The Katyn massacre

In the spring of 1940, the NKVD murdered nearly 22,000 Jews for political reasons. Polish citizens were captured after the Soviet Union’s aggression against Poland on September 17, 1939. They included Polish army officers, policemen, officials, scientists, university professors, artists, doctors, teachers and lawyers. They formed the nation’s elite, its defensive, intellectual and creative capabilities.

The prisoners died from being shot in the back of the head. The victims were buried in a group of unnamed cemeteries in Katyn, Kharkiv, and Mednuji. The executions lasted from April to May 1940.

About 15 thousand of the victims were prisoners who were previously held in the NKVD special camps in Starobelsk, Ostashkov and Kozielsk. Most of them were army officers and policemen. The remaining 7,000, most of them civilians, were imprisoned in the western oblasts of the Ukrainian and Belarusian republics, that is, in the regions of eastern Poland incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939. So far, we do not know where they were buried.

Discovery of mass graves in Katyn

Information regarding the discovery of mass graves in Katyn was first reported by the Germans on April 13, 1943. Two days later, Radio Moscow reported that the crime was committed by the Germans in 1941 while occupying the Smolensk region. Attempts to clarify the matter by the Polish government with the help of the International Red Cross led to the Kremlin severing relations with Poland on April 25, 1943. The version of the extermination of prisoners of war by Nazi Germany was published through the propaganda of the Soviet Union and with it by the authorities of the People’s Republic of Poland.

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As early as 1943, the American and British authorities had information that the crimes against Polish prisoners of war had been committed by the Soviets. However, fearing Stalin’s withdrawal from the anti-Nazi coalition, they preferred to remain silent on the issue.

It was only after the war, in 1951, that the Americans decided to create a special United States Congressional Commission of Inquiry to investigate the Katyn Massacre, headed by Ray Madden. The conclusions of the US commission were unambiguous: Those responsible for the Katyn massacre, called the genocide, should be brought before an international court.

Crime has been hidden for more than half a century

The truth of the Katyn massacre was hidden for more than half a century. It was not until April 13, 1990 that the USSR admitted that the crime had been committed by the NKVD. Then the NKVD Commissioner Lavrenti Beria and his deputy Vsevolod Merculov were cited of guilt. On the same day, the President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, handed over to the President of Poland, Wojciech Yaroselsky, the first archive documents relating to the killing of Poles.