Monthly Archives: March 2013

MY DAD’S AN ALIEN

czm alien identity

Yes an Alien with fresh complexion, hazel eyes and dark hair! As with all red tape, four copies were required.

  • Immigrants to Britain who arrived between 1918 and 1957 were known as aliens in the legal terminology of the time.
  • British-born wives of aliens lost their British status upon marriage.
  • Aliens were legally required to register with the police until their application for naturalization was granted.

Alien status did not hold Dad back as he achieved a degree in electrical engineering and started work designing radar components for British Thomson-Houston (BTH) at Rugby. He stayed with radar design, never changing his job, but his employer’s name changed several times to Associated Electrical Industries (AEI), English Electric Valve Co (EEV) and finally The General Electric Co (GEC). His department won the Queen’s Award for Industry and by the time he retired he had risen to be manager of Lincoln Division of GEC.

Having shown that missed schooling and a foreign language were no barrier to a successful career, he also demonstrated that two years of hunger and forced labour on the collective farms of Soviet Kazakhstan did no long term damage to his health. Wanting to celebrate his 80th birthday with him I had to fly to Ecuador, where he was doing voluntary work for 3 years and living with a new partner from Canada! Having gone out to replace the bathrooms in a seminary he went on to design a solar powered herb drier and fit the electrical system in a new village school high on the slopes of Mount Chimborazo. He returned to semi-retirement in Lanzarote and died when he was 83. I am very proud of him.

If you want WW2 military records for a Pole they are available from Ministry of Defence, APC Disclosures 5 (Polish) Building 60, RAF Northolt, Ruislip HA4 6NG. Tel:020 8833 8603 Email: NOR-PolishDiscOfficeAsst@mod.uk

Advertisements

DAD’S WW2 AFTER ESCAPE FROM KOLKHOZ IN KAZAKHSTAN

Muskus 1946

Zbigniew Muskus 1946

Dad was lucky not to have been sent to the gulags in Siberia when he was deported from Poland. From Kazakhstan he reached Persia (Iran) in April 1942. He convalesced in Teheran for 2 or 3 months to recuperate and gain strength after two years of starvation rations. Then in British Army lorries he travelled to Palestine and, wanting to become a pilot, he volunteered for the Polish Air Force based in the U.K.

He boarded the Aquitania in Port Said as one of 300 guards for 2000 prisoners from Rommel’s Africa Core. The British thought that the Poles might shoot the Germans so issued them with very old rifles, five rounds each, and only enough rifles for those on duty. At the end of each watch they had to go around a corner and hand the rifle to the next guard. There were however, two machine guns covering the exercise area manned by British sailors.  They sailed through the Suez Canal and stopped at Madagascar, Cape Town and Freetown before heading for the U.S.A. In mid Atlantic they found themselves in the middle of a large German fleet spread out on the horizons. Sailing under full power (very uncomfortable with engines throbbing and life jackets on) they zigzagged between the German warships for three days.  Dad has no idea how, with four funnels, they were not recognised!  Leaving the ship and prisoners in Boston he travelled to New York and waited for embarkation on Manhattan Island.  Sailing on to Halifax they waited for a convoy to form and arrived in Liverpool in the autumn of 1942. We pinpointed the timing of this trip because he remembers seeing the three great liners (Aquitania, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth) in New York at the same time. This appears to have been the first few days of September.

While doing his induction for the Polish Air Force it became apparent that Dad was still under 18. This prevented him from training as a pilot, an occupation with a short life expectancy and set in motion a different military career:-

  • 316 Squadron where he loaded machine guns and prepared Spitfires for flying.
  • RAF school at Halton he learnt English and qualified as an electrical fitter.
  • Training at No. 9 Radio School RAF Yatesbury as a RDF (Radio Direction Finding) mechanic.
  • Posted to RAF Exminster
  • Posted to RAF Hope Cove in February 1945. It had been reduced to a skeleton staff as the war moved eastwards, but it was kept alert to watch for any threat from German planes or submarines. There were no raids and it was a very relaxed posting, almost like a holiday camp.  It was here that he met my Mother. In July 1946 he was responsible for closing the station down, padlocking the gate and sending the keys to Group 60 Command.
  • Posted to RAF Sandwich he was made a Corporal in charge of two mechanics, and put the station back on air after the operations room had been burnt down.
  • Enlisted into the PRC (Polish Resettlement Corps).
  • Released from the PRC/RAF to study at Woolwich Polytechnic on 12th July 1947.

To be continued.

DAD’S DEPORTATION FROM POLAND TO THE SOVIET KOLKHOZY

Zbigniew MuskusMy father, Clive Zbigniew Muskus born 18th October 1925, said very little about his time during WW2 when I was a child. He was well into his seventies when he gave me this account.

When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939 Dad was 13 years old living with his parents Wladyslaw and Urszula Muskus, and younger sister Grazyna, in the market town of Rawa Ruska near Lwow. Within a few weeks the Germans handed over to the Russians who had invaded from the east on 17th September 1939. Communist propaganda started almost immediately with compulsory mass meetings.  Responsible citizens were dismissed from their posts and replaced by the unemployed and petty criminals.  Mass arrests started.  The NKVD arrested Dad’s father on 6th January 1940.  Apart from a brief sighting at the railway station that was the last time Dad saw his father.

On 13th April 1940 the rest of the family were arrested as ‘dangerous social elements’.  The hammering on the door came in the middle of the night.  They were allowed to pack as much as they could carry, with food a priority, in preparation for a journey to ‘another place of habitation’.  Taken by lorry to the station they were pushed into a wagon and the door slammed shut.  Eighty five people were crammed into a wagon with wooden shelves on each side and a small hole in the middle. It was 5 or 6 days before food was provided, then soup and grains were provided once a day.  With many stops and never much speed they travelled east. He remembers crossing the Volga River and following the journey on a small atlas. After thirteen days they reached the town of Alga on the endless steppes of Kazakhstan.  Four nights were spent in an empty school before the NKVD allocated the prisoners to different kolkhoz or collective farms.

Dad’s group of about 30 were taken to Tokmansay and found shelter on the straw in the granary.  It was a badly run farm inhabited by Kazaks with only one Ukrainian who could speak Russian.  They started from scratch, first making an outside fireplace from scrap iron and clay, on which to cook.  The fuel was dried cattle dung.  Dad worked on the vegetable plots during the summer, irrigating the beds from irrigation channels. In return for the work a little milk and barley grains was provided from time to time. He also trapped susliks, a rodent ground squirrel that lived on the steppe, which they skinned and cooked.   The food they had brought with them soon ran out.  Travelling without a permit was not allowed, but somehow his mother walked and hitched to the town and neighbouring settlements to barter clothing for food.  She walked 30-40 km a day.  They knew that they would starve if they didn’t move quickly.  After trudging several hundred miles in total his mother got permission for their group to move in the autumn.

Maxim Gorky was a larger farm at the next settlement, about 60 km away, with more enterprises including milk cows and pigs.  Dad harvested by day and stole by night.  The guards turned their backs as they took whatever food was available.  Strips were cultivated up to a km wide and several km long, and then abandoned after a few years.  Oxen were used for local transport, but camels were used for longer journeys to pull the grain carts to the silos over 50 km away.  It was important to have a docile camel at the front because they tended to be very uncontrollable, but liked to follow one another.  Dad found it very comfortable sitting between the two humps and enjoyed collecting the camels from the steppe.

His Mother thought that survival would be easier in the town of Aktyubinsk.  Noticing that the supplies of wool were not used locally she suggested starting a knitting enterprise.  The authorities agreed and with permission they moved into digs with a deported Russian family.  Dad went to school during the winter of 40/41, enjoying mathematics and learning Russian.  He is not sure how his mother produced food for himself and his sister, probably by bartering knitwear.

When the Germans attacked the Soviets in June 1941 all the Poles were moved back out to the farms.  Dad was allocated work with the village smithy, a job which he enjoyed. Everything was made from scratch, starting with nails he became skilled at making metal buckets.  Hearing that a Polish Army was being formed his Mother gained permission to travel to the H.Q. at Buzuluk where she met General Anders.  He had been released from the Lubyanka Prison in Moscow and had heard little about the Polish deportees.  She also made contact with the Polish Ambassador Professor Kot.  Urszula was appointed welfare officer for the Aktyubinsk area.

Dad, now 15, joined the Polish Cadet Force and travelling in a similar railway wagon as before, but with more space and better food, and part of the journey with Uncle Karol, went to an officer’s training camp in Tashkent during the winter of 1941/42.  He crossed the Caspian Sea to Persia on 13th March 1942, exactly two years after deportation to Kazakhstan.  To be continued…

Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum

GulagI think that this is the only book that I have ever bought at an airport. I was on my way to visit my father for his 80th birthday in 2005, he was in Ecuador doing voluntary work! Not the most suitable holiday reading, but very appropriate considering that dad had been deported from Poland in 1940 at the age of 14 to do forced labour on the kolkhozy (collective farms) of Kazakhstan for 2 years. The hard work, starvation and cold did not leave any long term health effects, but made him determined to make a success of life – which he did in a big way. He spoke little of his experiences until late in life when he told me of his war experiences, but that is for another day.

Applebaum’s book is a very comprehensive study starting with the three centuries of forced labour brigades in Siberia, concentrating on the big expansion following the Russian Revolution in 1918 leading to maximum numbers in the 1950s, and charting their demise in the late 1980s. It contains new research from Soviet records and personal interviews of gulag survivors. It is an excellent reference book.

The Long Walk

the long walkThis book by Slawomir Rawicz is a ripping good yarn which I enjoyed as a teenager in the 1960s. It chronicles the escape by six prisoners from a gulag in Siberia, and their walk to India. It appeared to be one of life’s great adventure stories and the movie The Way Back by Peter Weir is based on it. However research now indicates that Rawicz was in Ander’s Army, evacuated from the USSR across the Caspian Sea, at the time that he claimed to be walking to India. This is very disappointing.

However it does appear that this walk across the Gobi Desert and Himalayas did happen, but not by Rawicz. In 2009 Witold Glinski claimed that he was one of the men who completed the walk, and a British intelligence officer based in Calcutta in 1942 said that he had debriefed three starved men who claimed to have walked from a gulag in Siberia.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

It is now 50 years since this novel was first published. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was writing at the same time as Urszula Muskus was compiling her account of 10 years in the gulags. They had both been in gulags near Karaganda. Her deportation from Poland also included 2 years forced labour on the collective farms and 4 years eternal exile in Siberia.

Solzhenitsyn’s book became a world wide best seller while Muskus’s manuscript languished on a shelf in the family home until a publisher was found by her grandson in 2010. If it had been published as soon as it was written I am confident that it would have been as well known as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Now it is inspiring those who read it.