Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Remembers the Katyn Forest Massacre (Poland~1940) - October 13th, 2003
Posted on 10/13/2003 4:15:26 AM PDT by snippy_about_it
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Polish deaths at Soviet hands
Katyn Forest is a wooded area near Gneizdovo village, a short distance from Smolensk in Russia where, in 1940 on Stalin's orders, the NKVD shot and buried over 4000 Polish service personnel that had been taken prisoner when the Soviet Union invaded Poland in September 1939 in WW2 in support of the Nazis.
Memorandum on NKVD letterhead from L. Beria to "Comrade Stalin" proposing to execute captured Polish officers, soldiers, and other prisoners by shooting. Stalin's handwritten signature appears on top, followed by signatures of Politburo members K. Voroshilov, V. Molotov, and A. Mikoyan. Signatures in left margin are M. Kalinin and L. Kaganovich, both favoring execution.
In 1940 over 4,000 prisoners of war were taken out into a forest in small groups where they were methodically murdered.
The victims, encumbered in greatcoats and with their hands tied behind their backs, were forced face down onto the fresh corpses of their comrades, to be likewise shot through the back of the head.
A younger few who attempted to resist had self-strangulation knots tied from their hands to their necks.
Sawdust was rammed down the gullets of those who screamed and struggled, or their overcoats were tied down around their heads. The small groups became vast, neat stacks of human refuse. At the time, these men and 11,000 others who suffered the same fate at similar killing sites were only known to be missing.
The victims were Polish officers and cadets, about half of whom were reservists from key civilian professions: doctors, lawyers, teachers, clergymen, and the like. They represented the leading, educated elements--"the best and the brightest"--of Polish society. The place and time of their slaughter was the Russian forest village of Katyn near Smolensk in the Spring of 1940.
At that time, their families' contact with them (by mail, to the Soviet internment camps where they were being detained) ceased with no explanation. They simply disappeared, until their mass graves were discovered and publicized by the Nazi government, whose troops occupied the area in April 1943.
Documents found in 1992, have certified the identity of those who ordered the Katyn Massacre of April-May 1940. They point the finger of guilt to the collective membership of the Soviet Politburo, dominated by Communist dictator Iosif Vissarianovich Stalin. The killings resulted from the recommendation of Politburo member Lavrenti Beria, the dreaded chief of the Soviet secret police, the NKVD.
There were a number of motives for the killings. Foremost was the "liquidation"--the Communist euphemism for extermination--of the social and intellectual leadership elites of Poland, as the initial step to eliminating that independent, anti-Soviet (and, historically, frequently anti-Russian) nation, permanently.
In 1939, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov had gloated, "One swift blow to Poland, first by the German Army and then by the Red Army, and nothing was left of this bastard of the Versailles Treaty."
Specifically, Beria suggested to the Soviet Politburo that the Polish officers be exterminated, since they were ". . . involved in anti-Soviet propaganda. Each of them is only waiting for his release from imprisonment in order to enter into a struggle against Soviet power."
Indeed, the Poles were hardly model prisoners and imprudently ridiculed their Soviet guards and indoctrination cadre members to their faces. Their attitude now seems incredibly naive--even arrogantly stupid, considering that the Bolsheviks' record of atrocities was well known to them.
Yet, the Poles apparently believed that the West--specifically, the British and French--were actively concerned about them, being interested in their future usefulness, and would not abandon them.
A "white paper" submitted to the 1952 U.S. Congressional hearings on Katyn by the Polish Government-in-Exile describes this misassumption:
With a few exceptions, the morale of the prisoners at Kozielsk appeared to be good. Firmly believing in the ultimate victory of justice and trusting implicitly in Poland's Western Allies, the prisoners hoped for a quick release from Soviet captivity and the granting of facilities either to return to Poland or to make their way through a neutral state to join the forces fighting in the West.
A rumour circulated in the camp that General Zarubin himself had said to one of the prisoners. "You have too many protectors, so you cannot go". The prisoners interpreted this remark as meaning that Britain and France did not want them to be returned to German-occupied Poland, as they were anxious to get them to the West.
It was even said that Britain had asked the Soviets to send the Poles to the West and had offered to pay the expenses of their detention in Russia and that the Soviets were bargaining over the price. Rumours of this kind, which made the prisoners feel that they were an object of concern to the outside world helped considerably to keep up morale in the camp.
Their faith in the West proved to be pathetically ill-advised. Although the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941--"Operation Barbarossa"--forced Stalin to obtain material assistance from the West and concede the reestablishment of a postwar Poland independent in name (if not in fact), the extermination of the Polish intelligentsia facilitated another motive for the Soviet crime, the intended (and eventual) Soviet subjugation of Poland.
As former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in 1960, "The Nazi and Soviet extermination policies, which had decimated the Polish intelligentsia, the usual source of the political elite, had badly weakened the nation as a whole, decreasing its capacity for resistance."
Stalin himself had a deep grudge against Poland and its intelligentsia. It stemmed in part from that nation's military victories over Bolshevik armies, to which Stalin was attached as a political commissar, in the Russo-Polish War of 1919-20.
Another motive for the extermination of the Polish officers was Stalin's effort to appease his Nazi ally, Hitler. The second, secret protocol of the Hitler-Stalin Nonaggression Pact of 23 August 1939 had provided for the fourth partition of Poland, dividing it between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. While the Germans invaded Poland, in defiance of the British and French, and effectively began the Second World War on 1 September 1939, the Soviets did not attack the Poles until 6:00 AM, 17 September 1939.
Although the Poles were by then already collapsing under the weight of the German onslaught, Polish Army units in the East fought, and in a few cases won, some pitched battles with the Red Army units advancing from the East. Against such overwhelming military odds, though, there obviously could be only one result, and Poland surrendered on 27 September 1939.
The Katyn Massacre occurred in the context of a Polish holocaust on a par with the Jewish Holocaust. It is estimated that 5,384,000 Poles, including Polish Jews, died during the German occupation through slave labor exhaustion, disease and starvation, repression of resistance, or outright extermination.
The first victims of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp were Polish. The first gassing at Auschwitz was performed upon 300 Polish and 700 Soviet prisoners of war. An estimated total of 6,028,000 Poles--22 percent of Poland's population--died in the Second World War. Half of the victims were Jewish.
The Nazis launched a calculated campaign to exterminate the educated elite of Polish society and racially undesirable elements. The German Army perpetrated this massacre, as well as the more intently genocidal Nazi SS. There were plans to exterminate the Poles entirely, after they had outlived their usefulness and the Jews had already been annihilated.
Polish children were not allowed to go to high school or college. The Catholic Church in Poland was suppressed. Ironically, though, many of the Polish officers who were Jewish did avoid the Holocaust and survive the war, having been in the custody of the regular German Army Wehrmacht, rather than that of the Nazi SS.
The method of capture, detention, and extermination of Poles by the Soviets is also important to consider. These victims were not just Polish officers and cadets who had surrendered to the Red Army in the field. They also included reservists and other officials who had been arrested in their homes in the Soviet-occupied zone of Poland.
As it was, many Polish officers had been murdered immediately upon their capture, in spite of Soviet assurances of good treatment, particularly when their units had successfully battled against the Soviet invasion. Polish civilians suffered many Red Army atrocities as well.
Conditions in the Soviet-held territories were so ghastly that some resident Jews actually petitioned--a few successfully, tragically--to be transferred to the German-occupied zone. In the Ukraine during the confusion of the changeover, Ukrainian nationalists occasionally took revenge on the ethnic Poles in their region.
In time, these killings were investigated and punished by the Soviets who had as little use for Ukrainian nationalists as for Poles. Later, during the German occupation, the Ukrainians and Poles fought pitched battles against each other.
There were approximately 15,000 Polish officers and cadets captured by the Soviets in September-October 1939. Many of them were reservists who in civilian life were professionals such as doctors, lawyers, college professors, etc. They were incarcerated in three internment camps: Kozielsk (southwest of Moscow), Ostashkov (between Moscow and Leningrad), and Starobielsk (southeast of Kharkov). At the Kozielsk camp there were 262 Poles of Jewish descent. There was also one woman, Polish aviatrix Janina Lewandowski.
Of the captive Poles, only 448 seemed to the Soviets to be receptive to political collaboration. Initially, and during the winter (of 1939/40), the NKVD appeared to be trying to convert the Poles to Stalinist Communism. However, the interrogation and indoctrination sessions were too crude, dogmatic, and alien for most of the loyal, sophisticated Poles to accept.
Eventually, the NKVD separated the potential collaborators from the thousands of loyal Poles. Then, in April-May 1940, having been given food and assurances that they were to be repatriated home, the Poles were shipped out by train, in groups of a hundred or so at a time.
The destinations of most of these prisoners were three separate killing sites. Katyn was the terminus for the Kozielsk inmates. The other points were similarly railheads, near Kalinin for the Ostashkov prisoners and near Kharkov for the Starobielsk captives. Only recently have the locations of these other mass graves been verified. The 448 potential collaborators were transported by train to Pawlishtchev Bor, located between Kozielsk and Smolensk.
The NKVD executioners were brutally efficient, having refined their methods on many thousands of Russian social, political, and military purge victims in the previous decades. It was simply an occupational routine for the killers, and some wore special attire, similar to that of butchers. Apparently, there were also a few especially vicious or fanatical thugs who took delight in sadistically abusing these members of the Polish elite, as they murdered them.
Until Spring 1940, some of these officers' families had been corresponding with them. Thereafter, the families' mail was returned as undeliverable. Inquiries about the missing officer prisoners from the Polish Government-in-Exile, in London, and from the British government went unanswered by the Soviet government. In December 1940 (after the German overrunning of France in the Summer of 1940) at a reception for the leaders of the pro-Soviet Polish officers, NKVD chief Beria and his deputy, Vsevolod N. Merkulov, both enigmatically admitted that a "great mistake" had been made in the case of the other Polish officers.
There had been meetings in March 1940, during which the Soviet NKVD shared its well-practiced terror and extermination technology with the Nazi SS. (The only Nazi "improvement" over Soviet extermination methods was the use of poison gas.) Professor George Watson has concluded that the fate of the interned Polish officers may have been decided at this conference, which according to him was held in Cracow.
In his 1991 book, Stalin: Breaker of Nations, historian Robert Conquest stated that the conference had taken place at Zakopane in the Winter of 1939/40.
According to Watson, the fate of the Polish officers in Soviet custody was probably discussed during the conference. This would have been a significant factor in Stalin's decision to exterminate them, considering how slavishly he adhered to his pact with Hitler. (In spite of warnings from the British and Americans of imminent Nazi attack, trainloads of Russian raw materials were being faithfully sent to the Germans, right until the very moment of Hitler's 22 June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. The NKVD even turned over, to the German Gestapo, German Communists who had been living in the Soviet Union.)
However, considering Stalin's predilection for mass murder as a political tool and his hatred of the Poles, he certainly would have had no hesitation about annihilating them, anyway. Even Stalin's daughter, Svetlana, noted his peculiar obsession with a much earlier forest death of Polish officers in the Russian folk opera, "Ivan Susanin."
From Soviet-occupied Poland, Poles considered potentially subversive--including women and children--were shipped off in the 1940-41 period to live in primitive camps in the Soviet Union. According to Polish sources, these captives numbered over a million. The categories of Poles considered potentially subversive even included stamp collectors and Esperantists. Two or three-hundred-thousand Poles, an estimated quarter of the number exiled to the Soviet Union, perished in the Soviet Union.
According to data in the possession of the Polish government-in-exile, in early 1940 the Soviet Union held as many as 15,000 Polish prisoners of war, of whom 8,300 were officers. Taken prisoner by the Red Army in the second half of September 1939, they were interned in three camps: Kozelsk, Starobelsk, and Ostaszkow. Late that year, there were reports that the three camps had been disbanded. In 1941 and 1942, the Polish government-in-exile repeatedly asked the Soviet Union for information on the prisoners fate, but to no avail.
On April 13, 1943, the Germans announced that mass graves had been discovered in the Katyn Forest, in their area of occupation, containing the bodies of thousands of Polish officers who had been shot in the back of the head. The Germans charged the Soviet authorities with the murder and appointed a multinational medical commission to probe the matter. The Nazis exhumed the Polish dead and blamed the Soviets.
In May 1943, the commission reported that the graves contained the bodies of 4,143 officers, of whom 2,914 were identified by documents in their uniforms. It was the commissions opinion that the men had been shot to death in the spring of 1940. The Soviet authorities flatly rejected the accusations of the German-appointed commission, arguing that the Germans themselves had committed the deed when they had occupied the area in July 1941.
In mid-April 1943, when the Polish government-in-exile demanded that an investigation of the Katyn killings be made by the International Red Cross, the Soviet Union reacted on April 25 by severing relations with the government-in-exile. This step would have far-reaching effects on relations between the Soviet Union and Poland.
In November of that year, several months after the Red Army had liberated the area, the Soviet Union appointed a commission of inquiry of its own, which blamed the Germans for the Katyn murders. A United States congressional inquiry in the early 1950s found the NKVD (the Soviet secret police) responsible, and most Western historians now believe that the massacre was committed at the behest of the Soviet authorities.
In 1944, having retaken the Katyn area from the Nazis, the Soviets exhumed the Polish dead again and blamed the Nazis. The rest of the world took its usual sides in such arguments.
On March 8, 1989, the Polish government officially accused the NKVD of perpetrating the slaughter.
In 1989, with the collapse of Soviet Power, Gorbachev finally admitted that the Soviet NKVD had executed the Poles, and confirmed two other burial sites similar to the site at Katyn. Stalin's order of March 1940 to execute by shooting some 25,700 Poles, including those found at the three sites, was also disclosed with the collapse of Soviet Power. Following Michael Gorbochovs Glasnost policy, the Soviet Union released documents indicating that it was responsible for the massacre at Katyn.
This particular second world war slaughter of Poles is often referred to as the "Katyn Massacre" or the "Katyn Forest Massacre".
Today's classic warship, USS Alabama (BB-8)
Illinois class battleship
displacement. 11,565 tons
speed. 16 k.
armament. 4 13", 14 6", 16 6-pdrs., 4 1-pdrs., 4 .30-cal. mg., 4 18" tt.
The USS Alabama (Battleship No. 8) was laid down on 1 December 1896 at Philadelphia, Pa., by the William Cramp and Sons Ship and Engine Building Co.; launched on 18 May 1898; sponsored by Miss Mary Morgan, daughter of the Honorable John T. Morgan, United States Senator from Georgia; and commissioned on 16 October 1900, Capt. Willard H. Brownson in command.
Though assigned to the North Atlantic Station, Alabama did not begin operations with that unit until early the following year. The warship remained at Philadelphia until 13 December when she got underway for the brief trip to New York. She stayed at New York through the New Year and until the latter part of January 1901. Finally, on 27 January, the battleship headed south for winter exercises with the Fleet at the drill grounds in the Gulf of Mexico near Pensacola, Fla. Alabama's Navy career began in earnest with her arrival in the gulf early in February. With a single exception in 1904, each year from 1901 to 1907, she conducted Fleet exercises and gunnery drills in the Gulf of Mexico and the West Indies in the wintertime before returning north for repairs and operations off the northeastern coast during the summer and autumn. The exception came in the spring of 1904 after the conclusion of winter maneuvers when she departed Pensacola in company with Kearsarge (Battleship No. 5), Maine(Battleship No. 10), Iowa (Battleship No. 4), Olympia (Cruiser No. 6), Baltimore (Cruiser No. 3), and Cleveland (Cruiser No. 19) on a voyage to Portugal and the Mediterranean. After a ceremonial visit to Lisbon honoring the entrance of the Infante into the Portuguese naval school, Alabama and the other three battleships cruised the Mediterranean until mid-August. Returning by way of the Azores, she and her traveling companions arrived in Newport, R. I., on 29 August. Late in September, the warship entered the League Island Navy Yard for repairs. Early in December, Alabama left the yard and resumed cruising with the North Atlantic Fleet.
Near the end of 1907, the battleship set out upon a special mission. On 16 December 1907, she stood out of Hampton Roads in company with what became known as the Great White Fleet. Alabama accompanied the Fleet on its voyage around the South American continent as far as San Francisco. On 18 May 1908 when the bulk of the Fleet headed north to visit the Pacific northwest, she remained at San Francisco for repair at the Mare Island Navy Yard. As a consequence, the warship did not participate in the celebrated visit to Japan. Instead, Alabama and Maine departed San Francisco on 8 June to complete their own, more direct, circumnavigation of the globe. Steaming by way of Honolulu and Guam, the two battleships arrived at Manila in the Philippines on 20 July. In August, they visited Singapore and Colombo on the island of Ceylon. From Colombo, the two battleships made their way, via Aden on the Arabian Peninsula, to the Suez Canal. Through the canal early in September, Alabama and Maine made an expeditious transit of the Mediterranean Sea, pausing only at Naples at mid-month. Following a port call at Gibraltar, they embarked upon the Atlantic passage on 4 October. They made one stop, in the Azores, on their way across the Atlantic. On 19 October as they neared the end of their long voyage, the two battleships parted company. Maine headed for Portsmouth, N.H.; and Alabama steered for New York. Both reached their destinations on the 20th.
Alabama was placed in reserve at New York on 3 November 1908. Though she remained inactive at New York, the battleship was not decommissioned until 17 August 1909. The warship underwent an extensive overhaul that lasted until the early part of 1912. On 17 April 1912, she was placed in commission, second reserve, at New York, Comdr. Charles F. Preston in command. At that point, she became an element of the newly established Atlantic Reserve Fleet. According to that concept, the Navy organized a unit that comprised nine of the older battleships as well as Brooklyn (Armored Cruiser No. 3), Columbia (Cruiser No. 12), and Minneapolis (Cruiser No. 13) for the purpose of keeping those ships constantly ready for active service using the fiscal expedient of severely reduced complements that could be filled out rapidly by naval militiamen and volunteers in an emergency. The unit as a whole possessed enough officers and men to take two or three of the ships to sea on a rotating basis to test their material readiness and to exercise the sailors at drill.
Alabama was placed in full commission on 25 July 1912 and operated with the Atlantic Fleet off the New England coast through the summer. She was returned to reserve status-in commission, first reserve-at New York on 10 September 1912. Late in the spring of 1913, the Navy added a new dimension to the concept of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet by having the warships of that unit embark detachments of the various state naval militias for training afloat in a manner similar in many respects to the contemporary Navy's selected reserve program. During the summer of 1913, Alabama cruised along the east coast and made two round-trip voyages to Bermuda to train naval militiamen from Maryland, the District of Columbia, New York, Rhode Island, Maine, North Carolina, and Indiana. She ended her last training cruise of the year at Philadelphia on 2 September. The battleship was placed in ordinary on 31 October 1913 and in reserve on 1 July 1914.
Though still in commission, she passed the next 30 months in relative inactivity with the Reserve Force, Atlantic Fleet, at Philadelphia. America's shift toward belligerency in World War I, however, brought Alabama out of the doldrums of the peace-time reserve at the beginning of 1917. On 22 January, she became receiving ship at Philadelphia, embarking drafts of recruits for training. In mid-March, the battleship moved south to the lower reaches of the Chesapeake Bay and began transforming landsmen into sailors. She took a brief respite from her rigorous training schedule on 6 April 1917 for the announcement of the United States declaration of war on the Central Powers. Two days later, Alabama became flagship of Division 1, Atlantic Fleet. For the remainder of World War 1, the warship conducted recruit training missions in the lower Chesapeake Bay and in the coastal waters of the Atlantic seaboard, though she made one visit to the Gulf of Mexico in late June and early July of 1918.
After the armistice on 11 November 1918, her recruit training duties continued but began to diminish somewhat in intensity. During February and March of 1919, the battleship steamed south to the West Indies for winter maneuvers. She returned to Philad elphia in mid-April for routine repairs before heading for Annapolis to embark Naval Academy midshipmen for their summer training cruise. On 28 and 29 May, Alabama made the short trip from Philadelphia to Annapolis. She left Annapolis on 9 June with 184 midshipmen embarked. During the first part of the cruise, Alabama visited the West Indies and made a trip through the Panama Canal and back. In mid-July, she voyaged to New York and the New England coast. August saw her return south or maneuvers at the drill grounds. Alabama disembarked the midshipmen at Annapolis at the end of August and returned to Philadelphia.
After more than nine months at Philadelphia lingering in a sort of naval purgatory, the battleship was finally decommissioned on 7 May 1920. On 15 September 1921, Alabama was transferred to the War Department to be used as a target, and her name was struck from the Navy list. Subjected to aerial bombing tests in Chesapeake Bay by planes of the Army Air Service, the former warship sank in shallow water on 27 September 1921. On 19 March 1924, her sunken hulk was sold for scrap.
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