SOVIET CRIMES AGAINST POLAND
DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR

On the occasion of the commemoration of the 65th anniversary
of the Katyn Forest Massacre
St. Paul University, Ottawa
April 21, 2005

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The workers of the Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia, thanks to the fraternal assistance of the Soviet people and its Red Army, were forever liberated from the class and national oppression of the Polish bourgeois.
They acquired a homeland for themselves - the land of happiness - the SOVIET UNION.
In the course of the last year, the popular masses of the new Soviet regions have made enormous progress under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party and the Great STALIN. With each passing day the economy develops, factories grow, dozens - nay, hundreds - of schools, libraries, hospitals and cinemas are opened. The cultural life improves, unemployment has been abolished, hundreds of collective farms have appeared, and dozens of machine-tractor stations have appeared. Warmed by the sunrays of Stalin's constitution, people are joyfully building a new life.

Sergey Kozhevnikov (Ukrainian Front Corps' Commissar), summarizing the "sociocultural revolution" on the Soviet-occupied territories of the Polish State, just one year after the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939.
Krasnaya Zvezda ([Red Star - Red Army's newspaper] - Sep. 18, 1940)

* * * * *

After the Second World War, the International Military Tribunal was established in Nuremberg to try the leaders of Nazi Germany for crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Crimes against peace involved initiating a war of aggression. War crimes involved: murder, ill-treatment, or deportation either of civilians or prisoners of war. Crimes against humanity involved: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts committed against any civilians before or during war, and also persecution on political, racial or religious grounds. These acts, the charter of the Tribunal stated, were crimes "... whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated". The Nazis were also guilty of the ultimate crime - the crime of genocide.
After a thorough investigation, most of the defendants were convicted by the Tribunal of one or more of these horrific crimes and duly punished.

In a bizarre twist of fate, the Soviets, who were also guilty of all these crimes and therefore should have been in the dock alongside the Nazis, sat in righteous judgement upon them.
In regard to Poland alone, the list of Soviet crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Second World War is very long indeed. It includes:

- the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its secret Protocol for the partition of Poland

- the invasion and occupation in September 1939 of Eastern Poland, an area containing eight out of sixteen Poland's prewar provinces and representing 52 percent of Polish soil with over 13 million people

- the consequent breaking of two bilateral treaties with Poland, namely - the 1921 Treaty of Riga and the 1932 Polish-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, renewed in 1934 for an additional ten years; moreover, as a member [since 1934] of the League of Nations, the Soviet Union violated at least three multilateral pacts as well

- the gratuitous handing over of Wilno and the Wilno region to Lithuania in exchange for allowing the Soviets to have military bases in that country

- the rigged plebiscites on the basis of which the occupied Polish territories were incorporated into the Belorussian SSR and the Ukrainian SSR

- the wholesale looting of Polish raw materials, agricultural produce and both movable and immovable goods to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union

- the wrecking of the Polish economy and the banking system

- the subversion of the Polish educational system, the arts, and the free press

- the trampling underfoot of human rights, including the freedoms of free speech, assembly and worship

- the confiscation of all Polish private and state landed property

- the exorbitant taxation without representation

- the four massive and other, less-known smaller deportations of entire Polish families to the gulag

- the massive arrests of so-called counterrevolutionaries and anti-Soviet elements

- the internment of Polish POWs in forced-labour camps in occupied Eastern Poland and the USSR

- the 1940 cold-blooded execution and burial in ground pits in Katyn, Mednoye and Kharkov of 21 857 Polish prisoners [this exact number of those murdered comes from a 1959 KGB memorandum from Aleksandr Shelepin to Nikita Khruschev and represents the total number of executions during the April-May 1940 action, including 7300 persons murdered in Belorussia and Ukraine]. The relatives of the victims in the Soviet-occupied part of Poland were subjected to one of the most severe repressions - deportation to the gulag. In postwar Poland, they were not allowed to speak of the manner in which their loved ones died, and had to mourn them in complete silence

- the ground pits, filled with Polish corpses, recently-discovered near Tavda and Tomsk, east of the Ural Mountains

- the forced 'death marches' to the interior of the Soviet Union following the June 1941 Nazi invasion

- the massive, cold-blooded executions of thousands of prisoners in occupied Eastern Poland in the first days of that invasion

- the establishment of a communist party in Nazi-occupied Poland in early 1942 with orders to destabilize the Polish Underground by denouncing its members to the Gestapo

- the Moscow 1943 order to combat the Polish Underground with "every possible means"

- the establishment in 1943 of the Moscow-based Union of Polish Patriots to take over the Polish government after the war

- the deliberate withholding of material and military assistance to the defenders of Warsaw during the 1944 uprising

- Stalin's 1944 order to liquidate the members of all Polish Underground forces, which resulted in the execution of thousands of Polish soldiers and the arrest and deportation of tens of thousands to the interior of the Soviet Union

- the luring of sixteen Polish leaders to Moscow in March, 1945 and their show trial

These, and similar Soviet actions cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens throughout the war and caused indescribable pain and sufferings to millions more. Such a terrible physical and psychological reign of terror has seldom been witnessed in the annals of human history. Its main objective, no doubt, was nothing less than the complete destruction of the sociocultural life of the twenty year old Second Republic of Poland. Yet as of today, sixty years after the end of the Second World War, not a single Russian official or researcher that can be named, has had the courage to own up to the fact that during the Second World War the Soviet Union was no better than Nazi Germany; that it was in large measure responsible for the outbreak of the Second World War; and that its sinister ideology continued to plague the world, and Poland in particular, for years after that war was over.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, however, some progress has been made in that direction, especially in regard to the mass executions of 1940, collectively known as the Katyn Forest Massacre. Perhaps Russia's handling of the Katyn murders will provide the world with a definitive answer to the question whether there is any difference, after all, between the Russian and the Soviet mentality and conscience.

In 1990, when the Katyn debate reached a critical point in independent Poland, when the facts of the case could no longer be denied and when the cover-up could no longer be sustained - in other words, when the heat was on - Mikhail Gorbachev handed Wojciech Jaruzelski a folder of documents. They left no doubt as to who was responsible for the Katyn Massacre. Yet, there was no 'smoking gun' in any of those documents. Then, in 1992 Boris Yeltsin suddenly 'discovered' Beria's March 5, 1940, execution order in Gorbachev's private archive and handed its copy over, together with copies of forty other documents, to Lech Walesa. Beria's order, signed by Stalin and members of the Politburo, reads that 25 700 prisoners are to be tried and sentenced to "the supreme penalty - shooting".
Another hopeful sign that change was in the air, was the 1994 publication by a Russian historian, Nataliya Lebedeva, of a book called Katyn: A Crime Against Humanity. In 1995, Russia's Chief Military Prosecutor's Office began an official investigation into the Katyn murders. Things looked hopeful indeed.

When the Russian criminal case was closed in September 2004, historians the world over waited anxiously for the outcome of the investigation. On March 11, 2005, Chief Military Prosecutor Aleksandr Savenkov announced that after reviewing numerous documents, questioning over nine hundred witnesses, and conducting eighteen examinations, including exhumations, the investigators found no evidence of genocide. Moreover, those perpetrators, who are still alive, would not be prosecuted because of the statute of limitation. The case generated 183 volumes, 116 of which were said to contain "state secrets". And that was that.

In December 2004, the Institute of National Remembrance in Poland had begun its own investigation into the matter with high hopes of gaining access to at least the 67 volumes of Russian investigative documents which did not contain "state secrets".

From what we already know, the Katyn Massacre was both: a crime against humanity and also a war crime. Few will argue the point. But was it genocide? The starting point in the search for a plausible answer must be the 1948 Convention on Genocide which was unanimously adopted by the United Nations and which defined the term. Its Article II reads, as follows: "In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: (a) killing members of the group..." (the Article goes on to list also four other acts). There is no question, but that in the case of Katyn, we have a national group (the Poles), which was destroyed "in part". The question therefore must hinge on whether they were destroyed as such. In other words, were they killed only because they were Poles?

The NKVD order clearly condemns them all to death on political grounds, because they were, in the words of the document, "hardened and uncompromising enemies of Soviet authority". Who were these counterrevolutionaries? Polish officers and soldiers, rank and file policemen, civil officials, refugees from the German occupation zone, university professors, physicians, lawyers, engineers, teachers, priests, writers, journalists... Historical records also show that 700-900 of the victims were Polish Jews. All, all 25 700 were said to be "uncompromising enemies of Soviet authority". In reality, many belonged to the Polish intelligentsia which Stalin tried to eliminate to prevent the resurgence of independent Poland. The Russian commission no doubt drew its conclusion - that it was not genocide - on the basis that the prisoners were not killed because they were Poles, but rather because of their social status, because they were the enemies of the Soviet Union, as Beria's document plainly states. But the same could be said of Hitler's intention to exterminate the Jews - he did it not because they were Jews, but because they were the enemies of Germany and indeed of the whole world.

*

I do not buy the Russia's doublespeak. Katyn was part and parcel of Stalin's long-range, genocidal policies aimed against Poland - against the country, whose people he hated with a passion because they stood in the way of his imperial designs.
As it happened, Poland indeed turned out to be his ultimate nemesis - the little David, who brought down the giant Goliath.

 

 

SOVIET CRIMES AGAINST POLAND DURING WORLD WAR II

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