Monday 18.

At 7 a.m. in the morning 700 people (policemen) were disarmed – on September 18, 1939, por. rez. Paweł Brus writes in his notepad – We could see the crying. Rifles and brownings layered on one pile. The Russian cavalry went through the courtyard. Then the shooting from tanks and CKM, which lasted 2 hours. A message from a Russian officer that we would go into captivity.[…]

Wednesday, 21.

Kpt.rez. Paweł Brus

About 1,000 people in the yard with bread and water. Registration, writing down. Night in the prison chapel […]

Friday, 29.

Kozielszczyna across Dnieper we are located in Poltava Governorate. About 6000 people. Police in tents, we in an old pigsty. Very cold. For hours we have to wait in the line for water […].

Monday, 20 November

Correspondence was made possible or a provision was made in this matter. Either our stay ends here or is prolonged.[…]

28 XI 1939 r.

The content of the letter to home: “My dearest darlings. I am on the territory of the USSR and I am completely healthy. […] You can supposedly send us clothing parcels. If you can, send ordinary big slippers, thick old underpants, old darned shirt and warm gloves, one-finger gloves, no food, because there is enough bread here [..]

Paweł Brus

The author of the diary is the Reserve Lieutenant Paweł Brus, as a civilian a teacher in Pruchna in Cieszyn Silesia. Like over 200,000 soldiers and officers of the Polish Army and the State Police, he became a prisoner of war almost immediately after the Soviet aggression. After a short stay in Kozielszczyna, he ends up in Kozelsk as one of the 9,000 privates, non-commissioned officers and officers of the Polish Army brought there. Simultaneously with Kozelsk camp, in the last months of 1939, the camps in Ostashkov and Starobelsk are being filled with prisoners of war. In October, in the Orthodox church and barracks of the Starobelsk camp, there are 4824 prisoners of war, including 2243 officers from, among others, the units defending Lviv during the September Campaign. Police officers, gendarmes, intelligence officers, counterintelligence officers, workers of courts and prison service, Border Guard officers, and military settlers, sometimes with their families, were sent to Ostashkov. On December 1, 6,000 people live in two Ostashkov subcamps, including 1,400 policemen from the Silesian Voivodeship.

“At the time of the arrival of the prisoners of war, the camps were not prepared because their buildings did not correspond in terms of their capacity to the number of prisoners of war, but the construction of additional buildings (barracks) was not possible due to short deadlines and lack of building materials in place during the first days of camp organization.

As a result, with the arrival of prisoners of war, the camp rooms were overpopulated, cramped, and the prisoners of war were crowded, and in some camps three- and four-storey bunks were built.

In the Putyvl camp, each 40 people were placed on an area of 20 square meters. There was no room for 728 people in the Ostashkov camp at all. In the Jukhnovo, Kozelsk, and Oranki camps, some prisoners of war were placed in non-residential buildings: stables, pigsties, and sheds.

In a number of camps, the prisoners of war were placed in summer rooms. The cooling, which took place, violently worsened the conditions, the rooms were cold, there were no furnaces.

Prisoners of war in the Putyvl camp left the summer barracks at night to the heated barracks, the residents of the latter did not let the visitors in, as a result of which there were misunderstandings between the prisoners of war. One time the prisoners of war brought a cauldron to the barracks, made a fire in it, set up a furnace without a pipe, and used it […]

Due to the fact that the camps were not adapted to such a large number of people directed to them, in almost all camps there was not enough water not only for washing, but also for [preparing] hot water.

Prisoners of war waiting in line for water in Kozelsk, fig. Stanisław Westwalewicz


The lack of water was particularly noticeable in the Oranki camp, where the prisoners of war quenched their thirst with snow, and in the Putyvl camp, where the prisoners of war were not even bathing during their first days in the camp[…] *


* From the report on the state of NKVD camps for prisoners of war, prepared in Moscow after 15 November 1939 r. (in) ‘KATYŃ. Jeńcy nie wypowiedzianej wojny’ (‘KATYN. Prisoners of not declared war’), Wydawnictwo ‘Trio’, Warsaw 1995.



Czapski Józef, Wspomnienia starobielskie (Memoirs of Starobelsk), Rzym l945.

Czapski Józef , Na nieludzkiej ziemi (Inhuman Land) , Warsaw 1990.

Gruner – Żarnoch Ewa ‘Starobielsk w oczach ocalałych jeńców’ (‘Starobelsk in the eyes of prisoners of war that survived’), Szczecin 2001.

Jaczyński Stanisław (red. nauk.),  Obozy jenieckie NKWD IX – 1939 VIII – l941 (NKVD Prisoner of war camps IX – 1939 VIII – l941), Warsaw 1995.

Jankowski Stanisław M. Czterdziestu co godzinę (Each forty every hour), Warsaw 1992.

KATYŃ. Jeńcy nie wypowiedzianej wojny (‘KATYN. Prisoners of not declared war’),Warsaw 1995.

Stepek Jan E. (oprac.) Pamiętniki znalezione w Katyniu (Memoirs found in Katyn), Paryż 1990.

One of the prisoners in Kozelsk was a cleric named Leon Musielak, before the outbreak of the war he was a lecturer at Salesian People’s University in Kopiec near Częstochowa. He was captured on 18 September, together with a group of civilians and military men. They were taken to Kozelsk, a town located about 250 km southeast of Smolensk, by the railway line between Smolensk – Tula. The Kozelsk camp for Polish prisoners of war was located in the buildings of the former monastery. The first groups of prisoners arrived here in November 1939.

“One day I learned that at night I would be able to participate in the sacrifice of the Mass,” he wrote in his memoirs, “I see this Mass as if it were yesterday. We are lying on bunks, our heads only leaning out, our eyes fixed on one point, where the altar of Christ looked so inconspicuous and simple. Next to it the priest, obviously without vestments, keeps a chalice and a piece of bread from the camp, which replaced the wafer. Under the appearances of these gifts, Christ offers Himself here to the Heavenly Father for the sins of the whole world.

The darkness… The singing is quiet, but the mysterious power is felt in it when the mouth repeats: “Who will give himself to his Lord in His care…”. Finally, Holy Communion… A little bit of ordinary bread from modest camp portions, yet Christ with His God and humanity, the strongest light of the human mind, all in it […]

Faith and prayer helped to endure camp conditions more easily. Despite being punished for their prayers, the chaplains carried out their pastoral mission wherever they could, and the priest chaplain Jan Ziółkowski, who was later murdered in Katyn, was distinguished by his special risk and dedication. Among other things, he had a book about following Christ. It was always in circulation. I know that thanks to that an internal balance through the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist was achieved by many…”

Leon Musielak

Our Lady of Katyn – linocut by Danuta Staszewska.

As one of the few cleric Leon Musielak will avoid execution in 1940. He will become a priest, persecuted and imprisoned in the People’s Republic of Poland, among others, for reminding of the perpetrators of crimes in the Katyn Forest. In 1991, Father Leon’s memoirs will be published, and three years later he will go to Katyn to celebrate mass for the peace of soul of his colleagues from Kozelsk. On 28 May 1994, an 84-year-old Salesian will pray next to the destroyed black granite plaques in Polish and Russian, commemorating Polish officers murdered in Katyn in 1940, plaques struck with stones or heavy tools, with attempts to blur the date. Next to the Katyn cross, brought from Warsaw in 1989 which few years later was cut with knives and had traces of arson. Close to destroyed into pieces  ‘To the Fallen in Katyn. Parish community of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius’ plaque. He will say that he doesn’t feel hatred or have desire for revenge in the forest full of bonfire traces, among the cans, bottles and cake papers. In the forest, in which even information boards telling not to devastate the area, not to clutter it and protect the nature were not spared. In the forest, still waiting for the Polish War Cemetery to be located there…

Father Leon Musielak tells the authors of the book ‘Powrót do Katynia’ (‘Return to Katyn’) Stanisław M. Jankowski and Edward Miszczak about his stay in Kozelsk.


* Ks. Leon Musielak SDB, Spod Częstochowy do Kozielska (From Częstochowa to Kozelsk), Inspektorat Towarzystwa Salezjańskiego, Kraków 1991.

“Only the appearance of typhus and bloody diarrhoea in Starobelsk, fear of the epidemic, for which criminal responsibility was threatened, scared the commanders. One day the prisoners were led to the bathhouse – 2 x 300 people a day, but it was not allowed to wash their underwear there, in a terrible rain the prisoners were driven in the middle of Kirowa Street, in puddles up to their knees. After about 1 mile on the bank of the Aidar river the signboard: ‘City bathhouse’.

A small, fat man appeared in a quilted jacket that was great in dry weather, completely useless in the rain. ‘Bańszczyk’ counts down 2 x 50 people, the first fifty bring themselves fuel – they log and burn in furnaces, the second one carries water from the river with buckets, because the pump is broken. The slope is steep and slippery, about 10 meters you have to go downhill on the buttocks and return with buckets along a roundabout road and pour water into the boilers using gutter. All the time the insults of the escorts are being heard. After 2 hours the washing starts, after another hour the change of prisoners starts.

Stripping in a cold and muddy room, tying things in bundles, throwing them into a dry cauldron. In the adjacent room, the forced shaving of heads begins on the benches. Despite the protests, they force it. Afterwards, everyone looks the same – like criminals. Everyone is skinny, too. Finally, after 2 months a hot shower, secret washing of dirt. Then searching for your own things that are more dirty than before, stinking and wrinkled…” *

Bronisław Młynarski


* Fragment of memoir ‘W niewoli sowieckiej’ ‘In Soviet captivity’, published in London in 1974 and summarized by Ewa Gruner- Żarnoch in a book (‘Starobelsk in the eyes of prisoners of war that survived’), Szczecin 2001.

Bronisław Młynarski’s memoirs are perfectly complemented by the drawings by Józef Łukocjewski, also a prisoner of war in the Starobelsk camp, and during the September campaign a platoon officer cadet of the 1st Legions Infantry Regiment. Before the outbreak of the war, he did not manage to advance to the rank of officer. At the exhibition on the victims of the Katyn massacre organized by the Katyn Association in 1990 in Szczecin, he confessed that he can say a lot about the Starobelsk camp. The ability to draw was also useful…

The sketches made by Łukocjewski allow us to imagine a camp in Starobelsk over Aidar, located southeast of Kharkiv. Just like in Kozelsk and Ostashkov, the Starobelsk camp was found in the Orthodox churches and the surrounding buildings of the former monastery. Earlier, there were warehouses in the churches, and in September 1939 a camp for Polish prisoners of war was organized. First, for privates, non-commissioned officers, officers and generals, and in December only officers and generals remained there.

The generals, colonels, and lieutenants colonels lived outside the main camp: the first in a small house on Włodarska Street and the remaining officers in a former school on Kirowa Street. The buildings were surrounded by a high fence made of boards, enlarged from above by a barbed wire. Łukocjewski remembered the guard towers- ‘wyszki’ …

Most Polish prisoners of war were placed in a ‘small’ and ‘large’ Orthodox church, called by Poles ‘circus’ or ‘shanghai’, where five-storey (or even six-storey ?) bunks were built, as well as in the brick buildings of the monastery (e.g. a block of flats, the so-called ‘captain’s’).

In Starobelsk, meals were almost identical to those in Kozelsk and Ostashkov: 800 grams of bread a day and a mess tin of porridge for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes soup, sometimes a piece of fish or canned fish; sometimes inedible. In the camp shop – to supplement the daily menu – the prisoners could sometimes buy 5 or 10 grams of sugar and…sweets. Provided that they had earlier obtained rubles, e.g. by selling their watch to someone from the camp staff who was forbidden to contact them…

Drawings by Józef Łukocjewski come from a book by Ewa Gruner – Żarnoch ‘Starobielsk w oczach ocalałych jeńców’ (‘Starobelsk in the eyes of prisoners of war that survived’),

Bread has always been scarce…

“In Ostashkov they ordered us to get off and from there we sailed further by ship and the barges attached to it. Soon we saw an island with a huge monastery surrounded by other buildings. There were already Polish prisoners of war there, and those more inquiring discovered that earlier – in the monastery converted into a prisoner of war camp – Chinese were kept, if one is to believe the inscriptions that they left behind.

And our prisoner life began among lice and bugs, indestructible in any way, attacking in thousands in all objects, on four- and six-storey bunks, during sleep and walk, and even during hunger meals. Bread was always scarce, soup was made from non-gutted fish. Memory also provides one better meal, prepared on the occasion of the feast of the revolution; greater rations of bread, sugar, and even wild tobacco. Both my father and I did not smoke cigarettes, so when we exchanged the tobacco for bread, we ate and I ‘celebrated’ with a full belly, for the first time since leaving Brest […]*

Stefan Nastarowicz


* Stefan Nastarowicz (in) ‘Powrót do Katynia’ (‘Return to Katyn’), Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza, Rzeszów, 1990.

Poles in a Soviet camp. On the basis of his own experience, Stefan Starzyński drew the following picture.


Camp on the island

Stefan Nastarowicz was 14 years old when in September 1939, he was taken captive with his father, a functionary of the Łódź State Police by the Soviets. From Brest, through Babynino, Pawliszcze Bór and Bołogoje, both of them were transported to the camp in Ostashkov.

A few weeks later, on 21 November, the boy was released from the camp. He was leaving with a card in his school cap with 91 addresses of Łódź families, which he was to inform that their relatives were living in a prisoner-of-war camp in the USSR.

Even in 1940, cards from Ostashkov were coming to Łódź, with information that you can learn about the camp from young Nastarowicz.

For more than half a century, the pocket diary with notes taken away by the boy was the only existing document about the camp for Polish prisoners of war that in 1939 was located at Lake Seliger, near the railway line Wielkie Łuki – Bołogoje, although it was hidden from a possible search by the security services. A monastery was built in the 17th century on the island of Stołobnyj Ostrow which has several hectares, just a dozen or so kilometers from the town of Ostashkov. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia resulted in the closure of the church and monastery. In 1920, Polish prisoners of war were taken to the island and in September 1939 it was decided to use the monastery facilities for 9000 prisoners of war.

At the end of September, transports with the first hundreds of prisoners arrived, carried by ships from Ostashkov to the island. Most of them were officers of the State Police, gendarmerie, Border Protection Corps, Border Guard, Prison Guard and Administration, intelligence and counterintelligence officers, as well as workers from prosecutor’s office and judicial workers, including officers from the Polish Army reserve. Civilians were transported in several transports; railwaymen, junaks from labor troops, military settlers with families, postal workers.

The interrogations conducted from the very beginning made it possible to systematically reduce the number of people in the camp; some prisoners (privates, born in the areas occupied by the Germans) went to the General Government or to work in the Reich. The privates were released, born in the eastern territories of the Republic of Poland, and after the Soviet aggression in 1939 called ‘Western Belarus’ and ‘Western Ukraine’. 1,470 people were sent to the labour camps in Krzywy Róg, and an unknown number of officers was sent to the camps in Starobelsk and Kozelsk. According to Soviet reports, on1  December 1939, there were 5,963 people in the Ostashkov camp, including 105 civilians.

On 4 April 1940 a transport of 494 prisoners of war left Ostashkov, this time directed to Kalinin (now Tver). There will be more than twenty such transports, the last one will leave the camp on 13 May.