The banner goes on to say that those deported from occupied Kresy fought for their lives and their freedom. Attending this conference was the best thing that I could have done. At first I thought I did not belong with these people at the conference, the survivors who were deported to Siberia in 1940-41 and those of us who were the second generation. From my family only my grandparents and aunt were deported. Into the second day, I realized that my family was touched by all the tragedy that could have come from the Soviet invasion and occupation of the Kresy region, as well as subsequent Nazi occupation.
The conference began on the 75th anniversary of the Soviet invasion and occupation of my parents’ homeland region. My dad fought in the September Defensive Campaign of 1939, attempting to defend his county, while my mother and her underground network got Polish officers out of Poland while it was occupied by the Soviets. Each parent was arrested and imprisoned. My dad’s brother-in-law, Adam also fought to defend Poland. As a Second
Lieutenant he was captured by the Soviets, imprisoned in Starobielsk prison, then executed in the Katyn Massacre in the spring of 1940. He was one of over 14,000 officers executed. Since my dad’s family had two fighting soldiers involved in the war, and one was executed, dad’s parents and sister made the deportation list of undesirable families. Families of soldiers and especially those who fell victim at Katyn were deported to Siberia in April 1940, and forced into hard labor. Dad’s parents and sister were in several locations in Kazakhstan for six years.
Then there is my mother’s family. She and her father along with their underground network were arrested and shipped off to a couple of prisons before being sent to a Siberian Gulag. She never saw her father again. Survival was all she could think about during the gruesome and grueling time while imprisoned. A few years later her mother was murdered in the streets of Kosow, her hometown, by Ukrainian Nationalists, whose violence was fueled by the Nazi’s as they retreated in advance of the Soviet Red Army. The reign of terror and brutality inflicted by both aggressors in the region directly impacted my family which created a wound that was slow to heal.
The second day of the conference was held at the Polish Military Museum, which is home to the temporary Katyn Exhibit. A permanent Katyn Museum is being built with its opening scheduled for spring 2015. The massacre involved the murder of over 14,000 Polish officers captured and imprisoned by the Soviets following the defeat of the Polish Army and the September Campaign of 1939. These officers were in three separate prisons in Russia and were led away from each of the camps into the countryside, shot execution style by the Soviets, then buried in shallow graves. Some remains were unearthed by the advancing German Army in 1943, which started the blame game between the two former allies.
It was only after the fall of Communism that the Soviets admitted that they were responsible for the executions. Many items from the excavations have been recovered and preserved. These soldiers thought they were being moved to another prison, so they had on them all of their possessions, which included razors, matches, cups, eating utensils, rosaries, combs, scissors, coins. Unearthed were buttons, wedding bands, dog-tags, uniforms, coats, even grain in a leather pouch. That soldier thought he might get hungry during the transport.
My aunt never received formal notification of what happened to her husband back in 1940, never receiving a death certificate. She was however able to file documents declaring her a widow 10 years after her wedding date. My dad informed her that he saw Adam’s name on a list of deceased from those three camps, while dad was training in Palestine. That was the only concrete information she received. According to the curator, it was not until 1990 that formal notification went out to families, but then only if they inquired. By 1990, my aunt was dead, my father was dead. Maybe from Adam’s side of the family, there was someone who sought formal notice.
There are few people who know about Katyn and the horrors of what Polish soldiers and citizens suffered at the hands of Joseph Stalin. As with all horrors of war, human lives are lost, families separated and many of them victims of atrocities. More needs to be written and publicized about the Katyn Massacre and the human suffering and loss in Siberia, so we don’t forget.