Monthly Archives: April 2014



It is 5th March, the anniversary of the day in 1940 when the Soviet Politburo, including Stalin himself, signed the execution order of 22,000 Polish prisoners. Beria, the chief of the NKVD, believed that these army officers, policemen and intelligentsia would always fight for a free Poland and so proposed to eliminate them once and for all – the cream of the Polish nation.

Vast numbers hide individual tragedy so first I will outline the process, because that is what it was, a highly organized operation with detailed records on the scale of the Nazi death camps; and then I will tell the personal story of my grandfather, one of the 22,000.

The Katyn Forest Massacre is the group name for mass murder that took place on at least six sites, and is linked to the deaths of thousands of women and children in Kazakhstan over the next two years. Most of the victims, the army officers and policemen, were transported in April from the three main POW camps at Kozielsk, Starobielsk and Ostashkov to be killed at Katyn, Kharkov and Kalinin respectively. Prisoners were also taken from across Soviet occupied eastern Poland, the area known as Kresy. Those from Wilno and the northern towns were taken to Minsk; and from Lwow and the southern towns to Bykownia, Charkow and Cherson, where they were murdered. They were shot in the back of the head with a single bullet, some in padded cells in a prison, others on the edge of a mass grave.

On the 13th April 1940 the NKVD arrested the families of those on the Katyn list, 60,000 in one night, mostly women, children and old men. Forced into cattle wagons on 49 trains they endured a 2-3 weeks deportation to Kazakhstan where they were dumped at isolated collective farms. It is estimated that 10-20% died from cold, hunger and disease over the next two years.

General Anders became concerned when soldiers but very few officers were released from Siberia and rumors of the mass murders trickled out through the local population. The first official announcement was made by the Germans on 13th April 1943 in what they saw as a propaganda coup. The Soviets denied responsibility and blamed the Germans. The British and Americans quickly realized that Stalin was responsible, but in order to appease their ally kept the truth a secret. The British continued this stance throughout the Cold War and it was almost fifty years before they announced Soviet responsibility. There are many many memorials around the world, this one is at Cannock Chase in England. There are many many memorials around the world, this one is at Cannock Chase in England.



Father, Forester and Family Man.

Father, Forester and Family Man.

Wladyslaw Muskus was born in 1898 near Lezajsk, the eldest son of a farmer. He enjoyed school and was the first in his family to go to university where he studied forestry and surveying. He helped finance his studies at Lwow by tutoring other students in mathematics. I believe that he may have been a Lwow Eaglet, he was certainly an officer in the Polish- Bolshevik War 1919-1921. Falling sick with typhus he was left in Odessa when the Polish Army withdrew to the new agreed border. Miraculously he managed to walk home, a distance of some 800km, travelling mostly at night to avoid the Ukrainian population.

He took a job as a forest manager near Rawa Ruska and in 1924 married Urszula Latawiec. They had two children. When the Germans invaded in 1939 he was a self employed forestry consultant. At the start of hostilities he set off to where it was rumored that Polish forces were concentrating, but returned a couple of weeks later exhausted and demoralized.

Wladyslaw was arrested by the NKVD on 6th January 1940 and kept in prison in Rawa Ruska for a few weeks before being moved to Brygidki prison in Lwow. It was during this transfer that his wife managed a few brief words with him through a closed window at the railway station, and this was the last time that she and the children saw their father. Urszula threw him a bag of food as he shuffled off to the waiting wagon.

When Urszula was a gulag prisoner she met a man from Rawa, a friend of her brother. He informed her that Wladyslaw was shot by the NKVD when they murdered all the prisoners in Lwow before fleeing the German advance in June 1941. This information was probably incorrect.

Polski MemorialWladyslaw’s family received the first official record in April 1995 from Polski Memorial. It states that Wladyslaw is number 2022 on the Ukrainian Katyn list, that his estimated place of execution is Zamarstyn Prison in Lwow, but that the dispatch list has not yet been found.

Polish Red CrossA few months later the Polish Red Cross provided more details including the dispatch list number 71/1-51 and the fact that his prison papers were passed from the Ukrainian NKVD to Moscow NKVD on 25.11.1940.

Then in 2012 I was invited by the Polish Government to attend the opening ceremony for the new memorial built at Bykownia to honour the 3435 Poles on the Ukrainian Katyn list. Most are thought to be buried at Bykownia with the others at Charkow and Cherson. Over 100,000 Ukrainians are buried in the same forest.

My next task is to find out what happened to my grandfather between his leaving Rawa Ruska and his murder near Kiev. What documents came to light that changed his estimated place of execution from Zamarstyn Prison in Lwow to a mass grave near Kiev?