By Nicholas Dima l January 17, 2011
Forest of the Dead at Katyn Memorial Powazki Military Cemetery Released Beria Letter to Stalin
Arguably, there is no other country on the face of this earth that has been as victimized during the 20th Century as the Polish nation. Marking the start of World War II with the Nazi and Soviet invasions of 1939, Poland became the first nation to stand against Hitler and Stalin. It withstood the subsequent mass executions of German occupation, the inhumanity of the Warsaw Ghetto, the murderous Nazi concentration camps of Aushwitz-Birkenau, the Soviet annexation of eastern Poland and post-war re-division. Then in 1989, the Republic of Poland emerged from 45 years of Moscow’s oppressive rule and subjugation to become a sovereign, free and independent nation; the Peoples Republic of Poland had become history. Yet, it is the atrocity in the forest of Katyn, shrouded in 50 years of lies that epitomizes this genocide of Poland’s national identity.
The Nazi-Soviet rapprochement of August 23, 1939, or so-called Ribbentrop-Molotov non-aggression pact, secretly demarcated their respective “spheres of influence” for Eastern Europe and led to the Nazi invasion of western Poland on September 1, 1939 and the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland on September 17, 1939. In a so-called treaty on friendship and borders between Moscow and Berlin, signed on September 28, 1939, the Soviets had proposed the final liquidation of Poland.
By 1943, Nazi Germany had uncovered the mass graves of the Katyn forest near the Russian city ofSmolensk after turning on its former Soviet ally in its advance to Stalingrad (Volgagrad) with hopes of further seizing the Caspian oil fields. Although, Soviet-era propaganda laid blame for the war time crime on Germany and forced the post-war Polish state to do the same. According to Polish film maker, Andrzej Wajda, producer of the haunting 2007 film Katyn, “After 1945 the Katyn lie became the basis of the Soviet-Polish friendship.”
At the twilight of the USSR in 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged Soviet responsibility for the crimes of Katyn that took the lives of some 22,000 members of the Polish elite, including military officers, engineers, diplomats, politicians, writers, artists, college professors, teachers, civil servants, land owners, and factory owners. Further, Russian President Boris Yeltsin ordered a limited number of documents declassified in 1992.
On December 18, 1998, the Polish Parliament established the Institute of National Remembrance – Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation (IPN) headquartered in Warsaw (www.ipn.gov.pl/). Simply put, its mission is to preserve the memory of the losses incurred at the hands of traitors of the Polish nation, Nazis and the Soviet Communists during World War II.
Upon this background, the Institute of National Remembrance held a press conference on December 1, 2004 announcing the “Decision to Commence Investigation into the Katyn Massacre.” In part, IPN’s press release states:
“On 30 November 2004, the Departmental Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation in Warsaw issued a decision to commence investigations, Case No. S 38/04/ZK, into the ‘mass murder, by shooting, of not less than 21,768 Polish citizens, for the purpose of liquidating a part of the Polish national group, during the period between 5 March and an unspecified date in 1940 in Moscow, Kharkov, Smolensk, Katyn, Kalinin (now Tver), and other locations on the territory of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics by its state functionaries acting on instructions from the authorities of their state, which was then allied with the Third Reich…as a result of the implementation of the criminal resolution by the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) reached in Moscow on 5 March 1940…’”
In April of 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the online publication of these previously declassified documents. Revealed was a key letter marked “Top Secret” dated March 5, 1940 written to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin from his chief of secret police (NKVD- predecessor of the KGB) Lavrenty Beria, a fellow Georgian, recommending the execution of over 20,000 of the more than 250,000 captured Poles, following the invasion of eastern Poland by Soviet forces in 1939.
The BBC reported on the release of the Beria letter to Stalin that April publishing excerpts including the following:
“To Comrade Stalin: In prisoner-of-war camps run by the USSR NKVD and in prisons in western Ukraine and Belorussia there is currently a large number of former Polish army officers, former officials of the Polish police and intelligence services, members of Polish nationalist counter-revolutionary parties, members of unmasked rebel counter-revolutionary organizations, defectors and others. They are all sworn enemies of Soviet power, filled with hatred towards the Soviet system…..Give special consideration to…..Imposing on them the sentence of capital punishment – execution by shooting.”
The letter was signed by “L. Beria” in his capacity of “USSR People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs.” The first page bore the blue penciled signature of approval by Josef Stalin and regular penciled signatures of Politburo members K. Voroshilov, A. Mikoyan and V. Molotov. Aides to Stalin, Kalinin and Kaganovich signified their approval in the margin, also in blue pencil.
On November 26, 2010, the lower house of the Russian Parliament known as the State Duma debated a resolution regarding the Katyn massacre. The Moscow Times, an English language newspaper, wrote: “this past May, Russia handed over 67 volumes pertaining to the execution of Polish officers to the Polish side. Warsaw had not previously received documents of the criminal case, only archive information.” Two days later the Duma condemned former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin for the 1940 mass execution of nearly 22,000 Polish prisoners including officers and civilians in one of the most heinous atrocities of the 20th Century. According to Reuters, the vote was widely seen as a Russian attempt to improve long-strained ties with Poland.
The Wall Street Journal article by Richard Boudreaux headlined, “Russia Admits Stalin Ordered 1940 Massacre of Poles,” dated November 27-28 reported the State Duma passed a resolution declaring long-classified documents “showed that the Katyn crime was carried out on direct orders of Stalin and other Soviet officials.” The resolution, backed by 342 of its 450 members, also called for the massacre to be investigated further in order to complete the list of victims, since a 2005 Russian judicial report had only confirmed the execution of 1,803 Poles at Katyn.
The Duma resolution reads: “Material, kept for many years in secret archives bear witness to the fact that the Katyn crime was carried out under Stalin’s orders.” The document mentions that “the State Duma deputies extend a hand of friendship to the Polish people and hope this will mark a new era of relations between our countries.” . The Communist Party members of the Duma denied, once again, any Soviet involvement and voted against the resolution.
On December 6, during a two day state visit to Poland, President Medvedev promised the whole truth about the Katyn massacre, declaring: “Russia has recently taken a number of unprecedented steps towards clearing up the legacy of the past. We will continue in this direction.”
On April 10, 2010, on the 70th commemoration of the Katyn massacre, Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife led a large delegation for a special ceremony at Katyn. He was accompanied by 94 Polish high-ranking civilian and military officials. Separate and apart from an earlier ceremony attended by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Kaczynski wanted what he described at the time as a proper ceremony and was on his way to attend it with his own delegation. In an ironic twist of history, Kaczynski and his delegation were traveling aboard a Soviet-built airplane when it crashed in Belarus just outside of Smolensk killing the entire delegation of high ranking Polish officials. It was a grim incident, which instead of helping the Russian-Polish reconciliation process aggravated it instead. (See Katyn Tragedy Redux: Aircrash May also have Buried Russian-Polish Reconciliation, SFPPR News & Analysis, April 20, 2010).
Consequently, Moscow ordered a full investigation of the incident, but the inquiry was mostly conducted by the Russians. The Poles waited impatiently for the results, which were handed to them in October. Warsaw responded with 150 pages of new inquiries, questions and observations and waited for further clarifications. When the clarifications arrived in Warsaw recently, they did not satisfy the Poles who claimed that Moscow only addressed 20 to 25 percent of their questions regarding the tragic incident. Now, according to Agence France Press and as reported by Romania Libera on January 13, 2011, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk interrupted his vacation on January 12 returning to Warsaw to challenge the Russian response. He found the report unacceptable. At the same time, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the Polish opposition and the brother of the late president, said that the report is “an affront” to Poland.
Headlined, “Russia Blames Polish air Crew for Fatal Crash,” The Wall Street Journal’s report dateline Moscow published on January 13, 2011 begins: “Russia cast full blame on the Poles for the crash that killed their president and 95 others last year, saying the country’s air-force commander entered the cockpit of the Polish plane under the influence of alcohol and pressured the crew to land in heavy fog.”
Reading this story of Moscow’s incident report, a reasonable student of history might easily conclude that it was a 70 year old contrivance of Soviet propaganda rather than an unbiased government report from a post-Stalinist democratic Russia. It has often been said that history repeats itself.
Nicholas Dima, Ph.D., is a former professor and author of numerous books and articles including the autobiographical memoir, Journey to Freedom, a description of the effects of communist dictatorship on a nation, a family and an individual. (Refer to updated editions). He is currently a contributor to