Death in the Forest: who murdered the prisoners?
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A voice from the grave at Bykovnia

comb from Polish grave For more than a year, I reconstructed the story of a Polish friend whose father and half-brother died in the Katyn Forest massacres. We had long believed that the murders weren't limited to Katyn, and that Basia's father and thousands of other Polish prisoners were taken to Kiev in the Ukraine, and there killed and buried in mass graves in the spring of 1940. Then, in August 2013, belief became certainty with the release of the "Ukrainian List" of victims. Basia's father was number 862 on the list of those condemened to death in Kiev buried not far away in Bykovnia.

This comb is one of the memento mori that were unearthed from those graves. I'm told that it measures a tiny 4x7 centimeters (1.6x2.8 inches), so it was probably a "mustache comb," with its fine teeth suggesting that it was meant to get rid of lice. (It apparently got a lot of use.) The comb was made in Austria of a plastic soft enough for its owner to scratch a record of his imprisonment with a pin. On the top he has listed the stops on his trek through the Ukrainian Gulag, from January 21 to May 24, 1940. Beside that are several names written vertically -- perhaps his closest friends, or those who were with him throughout. Then there's a horizontal line with a list names beneath it -- perhaps those in his cell at the last. Presumably he put the comb in his pocket as he was taken to the dank prison cellar to get "the supreme punishment," one bullet to the back of his head.

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Poland's Daughter

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