Memorial to deported Poles, Warsaw.
When one’s grandmother writes about a horrific experience that lasted 16 years, 20 years after it happened, all from memory with no notes, one has to wonder if there are errors. I am totally confident that Babusia wrote honestly and without exaggeration, but have no proof of how accurate it is – until today. A very helpful guy, a member of the Kresy-Siberia Discussion Group found a testimony in the Hoover Archives describing the same deportation journey from Rawa Ruska.
Teresa Underka wrote, “On the night of the 12 to the 13th of April the NKVD came with guns. The family packed and were taken to the station. They were put on wagons. Everyone thought it was going to be the end of them. It was dark, airless and tight; so tight that it was impossible to move. They sat locked up at the station all day. The train left in the evening and got to Lwow the next morning. Here they were told to transfer to other wagons. There were 82 people in the wagon. It took 2 weeks to get to Alga in Aktyubinsk Oblast.”
Urszula Muskus wrote, “It was 10 past midnight … it was 13 Apr 1940 … packed by 4am … lorry to the station …wagon doors slammed shut … 50 in wagon … set off after nightfall … arrived outside Lwow 11am next day … moved to larger wagon on wide tracks … 85 crammed into the wagon … 13 days after we had set out our train arrived at Alga.”
Office file of the Social Welfare Department, 1941-1944, Polish Embassy in USSR http://szukajwarchiwach.pl/800/35/0/-/49/skan/full/NBdRDC_P2IViPcGcxc0xrg This document is hand written in Polish.
DIPLOMATIC DOG: Scruffy Nellie the Haggis Pudding.
Dear Nellie, I may associate you with the ‘m’ word, but it comes only from a sense of jealousy, a very bad emotion, one which my Babusia would never have had. There’s you, a stray ‘m’ in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, with two thousand five hundred and something followers reading about your daily adventures and fillusopical musings, and you, my latest follower are only number seven, possibly 007. Oh Nellie, now that I’ve got it off my chest I feel so much better about you! You are but a dear sweet little dog with beautiful curls as you gaze into the lens like a true pro.
When I was young I had a dog as my closest friend for many years. Tess was a black, white and tan mongrel with her tail chopped off (that’s why the photo is this way round). Yes they used to do things like that, but you’re much too young to know. She looked much like a short haired fox terrier as you can see in the photo. Babusia loved Tess very much and always gave her lots of cuddles when she visited us near Lincoln (a very difficult word to spell). Tess died over 30 years ago, but I still remember her with great affection, and her love of licking my ears! Maybe I will tell you more about Tess another day, and the five other dogs in my life.
Gulag guard tower. All photos courtesy of gulag.cz
In 1947 Joseph Stalin demanded a railroad built across the taiga of northern Siberia to reach Russia’s far eastern territories. Thousands of gulag prisoners died building 700km of track before it was abandoned in 1953 following Stalin’s death. Sixty years ago everyone left leaving many personal belongings behind and, being hundreds of kilometers from the nearest settlement, much has remained intact. This area is in Krasnoyarsk Krai, the same province and about 1000km north of Dolgiy-Most where Urszula was sent into eternal exile in 1952. Urszula crossed the River Biryusa, a tributary of the Yenisei, to work a summer season in the taiga. The short warm summers herald hordes of mosquitoes followed by 8 months of freezing temperatures.
This project http://gulag.cz/en/index.html recording the abandoned gulags is led by Stepan Cernousek and supported by http://visegradfund.org. The photos are excellent, but living in the Highlands of Scotland with a 0.5mbps broadband speed somewhat slow to load. This is positively metropolitan compared to Turukhansk!
Aktobe Province, Kazakhstan taken from Wikipedia.
Urszula was charged with espionage and sentenced to 10 years hard labour due to her work as an Embassy Delegate. I wanted to understand the political situation that led to her false conviction and this blog is the result of my research. The official timeline is below, but Urszula, with the help of her friends on the ground, started providing relief to the destitute Poles arriving from the far north long before the official channels were up and running. She made demands on local authorities to provide food and shelter based on newspaper reports of Polish-Soviet agreements signed thousands of miles away. Her bluff worked and she was appointed Embassy Delegate for the Aktyubinsk (now Aktobe) Province, an area of over 300,000 sq km, about the size of the UK and Ireland combined. There were 20 Delegates in total and she was one of only nine selected from representatives of the Polish deportees. She did her best in very difficult conditions and I will select passages from her embassy reports (found in the Sikorski Museum) for a future blog.
The earliest arrests of embassy staff that I have found recorded were in July 1942. However Urszula was arrested two months before this on 10th May 1942. She was released from the gulags 10 years later when she was sent into eternal exile in the small Siberian settlement of Dolgiy-Most.
- 22nd June 1941 The Germans attacked the USSR and made a rapid advance towards Moscow. Stalin quickly needed allies and was forced to negotiate with the Poles due to pressure from the UK and US.
- 30th July 1941. The Polish-Soviet Agreement was signed whereby the Soviets recognised the Polish Government-in-exile based in London and released all the Poles held in the USSR. Ambassador Kot opened the Polish Embassy in Kuybyshev (now Samara) because Moscow was too close to the German front. According to a Soviet press release  the embassy opened 20 local offices with 421 delegates “to whom the local authorities rendered every assistance in their work”!!! (my exclamation marks). This 421 total must include the ‘Maz Zaufania’ (Men of Trust/Confidence) appointed by the Delegates to work in smaller communities. Local staff were entrusted to distribute cash, food and clothing to the released Poles wherever they could be found.
- 19th July 1942. A protest note  was sent by the Polish Embassy in Kuybyshev to the Soviet Government over the closure of 8 local offices. The Charge D’affaires limits himself “to protesting against the action of the Soviet authorities in closing down the Embassy’s relief organization; and to insist that the Delegates and their staffs who have been arrested be immediately set free”.
- October 1942. By this time 109 Delegates and their staff had been arrested. Subsequently 93 were released, leaving 16 either dead or in prison. . There is a surprising story by Norbert Kant , a Man of Trust not arrested until Sep 1943. (Should this be 1942?) Following a long interrogation over many days and nights Norbert became so tired that he agreed to write a false confession. The NKGB colonel deemed it very unconvincing, checked the basis for his arrest, and had him released. A very lucky man!
- 16th Jan 1943. The Supreme Soviet ordered local authorities to take over all Polish welfare institutions. Soviet passports were compulsorily issued to persons of Polish nationality who had been living in the eastern districts of the Second Republic which the Soviets incorporated on November 1-2, 1939. Only persons living in central and western regions of Poland before the war were recognized as Polish citizens.
- 13th April 1943. What little concord existed between the Poles and Soviets deteriorated soon after the Germans announced the discovery of a mass grave in the Katyn forest.
- 25th April 1943. Complete breakdown of diplomatic relations. Tadeusz Romer, Ambassador since late 1942, left the USSR.
- 22nd May 1943. An Australian Legation took over the representation of Polish interests, but were obstructed at every point by the Soviet authorities. They were strictly limited by the new definition of Poles as defined by the Soviet Government in Jan 1943 (descibed above). What little aid they were able to send out was often intercepted and distributed by the communist Union of Polish Patriots in a move to gain favour with the Polish communities. Their biggest success was organizing the evacuation of 310 children and 8 staff out of the USSR. Even with this success, despite their best efforts, 17 staff and children were left behind in prison.
- August 1944. The Australians were replaced by the Polish National Liberation Committee (PKWN, all communists controlled by the Soviets) and Poland became a prawn of the Soviets.
 Press release on 6th May 1943 by Mr. A. Y Vyshinsky, Assistant People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the USSR.
 Note of July 19, 1942, from Mr Sokolnicki, charge D’affaires of the Polish Embassy in Kuybyshev, to Mr. A. J. Vyshinsky, deputy chairman of the council of people’s commissars, on the unilateral decision to close the offices of various delegates and the arrest of Polish Embassy Delegates in the USSR.
 p111 Deportation and Exile by K. Sword.
 Extermination by Norbert and Anna Kant, reviewed on DerekCrowe.com