The Netherlands / Biography
His stomach is grumbling louder than gunfire in the fields around Smolensk, observes Kazikhan. Sure, the battles at the East front were terrible. But the hunger is worse than the worst enemy.
At the kolkhoz, where Kazikhan worked as a bookkeeper, they were struggling to get by after the collectivization of agriculture. But here – thousands of kilometres from home – he is being systematically starved and neglected by the Nazis.
They were transported from the East front by cattle wagons, across Nazi-Germany, arriving two weeks later – on 27 September 1941 – in Amersfoort, totally exhausted. Amersfoort, Kazikhan had never heard of the place.
The inhabitants gawked at them in surprise. They had heard rumours of a camp in the woods, but they have no idea what is happening there nor have they ever seen such a large group of prisoners. Let alone Russians. Admittedly, he is not a Russian – most of the POWs are Uzbek or Kazakh – but the Dutch do not know the difference.
The Germans are said to have picked Kazikhan and his comrades in the Red Army on account of their Asiatic features. Hoping to persuade the Dutch to join them in their fight against the Soviet Union when they see what sub humans these people are.
Now Kazikhan and a hundred other Soviet soldiers sit in a cage in the open air, surrounded by barbed wire, with two drums serving as latrines. “These apes are now your allies”, scoffs Hans Stöver, deputy commandant of Kamp Amersfoort, to the Dutch inmates.
The Nazis chuck bread over the barbed wire, hoping that the ‘Russians’ will turn on each other like a pack of wolves. That would generate great propaganda images. But the bread is caught and carefully divided among the men. Disappointed the Germans slink off.
In Kamp Amersfoort the ‘Russians’ are only given half portions of the already meagre food: 120 grams of often bad bread and half a litre of watery cabbage soup a day. If in their exhaustion they have dropped a heavy container with sand, the guards dish out a beating. And at night they are told they will not be getting any food ‘because of laziness at work’.
“Valiant people these Germans! Brave fellows that beat these children to death’, writes fellow inmate Jan Roorda.
Kazikhan’s comrades eat the pitch off the roofs. They hunt field mice. It does not worry them that they are beaten aplenty when they steal sugar beet from the lorry of a supplier. When fellow inmates share their meal with the ‘Russians’ the entire camp is punished by having to go without food for 24 hours.
One by one the Soviet soldiers report to the Revier, the sick barracks. But they should not expect any sympathy from the camp doctor, the Amersfoort surgeon Nicolaas van Nieuwenhuysen. For instance he will pull the wrong tooth, on purpose and without a sedative.
From 1 January 1942 the ‘Russians’ no longer receive any medical care. Those first months 23 Soviet soldiers die. Van Nieuwenhuysen has the heads of two dead soldiers cut off and uses their boiled skulls as medical study objects on his desk.
“’Great fertilizer’, I once heard a Jerry say about the Jews and Russians”, writes fellow inmate Dirk Folmer. “That is about the value of a human life in here.”
Prisoner Geert Borst, professor of internal medicine, notes that over thirty percent of the Dutch inmates suffers from malnutrition. The Soviet soldiers are worn out from starvation.
Kazikhan is relatively well off. He has been hidden in the sick barracks for several weeks. “He was a very intelligent guy”, says Borst. “He tried hard to learn Dutch.”
“On April 3rd I had my first lesson in Russian”, writes fellow inmate Jan Roorda. “On 9 April the tuition was halted indefinitely. For Kazikhan left with all other Russians. He came to say goodbye and it affected us all greatly.”
Borst, “When he was about to be taken away, he said, ‘I’m going to be shot.’ He asked us, ‘Can’t you hide me?’ He clinged to us, but there was nothing we could do.”
“They left the camp at dawn. As the first shots rang out, weeping and singing were heard from the lorries. “They were driven off without their wooden shoes, so we knew what had happened.”
After the war the remains of Kazikhan were found in a pit behind the camp. Borst and Roorda mention his first name, but his full identity has never been established. He lies buried as an anonymous Soviet soldier, in row 1 of the Soviet War Cemetery. Since 2014 candles are annually lit at the place of execution. One burns for Kazikhan.
For more information, visit: www.sovjet-ereveld.nl