The 13th April this year is the 75th anniversary of the arrest and deportation of my father, his sister and their mother, and the day I remember my grandfather’s murder at Bykownia near Kiev, one of the Katyn sites. Numbers vary, but with at least 320,000 deported and 22,500 murdered it was on the one hand a huge blow against the Polish nation and on the other a personal tragedy for so many. I am thinking about the personal side today, but am very proud to know how hard the Poles fought over the centuries to remain an independent nation.
I know only one person who is still alive and remembers Wladyslaw Muskus, the grandfather I never knew. He says that granddad was popular with children, not least because he always carried a bag of sweets in his pocket, so I’m sure that I would have loved him! I am also very proud of his achievements, the first in the family to go to university, his endurance in the 1919-20 war with the Bolsheviks, the forestry business he started and the apartments he built before he was murdered at the age of 42. He knew what to expect from the Russians, his parting words to his wife were, “They want me to collaborate with them … you know me, I’ll never agree, so be prepared for the worst.”
My father was only 14 when he was deported to Kazakhstan, but he did not let these two years of hardship and hunger prevent a successful life. I celebrated his 80th birthday with him in Ecuador where he was doing two years voluntary work! I regret that I am unable to share with him the success of his mother’s memoir, he died a few months before I found a publisher.
I have happy memories of Babusia, my grandmother, and a huge pride in her resilience and kindness towards others. She spent an extra 14 years in the Siberian gulags because she stayed to organise food and clothes for the starving Poles fleeing south, rather than joining them.
When I think of the many second generation Poles scattered around the world, I know how lucky I am to know the details of my family background. So many know so little, I wish them all luck in learning more.