The Katyn Forest Massacre


Winston Churchill once said, during the World War II that he would even make a deal with the devil to defeat Hitler. Looking back at the 1940 ‘Katyn massacre’, we can really say that Churchill and Roosevelt have indeed made a pact with the devil, called ‘Josef Stalin.’

The Katyn massacre must be understood, not only from the historical perspective, but also of Soviet politics and occupation policy. In the 1930’s, paranoid Stalin’s favorite pastime was mass killings. His policies resulted in millions of peasant deaths and a million more people starved to death (1929-34). From, August 1937 to November 1938, nearly 800,000 people in Soviet Union were killed; most of them were against communism. One statistics say that around 1,700 people were shot to death every day – one of the worst state-perpetrated killings in the whole of history. So, we can’t say that the Katyn massacre was the most gruesome killing under Stalinist regime. But, the massacre stands as a significant event from the perspective of Soviet Union’s occupation policy. It also points out the shameless opportunism and moral indifference of the so-called great democratic leaders.

In July 1942, Nazis invaded USSR. After many bloody battles, in the fall of 1943, the Russians regained many of Germans’ occupied land – most importantly they retook the Katyn forest. Before that, in April 1943, the Nazis remained anxious to separate the Western allies from Soviet Union. They took American and British POWs to the Katyn forest area (situated in Western Russia) and revealed to them horrific acts of the Russian army. The prisoners saw thousands of corpses in the advanced stages of decay, which confirmed that these were not another savage act of Nazis. However, after retaking the forest, the Soviets blamed Germans for the massacre and conducted an investigation on their own. Both America and British remained uninvolved in this ordeal


After signing Nazi-Soviet pact, huge number of Russian troops moved into eastern Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. In these occupied regimes, they brutally killed people and sent many to the ruthless Siberian and Arctic region prison camps. But still, Katyn was the single most anomaly in the occupation policy of Soviet. When Germans attacked Western Poland in 1939, Russians entered from the east and captured around 240, 000 Polish soldiers. During Germany’s attack of Russia, these captured people were gathered as an army. But, it is said that approximately 15,000 men could not be found. Among the 15,000 were priests, athletes, lawyers, judges, doctors, military officers and soldiers. In April, 1940 the prisoners were promised that they would be soon repatriated to Poland. And before long, a large group of prisoners boarded a train. This train traveled west rather than the correct eastward direction.

It halted outside Katyn forest, in Smolensk, situated in the Western Russia. Russians drove them into clearing in the woods. In the woods, there was a large pit and after tying the prisoners’ hands behind their backs, Russians forced them to kneel at its edge. Groups of NKVD agents (law enforcement agency of USSR worked directly under Stalin) shot each Pole in the head and threw them into the mass graves. By mid-afternoon, they have killed nearly 4,500 prisoners and buried them in eight mass graves. Years later, it was found that these executions were just part of a large set of killings. The final death toll, surrounding the Katyn forest area was 22,000.

Churchill, Roosevelt and "Uncle Joe" Stalin

Churchill, Roosevelt and “Uncle Joe” Stalin

Lieutenant Colonel Szymanski of U.S. Army and his British counterpart Colonel Hulls compiled a material about the missing Polish men in 1942. After the discovery of mass graves by Germans, Szymanski sent an additional report on the massacre to chief of U.S. Army intelligence. Apart from this report, several others were sent to President, US embassy and so, before 1944, US government had a well-reliable, detailed report on Katyn, but they chose to suppress the information and silence the men who voiced against Soviet Union. The British were more efficient in suppressing the reports. Even seven years after World War II, Churchill refused to comment on Katyn. The conduct of both these governments were similar to that of a businessman who observes his partner commit an exceedingly cruel act and refrains from mentioning, lest his partner take offense and the common enterprise be endangered.

Vladimir Putin taking part in a  ceremony at the Katyn memorial

Vladimir Putin taking part in a ceremony at the Katyn memorial

Forty Seven years after the discovery of mass graves, in 1990, Soviet community leaders declassified the archive documents and reviewed it, under Mikhail Gorbachev, and even considered about accepting partial responsibility. In April 1990, Gorbachev eventually acknowledged the fact that the Soviet NKVD forces committed the murders. After the fall of Soviet Union, in 1992, some other documents were released which showed that Stalin and other Politburo members authorized the 1940 massacres. However, in 2004, Vladimir Putin halted the investigation of Katyn murders and sealed all the materials & reports. So, the complete names of the list of victims and the list of the names of NKVD personnel still remain as a mystery.

Seven decades have passed since Katyn massacre and in that time, the world has encountered similar mass killings (in Africa, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam and Middle East). The world’s greatest democratic countries show themselves as virtuous and honorable, but they often have taken muddled moral stance, for the sake of their friendly totalitarian regime. By turning a blind eye, they are boldly saying that, “I don’t say anything because I don’t see a thing.” 

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