The Gulag History State Museum Photo by Yuri Palmin.

This is of interest to those researching the fate of lost family members who disappeared many years ago.

Russia’s Gulag History State Museum has opened an archival centre to help descendants discover the fate of their family members among the millions of prisoners and victims of Joseph Stalin’s vast network of forced labour camps.

A full-time researcher, Alexander Makeev, is assigned to the Moscow centre. It houses a library, an interactive map of the Gulag camps accessible on computer screens and a growing archive of interviews with victims and descendants, and potentially even former prison guards.

Andrey Makarevich, a Soviet rock star, attended the opening. Through the centre, he learned that his great-uncle had been executed in 1938 at Butovsky Poligon, a killing field near Moscow, during Stalin’s Great Terror.

This government backed museum replaces the repressed Memorial, an association of human rights groups across Russia, which was founded in 1989 to commemorate the victims of Stalin’s crimes. The non-governmental organisation operated the last intact camp, Perm-36, as a museum of political repression from 1994 to 2015, when the regional authorities took control of the site. Memorial continues to operate under the justice ministry’s restrictive “foreign agent” designation—applied to groups that receive foreign funding and are deemed to engage in “political activity”—after it made statements criticising Russia’s human rights record.

The Gulag museum’s centre draws from Memorial’s database and will work with government archives to add information. The process is complicated, however, by the fact that many of the records are held by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and the Federal Security Service (FSB), successor agencies of Stalin’s secret police, which perpetrated the repressions. State support for the museum—under the aegis of Moscow’s department of culture—does not mean the doors will fly open, Romanov says.

For full article by Sophia Kishkovsky in The Art Newspaper see here




  1. Dorota Richards

    My grandfather Władysław Underka (father of Teresa Underka, mentioned in one of the Ursula Muskus blogs) was arrested in Rawa Ruska, then sent to a prison in Lwów and finally transported to Archangel, where he died. Teresa Underka met a Polish soldier in Tehran, who told her that he had witnessed her father’s death on the 24th December 1941. The family have never been unable to verify this. Is it possible to make enquiries of the new Gulag Archive Help Centre, by visiting it on line?

    1. Urszula Muskus Post author

      Thanks for contacting me Dorota, it is encouraging to know that you found my blog about Teresa. I have no experience to answer your question, but I certainly hope so if they are worth their salt. It has made me think that I should ask about Urszula, although I have received her prison records from the Kazakh archives, just to see what they know. It is nice to think that our grandfathers probably knew each other and may have been friends.
      Best wishes, Peter.

      1. Dorota Richards

        Thank you for the website and email address, which I am sure will help me in my researches concerning my grandfather.

        My mother Zofia, Teresa’s younger sister, certainly remembers the Latawiec family from Rawa Ruska, but does not recall the Muskus name. Members of the Underka and Latawiec families crossed each other’s paths in different countries and continents. In Rawa Ruska my mother recalls a Pan Jan Latawiec, who was headmaster of the boys school, adjacent to the parish church of St Josephs. Pani Joanna (Janina) Latawcowa, his wife, was also a teacher and came to the aid of my mother and her sister, both in Kazakstan and India. My mother’s best friend Marysia Chodorowska, the daughter of the local GP, lived in a flat owned by the Latawiec family and her father, Dr Chodorowski, ran his surgery from the building.

        My grandmother, Katarzyna Underka and her six children, were deported to Kazakstan on that fateful date of April 13th 1940, along with Ursula Muskus and her family. After arriving at Alga station the Underka family were taken by lorry to Kolkhoz Bogusławka. I recently found a document from the Sikorski Institute, showing which kolkhoz each family was placed in. Your grandmother name, Ursula Muskus, appears against Kolkhoz Gorkogo and at the bottom of the document, She appears again as Head of the Delegatury, alongside Pan Latawiec – shop. You may already have this, but if not this is the address:

        My grandmother was already ill when she entered the cattle wagons taking her to Kazakstan; she only lasted a few months in Bogusławka, where she died and is buried. The six children then moved to Aktyubinsk, as winter meant there was little work on the Kolkhoz and food was scarce. The older children found employment and things improved, only for Germany to invade Russia, resulting in them being rounded up and sent to a copper mine, where the conditions were a lot worse. After the ‘Amnesty’ they were told they were free to go, however they were immediately sent to yet another Kolkhoz, now winter again with no hope of work or food, they escaped to Aktyubinsk. Eventually three of my mother’s siblings managed to join General Anders’ Army, leaving my mother and Teresa in the care of their eldest brother, who unfortunately died of typhoid. This is when Pani Latawcowa helped by organising the funeral and placing the two young sisters in a Polish orphanage, as they now had no means of support. Whilst at the orphanage they received papers allowing them to leave for Yangi-Yul, near Tashkent. They made the long treacherous journey south on their own, eventually reaching the Polish Army camp, where they became Junacy (army cadets).

        After leaving the USSR through the perilous mountainous border of Persia, the sister’s lorry was involved in a catastrophic accident, where three of the sixteen girls being transported were killed and my mother received a serious head injury. It was six hours before help came and eventually my mother and the other girls were taken to Meshed, where my mother was nursed back to health at the American hospital. The sisters were then sent to Tehran and this is where the Latawiec name appears again. At some point either Pani Latawcowa or Teresa managed to organise a death certificate for Władysław (Dziunek) Underka, my mother’s brother, who had died in Aktyubinsk. The name of the witness on the document is Joanna Latawiec. My cousin Yvonne only found this document a year ago, after her mother Teresa had died.

        From Tehran via Ahwaz, Karachi and Bombay the sisters found themselves in the Valivade Settlement near Kolhapur. It was here where they again came across the Latawiec family. My mother was only fourteen years old at this point and the authorities wanted to place her in an orphanage, however my mother had other ideas and did not wish to be separated from her sister. Pan and Pani Latawiec were teachers in the grammar school and they agreed to act as ‘Locum Parentis’ for the two sisters. When the money ran out before the month, Pani Latawiec would often help the sisters. Pan Latawiec taught Maths and Physics and Pani Latawcowa taught Geography. My mother has photographs of both of them teaching their respective classes. The mother, Pan Latawiec, was with him in Valivade and when she lay dying in the infirmary my mother would rub her legs to stop her feeling cold.

        I don’t know how Ursula Muskus was related to these particular members of the Latawiec family but I feel sure there must have been a relationship, as I understand that Latawiec was her maiden name.The Latawiec family showed great kindnesses to my mother and her sister, for which they were very grateful indeed.

        I hope all this is of interest to you.

        Kind regards, Dorota

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