Katyn Forest Massacre

In 1943, a mass grave of Polish officers was discovered in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk in Russia. The radio announcement was made by a German radio station; the alleged massacre was apparently carried out by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD. Soviet History notes that “the claim was denounced by Stalin as a ‘monstrous invention by the German-fascist scoundrels’ designed to sow discord among the war-time allies.” The Soviets continually denied having any involvement in the massacre, blaming the German forces who also invaded Poland at the time. Upset at the number of bodies, the Polish government begged the Red Cross to begin an investigation of the massacre, not fully believing that the Germans had any involvement. Thus began the lengthy trials at Nuremberg to discover what really happened at Katyn.

Nazi Propaganda poster

The beginning of this story starts with the invasion of Poland by both Nazi and Soviet forces in 1939; this set both Germany and Russia as suspects in the massacre. The Russians legitimized their invasion by claiming “it was liberating Ukrainian and Belorussian toilers from their oppressive Polish rulers.” Once the Soviets had access to the Poles, they were “placed in “special” (concentration) camps, where, from October to February, they were subjected to lengthy interrogations and constant political agitation.” The CIA article notes that Stalin was simultaneously dealing with logistics to transport the Poles and the “disastrous 105-day war against Finland. The Finns inflicted 200,000 casualties on the Red Army and destroyed tons of material–and much of Russia’s military reputation.” Anxious to move forward, Stalin signed the warrant for the deaths of more than 20,000 people on March 5, 1940.

Mass grave exhumation at the Katyn Forest in Smolensk

“To Comrade Stalin

A large number of former officers of the Polish Army, employees of the Polish Police and intelligence services, members of Polish nationalist, counter-revolutionary parties, members of exposed counter-revolutionary resistance groups, escapees and others, all of them sworn enemies of Soviet authority full of hatred for the Soviet system, are currently being held in prisoner-of-war camps of the USSR NKVD and in prisons in the western provinces of Ukraine and Belarus. […] In view of the fact that all are hardened and uncompromising enemies of Soviet authority, the USSR NKVD considers it necessary: […]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.”

The above text is taken directly from the order that was signed by Stalin; this order was carried out from April to May 1940. Katyn was the site with the largest number of bodies, which were discovered by German forces in 1943. Despite overwhelming evidence that Russia was responsible, they continued to deny their involvement until 1990 when Gorbachev presented documents that undoubtedly linked Stalin to these massacres. However, the CIA article also notes that Gorbachev did not give full disclosure in the interest of preserving Communist Party’s less-than-stellar reputation. These actions really show how far Stalin was willing to take punishment of people who were innocent. He truly into some hot water in the years before WWII and it backfired horribly, turning into one of the most infamous massacres of World War II, leaving a guilt on the Russian state that still lingers to this day.





Image #1: http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/posters2.htm

Image #2: “Zbrodnia katyńska w świetle dokumentów / z przedm. Władysława Andersa” from Wikipedia article, “Katyn Massacre”

The ‘Zations– Collectivization and Dekulakization

The city of Magnitogorsk, “the celebrated socialist ‘planned’ city” was founded on a model that’s main goal was to out-do the extremely successful steel mills of Gary, Indiana . The construction of a huge steel mill was an integral part of the First Five-Year Plan and the city soon became a symbol of revolutionary transformation. The city grew rapidly, “from 25 inhabitants in March 1929 to 250,000 by the autumn of 1932.” However, the rapid development of this city meant that the residents were thrust into a new world that was extremely industrialized with very little amounts of training. Through the Seventeen Moments site, I learned that some of the inhabitants of Magnitogorsk were victims of Dekulakization, a movement started by Stalin that desired to rid Soviet Russia of wealthier peasants. The label “kulak” could be given to anyone who opposed collectivization. Freeze gives us the three options for all people labeled “kulak,” “They were to be expropriated–‘liquidated as a class’– and subjected to one of three fates: (1) resettled on inferior land outside the kolkhoz; (2) deported and resettled in other districts; or (3) arrested and sent to prisons or labour camps in remote parts of the country.”

The process of Dekulakization was implemented at the same time as collectivization, a crucial part of the First Five-Year Plan, that wanted to turn agriculture into a large-scale process. Naturally, the peasants in the countryside opposed this implementation, which led Stalin to almost immediately begin persecuting them. It was Stalin’s belief that their opposition was the reason that collectivization wasn’t as successful as it could have been, leading to this horrendous persecution. Freeze notes that the party propagandists called the growing peasant opposition “rural October”–a reference to the October Revolution, though this movement was significantly more costly in human lives than any revolution beforehand. The excerpt from John Scott’s book, Behind the Urals, (featured on Seventeen Moments in Soviet History) mentions a young man named Shabkov, an ex-kulak. He grimly recounts the day that the GPU came to take him and his brother away. His brother was given a rifle, which he used against the officers and was subsequently killed. Sadly, this was a common occurrence and the body-count only continued to rise.

Stalin’s declaration is frighteningly sadistic, his words carry a lot of weight, but his suggestion seems scarily unnatural, “Now, the kulaks are being expropriated by the masses of poor and middle peasants themselves, by the masses who are putting solid collectivization into practice. Now, the expropriation of the kulaks in the regions of solid collectivization is no longer just an administrative measure. Now, the expropriation of the kulaks is an integral part of the formation and development of the collective farms. Consequently it is now ridiculous and foolish to discourse on the expropriation of the kulaks. You do not lament the loss of the hair of one who has been beheaded.”

Dekulakization ended badly for the peasants; almost 14.5 million people are believed to have died as a result of the many policies that Stalin implemented in the Five-Year plans, including Dekulakization and Collectivization. I think this policy just makes Stalin an even scarier historical figure, originally coming into this assignment thinking that I was writing about Magnitogorsk. What’s interesting is that we have one of the crowning achievements of collectivization, Magnitogorsk, playing home to an ex-kulak whose life was upturned by one of the most horrific things of the First Five-Year Plan. History works in mysterious ways.


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 349, 352. Print

“John Scott. A Day in Magnitogorsk. 1942.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. N.p.. Web. 6 Oct 2013. <http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1929scott1&SubjectID=1929magnitogorsk&Year=1929>.

“Iosif Stalin, Problems of Agrarian Policy in the USSR. December 27, 1929 .” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. N.p.. Web. 6 Oct 2013. <http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1929agrarian1&SubjectID=1929collectivization&Year=1929>.