KATYN 78th anniversary.

katyn

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.

Advertisements

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!

 

BRITISH SOLDIERS OPEN FIRST GULAG

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”.

mudyug_bolshevik_prisoners

With thanks to Lucy Ash and the BBC magazine. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-41271418

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.

katyn

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

Wikipedia

 

THE HUNGARIAN “MONK OF THE GULAG”

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.

AKTYUBINSK DELEGATE REPORTS

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