THE KATYN MASSACRE OF POLISH OFFICERS IN 1940

By Tim Lambert

Russia Invades Poland

The Katyn massacre was the murder of thousands of Poles by the Communist Russians in April and May 1940. The victims were shot in several places but the mass murder has become known as the Katyn Massacre after a forest near Smolensk where many bodies were found.

In 1939 Stalin made a treaty with Hitler and they agreed to split Poland between them. Germany invaded Poland from the west on 1 September 1939. The Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east on 17 September. All Polish resistance ceased on 5 October 1939. Afterwards Germany occupied about 2/3 of Poland while the Soviet Union took the eastern part. The Russians also took several thousand Polish officers prisoner.

From September 1939 the soviet secret police, the NKVD began moving Polish army officers, police officers, government officials and others to camps inside Russia. In March 1940 Stalin decided they should be murdered. As a result of this order 21,857 Poles were shot.

Stalin was a tyrant. He murdered millions of his own people so he would not hesitate to murder foreigners. We donít know exactly why he decided to murder the cream of Polish society. Perhaps he feared they could act as the nucleus of future resistance to him.

The Massacre

The massacre at Katyn Forest took place between 3 April and 13 May 1940. Over 4,000 Polish officers were taken by train to the Katyn Forest. They were then taken in police vans to the place of execution. The officers were bound with their hands tied around their back and a cord tied around their neck. They were led to pits and NKVD men shot them in the nape of the neck. The dead men were laid in layers of 12 and lime was sprinkled over them. They were then covered in sand.

Finally after 6 weeks all 4,143 victims were dead and birch saplings were planted on the graves. Meanwhile thousands of other Poles were murdered at other locations.

Then in June 1941 the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. At the beginning of February 1943 they discovered the graves in Katyn. The Germans then exhumed the bodies. On 13 April 1943 German radio announced the news that the Russians had massacred Polish officers. However on 15 April 1943 the Russians claimed the Germans had killed the Poles! It was convenient for many in the West to believe or to pretend to believe the Russians as they were allies against Nazi Germany. However on 30 May 1940 an international committee of experts reported that the bodies found at Katyn were shot in Spring 1940, making it impossible for the Germans to be guilty of the crime.

As the Russians advanced they once again occupied the Katyn area and after the war they continued to tell the lie that the Germans murdered the Polish officers - although the evidence clearly showed it was the Russians.

Finally in 1990 the Soviets admitted their guilt. On 13 April 1990 the Soviet leader Gorbachev handed President Jaruzelski of Poland documents indicating the Russians were responsible for the Katyn Massacre. Then in October 1992 documents were made public which proved beyond all doubt that the NKVD were responsible for the crime.

Today there are many memorials around the world to the Katyn Massacre. The first was unveiled at Gunnersbury Cemetery in London in 1976. Another memorial was unveiled at Cannock Chase in England in 1976. Other memorials are in Toronto, in Jersey City USA, in Baltimore USA and in Johannesburg, South Africa.

A history of Poland

A biography of Stalin

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