Kolio Kolev from the Slunchev
Briag concentration camp:
"I Blame Mircho Spasov [deputy minister
of the interior] and the Party Most"
Kolio Kolev spent more than a year at the Slunchev
Briag [Sunny Beach] death camp outside Lovech. He is one of the
few survivors sent to the quarry with the sole purpose of being
"liquidated". On many of their dossiers there was a "ZN" - "Return
Not Desirable" stamp. We are offering the second part of Kolio Kolev's
confessions - an authentic testimony of one of the most horrendous
crimes in our history. And a document about the terrorist nature
of a political system that prided itself that "a man is a friend
and brother to a man". The ferocity and Sadism of the Lovech butchers
would probably win the admiration of their masters of Stalin's NKVD.
The women lived in the other wing of the camp. They did the same
work as we did. They were beaten all the time too. They tortured
them, stuck them things. At night, some were taken to the barrels;
Ruzhgeva or Kuna would pour water for them to wash below the waist
and then herded them into the offices. Raped them all the time and
they would not dare protest. Otherwise death was awaiting them.
It was very fearsome. Our hands were bleeding wounds. We loaded
rocks with our bare hands. The nights, we slept like dead. Many
moaned with pain. Time and again, somebody yelled there was a snake
passing - there are many of them in the rocks, and the planks of
the bedroom floor had with finger-wide gaps. We urinated and defecated
in a bucket but the sickest of all was the smell of pus and sweat.
The mornings stanched of carrion.
The summer was hot as hell. The rocks got so heated by noon that
an egg would be baked in five minutes. In the fall, the rocks cooled
and the morning were very cold but just until we reached the quarry.
We toiled from 6 am till dark. We did not feel cold as we were sweating
even in the harshest winter colds.
Sweat and blood spilled all the time. Mircho Spasov wanted "an
awful lot of work". We had no spare time. They brought in a boy
from the village of Glozhene, an orphan. Before I knew he was a
neighbor of mine, he was killed. My closest friend was Bozhidar
from Sofia who arrived four days before me and stayed on till the
closing of the camp. There were many attempts to escape but all
failed. The fugitives were either killed on the spot or in front
of us for our edification. If the Gypsy man, who counted us, erred
in the counting, the first row would be laid down and beaten to
tell where the runaways were. He erred on purpose. Sometimes, a
working group of 20-30 was allocated to the Bulgarian communist
party villa on the hill. We carried stones, iron, water, cement
- a palace built by slave labor. Blago or some of the Gypsies would
put a stick on the path and we had to jump over it with the stone.
Whoever touched the stick, was beaten up right away. If he could
stand up, he could go, if not - they finished him off.
Killings were done in all possible ways: With sticks, machine tools,
knives, strangulation. The day Bai Ivan Karadochev was killed I
survived by a miracle. I had been working in a group with him for
two or three months. Shakho hit him badly with the stick and he
fell down. I called him, took him on my lap. Bai Ivan died in my
arms. I heard a shout and then, in the last instant, I saw Shakho
lash his killing device at me. It was a stick tied up to his hand,
on which a thin steel band, about 8 inches, sharp as hell, was attached
by a chain. He would often show on his forearm how it could raze
hair. He grabbed it and killed with a single motion. If he reached
a neck, his man was dead on the spot, if a back - a wound would
be torn open to the bone. People would die from the loss of blood,
or the wounds would got infected and filled with worms. That day,
as tears were running down my eyes, I heard Bozhidar scream loudly,
"Brothe-er!" - I looked up - the band was slashing towards my head.
I pulled back instinctively and as I had crouched down, the knife
cut two deep wounds on my arm and leg - I still have the scars.
Shakho would finish me off but at that moment Gazdov called him
down to the sheds for "something important" . This meant new people
had come and there was work for him. They were two girls and a guy
from Burgas. Accused of waiting in short skirts on the pier American
sailors to arrive by boats. The three were tortured all night. All
night terrible screams were heard, although they shut up their mouths.
How many times they were raped, nobody knows. In the morning the
boy was dead, and the girls, torn clothes, disheveled hair, bleeding
were taken out of the commanders' office.
Sore wounds swarming with worms Were treated by Bai Georgi, the
paramedic, in two ways. Either asked someone to urinate on the wound,
or picked and plucked the worms out with peeled twigs. Every sick
man was doomed. Once a man jumped from the silos. He wanted to escape
on the departing train but fell on the rails and the car trampled
on his legs. He was taken to the hospital, in two hours was brought
back with amputated legs. He was thrown in the "morgue" at the back
of the toilet and died in terrible pain. He was alive among corpses,
asking for water, moaning. I remember Dancho from around Plovdiv.
He had two 25 leva bills left - there were such bills at that time
- and wanted to treat us on January 19, Epiphany, for his birthday
and name day, he was turning 24. He asked a sergeant to buy some
peppermint drops but the militiaman betrayed him. Gazdov called
him in front of the line. He was tied up to a pole with his arms
lifted. He was in a high-school sweatshirt; it pulled up and uncovered
his body. It was very cold, -15° C (5° F). Gazdov ordered
that he was splashed with water every other hour. On each splash,
they told him, "Do you know that they splash for health on birthdays
and name days?" He was left on the pole for two days and they never
stopped splashing. The third day Gazdov arrived to the quarry, mounted
on horseback and pulling Dancho on a rope tied to the saddle. He
was still alive, covered with ice. He gathered us to see him. "Any
others willing to celebrate?" Dancho just moaned, "Brothers. I'm.
gone." And died. They brought in a boy from Gabrovo; his parents
were some big shots, They sent him just for intimidation He had
confidence but as soon as the third day he was killed. In a couple
of days they looked for him. First they were told that he was not
there, then - that he escaped. Then asked a bunch of people to gather
some earth and put a cross made of two twigs. But the mother felt
with her instinct that they lied. She dug up the earth and saw that
there was no grave. We didn't know then that the corpses that were
transported to Belene were buried in shallow grooves and then ripped
up by the carrion-hungry hogs.
There were no traitors among us, I am sure. We did not talk with
each other - had no right to. There was an order to talk loudly.
When talking to someone, it should be heard at least from 25-30
meters (80-100 ft). If someone asked for something - a hammer, a
tool - and the guards considered they did not hear, it meant that
in seconds the speaker and those to whom he spoke were dead. It
was a law. We learned only each other's first names and where we
were from - Stefan from Vratsa, Sasho Sladura (Sasho the Candy Boy).
I remember him; I did not see how he was killed. They said he was
a great musician. There were only Highly educated and cultured people
- the threat for "peaceful communism". There were lawyers, members
of parliament, etc. Nikola from Sofia was sent to the camp because
he spoke with foreigners at the Bulgaria hotel. There were people
at the age of 40, 50, 58. They did not survive.
I remember two boys - I don't know if they were Macedonian, we
called them Serbs. Micho escaped but was captured. He was killed
very painfully. June 19 is a date printed in my memory. They had
laid out explosives and made twenty-some people light the fuses.
The fuses were too short. In an instant the whole group blew up.
Bodies, heads, legs and rocks were scattered everywhere. Two or
three minutes later, an order was given to "collect all the carrion
in the pickup". They made us clean up. Slaughterhouse. You catch
a hand, it is still trembling, you take a leg, it is still warm.
Over there - intestines. I still feel sickened when I remember June
19, 1959. Some started to run but the militiamen fired from the
cliffs. Several people were shot dead. On the average, there were
240-250 people in the camp at any time. Many newcomers did not survive
the first beating, passed out or were killed on the spot. Half dead,
they were thrown in the "morgue". And when they died - with the
other corpses to Belene with the pickup. The ration for 24 hours
was 260 grams (8 ounces) of stale black bread. Black as a cinder
brick. They gave us some surrogate tea in the morning and in the
evening. The body needs liquids. Sometimes they gave us fish-heads
soup, but the heads had started decomposing, stunk. I have seen
people pick grass and leaves and say, "just to water my mouth".
But they swallowed. We drank water from barrels that were never
washed, only filled up. On the bottom there was slime, dirt. There
was no water at the quarry. We went to a wooden toilet but nobody
dared stay there too long. Some were shot or had their throats cut
as they were squatting.
The trolleys were to be pushed on rails for 150-200 meters (500-600
ft). You watch not to finish up first, nor last. Because a group
that finished up first was disbanded. They added a sick or disabled
person to it. I will say it openly - he was not useful. He was a
burden for the rest who hit the target, and if they missed it -
death followed. While I was there maybe 1,000 people were killed.
I have not counted them, but not less than 800. And that was only
Once, Mircho Spasov was making a speech And Vasko from Strumiani
spoke up: "Comrade lieutenant colonel (he was lieutenant colonel
then), why are we here with no trials and sentences, why are we
not allowed to write and receive letters?" Mircho Spasov said, "You
are gathered here not to serve sentences, not to survive, but for
physical and sterile extermination, because you are the seed of
rotten American capitalism." And if someone thought that he could
become a bird and fly over the barbed wire, he would immediately
turn into a kite and would not let a feather out. Then they earmarked
the boy. In a week, Vasko was gone. For me, Mircho Spasov and the
party were to blame most. He said, it was an order form the party
and he had to feed his kids. But they were degenerates, power-thirsty,
eager to cut throats and to hang.
Today, I feel the burden that several people died instead of me.
Before entering, I went in for wrestling. When Lovech was made a
district town, there was no athlete in the category and they called
me for a competition. Now, the guards heard that they were getting
some wrestler, and killed several big and strong men. They did not
know who he was, I weighted 40 kilos (90 pounds). One morning I
saw they were coming for me and started trembling. I told Bozhidar
that it was finished, they were to kill me that day. He whispered
me not to fear. The Gazdov called me. I went, he lashed with the
stick. As I fell, he stepped on my head and my ear tore up on the
rocks. The I heard a cry, "Enough!" He let the stick fall and said,
"If you come back, you won't meet the morning, if you do, won't
meet the evening". I went out, fell on the road, took two handfuls
of earth and kissed it. I keep it now. Later, I watched the movie
"Spartacus", that starts with slave labor in a quarry, at least
20 times. It does not match the horror of our quarry even a bit
but I still always cried. When I went to the first celebration on
April 12, 1990, I just made a few steps and passed out. So did all
survivors. There, I saw Bozhidar and Nadia Dunkin, she was like
a sister for me. Just wept on each other's shoulders. Today, when
they ask me to say or write something, it is just this: "Violence
Translation from Bulgarian by Dr. Neli Hadjiyska
and Dr. Valentin Hadjiyski