles from the friendly camel and headed towards the station to get some food and water.
As it became dark, we were told that we had to sleep under the starry sky. To our surprise, there were approximately four or five hundred of us Polish prisoners who had assembled at the same station. Other convoys of trucks had brought in all these people. And so it was; we unrolled our blankets, curled up inside and just fell asleep, too tired to fear what might befall us as we slumbered under the open sky. When the first sunrays hit our eyes, we knew that we were okay and alive. I thanked my guardian angel for not sending rain to this part of Uzbekistan and for protecting us throughout the night.
Departure from Uzbekistan
Because my father was an officer and, as a civilian, had a position as a teacher and school principal, he was given the authority to ensure the safe transportation of the women and children from Russia to safety in Persia, which, at the time, was an English dominion. All the adults had already been dropped off in another area. My father left my sister and I with the young orphaned children, most of them undernourished and frail, aged from infancy to 6 years, at the train depot where they were to be transported to the port of Krasnowodsk. His next mission was to pick up his cadets and take them across the Caspian Sea to Persia and he had to leave with the convoy. He took a chance leaving Mary and I at the station in the hopes we could gain transport with the children.
The female supervising officer spotted us and came to tell us that only very young children and babies were to be accepted; that there was no room for us teenagers. However, later she came to us with an idea: she said we could be taken in if we accompanied the smaller kids, assisting them to board the ship to cross the sea, thus legitimizing our presence. At this moment, I looked at the distant horizon and saw a whole range of mountains covered with snow. They were so perfect and beautiful, contrary to this barren and depressing part of Uzbekistan. This breathtaking view helped to buoy our spirits as we left this place for the sanctuary of another country.
Mary was entrusted with a three year old boy to oversee, while I was given a very young female infant, just skin and bones. I had never held a baby in my life, but the weight was not a problem and the supervisor told me that as soon as we were on the ship deck, a nurse would come and take the baby away to the ship hospital. We ascended the open trucks so packed full of children, we did not even have to hang on to anything for support! The trucks had to pick up speed, for the ship was already waiting in the port. The instant our open trucks started moving, the baby woke up and started to cry, kicking, uncovering herself and pulling my hands away. I tried unsuccessfully to keep her covered for it was chilly.
Between trying to balance holding her as the truck sped along, listening to her screams, keep her covered while battling her spider-like hands, and my own hunger and weakness, I thought I was going to faint! The older female supervisor, who also had a baby in her arms, could see I was struggling and tried to assure me that we only had five more minutes to get to the ship. To me, it felt like a never-ending journey!
The trucks finally arrived at the port of Krasnowodsk. We immediately boarded the ship, climbing the steep steps to the upper deck in pairs. As I carried the baby up the stairs, my legs felt like two cement blocks. When I reached the deck, a nurse came to me and thankfully took away the baby, as the supervisor had promised.
One problem was over, but now everywhere we looked there were hundreds of people: prisoners, men, women and children. Clearly, there were more people than this commercial ship could handle. We were given dry bread and kipiatok and, soon after, we wrapped ourselves in blankets, sinking to the floor to sleep where we stood, since there was no room to do otherwise.
The Russian government had not been very generous in accommodating us Polish prisoners, for it seemed we were given an end-of-the-line cargo ship to transport us to Persia. Perhaps they hoped we would go down in this rickety old piece of metal.
Later that night, the sea was getting rough and the waves were high, throwing water onto the deck and soaking some people who were closer to the edge. There were attempts to find dry places, but they were already occupied by the crowds. Still, somehow some people found dry spots, and, packed in like sardines, we tried to sleep.
It was during this storm that the engine failed, forcing our ship to be anchored to keep it under control. We waited for a rescue ship that had been informed of our plight. In the morning, after some sleep, the rescue ship came and a crude rope bridge was fashioned, connecting the two ships. Each one of us passengers had to walk carefully across, which took a few hours. On this rescue ship, we finally said good-bye forever to Russia and the misery we had endured as her prisoners, and we crossed the Caspian Sea to the Persian Port of Pahlevi.
Once on land, the girls were separated from the adults and boys, then we were driven to tents on the beach, set up for us by Polish soldiers, to spend the night. As dusk approached, we were given packages of decent food, which we hungrily devoured. We then covered ourselves with army blankets and slept in the tents on the warm beach sand. Next morning, when we walked out of our tents, on the shore of the Caspian Sea we were surprised to find thousands of beautifully coloured shells along the beach. Their beautiful colours reminded me of flowers, except they lay flat, spread out on the ground. We took our bags and picked up hundreds of them for collection and a reminder of the Caspian Sea.
After a simple breakfast, the first pick-up truck came to the shore and took a load of orphans to Teheran, the capitol of Persia. Over the next hour, a few more pick-up trucks arrived and took as many of us as possible in each truckload. The pick-up trucks streamed in along the highway until all the orphans were collected, creating one continuous convoy.
When we arrived in Teheran, and our convoy moved along the main street, the residents soon became aware that Polish orphans were on the trucks. So, they lined up on both sides of the street, and in their kindness, tossed all kinds of food up to us to catch, like dates, figs, candies, cookies, halvah, bread, etc. Being hungry, we could not resist food, so naturally we ate it, but soon found out that our stomachs were not yet conditioned to eat the food of the south!
The trucks were stopped in front of public baths and that’s where we were taken in. Our heads were shaven and clothes were incinerated, for they were filled with lice and germs of all kinds and the authorities did not want to take any chances. We showered ourselves with soap, which I had not seen since we left Siberia.
We were unrecognizable, so much so, that one of Mary’s girlfriends from school stuck out her tongue at me. When I pointed her out to Mary whom she recognized, the two greeted each other and she apologized to me for having mistaken me for a boy. Boys had been kept separated from girls for the convenience of care, and they had their own male supervisors and priests, so Mary’s friend had not had the opportunity to stick her tongue out at a boy in some time. After the baths, we were given black smocks and supper, followed by a showing of Mickey Mouse animations, at a local school.
We spent the night at school and in the morning started looking for our father, trying to recognize him amongst the troops marching past the school. We stood there looking for a long time because there were many Polish soldiers in Teheran who were coming from Russia and other prison locations, preparing for departure to different posts; but there was no sign of him. Luckily, someone noticed us wandering around and we were advised to speak to a representative of Polish orphans in exile.
There was an office set up in a factory building where we went to see the Commandant and after telling her our story, she decided that we should be sent to Isfahan; she also promised to find our father. We were fortunate to be sent to “Sisters of Charity Monastery”, where we were officially called “Holy Father’s 100”, meaning that only 100 girls were accepted in this location and it was financed by the Holy Father, Pope Pius 11, himself.
After four or five hours, the trucks stopped in front of enormous carved double doors with very tall, thick masonry walls surrounding the whole structure. The monastery enclosure resembled, and had probably served in the past, as a fortress. The two drivers opened the heavy doors and in the background we saw two nuns in their uniforms with hats which reminded me of birds’ wings, ready to fly away. Our teacher and supervisor, who we had traveled with, but not yet met, Jadwiga Otwinowska, stepped down to greet the nuns and, having had been informed that they were French, started a conversation with them in their language. French was compulsory in Poland’s High Schools, so Pani Otwinowska was fluent.
The look of the monastery was very appealing. There was a courtyard with a church, beautifully decorated in Persian style, with a reflecting a goldfish pond in front. The courtyard was divided into four sections by intersecting gravel paths. The paths were adorned with flowering shrubs and bushes, cleverly arranged so they were blossoming all year round.
Our teacher and one of the nuns toured us through the left wing on the main floor of the building, which had a dining room, kitchen, foyer and washrooms. After some instructions, we settled into the dining room, had lunch and were later taken to the chapel, which was a lovely and very ornate church with Holy Mary’s statue above the altar. The statue of Holy Mary had stars in halo around her head, illuminated by electricity, which were lit up on Sunday services and special occasions. In the chapel, we prayed for the good fortune of our temporary residency in this lovely place.
Next, we went upstairs where there were two large dormitories for all one hundred of us, complete with separate beds covered with blankets, pillows and white sheets. The nuns’ dormitories were on the same floor, but further away. Before bedtime, the teacher gave us the instructions and rules of the monastery and left the rest of the plans for tomorrow.
The next day after prayers and breakfast, we were shown the right wing of the building, where there were classrooms and a small bathroom which was sectioned off. The bathroom had just been built a week or two prior, to accommodate the rather large influx of war orphans and our teachers onto the church and school property.
In those first few days, we were given free time to familiarize ourselves with the new environment. The nuns were very gracious and tried to communicate with us in French, but we only knew Polish and a bit of the Russian language. They would respond with, “oui, oui” but even that was unrecognizable to us.
Behind the church there was a large grassy yard with a tree growing in the center. Here a few benches were set up to conduct classes and exercise on very hot days. On Sundays Polish Rev. Franciszek Tomasik would come in the morning all dressed up in army uniform to perform a Holy Mass for us. He was a very inspiring man and we would always await his presence in our monastery. Since most of the children were either orphans or our fathers were away fighting in the war, Rev. Tomasik represented a father figure to us and we loved to gather around him and listen to him talk to us and make us smile with his stories. He was a wonderful, loving person. We happily read Latin script to answer his prayers during his masses. Reverend T. was the supervisor of the boys’ “Holy Father’s 100” but he dropped in sometimes to give us encouragement and rules of safety and behaviour in this unfamiliar environment.
There were scores of orphanages, plus young mothers’ buildings, in our friendly Isfahan, all leased by the English as temporary residences for the Poles.
In May 1942, we received a letter from our father. He explained that when he had transferred the Polish cadets from Russia to Iran, he was aware some of them carried infectious diseases. During this assignment, he became very sick with typhoid on the ship. He was sent to an Indo-English hospital in Tehran for a month while he struggled to recover. Immediately after his release, he started on a search for us, but nobody had a record of our whereabouts. As fortune would have it, in the same factory building in Teheran where the Commandant had arranged for Mary and me to be sent to the monastery, he recognized Mrs. Bertlitzowa, the friend from Uzbekistan, waiting with many others to be sent to a temporary destination. She revealed to him that we were sent to Isfahan with the other orphans. After approaching the authorities with this new information, he was given the monastery address, thus enabling him to send us this first communication since we had seen him about 4 months before. We were ecstatic to hear from our father and that he was alive and well after that terrible sickness that took many lives in Russia.
A nun, who took care of and decorated the chapel, asked three of us, who looked a bit stronger, to clean the chapel every week. We were honoured and followed her to see what had to be done. All the short benches had to be raised up on ends, the floor and all the spaces around swept, then with the benches back in their places had to be dusted and the floor mopped. We were rewarded with Holy pictures and candies.
Our nuns planned excursions through the city of Isfahan on Sundays, so we were able to see a few mosques, one of them being an antique with a moving tower and a modern one with profoundly sensitive acoustics. We also saw a palace of the Shah of Pahlevi, which had murals of Persian wars and their leader, Darius, sitting Buddha style in the center by the fire surrounded by his soldiers. We saw a Polish cemetery with dignitaries from 16th and 17th centuries, other orphanages, and, in the summertime, private orchards where we were allowed to indulge ourselves with fresh fruits.
The school was organized in our own language, but only our teacher, Mrs. Otwinowska, taught us Polish and math. An Armenian teacher was teaching us the French language in Russian and, because she was unfamiliar with the Polish language, she depended on us to translate from Russian to Polish. It seemed like a difficult task, but it was challenging and soon we picked up the knowledge of the language. One priest taught religion and another taught geography.
Later on in the year, they shipped fifty younger orphans to our building, so the nuns were very preoccupied with them. At Christmas time it was exciting for us when some of these children were our tiny ‘angels’ with wings, standing on a table, giving us gifts of sweets, dried fruit and small mementos with pictures of Holy Mary with Jesus Christ. That was an opulent treat and it took a while to digest the goodies, for which we were not prepared, but could not refuse this gift from Heaven.
The life in Isfahan was good and with Mrs. Otwinowska’s supervision and the nuns’ great care, we felt that “somebody up there liked us”. We used to have half of a Persian pancake with spinach in the morning, with a cup of tea. The second snack in the morning was a slice of wheat bread with 1 tbsp. of sugar, or halvah, the same snack in the afternoon, and for supper we had cooked carrots with cottage cheese the other half of the pancake, a cup of tea and a slice of watermelon or cantaloupe, which was plentiful in summertime.
We lived in Isfahan from April 1942 to March 1943, so, as we were growing we had our clothes made with plain fabrics, pink and blue, in the same simple style for all. The spring coats were made of checkered, heavier fabric that we proudly wore with our heads covered on colder days. Possibly the rolls of fabric came from England or America as rejects, for their pattern was not popular at that time in those countries.
Visitors that came to see orphans were Polish Bishop Gawlina, Polish General Tokarzewski, and religious leaders like Archbishop Alcido Marina, and priests who happened to be in this country of Isfahan. On certain occasions, the older girls would dance the Krakowiak with our Armenian teacher participating as Krakowianka, the part for which she was burning to learn. She was a hit and looked beautiful with her darker skin and curly black hair.
Since the war lasted longer than anticipated, the money for orphanage facilities started running out and the amount of time that had been allotted by Persian property owners for their use had expired. Allied governments had to find other locations for the orphans outside Persia, so British dominions were the obvious first choice.
Polish soldiers were extensively contributing in the war, so an agreement was made to send us to different British dominions in Africa, New Zealand, Australia, India, Lebanon, Palestine, etc. These camps were financed by government taxes from Polish armed forces, and donations from Canada, the U.S. and other allies.
Younger orphans had to leave, but older ones stayed on to finish their
pre-university schooling and were sent to French and American universities in Lebanon to study medicine, dentistry or law. This education allowed them to join the workforce in England, France, Canada and the U.S.
Unbeknownst to my sister, Mary, and me, Pani Otwinowska had already persuaded my father to have us sent with her to Africa to a Polish school and settlement for our high school educations.
Trip to Africa
Orphans destined for Africa were scheduled to leave at the end of March 1943. There were 250 girls and 250 boys with 1 priest as supervisor, at the other end of the ship. The ship also carried mothers with small children in another section. We had our teacher, Pani Otwinowska, and a few more women supervisors to take care of our needs. It was an emotional farewell from the monastery. We all cried for we knew that we would never see our nuns, who gave us such good care and discipline. A few of us wanted to stay and join the order of celibacy, but it was an unrealistic wish at our age. The nuns took it with a smile and just wished us good luck.
The train took us through pink monochromatic mountains to Ahwaz, where we had to spend the night waiting in a public resting building, with our blankets being of great use. The next day the ship was ready. It was enormous, we could not see the ends of it and you had to walk at least twenty minutes along the side to appreciate its size. We boarded Dunera, the military ship captured from the Germans, and, hanging on to our bundles, we had a very long and steep walk upstairs, taking us to the top deck. We were shown our big dormitory with hammocks attached to the ceiling and were looking forward to spending the nights inside hammocks. As it turned out, we had a long time to use them before we landed in Africa. There were large tables and benches attached to the floor, but the food that was given to us was mainly preserved in cans. We had bread and drinks, but never an abundance of food.
Suddenly a long and loud horn sounded, indicating it was time for the ship’s departure. The motor was so loud, it took a long time to accept the noise, disregard the racket and carry on. Dunera moved its first ten feet and we all stood in silence, with our supervisor crossing herself and reciting Our Father’s prayer, each one of us followed along. We traveled through the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, and then south to the Indian Ocean.
The weather was beautiful, the sky was blue and we had an overwhelming feeling when all the coasts had disappeared from view. Now this ship was our land and our country and the Captain was our leader with the entire crew behind him.
Before we retired to our dormitory, the sun was going down towards the horizon and it lit up the whole west side of the ocean with a shimmering gold colour, sprinkled with dark blue, black and sometimes other shades picking up the hue of the water. I just stood there and suddenly remembered the sky in Poland, when Mary and I had seen “the cloud show” with images and realized that it coincided with the reality that we were experiencing now. The clouds we had seen in the shape of a small ship, appearing at a distance in the sky, growing larger, seemingly closer, gradually lowering itself towards the ground, the silhouettes of people - I realized that although Mary and I were seeing this large ship filled with people at a distance on the ocean, we must have been seeing the foreshadowing of our current journey through the oceans east of Africa to our next uncertain destination.
We enjoyed our first night sleeping on the hammocks, having embarked on the long odyssey to our African destination - a treat for us to remember.
All of our showers on the Dunera were with salt water. There were no suds from soap, and it was useless trying. The ocean water was heavy and it felt like hail when it fell on our bodies.
After breakfast, we spent a lot of time on the top deck watching the ocean and hanging out with our classmates. In the meantime, Mrs. Otwinowska approached the Captain to collaborate on creating a program to introduce the English language to her students to keep us occupied and from getting bored. Fortunately, the Captain knew French and was both, co-operative and willing to get us acquainted with the sound of the language during the long trip to Africa. She informed us that the next day we all had to meet with her on the top deck to take a lesson in English.
We all remembered not to miss the sunrise and sunset, for that was the only entertainment we had on this army monster ship. The teacher opened up her notebook and gave us the first lesson; with us sitting on our bundles, we repeated after her: “I have, you have, he, she, it has etc.” Well that was easy I thought, but when it came to say “the” which we thought was a tongue twister, we had harder time learning, some of us acquired the sound better than others did.
As we headed further south, a very unusual sight was brought to our attention: a large school of ocean whales were racing with the ship and displaying a magic show for us as they expelled water above the ocean surface, showing us their silver bodies when they emerged for a few seconds at a time. The sun was shining and it added to the spectacular scene. Hungry for entertainment, our senses were filled with this vision for a long time – to this day!
A few days later, we had stormy weather and the waves were high on the ocean. The round windows in the dorm downstairs were completely submerged. We could not see above the waterline – this was terrifying! To avoid getting sick we were advised to stay in our hammocks that would sway us from side to side, making the sensation of the turbulence less apparent. It was a frightening experience but, according to the crew, it was a typical and manageable storm, with nothing to be alarmed by, so we just waited it out.
The boys were frustrated by their lack of autonomy, so they organized a mutiny, wanting to open the portholes and sink the ship. However, when the Captain found out about this, he detained them (to teach them a lesson) and gave them a good hearing through Mrs. Otwinowska translating the warning in Polish. We never had any threats again from the boys who resigned themselves to this life of uncertainty.
The Dunera had to stop in the Port of Mombasa for inspection, refueling and the replenishment of supplies and fresh water.
The ship came to Port Elizabeth around the second week of May 1943, where we were detained for a few days as a quarantine, for medical reasons. There were many people standing on the shore, with all kinds of fruit, who were informed about us orphans being on the top deck. When we looked down, they started tossing the fruit up to us. The boys were better at catching, but my friend Christine and I had good eyes for that something that was called “food”. There were all kinds of fruit; bananas, oranges, lemons, tangerines, pineapples - all in abundance and they fell like manna from the sky. What a wonderful welcome from the local inhabitants after 6 weeks of eating canned food!
We had to be given a lesson on how to skin the fruit so our teacher and one of the crew-members informed us well. We did not have a knife for the pineapples, however one of our sailors did and soon, for the first times in our lives, we tasted this delicious fruit. Our first impressions of Africa were that we had arrived in a land of friendliness and generosity, warmth and exotic new flavours.
After the duration of the quarantine had elapsed, we unloaded in pairs and entered a long coach train that would take us to our destination of Outschoorn, about 30 km north of the very south coast of Africa, a two and a half day train ride westward. The train traveled through wild and uninhabited terrain with the most interesting vegetation. Back in Poland my mother had a collection of cacti, which were foreign to us and had to be kept indoors in our country, so it was a very educational experience to see them growing freely on this land. There was such a large variety, and many of them were in full bloom, flowering with reds, gold and purples, all reaching up as high as two-storey houses. Other types of vegetation we saw were different looking trees, bushes and tall grass that hid groups of giraffes raising their heads the odd time to munch on tree leaves. They all seemed comfortable with our train passing through. There were even a couple of lions running, supposedly afraid of the train whistle, which the Engineer had to use to scare them away. Occasionally we also passed smaller villages with straw huts and their rural inhabitants.
During the two days and one night of this trip, we slept on berths in the train. We were gawking through the windows and exclaiming with oohs and ahs all the way to Outschoorn (Dutch name).
The train stopped at this large city with stores, cinemas, parks, theaters, and factories, where one could buy everything for the daily needs of citizens – to our surprise, just like any European city! It was midday and our caregivers were anxious to get us to the camp and settled in, so no time was wasted in loading us on the buses headed for our destination, about 45 minutes outside of the city.
The camp had new brick barracks and no grass or trees in the vicinity but we were “home”. As soon as the bus stopped and the doors opened, we all jumped out and galloped full speed towards the buildings, our bundles dangling from our sides and not once looking back.
Suddenly we heard the scream of our teacher to stop us, and line up in pairs and groups separated by school grades. Now “reined in”, we re- approached the buildings in a slower, orderly manner, walked the three steps up to the door, calmly entering and choosing a bed prepared for each one of us. There were twenty beds in each barrack, which would become our “rented property” for the duration of our stay. Each bed had an adjacent small end table with drawers for our belongings, which we had accumulated through traveling, the largest being my bag of coloured shells from the Caspian Sea. The boys went through the same regime on the other side of the camp.