The Birth and Persistence of the Katyn Lie

By Wasilewski, Witold | Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

The Birth and Persistence of the Katyn Lie


Wasilewski, Witold, Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law


As a result of the German invasion of Poland in September 1, 1939 and then the Soviet invasion on September 17, half of Poland's territory came under Soviet rule. In the spring of 1940, the Soviets murdered about 22,000 Polish officers--including prisoners of war and high-profile citizens--in Katyn and in other" locations. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union on April 13, 1943, Radio Berlin announced the discovery of the bodies of Polish officers killed by Bolsheviks in the Katyn region. On April 15, 1943 Radio Moscow published a communique from the Soviet Information Bureau that blamed the Germans for the massacre of Polish officers. This communique gave birth to the false Soviet version of the murder of Polish prisoners of war, which became known as the Katyn lie. In the subsequent months the Katyn lie was reinforced by fabricated "evidence" provided by the Soviet security departments NKVD and NKGB. In early 1944, the Special State Commission, headed by Nikolai Budenko, presented to the world the complete official Soviet version of the atrocities against Poles. After World War II, the Soviet fabrication was perpetuated and spread to all countries of the communist bloc and to many circles in the west. This article details the spread of the Katyn lie, as uncovered through newly available documents in official Russian historical archives.

CONTENTS

I.   INTRODUCTION
II.  REACTIONS TO THE DISCOVERIES AT KATYN
III. FABRICATING HISTORY AT KATYN
IV.  THE KATYN LIE AS PROPAGANDA FOR THE SOVIET STATE:
     THE BURDENKO COMMISSION
V.   CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

In the spring of 1940, pursuant to a March 5th order of the Political Bureau of the VCP (b), the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) murdered about 22,000 Polish prisoners of war and other Polish citizens that had been arrested in the Polish territories annexed to the Soviet Union. (1) The victims were mainly Polish military officers. (2) The Katyn Forest was one the various locations of their execution.

The truth about the Katyn massacre came from an unexpected source. In the early spring of 1943, after information from the local population and an informal investigation, German authorities decided to search the Katyn Forest. (3) The search led to the discovery of the bodies of the murdered Polish officers, the last piece of evidence linking the NKVD to the murders. After the defeat at Stalingrad, Joseph Goebbels, interested in undermining the credibility of the Soviet Union, began a propaganda offensive. On April 13, 1943, Radio Berlin announced that German authorities discovered the bodies of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk. (4) This news generated wide interest throughout the world. (5) Delegations--including journalists from the occupied and neutral countries, allied officers held in German camps, and forensic doctors were dispatched to the Katyn Forest; they all confirmed the terrible truth. (6)

On April 15, 1943, in response to the German revelation, Radio Moscow published a communique from the Soviet Information Bureau that expressed outrage, blamed the Germans for the massacre of Polish officers, and promised punishment of "the German-Fascist murderers" for this crime. (7) The very first paragraph, implying that Germany's propaganda offensive was an effort to provoke the USSR, establishes the key argument about German responsibility for the crime:

   In the past two or three days Goebbels's slanderers have been
   spreading vile fabrications alleging that Soviet authorities
   effected a mass shooting of Polish officers in the spring of 1940,
   in the Smolensk area. In launching this monstrous invention, the
   German-Fascist scoundrels do not hesitate at the most unscrupulous
   and base lie in their attempt to cover up crimes which, as has now
   become evident, were perpetrated by themselves. (8)

The second paragraph of the communique, which also appeared in press publications, is also extremely important. …

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