The Syrets Concentration Camp
Some days later a gasenvagen rolled into the yard. We thought that it came to transport
the workers who worked with us. I was in Budnik's working place. The door opened, the
policeman came in and yelled, Hands up! I tried to take my jacket but they warned us not
to touch anything or else they would shoot. We went out into the street where the van was.
Vilkes and Ostrovsky were already there. Podkaminer was behind the shed when he noticed
that Vilkes and Ostrovsky were being led by the Germans. He went down toward the ravine
and ran away. We stood for a long time while they searched for Podkaminer, then finally
they opened the door and ordered us to get in. We didn't see who else was in there since
the door was immediately closed behind us. We were pressed next to each other and started
moving. We couldn't see anything in the dark. We were saying good-bye to each other
thinking that it was the end. I could heard my heart beating and temples pulsating. We all
believed that this was the end.
We were riding for a long time until the van finally stopped. They did not open the door
for a while so we thought that they would start with the gas and that's why they were
spending so much time on it.
We heard some people talking but I couldn't understand what was being said. The only thing
I could hear was my heart which was beating so painfully that it seemed that it might
At last the door finally opened. We did not know if it was Babi Yar. We thought that they
were going to kill us. It was nearly completely dark outside but one could still see. Some
distance away from the van there some people were standing and talking to the master who
rode in the front the truck that brought us. Each person had something in his hand, either
a stick or a whip.
It turned out that the gasenvagen came late because they had been searching for
Podkaminer. We all remained standing. The commandant of the camp himself came up to our
group. We later found out that his name was Anton. He was a Czech by nationality. We never
learned why he was originally sentenced to the camps.
We learned that he was the highest ranking sotnyk in the camp. He said something to us in
broken Russian and then cursed in Russian well. Then another man approached and said:
Let's get acquainted. My name is Rostislav, I think you will remember me. He also spoke
bad Russian. I see that you are cold, now you will get warm.
In fact, along with the rapid beating of my heart, I was trembling. I don't know, whether
it was because of cold or simply raw fear but my teeth rattled. He yelled out the command,
Attention! Forward, march! Then, Run! The drilling area was big. When we reached the other
end he ordered us back. When we ran past the place he was standing, he whipped everybody
on the head. It is impossible to forget such things. We had been running for about half an
hour when he finally gave the command to lie down and rest. But at the same moment he
again ordered us up and made us start running again.
He was in a hurry to go somewhere so he said good bye to us and promised that he would
drill us again. He showed us the Yid barracks where would live. By the time we entered the
barracks we were completely soaked as if we had showered in our clothes. In the dug-out
there were bunk beds for us. People were lying around. Some were dirty. Others were
bandaged up with rags. Another was crying. A group in the corner was talking. Nobody
addressed us nor even looked at us. We asked who was the leader in the barracks. Everybody
pointed towards one man. He saw that we were newcomers to the camp and asked us where we
When he learned that we came from 48, Melnikova, he said that everything was clear. He had
been waiting for us and already knew everything about us.
You are the ones who sent us bread he said, I am Ivanov Arkadiy or simply Arkadiy.
Then he added, Come along, I shall show you where your place will be for the time being.
When he saw that we had been already beaten and whipped, he asked who drilled us. We told
him and said we had gotten off easy because he ran over to the women's camp. He goes there
every evening. So you must be thankful, Arkadiy told us.
Arkadiy told us that it was very bad there, every day 3 to 5 people did not come back from
work, usually killed by the sotnyks. One could survive if he got to the shops.
Several men and myself are here from the very beginning, the rest do not survive long
here. By tomorrow there won't be many of you here. Others will be brought. To get into the
shops is almost impossible because Anton chooses the people himself. It is very hard to
get food, especially if nobody provides you with any help from the outside. There are such
men who have Russian wives who bring them some products and the rest just die of hunger,
We saw the men who were called punies. They were all very sick. He told us what different
shops there were: carpentry; fitting; black smith and electrical. We talked for a long
time and finally Arkadiy said that we ought to go to sleep since we would have to get up
very early. We lay down. But we could not fall asleep till morning. We all thought about
where we would end up the following day. We already knew that the heads of the Jewish work
teams, Matkobog and Serbin, were complete monsters and they would easily kill a man
without a thought. That night seemed to last as long as a year. At last somebody started
to beat on the rail for us to get up.
It was not necessary to get dressed since everybody slept with their clothes on. We all
ran out quickly to the line. We newcomers were ordered to stand at the end. Every group
knew its place and the masters and sotnyks gave commands for the morning exercises. We
also did what everyone was doing. After the exercises we went back to the barracks to wash
and take care of personal needs. We had a total of 10 minutes. Then again we got in line
and marched while singing to the canteen.
Everyone got a slice of bread and spoon of coffee in a pot or a can. We had to eat while
marching and to continue singing all the way to the drill-grounds. There the sotnyks
reported to Anton what accidents took place that night and how many people got ill or
died. Anton listened to the reports and then gave orders. For the few sotnyks that were
assigned to work in the city, trucks came to take them and the policemen who went together
Anton would give the final command and everybody went to their work places. Only the camp
bosses remained. That day we also remained since we didn't know where to go. Then Anton
cried something to the master of the Jewish team Matkobog. He ran up to us and started
beating us with a stick. We were running towards the exit and he was running after us,
beating us on the head. He hit us so hard that we were crying. At this moment the
assistant of the camp chief pan Yan whom we knew well from 48, Melnikova put an end to it.
I asked Pan Yan if we were assigned to the Jewish team for work. He told me that I (He
called me Jacob.) will work the carpenters shop, Budnyk, who called him the electrician,
will go to the electric shop and Ostrovsky, Mytslmacher, will go to the sawing shop. He
said something to Vilkes but the latter did not understand it so he went with the regular
In the shop, it was light, warm and clean. Arkadiy showed me my working place, gave me
work to do and tools to work with. Here I met Mamayew and Ivanov, who worked not far from
me. It was obvious that they were nice people. They told about themselves that they were
military men but got surrounded and could not escape. They were arrested as communists and
brought to the Syrets camp.
The camp was a vast territory encircled with three rows of barbed wire. The middle row was
under a high tension current. At the entrance to the camp on the left a big wooden
building for guards, called a watchstube. At the corners of the camp there were high watch
towers with policemen with machine-guns. Inside the camp there was a fenced-in women's
camp. Then there was a barren zone and finally our barracks which stood in two rows.
The first barrack at the entrance to the zone was a Jewish one. Near our dug-out they had
erected a scaffold for hanging people. On the day of our arrival they hung a prisoner who
had attempted to run away. Further on there was a long row of barracks and each had its
special name, either Soviet or partisan or communist. On the left side there were
odd-numbered buildings starting with 3. There lived the bosses Anton, Rostislav, Boyarsky
and some of the other sotnyks. Behind that stood the barracks of the masters and after it
another one for criminals, tramps and others. The last barracks was a medical building and
hospital. Behind the dug-outs there was a small ground where we organized a kind of a
market in the evenings. Everything was traded. Bread was exchanged for some spoons of
gruel, a little bit of tobacco or for shoes or a shirt or something else.
Further on there was a wooden house that looked like a store house for sanitary cleansing.
There was a boiler for disinfecting, a shower-room with two cabins, a lavatory, though
without sewage system. Water in shower-room was always cold and we were made to strip and
wash while being whipped.
The hardest work was under Serbin and Matkobog in the Jewish team. In the camp, leather
workers made harness for horses. The masters made them also make whips. Iron nuts were
sewn inside the whips and the masters tested them out on people. The work of the Jewish
team was to dig up dirt from one place and carry it to another. Some were digging and
loading ground on to the stretchers while others were running with the stretchers. Chasing
after them at all times were the masters with their whips. If someone couldn't bear the
tempo and fell, he would never have any chance to rise again. Every day about 5 to 6
people did not come back from work. Then gestapo brought new ones to replace those who
Other teams of unskilled workers also had hard work. For example, when they were first
building the camp, I was told by some of the older prisoners, how they were humiliated and
tortured, especially by the bosses. They were ordered to remove trees. One man would have
to climb the tree and tie a rope on the top. While he did that the tree was cut down and
it fell down together with the man. If he was lucky to have fallen and be able to work
after this, it was his piece of luck, but if he was injured he was shot on the spot. It
was Radomsky's own invention and he enjoyed it very much. Anton selected sotnyks and
masters from the former criminals who were serving time under the Soviet government. They
would easily kill a person. The main thing for them was to prove themselves in Anton's
Sturmbahnfuhrer Radomsky trusted Anton very much. The latter always stood to attention and
constantly clicked his heels and cried out Yes!. Every day Anton collected all the sotnyks
and masters and demanded that they torture the prisoners as much as possible since we were
all Soviet scum.
One evening after work, Vilkes was beaten so hard that he hardly was able to walk to the
barracks. He started cursing at us that if we had listened to him and not waited for the
documents, we would have been long ago been with the partisan detachment. He said that the
next day he would try to escape.
We lay down on the bunk beds and did not answer him. I thought that it was better here
than in 3/5 Institutskaya. There we slept on the bare cement floor and were beaten by SS
soldiers who were even worse cut-throats. We were fed once a day some dried bread and a
scoop of coffee. Here the food was better and we slept on wooden boards. Though here they
also beat and killed people.
With these thoughts I fell asleep. I awoke because of loud clinging. Somebody was beating
on the rail. I sprang up quickly, as everybody did, and rushed into the yard. We followed
the regular procedure of exercise, washing, breakfast and going to work. At that time
Rotenfuhrer Yan was still on duty. Vilkes ran up to him and begged to be assigned to
another team. Yan ordered him to be transferred to the team making charcoal. Thus, all of
us, brought from 48 Melnikova, got somehow settled in good jobs.
Our shop was located in the center of the camp and everything was seen from there. For
many Jews who got to the shops it was much easier. We had to be in our working places,
work and try not to be noticed by the Germans. In our shop also worked both joiners and
carpenters. There was also a shop where they made wheels, carriages and barrels.
I started to get to know my shop masters. I met Lenya Khorosh. He was both a good
specialist and a nice man. He told me in secret that in his spare time he made
cigarette-cases. In exchange for these cigarette-cases the policemen brought him bread and
tobacco. When I looked at those cigarette-cases I couldn't believe that it was possible to
do such things by hand and he promised to teach me how to do it. The main thing was to get
bones. During dinner it was necessary to bring big bones into the shop, reboil them once
again and then cut them into thin plates in order to cover the cigarette-cases with them.
Sturmbahnfuhrer Radomsky would often come to the camp in his car carrying himself and his
enormous German shepherd Rex by his side. Behind him sat the interpreter, a folksdeutshe
named Rein. The word about his arrival would travel across the camp very quickly.
Everybody trembled. The policemen stood at attention hoping he would not find fault with
anything. The first to report to him was a Rotenfuhrer on duty, then Anton. They took him
around the camp. Radomsky was first with his dog. Sometimes this tour lasted till dinner.
But if he had not liked how we sang or marched to dinner and he would make us march and
sing instead of dinner.
Usually, we sang Oh, you, Galya, or Nightingale, nightingale, you birdie or some other
song like that. After that, the entire camp was lined in form and they would start to
investigate what had happened during the day or night before and who was to blame. Then
they would give out punishments according to the seriousness of the incident.
A special table was made in the center of the grounds for whipping people. The prisoner
who was to be punished was ordered to take off the trousers and to lie down on the table.
His neck and the feet were then affixed with boards so that he could not move. The
strongest men were chosen from the line and ordered to give as many blows as were
prescribed. They would beat the other prisoner so hard that his flesh splashed around.
Those who did not hit hard enough were then themselves tied to the table and beaten by the
others. Many times the person could not get up afterwards and Radomsky would shoot him on
After several days at the camp, I was told that Rotenfuhrer Rider and somebody else had
arrived on horse. I looked out of the window and saw our boss from 48 Melnikova,
Rotenfuhrer pan George. I came out and asked him if our clothes could be sent over to us
since we only had shirts. Pan George said that he was doing everything to get us back. If
it were not for Podkaminer's escape we would be back there already. Podkaminer had been
caught and would soon be brought here. He said that if he didn't manage to bring us back
he would send over our clothes. The other Rotenfuhrer was present at the talk and watched
it smiling. Then I came to Budnik and told him about our talk with pan George. In the
evening Podkaminer was thrown into our barracks. He could not even walk after they beat
him and could hardly tell us how it all had happened.
After running away, he went to Turgenevskaya street where the head of the tailors shop
lived, the one who always came to us and told about partisans. He had invited us to come
to him and gave us his address. When Podkaminer ran to him, he said that he would help. He
knew where to find people, being in contact with partisans. He fed Podkaminer, let him
wash, gave him clean underwear and left for the night. In the morning he told Podkaminer
not to go out because it was dangerous and he would go himself to arrange everything.
Instead he went to 48 Melnikova and informed that Podkaminer was with him. The Germans
sent over two SS soldiers and two policemen. Podkaminer was caught and brought to gestapo
headquarters at 33 Korolenko. He was beaten there and brought to us.