Just seen Andrzej Wajda’s film Katyn, telling the story of the notorious massacre of up to 22,000 Polish officers and others seen as part of the country’s elite, during World War Two. It happened after those two champion mass murderers, Hitler and Stalin, teamed up to partition Poland. The film is a gripping but dignified portrayal of the ordeal of those who were killed, and of their loved ones left ignorant of their fate.
The crime began to come to light after the tyrants fell out, and the Soviet Union found itself conscripted to the allied side by Hitler’s invasion. The Polish government in exile in London agreed to co-operate with Stalin, but when a Polish general asked for 15,000 p.o.w.’s to be transferred to his command, the Russians replied that most of them had escaped to Manchuria, and could not be found.
In 1943, the Germans announced that they had found the mass graves of nearly 4,500 Polish officers in the Katyn forest, near Smolensk in the USSR. The victims had apparently all been shot from behind. In a dramatic change of story, the Russians now said the Poles had been working in the area, and had been killed by the invading Germans in August 1941. A Red Cross investigation, though, produced evidence that the massacre had happened early in 1940 when the area was under Soviet control.
Still, the Soviet lie remained the official version of the story in Poland throughout the time the Communists held power. After they fell, the fiction was no longer maintained, and in 1990, President Gorbachev admitted that the Soviet secret police had been responsible. Wajda’s own father was killed in the massacre.