Rifleman Aleksander Berner, born on 4 March 1915 in the township of Landwarów, district of Wilno-Troki, unmarried, a butcher’s assistant by occupation.
I was taken prisoner by the Soviets in the township of Zdołbunów, and disarmed in Lwów on 22 September 1939. I officially became a POW on 28 September, and was sent to Shepetivka in Russia. I was detained there for two weeks, whereafter they transported me to Marhanets in the Ukraine, where they planned to use us as forced labor in the mines. For two months we were treated as Polish Army soldiers, while later the Russians made efforts to turn us into Soviet “specialist workers”. They tried to bribe us to switch citizenship, however their attempts were unsuccessful – no more than twelve colleagues signed the form. The camp comprised three barracks. Initially, we slept on beds, but later, when we refused to go to work, they took the beds and we had to sleep on the ground. In the beginning, there were 540 of us soldiers in the camp. Soon, some two hundred were transferred to other barracks, known as the “school”, where they received 300 grams of bread and oats, and were forced to work.
The prisoners were of various origin – Byelorussians, Ukrainians, Poles – but invariably from the military; there were only a handful of civilians, tram drivers. As opposed to us, the Ukrainians would not act in unison. On 22 May 1940 we were taken north, to labor on earthworks. The conditions were horrendous – bugs, the cold, and the impossible quotas. The quotas were such that they literally could not be fulfilled. For example: carting off eight cubic meters of earth in a wheelbarrow. And even if you succeeded in carrying off all these meters, you would still receive poor food – oats. Wanting to encourage us to work harder, the authorities would regularly threaten us with deportation further north.
Interrogations were always carried out at night, outside the camp zone. The methods they employed were various – they would ask if you liked their political system, if you were a “master”, or perhaps an officer, adding that workers were best off in the Soviet Union. They tried to force us to work by saying that those who would not would never return to Poland.
I had no contact with my family, for even if a letter did arrive, they would not give it to me – first, I would have had to agree to work for a whole month.
I was released on 15 July 1941 and taken to the township of Viaznik, where I enlisted in the Polish Army.