Author Archives: Urszula Muskus

About Urszula Muskus

I am a Polish woman with an indomitable spirit who survived 16 years deportation to Siberia. I wrote this first hand account during the 1960's, soon after my release from Siberia. It is mostly about the stories of the friends that I made, I don't like to dwell on the hardships. Most readers are very impressed and uplifted by my lack of bitterness, but to me it comes naturally. I am blogging many years after my death as I direct my grandson's fingers over the keyboard!



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



KATYN 78th anniversary.


Katyn memorial in the Swietokrzyskie Mountains

A day to remember Urszula’s husband Wladyslaw and the other 22,000 Poles murdered by the Soviets at several sites within the Soviet Union. Wladyslaw is in a mass grave in the forest beside Bykownia near Kiev. [Was this memorial built before Bykownia was known about?] The grandfather I never knew.

Wladyslaw and Urszula about the time of their wedding 25.10.1924.

The Death of Stalin – The Movie

One should try to be positive when writing a review, but it is going to be difficult with this movie by Armando Iannucci. Billed as a political satire comedy, how does anyone think they can write a comedy about a real life bunch of mass murderers.

The movie is loosely based on real events. The guards were under express orders not to enter Stalin’s bedroom without his permission, so no one dared enter until 10pm, many hours after he had retired to bed the previous night. Then it was seven hours before a doctor was called. Was it because no one was willing to make a decision, or they hoped that he would not survive, or was it because he had recently had all the best doctors arrested because he believed they were plotting to poison him? So it was an irony that there was no well qualified doctor to save his life! Beria’s execution did not happen quite as quickly as portrayed in the movie.

At this time Urszula was enduring eternal exile in the remote Siberian settlement of Long Bridge. She writes of Stalin’s death and how different people reacted, but then moves on …  “Eventually, in May [actually it was December, but it may have been difficult to check dates in the 1960s], completely unexpected news reached us that Beria had been arrested and swiftly executed as an enemy of the state. Previously unexplained enthusiasm and joy galvanised everyone, both free and prisoners, but not the NKVD. Observing them I noticed that they were frightened. Those who had behaved badly towards us … used to walk through the settlement with arrogance and conceit but now you could not see them anywhere.”

Banning the movie in Russia may increase the audience in The West and will certainly save the Russian public from a wasted evening. However let us not forget how Borat’s escapades led to the promotion of Kazakhstan!



Now there’s a surprise! Sent to Archangel in 1918, at the end of the First World War and during the Bolshevik Revolution, the troops landed in a foreign country and a civil war that they did not understand. Unable to know who was a baddy they arrested anyone who appeared suspicious and quickly filled the city’s prison. A concentration camp was then set up on the island of Mudyug, 45 miles down river, with the first inmates building their own prison camp. Over a quarter of the 1000 prisoners died from disease, hunger and torture. The camp became known as Death Island by the locals.

mudyug camp

One man who learnt from his time as a prisoner at Mudyug was Mikhail Kedrov, a prominent Bolshevik who was sent to Archangel after the October revolution, and later became a fanatical regional head of the Cheka – the secret police. He went on to set up a number of death camps in the North including a 17th Century convent where over 3,000  people were imprisoned and killed. Many were White Army officers and sailors from the Kronstadt naval fortress near Finland who had rebelled against the Bolsheviks, but others had nothing to do with the military. Some were clergy, some were ordinary people who for some reason had been labelled “counter-revolutionaries”.


With thanks to Lucy Ash and the BBC magazine.

Last Katyn widow decorated.

This story is about Maria Czernek, 97, the last living Katyn Massacre widow, being decorated for her activity in cultivating the memory of the Katyn Massacre victims. I am posting it because it includes one of the best short, balanced and complete synopsis of the Katyn Massacre that I have read. My only criticism is that it does not mention Bykownia – but that is personal.

[At the award ceremony the audience was] reminded that Poland’s post-war communist authorities attempted to eradicate the memory of the 1940 Katyn Massacre from public memory, and stressed that it took “heroic efforts” by people like Czernek to preserve remembrance about the killings.

“They were forgotten, banned from schoolbooks and from collective memory. It took heroic efforts over years by people like you to preserve this memory”, Deputy Interior Minister Zielinski told Czernek at the awarding ceremony.

Czernek received the distinction for her activity in cultivating the memory about the Katyn Massacre victims, a large part of whom were policemen.


The Katyn Massacre was a series of mass executions of Polish POW’s, mainly military officers and policemen, carried out by the Soviet security agency NKVD in April and May 1940. The killings took place at several locations but the massacre is named after the Katyn Forest in west Russia, where some of the mass graves of the victims were first discovered.

The massacre was initiated by NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria, who proposed to execute all captive members of the Polish officer corps. The victim count is estimated at about 22,000. The executions took place in Katyn Forest, the Kalinin and Kharkiv prisons, and elsewhere. About 8,000 of the victims were officers imprisoned during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, another 6,000 were police officers, the rest were Polish intellectuals, deemed by the Soviets to be intelligence agents and saboteurs.

In 1943 the government of Nazi Germany announced the discovery of mass graves in Katyn Forest. When the London-based Polish government-in-exile asked for an investigation by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Stalin promptly severed diplomatic relations with the London-based cabinet. The Soviets claimed that the killings had been carried out by the Nazis in 1941 and denied responsibility for the massacres until 1990, when it officially acknowledged and condemned the perpetration of the massacre by the NKVD.

Soviet responsibility for the Katyn killings was confirmed by an investigation conducted by the office of the Prosecutors General of the Soviet Union (1990–1991) and the Russian Federation (1991–2004), however Russia refused to classify them as a war crime or genocide.

In November 2010, the Russian State Duma passed a declaration blaming Stalin and other Soviet officials for having personally ordained the massacre.

Thanks to PAP Last Katyn widow receives award.

Vasily Blokhin, the man who executed 7,000 Polish prisoners in a month.

Vassily Blokhin NKVD executioner

Vasily Blokhin

Not a particularly revealing article, but it maybe of interest to those who lost relatives in the Katyn Massacre. It doesn’t say where he did his dirty deeds but Wikipedia says Mednoye, so he probably did not execute my grandfather Wladyslaw Muskus at Bykownia. Apparently he became an alcoholic, went insane and committed suicide.

The Man Who Executed 7,000 Polish Prisoners in a Single Month




Father Placid the Hungarian monk of the gulag

Father Placid

Placid Olofsson, the Benedictine monk who was imprisoned in a Soviet Gulag from 1946 to 1955 has died at the age of 100.

Urszula and Placid were contemporaries, imprisoned at the same time in the same prison system yet thousands of kilometres apart. While reading Father Placid’s obituary I was drawn by the four rules of surviving the Gulag that he and his fellow prisoners devised. These rules or attitudes were all essential to Urszula’s survival.

“Let us not dramatize suffering, because that will only make us weaker.”

“Take notice of life’s small joys.”

“Don’t think that you are different than others, but in certain situations show that this is the case.”

“Hold onto God, because with his help we can survive any earthly hell.”

Father Placid was very humble and described his life thus:-

“I am aware of the fact that I am a simple man of average abilities, I have no special physical or mental skills. But life always demanded more from me than I was capable of; God always stood next to me, and more than once helped me in miraculous ways.”

The world is very short of people like Father Placid. May he rest in peace.

With acknowledgement to Hungary Today.