Category: Archive

Grisly end: Irish father died in Stalin’s gulag

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe DUBLIN — The daughter of an Irishman who went to study in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and ended up dying in a brutal Stalinist gulag at the age of 35, has tracked down the extraordinary story of the father she never knew. Padraic Breslin was an idealistic 21-year-old pro-Communist when he was sent from Dublin by labor leader Jim Larkin with seven others to study at Moscow’s International Lenin School in 1928. But he never came home and his disappearance had remained a mystery. His daughter Mairead Breslin-Kelly said discovering what had happened to her father and reconstructing his life had been very painful and changed her life. "Nothing will ever look quite the same again," she said. "I view things differently. It has transformed my life." As a little girl, she had thought her father would turn up and asked questions, but later on he was never spoken about. Padraic was born in London and his family returned home to live on the North Strand in 1920. He had been influenced to become a socialist by an uncle who returned from America and he joined the fledgling Irish Communist Party in Dublin as a 14-year-old. In Russia, he became a journalist and married a Russian woman, Katya Kreutzer. They had two children. She worked as a translator in the Japanese section of Russia’s feared secret service, the KGB. Like Padraic, Katya also suffered in the Stalinist purges. She spent eight years in prison after being accused of spying for Japan in 1938. After he and Katya had separated and divorced, Padraic married Margaret (Daisy) McMackin, who was visiting Moscow. She had graduated from Queen’s University in Belfast on a scholarship and had later studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. When she became pregnant, she returned to Ireland to have their baby — Mairead — in 1938 and he was to follow later. But he never did. His letters just stopped and he vanished into the Russian reign of terror at that time. Now Mairead has discovered that he had become increasingly disillusioned with dictator Joseph Stalin’s regime as he forced through his socialist reforms at huge cost, with millions believed to have died any opponents were ruthlessly dealt with. Padraic’s repeated applications to leave the country and go home and join his new wife were refused. After pressure from the authorities and his first wife, he had handed in his passport and apparently became a Russian citizen in 1936. In 1938, then External Affairs Minister Eamon de Valera said he would be a "stateless person" if he renounced Soviet citizenship having earlier done the same with his Irish nationality. One of his Russians friends told an RTE "True Lives" documentary Feb. 26 that Padraic told her it was a fascist state. "I live in a prison and I want to go home," he said. Eventually, the KGB arrested him for "counterrevolutionary activities." After 60 lengthy interrogation sessions, like many other dissidents, Padraic was sent to a brutal concentration camp in Tartarstan in 1940. He was sentenced to eight years but died two years later. He death certificate says he died of a heart attack following TB, but there are suspicions he may have been shot. Aged 84, Daisy died in Dublin 1984, never knowing the truth of what had happened to the man she married after a whirlwind romance. Vienna-based Irish historian Barry McLoughlin helped unlock the secrets of the 300-page KGB file on Padraic and Mairead has found her Russian half-brother, Genhrich, and sister, Irina, to fill in the missing pieces about her father’s life. In 1991, the Russian authorities posthumously rehabilitated Padraic of any crime.

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