The Crime of Genocide Committed against the Poles by the USSR before and during World War II: An International Legal Study

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

The Crime of Genocide Committed against the Poles by the USSR before and during World War II: An International Legal Study


Karski, Karol, Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law


The USSR's genocidal activity against the Polish nation started before World War II. For instance, during the NKVD's "Polish operation" of 1937 and 1938, the Communist regime exterminated about 85,000 Poles living at that time on the prewar territory of the USSR. In Soviet newspapers and literature the image had been created of the Pole as an enemy. The USSR citizens were afraid to acknowledge Polish nationality because that meant death. After the aggression of the Third Reich and the USSR against Poland in 1939, this policy was extended into territory annexed by the USSR and its Polish inhabitants. On the basis of the Political Bureau of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) decision of March 5, 1940 about 22,000 Poles were exterminated. Despite the different places of the slayings, activities included in its execution are described as the Katyn Massacre. Further, four waves of deportations from 1940 to 1941 were conducted as a way of disintegrating ethnic ties. This genocide lasted until the moment when the USSR--not of its own will--became a member of the anti-Hitler coalition in 1941.

Genocide was legally separated as a new type of international crime by virtue of the 1948 Genocide Convention. Post-war genocide cases, including the Adolf Eichmann trial, are not affected by nullum crimen sine lege principle, since acts, especially murders, being elements of the crime of genocide were already forbidden by international law at the time of its commission. Their new classification based on the intent, which is the destruction of the group, does not violate that principle. On the basis of the 1948 Genocide Convention, German perpetrators of pre-war and the World War H genocide were brought to justice. On the Soviet and then Russian side no one has been punished for the Katyn Massacre.

CONTENTS

I.    INTRODUCTION
II.   NKVD's "POLISH OPERATION" OF 1937-1938 AS AN EXAMPLE
      OF GENOCIDE CRIME COMMITTED BY THE USSR AGAINST THE
      POLES BEFORE THE OUTBREAK OF WORLD WAR II
III.  THE KATYN MASSACRE AS AN EXAMPLE OF GENOCIDE CRIME
      COMMITTED BY THE USSR AGAINST THE POLES AFTER THE
      OUTBREAK OF WORLD WAR II
IV.   THE CONCEPT OF THE CRIME OF GENOCIDE
V.    THE DOCTRINE ON THE CLASSIFICATION OF THE KATYN
      MASSACRE UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW--AN OUTLINE
VI.   THE POLICY OF THE SOVIET AUTHORITIES WITH REGARD TO THE
      POLES AND THE POLISH NATION
VII.  THE NKVD's POLISH OPERATION IN 1937 1938 AND THE KATYN
      MASSACRE AS THE CRIME OF GENOCIDE WITH REGARD TO THE
      PRINCIPLES OF LEX RETRO NON AGIT AND NULLUM CRIMEN
      SINE LEGE
VIII. THE PROBLEM OF RESPONSIBILITY
IX.   CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

"People belonging to national minorities 'should be forced to their knees and shot like mad dogs.' It was not an SS officer speaking, but a communist party leader, in the spirit of the national operations of Stalin's Great Terror." (1) Timothy D. Snyder makes us realize that the communist propaganda was highly effective in shaping the narrative concerning the Stalinist terror in a way that would discourage us, as much as possible, from associating it with the German Nazi terror. (2) He notes that:

   [T]he picture of Stalin's terror, both in the West and in Poland,
   was shaped by Khrushchev's 1956 speech in which he talked
   about repressions against the party, against the communists.
   Not against those who really suffered, i.e., the people, peasants
   and also some nationalities. (3)

During the Great Terror period in the USSR there were cases of whole nationalities being destroyed. (4) The motives behind the Soviet authorities' actions varied, although they were largely political. As a result, both political and national groups were annihilated. (5) Under modern principles of international law, if a national group is destroyed for any reason, we are dealing with a case of genocide crime. (6)

According to the Russian historian Natalia Lebedeva, Soviet Stalinism and German Nazism were an example of twin regimes.

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