In November 1939, the Russians arrested over 15,000 Polish
officers and deported them to western Russia. Among them were
civilians, professors, doctors, lawyers, journalists, artists, judges,
an Olympic athlete, priests, and the Chief Rabbi of the Polish Army.
Military leaders were sent to three prison camps, at Kozielsk,
Starobielsk, and Ostashkov. In April of the following year, the
Polish prisoners were told that they would be repatriated to Poland.
The first group boarded a train, but oddly it was not travelling east,
but rather westward. It came to a stop outside Katyn Forest,
situated near Smolensk. From there the Polish officers were herded
into black vans which drove them to a clearing in the woods. When
they stepped out, the Russians took them to a large pit inside the
forest, and forced them to kneel at its edge. Their hands were tied
behind their backs, and a choke knot tied around their neck and
hands so that if they struggled they would have strangled
themselves. They were surrounded by dozens of armed NKVD
agents who systematically shot each Pole in the back of the head.
Their bodies were thrown into mass graves. This convoy of death
went on for several weeks. By mid-May almost 4,500 Polish officers
were murdered and buried in eight mass graves - the largest grave
contained 12 layers of corpses.
Among the dead were more than 200 pilots including friends and classmates of the Kosciuszko Squadron. One of
its' victims was the brother-in-law of Witold Lokociewski. The sole survivor of Katyn was Professor Stanislaw
Swianiewicz. He was on board the train headed to Katyn Forest, and was standing in the line ready to board the
van, but an NKVD colonel had pulled him out of the line.
The Germans invaded Russia in July 1942, but it wasn't until the next spring that they discovered the mass graves
in Katyn. The bodies were exhumed and examined by a team of experts, and they accused the Russians of having
committed the atrocity. The Russians denied all responsibility and countered by saying that the Germans had
committed the massacre. When Polish Prime Minister Sikorski called for an investigation by the International Red
Cross, the Russian government abruptly severed all diplomatic ties with Poland.
Sir Owen O'Malley, the British Ambassador to the Polish government-in-exile, described the grisly scene:
" In the broad deep pit their comrades lay, packed closely around the edge, head to feet, like sardines in a tin....
up and down on the bodies the executioners tramped, hauling [the corpses] about and treading in the blood like
butchers in a stockyard. "
Churchill, instead of holding Russia accountable for the massacre, actually criticized the Polish government for
even having called for an investigation. He said "No resumption of friendly or working relations with the Soviets is
possible while they [the Poles] make charges of an insulting character against the Soviet government..." All of
Britain was blaming the Poles for trying to "subvert" the alliance between England and the Soviet Union. This
gave Stalin the legitimacy he sought as he continued to wield his propaganda against the Poles, accusing them
of collaborating with the Germans.
Sir Owen O'Malley conducted an investigation of his own and produced a detailed report that proved that the Soviets
were guilty. But Churchill hastily absconded with the report and warned everyone not to ever speak a word about it.
Roosevelt was indifferent to the entire "graves question" as he put it. He was obsessed with his own self-image,
and efforts at getting himself re-elected. It caused him considerable worry that he might lose the Polish-American
vote, if they were ever to find out that Stalin had broken off diplomatic relations with Poland. The Allies ordered a
media ban which prevented the public from knowing that Stalin was the one responsible for the Katyn massacre.
The Allies were interested in only one thing - winning the war at all costs, and placating a Soviet monster.
Since 1943, the subject of Katyn has never died. Conflicting opinions and misinformation (from the Soviet Union)
have circulated for many years. Although the Russian government denied culpability, there was substantial
proof that their predecessors were indeed guilty of committing the crime. Notebooks found on the bodies of the
Polish officers had entries written that predated April 1940. The Germans didn't invade Russia until 1941. Two
American soldiers who were POWs in Germany, were also at Katyn in 1943. One of them, Col. John H. Van Vliet
wrote a report which concluded that the Soviets were responsible, and not the Germans. He submitted the report
to Maj. Gen. Clayton Bissell (the assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence), but Bissell chose to conceal the
information so as not to embarass the Soviets.
The US was depending on the Soviet Union to help them defeat Japan....