Poles in Kazakhstan

“Poles in Kazakhstan (1936-1956). Souvenirs and memories from the collection of the Sybir Memorial Museum”

Soviet authorities exiled Polish citizens to Kazakhstan mainly in two of four large-scale deportations that took place in 1940-1941.

The largest and the most tragic was the second deportation. In April 1940 the families of "enemies of the nation", public officers, army members, policemen, prison officers, teachers, social activists, merchants, industrialists, bankers and persons arrested by NKVD were deported. Among the exiles 80% were women and children. The exiles were mainly sent to the Northern Kazakhstan, Aktyubinsk, Kustanaj, Petropavlovsk, Akmolinski, Pavlodar and Semipalatynsk Regions. The last group deported in summer of 1941 included “socially undesirable elements”.

In Kazakhstan women and children could only rely on themselves. Very often, Poles were taken from a railway station to an indicated town or village, where they were left to themselves. Living conditions in Kazakhstan terrified. In most cases the exiles were settled in kolkhoz and sovkhoz farms. They were forced to work from dawn to dusk, placed in primitive huts made of clay and straw. Humiliation, hunger, illnesses and loneliness filled whole days. The concern for providing for children and the attempt to create a substitute of home, uncertainty whether the family will be able to come back to its country caused unimaginable suffering.

The fate of Polish families deported to Kazakhstan is depicted in documents, photographs and souvenirs donated to the Sybir Memorial Museum. A small Kazakh wooden painted bowl, a horn comb “the lice killer” (“wszobojka”), a wooden potato masher which has never been used for mashing potatoes, bast shoes, a concert zither, a memoirs of the exile or cotton fibres gathered from the field, photographs on the steppe with dugouts at the background – these objects bring us closer to people connected by the common traumatic experience.

Do góry