Katyn Massacre: A Forest of Despair

ID of a Murdered Polish Officer (1943) Source: Iu. Krasil�nikov: Katyn. 1999.

ID of a Murdered Polish Officer (1943)
Source: Iu. Krasilnikov: Katyn. 1999.

The USSR as one of the major military powers in terms of soldiers and equipment failed against the Nazi Army in the early 1940s. German victory over the Soviets was accomplished “[a]t the operational and tactical levels of…the German Wehrmacht,”  one of the best forces in the world (Freeze 376). Other factors linked to Soviet weaknesses in the early 1940s were the political purge of the military in the late thirties, demoralization of the Red Army, and Stalin’s ineffective leadership against the Germans (Freeze 376-379). Stalin’s failures lie in his “foreign policy based on co-operation and collusion with the Nazis, evidently hoping that they would exhaust themselves in a lengthy war of attrition against the French and British” (Freeze 379).

Stalin’s plans fell through when Germany turned against the USSR, taking lands in Poland as they marched toward the USSR. The partitioned Polish lands between the Nazis and USSR fell under Nazi control, dividing the two allies. With Nazi invasion, Stalin joined the Allies against Hitler.

While under Nazi possession, soldiers found a mass grave in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Poland. Bodies located in the grave were Polish officers. The Germans quickly implicated the Soviets, hoping to alienate the USSR from the allies. In response, “the claim was denounced by Stalin as a ‘monstrous invention by the German-fascist scoundrels'” (Seventeen Moments). The Polish Government-in-exile called for the Red Cross to conduct an investigation, ultimately ending relations with the USSR (Seventeen Moments).

May 1943 (1943) View of the exhumations from the air. Recovered bodies are laid in rows. In the background, the main road. Source: Iu. Krasil�nikov: Katyn. 1999.

May 1943 (1943)
View of the exhumations from the air. Recovered bodies are laid in rows. In the background, the main road.
Source: Iu. Krasilnikov: Katyn. 1999.

The denials of involvement would continue until Gorbachev admitted Soviet blame. This event showcases one of many horrors conducted by the Soviet Union under Stalin. The purpose for the massacre was to rid the Soviets of prison costs. The man power, funding, and supplies needed to house

prisoners of war led to mass execution of prisoners. This brutality was compounded with false claims of counter-revolutionary activities by Polish officers and other POWs. In the Order for the Katyn Massacre, the documents states, “[t]he military and police officers in the camps are attempting to continue their counter-revolutionary activities and are carrying out anti-Soviet agitation. Each of them is waiting only for his release in order to start actively struggling against Soviet authority”(Order for the Katyn Massacre). The document also states the NKVD’s recommendation to deal with prisoners as follows “together with the cases of 11,000 members of various counter-revolutionary organizations of spies and saboteurs, former land owners, factory owners, former Polish officers, government officials, and escapees who have been arrested and are being held in the western provinces of the Ukraine and Belarus and apply to them the supreme penalty: shooting” (Order for the Katyn Massacre). This site is just one of many atrocities conducted under Stalin.



Works Cited:

Image Citations: http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&show=images&SubjectID=1943katyn&Year=1943&navi=byYear