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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Remember Katyn Forest

In 1940, the Soviet Union executed 22,000 Polish officers in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Russia.

The mass grave was discovered in 1943 by invading German troops, but the Soviet propaganda machine create the mythology that the massacre was committed by the Nazis:

In late 1943, as the Red Army began to recapture territory in eastern Poland, the Soviet secret police (the NKVD), cordoned off the Katyn forest near Smolensk to create one of the most elaborate coverups of the war.

After exhuming the bodies from the graves that the Germans had previously uncovered, the NKVD had documents forged to suggest that the Germans had committed the crime. They planted the false documents on the newly exhumed bodies and worked to persuade local people who had witnessed the Soviet crimes to change their stories.

In January 1944, the Soviet authorities went public with their attempt to con the world about the murders. They filmed falsified documents–money, letters, and a postcard written in Polish by a Polish prisoner of war dated June 20, 1941–to show that the Poles had still been alive in 1941. Key witnesses had also been persuaded, upon the threat of death, to withdraw the testimony they had given to the Germans.

Given all the other Nazi attrocities, that mythology was believable at the time, although years later the truth was revealed.

The Katyn Forest massacre has been all but forgotten outside Poland. As a student of Soviet history, I certainly never forgot.

So I was pleased to read that for the first time ever, Poland and Russia will commemorate the massacre together:

In the first joint commemoration of one of the darkest chapters in their history the Russian and Polish prime ministers will pay tribute today to 22,000 Polish military officers massacred by the Soviet secret police in the Second World War.

Vladimir Putin and Donald Tusk are to mark the 70th anniversary of the slaughter in the forest at Katyn. For half a century the Soviet Union blamed the crime on Nazi troops who revealed the mass graves to the world in 1943.

It was only in 1990 that Mikhail Gorbachev, then the Soviet President, acknowledged that the NKVD, the forerunner to the KGB secret police, had carried out the killings on the orders of Joseph Stalin in April 1940.

Mr Putin said in a Polish newspaper article last year that Russians “fully understand the sensitivities of Poles about Katyn . . . Together we must keep alive the memory of the victims of this crime”.


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The Soviet Analogy and Iran
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The "Richest 5%" Are The New Kulaks

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  1. What's Putin's angle here. Is he really just a "nice guy"? I doubt it. There's a plan.

  2. As usual it behooves Putin to recognize the Soviet atrocity. It keeps the communist party, which is growing again, in check by reminding people of the brutality of the Soviet regime, while taking the onus off his brutality and deprivaion of civil rights. Tis man dos nothing altruistically.

  3. The movie, Katyn, tells of the atrocity as well.

  4. I wonder about Putin's motives in doing so, but, also, realize from my own studies that the NKVD made the KGB cringe with fear. These weren't just Polish soldiers slaughtered at this site, but teenage cadets as well. This way Stalin hoped to make sure that he could make sure to do to Poland what he had almost managed to do to the Red Army in his insane paranoia.

    Unlike FDR who thought of Uncle Joe as our friendly Soviet ally some understood just what a monster he was. Stalin killed 38 million and then Mao 70 million. These are people who are national leaders admire in some way, and let's not forget pop cultures favorite Che Guevara.

  5. "The Soviet Story" also deals with Katyn Forest.



  6. It's easy for Russians to recognize Katyin, after all Stalin (who was a Georgian, BTW) murdered [low] tens of millions of Russians. A few thousand Poles is actually a footnote in that book - for everyone except Poles of course.

  7. The Polish contribution to victory in World War Two has long been overlooked. They were gallant allies and long-suffering victims of both Stalin and Hitler. They provided pilots, sailors and paratroops to the west, not to mention a small army that fought in Italy. They also fought hard domestically. I just discovered that Polish resistance fighters co-opted a parody version of the SS Death's Head and used it as a symbol for their payback assassinations of Nazi officials in Poland. They were given up to the Russians in the name of expediency. It was a sad day.

  8. Don't forget the fact of how forgiving the Polish people were to the US after the fall of the Iron Curtain. After being left again to the wolves by Roosevelt and Churchill; the Polish people still welcomed us back and their troops have helped in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as helping support US troops in Germany.

    As another reminder of what we in the US owe to Poland, here is one American Hero I remember from crossing the bridge in his honor on I-87 north of Albany. Reading what wikipedia has we owe one or two thanks for what he did for us http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tadeusz_Ko%C5%9Bciuszko

  9. ...One point of information. Katyn was the burial site of about 1/3 of the victims. The others were killed at two other locations. It is also worth noting that the Russian government formally acknowledged Soviet guilt and has made public the Politburo order under which it was accomplished. This discourages most modern Stalinists from playing revisionist with the history.

    While we are remembering Tadeuz Kosciuscko we must not forget Casimir Pulaski either.

  10. Thanks for the post, William. Quick footnote: Katyn memorials can be found on the Jersey City waterfront and in the Harbor East section of Baltimore, a few blocks from its historic Polish neighborhood.

  11. During WW II, Poland's culture was in shambles thanks to the destruction of libraries and other institutions by both Hitler-led Germany and Russian- Stalin.

    Final note about Pulaski:
    Pulaski was father of the American Cavalry. His first military engagement in America was in September 1777, when he fought at the Battle of Brandywine. His actions there, which kept the Americans from defeat and General Washington from probable death, earned him a promotion to the rank of Brigadier General of the American cavalry.

  12. There is an excellent movie out now about this issue. It is a Polish film, BTW, and I highly recommend it. You can find it on Amazon, and is names Katyn.