[Primary Source - Popov, A]
[Museum Item No. 72033]
[Transcribed & Translated by Michail Maslow]
3 December 1931
These shirts don’t do much for the cold. We each get two pairs of shirts and pants; most of us wear all of them at once to fight the weather. It doesn’t work.
I guess I should be grateful we get anything. I was lucky enough to get this notebook, but I suppose that was more to shut me up than an act of kindness. Still, it’s better than nothing. We don’t have many luxuries—having something to speak my mind to is more than enough. This is my third day here, and the first time I’ve really been able to sit down. The work is hard, but manageable. As long as I don’t cause trouble, I’ll be able to go on.
- Andreas Popov
28 November 1931
The routine is settling in. The lights wake me every morning. We’re hustled to the dining area, where we’re given 15 minutes to eat, that is if we want to. I found a maggot in my rice the other day. I don’t usually want to.
Everyone knows their place here. They’re making us dig, mine. We search all day every day, looking for specks of coal to keep the guards warm; and I suppose to keep the country warm. We only have seven shovels, there are around 50 of us. The stronger men are forced to dig with their hands, raking the rock-hard dirt with their broken fingernails. We give the shovels to the youngest, but they’re quickly becoming as skinny as the shovels. I don’t know how much longer they’ll last.
1 December 1931
I saw a bird in the yard today. Its wing was hurt, it just walked on the ground. Somehow, it was comforting, seeing life. It wasn’t much of a life, being stuck on the ground when you’re supposed to fly. But it’s a life.
I named it Seryy.
We’re starting to form little factions. They separate us into groups to make it easier to watch over us, and we stick together after we’re done working. We can’t talk much, but them being there makes this easier.
- Andreas Popov
3 December 1931
Someone disappeared last night. I don’t know who, but rumors spread fast. There are whispers about torture chambers and executions, but that doesn’t make sense to me. We’re already being tortured here, why would they feel the need?
The mines are somehow quieter than before. We weren’t allowed to talk before, but everyone slipped in a joke or some small talk. Not anymore. The silence is deafening; it seems the disappearance has shaken everyone up. Hopefully, it’s nothing, and they’re content with working us away.
But I did feel like I heard something last night.
- Andreas Popov
5 December 1931
I made a friend. His name is Maxim. Skinny little man, he barely eats. Skinny fingers, long nose. He works hard, harder than anyone else here. It’s naive, but almost inspiring. First thing I noticed about him. I’ll tease him about it soon.
9 December 1931
More people are going away. They still want us to work. Those [scribbles].
Some of the men are thinking about escaping. We don’t have a lot of time to plan, but it’s given us new life. Given us something to do. Something to distract ourselves?
[Scribbled out writing]
12 December 1931
The plan is almost finished. Maxim is finishing the timing, and then, we’ll be ready. The plan has given us hope; he’s thrown himself into it. We have to move fast. We only have 30 or so left. Men keep dying or disappearing, likely suffering the same fate.
It’s nice to see Maxim smile when he’s working. - Popov
16 December 1931
Maxim is [illegible] dead.
Shot in the middle of the workday. I don’t know if they knew.
The plan is going forward. We leave in 2 days. It’s risky, very risky. But everyone’s agreed they’d rather try than stay here.
I’ll never forget
[Large tear on page here. External evidence suggests signs of a struggle.]
[The following pages are filled with random scribbles, followed by apparent attempts at writing another entry. They are illegible and the few words able to be deciphered are meaningless and incoherent.]
25 December 1931
I saw the bird again, Seryy. I have no idea how it’s still alive, but it made me happy. He was still hobbling around on his wing, collecting scraps from the ground and feasting on worms. He even made a little nest in the wall. I saved some scraps from breakfast and gave them to him. The guards told me to stop.
It seems like we got some new guys, while I was away. I showed them around camp, tried to calm them down. They all seemed so down. They’ll cheer up eventually. There aren’t many other options.
I heard it’s Christmas, which made me happy. I love Christmas. Love the singing, the carols and the snow. I pocketed some snow while we were working. Tried to lead some of the men in some carols, but they didn’t want to. The guards told me to stop after a while.
Some of the new men were talking about a famine outside. A pity. The food here is pretty good. They don’t give you a lot, but I’m getting used to it. I can survive. I can be happy. I’ve got food and a place to wait out the cold.
The cells are pretty warm. -Andreas