The mass killings began on this day, April 4, 1940–excerpts from an excellent CIA historical piece (note the use of captured Luftwaffe aerial reconnaissance photos):
The Katyn Controversy: Stalin’s Killing Field
One of the earliest–and certainly the most infamous–mass shootings of prisoners of war during World War II did not occur in the heat of battle but was a cold-blooded act of political murder. The victims were Polish officers, soldiers, and civilians captured by the Red Army after it invaded eastern Poland in September 1939 [see also: “Bad Vlad: 1939, or, Just Screw the Poles and Balts“]…
The considerable logistic effort required to handle the prisoners coincided with the USSR’s disastrous 105-day war against Finland. The Finns inflicted 200,000 casualties on the Red Army and destroyed tons of materiel–and much of Russia’s military reputation. That war, like the assault on Poland, was a direct result of Stalin’s nonaggression pact with Hitler…
Stalin was anxious to settle with Finland so he could turn his attention to Poland and the Baltic countries, which the Red Army would soon occupy and the NKVD would “pacify” using terror, deportations, and executions. Militarily, the war was over by late February, though a peace agreement was not signed until March. NKVD interrogations were completed about the same time. The Poles were encouraged to believe they would be released, but the interviews were in effect a selection process to determine who would live and who would die. On 5 March 1940, Stalin signed their death warrant–an NKVD order condemning 21,857 prisoners to “the supreme penalty: shooting.” They had been condemned as “hardened and uncompromising enemies of Soviet authority.” 6
The Killing Field
During April-May 1940, the Polish prisoners were moved from their internment camps and taken to three execution sites. The place most identified with the Soviet atrocity is Katyn Forest, located 12 miles west of Smolensk, Russia [the other two were Tver and Kharkov].
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.
For 50 years, the Soviet Union concealed the truth…
In early 1989, three top Soviet officials sent Gorbachev a memorandum warning him that the issue was becoming “more acute” and that “time is not our ally [Poland now being free again].” 15 Some form of official admission, even a partial one, would have to be made. At a Kremlin ceremony on 13 October 1990, Gorbachev handed Jaruzelski a folder of documents that left no doubt about Soviet guilt. He did not, however, make a full and complete disclosure. Missing from the folder was the March 1940 NKVD execution order. Gorbachev laid all blame on Stalin’s secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria, and his deputy. (This was a safe move, because Beria and his deputy had been branded criminals and summarily shot by Stalin’s successors.) Gorbachev also failed to mention that the actual number of victims was 21,857–more than the usually cited figure of 15,000. By shaving the truth, Gorbachev had shielded the Soviet Government and the Communist Party, making Katyn look like a rogue secret police action rather than an official act of mass murder.
New Evidence From an Old Source
The next major discovery turned up in an unexpected place–the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. While conducting research on Katyn at the Archives in spring 1990, a Polish-American art and antiques expert named Waclaw Godziemba-Maliszewski was given a copy of an article entitled “The Katyn Enigma: New Evidence in a 40-Year Riddle” that had appeared in the Spring 1981 issue of Studies in Intelligence [text here]. It was written by CIA officer and NPIC analyst Robert G. Poirier, who used imagery from Luftwaffe aerial photoreconnaissance during World War II to uncover evidence of the original crime and a Soviet coverup during 1943-1944. 16 The imagery, selected from 17 sorties flown between 1941 and 1944 and spanning a period before, during, and after the German occupation of the Smolensk area, was important evidence. Among other things, it showed that the area where the mass graves were located had not been altered during the German occupation and that the same area displayed physical changes that predated the Germans’ arrival. It also captured the NKVD on film bulldozing some of the Polish graves and removing bodies. Poirier speculated that the corpses had been removed and reburied at another site.
At the National Archives, Godziemba-Maliszewski located the same imagery that Poirier had used. He also found additional shots of Katyn and the other two execution sites at Mednoye and near Kharkov. He discovered much additional imagery, new collateral evidence, and eyewitness testimony, resulting in important new conclusions about what actually happened at Katyn.
After completing further research, in January 1991 Godziemba-Maliszewski turned over copies of the imagery and Poirier’s article to scientists at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. They in turn passed the information to the Polish Ministry of Justice. The Ministry had to be convinced that the article and photographic evidence were bona fide and that Godziemba-Maliszewski was not, as some suspected, a CIA agent! Stefan Sniezko, Poland’s deputy general prosecutor, then gave an interview to the German newspaper Tagesspiegel [Daily Mirror], published on 12 May 1991. This was the first public disclosure of the Luftwaffe imagery and its utility for identifying burial sites in the USSR…
The new evidence put additional pressure on the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation to reveal the full truth. In 1992, Moscow suddenly “discovered” the original 1940 execution ordered signed by Stalin and five other Politburo members– in Gorbachev’s private archive… 17
The horror. The horror. Very relevant:
Ukraine: Secret service publishes Stalin files
Nasty old world.