Victims of the Katyn Forest massacre in a mass grave
One of the more horrendous atrocities of World War II—a war that involved countless horrors—took place in a forest in western Russia. In April and May 1940, thousands of Polish captives were taken to the Katyn woods and executed by Soviet secret police. Among the dead were military officers, university professors, doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, and many others. At the same time, Polish prisoners were killed in several other locations. In all, the Soviets slaughtered some 22,000 Poles. Why? The likely explanation is that Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator, knew that Poland would always be hostile to foreign domination. To eliminate any chance of a revolt against Soviet occupiers, Stalin moved to wipe out the Polish military and civilian leadership.
But what connection does this grisly mass murder have to U.S. history? First, when the massacre was discovered about a year after its occurrence, the Nazis blamed the Soviets. The Soviets denied responsibility and blamed the Nazis. The Soviet secret police even planted fake evidence to prove the killings had taken place in 1941, after the Nazis controlled the area, instead of in 1940, when it was in Soviet hands. Accusations of blame flew back and forth for decades. In 1990, Soviet reformist leader Mikhail Gorbachev finally admitted that the Soviet secret police had committed the murders.
As with many scandalous revelations, two questions persist: Who knew what, and when did they know it? It turns out that Britain’s prime minister at the time, Winston Churchill, knew the Soviets were responsible—and so did American president Franklin D. Roosevelt. Documents just released from the U.S. National Archives reveal that two American POWs who visited Katyn in person sent coded messages to army intelligence with evidence of the Soviets’ guilt. The Roosevelt administration suppressed the information, though, to keep from angering Stalin, its wartime ally. The Allies desperately needed Soviet military might to defeat the Axis powers, so the full truth about the Katyn Forest massacre remained hidden—until now.
Image credit: © Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
AP Exclusive: Katyn Massacre Memos Show U.S. Hushed Up Soviet Crime
Learn about the basics of the story in this article; photo slideshow and video included.
(Source: Associated Press, September 10, 2012)
Records Relating to the Katyn Forest Massacre at the National Archives
This page includes a summary of the Katyn events, along with maps, aerial photographs, and official documents.
(Source: National Archives; accessed September 30, 2012)
US “Hushed Up” Soviet Guilt over Katyn
This is the story as reported in the British press.
(Source: BBC, September 11, 2012)
This Wikipedia article includes links to a short film about the event and a list of books and movies related to the Katyn massacre.
(Source: Wikipedia; accessed September 20, 2012)