Τετάρτη, 4 Απριλίου 2018

Searching for the Missing Polish Officers in the Soviet Union (Joseph Czapski, The Inhuman Land)

Joseph Czapski, The Inhuman Land, Published by Sheed and Ward, New York, in 1952. Translated from the French by Gerard Hopkins. Republished by the Polish Cultural Foundation in 1987.

Joseph Czapski, a Polish painter and soldier, was imprisoned by the Soviets after their invasion of Poland in 1939. For almost two years he was held in prison camps at Starobelsk, Pavlishchev Bor and Gryazovets. On 2nd September 1941 he was released.
Nazi Germany had attacked the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. An agreement between Stalin's Russia and the Polish government-in-exile in London, led by General Wladyslaw Sikorski, was signed in August 1941. This agreement saw Stalin grant an amnesty to all Polish citizens held in the Soviet Union. A Polish army, under the command of General Wladyslaw Anders, was to be formed on Soviet territory.

Finding the Polish Army
Joseph Czapski left the prison camp at Gryazovets along with 1,700 other Polish prisoners. They were marched 7 kilometres to the railway station. They sang Polish soldier songs. At the station they were told the train to take them on their journey would not arrive until the next day. They stood in the pouring icy rain. Thoroughly soaked they boarded their train at 5am.
Their journey took them from Gryazovets, near Vologda, mid-way between Moscow and the White Sea, south through Russia to the Volga Steppes. All the railway stations were crowded with Poles who had been released from Soviet captivity. They were ragged figures dressed in threadbare foufaïkis (quilted coats). They had come from all over the Soviet Union and were heading south-west to join the Polish Army.
On 8 October 1941 Czapski's train crossed the river Volga over the longest bridge in Europe. Eventually they arrived at a place called Totsk and walked 5 kilometres to a Polish Army camp which contained a small collection of wooden huts and tents.
Regularly, each day, 50, 200, 500 men who had been formerly deported would arrive in groups from the station...And what a state they were in! - tattered, with bundles of rags tied with string doing duty for shoes, exhausted by their experiences in the labour-camps, weakened from lack of food on the journey, and by long periods of under-nourishment. (p. 24)
The weather at the camp was terrible. From mid-October until they left in January the temperature reached a low of -55 degrees centigrade.
Searching for the Missing
Joseph Czapski was asked to organize an Assistance Bureau. Gather information from the new arrivals and answer their questions. The new arrivals had two concerns:
  • Save their comrades who had been left behind in the camps.
  • Get news of their families deported over the entire Soviet Union.
Joseph Czapski drew up lists of names and addresses of their relations. This information was then passed to the General Staff of the Army and the Polish Embassy. He also asked the new arrivals if they knew anything about the Polish Officer prisoners held at Starobelsk No. 1, Kozelsk No. 1 and Ostashkov. Nobody had any news of them. Nothing had been heard of them since they were evacuated from the camps by the Soviets in April and May 1940.
That these men would ultimately turn up became, with me, something like an obsession. I had so clear a recollection of that year at Starobelsk, ... many ... had become my most intimate friends, that I found it impossible to believe in their disappearance. (p. 27)
There were rumours that Polish officers were held in the Arctic regions and in Kolima, in the far east of Russia. In the hope of saving these men Czapski took his records to Polish Staff HQ in Buzuluk. He met the Chief of Staff Colonel Okulicki.
[Okulicki] ... been in several Soviet prisons. All his teeth had been broken...In 1944, Okulicki was parachuted into Poland at about the same time his son was killed at Monte Cassino. He became one of the leaders of the resistance...after the Russian advance he was treacherously invited by some Soviet officers to a "Conference"...He was arrested and sent to Moscow, condemned during the "Trial of the Sixteen", and was again deported to an unknown destination. (p. 38)
Okulicki ordered Czapski to draw up a detailed report stating all he knew about the men at Starobelsk, Kozelsk and Ostashkov.
Asking the NKVD for Help
Early in 1942 Czapski left for Moscow with letters of introduction to the high dignitaries of the NKVD. The letters stated with great firmness that the promises made by Stalin about the release of all Polish prisoners should be implemented. Before travelling to Moscow he met with Ambassador Kot at the Embassy in Kuybyshev.
[Kot]...it was said, read personally every letter and every note that came into the Embassy...He was familiar with every detail in this matter of the missing officers. He had discussed it with Stalin in October or November...Monsieur Kot was the first to dispel any illusions I might have. "Go, by all means, if you want to," he said, "but it won't serve any purpose." (p. 97)
Upon arrival in Moscow Czapski took his letters of introduction to the Lubianka, NKVD HQ. After many days he was told to report to the Lubianka for a meeting with General Reichman. Czapski told Reichman that only 400 of the 15,000 officers at Starobelsk, Kozelsk and Ostashkov had been accounted for. Reichman said he knew nothing about this but for the sake of General Anders he would look into it.
Twelve days passed before Czapski received a late night telephone call from Reichman telling him that all documents relating to Polish prisoners had been passed by the NKVD to the Russian Foreign Office. Czapski told him that the Polish Ambassador had applied eight times to them for information without success.
I knew no more now than I had done then about where my friends might be found, nor even whether they were still alive. There was no other door in Moscow on which I might knock in the hope of having it opened to me. (p.130)
Czapski took the train, a five day journey, back to the Embassy in Kuybyshev. He reported to Ambassador Kot who replied:
"Didn't I warn you that you'd get nothing out of them?" (p. 148)
The Katyn Massacre
By the time Czapski returned from Moscow to Kuybyshev the Polish Army had been transferred south to Turkestan. The new Polish Army HQ was located at Yangi-Yul, close to Tashkent. Czapski travelled to Yangi-Yul to resume his duties.
My superiors made no attempt to conceal from me that the prime object of all this work was rapidly losing any actuality it might have had, and that any hope of saving the lost men was daily growing less. (p. 162)
Czapski received some new information. He learned that the Bolsheviks in October 1940 had asked a Polish Colonel called Berling to form a Polish Army under Soviet control. Berling agreed to form the army and asked that the Polish prisoners formerly at Starobelsk, Kozelsk and Ostashkov be part of that army. The reply from the NKVD was that: "No, not those men. In dealing with them we have been guilty of a gross error."
Czapski went to General Anders and told him what he had learned. Anders replied:
"You know, I think of them all as comrades and friends whom we have lost in action. (p. 164).
In April 1943 the Germans announced that they had found a mass grave at Katyn in Russia. The grave contained the bodies of thousands of Polish Officers. Joseph Czapski's search for the Polish officers had been in vain.
Escape from the Soviet Union
In March 1942 the Soviets cut the rations issued to the Polish Army to 26,000. The Polish army had 75,000 men and it was growing every day. Stalin wanted to cut the number of Polish divisions from seven to three plus a reserve regiment. The excess men would be sent back to the collective farms, mines or labour camps.
Anders realized that this new decree marked the beginning of the liquidation of the Polish Army as it had been planned in December 1941, when General Sikorksi had visited Moscow. He knew that by accepting it he would be condemning one half of our troops...to a life of slavery and starvation...[Anders] got the dictator to agree that he should be allowed to evacuate such formations as the Russians could not feed to Iran. (p.171)
The news that Poles would be evacuated from the Soviet Union led to increased numbers of Poles flocking to the Polish camps in Turkestan.
The flood of Poles which had been rolling like a torrent from north to south, setting towards us from the remotest kolkhozes and camps, grew even larger. Innumerable civilians, women, old men, children, all of them emaciated as skeletons, began to swell our Divisions...only kept going by the hope that they might, perhaps, be able to get out of Soviet Russia in the wake of the Polish troops. (p. 171)
General Anders had two objectives:
  1. To create conditions which would make it really possible for us to build a modern Polish army.
  2. To save as many persons as possible.
In July 1942 Joseph Czapski became ill with both typhus and malaria. By the time he was released from hospital at the end of August the evacuation of the Polish Army to Iran had been completed. Only a skeleton staff under the command of General Szyszko-Bohusz was left. Czapski travelled by train to Ashkhabad, on the frontier with Persia. He spent one day there before crossing the border into Persia.
Some of the seriously ill Polish children who had escaped from the Soviet Union were cared for at the American hospital in Meshed, Persia. The lack of nourishment and tropical diseases had taken its toll on them. Joseph Czapski visited the hospital and was shown the body of a child who had died that day. He would be buried the next day in the Armenian cemetery, in a small packing case, as there were no more coffins left.
The priest Abbé Cienski officiated at the child's funeral.
This priest, who had been tortured at L'vov, imprisoned in the Lubianka, condemned to death, and released...had taken advantage of the few months during which the Polish uniform had protected even priests from the NKVD, to cover hundreds of kilometres on foot, and thousands by train, visiting the most distant kolkhozes of Turkestan in order to say Mass and carry the Sacraments to those of our people who had been deported. (p. 290)
The priest said the last prayers for the child who had died exiled from his homeland.
The Poles had finally left the Inhuman Land.

Σάββατο, 24 Φεβρουαρίου 2018

The end of Communism in Europe

The end of Communism in Europe 

Jan 19 - Soviet Union announces plans to withdraw a tenth of its nuclear warheads from eastern Europe, the first in a string of nuclear-disarmament moves
Jan 20 - George H.W. Bush inaugurated president of the United States
Feb. 6 - Round Table talks between Solidarity and communist military dictatorship open in Warsaw, Poland
Feb 15 - The Soviet army withdraws from Afghanistan
Feb 24 - Estonia begins flying its national flag rather than Soviet flag
Mar 26 - Soviets hold first perestroika-age elections with parties other than communists
April 4 - Poland's Round Table talks end with agreement to legalize Solidarity and allow free elections.
April 9 - During an independence rally in Georgia, Soviet troops open fire; 20 killed
May 4 - Chinese democracy protests begin in Tiananmen Square, Beijing
May 8 - Slobodan Milosevic elected president of Yugoslavia
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Jun 4 - Poland holds its first open elections; Solidarity wins 99 per cent of all Senate seats and all the seats it is allowed to contest in the lower house.
Jun 4 - Tanks crush Tiananmen Square demonstrations
Jun 16 - Crowd of 250,000 gathers at Heroes square in Budapest for reburial of reformist Prime Minister Imre Nagy, hanged by the Soviet-controlled government in 1958
Jul 9-12 President Bush makes democracy speeches in Poland, Hungary
Aug 19 - At the Pan-European Picnic in Sopron, Hungary, the Iron Curtain opens for the first time and lets hundreds of East Germans through.
Aug 23 - 2 million Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians join hands and form 600km chain across the republics to demand independence
Aug 24 - Poland's communists relinquish power, allowing Solidarity leader Tadeusz Mazowiecki to become the first non-communist Prime Minister in 40 years
Sep 13 - East Germany demands that Hungary not allow East Germans to flee to the West.
Sept. 21 - Soviet Union introduces its "Sinatra" doctrine, allowing satellite states in eastern Europe to go their way.
Sept. 25 - Soviet Union and United States sign pact eliminating chemical weapons
Oct. 3 - East Germany bans travel through Czechoslovakia, bringing thousands more people to protests in Leipzig.
Oct 9 - In Leipzig, East Germany, 70,000 people take to the streets; some are beaten and imprisoned by police
Oct 16 - In response to Oct. 9 arrests, crowds in Leipzig increase to more than 200,000 and government, frightened, begins to discuss talks
Oct 18 - East Germany's Erich Honecker resigns. The reason given is "ill health," but rising discontentment and hostility toward him is considered the real reason. He is succeeded by Egon Krenz.
Oct 23 The People's Republic of Hungary becomes the Republic of Hungary. The ruling Communist Party renames itself the Socialist Party and has a plan for multiparty elections, to be held in 1990
Nov 4 - West Germany's embassy in Prague in packed with people fleeing East Germany. They speak of labour shortages in East Germany creating an economic crisis there.
Nov 7 -The Communist government of East Germany resigns, but Egon Krenz remains head of state.
Nov 9 East Germany opens checkpoints in the Berlin Wall, allowing travel to West Germany without visas. This makes the Berlin Wall useless, and thousands flood across in celebrations.
Nov 10 - Germans begin tearing down the wall.
Nov 10 - Bulgaria's president and party leader Todor I. Zhivkov, resigns after 35 years in power. He is succeeded by his younger foreign minister, Petar T. Mladenov, 53, who says there is no alternative to restructuring the nation's economy and its political apparatus.
Nov 17 - A large and spontaneous demonstration takes place in Wenceslas Square, Prague, Czech Republic, calling for freedom. That night, the Civic Forum democracy coalition is formed.
Nov 19 - The demonstrations in Prague now attract more than 200,000 people.
Nov 24 On the eighth day of huge demonstrations, Czechoslovakia's Communist Party leader, Milous Jakes, resigns.
Nov. 27 - With millions of people on the streets, Czechs hold a nationwide general strike for democracy
Nov 28 - The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia promises free elections within a year.
Dec 3 - Mikhail Gorbachev and George W. Bush, meeting in Maine, declare the Cold War over.
Dec 10 - In Sofia, Bulgaria, 50,000 people demonstrate and demand that the constitution be changed to eliminate the communist monopoly on power.
Dec 11 - In Czechoslovakia, president Gustav Husak resigns and appoints a cabinet in which eleven non-communists are given positions in a cabinet of 21.
Dec 16 A demonstration in Timosoara, Romania is cut down with a massacre by soldiers.
Dec. 17 The Timosoara demonstrations attract more than 100,000 people. Workers present democracy demands to visiting Prime Minister. In Romania, Dictator Ceausescu cuts off phone lines from Timosoara to prevent information from spreading
Dec 21 - Romanian president Nicolae Ceausescu tries to regain control by holding a mass televised demonstration in Bucharest. The entire Romanian population watches him jeered by 500,000 people as a "dictator." He is visibly horrified.
Dec 22 - Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, flee in a helicopter and are captured.
Dec 25 - Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu are summarily tried and executed by a military firing squad.
Dec 28 - In Czechoslovakia, parliament elects the playwright dissident Vaclav Havel president. Alexander Dubcek, the liberal communist deposed by the Russians in 1968, whom the crowds have been cheering, becomes parliament chairman.

The Globe and Mail,  November 5, 2009

Δευτέρα, 24 Ιουλίου 2017

European Union Prize for Literature: Rudi Erebara

European Union Prize for Literature

EUPL Albanian winner 2017 is Rudi Erebara. With his winning book "The Epic of the Morning Stars" you'll follow the journey of Suleyman, an Albanian painter employed at the state decoration company in the capital of Albania.

The novel Epika e yjeve të mëngjesit (The Epic of the Morning Stars) is a testimony to the destiny of Suleyman, an Albanian painter employed at the state decoration company in the capital of Albania. A technical issue occurring on 16 October 1978, the birthday of Albania’s dictator Enver Hoxha, is attributed to him by the State Security Services. Around this time, Albania is about to sever its relations with Mao’s communist China. Also on 16 October 1978, Józef Wojtyła, a priest from communist Poland, becomes Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. In the late evening of 16 October, a heavy shower washes away the letters of the slogans written by the state decoration company in deep red, the symbol of the blood spilled during the war for freedom by the communist fighters. Even though the festivities are over, the state security, under the direct orders of the communist dictator, starts the hunt for the perpetrators, even though no perpetrators could possibly exist. Suleyman is a man singled out as standing on the other side of the trench of class warfare, conceived and fanatically carried out by the ruling communists. As he feels he is being singled out as a victim, Suleyman tries to change his name to Edmond. He also makes a painting showing some partisans around a fire. This is viewed as a good enough reason for Suleyman to be punished.

Translated from Albanian by Rudi Erebara

Edmond popped the Fernet bottle open, his mouth still full of bread and half-chewed beans. He filled his cup to the brim. He burped. “Today, on 17 October 1978, we, the verily exuberant people of Albania, mark the celebration of the anniversary of our beloved Party leader, through a host of achievements and over-fulfilments of the central plan in all fields of life. This is the main news edition in Radio Tirana...” but he paid no attention. A gust of wind blew like mad outside as he filled the second glass. The windows crackled. Then the rain started to fall down in heavy drops, pounding the glass, with small interruptions every now and then when the wind blew anew. “It looks like they stopped mentioning China every second word,” he thought. He put away his plate and spoon on the sink. He washed them in cold water and capsized the plate. He put the spoon on top of it. Then he swept the table clean. He wandered around, cigarette tucked in his mouth as he did not want to sleep that early. He sat down and picked up a folder, then he went to take another sip to scare the sleep away. The third glass wiped away the rest of his hoarded fatigue. It happily dawned on him that tomorrow would be an easy day. The rain outside shifted into a thunderstorm. He wanted to have another glass, but then again he was too sleepy. He took the radio into the room. He tuned in to an Italian channel and kept the volume down to the minimum. He lay in the bed and got lost in revelry. He woke up just a bit later as the room became chilly. He turned off the radio. The rain started to fall with brief intermissions after the first thunderstorm.

The morning dawned in a single colour. The sun broke through dimly as a dot of milk on the coffee. Edmond glimpsed it only once on the tip of the mountain, wrapped in a maelstrom of clouds as a white blotch on the steely-blue wall made of air. Then it vanished. He blinked and looked at the clock. Then he spoke out just to listen himself speak: let’s see if we’ve got a new pope! The battery-powered radio started crackling like a piece of iron sweeping on the wall. Edmond rubbed his eyes and read the letters on the blue top of the radio: 'Illiria 2 bands 8 transistors/volume/tuning/M-black key, 2 for medium and short-range.' He turned on the volume, just a bit. Then he adjusted the frequency, and right when he least expected it, the radio started roaring in Italian: “Campari ed allegria!” Edmond abruptly turned the volume control down to the cracking off noise again. The broken and reinstated silence came over him as a substance suspended in mid-air, impatiently vibrating behind the window pane. He pricked up his ears so as to listen to the news at the minimum volume. The silence was still on. The voice of the speaker cut invisibly from the darkness of the radio waves into the viscera of the radio, from the loudspeakers out into the fresh twilight of the room, then into the dusk of his ears, lighting up a flame inside them.

Buongiooorrrnooo stamattittna aaaa tuuuutttiiii! Yesterday, on 16 October 1978, three days after last Saturday’s session, the papal conclave elected the new pope, the Polish cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła, with 99 out of 111 votes. The Pope accepted his election with the following words: “Faithful to my belief in Christ, my Lord, and faithful to Our Lady the Mother of Christ and to the Church, regardless of the difficulties I accept.” The Pope has chosen the name of Giovanni Paolo Secondo in honour and remembrance of the late Pope Giovanni Paolo Primo. The Pope addressed the crowd in the Vatican City with these words that stood out of the protocol: “Dear brothers and sisters, we are saddened at the death of our beloved Pope John Paul I, and so the cardinals have called for a new Bishop of Rome. They called him from a faraway land – far and yet always close because of our communion in faith and Christian traditions. I was afraid to accept that responsibility, yet I do so in a spirit of obedience to the Lord and total faithfulness to Mary, our most Holy Mother. I am speaking to you in your – no, our Italian language. If I make a mistake, please 'corrict' me…”

Wojtyła became the 264th pope, according to the chronological list of popes, the first non-Italian in 455 years. At only 58 years of age, he is the youngest pope... here the radio control was promptly turned off by Edmond’s eager hand, curled all around it as a snail’s shell around the snail. Allah is great! He jumped for joy – our Polish mate became pope!

His voice cut through the dusk broken down by the city light, as if it were something tangible. He fumbled haphazardly on the floor to reach his socks. A heavy groan emanated from his throat. His smile turned into a frown and then gradually into an impatient grimace. He sat on the bed with his head down. The silhouettes of his socks gave a faint contrast against the fuzzy background of the tiles cast in grey concrete blocks. He pulled up his body numbed from sleep. The rattle of the glass vibrating under the thunderstorm made him look up to the clock. He stood up and switched on the light. He took the radio and tuned in to Radio Tirana. He switched it off and opened the window. He sniffed a few times outside just to gauge the cold out there. It appeared to him as if his strange feeling of happiness sneaked out with the sniffs and started roaming the city outside, under the bleak sky, as a little invisible phantom.

He went to the bathroom. He stopped in front of the mirror so he could see with his own eyes the frozen smile on his lips. He swept his hand over his unshaven cheeks, made a move to get out, before stopping at the bathroom door. He looked at the clock again as he managed to put up another victorious smile on the ruins of the vanished one, and he said in a loud voice: I need to be clean-shaven, as if I’m going out to a wedding, venerable Tóngzhì Suleyman: our Polish mate is now Comrade the Pope!

He put the coffee pot on the electric burner. He took the radio and put it on the table. He grabbed a bread crust and saw the clock. He heard seven minutes worth of Italian radio, the radio tightly pressed on his ear. Then he switched to Radio Tirana and turned up the volume. The water boiled in seven minutes. He went in the bathroom to shave. He put some foam on his cheek as he gnawed at the dry bread crust, trying to spare his lips from the foam. The brave voice of the speaker rattled the radio case. It enumerated the rate of over-fulfilments of the central plan and the selfless endeavours to fulfil the tasks of the sixth five-year plan in the heroic battlegrounds of the large industrial compounds still under construction. The speaker put a heavy stress on the 'r' sound, she made everything sound strrronger, tougherrr, grrreater, and everything sound like somebody else put it on the script for her, Edmond said loudly.

  • We marrrrch forrrward, in a revolutionary rrhythm! – he prudently chanted, as he elegantly swept his face with the tricky blade of the Astra razor – We shave our faces with the rrrevolutionary rrrrazor you damn Chinese rrrevisionists! Long live the rrrevolutionary rrrazor! Long live the Chinese folks who don’t give a damn about shaving for they’ve got precious little hair to shave. Long live coffee with Fernet... to victorrry!
Edmond made an abrupt end to his heroic chanting by splashing a handful of water on his face. He grunted and started to wipe his face dry with a towel. He rubbed the cloth vigorously on his face so as to get warm – may the bloody Russian revisionists lick our asses down to the square root... Bastards! Rascals! Traitors! Let’s write it down in huge letters: faster, further, higher – the radio played the soundtrack of some worker’s march and Edmond adapted the refrain to the rhythm of his shaving moves: “The pickaxe in the one hand / our country lalala / the rifle in the other hand / lalala, lalala / we press forward, always forward...” He turned the radio control off and the silence of the rain carried on.

He went outside and down to the staircase, glanced at the clock and at the weather outside in the vain hope that there was no rain, and then he turned back to fetch the umbrella. That umbrella was a source of permanent nuisance. One had to take care not to break it. One had to mind so that it did not get stolen. Buying a new umbrella is five working days’ worth, he mumbled to himself as he always did, as he grabbed it by the hand grip. As he turned the key in the lock, he said in a loud voice – yet only loud enough for him to hear – and in sync with the cracking of the lock: crick-crack. He did this to convince himself that he actually locked the door. He went downstairs bumping his umbrella at every step, one bump following the other.

He went four floors down and then exited the building, constructed by volunteer work, from exit three. His home, apartment 13, remained up there; two rooms and one kitchen, empty and lonesome. He went straight ahead, turning his back on it. He thought of his parents, about how they died one after the other, about how it emptied his life. They left him with the void boxes of his apartment’s rooms, they left him alone with his memories and his freedom, lots of freedom, so much he couldn’t possibly make use of it all. That daily remembrance was quite a difficult feat to accomplish, and it was hard for him every time he thought about leaving his home behind; he struggled with this habit as if it were a vice.

Freedom follows loneliness, as days follow nights. It took its toll on him, especially on weekends. It got entangled into his loneliness until both became a knot, and he was all alone in the whirlwind of his unsolvable memories. The time and space of their absence grew bigger as a trench dug in the mud gets bigger from the water collected in winter. In the long winter nights, the sadness ate up what once filled him with joy in the long summer days. It appeared to him as if the case of the radio pressed on his cheek was the embankment of that empty trench. There the loneliness got finally stuck and ground to a halt. The plastic radio case vibrated with music and unknown voices speaking in Italian. No words were intelligible in the new songs, they sounded like the wind blowing into an empty ditch, blowing out from the other side with unfathomable scents reminding him that all obstacles can be overcome, as they made him reminisce of bridges leading into better times, when fine memories shined up his days, as the summer sunshine brightened the facades of old beachfront houses with a butter-like colour, similar to the reflection of white skirts on the skin of suntanned young girls’ knees.