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It is the 76th anniversary today of this awful episode if World War 2.I didn’t call this article forgotten History even though I think if you ask any youngster nowadays if they ever heard of this story they more then likely say no.
It shows that it wasn’t only the Nazi’s who committed atrocities during WW2. It took the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 ,before we found out what really happened.
In 1990 Gorbachev finally admitted that the Soviet NKVD (a Soviet Law enforcement agency)had executed the Poles, and confirmed two other burial sites similar to the site at Katyn. .
Stalin’s order of March 1940 to execute ,by shooting, about 25,700 Poles, including those found at the three sites, was also disclosed with the collapse of Soviet Power. This particular second world war slaughter of Poles is often referred to as the “Katyn Massacre” or the “Katyn Forest Massacre”.
The Katyn massacre was a series of mass executions of Polish nationals carried out by the NKVD (“People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs”, a Soviet secret police organisation) in April and May 1940. Originally, the term “Katyn massacre”, also known as the Katyn Forest massacre, referred to the massacre at Katyn Forest, which was discovered first and was the largest execution of this type.- This should not be confused with the Kathyn Massacre in Belarus-
The massacre was prompted by NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria’s proposal to execute all captive members of the Polish Officer Corps, dated 5 March 1940, approved by the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, including its leader, Joseph Stalin.
The number of victims is estimated at about 22,000.The victims were executed in the Katyn Forest in Russia, the Kalinin and Kharkiv prisons, and elsewhere. Of the total killed, about 8000 were officers imprisoned during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland
Another 6,000 were police officers, and the rest were arrested Polish intelligentsia that the Soviets deemed to be “intelligence agents, gendarmes, landowners, saboteurs, factory owners, lawyers, officials, and priests”
The government of Nazi Germany announced the discovery of mass graves in the Katyn Forest in 1943. When the London-based Polish government-in-exile asked for an investigation by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Stalin immediately severed diplomatic relations with it. The USSR claimed that the victims had been murdered by the Nazis in 1941 and continued to deny responsibility for the massacres until 1990, when it officially acknowledged and condemned the perpetration of the killings by the NKVD, as well as the subsequent cover-up by the Soviet government.[
An investigation conducted by the office of the Prosecutors General of the Soviet Union (1990–1991) and the Russian Federation (1991–2004) confirmed Soviet responsibility for the massacres but refused to classify this action as a war crime or an act of genocide. The investigation was closed on the grounds that the perpetrators of the atrocity were already dead, and since the Russian government would not classify the dead as victims of the Great Purge, formal posthumous rehabilitation was deemed inapplicable.
In November 2010, the Russian State Duma approved a declaration blaming Stalin and other Soviet officials for having personally ordered the massacre.
The Soviet invasion of Poland began on 17 September in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.
The Red Army advanced quickly and met little resistance, as Polish forces facing them were under orders not to engage the Soviets. About 250,000 to 454,700 Polish soldiers and policemen were captured and interned by the Soviet authorities. Some were freed or escaped quickly, but 125,000 were imprisoned in camps run by the NKVD.Of these, 42,400 soldiers, mostly of Ukrainian and Belarusian ethnicity serving in the Polish army, who lived in the territories of Poland annexed by the Soviet Union, were released in October. The 43,000 soldiers born in western Poland, then under German control, were transferred to the Germans; in turn, the Soviets received 13,575 Polish prisoners from the Germans.
Soviet repressions of Polish citizens occurred as well over this period. Since Poland’s conscription system required every nonexempt university graduate to become a military reserve officer,the NKVD was able to round up a significant portion of the Polish educated class.According to estimates by the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), roughly 320,000 Polish citizens were deported to the Soviet Union (this figure is questioned by some other historians, who hold to older estimates of about 700,000–1,000,000).IPN estimates the number of Polish citizens who died under Soviet rule during World War II at 150,000 (a revision of older estimates of up to 500,000).Of the group of 12,000 Poles sent to Dalstroy camp (near Kolyma) in 1940–1941, mostly POWs, only 583 men survived; they were released in 1942 to join the Polish Armed Forces in the East.
As early as 19 September, the head of the NKVD, Lavrentiy Beria, ordered the secret police to create the Main Administration for Affairs of Prisoners of War and Internees to manage Polish prisoners. The NKVD took custody of Polish prisoners from the Red Army, and proceeded to organise a network of reception centers and transit camps, and to arrange rail transport to prisoner-of-war camps in the western USSR. The largest camps were located at Kozelsk (Optina Monastery), Ostashkov (Stolobny Island on Lake Seliger near Ostashkov), and Starobelsk.
Other camps were at Jukhnovo (rail station Babynino), Yuzhe (Talitsy), rail station Tyotkino (90 kilometres (56 mi) from Putyvl), Kozelshchyna,Oranki, Vologda (rail station Zaonikeevo), and Gryazovets.
According to a report from 19 November 1939, the NKVD had about 40,000 Polish POWs: about 8,000–8,500 officers and warrant officers, 6,000–6,500 police officers, and 25,000 soldiers and non-commissioned officers who were still being held as POWs. In December, a wave of arrests resulted in the imprisonment of additional Polish officers. Ivan Serov reported to Lavrentiy Beria on 3 December that “in all, 1,057 former officers of the Polish Army had been arrested”. The 25,000 soldiers and non-commissioned officers were assigned to forced labor (road construction, heavy metallurgy).
Once at the camps, from October 1939 to February 1940, the Poles were subjected to lengthy interrogations and constant political agitation by NKVD officers, such as Vasily Zarubin. The prisoners assumed they would be released soon, but the interviews were in effect a selection process to determine who would live and who would die.According to NKVD reports, if the prisoners could not be induced to adopt a pro-Soviet attitude, they were declared “hardened and uncompromising enemies of Soviet authority”.
On 5 March 1940, pursuant to a note to Joseph Stalin from Beria, six members of the Soviet Politburo—Stalin,Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, Kliment Voroshilov, Anastas Mikoyan, and Mikhail Kalinin
signed an order to execute 25,700 Polish “nationalists and counterrevolutionaries” kept at camps and prisons in occupied western Ukraine and Belarus. The reason for the massacre, according to historian Gerhard Weinberg, was that Stalin wanted to deprive a potential future Polish military of a large portion of its talent:
It has been suggested that the motive for this terrible step [the Katyn massacre] was to reassure the Germans as to the reality of Soviet anti-Polish policy. This explanation is completely unconvincing in view of the care with which the Soviet regime kept the massacre secret from the very German government it was supposed to impress. … A more likely explanation is that … [the massacre] should be seen as looking forward to a future in which there might again be a Poland on the Soviet Union’s western border. Since he intended to keep the eastern portion of the country in any case, Stalin could be certain that any revived Poland would be unfriendly. Under those circumstances, depriving it of a large proportion of its military and technical elite would make it weaker.
In addition, the Soviets realized that the prisoners constituted a large body of trained and motivated Poles who would not accept a fourth partition of Poland.
The number of victims is estimated at about 22,000, with a lower limit of confirmed dead of 21,768. According to Soviet documents declassified in 1990, 21,857 Polish internees and prisoners were executed after 3 April 1940: 14,552 prisoners of war (most or all of them from the three camps) and 7,305 prisoners in western parts of the Byelorussian and Ukrainian SSRs.[b] Of them 4,421 were from Kozelsk, 3,820 from Starobelsk, 6,311 from Ostashkov, and 7,305 from Byelorussian and Ukrainian prisons. The head of the NKVD POW department, Maj. General P. K. Soprunenko, organized “selections” of Polish officers to be massacred at Katyn and elsewhere.
Those who died at Katyn included soldiers (an admiral, two generals, 24 colonels, 79 lieutenant colonels, 258 majors, 654 captains, 17 naval captains, 85 privates, 3,420 non-commissioned officers, and seven chaplains), 200 pilots, government representatives and royalty (a prince, 43 officials), and civilians (three landowners, 131 refugees, 20 university professors, 300 physicians; several hundred lawyers, engineers, and teachers; and more than 100 writers and journalists).In all, the NKVD executed almost half the Polish officer corps.Altogether, during the massacre, the NKVD executed 14 Polish generals. Not all of the executed were ethnic Poles, because the Second Polish Republic was a multiethnic state, and its officer corps included Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Jews. It is estimated that about 8% of the Katyn massacre victims were Polish Jews. 395 prisoners were spared from the slaughter, among them Stanisław Swianiewicz and Józef Czapski.They were taken to the Yukhnov camp and then to Gryazovets.
Up to 99% of the remaining prisoners were subsequently murdered. People from the Kozelsk camp were executed in Katyn Forest; people from the Starobelsk camp were murdered in the inner NKVD prison of Kharkiv and the bodies were buried near the village of Piatykhatky; and police officers from the Ostashkov camp were murdered in the internal NKVD prison of Kalinin (Tver) and buried in Mednoye
Detailed information on the executions in the Kalinin NKVD prison was provided during a hearing by Dmitry Tokarev, former head of the Board of the District NKVD in Kalinin. According to Tokarev, the shooting started in the evening and ended at dawn. The first transport, on 4 April 1940, carried 390 people, and the executioners had difficulty killing so many people in one night. The following transports held no more than 250 people. The executions were usually performed with German-made .25 ACPWalther Model 2 pistols supplied by Moscow, but Soviet-made 7.62×38mmR Nagant M1895 revolvers were also used.
The executioners used German weapons rather than the standard Soviet revolvers, as the latter were said to offer too much recoil, which made shooting painful after the first dozen executions. Just think of this, no machine guns were used but pistols and revolvers, this meant that all the executions had to be done at close range. This indicates the brutality and ruthlessness.
.Vasily Mikhailovich Blokhin, chief executioner for the NKVD
—and quite possibly the most prolific executioner in history—is reported to have personally shot and killed 7,000 of the condemned, some as young as 18, from the Ostashkov camp at Kalinin prison, over a period of 28 days in April 1940.
The killings were methodical. After the condemned individual’s personal information was checked and approved, he was handcuffed and led to a cell insulated with stacks of sandbags along the walls, and a heavy, felt-lined door. The victim was told to kneel in the middle of the cell, and was then approached from behind by the executioner and immediately shot in the back of the head or neck.The body was carried out through the opposite door and laid in one of the five or six waiting trucks, whereupon the next condemned was taken inside and subjected to the same fate. In addition to muffling by the rough insulation in the execution cell, the pistol gunshots were also masked by the operation of loud machines (perhaps fans) throughout the night. Some post-1991 revelations suggest that prisoners were also executed in the same manner at the NKVD headquarters in Smolensk, though judging by the way that the corpses were stacked, some captives may have been shot while standing on the edge of the mass graves.This procedure went on every night, except for the public May Day holiday.
Some 3,000 to 4,000 Polish inmates of Ukrainian prisons and those from Belarus prisons were probably buried in Bykivnia and in Kurapaty respectively.Lieutenant Janina Lewandowska, daughter of Gen. Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki, was the only woman executed during the massacre at Katyn
The question about the fate of the Polish prisoners was raised soon after Operation Barbarossa began in June 1941. The Polish government-in-exile and the Soviet government signed the Sikorski–Mayski agreement, which announced the willingness of both to fight together against Nazi Germany and for a Polish army to be formed on Soviet territory. The Polish general Władysław Anders began organizing this army, and soon he requested information about the missing Polish officers. During a personal meeting, Stalin assured him and Władysław Sikorski, the Polish Prime Minister, that all the Poles were freed, and that not all could be accounted because the Soviets “lost track” of them in Manchuria.
In 1942, with the territory around Smolensk under German occupation, captive Polish railroad workers heard from the locals about a mass grave of Polish soldiers at Kozelsk near Katyn; finding one of the graves, they reported it to the Polish Underground State.The discovery was not seen as important, as nobody thought the discovered grave could contain so many victims In early 1943, Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff, a German officer serving as the intelligence liaison between the Wehrmacht’s Army Group Centre and Abwehr, received reports about mass graves of Polish military officers. These reports stated the graves were in the forest of Goat Hill near Katyn. He passed the reports to his superiors (sources vary on when exactly the Germans became aware of the graves—from “late 1942” to January–February 1943, and when the German top decision makers in Berlin received those reports [as early as 1 March or as late as 4 April]).Joseph Goebbels saw this discovery as an excellent tool to drive a wedge between Poland, the Western Allies, and the Soviet Union, and reinforcement for the Nazi propaganda line about the horrors of Bolshevism, and American and British subservience to it.After extensive preparation, on 13 April, Berlin Radio broadcast to the world that German military forces in the Katyn forest near Smolensk had uncovered a ditch that was “28 metres long and 16 metres wide [92 ft by 52 ft], in which the bodies of 3,000 Polish officers were piled up in 12 layers”.The broadcast went on to charge the Soviets with carrying out the massacre in 1940.
The Germans brought in a European Red Cross committee called the Katyn Commission, comprising 12 forensic experts and their staff, from Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, and Slovakia.
The Germans were so intent on proving that the Soviets were behind the massacre that they even included some Allied prisoners of war, among them writer Ferdynand Goetel, the Polish Home Army prisoner from Pawiak.
After the war, Goetel escaped with a fake passport due to an arrest warrant issued against him; two of the 12, the Bulgarian Marko Markov and the Czech František Hájek, with their countries becoming satellite states of the Soviet Union, were forced to recant their evidence, defending the Soviets and blaming the Germans..The Croatian pathologist Eduard Miloslavić managed to escape to the USA.
The Katyn massacre was beneficial to Nazi Germany, which used it to discredit the Soviet Union. On 14 April 1943, Goebbels wrote in his diary: “We are now using the discovery of 12,000 Polish officers, murdered by the GPU, for anti-Bolshevik propaganda on a grand style. We sent neutral journalists and Polish intellectuals to the spot where they were found. Their reports now reaching us from ahead are gruesome. The Führer has also given permission for us to hand out a drastic news item to the German press. I gave instructions to make the widest possible use of the propaganda material. We shall be able to live on it for a couple of weeks”.The Germans won a major propaganda victory, portraying communism as a danger to “Western civilization”.
The Soviet government immediately denied the German charges. They claimed that the Polish prisoners of war had been engaged in construction work west of Smolensk, and consequently were captured and executed by invading German units in August 1941. The Soviet response on 15 April to the initial German broadcast of 13 April, prepared by the Soviet Information Bureau, stated that “Polish prisoners-of-war who in 1941 were engaged in construction work west of Smolensk and who…fell into the hands of the German-Fascist hangmen”.
In April 1943, the Polish government-in-exile led by Sikorski insisted on bringing the matter to the negotiation table with the Soviets and on opening an investigation by the International Red Cross. Stalin, in response, accused the Polish government of collaborating with Nazi Germany and broke off diplomatic relations with it.The Soviet Union also started a campaign to get the Western Allies to recognize the pro-Soviet government-in-exile of the Union of Polish Patriots led by Wanda Wasilewska.Sikorski died in an air crash in July—an event that was convenient for the Allied leaders.
When, in September 1943, Joseph Goebbels
was informed that the German army had to withdraw from the Katyn area, he wrote a prediction in his diary. His entry for 29 September 1943 reads: “Unfortunately we have had to give up Katyn. The Bolsheviks undoubtedly will soon ‘find’ that we shot 12,000 Polish officers. That episode is one that is going to cause us quite a little trouble in the future. The Soviets are undoubtedly going to make it their business to discover as many mass graves as possible and then blame it on us”.
Having retaken the Katyn area almost immediately after the Red Army had recaptured Smolensk, around September–October 1943, NKVD forces began a cover-up operation.A cemetery the Germans had permitted the Polish Red Cross to build was destroyed and other evidence removed. Witnesses were “interviewed” and threatened with arrest for collaborating with the Nazis if their testimonies disagreed with the official line. As none of the documents found on the dead had dates later than April 1940, the Soviet secret police planted false evidence to place the apparent time of the massacre in the summer of 1941, when the German military had controlled the area. A preliminary report was issued by NKVD operatives Vsevolod Merkulov and Sergei Kruglov, dated 10–11 January 1944, concluding that the Polish officers were shot by German soldiers.
In January 1944, the Soviet Union sent another commission, the Extraordinary State Commission for ascertaining and investigating crimes perpetrated by the German-Fascist invaders to the site; the very name of the commission implied a predestined conclusion. It was headed by Nikolai Burdenko, the president of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences (hence the commission is often known as the “Burdenko Commission”),
who was appointed by Moscow to investigate the incident.Its members included prominent Soviet figures such as the writer Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy
But no foreign personnel were allowed to join the Commission. The Burdenko Commission exhumed the bodies, rejected the 1943 German findings that the Poles were shot by the Soviet army, assigned the guilt to the Nazis, and concluded that all the shootings were done by German occupation forces in autumn of 1941.Despite a lack of evidence, it also blamed the Germans for shooting Russian prisoners of war used as labor to dig the pits.It is uncertain how many members of the commission were misled by the falsified reports and evidence, and how many actually suspected the truth. Cienciala and Materski note that the Commission had no choice but to issue findings in line with the Merkulov-Kruglov report, and that Burdenko himself most likely was aware of the cover-up. He reportedly admitted something like that to friends and family shortly before his death in 1946. The Burdenko commission’s conclusions would be consistently cited by Soviet sources until the official admission of guilt by the Soviet government on 13 April 1990.
In January 1944, the Soviets also invited a group of more than a dozen mostly American and British journalists, accompanied by Kathleen Harriman, the daughter of the new American ambassador W. Averell Harriman, and John F. Melby, third secretary at the American embassy in Moscow, to Katy The inclusion of Melby and Harriman was regarded by some at the time as a Soviet attempt to lend official weight to their propaganda.Melby’s report noted the deficiencies in the Soviet case: problematic witnesses; attempts to discourage questioning of the witnesses; statements of the witnesses obviously being given as a result of rote memorization; and that “the show was put on for the benefit of the correspondents”. Nevertheless, Melby, at the time, felt that on balance the Russian case was convincing.Harriman’s report reached the same conclusion and after the war both were asked to explain why their conclusions seemed to be at odds with their findings, with the suspicion that the conclusions were what the State Department wanted to hear. The journalists were less impressed and not totally convinced by the staged Soviet demonstration.
Some Western Communists propagated Soviet propaganda.
The growing Polish-Soviet tension was beginning to strain Western-Soviet relations at a time when the Poles’ importance to the Allies, significant in the first years of the war, was beginning to fade, due to the entry into the conflict of the military and industrial giants, the Soviet Union and the United States. In retrospective review of records, both British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt were increasingly torn between their commitments to their Polish ally and the demands by Stalin and his diplomats.
According to the Polish diplomat Edward Bernard Raczyński, Raczyński and General Sikorski met privately with Churchill and Alexander Cadogan on 15 April 1943, and told them that the Poles had concrete proof that the Soviets were responsible for the massacre. Raczyński reports that Churchill, “without committing himself, showed by his manner that he had no doubt of it”. Churchill said that “The Bolsheviks can be very cruel”.However, at the same time, on 24 April 1943, Churchill assured the Soviets: “We shall certainly oppose vigorously any ‘investigation’ by the International Red Cross or any other body in any territory under German authority. Such investigation would be a fraud and its conclusions reached by terrorism”. Unofficial or classified UK documents concluded that Soviet guilt was a “near certainty”, but the alliance with the Soviets was deemed to be more important than moral issues; thus the official version supported the Soviets, up to censoring any contradictory accounts. Churchill asked Owen O’Malley to investigate the issue, but in a note to the Foreign Secretary he noted:“All this is merely to ascertain the facts, because we should none of us ever speak a word about it.”O’Malley pointed out several inconsistencies and near impossibilities in the Soviet version.
Later, Churchill sent a copy of the report to Roosevelt on 13 August 1943. The report deconstructed the Soviet account of the massacre and alluded to the political consequences within a strongly moral framework but recognized there was no viable alternative to the existing policy. No comment by Roosevelt on the O’Malley report has been found.Churchill’s own post-war account of the Katyn affair gives little further insight. In his memoirs, he refers to the 1944 Soviet inquiry into the massacre, which found the Germans responsible, and adds, “belief seems an act of faith”
At the beginning of 1944, Ron Jeffery, an agent of British and Polish intelligence in occupied Poland, eluded the Abwehr and travelled to London with a report from Poland to the British government. His efforts were at first highly regarded, but subsequently ignored by the British, which a disillusioned Jeffery attributed to the treachery of Kim Philby and other high-ranking communist agents entrenched in the British system. Jeffery tried to inform the British government about the Katyn massacre, but was as a result released from the Army.
In the United States a similar line was taken, notwithstanding two official intelligence reports into the Katyn massacre that contradicted the official position. In 1944, Roosevelt assigned his special emissary to the Balkans, Navy Lieutenant Commander George Earle, to produce a report on Katyn.Earle concluded that the massacre was committed by the Soviet Union.Having consulted with Elmer Davis, director of States Office of War Information, Roosevelt rejected the conclusion (officially), declared that he was convinced of Nazi Germany’s responsibility, and ordered that Earle’s report be suppressed. When Earle formally requested permission to publish his findings, the President issued a written order to desist.Earle was reassigned and spent the rest of the war in American Samoa.
A further report in 1945, supporting the same conclusion, was produced and stifled. In 1943, two U.S. POWs—Lt. Col.Donald B. Stewart and Col. John H. Van Vliet—had been taken by Germans to Katyn for an international news conference. Documents released by the National Archives and Records Administration in September 2012 revealed that Steward and Van Vliet sent coded messages to their American superiors indicating that they saw proof that implicated the Soviets. Three lines of evidence were cited. Firstly, the Polish corpses were in such an advanced state of decay that the Nazis could not have killed the Poles, as they had only taken over the area in 1941. Secondly, none of the numerous Polish artifacts, such as letters, diaries, photographs and identification tags pulled from the graves, were dated later than the spring of 1940. Most incriminating was the relatively good state of the men’s uniforms and boots, which showed that they had not lived long after being captured. Later, in 1945, Van Vliet submitted a report concluding that the Soviets were responsible for the massacre. His superior, Major General Clayton Lawrence Bissell, General George Marshall’s assistant chief of staff for intelligence, destroyed the report.Washington kept the information secret, presumably to appease Stalin and not distract from the war against the Nazis.During the 1951–52 Congressional investigation into Katyn, Bissell defended his action before the United States Congress, arguing that it was not in the U.S. interest to antagonize an ally (the USSR) whose assistance was still needed against the Empire of Japan.In 1950 Van Vliet recreated his wartime report.In 2014, a copy of Van Vliet’s 1945 disposition was discovered.
For decades after the ware there had been a lot toing and froing between the west and the soviet union in relation to who was responsible but it took the end of the cold war for the real evidence to emerge.
In a bizarre twist of fate on 10 April 2010, a Tupolev Tu-154 aircraft of the Polish Air Force crashed near the city of Smolensk, Russia, killing all 96 people on board. Among the victims were the President of Poland Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria, the former President of Poland in exile Ryszard Kaczorowski, the chief of the Polish General Staff and other senior Polish military officers, the president of the National Bank of Poland, Polish Government officials, 18 members of the Polish Parliament, senior members of the Polish clergy and relatives of victims of the Katyn massacre. The group was arriving from Warsaw to attend an event marking the 70th anniversary of the massacre, which took place not far from Smolensk.
Various conspiracy theories about the crash have since been in circulation, and are promoted by senior political figures in Poland, who claim the crash was a political assassination, but no evidence supporting this version was found in the Polish investigation.
There is just so much material about this massacre that I could easily do hundreds of articles on the victims alone. However my aim is that we never forget all atrocities that took place during the darkest period of humanity. The period we know as World War 2.
The 1999 Academy Honorary Award recipient, Polish film director Andrzej Wajda, whose father, Captain Jakub Wajda, was murdered in the NKVD prison of Kharkiv, made a film depicting the event, Katyn . It focuses on the fate of some of the mothers, wives and daughters of the Polish officers killed by the Soviets. Some of the Katyn Forest executions were re-enacted. The screenplay is based on Andrzej Mularczyk’s book Post mortem—the Katyn story. The film was produced by Akson Studio, and released in Poland on 21 September 2007. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 2008 for the Best Foreign Language Film.