German Atrocity at Katyn (1941)

Alexander Werth (1901-1969)

Alexander Werth (1901-1969) was a British journalist of Russian birth.  His family fled Russia in 1917, following the October Revolution, and settled in England.  As he was born in St Petersburg, and spent much of his young life in Russia, he could read, write and speak Russian fluently.  During the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), Werth was the BBC Correspondent in the USSR.  His BBC credentials, and his inherent understanding of Russian language and culture gained him entry to many places off-limits to other journalists.  He spent a number of years writing clearly and concisely about Soviet history in English, and often dispelled Western Cold War lies and deception with thorough academic research.  Although not known to have been a Communist, or sympathetic to the Communist cause, his journalism was based upon the twin premise of ‘truth’ and ‘fairness’.  His historical work upon the Soviet Union (often drawn from personal experience) is excellent for an unbiased assessment of this crucial phase in world history.  What follows is a selection of information gathered from Werth’s 1964 book entitled ‘Russia at War 1941-1945’.  Interestingly this book is dedicated to the memory of Mitya Khludov, aged 19, killed in action in Belorussia, July 1944.  It is important to state that Alexander Werth does not state that he thought the Nazi Germans definitely committed the atrocity at Katyn – but he does offer excellent research as to why the Nazi Germans might have carried-out this atrocity.

Although the Soviet Union is no more, since its demise in 1991, the racial and class based hatred against a) Russia, and b) Communism, emanating from the West, has known no bounds.  Every despicable act known to humanity has been heaped upon Russia and its Communist past – aided and abetted from within Russia by the new breed of predatory capitalists (who see it in their own best interests to denigrate the former USSR).  This new ‘openness’ has included an apparent ‘admission’ of guilt regarding the disgraceful events surrounding the murder of thousands of Polish military officers in the Katyn Forest in Smolensk, 360km west-southwest of Moscow, probably around springtime, 1941.

During WWII, Winston Churchill (a known admirer of Adolf Hitler, and a detester of Communism), agreed to establish a rightwing Polish government in exile, ostensibly based in London.  This government was antagonistic to the USSR and often operated from an attitude of accommodation toward the Nazi Germans.  Following the invasion of the USSR in 1941, it was thought that between 300,000 and 400,000 Polish people either lived in the USSR as citizens, or as refugees from the fighting.  The Soviet Union had an official policy of looking after these people, and of arming and training independent Polish military units – despite the fact that the rightwing Polish government in exile (in London), often issued ‘edicts’ stating that they did not support the USSR and did not want Polish military units fighting to defend the USSR.  This bizarre situation designed by Churchill to de-stabilise the USSR from within, eventually backfired, as an independent, pro-USSR Polish government developed in Russia that eventually raised its own pro-USSR military units.  This rendered the rightwing Polish government in exile redundant.  However, as the war of words between Moscow and the Polish government in exile was reaching its peak with questions being asked by the former to the latter concerning ‘missing’ Polish POW’s, Joseph Goebbels’s propaganda machine issued a well placed announcement (in April 1943), that the Nazi German Army had discovered a mass grave in the Katyn Forest containing thousands of executed Polish military officers.  The Germans then established a much publicised Committee of Enquiry that claimed to have ‘proven’ that the POW’s had been shot by the Soviet NKVD (the fore-runner of the KGB) in 1940 and buried them in hastily dug mass graves.

What is astonishing about this situation is that as the Nazi German war machine was committing massive and endless acts of barbarity, murder, executions, rape and genocide both within and outside of the Soviet Union, the likes of Churchill and Roosevelt (both apparently sworn enemies of German Nazism) would take this claim seriously.  However, during the Russian Civil War (1917-1921) both the British and US made false claims against the Bolsheviks and their Communist forces committing similar atrocities involving the execution of POW’s (in fact it was the British Army that massacred 26 Communist Commissars at Baku in 1918).  This strategy was designed to use fear to turn the Western working class against the Socialist cause of the Bolsheviks.  It is interesting to note in passing, that many contemporary ‘holocaust deniers’ use this German allegation of ‘murder’ and ‘atrocity’ aimed at the USSR, as a means to discredit holocaust survivors (and their recollections) and shift the blame for the holocaust from Nazi German, toward the USSR.  This is yet another example of the strength of bourgeois hatred toward anything Socialistic.

The Nazi German military over-ran the Katyn area in July, 1941, and Soviet forces re-took the area in September, 1943.  The Nazi Germans had been in control of the Katyn area for just under two years before they announced any hint of a Soviet atrocity.  This was because the Nazi German forces were busy with the practicalities of arranging the deportation, genocide and murder of Communists, Jews, Romany, the disabled, and any kind of dissident living in the area (and disposing of the bodies).  The Russians launched their own enquiry starting in January, 1944.  In attendance was a large retinue of Western correspondents – including Katherine Harriman (the daughter of the US Ambassador to the USSR – Averell Harriman).  The Soviets claimed that around 10,000 bodies had been recovered (but only a few hundred had been chosen as ‘examples’).  Witnesses stated that despite the freezing cold, the place still stank of decaying flesh.  The Soviets assembled a number of prominent academics and politicians, a group that even included the famous writer Alexei Tolstoy.  Alexander Werth makes the following observations:

1) The technique of killing the victims was distinctly ‘German’ and not Russia (i.e. shot in the back of the head).  In countless other places the Nazi Germans used exactly the same method of execution.

2) The Soviet NKVD on the other hand, were not known for using this method.  Individuals did undoubtedly die whilst in NKVD custody, but generally through neglect, over-work, bad food and exposure to cold.  Occasionally groups of people died in this way, but the NKVD were not given to mass murders of the Katyn-type.  (This is an important point with regard to the post-1991 assumption of Soviet responsibility).

3) Why would the USSR kill Polish POW’s in 1940, when Russia was at peace, and there was no military urgency or pressure to deal with ‘class enemies’?

4) Without doubt the Polish officers were murdered with the use of Nazi German ammunition – even the Nazi German Committee of Enquiry had to admit this.  It has been stated elsewhere by anti-Soviet protagonists that the Nazi Germans had sold ‘Geco’ bullets to the rightwing resistance movements in the Baltic States, and that Soviet troops had simply helped themselves to their use.  Werth points out that this counter-argument does not make sense because the Russians were accused of carrying-out the atrocity in March 1940, but did not actually arrive in the Baltic States until three months later.

5) The rightwing London-Polish government in exile alleged that the Soviets had arranged to exchange the Polish officers for 30,000 Ukrainian prisoners and that the Nazi Germans had refused to accept the Poles.  There had then been a misunderstanding between Joseph Stalin and the NKVD when he ordered the camps ‘liquidated’ (through prisoner exchange) with the NKVD mistaking the order for apparent ‘mass’ execution.  Werth mentions that there was no apparent evidence for this version of events, (given the other contradictory evidence).

6) The Soviets revealed that the Katyn Forest area was a favourite holiday location for the people of Smolensk, and that barbed wire had only been placed around the area since the German invasion of 1941.  The Soviets pointed-out that people still holidayed there until the Nazi German occupation.

7) The Nazi Germans had been in Smolensk since July 1941, and yet they waited nearly two years before revealing the apparent Soviet atrocity.

8) It is conceivable that the Nazi Germans murdered the Polish officers in 1941 (possibly in a different area) with a view of deliberately using the bodies against the Soviets at some future date.

9) An alternative story emerged from the British Embassy in Moscow which stated that the Soviets had not murdered the Polish officers in 1941, but had despatched these ‘fascists’ in early 1941, as the Soviet forces disintegrated from the force of the Nazi German attack on the USSR.  However, the problem with this story is that contact with these Polish officers had ceased in early 1940.

10) A number of articles such as letters, postcards and newspapers from 1941 were discovered on or around the bodies.

Katherine Harrison stated in January, 1944, that in her opinion (which represented all the Westerners present), the Russian version of events was correct, and that it was the Nazi German military forces that were responsible for the massacre, just as it was for countless others, across the USSR and Europe.  In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev, seeking to cement his position as the leader of the Soviet Union, issued his infamous ‘Secret Speech’ within which he demonised the legacy of Joseph Stalin, and made him responsible for every real and imagined horror that had been associated with the USSR.  However, despite Khrushchev obviously striving to exchange the Marxist-Leninist ideology of the USSR with rightwing Trotskyism, he did not blame Stalin for the Katyn massacre.  Although Khrushchev’s Secret Speech has now been debunked as a complete falsehood by the academic research of Grover Furr, nevertheless, it is curious that Khrushchev left-out a major allegation against Stalin if it were ‘true’ (and hidden in NKVD files), or ‘untrue’ (and hidden in the recesses of Khrushchev’s imagination) would be damaging nonetheless.  This is interesting because it suggests that whilst Khrushchev was planning his power-grab in the USSR, neither he, nor his co-conspirators, had the idea of ‘blaming’ Stalin for the Katyn massacre.  This would have been a straight-forward demonization of Stalin if people had a) suspected this was true, or b) it was recorded as being ‘true’ in Soviet intelligence files.  As Khrushchev did not care about the reputation of the USSR when he made his Secret Speech, it is unlikely that he refused to ‘use’ this allegation to spare Soviet blushes.  On the contrary, Khrushchev used every means possible to denigrate the Soviet past and even asked the Soviet psychic Wolfe Messing to ‘pretend’ that he had had a vision of Lenin and Stalin asking from the spirit world to have their bodies taken-out of the mausoleum and properly buried – but Messing refused, stating that he did not believe in spiritualism and could not communicate with the dead.  If the opportunist Khrushchev would not blame Stalin (either rightly or wrongly) with the Katyn massacre, why is it that the modern, capitalist State of Russia has apparently ‘admitted’ to carrying it out, whilst not releasing any definitive documents?  It is probably because modern, capitalist Russia wants to distance itself from its Soviet past, and does not care if the USSR is blamed with the Katyn massacre.  This means that the true victor of this situation is the Nazi German regime which carried-out endless extermination campaigns along the lines of that discovered at the Katyn site.  This plays into the hands of the modern rightwing which has always tried to ‘negate’ Nazi German atrocities, whilst pursuing a policy of race-hate – the very same race-hate that killed thousands of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest.  Anti-Russian racism, and anti-Communist fear in the minds of the Western bourgeoisie has ensured that the Katyn massacre out-shines all the many other atrocities perpetuated by the Nazi German regime, which includes around 27 million Soviet men, women and children who were killed during WWII in the fight against Nazi German fascism.

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