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Auschwitz - Birkenau - Katyn Forest 1940

Katyn Forest 1940

What is Katyn?

For us, Poles, it is much more than just a forest located nearby Smolensk village on the territory of Russia. It is a symbol of a horrible crime that took place during II World War… But let’s start from the beginning.

On 1st September 1939 Poland had been attacked by the Nazi Germany. Not much later, on 17th September that year, the Red Army of Soviet Russia crossed the border of Poland in similar act of aggression. Soon, the Red Army took almost a half of Polish territory, as well as the West part of the Ukraine and Belarus. Soviets’ and Nazis’ target was to destroy the intelligence and defense forces of the attacked countries and to take their territories for themselves.

Soviets’ plan

230 thousands of Polish soldiers, officers and policemen were imprisoned by the Soviets and taken to the camps in Kozielsk, Starobielsk and Ostaszkow. In Kozielsk (more than 4500 prisoners) and Starobielsk (about 3900 prisoners) were held generals and reserve officers (doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, journalists…) and priests. The Ostaszkow camp (more than 6500 prisoners) was for the policemen and reconnaissance officers. After the capture, the NKWD functionaries were interrogating camps’ prisoners and trying to convince them to collaborate with the Soviet Russia, but they were not much successful. Because of that, on 5th March 1940 seven Bolshevik leaders sentenced to death the prisoners of those three camps. The same fate shared the prisoners of the camps located in the West Ukraine and West Belarus under the Soviet occupation (22nd March 1940).

The prisoners of Kozielsk were killed and buried in Katyn nearby Smolensk village.
The prisoners of Starobielsk were killed and buried in Charkow.
The prisoners of Ostaszkow were killed in Kalinin (now called Twer) and buried in Miednoje village.

Hiding the truth

After the Soviet Russia was attacked by the Nazis in 1941, the area of Smolensk and Katyn was under German occupation and two years later, in 1943, radio Berlin informed about German’s discovery of mass graves of Poles located in Katyn. Stalin quickly blamed the Nazis for the massacre, afraid that the truth would be revealed. When the international commission of 12 great specialists came to Katyn to solve the case and after few days gave statement that the Soviet Russia was responsible for that tragedy, Moscow still denied it. The Soviets sent their own commission, which blamed the Nazis, denying all the evidence that were the age of the corps and the age of the trees planted by the Soviets in 1940 soon after the massacre. The USA and Great Britain knew the truth about Katyn, but they were not eager to reveal it, afraid to lose their alliance with the Soviets against the Nazis. And so the false version was spread into the world for years… Even the results of the US commission research (1952), blaming Soviets, were quickly forgotten…

At last, on 13th April 1990 Soviet Russia finally admitted that the functionaries of the NKWD were responsible for the killings in Katyn, Charkow and Miednoje, known also as “The Katyn War Crime”.

In 2000 Polish cemeteries in Katyn, Charkow and Miednoje have been opened to visit.