Monday, April 13, 2015

April 13, 1943: Nazis Announce Discovery of Mass Grave of Murdered Poles at Katyń

In April-May 1940, the security services of Stalin’s Soviet Union, which had concluded a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in August 1939 and then occupied the eastern part of Poland after the Germans invaded from the west in September, murdered some 22,000 Poles--soldiers, intelligentsia, and other suspect classes--at Katyń forest near Smolensk and other locations.

On April 13, 1943, the Nazis, acting on rumors from locals, announced the discovery of one mass grave at Katyń forest near Smolensk. The Soviets emphatically denied the charges. The incident led to a break in relations between the London Polish Government-in-Exile and the Soviet regime.

The incident long remained controversial, as the Soviets insisted that these were the victims of German occupiers. In fact, I recall my father saying that, while he was serving with the US occupation forces in Germany (OMGUS), he found Germans testifying to "terrible crimes" they had committed in that area, which no one was willing to address.

The forensic evidence seemed contradictory, as the victims were killed with German bullets but tied with Russian ropes, but eventually, the weight of the evidence clearly tipped the scales in favor of a Soviet crime. It was only half a century later, in the Gorbachev reform era, that the Russian government acknowledged responsibility for the crime

This illustrated magazine, produced by the Nazi regime, conveyed the news to the occupied Polish population in May, 1943. The cover is a harmless depiction of the lobster harvest in Martinique (which was then under the control of the Vichy French regime).

Without warning, the next page reveals the horror of the Katyń massacre--conveyed through a Nazi propaganda lens.

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