Chapter One

 

“The nature of the human being is well defined and conditioned by three activities.

The behaviour in righteousness.

The behaviour in desire.

And the behaviour in stupidity.

Righteousness is related with morality and renders happiness and bliss.

Because of desires, one is put into difficult circumstances to suffer or to enjoy.

And stupidity is beneficial for laziness and drives one to sinful activities.

Sometimes righteousness and morality become manifested and promiscuous, defeating desire and imbecility. Sometimes desires become prominent and defeat righteousness and rectitude. And sometimes idiocy or ignorance conquers over righteousness and desire.

This way all three temperaments of the human nature are always competing for dominance.”

                                                                                              Philosophical Meditations


Sergey Ivanovitch Alexandrov has been captured as a Prisoner of War.
The year is 1941.

From the time of the occupation of Poland by Germany in 1939, Sergey Ivanovitch Alexandrov was called for the defence of his country, The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic.
He had to report to the Defence Ministry and start over his military reserve training. Everyday, seven days a week, he had to spend five hours in preparation for a well kept secret mission, about which rumours were circulating of an ominous invasion.
Soon plans were revealed of a departure to the boarders of Russia and the Ukraine.
In March 1941, he was ordered to be present at the Military Headquarters within twenty four hours.

He left his wife, Svetlana, and his five year old son, Vladimir, in the hands of the unknown.
The scene was a sad and tragic separation. The morning of his departure, he put his son on his laps and with tearful eyes talked to him.
" I love you, my son", He said, " I am going for a long journey, I am not coming home tonight or the next many nights, I want you to listen to your mother, and be a good boy. You will be going to school very soon, and learn many things. When I come back, I want to be very proud of you. Remember what I am telling you now, be always proud of your father and obey your mother and never leave her alone. I love you, my son".
Tears were coming down from Svetlana's face. But she was silent. She could understand the extent of the circumstances. No word could describe her feelings and the sorrow was immense. She had to show some courage to her husband. All she could hope for was for him to complete his duty and return home.

The town of Kislovodsk, where Sergey was born in 1910, in a kulak family, who were wealthy land owners, the only remaining population were the females, the children and the old.
The mountainous region of the Caucasus, had been vacated from all male inhabitants, over eighteen.
This was not the first time that the Caucasians were facing a terrible turmoil. History had proven the invasions of the Persians, the Arabs, the Turks, and the Mongolians.
The Russians had assumed control of the region in the nineteenth century and they had witnessed the Bolsheviks coming to power.

The heavy metal manufacturing factory, in which Sergey was the General Supervisor, for hundred and twenty workers, was left to thirty women to run it.
He had completed his Military service in 1928, long before his graduation from Moscow University, as a Mechanical Engineer, in 1936.
The same year he married Svetlana Tamarova, his High school sweat heart.
And the same year, Vladimir was born.

But the defence of Russia, against the impending aggressor, was above family.

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They, the four thousand reserve soldiers, spent the night in tents, in the military barracks.
A cold October night, high in the mountains.
Sergey was somehow appeased with the thought that he was still in Gislavotsk. But in the loneliness of his tent, his mind was restless. Sleepless and fidgety his thoughts were stormy.
It was a difficult and strenuous separation from his wife and son. Everything that he had planned in his life, for the future, was falling apart.

" The human society is very much in trouble", he thought. " Peace and prosperity once more are just words that are unachievable."
He was educated enough to know that only an insane person, however powerful he might be, will go to war. Only religions and ideologies had created wars.
He had witnessed and heard about the Stalin purges. And now, Hitler was committing atrocious crimes.
Very few around him could realise the magnitude of the situation.
At that very moment, an unexplained strength of determination came over him. Fear, is not going to be part of his heart, he thought. He had to believe in himself and to the power of God and with a heart full of love, he will be free from all sorts of hankerings. He will live day by day, and dedicate his livelihood to the interest of his return to his family.

At dawn, the next morning, long before the sunrise, the whole camp was awake, ready to take the Commanding Officers orders.
The Commander in Field, divided the four thousand soldiers into twenty separate divisions, each division comprising of two hundred soldiers. Each division under a Lieutenant's order.

Sergey Ivanovitch Alexandrov was Lieutenant officer and had a troop of two hundred soldiers under his command. The responsibility was enormous under the circumstances.
With military discipline and practice, they all got into infantry trucks and headed for the Gislavotsk railway station.

Destination, Minsk.

At the railway station, Sergey received his first encounter with the military incompetence.
There were only thirty freight carriages to transport four thousand soldiers. It was just an impossible tusk. Hundred and thirty soldiers per carriage, meant total disaster.
He strongly objected to the orders, and that morning he almost lost his Lieutenant rank. The inadequacy of the military establishment was of no surprise to him.
Being close to be court martialled, he had no choice but to follow the orders.
Before even the journey would start, the troops were totally disappointed, irritated and disillusioned of the fact that the four nights and five days trip will be spent on their feet, because the lack of space would not allow them to sit. They were being treated as animal hoards.
In actuality those freight carriages were for transporting sheep.

The reality also was, that there was a war on the horizon and it was the start of facing the truth.
The long pilgrimage towards the dream of freedom had begun.
The most exhilarating and enlivening moments during the trip, were the stops.
For fifteen to twenty minutes the soldiers would jump out of the carriages and would satisfy their needs. The rest of the travel, the soldiers would have their moments of uplift by singing nationalistic songs, and their moments of despair, when their fate would cross their minds.

Sergey Ivanovitch Alexandrov, the Lieutenant, had a bit more comfort. He was given a stool.
Most of the journey he would watch the soldiers and wonder what would be their destiny.
So many of them, so young. So uninformed and oblivious to their mission.

Even a fraction of the length of a wasted human life, cannot be compensated by any thing. He thought.
And the train was adamant for its end objective.
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Arrival to Minsk was something close to celebration. The exhaustion and the fatigue of this long trip had taken its toll. Sergey was physically, mentally and emotionally weakened.
He was given twenty-four hour leave.

He was familiar with the city from a previous visit at the Belarus State University.
This time he thought a visit to the famous Seventeenth Century Elaterin Cathedral would be appropriate to the situation. He had to strengthen his spiritual values.
An old teacher of philosophy, when he was in University, would always mention a saying, which had been kept in his mind forever.
" The human being has to work hard for the maintenance of his body and soul constantly."
Even with teachings of Marx, Lenin and Stalin on Dialectical Materialism, he was convinced that the unity of contradictions is the basis of life.
The Cathedral was closed. It was a deep disappointment. Respect towards religious establishment had long disappeared.
Instead, he walked to the nearby park and laid down on the grass. Soon he had gone into a deep sleep.

When he woke up, it was past midnight, cold and dark. He took the tramway and headed to his assigned quarters.
A daily routine was created, morning exercises, training in the fields, almost boring and depressing.
Although his rank as a Lieutenant officer would allow him to have access to official information, he had encountered some resistance of sharing confidential material by his superiors. But that was nothing new; the Russians always had an unconfirmed suspicion towards the Caucasians. Their loyalty was usually in doubt.
So devoted to his own instinct, he kept a distance from his Commanding Officer, and continued his immediate assignments by controlling his own troops, which were predominantly Caucasians, from Georgian, Armenian and Azerbeijani backgrounds.

In the beginning of June 1941, he was told that the Military High Command had confirmed that there were military build up by the Germans, close to the Russian borders. But since there existed a pact between the two countries, the build up was inexplicable, and that they were waiting for news for action from the Supreme Command of the Forces from Moscow.

On Twenty Second of June 1941, the German Army invaded Russia. First, Smolensk, and rapidly moving towards Minsk. The Soviet Armies were left completely defenceless. There were not expecting such an attack, and they were totally surprised.
The Soviet Armies were destroyed and within ten days the German army had taken more than hundred and fifty thousand Russian prisoners.

Sergey Ivanovitch Alexandrov was a Prisoner of War.
He was forced to march more than sixty kilometres and was herded into a huge improvised camp, and left without food, medical help, shelter or sanitation for five days with hundred of thousands other prisoners.

The sixth day, the camp Commander began a systematic selection of the prisoners.
There seem to be several categories.
War prisoners, who had most able bodies, were at young age, had good health and had technological education, and who were officers.
War prisoners who had those qualifications and who were civilians from conquered territories.
And War prisoners who were politically anti-Soviet.
These " categories", had absolute luck. The unfortunate remainder, were condemned to death.
Sergey Ivanovitch Alexandrov was from the first category. He survived the first criterion.

He was allowed a meal, and was told that he will be sent to Germany, to work as a Slave Prisoner of War in an industrial factory. He will be fed and paid, but will be incarcerated.
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Sergey realised that a slave-labour system was being organised. He had definitely no power to counter any situation. The only course, he thought, the Germans would accept of him, was a docile, tamed and submissive attitude. At least, as a facade to survival. He knew, he was extremely lucky, because he was already witnessing the savagery of the German occupation.
There was a lot of death and destruction surrounding him. There was a total disregard for human rights.

He had no idea where he was being taken. He had heard that a large number in the camp, who were still alive, were highly qualified technologists, and the rumour has spread, that, a Prisoner of War was not only a slave labourer, but the man power Germany needed, while its soldiers were fighting in several fronts.
There was a demand for the recruitment of agricultural and industrial workers to make good the labour shortages in Germany itself.

He knew that there was an interrogation being held. The fear of the stipulation was enormous. For several days and nights, he couldn't even eat the meagre food he was given. He had heard that the questions asked by the Gestapo officers, were about their nationalities, their ideologies and the possibility of the prisoners being saboteurs. Many of the prisoners had never returned after their interrogation.

At last, one morning he was called at the building where the Gestapo had settled their headquarters. An unapproachable, expressionless officer with his grey blue uniform was walking up and down, across the room, where there was only a desk and a chair. After several steps, back and forth, he stoped, looked Sergey up and down, went behind the desk and set down. In front of him was Sergey's identification papers, which were taken from him, at his arrest.
" Sergey Ivanovitch Alexandrov, born in Kislovodsk?" he asked.
" Are you a communist? " he asked again.
Sergey, by now, was shaking.
" No ", said Sergey. He felt better.
" You are a mechanical engineer, and you ran a factory in your country", he continued, " we will send you to Koblenz, to work in a factory, where we construct aeroplane motors ", he added, " If you abide by the rules, and Germany will end victorious, you can liberate your own country from the Bolshevik oppressors, under the Third Reich protection." And he had a wide smile on his face.
Sergey was silent. He had no answer.
" When the time comes, you will join other prisoners, and leave for Germany. You can go now ". he finished.

Back in the camp, Sergey secluded himself from others, sat down on the floor and went into serious thoughts.
He was distinguished between Russians and non-Russians. He was distinguished between communists and non-communists. He had the notion that this Gestapo officer knew that under Soviet rule the non-communists and other nationalities were suppressed. This officer knew that the Caucasians had bitterly fought Russian penetration in the past.
As far as he was concerned, his personal perception of this encounter with the Gestapo officer was somehow favourable to him, for the moment. He was a Prisoner of War, he was becoming a Slave-labourer, he was humiliated, he longed for his wife and his son, he missed them tremendously, but he was alive. He was alive, and he had to face the unfolding future courageously and hope that eventually, his return to his homeland will become a reality.

It must have been in the end of July, when one morning, he was ordered to climb a truck, with him, there were thirty other prisoners. Some Russians, some Ukrainians, some Georgians, some Armenians, some Azerys. There were two Gestapo officers on motorbikes on each side of the truck. German soldiers drove the Truck.

They left Minsk, followed by a jeep, full of German soldiers.
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What they left behind was utter devastation. It was becoming obvious that Minsk was turning to a concentration centre. The damage incurred to the city was complete. The damage to the population was tragic.

The truck carrying Sergey was heading towards Bialystok in Poland.
The German occupation forces were everywhere.
The closer they approached to the Polish border, the more they found the disaster unfolding. It seemed that most of the population were exterminated.
What they really were told was, that the Soviet army had invaded Poland before the German forces had approached the city, so the poor city had gone through two invasions following each other. As a result, Soviet and Polish soldier's corpses were scattered all over the streets.
The setting was beyond human comprehension.
Sergey was dumbfounded. It was barbaric to the strongest meaning.
He was confused. Doubts about his subsistence started to disturb him.
What would happen to him? How the end was to appear? In what form?
Uncertainty and fear dominated his mind.

In Bialystok the German officers stopped in front of the railway station. Ordered all prisoners to get off the truck and form a line, and head on to the railway platforms.
They stood on the platform for eight hours, without daring to move. Hungry and weak.
Finally a train arrived. The whole group was ordered to get in one of the carriages. A freighter carriage. With him all the other thirty prisoners. And three Gestapo officers. There was enough room for them to sit on the floor. There was a bench for the officers. At last the train moved.

Coming closer to Warsaw, Sergey could see hundreds of abandoned vehicles, and many knocked-out tanks in the fields.
The signs of battles were everywhere. The towns looked evacuated. Horrible deadly pictures were coming forward from the carriage door. Warsaw was in the dark.
The train stopped and one of the Gestapo officers, stepped out for a few minutes, and when he returned, he had some packages with him. The three of them opened the packages and started to eat some sandwiches. They also had bottles of drinks.
The prisoners were in a complete silence.
They were so hungry, thirsty and exhausted, that they couldn't move or even think about anything. Their bodies were there and their mind had vanished.
All was left to fate.

The train continued its journey, day after day, night after night, only to stop, so that the officers could eat and be replaced by other officers.
The prisoners were given a bowl of soup in Dresden, because they had to change trains and had to wait for the next train to Frankfurt.
In Frankfurt they had another bowl of soup, this time to catch the train going to Koblenz.
Over two thousand four hundred kilometres of trekking, to arrive where slavery in its worse definition will welcome them.

They were driven to a massive camp, where everybody, including Sergey was supplied a bunk bed.
It was a Sunday, and he was allowed to take an eight-minute cold shower. He was given blue overalls, and the rest of the evening, he was left to get familiarise with his surroundings, under the watchful eyes of the S.S. officers.

They gave him a meal of potato soup.

When he finally lay down on the bunk bed, he felt that moment to be the best moment of the last five months. His body was entirely paralysed. Neck, shoulders, hips, legs, had lost feelings.

He fell asleep.
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He woke up long before dawn. There was no air to breath, no light to see, the place smelled like a poultry-house. He was in a corner, far away from the entrance. Shapes and shadows were taking form. He looked around and realised that there were at least three hundred prisoners in the camp. He sat on the bunk bed and noticed at the entrance there were two S.S. guards. They were looking at him. A Thought flashed in Sergey's mind.
" I will escape ", he said to himself, " I will leave this place, I will disappear." " I will study all the possibilities, and I will find my way out ", he added to himself.

He went to the lavatory.

Suddenly, a sharp and annoying siren blasted, from nowhere. He came out of the lavatory and noticed the whole camp got up and stood in front of their bunk beds. He did the same. The two S.S. guards walked around and started counting the prisoners. Then they were ordered to form a line and follow the guard to the canteen. A bowl of boiled porridge was the breakfast. Then they all lined up again and were sent to their assigned labour.

One of the S.S. guards stopped him and told him to accompany him. Outside the camp he noticed a row of buildings. He followed the guard; they went inside of one of the buildings on which front there was a sizeable sign of a factory front banner, which read " Krupp ". He immediately knew that this name was related to military hardware. The " Krupp " military equipments were famous for their guns, tanks and ammunitions.
The guard took him to an underground factory with an elevator, which went down more than hundred meters. There, in front of him, opened up a manufacturing workshop, which was so impressive, that for a moment, he forgot his status as a slave labourer.
He was introduced to the foreman. Otto Vischer. A greying man in his late fifties, very friendly and approachable.
" Russian engineer ", he said, " we will see how much you know, your work is in my hands, but your life is in the hands of the Fuhrer ". He smiled.

The work was for seven days. From seven in the morning until seven at night, except Sundays, until two o'clock because it was also shower day. Meals were once a day, after work, in the canteen, at the camp. He would be paid two Deutch Mark per week for his needs. Any deviation from his habitual performance, he will be reported, with grievous consequences.
This was his " contract ", with forced slave labouring.

And the life of a Prisoner of War began.

He had to be patient, tolerant, endure and work. Until the day will come to free himself from this repression.

He had to be patient, because of all devastations, time is the supreme waste. Time kills all.
He had to be tolerant against insults and dishonour. And be humble.
He had to endure the trials and tribulations and be satisfied with whatever he could obtain.
And to work, to increase the duration of his life, purify his mind and strengthen his body.

Gradually, step-by-step, by full conviction and secrecy he will contrive his escape. He will map his moves from the information he will pursue and find, and eventually he will flee.
There is plenty of work ahead.
After all the ordeals he went through so far, he was amazingly strong-minded, with a powerful will.

Four years have passed.

Glacial long winters, from October until April, were tormenting at every minute of the days. The temperatures would go below freezing. The fight against hunger seemed the end of all hopes. There were moments of despair and resignation from life would haunt Sergey.
But that iron will, would conquer always.
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During the four years of Sergey's slave labouring, as a Prisoner of War, he experienced life's most horrible moments, and as much as he was used and abused by the German S.S., or the Gestapo, he himself by now have learned how to manipulate their corrupt systems, based on human imperfections.

During those four years he had found out that they were slave labourers practically in every type of work. Slave scientists, slave technicians, slave shop hands, slave domestics, slave bank clerks, office workers, slaves in mines, slaves ploughing fields, digging ditches, working timber, puddling iron, and hewing stoves. They were even slave physicians and surgeons.

The most horrifying occurrences during those four years were also the sudden
disappearances of the prisoners. He would wake up on a given morning and notice that one of his partners was missing. There were no questions asked, nor answers given. It was part of the pernicious habits of the dominating power.
The concealment of the burial location of the ones who would expire from malnutrition or disease was always deadlocked.

The slaves had created a hidden fraternity among themselves, for survival motives. Bribing each other with bread or tobacco for some services. Sergey knew the game and often participated in helping and sometimes for personal favours, he bribed.

Otto Vischer, his foreman, admired his engineering skills and his inventive ability, so much that quite often he would reward Sergey by asking him what would he like.
Sergey knew that Otto, a man reaching sixty years of age, highly educated, from a generation which was middle class and favoured Bismarck, who was the advocate of the Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria/Hungary and Russia. And he had witnessed the creation of the Weimar Republic, and has been a sympathiser of the Social Democrat party. But the most hidden truth inside him was the disastrous mistake that President Hindenburg did, by appointing Hitler as German Chancellor, in 1933. Otto thought at the time, that Hindenburg's decision, wiped out the middle class. He had ended up selling his own factory, and work for Krupp factories. It was a bitter experience for him, but he had hidden his emotions, all these years. His two sons were in the army and he pretended on how proud he was that they were defending his country.
He had befriended Sergey. A young man of thirty-four did not deserve to be a slave, especially with such talent and a family left behind. But he had no power to change, only secretly to help.
Sergey, meanwhile pursued his own scheme. On instants when Otto would ask him if he would like something, Sergey, once asked for a map of Germany and France. Otto brought the maps, but told Sergey, that they will remain in his office, after he looks at them.
Another time, when both were left alone, Sergey asked Otto if he could ride his motorbike, which was a single cylinder BMW R2, 198cc, built in a pressed steel frame, in 1931.
They went out in the yard, and Sergey rode the motorbike for a few minutes around the yard.
This was a day completely detached from the rest of the four years Sergey had lived. It was a day of inward joy. While Otto was delighted.
This diverting pleasure got repeated several times.

Close to the end of 1944, rumours were circulating in the factory and the camp that the Allied armies had landed somewhere in France and they were advancing towards the East.
" If it's true", Sergey thought to himself, " I have to get ready for my departure, I have somehow to take the motorbike from Otto."

He knew exactly where Otto left his motorbike.

One morning, a huge explosion rumbled the entire factory. Immediately followed the air-raid sirens and the anti-aircraft fires. There was a total silence, for a few seconds. The workers walked out in the yard. Sergey's heart was pounding; he saw the motorbike outside the barbed fence.
He looked around. He nonchalantly walked towards the motorbike.
His attention was in full alert. Got on the bike, started the bike and sped away.
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