This page contains new information that is linked to, validates, or helps explain the story, but is not included in the first edition.
- TOKMANSAY and MAXIM GORKY KOLKHOZY p30
- THE ‘FORTY SYSTEM’ p204
- CORRECTION TO FOOTNOTE p207
- BYKOWNIA – 21st September 2012.
- URSZULA’S NKVD PRISON RECORDS
- THE ICE ROAD
- NOWAK FAMILY STORY
TOKMANSAY and MAXIM GORKY KOLKHOZY
Here are the locations of the two collective farms where Urszula and her children were forced to labour following their deportation in 1940. Thanks are due to Stan from Moscow who found the details following correspondence via the Kresy-Siberia discussion group http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Kresy-Siberia/
Tokmansay (Google map ref: 49.835160,57.935720) still has the same name and appears to have about 50 houses on the satellite image. I imagined the area as very flat but one can see that the fields are divided by many gullies and ravines washed out by streams and rivers, presumably from melting snow. The very bumpy journey of several hours in the back of a lorry, as described by Urszula, must have been over 43km.
Maxim Gorky’s main farm was located in the village of Pawlowka (Google map ref: 49.871240,57.542180) 16km east of Alga. Access to the train station at Alga made milk production viable in 1940. The history of this village starts in the early 1900s with the resettlement policy of the Tsars. A wooden church was built in 1906 and the wooden windmill imported from Ukraine was built in 1909. It worked until the 1960s and still stands on the outskirts of the village. In 2008 the village was renamed Eset Batyr Kokiuly.
Stan says:- I looked for a little information about the deportation of Poles in the Aktobe (Aktyubinsk) region. As of 01 January 1941 there were 650 kolkhoz and sovkhoz. The grain yield was horrendously low – about 0.35 tons per hectare (nowadays over 5 tons per hectare is normal in western Europe). Not surprisingly there was a famine all over the place. But hunger did not kill people, disease killed people – the entire area (270,000 square kilometers) had only one clinic, 21 bad hospitals (828 beds), 77 doctors, 107 nurses and 163 paramedics.
THE ‘FORTY SYSTEM’ p204
‘Smoking was officially discouraged, and only just tolerated in remote venues favoured by the addicts. One such sanctuary was a secluded patch behind the latrines. There a strange custom, traceable to Soviet labour camps, was observed. It was called sorok, Russian for ‘forty’. Anyone short of a cigarette could approach a smoker and say the magic word. The smoker was then honour-bound to give not quite half of his cigarette (about forty per cent) to the petitioner. The penalty for breaking the sorok rule was ostracism – a fate worse than death.’
Crater’s Edge by Michal Giedroyc (Bene Factum, 2010), p. 153.
CORRECTION TO FOOTNOTE p207
Urszula was told that her husband had died when all the political prisoners in the Lwow prisons were murdered by the NKVD just before they evacuated the city in the face of advancing German forces. The footnote appears to correct this news and states that her husband was shot in Zamarstynow Prison on 5th March 1940. This is incorrect and I now have a better understanding of his fate.
5th March 1940 is the date that Stalin and his Politburo signed the order to murder all Polish officers and professional classes held as POWs or political prisoners. About 22,500 prisoners were murdered over the next three months at several sites across Eastern Europe with the Katyn Forest being the best known. My grandfather was one of 3435 on the Ukrainian Katyn list. Most are buried in a mass grave in the Bykownia Forest on the outskirts of Kiev, surrounded by over 100,000 Ukrainians murdered by the Soviets from the 1920s-1940s.
BYKOWNIA – 21st September 2012.
I returned from Warsaw after travelling as one of 350 ‘honoured guests’ of the Polish Government to the opening ceremony of the new memorial at the fourth Katyn grave site, Bykownia near Kiev in the Ukraine.
The Polish Government has built a beautiful and poignant memorial to those buried in the forest outside Kiev. I went to Bykownia believing that all 3435 on the Ukrainian Katyn list are buried there, but discovered that it is the grave of only just over half the victims – 500 bodies are at Charkov, the rest thought to be at Cherson or Mikolajew. It does not matter to me exactly where my grandfather lies, I know the general story of what happened to these men, he is honoured and remembered by the Polish Government and people, and he lives on in my heart.
The plaques, one for each victim angled on a low wall, form an irregular oval, maybe 300m in circumference, snaking through the forest of mature pine trees. They encircle the wall of names which is cracked in the centre to form a cross, an alter for services and a tomb which covers the spot where those exhumed are reburied. The paths are all cobbled, common in so many Polish cities. See photo gallery at http://www.bykownia.eu/galeria.html
I couldn’t understand a word of the ceremony, but it felt respectful and appropriate. The speech by Minister Kunert was very well received. I found the gun salute the most difficult part – an honour for those who have died in battle, but here a reminder of the executioner’s bullet as the sound echoed through the forest, silencing the long-tailed tits that foraged in the trees above us.
Another emotional time was crossing the border on the way home. This was the same route, Kiev-Lwow-Przemysl, as Babusia travelled on her return from Siberia after 16 years deportation.
I am so pleased that I travelled on the train and had time to reflect, and get to know some of the other relatives, from great grandchildren with photos, to Sibiraks who had been deported and clearly remembered those murdered. They were predominantly residents of Poland, but I also met relatives from the US, the UK and Australia. With the shared experiences there was the feeling of an extended family. For anyone contemplating this journey, be aware that changing wheels and passport checks can take 7 hours – and that’s when everyone has been security checked in advance by the Polish Government!
The Polish and Ukrainian memorials are relatively tiny when compared to the size of the forest, but they nestle side by side. I think it symbolizes that we have more in common than divides us. In fact the amazing and very beautiful painting in sand symbolizing The Great Patriotic War by Ukraine’s Got Talent Winner 2009 is appropriate for all those who have lost loved ones in war. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cri7aQHRT7k
I want to thank the Polish Government for creating this beautiful and appropriate memorial and for hosting the ceremony and travel. It was all very well organized, as were the Ukrainians in escorting the convoy of coaches, which had to run red lights to stay together in the busy traffic.
And finally thank you to those who organize Kresy-Siberia, without which I would not have known of the event in advance, and particularly Aneta who was always thinking for and explaining to this non Polish speaker who still cannot pronounce Przemysl!
URSZULA’S NKVD PRISON RECORDS
In April 2011 I received a summary of Urszula’s prison records from the archives held in Karaganda, Kazakhstan. It was a straight forward process, I wrote to the address on the letter and just waited a very long time! A translation is below, along with the address. Good luck if you are after family records!
GU Upravlenie komiteta po pravovay statistike i specialnym uchetam generalnoy prokuratury respubliki Kazakhstan po Karagandinskoy oblasti.
Karagandinskaya Oblast, Karaganda Town, Rayon Kazybek Bi, Ulica Jambyla 97, postcode 100012.
Your request was considered. According to the archive documents we have, it is known that Muskus Urshulya (it is written in archive document) Nikolaevna (father’s name in Russian tradition to put behind the name), born 1903, Polish, married, citizen of Poland, originally from Rova-Russka, Lvov region, delegate of Polish embassy in Aktubinsk region, who lived in Aktubinsk before her arrest on 10th May 1942, was imprisoned in Alma-Ata (old name for Almaty), from where on the ground of NKVD (National committee for internal affairs) USSR from 02.07.1942 directed to Karabass branch of Karlag (Karaganda’s camp), where she was convicted on 13th January 1943 by Special Meeting under People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs USSR on the ground of Article of law 58-10 ch.2, 58-6 ch.1 УК РСФСР (I think this is criminal code of Russian Federative Soviet Republic) to imprisonment in corrective labour camps for the duration of ten years. The beginning of the imprisonment 10th of May 1942. The end of term is 10th May 1952.
For the imprisonment directed to Karadjar branch of Karlag MIA USSR (Ministry of Internal Affairs), on 18th may 1948 transformed to Special Steppe Camp MIA USSR, on 8th December 1950 sent to Luglag, then to Special Sand camp MIA USSR. Being imprisoned had been used (worked) in overall works.
After expiration of imprisonment on 12th April 1952 sent to live to Krasnoyarsk.
At the same time, we interpret that above written camps were located on the large territory, that had many communities that had been part of Karlag branches, however in archive documents regarding Muskus U., the details and names of these communities not written.
In the addition, that we do not have any documents about Muskus stay on special settlement. For these details we advise you to call directly to the place where she was sent to settle to ИЦ УВД (executive centre of management of internal affairs) of Krasnoyarsk region: Krasnoyarsk, 660017, 18 Dzerzhinskogo street.
Reason: record cards №СЕ-36б 3686.
Acting on behalf of head of management, senior adviser of justice E. Musilimov
Executor I.V. Egolnikova. Tel 56-93-83
Urszula’s work helping to organise relief for the released Poles passing through Aktyubinsk (p. 54) is acknowledged in this excerpt from The Ice Road. Rather than follow Anders Army south Urszula stayed in the city to feed the starving travelers. This led to her arrest on the charge of espionage and 10 years in the gulags.
The Ice Road: An Epic Journey from the Stalinist Labor Camps to Freedom by Stefan Waydenfeld (Aquila Polonica, 2010), p. 261-262
I half sat up. The window was too small for me to lean out, but I could see a little more of the outside world. The train was going very slowly, then, with a long hiss of steam, it stopped.
Odd! We had stopped along a platform next to the station building, not in a siding, nor in the middle of nowhere as before. The big black letters above the entrance said Aktyubinsk. Then the station door opened and a cart loaded with bread rolled out, pulled by two uniformed men. I had not seen so much bread in one place for a long time. I could not take my eyes off it. Loaves and loaves of white bread! Such a beautiful sight. Who was it for? What lucky people!
There was something puzzling about the cart’s escort. With my mouth watering, my eyes dashed from the cart’s load to its escort and back again. What were their uniforms? Not railwaymen, not Red Army. Who were these men? Not NKVD, not militia, not railway police. It was an ill-assorted dress. But. . .wait a minute. . .was that the white eagle of Poland on their hats?
Then another man emerged from the station building. He was very smart. A four-cornered cap, rogatywka, a definite white eagle, two stars: a Polish lieutenant!
‘Start distributing to everybody. One loaf per head.’ The order, in unmistakable Polish, was music to my ears; the sound no less than the contents.
‘Wake up, wake up, bread is here! And Polish soldiers!’ I shouted and shook my father by his arm. He was instantly awake and so were the remaining passengers. The next minute Olek was pulling the sliding door wide open. The cart was just outside. ‘How many?’
‘Forty.’ Olek was passing the loaves of bread into outstretched hands, counting aloud. Two more soldiers came out pushing another cart bearing a gleaming urn inscribed kofe in big Cyrillic letters. It was grain coffee, of course, but it was hot and sweet and my happiness was complete.
Our wagon was predominantly Polish, but the nationality of the passengers did not seem to matter. The soldiers were distributing bread to people in the wagon next to ours, mainly Ukrainians and Romanians. In the meantime, more bread and coffee trolleys appeared along the trains with non-Polish escorts.
Aktyubinsk was our city of bread, I thought. Let’s hope that Tashkent will also live up to the name.
The train remained stationary for an hour or more. Having finished their task, the officer and the soldiers walked up and down the platform chatting to people. The elegant lieutenant stopped by our wagon. We crowded round him, all talking at once. Then Olek raised his arm. ‘Shut up all of you!’ he shouted. ‘Is there a Polish Army camp here? Can we enlist now?’
‘No, not here,’ answered the lieutenant. ‘There is no Polish Army camp anywhere near Aktyubinsk. We have only a small station unit here. Our job is to feed you and to make sure that you continue on your way south. The whole Polish Army in the USSR is on the move. We shall reorganise in Central Asia. Your train is going to Tashkent and you will get further information there.’ He saluted with two fingers—the Polish way—and proceeded to the next wagon.
Then, as usual, without warning, we were on our way. With our stomachs full and in a good mood, we sat on the floor in the open wagon doorway, with our legs dangling, with the wind in our faces and we started singing. As soon as we finished one popular Polish song, Helena intoned another and another. Polish passengers in other cars picked up the songs as the train continued on its journey south.
The Aktyubinsk bread and coffee were our last taste of that luxury for a long time. There were no more Polish units on the way; no stations with either restaurants, bars or food trolleys. More often than not the train stopped in the middle of the empty steppe, so that hunger and thirst were our constant fellow travellers.
NOWAK FAMILY STORY
I found this story by Danuta Nowak-Rumfeld following a web search for Rawa Ruska. The Nowak family was deported on the same train as Urszula, went to the same kolkhoz and, amazingly, Urszula is mentioned by name. My cousin believes that Mrs Nowak is the Mme. N who was with Urszula when she was arrested p. 56. Danuta’s father was shot on the same day in the same prison as my grandfather.
Then came that terrible year 1939. In early August mother and I, without father, had gone back to Inowrclaw to visit grandmothers, She probably knew that this was a final parting and separation with her family for the foreseeable future. When we were returning back home during those final days of August, the roads were awful – filled with army convoys, we were constantly being diverted to a sidetrack, as the military trains had preference. Finally we reached Rawie Ruskiej – Father was impatiently waiting for us. He hardly had time to greet us and drive us home, before returning to his duty station, and to advise mother to make preparations for evacuation further east.
Frightful days began. Father was not at home, just dropping in to wash and dress. Mother was left with the entire difficulty of the oncoming cataclysm, the task of cataloguing, packing suitcases, and preparing food articles. Plus that awful fear of waiting for what was to be—-September 1, 1939, the first German bomb fell on our town. Now father did not appear at all and after a few days a card was received: “I cannot come for you, we are moving out…” We were now left alone, but mother did not give up. I would never had supposed, that she would be so strong in such a threatening and uncertain moment – she just would not give in to anything.
Then began the hell of evacuation. Through our town of Rawie Ruskiej, ran a main highway and the railroad line Warsaw-Lwow-Zaleszczylki. Families of the army in the west were hurrying east before the German army. Our dwelling was transformed into a refuge for these army families who were now fleeing on foot as all railroad centers had been destroyed by the continuous German bombings. The side roads and ditches were full of destroyed vehicles, wagons, and dead horses. In every room, where it was anyway possible, even on the floor were nomadic sleeping mothers and children. Once again mother stood up against cruel fate. With her whole heart she cared in everyway possible for these refugees – everyone was fed, and since the weather was beginning to cool, to those who needed it, was given our clothes and shoes, with the children receiving my toys. Our residence became very crowded – although rather large and spacious, but in any event, they were at least under a roof, warm and fed. Mother just gave to the fullest extend that her strength permitted. Once again, mother met the greatest of tasks and no one ever left our home without help and a good word.
After a few days this huge human wave flowed on, our home became deserted, the front drew closer. There was a frightful battle over Mosty Wielkie. My catechist came for us, that for the duration of the battle, we must take shelter beneath the church where everything had already been prepared, straw and blankets for sleeping, food, and water. Thereafter, for three days and nights, amidst the roar of bombs and shells, with the priest and a few other persons, we waited until there ensued this uncanny silence. We were able to leave and view the town after the battle. Some neighbors came running over saying the Germans wanted to requisition our house. Mother had a good command of the German language and came to an understanding with the German officer, who withdrew that intend after learning it was the home of a Polish Officer.
The Germans occupied the town. Then came the quiet before an even bigger storm that was to occur on the 17th day of September 1939. After a few days that tattered ragged Bolshevik army appeared and the Germans, according to their agreement, gave them our town. At the same time we were evicted from our home and were not permitted to take all our furniture and belongings. Fortunately, right next door in a little house was a small apartment – one room with a kitchen – to where we brought the rest of our things. Once again mother began her active operations. In an understanding with the priest, she opened a point of crossing over the green border for those persons who had not been able to cross over to the west where their families lived. I took over mother’s duties and she began to search for father, wandering among the various NKVD commands, often traveling to Lwow, because she had heard that secret prisons there held Polish officers. There were good people in Lwow who provided for mother, with food and shelter, as well as helping with the search for father. It was this cooperative way, which made possible the crossing through the green border.
It was from one of these searches that she brought back from the Zamarstyn prison in Lwow father’s arrest warrant. This was in March 1940. A month later, in the night of 12 to 13 April, at four o’clock in the morning, there came a banging on the door: “Open up, NKVD. You are being sent to your husband (?).” Terror paralyzed us, but just for a moment. In mother again, arose that spirit of self-defense. Our valises were already packed; we just had to pack some food – and departed to the railroad siding, where there were already several loaded railroad cars. The entire intelligentsia of our town was being deported. So began our nightmarish trip in cattle cars to Lwow where there was a transfer onto the larger broad-gauge railway. The doors were bolted and the windows nailed shut with boards. We were then taken into the unknown. From time to time, one person was allowed to leave the train with a bucket to get kepiatok (hot water) right from the locomotive. Through the entire journey we received some sort of mystery soup, made from God knows what, only twice. But as usual, the fortunate hand of my mother was able to find something to eat that could be shared with everyone. We traveled that way for over a month – because there was always some sort of delay – we reached a station called Alga, in the province of Aktiubinsk in Kazakhstan. After a couple of days in a newly built school, we were then separated and assigned to a kolkhoz. My “Z” group of fifteen persons found ourselves assigned to a Kazakhstan kolkhoz named “Tokmansaj” – five mud huts on the naked, empty steppes. No one among the Kazakhstanis understood Russain; there was no possible way to make oneself understood. They gave us one large “hall” in a mud hut, and called it – a storeroom for grain. On our large carpet from father’s study, under which we laid straw, fifteen persons would now sleep. Early in the morning of the next day a Kazakhstani with a whip would appear and hurry us off to work in the cowsheds to gather up an entire winter’s manure. It was piled so high and thick that the cows hardly had room to leave the shed. It made you want to cry to see our mother, in pinned together and completely unsuitable clothes, being hurried off to do this work. Even we children were not exempt.
Once again a spirit of resistance appeared in mother. Together with Pani Ursula Muskus they went to Alga (more then 60 kilometers away) to the NKVD for permission to transfer to a Russian kolkhoz, because – as we later learned – in the one we were now in, we would not have survived the winter. They tried three times, each time they were denied because of Kazakhstani objections – but we persisted. After the fourth time, permission was granted. They laid the entire night in a packing case in a truck, which a friend from the kolkhoz had come to pick up its food that was covered with bags of potatoes. Naturally, the driver was bribed with the rest of our chattels. After a couple of days they returned by a “powodach” (an ox cart) and with the written permission we were transferred to a Russian kolkhoz “Maxim Gorki”, This was an entirely different terrain, not knowing any Russian, mother again had brought about a miracle in getting the NKVD to consent to our transfer.
It was there that we were to spend four frightful winters. Winters on the steppes were no joke. Burany (snow storms) at times went on continually for twenty days without a break, frost cut through the air, the mud huts of the kolkhoz disappeared in the snow. Only the snow from the stove broke through the snow. Through the open door we brought snow inside to do our cooking. Fuel for the winter, or so called kiziak, dried cow manure, and dried grass – burzan – we had to gather up enough on our own through out the summer to last us to spring, as no one would extend any help to us. Then summer, in turn, a breeze would blaze forth from the east as from a hot stove, nowhere any coolness or shade, because on the steppes there were no trees. Here again my mother’s hands found a solution. After work she went to Rosjanek to repair and sew their clothes, payment for which she would received among other things was that splendid anran – milk which had been cooked for a long time and allowed to sour – that was then stored in the cellar. It was awfully cold, but we ate it as though it was the most delicious ice cream. For recreation we had the Ilek River, which flowed right by our kolkhoz. In the summer it was our bath and our laundry. After work we would go down to the river to bath and wash our ever increasingly worn out clothing.
Nothing was too difficult for my resourceful mother; she was able to accomplish in her broken Polish-Russian language anything necessary to survive life through this forced labor. We just kept getting weaker as time went on. In that last winter, we had not been able to gather up enough fuel. Once again, mother by her own means tried to get “podwody” (a slang term – to go under water – meaning to get a way out) and in three weeks we were transferred to the town of Alga. In the morning of 19 January 1942, right on St Jordan’s day, in the mist of a frightful freeze, we drove off from the kolkhoz. Fortunately the sleigh was filled with straw from which we were able to build a little fire for warm while on the road. Otherwise it would have been questionable if we had been able to survive until reaching Alga. Blood was flowing from the mouths of the horses that were pulling our sleigh, but apparently we were meant to survive.
After the signing of the agreement of Gen Sikorski with the Soviet Union, mother was selected by the Polish Delegate in Kujbyszew to be a representative for our region. Soon after, help from American began, for which mother had to go from Alga (Asia) to Czkalow (Europe) to their warehouse. Again showing her skill in organization. She was always able to find a truck and that way brought in food and clothes, which the committee then distributed further to the various kolkhoz and our compatriots. After the army of Anders left the Soviet Union again vexation and certifying – there are no more Poles in the Soviet Union.
Just as soon as war activities crossed over from the Ukraine to Polish territory, mother could not hold back, but went right into action and organized a convoy of 14 Ox carts to travel to the Ukraine, in order just to be closer to Poland. Thanks to mother’s efforts in October 1943 from Alga and the nearby kolkhoz we rode off to the Ukraine to the city of Mikolaj (near the Black Sea). For a few days we camped in the deserted ruined railroad station in a drizzling rain, and in the bombed ruins of the shipyard. Our compatriots were scattered among the Oczakow and Sniegorow regions. Mother was instructed to remain in Mikolaj and to open a Polish office. Just as soon as we received our quarters and the snows came, mother began to tour Polish settlements, preparing lists and distributing gifts to the most needy. Even though these trips were onerous – it was necessary to cross over the Boh River on a pontoon bridge, which went ankle deep in the water – although she never refused any needed help, she went everywhere herself in order to see with her own eyes, as to how our compatriots were living and what they needed.
Our tiny little room on Pogranicznej Street began to swarm with compatriots seeking advice. There also began small friendly meeting. We were of course, already nearer to Poland and hoping for a quick return. From here many Polish families had already departed at the invitation of their family in Poland. It was just such a family, which in appreciation for her help and care sent mother an invitation needed to depart. As improbable as it may seem, in such an important matter, mother again was not able to prevail.. The local office of the NKVD in Sniegorowie, took away the invitation, as they already had in their possession a list of 15 persons who were identified as our nearest relatives. Once again, this gave her a chance to display her desire to help another and extend to them the joy of an early return to Poland. That was how our entire “gromaka” (group) drove out of Mikolaj through Kiev, Wlodzimerz Wolynski to Babci (grandmothers) in Inowroclaw, and the hometown of my mother, which did not want to accept us or even to report us. We were told to return to where we left.
Thanks to her great resourcefulness we were always able to reach our declared goal. Because my mother was hard, difficult, and obstinate, we survived the hell of war, deportation and exile. There was just one thing that she was never able to obtain – information as to what had happened to her beloved husband. The entire time that was spent on the steppes of Kazakhstan none of us ever heard of Katyn. After returning to Poland all search efforts failed to produce any results and mother dying on June 11, 1978, left us not knowing what had happened to her husband, as to what had been his fate.
My father I recall as a brave, valiant Polish officer, for whom fate prepared such a horrible death at the hands of NKVD. He was shot in the Zamarstyn prison in Lwow, by order dated March 5, 1940, No. 2081 55/4-82. I learned of this only in May 1994. After 55 years I was invited to an organized “Memorial” in Lwow, for the funeral of the remains of the victims of the NKVD that had been shot in the Zamarstyn prison. This took place on July 31, 1994, the actual birthday of my father. Could it have been just a coincidence? I was allowed to go out onto the grounds of the Zamarstyn prison, where I gathered up some earth from the place of his death. Perhaps there were areas, where my footsteps met with traces of yours, Dear Father. In spite of the awful cruelty of that place, I was still so glad, that I could be there and see everything, there where you suffered so much, because I felt your presence. You, Dear Father, there you remained, while I left and the guard even saluted me.
These memoirs I dedicate to my beloved parents. Especially to mother for her energy, her will to survive, for her love, resourcefulness, and courage in the moments of the worst tragedies, thanks to all of which I was able to live through the hell of Kazakhstan’s steppes and thanks to which I returned happily to my beloved Poland. Honor to Their Memory. Mother: Mrs Janina Nowak, nee Klimkiewicz. Father: Captain Ignacy Nowak.
Translated by N. Frank Lanocha