Category Archives: Polish deportations

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

 

Advertisements

KATYN AND DEPORTATION – 13th April 1940

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 nj.com.

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 TAILOR OF INVERNESS

tailorofinvernessThis one-man play, written and acted by Matthew Zajac, tells of his journey to discover what happened to his father during WW2. It took the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe Festival by storm and went on to win many accolades. A memoir of the same name was launched in 2013. It is an excellent book and has prompted this blog. The play is brilliant artistically and brilliant historically, and I say this because it highlights the dilemmas faced by the many of mixed race living in eastern Poland (Kresy and Galicia) at the start of WW2. Children of different genders, born into mixed marriages, were recorded by different registrars, boys as Polish, girls as Ukrainian. There were also many Jews, other minor nationalities and several religions to add to the melting pot.

Matthew’s father was always hesitant to say what had happened to him during WW2. He claimed to have been deported to Siberia, joined General Anders’ army and fought with the British in Italy. Following his father’s death in 1992, and the collapse of the Iron Curtain three years earlier, Matthew visited his father’s home village, now in central Ukraine. There he met many relatives and more in western Poland. Many thousands were deported by the Soviets in 1945 from what had been eastern Poland to what had been eastern Germany, Poland’s borders were shifted westward. It emerged that his father’s story was a fabrication. The most likely scenario is that he fought in the Polish army in 1939, returned to his village, was conscripted into the Soviet army, was taken prisoner by the Germans, joined or was forced into the German army, was taken prisoner and joined the Polish Second Corps under British command. Wow! All this just to survive when all he wanted to do was work as a tailor! It highlights a complexity of dimensions not known or understood in post war Britain.

The full story includes family complications which I will not mention as I don’t want to spoil a good book! Read it for yourselves and do try and see the play.

SURVIVORS

jim sears

Jim Sears

Sadly one regularly reads the obituaries of those who were deported to Siberia. These are the last survivors, the children who endured two years starvation and hard work in the Soviet Union following deportation by Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD, from their home in Poland.

What I enjoy reading about is the full and productive lives that these Poles made for themselves in a foreign country after missing much of their schooling. This blog was inspired by the obituary of a complete stranger, Zbigniew Sierpinski better known as Jim Sears, that was posted in the Kresy-Siberia Discussion Group.

Jim was one of the 733 Polish children offered a home in Pahiatua, New Zealand in 1944. He became a photographer and produced 31 books about New Zealand and the Pacific. Jim was also an adventurer who sailed a traditional outrigger canoe from Kiribati to Fiji to challenge Thor Heyerdahl’s theory of Polynesian settlement. His second voyage nearly ended in tragedy when the outrigger broke off leaving the crew to drift for 16 days in a small lifeboat, before being rescued by a Chilean tugboat. Having lived his life to the full he is survived by children in New Zealand, Fiji and Kiribati (Gilbert Islands). Read the full obituary at

http://www.pressdisplay.com/pressdisplay/viewer.aspx

CONFIRMATION AND COLLABORATION

Memorial to deported Poles

Memorial to deported Poles, Warsaw.

When one’s grandmother writes about a horrific experience that lasted 16 years, 20 years after it happened, all from memory with no notes, one has to wonder if there are errors. I am totally confident that Babusia wrote honestly and without exaggeration, but have no proof of how accurate it is – until today. A very helpful guy, a member of the Kresy-Siberia Discussion Group found a testimony in the Hoover Archives describing the same deportation journey from Rawa Ruska.

Teresa Underka wrote, “On the night of the 12 to the 13th of April the NKVD came with guns. The family packed and were taken to the station. They were put on wagons. Everyone thought it was going to be the end of them. It was dark, airless and tight; so tight that it was impossible to move. They sat locked up at the station all day. The train left in the evening and got to Lwow the next morning. Here they were told to transfer to other wagons. There were 82 people in the wagon. It took 2 weeks to get to Alga in Aktyubinsk Oblast.”

Urszula Muskus wrote, “It was 10 past midnight … it was 13 Apr 1940 … packed by 4am … lorry to the station …wagon doors slammed shut … 50 in wagon … set off after nightfall … arrived outside Lwow 11am next day … moved to larger wagon on wide tracks … 85 crammed into the wagon … 13 days after we had set out our train arrived at Alga.”

Wow!

Office file of the Social Welfare Department, 1941-1944, Polish Embassy in USSR http://szukajwarchiwach.pl/800/35/0/-/49/skan/full/NBdRDC_P2IViPcGcxc0xrg This document is hand written in Polish.

POLISH–SOVIET DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS 1941-44

Aktobe Province

Aktobe Province, Kazakhstan taken from Wikipedia.

Urszula was charged with espionage and sentenced to 10 years hard labour due to her work as an Embassy Delegate. I wanted to understand the political situation that led to her false conviction and this blog is the result of my research. The official timeline is below, but Urszula, with the help of her friends on the ground, started providing relief to the destitute Poles arriving from the far north long before the official channels were up and running. She made demands on local authorities to provide food and shelter based on newspaper reports of Polish-Soviet agreements signed thousands of miles away. Her bluff worked and she was appointed Embassy Delegate for the Aktyubinsk (now Aktobe) Province, an area of over 300,000 sq km, about the size of the UK and Ireland combined.  There were 20 Delegates in total and she was one of only nine selected from representatives of the Polish deportees. She did her best in very difficult conditions and I will select passages from her embassy reports (found in the Sikorski Museum) for a future blog.

The earliest arrests of embassy staff that I have found recorded were in July 1942. However Urszula was arrested two months before this on 10th May 1942. She was released from the gulags 10 years later when she was sent into eternal exile in the small Siberian settlement of Dolgiy-Most.

POLITICAL TIMELINE

  • 22nd June 1941 The Germans attacked the USSR and made a rapid advance towards Moscow. Stalin quickly needed allies and was forced to negotiate with the Poles due to pressure from the UK and US.
  • 30th July 1941. The Polish-Soviet Agreement was signed whereby the Soviets recognised the Polish Government-in-exile based in London and released all the Poles held in the USSR. Ambassador Kot opened the Polish Embassy in Kuybyshev (now Samara) because Moscow was too close to the German front. According to a Soviet press release [1] the embassy opened 20 local offices with 421 delegates “to whom the local authorities rendered every assistance in their work”!!! (my exclamation marks). This 421 total must include the ‘Maz Zaufania’ (Men of Trust/Confidence) appointed by the Delegates to work in smaller communities. Local staff were entrusted to distribute cash, food and clothing to the released Poles wherever they could be found.
  • 19th July 1942. A protest note [2] was sent by the Polish Embassy in Kuybyshev to the Soviet Government over the closure of 8 local offices. The Charge D’affaires limits himself “to protesting against the action of the Soviet authorities in closing down the Embassy’s relief organization; and to insist that the Delegates and their staffs who have been arrested be immediately set free”.
  • October 1942. By this time 109 Delegates and their staff had been arrested. Subsequently 93 were released, leaving 16 either dead or in prison. [3]. There is a surprising story by Norbert Kant [4], a Man of Trust not arrested until Sep 1943. (Should this be 1942?) Following a long interrogation over many days and nights Norbert became so tired that he agreed to write a false confession. The NKGB colonel deemed it very unconvincing, checked the basis for his arrest, and had him released. A very lucky man!
  • 16th Jan 1943. The Supreme Soviet ordered local authorities to take over all Polish welfare institutions. Soviet passports were compulsorily issued to persons of Polish nationality who had been living in the eastern districts of the Second Republic which the Soviets incorporated on November 1-2, 1939. Only persons living in central and western regions of Poland before the war were recognized as Polish citizens.
  • 13th April 1943. What little concord existed between the Poles and Soviets deteriorated soon after the Germans announced the discovery of a mass grave in the Katyn forest.
  • 25th April 1943. Complete breakdown of diplomatic relations. Tadeusz Romer, Ambassador since late 1942, left the USSR.
  • 22nd May 1943. An Australian Legation took over the representation of Polish interests, but were obstructed at every point by the Soviet authorities. They were strictly limited by the new definition of Poles as defined by the Soviet Government in Jan 1943 (descibed above). What little aid they were able to send out was often intercepted and distributed by the communist Union of Polish Patriots in a move to gain favour with the Polish communities. Their biggest success was organizing the evacuation of 310 children and 8 staff out of the USSR. Even with this success, despite their best efforts, 17 staff and children were left behind in prison.
  • August 1944. The Australians were replaced by the Polish National Liberation Committee (PKWN, all communists controlled by the Soviets) and Poland became a prawn of the Soviets.

[1] Press release on 6th May 1943 by Mr. A. Y Vyshinsky, Assistant People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the USSR.

[2] Note of July 19, 1942, from Mr Sokolnicki, charge D’affaires of the Polish Embassy in Kuybyshev, to Mr. A. J. Vyshinsky, deputy chairman of the council of people’s commissars, on the unilateral decision to close the offices of various delegates and the arrest of Polish Embassy Delegates in the USSR.

[3] p111 Deportation and Exile by K. Sword.

[4] Extermination by Norbert and Anna Kant, reviewed on DerekCrowe.com

POLITICAL MIGRATIONS ON POLISH TERRITORIES (1939-1950)

Cover photoThis recent book by Piotr Eberhardt was first published by The Polish Academy of Sciences in 2010 and then translated to English the next year. It is an in depth review of lately available records by a man who was himself deported, although he doesn’t say whether east or west.

The chapter concerning those deported east from Kresy has a concise overview of categories, destinations and numbers. Due to my family history I notice that those on the Ukrainian Katyn list and murdered at Bykownia are not included with the other Katyn sites. I will try and ask why not.

The numbers deported make sense, but may not please those who hold to the previously higher post war estimates. I am also pleased to discover that the numbers known to have died (at 12% if I understand the figures correctly) are less than I had guessed, although I realize that this is not the total number. He does give 3 examples of horrifically high death rates within this total

  • In February 1940 all the Poles in a train (about 1,050 persons) and some of the Soviet guard froze to death while stuck in snow drifts on the Kotlas-Vorkuta line.
  • Of 10,000 Poles transported to the Kolyma camps only 171 individuals survived.
  • Of 3,000 sent to Chukotka, nobody returned.

With 15 more chapters on migrations including to the German Reich; the Jewish, Ukrainian and Belarusian populations, plus repatriations, there is something for everyone who has an interest in the subject. The book is available free online in English from http://rcin.org.pl/igipz/dlibra/docmetadata?id=15652&from=publication