Seventy years ago, in April and May 1940, the Soviet NKVD massacred approximately 22,000 Polish officers and other members of Poland’s elite. The victims represented all social layers and confessions: Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Uniates, Jews, and Muslims. Although this act of mass murder was carried out at several locations – including the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Miednoye near Tver (Kalinin during the Soviet era), and Piatikhatki near Kharkiv/Kharkov – it is generally referred to as the Katyn Forest Massacre.
The Poles were captured by the Soviets as a result of Hitler and Stalin’s joint invasion of Poland in September 1939, which precipitated the Second World War. Both the German National Socialist and the Soviet International Socialist invaders sought to decapitate the Polish nation by exterminating its traditional elites. Hence, the Politburo’s 5 March 1940 “proposal” to shoot the POWs and other Polish “nationalists and counter-revolutionaries.” The objective was to eliminate Polish citizens who had demonstrated leadership qualities and opposed communism and foreign domination.
The NKVD executioners employed a variety of killing techniques. Some Poles were murdered in their prison cells. Quite a few were shot methodically in special sound-proof NKVD execution chambers. Others yet were shot in the back of head and dumped directly into previously prepared mass graves.
The Katyn Forest mass graves were discovered accidentally by the Germans in 1943. Yet, the Soviets stubbornly denied responsibility for the massacre until the era of Mikhail Gorbachev and the late 1980s. The official line of Vladimir Putin’s Post-Soviet Russia on the massacre is best described as defensive and relativistic, drawing heavily on communist propaganda.
To commemorate the massacre, an anniversary observance will be held in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress from 9:30AM – 5:30PM on 5 May 2010. A conference is planned in conjunction with a book promotion of Allen Paul’s new edition of Katyń: Stalin’s Massacre and the Triumph of Truth. The event is co-sponsored by the Kościuszko Foundation and the US Helsinki Committee. The conference will feature IWP’s Senior Diplomat in Residence, the Honorable Thomas Patrick Melady. IWP’s Kosciuszko Chair in Polish Studies strongly supports this initiative and cordially encourages all who are interested to attend.
I.V. Stalin and L.P. Beria select a location for the planting of trees. The Smolensk Airport, 10 April 1940.