The Soviet War Crimes against Poland: Katyn 1940

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The Soviet War Crimes against Poland: Katyn 1940

Post by Roberto » 12 Mar 2003 21:44

What follows is my translation of the essay Die sowjetischen Kriegsverbrechen gegenüber Polen: Katyn 1940, by Malgorzata and Krzysztof Ruchniewicz, published in Wette/Überschär, Kriegsverbrechen im 20. Jahrhundert, Darmstadt 2001, pages 356 to 367.

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The numerous footnotes were only translated where deemed essential for the understanding of the text or otherwise of particular interest.

[Part 1]

The Soviet War Crimes against Poland: Katyn 1940

When the Red Army on 17 September 1939 crossed the eastern border of Poland, it de facto initiated, although no war was declared, an unprovoked hostile action against Poland. Thus the Kremlin fulfilled its obligations entered into when signing the Hitler-Stalin pact on 23 August 1939. At the same time, however, it broke the non-aggression pact with Poland from 1932 and violated numerous bilateral and international treaties. The defeat of the Polish troops, who had been fighting against the armies of the Third Reich for more than two weeks, was sealed with the Soviet invasion at the latest. This act has been correctly called a crime against peace by Russian researcher Natalia Lebedieva. In the face of the second aggressor’s attack the Polish government went into exile in Rumania. Together with it thousands of soldiers and civilians left the territory of the Polish state.
The Polish armed forces command, which was surprised by the USSR’s attack and couldn’t reach final clarity about Moscow’s intentions, did not make up its mind, however, to openly consider this attack as a declaration of war. The Polish units were ordered to move in the direction of the Rumanian border and to take up the fight against the Russians only in case of a hostile action from the Soviet side. Such engagements occurred very often. One of the reasons for this was that in the eastern voivod-doms of Poland reserve units, units of the rearguard or the more or less orderly retreating regular army units prevailed. During the following days the Red Army made about 250,000 prisoners of war. In the next months the majority of them, like other groups of society, became victims of the repressive policy applied by the Soviet rulers in the occupied areas. Given their inhumanity and dimensions these acts of violence must be considered crimes against humanity.
Among the population of the eastern frontier regions there were mass arrests. Of a total of 100,000 arrested the greater part was exiled to Siberian camps, and about 18,000 fell victim to shootings. From the civilian population about 320,000 were deported to the interior of the USSR, where tens of thousands died of hunger, cold or due to forced labor. Furthermore so-called “voluntary” - in fact forcibly drafted - laborers were recruited for working in the Soviet industrial centers and the Red Army, mainly in penal - and work battalions where the climate was similar to that in the camps. It is estimated that over 500,000 citizens of the Second Polish Republic were affected by the different forms of repression and forced resettlement. The greater part of them were Poles, who after their nationality and class were considered the USSR’s main enemies. The last, extremely bloody acts of violence were the massive executions of prison inmates, carried out in a hurry in the face of the approaching German armies at the end of June 1941.
The symbol of Soviet repression, however, was the place where in the spring of 1940 more than 4,000 Polish prisoners of war were murdered in a mass execution: Katyn near Smolensk. This name is furthermore inseparably linked to the tragic fate of ca. 15,000 Polish officers and policemen who in April and May 1940 were, in violation of all norms of international law, murdered by the NKVD (Soviet Ministry of the Interior). This happened at three sites: the already mentioned Katyn, Miednoye near Tver and Piatichatki near Kharkov. Katyn became known to the public in the spring of 1943; for the revelation of the two other extermination sites by Moscow as well as an official acknowledgment of guilt from the Russian side it was necessary to wait until the beginning of the 1990s.
The ‘Katyn question’, as this whole crime complex was shortly referred to, consists of two levels. On the one hand there are the events during the years 1939-1940, the functioning of prisoner of war camps, the interrogations by the NKVD resulting in a mass death sentence and the conduction of the executions proper. On the other there are the struggle for clarifying the fate of the people murdered here, which in the beginning was conducted by the Polish government in exile and after the Second World War was continued by Polish emigration in the west, and the efforts of the USSR and the Polish communists to conceal the actual authors of the murders. In the present article we will focus on the first level. Research literature on this subject is very voluminous and has in the last decade been enriched by important analyses and collections of sources which include Russian sources.
According to the sources from the Russian archives, the Soviet units attacking Poland were not prepared for taking in and isolating such a huge number of prisoners because longer and bloodier engagements with the Polish troops had been anticipated. The corresponding rules of international law on prisoners of war were to be found in the international special conventions. Before 1939 Moscow had on several occasions manifested the intention of complying with these rules, although they had never been initialed by the Soviets. As early as 18 September 1939, however, the Soviet rulers showed that they by no means intended to abide by these conventions. The responsibility for the prisoners of war, according to a statement of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the WKP (b), was to be taken over not by the army command but by the Ministry of the Interior, the infamous NKVD. This ministry received a newly constituted department for prisoners of war headed by Major P.K. Soprunieko.
Due to the supply -, transportation – and accommodation difficulties the living conditions of the prisoners were very difficult. This was so both in the ad hoc camps and collection centers at the Polish-Soviet border and in the eight provisional camps. Especially in the first weeks of captivity the prisoners were often hungry and slept in destitute buildings or under open sky. From the beginning political indoctrination was conducted and an exact data file of the prisoners put together. To the interior of the USSR the prisoners were sent by rail, but they had to cover many kilometers on foot to the railway station, where the NKVD’s collection point had been organized. According to the Soviet material, the NKVD took over at least 125,000 of the already mentioned 240,000 prisoners. The others were either released after detention or fled, taking advantage of the badly secured provisional camps.
In mid-October 1939 most of the prisoners found themselves in permanent camps that had been installed in inner Russia, namely at Ostaszkov, Pawiliszczev Bor, Koziels, Putwyl, Kosielszyzna, Starobielsk, Talice and Oranki. The living conditions at first were no different from those in the transit camps. It occurred that, despite the falling temperatures, the prisoners had to sleep in tents, destitute kolkhoz or monastery buildings or in the open. Lice spread, as did diseases caused by the catastrophic hygienic conditions. For this reason deaths occurred ever more often. Only sometimes there were Soviet medics or nurses. Thus the Polish physicians among the prisoners took over medical attention.
Interestingly the camp command was in no way prepared for registering the prisoners. The collection of such registration information, however, was closely linked to the persecution of higher officers and other “enemies of the people” hidden among the lower ranks, who were guilty of “anti-Soviet activities”, suspected of espionage or belonged to the PPS (Polish Socialist Party), the ND (National Democracy), social democracy, the Pilsudski associations or other counterrevolutionary parties and organizations.
Those detained, among whom many had a high level of education and who belonged to the intellectual elite, were submitted to primitive chat, the reading of anti-Polish articles and the joint hearing of radio propaganda broadcasts in order to convince them of the advantages of the Soviet system. At the same time a network of agents, informers and provocateurs was created among the prisoners. These matters were ruled in the “Instructions for the Operative-Chekist Attending of the Prisoners of War in the Camps of the USSR’s NKVD”, published at the beginning of October 1939.
Here the categories of prisoners to be more closely observed were named in detail. The security service was especially interested in members of Russian exile organizations and refugees from the USSR. This search for “informers”, “saboteurs”, “terrorists” or “conspirators” was characteristic of the Stalinist system and bound to lead, sooner or later, to the uncovering of “counterrevolutionary groups”. Shortly thereafter the decision was taken to separate three of the existing camps and give them a special status. To these camps the officers, policemen and gendarmes were to be transferred. The camps were Koziels, Ostaszkov and Starobielsk.
The difficulty of securing even a minimum existential level in the prison camps eventually led the Soviet rulers to consider the possibility of releasing a part of the Polish soldiers. In October 1939 the Politburo authorized the release of a part of the corporals and non-commissioned officers who had lived in the territories annexed by the USSR. Their comrades from the areas occupied by the Germans had to wait for the Soviet-German agreement about their further fate that was entered into in mid-October. These decisions, however, excluded all officers, independently of their domicile and their status (professional soldiers, reservists or retired servicemen). After the conclusion of releases and the exchange more than 40,000 Polish soldiers remained, thereof 8,500 officers (in the camps at Starobielsk and Kozielsk), 6,500 policemen (at Ostaszkov) and 26,000 corporals and non-commissioned officers in the camps. These were accommodated in four work camps. Upon requirement by the Commissariat for Foundries and Steel of the USSR they were sent to work in the mines in southern Ukraine, which suffered from grievous labor shortage. Furthermore they were used in other Ukrainian foundries, quarries and in the building of industrial installations.
In May 1940 the Soviet leadership decided to carry out a selection among the prisoners. There was no talk of letting them go home. Those who until then had effectively worked were ordered to the building of streets and airports in the Lemberg district. All others were deported to the northern parts of the USSR, where they came under the command of the ‘Labor Camp North for Railway Repairs’ (Pólocny Kolejowy Oboz Pracy Poprawczej) of the NKVD (short: Siewzedorlag), which was part of the GULag. Together with tens of thousands of other prisoners they were to build the Koltas-Vorkuta railway line. “In the further perspective” – wrote a Polish researcher – “this meant a death sentence for them, albeit one that was executed over a longer period of time and without a hangman.”
After the German attack on the USSR there began a fast evacuation of the camps. The prisoner columns were led east on foot. Those who couldn’t keep up were beaten, killed or fell victim to German air attacks. The Soviets managed to evacuate about 12,000 Polish prisoners; according to official data the losses amounted to ca. 1,800 people. The brutal living – and working conditions, which corresponded to those of the other GULag camps, constituted a clear violation of the international conventions regarding prisoners of war. Only the German attack on the USSR put an end to this slow extermination of the prisoners. For now Moscow became an ally of the anti-Hitler coalition and thus also an ally of Poland. In the sequence of a Polish-Soviet agreement signed at the end of August 1941 the fate of the Polish citizens detained in the USSR improved: Moscow granted them an “amnesty” by which the prisoners, inmates and deportees were freed. After leaving the camps they went to the south of the USSR, where the bases of a new Polish army were being created. The Polish army leadership registered the arriving soldiers and volunteers very exactly. Accordingly the absence of so many officers caused great preoccupation. The existence of the special camps for officers in 1940 was well known. What, then, had happened to their inmates ?


[to be continued]

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Post by witness » 13 Mar 2003 01:00

Roberto .Thanks a lot for your translation.
Couple of questions .
First
You translated :

Such engagements occurred very often. One of the reasons for this was that in the eastern voivod-doms of Poland reserve units, units of the rearguard or the more or less orderly retreating regular army units prevailed.

I am not sure that I understand the meaning. Does it mean that these engagments with the Red Army units were happening due to the fact that in the Eastern voivodstvah ( "voivod-doms" )most of the Polish units were
'rearguard' or 'reserve' ? If this is the case then I don't get the logical connection :( Why the rearguad or reserve units were to be engaged anything more then the regular ones ?

Second

This happened at three sites: the already mentioned Katyn, Miednoye near Tver and Piatichatki near Kharkov.

I ve never heard anything about Miednoye and Piatichatki NKVD shootings of Poles near Tver and Kharkov .
Is any other information about these atrocities available ?

Best Regards
Michael

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Post by michael mills » 13 Mar 2003 01:44

One possible reason for the extermination in April 1940 of the 15,000 POlish officers, policemen and gendarmes held in the three camps of Ostashkov, Kozelsk and Starobelsk, was the decision of the French Government in February of that year to send the Polish army units under the command of the Polish Government-in-Exile (then located at Angers, in France) to make a landing near Murmansk.

At that time, France was forcefully advocating going to war against the Soviet Union as well as Germany, because of the Soviet participation in the attack on Poland and for its later attack on Finland.

France proposed to attack the Soviet Union from the north and the south. The aim of the attack was to force the Soviet Union to cease trading with Germany (particularly the supply of oil), and to revoke its Non-Aggression Pact with that country.

The attack in the south was to consist of aerial bombardment of the oilfields at Baku, carried out by bombers based in French-controlled Syria. The attack in the north was to consist of the afore-mentioned landing by Polish forces near Murmansk, the aim of which was to occupy the area and thereby deny its use to the German navy, which had been allowed to use a Soviet naval base near Murmansk.

In the event, the French proposed attacks never took place; Britain pressured France into abandoning its schemes, which would have brought the Soviet Union into the war on Germany's side. Britain, despite the Hitler-Stalin pact, saw the Soviet Union as a potential future ally, which might be persuaded to abandon its "marriage of convenience" with Germany and enter the war on the Allied side.

It is possible that the order to liquidate the Polish officers held at the three camps may have been a panicked reaction to the French initiative, the officers being seen (rather irrationally) as a possible source of rebeellion in support of a Franco-Polish landing at Murmansk. After the liquidation of the 15,000 officers, the killings ceased, and the remaining Polish POWs were left alive.

It appears that the Soviet Government realised that the liquidations had been a mistake, as the French proposals had never had a realistic chance of being implemented. Later, they were a source of great embarrassment to the Soviet Government when General Anders, the commander of the Polish army being formed in the Soviet Union after the German invasion, asked Stalin what had happened to the missing officers. Stalin replied that they had escaped and fled across the Manchurian border!

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Post by Dan » 13 Mar 2003 02:15

WOW. I had no idea that the French wanted to do what the Anglo-Polish Treaty of 1939 obligated the British to do. Man, it's a good thing the French couldn't pressure the Brits into fulfilling their obligations. That would have been one short war!

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Post by Roberto » 13 Mar 2003 12:16

witness wrote:Roberto .Thanks a lot for your translation.
Couple of questions .
First
You translated :

Such engagements occurred very often. One of the reasons for this was that in the eastern voivod-doms of Poland reserve units, units of the rearguard or the more or less orderly retreating regular army units prevailed.

I am not sure that I understand the meaning. Does it mean that these engagments with the Red Army units were happening due to the fact that in the Eastern voivodstvah ( "voivod-doms" )most of the Polish units were
'rearguard' or 'reserve' ? If this is the case then I don't get the logical connection :( Why the rearguad or reserve units were to be engaged anything more then the regular ones ?


A possible explanation would be that they had so far not been affected by the war and were therefore full of fight, contrary to demoralized combat units who had already been torn apart by German tank and air attacks. But you're right, the connection also baffled me, as did other statements in the article. Maybe such apparent inconsistencies can be blamed on the Ruchniewicz couple's insufficient mastery of the German language, in which the article seems to have been written by them. In the first footnote warm thanks are expressed to a lady by from Bielefeld by the name of Stefani Sonntag for her "linguistic revision" ("sprachliche Überarbeitung") of the article.

witness wrote:Second

This happened at three sites: the already mentioned Katyn, Miednoye near Tver and Piatichatki near Kharkov.

I ve never heard anything about Miednoye and Piatichatki NKVD shootings of Poles near Tver and Kharkov .
Is any other information about these atrocities available ?


Of course there is. Just wait for the next parts of my translation. :D

All the best,

Roberto

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Post by Kokampf » 13 Mar 2003 13:41

witness wrote:I ve never heard anything about Miednoye and Piatichatki NKVD shootings of Poles near Tver and Kharkov .
Is any other information about these atrocities available ?


Try http://www.mswia.gov.pl/mednoe.html. This covers all the locations used for shooting and disposal of Poles in this wave of killings, and even includes scanned correspondence between Beria and Stalin.

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Post by witness » 13 Mar 2003 15:12

Kokampf - very interesting info.
Roberto - I am looking forward to the second part.

Thank you very much ! :D

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Post by Roberto » 14 Mar 2003 18:00

[Part 2]

In these special camps there were 15,105 prisoners at the end of December 1939, according to statements of the NKVD. Among the officers only 44.9 % were in active service, 55 % of those detained were reservists. In the officer’s contingent there were also 650 retired officers (0.1 %), who were in an advanced age and often sick or invalid. The reservists constituted a considerable part of the contemporary Polish intelligentsia.
The camp rules for the special contingents (so-called speckontyngente), as the detained were referred to, was not in accordance with the international conventions for prisoners. Weeks after the conclusion of hostilities these prisoners were not released or repatriated. They were often interrogated and subject to reprisals. Since November 1939 investigation brigades from Moscow, under the direction of higher functionaries of Section 5 (Espionage) of the Main Administration of State Security of the USSR’s NKVD (GUPvi) were active in the camps. The violation of international conventions led the prisoners to send protest notes both to the camp administration and to the higher Soviet instances (see for instance the letter of General F. Sikorski or the letter of Colonel E. Saski, a military jurist). The commander of the Starobielsk camp thereupon asked to be sent the text of the prisoner of war convention, which proves that he had no knowledge of these legal rules. He received an instructive answer from his superiors: The Geneva Convention of 1929, it was said therein, “is no document by which you should orient yourselves. Orient yourselves in your work after the directives of the President of the NKVD about prisoner of war matters.”
The activity of the NKVD’s investigation groups in the camps quickly brought much operative intelligence information which incriminated the prisoners from the point of view of the Soviet rulers and unmasked them as stubborn “enemies of the people” and thus of Soviet power not susceptible of re-education. For the Poles had manifested that after being released from the camps they wanted to fight against Nazi Germany not in the USSR, but in western or neutral lands. The leaders of cultural associations were arrested under charges that they had under the cover of culture founded hostile organizations. Even lectures about bee keeping were regarded as “counterrevolutionary”.
These materials clearly show that the persons held in the special camps did by no means ‘qualify’ for a release. The information about the creation of a Polish resistance in the Polish areas occupied by the USSR supported the NKVD in its endeavor to integrate the prisoners in its own work as quickly as possible and to use them in the struggle for the liberation of Poland. As had been agreed in the German-Soviet treaty of 28 September 1939, however, this Poland was never again to be restituted. The overfilled camps, the difficult accommodation possibilities, economic aspects and the necessity of making room for the prisoners from the war with Finland, which had begun at the end of 1939 – all this led the Soviet rulers to consider a “radical solution” of the prisoners issue. The efforts of Soviet groups, whose task it was to win Polish prisoners for cooperation with the USSR, only brought miserable results. After only a number of persons had been found who were disposed to such cooperation, the rest of the prisoners became a useless danger, a superfluous burden for the USSR. The experience of the recent “great purge” suggested to the NKVD and the highest organs of the USSR the ‘obvious’ solution, i.e. the liquidation of the prisoners or their eventual condemnation to long years of exile in the camps of the GULag.
The status of the Polish prisoners of war, their foreign nationality and the international image of the USSR required great care and discretion in solving this question, however. This explains the absolute secrecy of the subsequent actions and the fact that the sanctions and sentences were grounded on decisions of extra-judicial entities for whom the lack of convincing evidence for the guilt of the accused was not a problem. First the sentences were to be issued by the Special Commission for the Handling of Crimes against the Revolution (Osoboje Sovieèanije, in Russian, short OSO), which was to be done in the absence of the accused and without a right to defense. This entity was entitled to sentence to exile and to camp confinement for up to 10 years. On the last day of 1939 People’s Commissar Lavrenti Beria decided to hand over the problem of the prisoners of war in the Ostaszkov camp to the OSO, which consisted mainly of policemen and other representatives of the “bourgeois disciplining apparatus”. From the other camps the files were to be prepared until the end of January 1940. All cases from Ostaszkov were tried before the OSO – a total of 6,050. Until the end of February the procedures had been concluded on over 600 persons, who were sentenced to 3 to 8 years camp confinement in Kamchatka. For the purpose of transporting these inmates to their destination – at this time they no longer had the status of prisoners of war – there was a special meeting in Moscow.
The transportation did not occur, however, because the head of the NKVD had in the meantime decided to solve the problem of the prisoners of war in another way. At the suggestion of Soprunienko Beria had “all prison guards, spies, provocateurs, traders and landed gentry held at the NKVD camps of Starobielsk, Kozielst and Ostaszkov transferred to prisons […]” The Special Commission was not mentioned, which could mean that due to the rather slow handling of the cases another judging entity was put in charge. N. Lebiedieva assumes that Beria wanted to discuss this matter with Stalin.
At this place there arises the question about the Soviet leader’s personal relationship towards the Poles and the Polish state. The already mentioned Russian historian Lebiedieva emphasizes the great importance of Stalin’s traumatic experiences during the Soviet-Polish war of 1920, during which the Poles had managed to stop a further westward expansion of Soviet Russia. Many of the officers held in the camps had taken part in these battles. Following this thought one must assume that it was Stalin’s central urge to take revenge against the Poles for the humiliation of 1920.
Alexander Gurjanov points to the idea of a state under siege, which was dominant among the Soviet power elite. Such a state under siege is threatened not only by external enemies, but also by enemies within. In the areas occupied in 1939 the anti-Soviet attitude of the Poles was most strongly developed. For this reason the Poles were seen as the most dangerous actual and potential inner enemies.
After detailed analysis of the available documents, Lebiedieva reaches the conclusion that the plan for the quick and sudden solution of the question of the whole prisoner contingent from three camps was detailed by Beria on 25-27 February 1940, possibly after the mentioned conversation with Stalin. The camp commands received orders to immediately make available information about the prisoners including data about their material status and their societal and professional situation. On hand of these documents short information memorandums about each individual person were prepared, which formed the basis for the decision about the shooting.
In a note prepared by Beria for Stalin on 3 or 4 March 1940 (it is undated, but it is certain that the addressee received it on 5 March) the following was written:
“In the NKVD prisoner of war camps of the USSR and in the prisons of the western districts of Ukraine and Belorussia there is at this time a huge number of officers of the Polish army, former members of the Polish militia and the secret service, members of nationalist and counterrevolutionary parties, members of unmasked counterrevolutionary rebellious organizations, refugees etc. All of them are incorrigible enemies of the Soviet government, they engage in anti-Soviet agitation and are full of hatred of the Soviet system.
The officers and policemen remaining as prisoners of war in the camps try to continue their counterrevolutionary work and engage in anti-Soviet agitation. All of them therefore wait only for being released in order to actively take part in the struggle against the Soviet government.
The organs of the NKVD from the western districts of Ukraine and Belorussia have uncovered quite a number of counterrevolutionary rebellious organizations. In all these organizations the former officers of the Polish army and the former policemen and gendarmes played a leading role. […]
Due to the fact that in all cases these people are incorrigible and irreconcilable enemies of the Soviet government, the NKVD of the USSR considers it imperative:
I. to give the NKVD of the USSR the task of
1. examining the issue of the prisoners of war held in the camps – 14,700 persons […]
2. and also that of the 11,000 persons held in the prisons of the western districts of the Ukraine and Belorussia […] in a special procedure and applying against these people the highest penalty – death by shooting;
II. to examine the issues without hearing the prisoners and to issue the sentences without a statement of the reasons, for which purpose the examination of this issues and taking of decisions is to be entrusted to the troika: Comrades Merkulov, Kabalov, Bataszkov (head of the 1st Special Department of the NKVD of the USSR).”
On the first page of this document there are the confirming signatures of the members of the leading organs of the USSR: Josef Stalin, Kliment Voroshilov, Vjacheslav Molotov and Anastas Mikojan. On the margin it was noted that Mikhail Kalinin and Lazar Kaganovich had also expressed their agreement. The conclusion of Beria’s note was accepted as the decision of the 13th session of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the WKP (b) of 5 March 1940 and recorded in the protocol of this meeting. The absence of any, even wording changes suggests that the text had been previously agreed upon between Stalin and Beria. Already on the next day the preparations for the liquidation began.


[to be continued]

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Post by witness » 16 Mar 2003 07:10

The overfilled camps, the difficult accommodation possibilities, economic aspects and the necessity of making room for the prisoners from the war with Finland, which had begun at the end of 1939 – all this led the Soviet rulers to consider a “radical solution” of the prisoners issue

Again the question of logistic difficulties vs ideology arises here.
Certainly all these difficulties played some role in making decision to "radically" solve the problem.
But if not for this ''siege'' mentality and paranoid preoccupation with the alleged "enemies of the State " would such a massacre be possible even if the difficulties associated with the economic hardships and providing some room for the possible Finnish POWs were so enormous ?

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Post by Roberto » 18 Mar 2003 16:46

[Part 3]

The exact distribution of the prisoner contingent of 14,736 persons earmarked for liquidation is shown in the following table. Among the 10,685 inmates there were, according to the same data, 1,207 officers and 5,141 policemen and gendarmes.

The distribution of the prisoners from the camps of Kozielsk. Starobielsk and Ostaszkov in February/March according to military ranks and functions

Military rank; number
General, colonel, lieutenant-colonel; 295
Major, captain; 2,080
First lieutenant, lieutenant, second lieutenant ; 6,049
Officer and non-commissioned officer of police, border guards or gendarmes; 1,030
Policeman, gendarme, prison guard, secret agent; 5,138
Public servant, landowner, priest and settler; 144

Source: Notatka L. Berii dla tov. Stalina [Note of Beria for Comrade Stalin]. In: Dokumenty Katynia [The Katyn Documents], page 23.

The death sentence for these people, although already decided upon on 5 March 1940, was issued by the so-called troika, an extra-judicial judgment organ of the USSR which worked even more skillfully and ruthlessly than the already mentioned OSO. This troika was made up of the already mentioned representatives of the Head of the NKVD, L. Beria. “This extra-judicial decision”, according to the Polish-Soviet experts commission in 1993, “was meant to give the planned actions a minimum aura of justice from the point of view of those who carried out the execution and were also the only witnesses of the action, because the action was carried out under strict secrecy. It was an exclusively internal matter related to the technical procedure.” This decision violated the international conventions about the situation of the prisoners of war as it violated any law in force. The Poles, citizens of a foreign country, were sentenced according to Soviet law for a “crime” they had allegedly committed on Polish territory before 1939. Not only was the general principle violated that the law in force cannot be applied retroactively, but furthermore Polish law on the territory of the independent Polish state was replaced by Soviet law.
The sequence of the executions was ruled by lists prepared in April and May 1940 by the Head of the Prisoner Administration, Sokrunienko. They contained between 90 and 260 names. The transports took place between 1 April and 19 May. The ended in the NKVD prisons in Kharkov and Kalinin (now Tver) as well as at the station Gniesdovo near Smolensk, which lay close to Katyn.
Thanks to the documents that were found in 1943 during the exhumation of the corpses in the graves of Katyn we know a lot about the last days of the Polish officers. Until the last moment the victims knew nothing of the fate that awaited them. Many entertained the hope that they would get back to their families. The prisoners who remained in the camps were envious of their colleagues whose name was called for the first transports. The generals were sent off very ceremoniously by an orchestra. The camp personal also rendered them the last honors. In the forest of Katyn the condemned were killed with a shot in the back of the head, standing on the edge of the mass graves. Only the generals were entitled to single graves. The pistols used were German Walter pistols, which had been imported in the 1930s together with the respective ammunition. The wounded were killed with a bayonet. Younger prisoners were tied with rope or barbed wire. The prisoners were killed in the uniforms decorated with distinctions. Documents, vaccination certificates, letters, newspaper cutouts and private notes were not taken away from them. Obviously the Soviets had no fear that the graves might be discovered and the murderers unmasked. Among the prisoners killed there was also found the corpse of a woman, Air Force Lieutenant Anna Levandovksa. The corpses were in general buried carefully in huge graves. Probably the prisoners of the other two camps were buried in the same way. Personal things were destroyed due to time. There was a difference only in the way in which the death sentence was carried out. At those camps the hangman also executed the sentence by a shot in the back of the head, but in the prison cellars of the NKVD instead of at the edge of a mass grave. The corpses were then loaded onto trucks and transported to the burial sites. After the end of the action young trees were planted upon the graves. Nearby there were the graves of Soviet citizens, the victims of previous repression. Near the execution sites there were well-guarded recreation homes of the NKVD (later KGB). 143 functionaries of the NKVD, who had carried out this action, received letters of praise and distinctions in the form of leave, a rifle of their own and premiums in money (in the amount of one monthly salary). Furthermore banquets were organized for them. Alcohol, however, had been issued in great quantities already during the action.
According to the note issued by the President of the KGB, Alexander Shelepin, in March 1959, a total of 21,857 “people from the former bourgeois Poland” were shot in April and May 1940, thereof 4,421 persons from Kozielsk, 3,820 from Starobielsk and 6,311 prisoners from Ostaszkov. Furthermore 7,305 inmates from western Belorussia and the Ukraine (less than the number mentioned in the document of 5 March 1940) were killed. Not all prisoners from these three camps were killed, however. About 400 persons were pardoned by the USSR and accommodated in the camp Pavlishchy Bor. Among them were persons who during the interrogations in the autumn of 1939 had declared themselves prepared to cooperate with the USSR (among others Lieutenant Colonel Zygmunt Berling, who in 1943 became commander of the Tadeusz Kosciuszko Division), but also persons who were considered enemies but who possessed much information and capacities that were intended to be taken advantage of. Furthermore the Soviets refrained from killing persons on whose behalf the governments of Germany or Lithuania had intervened. For some of them salvation came shortly before the execution, like in the case of Prof. Stanislaw Swianiewicz, one of the best known contemporary experts on the economy of totalitarian systems. Those saved went to the Polish military units after the amnesty and transmitted valuable information about the fate of the officers who thereafter were searched for without success in the USSR.
The losses for Polish society caused by the Katyn crimes, especially among its elite, were very high. The army lost 45 % of its officers. The consequences of these Soviet actions are comparable to those of the destruction of the Polish elite by the National Socialists. In the same year the latter killed 3,500 leaders and leading representatives of Polish society within the scope of the “Action A-B” in the General Government. In the areas annexed to the Reich the Nazis carried out mass deportations of Poles. The difference towards the Soviet actions lay only in the way in which the actions were executed. Berlin didn’t have the wide lands of Siberia at its disposal. Was this temporary parallel a coincidence? Or were these parallel actions against Polish society reflecting the spirit of the agreement of 28 September 1939? In any case the methods were similarly bloody and ruthless. The Soviet crimes, however, especially the crime of Katyn, are still waiting for their “Nuremberg Trials”.

David Thompson
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Post by David Thompson » 18 Mar 2003 17:58

Roberto -- Thanks for another excellent post!

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PolAntek
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Post by PolAntek » 18 Mar 2003 23:23

Good stuff Roberto - thanks for your work!

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Roberto
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Post by Roberto » 19 Mar 2003 11:41

Thanks a lot to you both.

I'm glad you appreciate my modest translation work.

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