I am a witness


the author of the picture Rustem Emin

The overall national tragedy of each Crimean Tatar has its unique mood and distinctive pain impossible to compare with somebody’s else. In every Crimean Tatar family, the memories of the older generation become a family heirloom. Here it is one of such stories. 

The night of 18 May 1944 was terrible for all the Crimean Tatars. Those who were liberators yesterday – brave soldiers – today have raised their weapons against helpless civilians – women, children, elderly people among Crimean Tatars. Three soldiers came into our yard, and the petty officer read the command of Stalin. My father was rushing to show documents that he was a war invalid and his eye was amputated, that in 1942 one of his sons got killed. I showed a bag of clothes and an invitation to the army. But the order was for all the people. By the morning, all who have not yet had time to be loaded in wagons had been rounded up to the old mosque that was at the cemetery of the village Gavr. Clothes and grain were scattered all around, down were flying and he cries of children and women spread everywhere, it was interrupted by the hum of cars. The cars clogged with people фтв guarded by the convoy were coming to the freight wagons on the station Bakhchisaray. People gasping in the carriages hit the doors and hatches tightly closed. The side hatches were opened before the train left. The first night of an exile began. People in the wagon were napping. Only sick people and children were lying. The silence was disturbed by the silent female voice: “Ural dağı Ural dağı Yoq onın et yağı”. The singing woman was exiled once before in 1930 after deculakization. The quiet, beautiful lunar night seemed dreadful when the train passed over the shiny water of Chongar. «We are being thrown into the sea!» – a scream was heard. One more time we said goodbye to each other and to our Homeland. But the second day of that horrible way started. Our wagons were greeted by the screams of «fascists, traitors». Stones were flying in our direction. More than a week the train was carrying us to the East. As usual. every morning people were rushing to the wagons shouting the names of children, relatives, and loved ones. Hardly they could find each other. In the short time you stopped, you had to find your loved ones, or find water, firewood, get some watery soup given. 

People were quick to adjust: there was a bucket on four rocks, someone was cooking corn in a rusty tin. At the big hub stations, fate was breeding people again: some wagons were going northward, others southward. Our way was to the South. We’ve had rain and wind. Children became ill. For more than 24 hours, we had two corpses in our car. One elder person and a child died. We had to find a spade for digging a hole and burying them. Those holes were giant because people were bringing corpses from all the wagons. 

The locomotive was buzzing, the same as a crowd of people forever leaving their loved ones in exile. And how many people were sick and hungry, left without the slightest supply of food. Boiled potatoes were selling on the tracks. One hundred rubles for the bucket. However, we had nothing to pay. The train was gaining speed. Being teenagers we snatched a bucket of potatoes from a woman’s hand, clinging to the steps of the wagons. Stones and thousands of curses were following us. Dozens of hungry people were gazing at that bucket.

It was the third week of the exile. Only steppes around us. When we got to the Aral Sea, we were given some dry rations of salted fish. After quenching a hunger, we cannot quench a deadly thirst. We had only greasy water- mixed with oil. When the train was waiting for the oncoming one, an enormous heat was started. Lice were crawling all over the walls. And the dysentery people were lying quietly on the floor. Almost no one’s buried anymore. Dead people were simply carried away in some cars. Exhausted women were screaming and tearing their hair. At one of the hubs of South Kazakhstan, our train was approached by women, children with swollen faces, arms, and legs. Dying people were Ingush and Chechens exiled before us from the Caucasus. We came to the huge city of Tashkent. Vrevskaya station was our final destination. The locals were watching us silently. They were warned about us as “traitors” with whom they had to be careful. Everyone was taken to State and collective farms on the arbs. There were two departments of the “Vrevskiy” collective farm 4 kilometers from the station. We were brought to the place where  fruit were drying before the war. Its area was 250 square meters. It was surrounded by the wall with 3-4 m internal bulkheads. It became our camp. There were settlers from several cars and four boilers in the middle. There’s a pillar with rails, as a bell. The bell ringer was a chef. Usually, they were cooking something from dried fruit with therapeutic herbs. There was muddy water floating nearby. People drank it in the heat when even in the shade the temperature reached 40 degrees. A new chapter of our suffering has begun. A lot of people were destined to «dry» in this «drying» place, during the first month a huge amount of them died from tropical malaria, dysentery, hepatitis. 10-15-year-old people like me were starving to death at bazaars and stations. The whole families were dying, the first were children of 3-5 years old. No medicine, no medical care was involved. Every day, two from our settlement dug graves and two on the cart were collecting the dead ones. I was in charge, and every night I had to report to the Commandant. He was writing an act about how many people died, their first and second names. In the first two years, half of our settlement died. If someone went, for example, to the funeral of family members, they could be imprisoned. I witnessed the arrival of a soldier, he came to the State Farm after the day of victory and was searching for his family. The Commandant stripped him of his badges, orders, and medals and placed him on resettlement lists. He became a “traitor” as all his compatriots. Crimean Tatars were under surveillance and special control whenever they were. They were potential criminals, and double criminals if they were thinking about Crimea. They have tried people for it, put them into jail. I remember everything. But along with the old pain, my heart still suffers. I’m a living witness of all of this, and I’ll never let myself forget it.

Rasim USEINOV, Simferopol

Author: Редакция Avdet