Katyn and the Soviet Massacre of 1940: Truth, Justice and Memory

Katyn and the Soviet Massacre of 1940: Truth, Justice and Memory

Katyn and the Soviet Massacre of 1940: Truth, Justice and Memory

Katyn and the Soviet Massacre of 1940: Truth, Justice and Memory

Synopsis

The Soviet massacre of Polish prisoners of war at Katyn and in other camps in 1940 was one of the most notorious incidents of the Second World War. The truth about the massacres was long suppressed, both by the Soviet Union, and also by the United States and Britain who wished to hold together their wartime alliance with the Soviet Union.

This informative book examines the details of this often overlooked event, shedding light on what took place especially in relation to the massacres at locations other than Katyn itself. It discusses how the truth about the killings was hidden, how it gradually came to light and why the memory of the massacres has long affected Polish-Russian relations.

Excerpt

The Soviet Security Services (NKVD) massacred about 14 700 Polish officers and policemen taken from three prisoner of war (PoW) camps called Kozelsk, Starobelsk and Ostashkov in April–May 1940. At the same time another 7300 were killed in NKVD prisons in Belarus and the Ukraine as part of the same operation. We now know, definitely, from Soviet documents released under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, and in particular the crucial decision of 5 March 1940 of the politburo of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), that this massacre of almost 22 000 Poles was decided on by Stalin himself. The operation was planned carefully in order to maintain total secrecy and implemented with ruthless efficiency through the transportation of the prisoners of war to three separate killing and burial sites. The Starobelsk officers were shot in the NKVD prison cellars in Kharkov and buried in a nearby forest-park while the policemen and border and prison guards from Ostashkov were killed in Kalinin (now Tver) NKVD prison and buried at Mednoe. The 4400 officers from Kozelsk were transported to the Katyn forest outside Smolensk and buried there. After the German invasion of the USSR Goebbels announced the discovery of the bodies at Katyn with much propaganda fanfare in April 1943. He used the issue as a smokescreen for Nazi war atrocities and as a wedge with which to attempt to break up the alliance between the Western Powers and their post-1941 Soviet ally as well as to scupper any residual chance of Polish–Soviet collaboration.

The above circumstances had crucial consequences. Only a part of the 1940 massacre was revealed through exhumations carried out by German, Polish and International Commission forensic-medical specialists at Katyn in spring–summer 1943. The Soviets used the issue as a pretext for breaking off diplomatic relations with, and then marginalising, the Polish Government-in-Exile in London. The British and Americans refused to take the slightest risk of jeopardising the Red Army’s decisive contribution to the Allied war effort against Germany. They, particularly the British Foreign Office, used residual weaknesses in the evidence of Soviet guilt to justify suspension of judgement on the issue of responsibility. Roosevelt and Churchill, although extremely well informed by their own sources . . .

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