Category Archives: Stalin’s gulags

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.


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.



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.


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.


Are Urszula and the 18 million other prisoners who suffered in Stalin’s gulags being cleansed from Russian history and replaced by those fighting for independence in Eastern Ukraine? Recent events would suggest that this is what Putin is attempting.

Perm-36 gulag

Perm-36 gulag

Perm-36 situated in the Ural Mountains is the only surviving gulag which was opened as a museum. In the Stalin era it housed up to 3000 prisoners, but following closure it became a museum in 1996. Now the local authorities have taken back the site from the museum committee and removed all references to Stalin’s crimes. Viktor Shmyrov who was the director, says, “The new authorities have totally changed the content. Now it’s a museum about the camp system, but not about political prisoners. They don’t talk about the repressions or about Stalin.”

He continued, “The takeover by the Perm authorities is less about a rehabilitation of Stalin than a connection with the political situation in the country. We are already seeing the creation of a Stalinist-type state – enormous power is concentrated in the hands of one man. Under President Vladimir Putin there is no need now for repressions – the people have become obedient. The political system is returning to totalitarianism.”

Donetsk and LuhanskOn the other hand a new museum is opening in St. Petersburg dedicated to the nationalist Novorossiya project, the exploits of the pro-Russian separatist battalions in eastern Ukraine. These are based in Donbass and Lugansk.

The term “Novorossiya” is used to refer to territory near the Black Sea, which Russia seized from the Ottoman empire in the 18th century, and has been employed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to stir nationalist sentiments in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.