April 13th, 1943 – Mass Grave of 22,000 Polish Killed by Soviets Revealed!

Today-In-History

On April 13th, 1943, mass graves of Polish prisoners of war killed by Soviet forces discovered in what became known as the Katyń Forest Massacre was announced. This caused a diplomatic rift between the Polish government in exile in London from the Soviet Union, which denied responsibility.

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The Katyn massacre was a series of mass executions of Polish nationals carried out by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the Soviet secret police, in April and May 1940. Originally the term “Katyn massacre”, also known as the Katyn Forest massacre, referred to the massacre at Katyn Forest, which was discovered first and was the largest execution of this type.

The massacre was prompted by NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria‘s proposal to execute all captive members of the Polish Officer Corps, dated March 5th, 1940, approved by the Soviet Politburo, including its leader, Joseph Stalin. The number of victims is estimated at about 22,000. The victims were executed in the Katyn Forest in Russia, the Kalinin and Kharkiv prisons, and elsewhere. Of the total killed, about 8,000 were officers taken prisoner during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, another 6,000 were police officers, and the rest were arrested Polish intelligentsia the Soviets deemed to be “intelligence agents, gendarmes, landowners, saboteurs, factory owners, lawyers, officials and priests”.

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Nazi propaganda poster depicting executions of Polish military officers by the Soviets, with caption in Slovak: “Forest of the dead at Katyn”

The government of Nazi Germany announced the discovery of mass graves in the Katyn Forest in 1943. When the London-based Polish government-in-exile asked for an investigation by the International Red Cross, Stalin immediately severed diplomatic relations with it. The USSR claimed the victims had been murdered by the Nazis in 1941, and continued to deny responsibility for the massacres until 1990, when it officially acknowledged and condemned the perpetration of the killings by the NKVD, as well as the subsequent cover-up by the Soviet government.

An investigation conducted by the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Soviet Union (1990–1991) and the Russian Federation (1991–2004) confirmed Soviet responsibility for the massacres, but refused to classify this action as a war crime or an act of genocide. The investigation was closed on the grounds that the perpetrators of the atrocity were already dead, and since the Russian government would not classify the dead as victims of Stalinist repression, formal posthumous rehabilitation was deemed inapplicable.

In November 2010 the Russian State Duma approved a declaration blaming Stalin and other Soviet officials for having personally ordered the massacre.

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