Marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyń massacre, this edition further exposes the crime and its cover-up.
“Allen Paul has thoroughly researched the murders, but more important, he has laid bare the massive coverup of the murders and of the Soviet guilt—a coverup that appears to have involved Roosevelt
and Churchill, as well as Stalin.”
Twenty years ago, Allen Paul wrote the first post-communist account of one of the greatest but least-known tragedies of the 20th century: Stalin’s mass liquidation of Poland’s officer corps and massive deportation of so-called “bourgeoisie elements” to Siberia. Today, these brutal policies are symbolized by one word, Katyń—a crime that still bitterly divides Poles and Russians. His richly updated account covers Russian attempts to recant their admission of guilt for the murders in Katyń Forest and includes discoveries from Russian military archives, eyewitness accounts of two perpetrators, and minutes of a 1953 session of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee kept secret until 2009. The minutes confirm that U.S. officials at the highest levels sought to cover-up the crime long after the war ended.
Paul’s masterful narrative recreates what daily life was like for three Polish families amid momentous events of World War II—from the treacherous Nazi-Soviet invasion in 1939 to a rigged election in 1947 that sealed Poland’s doom. The patriarch of each family was among the Polish officer personally ordered by Stalin to be shot. One of the families suffered daily repression under the German General Government. Like thousands of other Poles, two of the families were deported to Siberia, where they nearly died from forced labor, starvation, and neglect. Through painstaking research, the author reconstructs the lives of these families including such stories as a miraculous escape on the last transport of Poles leaving Russia and a mother’s daring ski trek over the Carpathian Mountains to rescue a daughter she had not seen in six years. At the heart of the drama is the Poles’ uncommon belief in “victory in defeat”—that their struggles made them strong and that freedom and independence, inevitably, would be regained.
Allen Paul, a former Associated Press reporter and political speechwriter, was in Poland working on the first edition of this book when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. In April 2009, the President of Poland awarded Allen Paul the Order of Merit for Katyń.
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The ground trembles slightly when the half-sunken bell in the Katyń Forest cemetery makes its muffled toll. A breeze whispers. Spectral shadows move in the pale light between the trees—dead Polish officers who speak, or so it seems. Unlike millions of Russians, Ukrainians, Balts and others lying in anonymous graves all across the Eurasian land mass, these victims are known: they were favored sons of Poland, professional soldiers and reservists at the peak of their professions—helpless prisoners of war to a man. In the years since 1943 when their graves were discovered, no crime of Stalin has been so clearly documented. Yet no one has been tried or punished for the murders. Nor has there been any real attempt at atonement.
On the question of justice for these victims—let alone the anonymous millions whose deaths Stalin caused—the world has been almost completely silent. It is as if Stalin’s victims never existed at all. Billions in compensation have been paid to Hitler’s victims and their families but virtually nothing to Stalin’s. Long ago, the Germans acknowledged their guilt, confronted the Third Reich’s criminality and attempted to atone for its actions. But there has been no such candor or atonement for the victims of Stalin. Instead, the families of those who perished continue to face dissembling and an appalling lack of cooperation from the Russian government. Absurd Russian attempts to rewrite history have gained momentum in recent years; and denials of Katyń, once again, have become commonplace.
The United States could help by fully accounting for its role in covering up this sordid crime. In 1943, Prime Minister Churchill sent President Roosevelt convincing evidence of Soviet guilt, but it was suppressed. An incriminating report by a senior U.S. Army officer with personal knowledge of what happened was stamped “Top Secret” and then “lost” by the head of Army Intelligence. He knew what an uproar its release would cause. The report has never been found. Details of other government actions, including censorship, to conceal the truth about Katyń from the American people have never been disclosed.
For good reason. American leaders accommodated Stalin during the war: the Red Army was bleeding the Wehrmacht white long before Allied forces landed at Normandy. After the war their deference morphed into an often one-sided approach to peaceful coexistence, a policy first enunciated on the Soviet side. Keeping a lid on Katyń seemed to serve that goal at the time. But the government clamp-down continued well into 1953, as records the author recently obtained confirm (see Chapter 24). As painful as it may be, the U.S. government should disclose all details concerning how we accommodated Stalin and why we turned back our backs on the Poles—especially after the conflict ended. Then, in good conscience, the U.S. government could call on the Russians to end their feeble attempts to rewrite history and release Katyń records they continue to withhold.
As one of the greatest if least-known tragedies of the last century, Katyń has evolved into a symbol of all of Stalin’s crimes against the Poles and accounts for much of the current antagonism between Russia and Poland. America should atone for its role in the cover-up by taking an unequivocal stand today on the side of historical truth. The world, too, must remember Stalin for who he was—a tyrannical despot who sought to liquidate or eliminate through massacres, deportations and other harsh repressions anyone who might stand in his way. This book tells the story of three families and one individual who were unalterably opposed to his system. Their lives, and those of countless others like them, must never be forgotten.
+ From Chapter 9 - The Liquidations
During the German exhumations in Katyń Forest in 1943, it was apparent that certain officers—younger ones in particular—had resisted. Their bodies often revealed multiple bayonet stabs. Sadistic guards reserved a macabre death for those most difficult to subdue: the mouths of these victims were stuffed with saw dust, overcoats were yanked above their heads and choke knots tied about their necks. The victims’ hands were tied to the choke knots and pulled up sharply toward the shoulder blades. If these victims continued to struggle, they simply strangled themselves to death.
Tokarev’s deposition [a Russian at the scene] and evidence from the German exhumation put to rest any doubt that brave Polish fighting men knelt meekly at the edge of the pits waiting to be shot. Even so they were helpless to save themselves in the disoriented state induced by the NKVD with all the cunning and cruelty it could bring to bear. The emotional roller coaster the victims were forced to ride may have been worst of all. The men at Kozelsk [one of three camps where prisoners were held] had all marched out the camp gate with heads held high, believing that at last they were headed home. But their ebullience soon gave way on the cramped train ride to gnawing doubt. Leaving the train, prodded into the black raven’s subhuman cubicles [a van used to transport prisoners from the train depot to the execution site], doubt would have turned quickly to fear and dismay. Alone and immobilized, barely able to move at all during the bumpy ride into the forest, an overwhelming sense of shock and dread surely took hold.
Once the black raven stopped, the Poles would have heard the guard’s footsteps in the passageway as he came to fetch victims. They could hear the cubicle door being opened, the guard barking orders to move out, the prisoner demanding to know where he was being taken, the rough and callow response. These terrible sounds were cause enough for emotional shock, but the victims were immobilized physically too. After waiting hunched-over in their cubicles for an hour or more, aching backs and cramped muscles made it difficult to move. When the guard finally came, the prisoner would have stumbled into the corridor, tried to right himself and made his way toward the door blinking blindly in the exterior light. As his feet hit the ground, NKVD agents stationed on either side of the door quickly grasped each arm and began dragging him the last few steps toward the rest house. He was pushed down the steps into the basement and shoved inside the execution chamber—all in a matter of moments. Just as in Kalinin and Kharkov, an executioner stationed against the wall at the door would have stepped up quickly behind the victim. The muzzle of the Walther was placed six to ten inches behind his head and then fired. Standing nearby a “reloader” fed Geco ammunition into murder weapons once they were sufficiently cooled. The two eyewitness depositions and Świaniewicz’s memoir confirmed that the executioners processed victims fast enough for the black raven to make a round-trip run from the train station to the forest in thirty-five to forty minutes. While the driver returned to the train station, the team at the scene neatly stacked the newest victims like cordwood on those already in the pit.
Only the bullets were merciful in the NKVD abattoir. They pierced the occipital bone, coursing upward from that small protrusion at the base of the skull, then passing through the brain to a point of egress between the nose and hair line. The wound angle represented hard evidence that the executioner shot victim from behind at close range. A shot thus aimed offered two practical advantages: It caused instant death and minimal loss of blood. It was a vintage Bolshevik technique developed in the early days of the revolution when Lenin’s secret police, the Cheka, routinely shot so-called enemies of the people in basements of prisons and public places throughout Russia. Wishing to avoid a bloody aftermath with half-dead victims writhing on the floor, the Cheka perfected what the Germans would later call the Nackenschuss, or shot in the nape of the neck. By the 1930s it had become the standard method used by the NKVD to dispatch Stalin’s purge victims and others.
+ From Chapter 23 - Rescue
Background Note: Zofia, a Polish mother, and her daughter, Ewa, were separated in 1940 when the Russians deported Zofia to Siberia. Ewa remained in Poland with her aunt and uncle the Neuhoffs. Zofia left Russia in 1942 with an army of Polish exiles. At the end of the war she rescued Ewa after crossing the Carpathian Mountains on skis. This passage describes their reunion in town of Bytom where the Neuhoffs lived at the end time.
The next afternoon she (Zofia) arrived in Bytom. When she found the apartment on Fałata Street, no one was home. Zbigniew had gone to Kraków, where he had been offered the directorship of a much larger music conservatory, and Anna was out shopping. An elderly woman who lived directly across the hall was keeping Ewa. Suddenly she and Ewa heard the doorbell ring at the Neuhoff apartment.
Ewa was watching when the old lady went out for a look. “I was standing behind her and could see this strange woman at our door. The old lady asked, ‘Who are you looking for?’”
Ewa piped up: “My aunt and uncle are not home. My uncle is away and my aunt has gone shopping.”
“Could I wait here?” Zofia asked and the old woman invited her in.
“You must be Ajka,” the strange woman said to Ewa, a moment or so later. It was a name she hadn’t heard in a long time. As an infant, her parents had called her Ajka because of a sound she made when she cried.
Surprised, Ewa asked, “How did you know that?”
“I am an old friend of your mother’s.” For a moment, Zofia forgot—such familiar words could make the old woman suspicious. Seeing Ewa for the first time in six years, Zofia’s heart had spoken, but she instantly regretted her lapse.
Just then someone entered the apartment across the hall and closed the door. Ewa jumped up and ran out shouting, “Auntie, Auntie!” Zofia and the old woman were close behind. When she opened the door, Anna gasped; the color drained from her face and she recoiled in shock at the sight of her long-absent sister-in-law. For Anna, it as if a ghost had appeared. The old woman peered with too much curiosity to suit Zofia. Her identity—the rescue mission itself—could be compromised if Anna blurted out her name. Instantly, Zofia pushed Ewa inside the apartment and slammed the door shut. “How impolite!” the old woman probably thought, but nothing was seen or heard that could give Zofia away. Once the door closed, Anna could control her emotions no longer: She threw her arms around Zofia and began crying in deep, almost uncontrollable sobs.
“I was surprised that they knew each other so well,” Ewa recalled, “because I had never seen the strange lady before.”
The two women spoke with great excitement, but Ewa soon turned her attention to a favorite rag doll. A few moments later her aunt called her to the table.
“Do you know who this is, Ewa?” she asked, nodding toward their visitor.
“Yes,” Ewa replied, “she’s a friend of my mother’s.”
“No, Ewa. She is your mother.”
After six long years of fearing that this day might never come, Zofia at last held her little girl as only a mother can. How she must have dreamed of this moment: the little kisses, the rosy cheeks, the hair in need of a good brushing, the nicked-up knees she had ached so to touch—precious moments to savor before the childhood years were irrevocably lost. In that miraculous “Thank God!” moment, Zofia—always calm, self-contained, and reserved—was surely swept along by a rolling tide. Yet there before her stood her wide-eyed, innocent child, shyly measuring the moment in her own way. Who was this mysterious woman, known only to be far away—heard from only in letters that suddenly stopped coming; and sketched, after that, only in vignettes, anecdotes and other small fragments of memory handed down by Aunt Anna and Uncle Zbigniew, a patchwork security blanket if ever a child possessed one.
And yet, the joy, the elation of that long-dreamed-of moment must have had a bittersweet side for Zofia. It was born of sheer terror that stalked her in the deepest part of the night, a terror that led always to the edge of an abyss, felt in the night sweats of the fever that very nearly carried her away, felt in the bleeding hands when she had loaded and carted the stones from the quarry by day, and where, by night, she carried those stones, like Sisyphus, up an insurmountable incline. For years the terror was rooted in her greatest fear—that Maks would not come back. Once his fate was known, she had sworn to herself that she would never rest until Ewa had been rescued from the brutal system that had deprived him of his life. In 1943, when the bodies were found, she had pledged in her heart of hearts: I will find her Maks; my promise to you is that I will take her to a place where she will always be safe and secure. Years later Ewa knew her mother made that pledge and let nothing stop her from fulfilling it. But once it was met, Ewa knew her mother’s heart still ached over what Maks would miss: Knowing that he would never hold their child again, never see her wide-eyed look of wonder, never dry her tears, never lift her up when she stumbled, never meet her young suitors, and never relish her triumphs great and small. How deeply it must have pained Zofia to know that Maks would miss the great rites of passage: Not see Ewa change from a little girl into a gangling adolescent; not see her awkwardness give way to the poise and self-assurance of a young woman ready to soar off on her own. And so, in this moment of indescribable joy, Zofia still had a hole in her heart that could not be removed—even by the miraculous reunion with her long-lost child.
But keep moving! Keep putting one foot forward, then another and another... More than anything, the six terrible years since she last saw Ewa told Zofia that life must go on. Like thousands of Poles faced with terrible losses, she knew that holes in the heart cannot be filled; that death reigned when sadness consumed. She and Ewa had lives to live and had to move on. Already she knew, long before arriving at Anna’s door, what the next steps were: How they—she, Ewa, Zbigniew and Anna—would scale the high prison walls that Stalin had thrown up around their homeland.
“A moving reconstruction of the human side of these events. Especially valuable in its tracing of individuals and families through the barbarous darkness of the 1940s.”
“The detailed personal experiences of three Polish families woven through the text transform what otherwise would be a standard historical narrative into a poignant testimony to the remarkable capacity of human beings to endure tyranny in its most inhumane form.”
“Powerful examination ... well researched and ably written; a fine and harrowing study.”
“Among the foreign authors writing on the subject of Poland, Paul distinguishes himself by his unbiased sympathy toward the Polish people and an understanding of their mentality. He is insightful, untiring and solid.”
“Allen Paul, a journalist and historian-amateur should be praised for both the historical reliability and originality of his approach. His Katyń distinguishes itself from other books on the subject by inclusion of the personal, human sides of the tragedy which seem to be too great to be connected with any flesh and blood human being.”
“The book follows the tragic war fate of three Polish families: The Hoffmans
and the Pawluskis from Lvow and the Czarneks from Krakow. In each case the
Soviet occupiers murdered husbands -- a lawyer, an officer and a doctor.”
Kosciuszko Foundation Newsletter
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