Database gives closure on anti-Polish terror victims of the USSR

Finding information on Polish relatives and ancestors hurt by the anti-Polish terror in the Soviet Union can take a lot of effort, but one website has made it as easy as a few clicks.

The Center for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding and the Institute of National Remembrance created a portal to give closure to relatives of anti-Polish terror victims.

“Moscow Memorial Association says at least 139,835 people were repressed, of whom no less than 111,991 were shot in the back of the head and 28,774 were sentenced to stay in the labor camps,” according to the portal.

Sadly, Russia doesn’t want to release all records on the Polish terror victims but this portal is the most complete database online.

Here is how to use the portal for searching. Imię is first name; Nazwisko is surname;  Imię ojca is father’s first name; and Data urodzenia is birthdate (day/month/year).

Once the information is entered, click on wyszukaj to search the database. If results don’t appear, try different spellings and fewer search criteria.

For those who don’t know Polish, the portal also can be searched in Russian. Имя is first name; Фамилия is surname; Отчество is father’s first name; Дата рождения is birthdate (day/month/year); and поиск is the search button.

Anywho who doesn’t know Russian nor Polish can copy and paste the results into Google Translate to view them in English.

Once results are found, don’t be shy about searching for further information on Google in Russian or Polish to see whether more information is available.

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Declassified file reveals relative’s full story on journey to the gulags
Secret files help complete the life story of five brothers

Declassified file reveals relative’s full story on journey to the gulags

So far, I’ve had a general idea about the experience of my grandmother’s first husband being sent to the gulag from family stories, books on the gulag and an extraction of information from the regional Office of the Federal Security Service.

A researcher who has been visiting archives in southern Russia told me so much more can be uncovered on his case since 75 years have passed. The researcher herself viewed her own relatives’ cases and was willing to do the same for me.

Nothing shocks me after what I have read about the gulag but the file read as if it came from Gulag: A History” by Anne Applebaum. The first husband of my grandmother, Vladimir, was arrested with his half-brother, Ivan, in 1932.

Here’s how the investigators got the husband’s confession:

Vladimir: I did not conduct anti-Soviet activities.
Ivan: My brother is hostile to the Soviets and, like me, conducted anti-Soviet agitation.
Vladimir: My brother is lying.
Ivan: Vladimir, I am your half-brother and I have confessed everything. I am your brother and cannot lie to you and you must confess everything.
Vladimir: Yes, now I plead guilty. I conducted anti-Soviet agitation. I was in a counter-revolutionary organization. Before, I gave false testimony, but now I will tell the truth.
Letters from abroad really came to me. In 1926, there was a letter from Bulgaria from a former white officer with the rank of ensign, Stefan Ivanovich Stublienko. He wrote that he lives badly, where his brother and father are missing.

The crimes of these brothers were being possession of 1,000 rubles of the gold currency from tsarist minting, expressing to acquaintances their intention to flee abroad and communicating through the postal mail to a foreign-living relative.

It didn’t help Vladimir that my grandmother didn’t support him, a typical situation during the Stalin era, when he was father of her two kids.

“I can hide the ends in the water. I have always secretly told my bank director, Vasiliy, about upcoming strikes, meetings among bank employees, and the latter was always warned about it in due time and, however, no one until this day knows anything about it,” my grandmother told investigators about an alleged conversation with her then ex-husband (who isn’t my grandfather).

For their crimes, the brothers were sentenced to three years at Lodeynoye Pole in St. Petersburg Region, one of the worst camps. Luckily, Vladimir was released a year early at age 56 after spending two years chopping trees down for firewood and other products. He made the hall of fame for productivity in the camp.

Then three years later, he was arrested again. This time, he confessed: “I carried on my counter-revolutionary activities more actively, spreading rumors about a quick war and the destruction of Soviet power.”

Vladimir also confessed that he expressed regret about the Soviet government killing of Chief of General Staff Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky.

Those confessions cost Vladimir another 10 years of his life to a gulag in Siberia  near the border of China. He was forced to build the Baikal–Amur Mainline of the Trans-Siberian Railway. A year later, he wrote a letter, begging to review his case, but a confession was a confession.

Sadly, nothing in Vladimir’s file reveals whether he survived his last sentence. He would have been 68 years old if he served the full sentence.

My researcher contacted the Federal Penitentiary Service in Moscow for more information. The office responded only relatives who can prove ancestry with documents can receive the information. That means I can’t learn more about him until the law changes.

His story is not forgotten for his family. I found Sergey, a great-grandson of Vladimir and Ivan’s brother, Vasiliy, on social network ok.ru. Sergey is thrilled to learn the details of the cases and all the biographical information collected by the NKVD on his great-great-uncles.

Thanks to this project for the photo of the Lodeynoye Pole gulag.

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Database of political terror victims in the USSR explodes past 3 million

Free database on WWII soldiers grows by more than 5 million records

Anyone researching their relatives and ancestors who served in World War II for the Soviet Union has more hope to find military records online for free.

More than 5 million records recently have been added to the Memorial database for soldiers who died, went missing or became prisoners of war. The website doesn’t require any registration.

Each entry on soldiers can include their full name, birthdate or birth year, place of birth, date and place of recruitment, last place of service, military rank, and reason service ended. The records of soldiers can be saved as jpeg or pdf files. Directions are listed at the end of this post.

Yes, the database is in Russian but there are free online translator programs that can switch the Russian to English (keep on reading). The search page has the keyword box titles in English but the keywords must be in Russian. An English version of the database nor any database on USSR WWII veterans don’t exist anywhere.

Here is an example of results that will be missed for those who don’t want to try a Russian website:

Here’s how to use the database without knowing Russian:

  1. Download the Google Translate web browser application for Chrome here and Firefox here.
  2. If you don’t use that application, open the next browser window into Google Translate for easier switching between windows.
  3. Type your relative’s or ancestor’s name and birthplace into Google Translate and have it translated into Russian. If Google Translate doesn’t work, try this website instead.
  4. Copy and paste the keywords into the proper keyword boxes and then click on search.
  5. The results will appear in Russian for those not using the Google Translate web browser application. Copy and paste the results into Google Translate.
  6. Once you see a potential match, click on the link and then copy and paste the text into Google Translate.
  7. The document below the text providing details on the soldier can be saved as a jpeg file by clicking on the disk symbol or saved as a pdf file by clicking on the file symbol with PDF written in red. The link to the individual soldier’s page can be copied by clicking on the link symbol.

Once that information is downloaded, the next step is to search for relatives and ancestors in the Memory of the People database, which has information and records on recipients of WWII medals and other honors. The same steps taken on the Memorial database can be used for this database, in addition to free databases here.

This all takes some effort but it is well worth the effort when the documents are posted online for free. Getting used to combining language translator programs with Russian military websites is a great skill worth maintaining.

The Russian government is determined to post online as many WWII records and soldiers’ information as possible. The updates to WWII databases will continue on a regular basis to honor the soldiers who made the sacrifices for the USSR.

Follow this blog with the top right button to learn about new and updated databases.

Related posts:
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Database of political terror victims in the USSR explodes past 3 million
Databases of Soviet Army soldiers as POWs provide wealth of information

Unsealed records unveil the bigger story behind a family’s persecution

For years, relatives have repeated the story that my grandmother’s five brothers were sent to prison during the communist era for possessing a foreign technical journal on a train.

But that is so far from the possible truth. My grandmother’s brothers were really accused of making an invention that was possibly sold to the Germans, according to files removed from an archive’s volt.

A cell companion of my oldest grand-uncle said he repeatedly heard from other prisoners that my relative said the People’s Commissar of the Navy requested him to make the invention. The signed statement of the cell companion doesn’t say who sold the invention to the Germans.

An accusation that my grand-uncle made an invention worth selling isn’t far-fetched. My researcher carefully looked at the records that were fading and crumbling. The information is a bit shocking.

My researcher found drawings and documentation of nine inventions made by my three grand-uncles. All the writing was in German. These inventions could have helped the military in wartime.

The shocking part isn’t that my grand-uncles had the knowledge and ability to make these inventions. Their father had several inventions for explosives, which were used in mining.

It is hard to understand why they chose to write everything in German. Maybe that was the order from the People’s Commissar of the Navy. I wonder if my grand-uncles even had a choice when this order came to them.

But what is the real truth?  Did their invention really get into the hands of the Germans? Their 57-year-old widowed mother wasn’t afraid to stand up for her sons to Andrei Vyshinsky, the prosecutor of the USSR.

“I beg you to treat fairly the business of my sons. Do not allow certain careerists and overcautious persons to cast a black shadow on the great and awesome name of People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs which is not needing at all those actions which are applied to my sons, the gone too far careerists and actually the Trotskyists who addressed in great People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs for data of the personal scores and for commission of the dirty Trotskyist work,” she wrote to Vyshinsky in 1938.

She was inspired to write Vyshinsky because her oldest son sneaked out a letter written on toilet paper to her. My grand-uncle hid his letter in a saucepan to tell his mother that he and his brother haven’t eaten edible food in six months, were punished by being held in a hot cell for a month and have been beaten terribly for not signing confessions.

Soon after my great-grandmother sent this letter, her other three sons were charged with unknown crimes. This only left a daughter as her only child who was not in prison. Not until my researcher dove into these records, I didn’t understand why the grand-uncles were arrested at different times.

The five brothers were thrown into a stream after being severally beaten and aging much more than the three years that were taken away from them. They saved their lives by not signing any confessions. They returned to their families and made a successful plan to escape the USSR three years later.

The details of this story ends here because the archive is hesitating to release any more records on this case. But the fight to fully tell this story will continue at the archives of a regional Federal Security Service office, where my researcher will open more files on this case.

Follow this blog to see this story continue by clicking on the top right button.

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Determination to get one record leads to a pile of records on family mysteries

Once I learned that a burial record of my great-grandfather existed at archives, I was determined to see the record. But it wasn’t as simple as making a request to archives.

My great-grandfather died in 1946 in the former USSR. Getting Soviet-era records is a complicated process. A contact in the city was too shy to ask whether he could get a scan of the record.

Then I decided to have my researcher visit the city archives after checking for real estate records at another archive in the same city. Soon after my researcher arrived at the city archive to get a scan of the burial record, she had the luck of finding three files on three brothers of my grandmother from the communist-era. I am curious about how this all happened but I am more thrilled for one more miracle.

My father’s half-sister bragged that her favorite uncle was just like his father- an inventor with patents. Over 10 years, I hadn’t been able to figure out where records could exist to prove that story true. My aunt had a habit of telling grand stories. She inherited her uncle’s possessions but only documents of my great-grandfather’s inventions and patents were found in my aunt’s apartment.

The documents showing inventions of my grand uncle do exist as my researcher just found them at archives. A file with his technical drawings and correspondence with the agencies in Moscow and Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) about his inventions are sitting at city archives.

Then a burning question has been in my head for the 10 years that I have researched my paternal grandmother’s family, “Why was my grandmother’s family targeted for Soviet persecution?” My family tried to have quiet lives even though they were more financially comfortable than other families during the communist era.

Once my researcher discovered that the oldest brother of my grandmother made an appeal to the court for the return of his apartment taken by the communists, I realized that would be enough to get the communist government’s interest to track my family.

The file on my three grand uncles is dated 1918-1943, showing that my family was tracked by the communist government for 25 years. The tracking ended in 1943, when the three brothers and the rest of my grandmother’s family escaped the USSR.

I am so grateful that these files are finally being opened. The pages total to more than 350 pages on my family, making it the largest discovery of records in my 10-year genealogy journey into Russia.

It took the curiosity into one burial record to discover these files. This shows the importance of documenting research and staying determined on the genealogy journey.

Now, the researcher needs to open these files to review them page by page. What will be found? I don’t know what will be coming my way but it has been worth the wait.

Follow this blog to see this journey unfold by clicking on the top right button.

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The best surprises come when hope is almost lost
Stranger makes dream of seeing grandpa’s home come true after 8 years
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The best surprises come when hope is almost lost

*

I had given up hope that I would ever know about the death of my great-grandfather. With him living under German occupation, I assumed the records couldn’t be found after the severe damage done to his city from World War II.

Then came a message from a contact where my great-grandfather had died. By sheer luck, the contact (my half-aunt’s uncle’s great-grandson) had discovered the burial record in the southern Russian city archives.

It was even lucky that he noticed the burial record, with my great-grandfather having the very common last name of Ivanov. Thanks to my contact and I exchanging addresses where our ancestors lived, the address of my great-grandfather got  my contact’s immediate attention.

Now I have the death date of September 11, 1946 and know he died of stomach cancer. My grandfather also died of cancer so it is important to know when these fatal illnesses run in the family.

My grandfather wrote in a letter to my father that his father had died in 1946. Nothing else was written about the death when my grandfather penned this letter at 73 years old. It has been hard to confirm the information on my own.

I tried on my own to obtain the death record of my great-grandfather from the registry office, which has birth, marriage and death records for the communist era. Each time I asked for information on my great-grandfather’s death, the office staff told me the record didn’t exist.

My great-grandfather was buried in the biggest cemetery in the city. Some office had to keep record of the burials but I assumed the communist-era records were closed to the public.

This discovery brings more hope that the burial records could be found for my great-grandfather’s wife and my grandmother’s mother. Thanks to census records during the German occupation, I know one great-grandmother died before the Nov. 27, 1941 census. The other great-grandmother died between the Nov. 27, 1941 and Jan. 2, 1943 censuses.

The burial records are available for 1941 and 1943. I will be a lucky woman if either of their records could be found. Higher chances are that they died when the records aren’t available.

The search for these records are about more than death dates and causes of death. The burial records would complete their life stories. These women lived through a rough war and German occupation so did they die naturally from old age or as victims of a war?

Follow this blog with the top right button to see how this story ends and stay updated on news regarding important research resources.

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An unreal surprise on my

*Photo credit- http://talesofwar.tumblr.com from the war zone where my father’s family lived in southern Russia.

Database of political terror victims in the USSR explodes past 3 million

A Russian organization is determined to remember the people who were political terror victims in the USSR. Its project, started in 1998, first was published on a CD in 2001 with only 130,000 victims.

Now, Memorial’s project has been moved to a searchable database with information on about 3.1 million political terror victims. The information in this free database cannot be found on any subscription genealogy website.

Some of the details found on political terror victims include full name, birth year, place of birth, nationality, education, place or type of work, place of residence, date of arrest, date of conviction, length of sentence and source where the information was found.

The website can be easily used, even without knowing Russian. Here are translations of the keyword boxes: фамилия is last name, имя is first name, отчество is patronymic middle name (i.e. Ivanovich, son of Ivan) год роджения is birth year and mесто рождения is place of birth. The green button saying искать is the search button.

To search for relatives in the database, follow these tips:

  1. Translate keywords into Russian by using Google Translate or Transliterating English to Russian in One Step in a browser window next to the database.
  2. Copy and paste the translated keywords into the search boxes.
  3. If results don’t appear, eliminate some search criteria until results appear. Also, try all possible surname spellings from Transliterating English to Russian in One Step.
  4. When results appear, click on each name to see the complete information on his or her persecution.
  5. Copy and paste the information into Google Translate to see it in English.

Here’s a sample result from the database:

Then Google Translate will switch the information into English:

The information does not end with this database. The region where the arrest took place has the “secret file” on the prosecution and the file can be opened to relatives to obtain additional information.

Naturally, the regional Federal Security Service office needs the request for information in Russian. That’s easy as copying and pasting the information from the database and merging it into this statement “My relative (name and birth year) was arrested as enemy of the people in (town/city) in (year ) and was under investigation until (year, if known). Later he/she was justified. Please send me extracts from his/her criminal case to the above e-mail address. I’m especially interested in ………..(addresses, education, employer, relatives who lived with them, etc.)

This information would be greatly appreciated.

Yours faithfully,

Once you completed that step, copy and paste this statement into Google Translate to get your official request in Russian. The final step is translating “Federal Security Service” and the name of the region where the arrest took place into Russian on Google Translate to find the website for that particular Federal Security Service.

All of this seems like a lot of work, but it’s worth it in the end. Here’s the proof from my own experience-Secret files help complete the life story of five brothers.

Related posts:
SSSHHH!!! Detailed civilian records of Soviet persecution camps declassified………
A shocking sign that some people in the former USSR aren’t scared anymore