Trauma History


Memo from Beria to Stalin, proposing execution of Polish officers

  The Katyn massacre, also known as the Katyn Forest massacre (Polish: zbrodnia katyńska, mord katyński, 'Katyń crime'; Russian: Катынский расстрел Katynskij ra'sstrel 'Katyn shooting'), was a mass execution of Polish nationals carried out by the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the Soviet secret police, in April and May 1940. The massacre was prompted by NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria's proposal to execute all captive members of the Polish Officer Corps, dated 5 March 1940. This official document was approved and signed by the Soviet Politburo, including its leader, Joseph Stalin. The number of victims is estimated at about 22,000, with 21,768 being a lower limit. The victims were murdered in the Katyn Forest in Russia, the Kalinin and Kharkiv prisons and elsewhere. Of the total killed, about 8,000 were officers taken prisoner during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, another 6,000 were police officers, and the rest were arrested Polish intelligentsia the Soviets deemed to be "intelligence agents, gendarmes, landowners, saboteurs, factory owners, lawyers, officials and priests". The term "Katyn massacre" originally referred specifically to the massacre at Katyn Forest, near the villages of Katyn and Gnezdovo (approximately 19 kilometers [12 miles] west of Smolensk, Russia), of Polish military officers in the Kozelsk prisoner-of-war camp. This was the largest of several concurrent executions of prisoners of war. Other executions were carried out at the geographically distant Starobelsk and Ostashkov camps, at the NKVD headquarters in Smolensk, and at prisons in Kalinin (Tver), Kharkiv, Moscow, and other Soviet cities. Still more executions took place at various locations in Belarus and Western Ukraine, based on special lists of Polish prisoners prepared by the NKVD specifically for those regions. The investigations of the killings made in the 1990s covered not only the massacre at Katyn forest, but also the other mass murders mentioned above. Polish organisations such as the Katyn Committee and the Federation of Katyn Families consider the victims executed at the locations other than Katyn to be victims of the larger coordinated operation.

Polish prisoners of war

  The government of Nazi Germany announced the discovery of mass graves in the Katyn Forest in 1943. When the London-based Polish government-in-exile asked for an investigation by the International Red Cross, Stalin immediately severed diplomatic relations with it. The Soviet Union claimed the victims had been murdered by the Nazis, and continued to deny responsibility for the massacres until 1990, when it officially acknowledged and condemned the perpetration of the killings by the NKVD, as well as the subsequent cover-up by the Soviet government.
   An investigation conducted by the Prosecutor General's Office of the Soviet Union (1990–1991) and the Russian Federation (1991–2004), confirmed Soviet responsibility for the massacres. It was able to confirm the deaths of 1,803 Polish citizens but refused to classify this action as a war crime or an act of genocide. The investigation was closed on grounds that the perpetrators of the massacre were already dead, and since the Russian government would not classify the dead as victims of Stalinist repression, formal posthumous rehabilitation was deemed inapplicable. The human rights society Memorial issued a statement which declared "this termination of investigation is inadmissible" and that the confirmation of only 1,803 people killed "requires explanation because it is common knowledge that more than 14,500 prisoners were killed". In November 2010, the Russian State Duma approved a declaration blaming Stalin and other Soviet officials for having personally ordered the massacre.

   The wounds of the Katyn massacre still bleed… Almost 2 million Poles who were personally affected by this murder, but this is also the tragedy of the whole nation as it lost the best flower of the whole society. … The murderers were never charged, long after the war ended, the officials of the most powerful imperialistic countries including US allied at the highest levels to cover up the crime because of political conveniences… Soviet Union government even now continues running the same politics unwilling to officially acknowledge the guilt and atone for the evil crimes in the past…
Seeing the photos, reading the letters written to the prisoners, we want to invite YOU to touch history of human beings and their love so brutally cut by soviet tortures, to take part in the tragedy of the assassinated and their families…However, We want that our personal experience and stories reveal not only the horrors but to also forge a lasting testament of those who died: to the perseverance, to the honor, to the faith.