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.


I had a big break when Mark Ostrowski informed me that reports written by Urszula while Embassy Delegate for the Aktyubinsk District were stored in the Sikorski Museum in London. Urszula did not flee following the amnesty, but chose to stay and help feed, clothe and direct her countrymen to the mustering points of Anders’ Army. She was very modest and would not wish to be labeled a hero, but this is what she was, and almost fearless. This work as a Delegate resulted in her conviction as a spy and 10 years in the gulags. Here is a translation of her first report.

Aktyubinsk, Aktobe

Aktyubinsk, now Aktobe, is in the centre of the map.

The Delegation of The Polish Embassy in Aktiubinsk                               29th Oct 1941

Regarding transports for civilians and documentation for the Delegation employees.

Dear Mr. Ambassador,

The civilian transports for Polish citizens are still just as chaotic, exposing people to great distress and suffering, and causing many problems for the Polish Missions to sort out. The transports are not provided with food, the Soviet authorities do not provide the people with any money for the journey or their daily expenses. The result is that people get off at major rail stations and go into town in search for food, transports then depart and those who are foraging in the town are left without their papers and belongings. The Polish Missions have no financial means and are unable to provide these people with any food or a place to sleep. The Soviet Authorities do not want to take care of them and refer them back to the Polish Missions. This causes complaints for our Mission. Therefore I ask for the appropriate order that the civilian transports are organised on a par with the military transports, and are provided with food or food vouchers by the Soviet authorities.

Please send us instructions as to what the Soviet Authorities duties are in the above situations, or the financial support to feed civilians from the transports on our stations, because the current situation cannot last any longer. There have been cases of looting of food by the hungry and a number starving to death while on the transports.

Transports should be put under someone’s command. A commander must have an accurate list of people in the transport and telegraph ahead the time of arrival to the location of the next Polish Mission. For now the local Mission can only provide for the purchase of bread at Aktiubinsk station. Bread is expensive because the Soviet authorities provide only commercial bread, which costs 2 rubles 30 kopecks per kilo – while the food stamp bread costs only 90 kopecks per kilo. Bread is sold at the station by the officers who are always on duty. They are working without pay at the moment, so when they find another job they leave the office, which is a loss because they are already trained. If we had some funds, and they could be paid for their work, they would remain in their posts.

The local Mission works in a very difficult situation. The local Soviet Authorities do not know the terms of the Polish-Soviet treaty, do not know how to respond to this Delegation of the Polish Embassy, create difficulties in all cases in which we intervene with them, and hinder our work instead of facilitating it by cooperation.

When our Delegate intervened in the Administrative Oblast of (illegible) we received a proposal from their deputy head to move our Delegation’s location from Aktiubinsk to this district. But the authorities required authorisation cards from all our civil servants, which we do not have. This situation is a typical example of their attitude to us. Therefore, I ask you Sir, to send us official authorisation cards in both Polish and Russian, particularly for the Delegate and the Secretary Mr. Zbigniew Kierski. We cannot do anything without them. I also ask you to obtain from the Foreign Office an instruction directed to the Soviet Authorities on the legal status of our Delegation, our privileges relating to international law (exterritoriality etc.) and their duty to reach a consensus in all cases when we intervene for our citizens’ rights.

I must also report that everyday there are cases of detention and prosecution of our citizens, both for alleged political offenses, as well as missing even one day of work, or being late at kolkhozy (collective farms) etc. All these prosecutions are brought to court martial, are dealt with in haste, and any interventions fail to have any effect. Mr. Ambassador, please have a look into this matter and apply appropriate intervention in the cases described above because hundreds have happened in the past 2 weeks. Our citizens, especially on the kolkhozy, are treated like slaves!

Formation of permanent communication methods enabling mutual contact between the Embassy and Delegations would be a big advantage because we cannot rely on the post office. I think that a regular courier on the line Samarand – Kuybyshev, travelling on predetermined days, could collect letters for the Embassy and deliver writs and orders from the Embassy. This will contribute to uniformity of our institutions and their efficient working.

Among the Polish prisoners released by the Act of Amnesty there are common criminals, fraudsters and swindlers. These freed people have begun their reprehensible dealings anew, affecting primarily the Polish community which, exhausted by living and working conditions, believes anyone who promises help. The shameful deeds of these criminals reflect on the overall Polish population and cause hostile comments from the Authorities and the Soviet population towards the Poles. There have already been a series of thefts and robberies in the Aktyubinsk District. A well-known gang of burglars from Lwow prowls here too. Some elusive individual, introducing himself as a Polish Army officer, began to ‘organise’ transport to take Poles back to their homeland. Fortunately he was unmasked in time by our district Man of Trust (MĄŻ ZAUFANIA) and disappeared before he managed to swindle money out of anyone. I am sure he will try his luck again in another place.

The Soviet ignorance of the Polish-Soviet Treaty and The Act of Amnesty published by the Supreme Soviet makes our work and intervention here much more difficult. Please send us copies of both the foregoing Acts.

Secretary                                                                                    Delegate of the Polish Embassy

Kierski                                                                                         Muskus




Congratulations on winning the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. I am very pleased for you. Singing about your grandmother is not political, it can never be political in your perspective. If Russia thinks that it is political, they are responsible, it was Stalin who made it political by deporting your family. Like so many in this position you have grown up with the benefits and hardships of a mixed background, a Crimean Tatar father, an Armenian mother and early years spent in Kyrgyzstan. May you soon return to your home in Crimea and enjoy your success.

Our families have a common thread. I am thinking of your great aunt who died during deportation. Please remember my grandfather, who lies in the Forest of Bykownia, next time you are in Kiev.


Joan Baez

photo thanks to


It’s rare for me to stray even a tiny weeny bit sideways from the main topic, but I feel impelled to say how much I admire and love Joan Baez, the person and the singer. She was well into her career when I became a fan in the mid sixties and she has gone on to astound us all ever since. If you are not aware of her anti war and pro civil rights protests see wikipedia as a starting point. Joan has been a big supporter of Amnesty International so really she is very much on topic, as always! Her recent endorsement of Bernie Sanders is a very powerful piece of prose.

I am getting very excited as we approach 10th June, the release date of her 75th Birthday Concert DVD. Many more Happy Birthdays to you Joan!

And this links nicely to a letter I received from Amnesty UK.

13th April 2016.

Dear Peter,

This is a big thank you for once again donating the royalties from The Long Bridge, which we do appreciate very much indeed. (£5625 has been donated over the last six years.)

You’ve reminded me I need to place another order for the book with Sandstone, as I often give it to Amnesty donors as a thank-you – it is so powerful.

With very best wishes from everyone here,

Nicky Parker, Publisher

Amnesty International UK, The Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA. Phone 020 7033 1500.


Katyn Forest Massacre. Marshall Islands

Issued 16.04.1990

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Marshall Islands issued a commemorative stamp in 1990 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Katyn Forest Massacre. (Katyn is one of several sites with the mass graves of 22,000 Polish officers and professionals murdered by Stalin’s NKVD in April and May 1940.) Why did the postal service on a group of coral atolls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean remember Katyn? I would love to know, especially considering that the UK, who had a close relationship with Poland during WW2, barely acknowledged the massacre had taken place by 1990. Can anyone help?

Katyn monument Jersey City

Photo from

Here’s a photo from Jersey City where Polish residents came out to pay their respects and mark the 76th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre and the 6th anniversary of the Smolensk air crash.

I am lucky to have heard good stories about the grandfather that I never knew, and happy that one cousin is still alive who remembers his uncle, my grandfather, 76 years later. Wladyslaw Muskus was murdered at Bykownia near Kiev, and his family deported on 13th April 1940.


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.

katyn victim

Father, Forester and Family Man.


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.”


Polish airforce


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.


urszula muskus


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.


The British Government acknowledged the 75th anniversary of the Katyn Massacres by formally handing over documents from the National Archives to the Polish Republic. I am not a historian so the following is a personal summary, a journey with my grandfather. The documents can be seen on the MSZ website

The documents divide into six sections

  • 1-2               Polish deportations and missing officers within Anders’ Army.
  • 3-17             Discussion of German announcement of 13th April 1943
  • 18-36           US Congressional hearing of 1952
  • 37-52           Erection of Katyn monument in London 1970s
  • 53-61           Requesting HMG admit Soviet guilt and attend ceremony 1979-80.
  • 62                 Mass grave discovered near Orenburg 1980.

1-2             Polish deportations and missing officers within Anders’ Army.

In June and October 1942 Colonel Hulls, the liaison officer with the Polish army wrote two detailed reports full of raw intelligence informing HMG (His Majesty’s Government) of the plight of the deported Poles in the USSR, the deaths due to hunger and disease, the missing officers and General Anders difficulties in forming an army. They give a very good overall picture of what was happening.

colonel hulls polish deportations

1. Colonel Hulls report from Jangi-Jul 18.06.42

Lieutenant Colonel Hulls Anders Army

2. Lieutenant Colonel Hulls Qisil Rabat 29.10.42

I include this next section on the arrest of the embassy delegates because my Babusia, Urszula Muskus, was one of them. Because she stayed in Aktyubinsk to aid the Poles fleeing south she received a 10 year hard labour sentence and 4 years eternal exile in the taiga. She was not released until 1955.

Lieutenant Colonel Hulls polish embassy delegates

2. Lieutenant Colonel Hulls Qisil Rabat 29.10.42

 3-17            Reaction to German announcement of 13th April 1943

It may seem obvious now, but during the war years there was genuine disagreement as to who was guilty. Those with more experience of the Soviets believed in their guilt, but there were many who, knowing of the German’s many atrocities, believed them the perpetrators. Wartime expediency of saving the Soviet alliance dictated a non committal public policy while hiding the truth. These ethics were on the consciouses of those in the know.

German announcement of Katyn

44. Sir A C Kerr, British Ambassador in Moscow 20.04.43

5. Owen O’Malley British Ambassador to the Polish Government in London

5. Owen O’Malley British Ambassador to the Polish Government in London 24.05.43

Owen O'Malley British Ambassador to the Polish Government in London

5. Owen O’Malley British Ambassador to the Polish Government in London 24.05.43

5. Owen O’Malley British Ambassador to the Polish Government in London

5. Owen O’Malley British Ambassador to the Polish Government in London 24.05.43


44/15. Prof B H Sumner Research Dept. 17.02.44


44/16 H W Malkin Legal advisor 07.03.44

katyn massacre

O O’Malley British Ambassador to the Polish Government in London 13.04.44

Winston Churchill believed the Soviets guilty, but being an astute politician whose primary responsibility was to the welfare of the British public kept the secret until he wrote his memoirs.

 Winston Churchill katyn

12. Winston Churchill PM 30.01.44

Winston Churchill Nuremberg

44/47. Winston Churchill’s observation about Nuremberg 1946

anthony eden

44. A Eden Foreign Secretary 25.02.44

 18-36             US Congressional hearing of 1952

The requests from Representative O’Konski to interview witnesses in the UK and for the release of secret archives concerned HMG who wanted no part of it despite the Cold War being in full swing. The US administration seemed less concerned, but there was a flurry of discussion on what to do about it.

US congressional hearings into Katyn

22. H Hohler Northern Department 26.03.52

 37-52             Erection of Katyn monument in London 1970s

By this time HMG was keen to improve diplomatic relations and trade with Poland and the USSR, but there was wider knowledge of Soviet guilt in the UK. These documents cover the proposed Katyn monument, first in a churchyard in Chelsea, and then in Kensington Council cemetery at Gunnersbury Park. Supporting détente was the name of the game with HMG saying that they ‘deplored’ the proposal, but ‘could do nothing’ about it.

katyn monument in london

38. J L Bullard Soviet Department 11.07.72

katyn monument in london

42. D Tonkin Soviet Dept. 30.11.72

43. FCO - Foreign and Commonwealth Office memo 07.03.73

43. FCO – Foreign and Commonwealth Office memo 07.03.73

katyn monument london

44/68. R Butler Soviet Dept. 10.04.73

katyn monument london

52. Warsaw Embassy 28.09.76

 53-61             Requesting HMG admit Soviet guilt and attend ceremony 1979-80.

Pressure was building for public acknowledgement of Soviet guilt and with the Conservatives now in power Margaret Thatcher sends a Government Minister to the ceremony at Gunnersbury Park. The following year she approved a military band. It should be noted that Airey Neave, who was a close friend of Thatcher’s and had been assassinated by the Irish NLA, was one of the main supporters who got the monument erected.

Margaret Thatcher katyn

56. Margaret Thatcher PM 14.09.79

57. Warsaw Embassy 30.04.80

57. Warsaw Embassy 30.04.80

62             Mass grave discovered near Orenburg 1980.

It was reported that Polish workers on a ‘Friendship’ gas pipeline near Orenburg discovered a mass grave of Polish officers.

All in all there is little new for those who have studied the subject, but the discussion is put into chronological order. If you are tempted to read the documents I suggest that you start with nos. 1, 2 and 44. It is interesting to learn how governments work, and get locked into an international web of lies which have to be continued in order to avoid admitting to them. What’s new!