“A single death is a tragedy.  A million deaths is a statistic.”

This cold-hearted saying is attributed to Stalin, even though there is no actual proof that he is the author of the statement.   It is common knowledge that he frequently made reference to this argument.  (Erich Maria Remarque apparently stated this.)

Death in Siberia, whether during the reign of the Tsars, or under Stalin, affected both the poor and wealthy classes alike.  Death favoured no one, and ultimately everyone was touched, regardless of gender, beliefs or ethnicity.  Siberia, that inhumane land, the eastern Hell, is a place where millions of innocent victims were laid to rest in the world’s largest cemetery, or their anonymous bones were scattered – somewhere.  This is the somber face of Siberia, the Russian terror, the prison without bars.  To this day, entanglements of barbed wire and crumbling guard towers hauntingly remind us of this tragic past.  This cursed place!  Very little remains of the Gulag Archipelago.

Time is erasing these remains on the Siberian plains.  The taiga is claiming its secrets, the wooden buildings unused for many years, as well as the forest roads which led to the death camps.  Here worked and died the victims of the Tsars’ or Stalin’s regimes of terror.  They will wait forever for a decent burial, remaining anonymous in this cemetery called Siberia.  No one will ever be able to count how many burial sites with simple wooden crosses reaching out as arms to heaven, as if they are begging for a prayer:  “Lord, grant them eternal rest, and let perpetual light shine on them forever and ever.  May they rest in everlasting peace. Amen.”

There are many other cemeteries, some with no crosses, others anonymous, forgotten by God and mankind alike.  This too is Siberia.  The genocides of the 20th century are fading into obscurity.  Future generations will learn about what transpired through the pages of history.

Yet who knows? …

Letter to my Father:

Dear Father!

You used to tell me you did not remember the crosses.  You did remember the cold, the Northern Lights during the nights in Siberia.  Beautiful, yet cold.  Were they as colorful as this icon?  You were only three years old when you first saw the Northern Lights.  And the last time you saw them you had grown up, you were working, yet you were only 11 years old.  Your parents, my grandparents – I cannot ask them about anything, for they never returned home, they stayed there forever.  Neither you nor I know if they have a cross on their grave, maybe not even their names are inscribed, only their bones, whitening in the Siberian light, colorful, like the Northern Lights?  You survived, returned with your siblings, with strangers, good people.

We never spoke of this.  You know, there always seemed to be something more important, whether it was soccer, my Lechia Gdansk (you were my most ardent supporter!), and then university and my architectural studies.  So much was happening around us, I thought there would still be time that we would talk, like a father with his son.  I got the impression that you really did not want to return to those days of the past, to talk about them …  Maybe you wanted to keep the memories of the Northern Lights to yourself, for your dreams?  I will never know.

Dear Father, I dedicate this icon of the Virgin Mary of Siberia in your honor, that of your parents, your siblings and to all those who remained there in Siberia, and to those who survived, as witnesses to the horrors.

Your loving son,


“Dear Lord, may those who we commended to you, live with you and be your people.  Wipe away the tears from their eyes and let them drink the waters of life.  May they rejoice in being with you forever …”

OBITUARY – Lest we forget …

For those who had to dig their own graves,
Whose hands were tied behind their backs and were forced to kneel in front of the opening,
Who were taken out in boats and drowned in the middle of the White Sea.
For those where nothing remained
Not even a surname,
For them we do not write an obituary,
For them only the memories of widows
Or the begging prayers of mothers,
Or the stunned facial expressions of children.
And from day to day the slowly growing
Wound of immortal pain.
From night to night the omnipresent silence
Of an obscure tragedy,
Drowning out cries and calls of the inconsolable,
Even their moans.
For this immeasurable crime,
Faithful Mother Earth:
Everlasting peace
“Requiem aeternam”

Kazimierz Wierzynski

(Translation to English by Iwona Proszek-Mooney)