Katyn Forest Massacre, 1943

In 1943, a German radio broadcast announced that a mass grave was discovered in the Katyn Forest area, just outside of Smolensk, Russia.  The victims of the massacre were believed to be those of Polish Officers taken captive in the 1939 Russian Invasion of Poland.  Stalin immediately denied the accusations, claiming that this was just a German tactic to make him and his government look like the bad guys.  When this news reached the Polish Government in Exile, the new government founded after Poland was captured by Germany and the Soviet Union, they called for an investigation by the International Red Cross to determine its legitimacy as a claim.  Once Stalin found out that there was a call for an investigation, he cut off all ties with the Polish Government in Exile and the International Red Cross.  Although the majority of people believed that Stalin ordered the execution of thousand of Poles in 1940, the official truth was not announced until 1990, when Gorbachev made a statement confirming that Stalin ordered the Secret Police (NKVD) to execute all the Poles that they had imprisoned from the 1939 invasion.

Stalin rationalized the initial invasion of Poland by saying that he was liberating Ukraine and Belarus citizens from oppressive Polish landowners, officials, and officers.  The Soviets took thousands of prisoners, but quickly realized that taking care of them would prove to be more expensive then beneficial.  Therefore, Lavrentii Beria, the People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs, was given the go ahead to execute almost all of the Polish prisoners they had simultaneously at all the different location they were keeping them.

To this day, Russia and Poland remain divided on the event as to what it should be classified as and if further reparations are necessary.  Poland sees it as an act of Genocide while Russia sees it as an event that took place during war.  This debate will most likely go on for quite awhile without an official agreement or solution.





9 thoughts on “Katyn Forest Massacre, 1943

  1. That’s kind of a crazy situation, but one that I certainly wouldn’t put past Stalin. To be honest, the more I hear of Stalin the more I dislike him from all the killing that took place under his watch. I understand it’s a time of war, but to kill thousands of Polish people just because you couldn’t take care of them is wrong. It seems like Stalin used killing as a way to solve all of his problems which certainly isn’t the best decision. I definitely understand Poland’s animosity towards Russia still and no matter how Stalin tried to justify this event, I think it was wrong. Great post about a topic not widely discussed.

  2. The denial of particular events by dictators throughout history is astounding to me. I’ve never understood how a person can brush aside an accusation of such a serious crime without any explain when all of the evidence is against them. I’ve read that there was even a document produced by the NKVD which was then signed by the Politburo and Stalin himself approving the massacre. This is just another example of Stalin’s oppressive rule and attempts to save face for his regime.

  3. This event shows how cruel Stalin was not only towards his own but people of other countries. I would certainly consider this event as genocide though I’m sure Stalin only saw it as a way to save resources. However, World War II had so many gray areas that debates such as this one could go on forever, not to say that this event wasn’t an atrocity because it certainly was.

  4. What I have to say impresses me the most, would be the fact that this is the first I have heard of this event. When a leader is so terrible that a mass execution can go under the radar you might know something is wrong. Stalin truly was a horrible man, and it’s especially terrible that these men were killed only to save money…

  5. I think that this post is really interesting in the fact that it shows that Nazi Germany was not the only state killing masses of people during the second World War. It is also interesting that you mentioned that this massacre has modern implications in Russian-Polish relations. I think that this point is an important one to be made because it highlights one benefit of studying history. By studying events like this, one can be more informed about modern conflicts and their roots in history. This post reminds me, in a way, of Sean’s post last week. (http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/chargers/2013/10/14/stalin-a-monster-before-hitler/) I think that these two are related in the fact that they cast a dark light on Stalin and his actions while in power. Good job this week.

  6. War or not, the murder of these Poles was definitely an act of genocide, as was the extermination of roughly 6 million ‘undesirables’ by the Germans during the war. The outbreak of armed violence between 2 or more countries is not grounds for any type of ethnic cleansing, and it is unfortunate that this ends up to be the case. However, given what we have discussed regarding Stalin, this was definitely not his worst moment, nor his most surprising or shocking. The man was brutally harsh, completely unnecessarily so on almost every occasion. While he may have done a great deal for the USSR collectively speaking, he is certainly not someone to fondly look back on and wish they were in charge today. He is singlehandedly responsible for the deaths of millions of people and should never be forgotten as such.

  7. Sounds like a Stalin thing to do, although you can’t ignore the part Beria played in this. Beria is one of the more infamous of a long line of cruel Russian Secret Police chiefs all the way up to Putin (I don’t know who’s in charge now but it’s likely it is a terrible person who takes orders from the calculating genius of Putin). This also isn’t the only reason the Poles hate the Russians. Poland has always had trouble staying independent from Germans, Russians, and the Hapsburg Empire. They had sovereignty for the short interwar period then they were taken over again and were under Soviet control until the 1980s. Polish hatred of Russians is deep-seated and won’t be solved just by an apology for this massacre.

  8. This event just further emphasizes Stalin’s cruelty. Whether or not this is considered genocide, it surely constitutes a war crime by today’s definitions.

  9. The fact that the Russian Government does not acknowledge that this was genocide is a bit ridiculous. The killing of thousands of Polish people basically because they didn’t feel like feeding them is heinous. At this time in Polish history, the officers in the military were the most educated people in Poland. Killing them all off had harsh repercussions for Poland after the war, and for the Soviet Union as a whole.

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