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The Right to Live as We Wish
by Waclaw Ivaniuk

Waclaw Iwaniuk (born 1915 near Chelm, Poland, residing in Toronto since 1948)

I was interned at the Miranda de Ebro concentration camp in Northeast Spain from 1940 to 1943. The camp held about 4,000 prisoners, the soldiers of dozens of nations.

The nights there were suffocating, and the days burned. The heat wouldn't let up. Starting from spring, which arrived early, the temperature would rise steadily, day by day. The rains seldom fell, and did nothing to alter the appearance of the parched region. The hills were bare. Only the odd meadow, with its delicate colour, would give some respite to the eyes searching this glaring space for a bit of quiet encouragement.

The summer would usher in a series of lasting, enervating heatwaves. The temperature would start to drop only in the autumn, by the end...

And the winter?...

But it wasn't winter yet... The autumn was bathed in human sweat. People would flow into the camp in packed wagons. Each day, the trains from far away would bring more exhausted, miserable, shattered Frenchmen, Poles, Canadians, Italians, Germans, Spaniards, and those without a nation, usually holding Polish passports. The barracks resembled a beehive-they were overcrowded and swarming with people. An indescribable linguistic confusion reigned.

The unconquerable filth; the power of the soldiers to pester the prisoners as they pleased; the unjustified lynch law; a full day's work lugging stones; peeling potatoes from morning to night; roundups for heavy, dirty labour-these filled in the chaos. Wine was sold, and figs and oranges were available, but there was practically no other food. There were no set regulations. The soldiers gave whatever orders they felt like giving.

The sergeants lorded over and dealt with people as they saw fit. With each passing day, the conditions worsened. Terror reigned, especially after an escape. The soldiers would shoot at people standing by the barracks; they would shoot at the old folk sitting against the wall of the camp-arrest, which was situated almost in the middle of the camp; they would shoot at the tiny windows, even though looking through them was not prohibited. You never knew what was allowed and what was not.

The soldiers' freedom to interpret regulations was the most dangerous thing for those interned. The majority did not know why they were in the camp and exactly what form their imprisonment took. The Commandant himself said once that we were prisoners, then that we were interned, but when someone tried to invoke some Spanish regulations, his only response was that we were being treated rather well, anyway... because such a dangerous element should be hung, in principle. While people weren't being hanged yet, they were beaten and shot for any old reason. 


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