Today we conclude this historical piece by Vladimir Veretennikov, with some eye-witness stories of Salaspils concentration camp survivors.
One such survivor is Liudmila Nikolaevna Timoshchenko, formerly a professor at the Daugavpils University. Liudmila’s specialty was “Pedagogy” (Americans would say that she got her degree in Education). Back in the day, one of her students was VZGLIAD correspondent Veretennikov who is writing this piece; that is how he got to know her!
Liudmila lived at Salaspils when she was a child. Now she is old and frail and doesn’t give interviews to the press, but when she was younger (back in 1999) she self-published her own autobiographical memoirs, a book called “Children and War”. [I found this RuLit site where one can purchase her book online.] Professor Timoshchenko had collected materials for 10 years; she sought out other concentration camp survivors in order to document their testimony. Veretennikov warns that the reading of her book is not for the squeamish.
An eye-witness named Anna Krasovskaya: “At the age of eight I experienced myself, or witnessed, all the torments of hell. I will never forget watching as, right in front of my eyes, a small boy of three had his stomach ripped out by a bayonet. Afterwards they shot his mother. The fascists, with their big German shepherd dogs, herded us into the bathhouse. After hosing us down with cold water, they herded us back into the barracks. All our clothing had been tossed into a heap on the road, and we almost froze scrambling to find our own clothes back. While living in the camp I witnessed how they shot and hung people. The corpses hung for a long time. They tortured us with hunger. Lice were crawling everywhere.”
Janis Korsitis was born behind the barbed wire of Salaspils. “My older brother Tedis Birzgalis-Korsitis died at Salaspils. He was born in 1939. Immediately upon his arrival (at the camp) he was separated from (our) parents and placed in the children’s barracks. The children were used as suppliers of blood transfusions for the wounded German soldiers.”
Galina Bradinskaya, who was eight years old at the time, confirms the claim about the blood transfusions: “They took blood from me three times. As a result of this, I lost my vision and became a lifelong invalid.”
Liudmila Levchenko was also eight when she arrived at the camp. “After we went through a quarantine, myself and a few other people were taken away and put in a clinic where I was subjected to the so-called treatment: My blood was extracted for the fascist soldiers. Next to me lay a woman, and she whispered to me not to cry, she said if I cried then they would take all my blood. I don’t even recall how many times I had to give blood, I (just remember) how desperately I wanted to sleep.”
[Veretennikov inserts a note here, mentioning that all the Latvian historians cited earlier in the piece, Kangeris, Neiburgs and Viksne, categorically deny that Salaspils inmates were subjected to blood-drawings for the German soldiers. Nope, they say — never happened! In other words, they claim that the above eye-witnesses are lying!]
Next we come to the topic of the “sortirovka“, which was a kind of malign “triage”. Every time a convoy of new prisoners arrived at the camp, the German and Latvian officials in charge had to make quick decisions as to who goes where.
Vitaly Leonov, who was herded out of the Pskov region along with his family, passed through the sortirovka and ended up in the same barracks with his cousin. His brother and sister ended up in a different barrack. “We didn’t encounter each other, we didn’t know what had happened to each other. But one time I happened to look out the window and I saw them carrying my little brother on a stretcher. He was already dead. A few months later I ended up in Ikšķile (Latvia), a village called Breki, where I was put to work as a shepherd. In 1944 my mother found me!”
The Salaspils sortirovka is also mentioned by eye-witness Maria Lipskaya, a native of Belorussia: “The pretty young women were set aside and sent to work in Germany. Children aged 10-13 were taken by the Latvian citizens [as farm workers], and the very youngest children were taken away from their mothers and sent to a separate barrack, these children were condemned to die. My sister Jadwiga had her son taken away from her, he was only two and of course he perished. My sister (Jadwiga) was sent to a concentration camp in the city of Lublin. My younger sister was taken by a farmer from Babite [a village near Riga] and put to work as a shepherdess. I remained in the camp.”
Elvira Ilyakhina, also from Belorussia: “I was eleven years old, and I remember well my first days in the [Salaspils] camp. Especially the quarantine and when, after a cold shower they herded us all naked — men, women, children — through the frost and along the entire length of the camp, and then left us naked for several days in the barracks. One evening my mama — who was a healthy 36-year-old woman — was suddenly taken into the camp clinic, from where she returned an invalid.”
And there are many other such eye-witness testimonies. Liudmila Timoshchenko, the author of the memoirs, concedes: “It is possible that the memories of a child can be distorted, when it comes to certain (individual) incidents. It is possible that some of this did not actually happen. But these are eye-witnesses testimonies about the war. As was recorded in the memories of children.”