In 1940, the Soviet Union executed 22,000 Polish officers in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Russia.

The mass grave was discovered in 1943 by invading German troops, but the Soviet propaganda machine create the mythology that the massacre was committed by the Nazis:

In late 1943, as the Red Army began to recapture territory in eastern Poland, the Soviet secret police (the NKVD), cordoned off the Katyn forest near Smolensk to create one of the most elaborate coverups of the war.

After exhuming the bodies from the graves that the Germans had previously uncovered, the NKVD had documents forged to suggest that the Germans had committed the crime. They planted the false documents on the newly exhumed bodies and worked to persuade local people who had witnessed the Soviet crimes to change their stories.

In January 1944, the Soviet authorities went public with their attempt to con the world about the murders. They filmed falsified documents–money, letters, and a postcard written in Polish by a Polish prisoner of war dated June 20, 1941–to show that the Poles had still been alive in 1941. Key witnesses had also been persuaded, upon the threat of death, to withdraw the testimony they had given to the Germans.

Given all the other Nazi attrocities, that mythology was believable at the time, although years later the truth was revealed.

The Katyn Forest massacre has been all but forgotten outside Poland. As a student of Soviet history, I certainly never forgot.

So I was pleased to read that for the first time ever, Poland and Russia will commemorate the massacre together:

In the first joint commemoration of one of the darkest chapters in their history the Russian and Polish prime ministers will pay tribute today to 22,000 Polish military officers massacred by the Soviet secret police in the Second World War.

Vladimir Putin and Donald Tusk are to mark the 70th anniversary of the slaughter in the forest at Katyn. For half a century the Soviet Union blamed the crime on Nazi troops who revealed the mass graves to the world in 1943.

It was only in 1990 that Mikhail Gorbachev, then the Soviet President, acknowledged that the NKVD, the forerunner to the KGB secret police, had carried out the killings on the orders of Joseph Stalin in April 1940.

Mr Putin said in a Polish newspaper article last year that Russians “fully understand the sensitivities of Poles about Katyn . . . Together we must keep alive the memory of the victims of this crime”.


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