Excerpt from the book by Irina Flige entitled: Sandarmokh. Dramaturgy of Meaning, published in 2023 by the Mieroszewski Centre and the Polish Institute in St. Petersburg
Sandarmokh: Polish Presence
(…) The Polish cross, as the Catholic cross is often called in Russia, was one of the first to appear in Sandarmokh – on the day of the opening of the Memorial Cemetery for Victims of Terror. Less than four months passed from the discovery of the burials to the grand opening. Only those who really wanted to be ready on time – on the important day of the sixtieth anniversary of the Great Terror – could make it in such a short time.
In 1997, the names and personal details of some of those murdered here were known with certainty – 1,111 people from the so-called Solovetsky stage. These people, held in the Solovetsky Special Purpose Prison (STON), were sentenced to be shot by the NKVD “trio” in the Leningrad Oblast. They were deported from the Solovetsky Islands and killed near Medvezhegorsk. The remaining names were still to be determined.
Therefore, in 1997, the materialization of memory in Sandarmokh referred only to the Solovetsky list, which included 28 people listed in the camp documentation as “Polish man” or “Polish woman”. If we also include those born in Poland, we have a list of about 50 people whose biographies were related to Poland (of course, all of them were Soviet citizens and found themselves in the labour camps not for ethnic reasons, but due to the general mechanisms of the Soviet system of repression). And when the Memorial Cemetery of Victims of Terror was opened in Sandarmokh on October 27, 1997, on the sixtieth anniversary of the beginning of the shootings of the “Solovetsky stage” (the executions lasted for several days), a three-meter high Catholic cross was one of the first monuments to be erected here. A granite commemorative plaque was placed under the cross with an inscription in Polish and Russian: “On the 60th anniversary / To Solovetsky prisoners – Poles / and priests who found eternal / rest on this land / Compatriots.” “К 60-летию / Соловецким узникам-Полякам / и священникам, которые нашл и место / вечного покоя на этой земле / 27/10/1997 г. “Sootechstenvenniki”.
The initiator of erecting the cross was the parish priest of St. Stanislaus in Saint Petersburg, Fr. Krzysztof Pożarski (he also later, in 2010, erected a cross “to the Catholics of the USSR – bishops, priests, monks and laypeople of all rites and nationalities – victims of political repression” at the Levashiv Memorial Cemetery of Victims of Political Repression in Saint Petersburg). In the ceremony of unveiling and consecrating the cross, apart from Fr. Krzysztof, participated Catholic clergy from Saint Petersburg and Petrozavodsk (the capital of Karelia): priests Bernardo Antonini, Andrzej Steckiewicz, Bronisław Czaplicki and Celestyn Dierunov. The ceremony was also attended by a delegation of the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Saint Petersburg, headed by Consul General Jerzy Skotarek, and Catholics from Saint Petersburg and Petrozavodsk.
Four deaths of Yevgeniya Mustangova
When I came to the registry office to get the fourth certificate of Żenia’s death, I was asked to return all the previous ones, which turned out to be false. I made notarized photocopies of all the certificates and then took the originals to the registry office. And I received a piece of paper that was truly terrible and on which it was written: “Cause of death – shooting, place of death – Solovetsky Islands.”
Later, Anna Rozina found out that this “terrible piece of paper” had lied to her just like the previous ones. It is possible that it was not a conscious lie, and that the employees of the Leningrad archives of the KGB executive board simply did not know anything about the real place of execution of her sister and 1,110 other people shot together with her. Now we know this place: Karelia, the vicinity of Medvezhegorsk, the Sandarmokh area. (…)
Irina Flige – researcher of Soviet terror and the history of the Gulag, social activist. Still a student, she worked for the benefit of political prisoners at the Solzhenitsyn Foundation. From 1988 in a “Memorial” branch in Petersburg and from 2002 its chairman and leader. Since 2002, she has led expeditions searching for mass graves on the Solovetsky Islands, Karelia and the Leningrad Oblast. Organizer of the annual Remembrance Days in Solovetsky Islands and Sandarmokh.