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Archive for April 13th, 2008

Often times, when thinking about Poland and World War II, we recall that the conflict started with Germany’s invasion of the country in September of 1939.  But we usually forget that, just a couple of weeks later, the Russians followed suit and invaded Poland from the east.

Following the Russian army into Poland was the Narodny Kommissariat Vnutrennykh Del, better known by its initials, the NKVD.  Charged with scrutinizing and maintaining loyalty to the Soviet government (as well as dealing with dissent), the NKVD had a frightening reputation.  They brought with them a list of Polish targets, numbering nearly 15,000 (mostly professionals and military leaders),  whom they proceeded to round up, put in three camps (Kozel’sk, Starobelsk, and Ostashkov), and interrogate for the next four or five months.

Approximately 450 were allowed to join the Polish army in the Soviet Union after being deemed compliant and “fit for re-education”.  But after the camps were emptied in March and April of 1940, none of the remaining 14,000+ prisoners was ever seen alive again.

Fast forward to 1943, and the German army (having invaded the Soviet Union) now controlled all of Poland.  They heard rumors of a massacre in the Katyn Forest and were led by locals to suspected areas.  When the ground thawed, the Germans began digging and found mass graves containing more than 4,200 bodies.  Back in 1940, the prisoners from Starobelsk and Ostashkov were moved further into Soviet territory and executed in Soviet prisons, but those from Kozel’sk were transported to the Katyn Forest about 300 at a time, executed, and buried in mass graves, which were discovered by the Germans.

It was on this day, April 13, 1943, that Germany first broadcast its find to the world, hoping to drive a wedge in the Allied coalition.  Their outrage was, of course, the height of German hypocrisy as, at this time, the implementation of Hitler’s Final Solution was in high gear.  The Russian response was to blame the German army for the deaths.

And the Russians continued to blame the Germans for Katyn up to the Nuremberg Trials, where the charges were dropped, obviously due to Allied embarrassment and the fact that the Soviets were one of the victors.  It wouldn’t be until documents were declassified in the 1990’s that the Soviets would take full responsibility.

Recommended Reading: The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945 – since I mentioned The Final Solution, I’ll note a book I read quite a few years ago and is in my library. A very good, and eye-opening, read.

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