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Soviets killed Polish officers in Katyn

fot. PAP/Szymon Pulcyn
fot. PAP/Szymon Pulcyn

There is not the slightest doubt that the Katyn massacre was committed by the Soviets and not by the German Nazis. In 1990, the Russians themselves acknowledged their responsibility for the series of mass murders of Polish officers. Unfortunately, currently, Russian propaganda has attempted to question the existing findings and to relativise the crime by using testimonies of German war criminals which are completely unreliable as they were forced by torture and fabricated by the Soviet secret police agency (NKVD).

The Katyn Massacre was a series of mass executions of almost 22,000 Polish officers and representatives of the intelligentsia by the NKVD in April and May 1940, carried out on the orders of Joseph Stalin (secretary-general of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and premier of the Soviet state). The mass graves in the Katyn forest were discovered by the Germans, and the information was made public on 13 April 1943. Stalin broke off diplomatic relations with the Polish government-in-exile when it requested that the International Red Cross investigate the matter. From the beginning, the Soviets did everything they could to cover up the crime.

A story published on 11 April 2023 on the website of the Russian newspaper ‘Ria Novosti’ and titled ‘FSB publishes unique archives on Katyn’ was submitted to FakeHunter for fact-checking. According to the story, the FSB (The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) has published new documents which are supposed to prove that the Katyn massacre was committed by the Germans.
“In 1941, Polish officers were executed en masse in Katyn by the Nazis and not by the Soviet NKVD. Arnaud Duret, a direct participant in the burial of murdered Poles and later a member of the ‘special purpose’ battalion that fought in the Leningrad region during the Great Patriotic War, testified about this as early as 1945 during the so-called Leningrad trials,” the article reads.

It is not true that Arnaud Duret's testimony in the Leningrad trials was evidence of German perpetration of the Katyn massacre. Arnaud Duret could not had been a credible witness. After all, he was accused of committing many crimes and his statement in the court was intended to save his life.
Duret was one of seven Wehrmacht soldiers tried from 28 December 1945 to 4 January 1946 by a Soviet military court in Leningrad. They were charged with committing numerous crimes in the Leningrad region in 1943-44, including the machine gun murders of civilians in Soviet villages. Arnaud Duret was facing a death sentence.

During the trial, Duret testified that back in 1940 he was sent to the military prison in Torgau in Germany, from where, in September 1941, he and a group of other prisoners were sent to Katyn to dig mass graves in the forests. He claimed that SS troops brought the bodies of killed Polish officers in trucks and dumped them in pits. He also testified that he dug graves till the end of November 1941 and that 15,000 to 20,000 people were buried in them during that time. According to historians, for giving such a testimony, Duret avoided execution and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour. However, his testimony was full of contradictions—he claimed, among other things, that Katyn was in Poland (it was and is in Russia—FH). During the trial, Duret behaved scandalously, laughed during the announcement of the verdict and, in the end, the Soviet authorities decided not to use him as a witness for German crimes during the Nuremberg trials. As a result, his testimony was no longer used by Soviet propaganda on Katyn and proved of little use in covering up the truth about the mass murder of Poles.
Before his death, Duret recanted his testimony, claiming that investigators had forced it by torturing him.

Duret was not the only false witness Moscow used in an attempt to hold Germany responsible for the Katyn massacre. The NKVD also forced other Nazi war criminals to give fabricated testimony at the Nuremberg trials. In return, they received commutation of sentences in their criminal trials. At the same time, there was a special investigation group within the NKVD, which sought out witnesses to the events in order to force them by torture, threats and blackmail to give false testimony.
As early as 1944, a special commission chaired by Professor Nikolai Burdenko, set up by the Soviet authorities to investigate the Katyn massacre, announced that the crime against the Poles had been committed by the Germans between September and December 1941.

The Russian news agency Ria Novosti published another story on 22 June 2023, on the 82nd anniversary of the Third Reich's attack on the USSR, citing allegedly declassified materials from the state archive in Smolensk. According to the agency, these are photocopies of testimonies of German prisoners of war interrogated by the NKVD. Their testimony alleged that Polish officers at Katyn were shot by the Nazis, not the NKVD. One of the 'witnesses' quoted by the newspaper—a German photographer and Third Reich criminal police officer—was supposed to testify that he was a member of a special commission whose goal was to fabricate as much evidence as possible for Germany's slanderous propaganda against the Soviet Union.
Moscow attempted to make the Germans responsible for the shooting of Polish officers and to include the case in the trial of Nazi criminals at Nuremberg. The work of the Burdenko Commission served to falsify history. To convince the judges of the International Military Tribunal trying the Nazis, the NKVD influenced the testimonies of witnesses of the massacre, as well as witnesses and participants of the exhumations, by intimidating and blackmailing them.

A Russian-language article submitted for fact-checking by FakeHunter suggested that the Nuremberg Tribunal admitted that the Germans were the perpetrators of the Katyn massacre. “In fact, the execution of Poles in the Goat Hills, near the Katyn Forest, was carried out by the Nazis themselves, as documented in the verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal,” the article read. Although the author admitted that there was no mention of Katyn in the final Nuremberg ruling, but considered the presentation of the Burdenko report as sufficient evidence of the recognition of German guilt at Nuremberg.
The case was also investigated by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), which, in publications on its website as well as on YouTube channel, recalled the attempt by the USSR representatives to include the Katyn case into the Nuremberg trials in order to officially blame the Germans, close the case and take the blame for the massacre off their shoulders.

Introducing the indictment against the Germans, Soviet prosecutor Roman Rudenko hoped that the Tribunal would accept the Burdenko report. However, he failed, as the Tribunal called witnesses for both the prosecution and the defence. As for the prosecution witnesses, especially František Hájka from the Czech Republic and Marko Markov from Bulgaria, there was suspicion that they were intimidated by the Soviets. The testimony of a German signal corps officer, blamed for the massacre as a result of a Soviet mistake, called by the defence as a witness, completely shattered the Soviet narrative. Finally, the case was taken off the docket and the Nuremberg Tribunal made no mention of Katyn in its final judgment.
The case of the Soviet provocation at Nuremberg trials had been investigated not only by Poland, but also by historians from other countries. Among the most interesting publications reporting on and interpreting that history is a book by the American historian Francine Hirsch “Soviet Judgment at Nuremberg: A New History of the International Military Tribunal after World War II”.

This book presented the Soviets' attempt to bring the case of the Germans' alleged responsibility for the crime at Katyn from a Western perspective. The author makes it clear that the evidence points not to the Germans, but to the Soviets, who carried out the massacre of more than twenty thousand Polish victims in 1940. She recalls a case from 1944—the creation of a Burdenko Commission and wrote that instead of investigating the commission planted evidence pointing to German responsibility. She described the investigation as a sham.

Francine Hirsch also wrote about the doubts Western prosecutors had as they feared that a conflict over the case could completely paralyse the Nuremberg trial. The Soviets, she added, assumed that Articles 19 and 21 of the London Charter (signed August 8, 1945, established an International Military Tribunal for the trial of Nazi war criminals. The Charter of the IMT [Nuremberg Charter] was annexed to the London Agreement, and explained the constitution, jurisdiction and functions of the Nuremberg Trial) would make it impossible to introduce by the defence the rule tu quoque (‘you too’; the claim that the accusing countries had committed the same crimes as the accused) and make official documents such as the Burdenko Report irrefutable. These assumptions, like others that the Soviets made before the trial, proved to be wrong. According to Hirsch, representatives of the USSR were horrified that the defendants began to demonstrate the existence of the 1939 German-Soviet Pact, under which Hitler's Germany and Stalin's USSR agreed to divide Poland's territories between them and respect each other's spheres of influence in Eastern Europe.

The Russian side, and earlier the Soviet side, repeatedly juxtaposed the Katyn massacre with the fate of Red Army prisoners of war in Poland. It even went so far as to suggest that Stalin, by ordering the killing of Polish POWs in 1940, was avenging the deaths of Soviet POWs "killed" in Poland twenty years earlier.
The Polish-Soviet War was a military conflict between Soviet Russia and Poland in the aftermath of World War One and the Russian Revolution.

The Russian-language article submitted to FakeHunter for fact-checking equated the fate of Bolshevik army POWs taken into Polish captivity in 1919-21 with the Katyn massacre. It also contained several false claims about the number of POWs who were allegedly killed by Poles or died of other causes, primarily as a result of deliberate, according to the author of the article, actions by Poles.
In the first phase of the war in 1919, when the fighting was not yet intense, there were, according to many well-verified sources, about seven thousand Russian POWs, Red Army soldiers, in Poland. They were held in camps in Strzałków, Dąbie (central Poland), Pikulice and Wadowice (southern Poland).

After the victorious Battle of Warsaw (August 1920), a much larger group of sixty thousand Russian POWs were taken into captivity. The continuing fighting in the eastern parts of Poland contributed to a further increase in the POW numbers. It is estimated that in the autumn of 1920, there were 80-85,000 Russian prisoners of war in Poland, held in the above-mentioned places and in the camp at Tuchola (northern Poland).
Due to the overcrowding of camps and the difficult economic situation in Poland at the time, the mortality rate among the POWs in the Polish camps was 17-20 percent. Regular outbreaks of infectious diseases such as typhus, dysentery, cholera and influenza were the main reasons. On top of that there was an epidemic of the so-called Spanish flu, from which millions died worldwide. The first outbreaks of these diseases took place in the camps in 1919.
According to Polish estimates, around 16,000-18,000 Russian POWs died during their three years in Polish captivity. Of these, 8,000 died in the Strzałków camp, 2,000 in Tuchola, and 6-8,000 in other camps.

For many years after the war, the authorities in Moscow, as well as the communists in Poland, concealed the truth about Katyn massacre. However, a 1952 American report unequivocally identified the USSR as the perpetrator of the murder.
On 13 April 1990, a communiqué from the state-owned Russian news agency TASS officially confirmed that Polish prisoners of war had been shot in the spring of 1940 by the NKVD. NKVD commissar Lavrenty Beria and his deputy Vsevolod Merkulov were then named as the guilty parties.
On the same day, USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev handed over to Polish President Wojciech Jaruzelski copies of archival documents containing lists of prisoners sent in April and May 1940 from the POW camp at Kozelsk to Smolensk and from the Ostashkov camp to Kalinin (now Tver). Russia even launched an investigation, which was, however, terminated in 2005, concluding that the murder of Polish prisoners of war was not genocide, but an 'ordinary' crime that was time-barred.
Then the issue of the deaths of Russian POWs in Poland became a topic of public debate. Some Russian politicians and the mass media recalled the events of 1920 in an attempt to justify the Katyn crime by means of the alleged Polish murders of the Russian POWs. However, comments mentioning a higher number of POWs and a higher death toll (40, 60 or even more than 100,000 POWs) were found to be untrue by a joint Polish-Russian document produced by historians in 2004.

More recently, in 2017, on the grounds of the cemetery of the victims of the Katyn massacre, the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation held an exhibition dedicated to the Red Army soldiers who allegedly died in Polish captivity after the Polish-Bolshevik war.
For several years, there has been a growing tendency in Russia to deny the USSR's responsibility for the Katyn massacre. In 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin published a text in the American magazine The National Interest entitled “Real Lessons of the 75th Anniversary of World War II”, in which he suggested that it was not the Germans but Hitler's collaborators, among them the Poles, who were responsible for Katyn.

In January 2021, Russian media reported that Putin had ordered the preparation of a law to 'introduce sanctions for equating the roles of the USSR and the Third Reich in the Second World War’.
For the past year, Russian propaganda has been openly undermining Soviet responsibility for Katyn. Pro-Putin media have been falsifying the truth about the Katyn massacre, writing, for example, that the Russian authorities’ statement from 1990 was only a 'statement' and not a historical truth. There is also a new narrative about the alleged declassification of evidence to ‘prove’ that the murder of Poles was carried out by the Germans. Some of Russian propagandists consider the recognition of the guilt of the USSR by Gorbachev and Yeltsin as a betrayal and describe these USSR and later Russia’s leaders as corrupted by Poland.

In June 2022, a court in Kaliningrad banned the distribution of a book titled “Katyn. Guide to the Traces of the Crime” by Jadwiga Rogoża and Maciej Wyrwa, and published by The Centre for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding. According to the court, the book "rehabilitated Nazism" and "violated the law on glorifying the Soviet victory in the Great Patriotic War".