As a result of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, hundreds of thousands of Polish soldiers became prisoners of war in the Soviet Union. Many of them were executed; over 20,000 Polish military personnel and civilians perished in the Katyn massacre.
The Katyn massacre was a series of mass executions of Polish officers and intelligentsia carried out by the Soviet Union, specifically the NKVD in April and May 1940. Though the killings took place at several places, the massacre is named after the Katyn Forest, where some of the mass graves were first discovered.
On September 17, 1939, the Red Army invaded the territory of Poland from the east. The invasion took place while Poland was already sustaining serious defeats in the wake of the German attack on the country that started on September 1, 1939. The Soviets moved to safeguard their claims in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.
Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state that controlled nearly all aspects of life via the Gleichschaltung legal process. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.
The Invasion of Poland, known in Poland as the September Campaign or the 1939 Defensive War, and in Germany as the Poland Campaign (Polenfeldzug), was an invasion of Poland by Germany that marked the beginning of World War II. The German invasion began on 1 September 1939, one week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Soviets invaded Poland on 17 September following the Molotov–Tōgō agreement that terminated the Soviet and Japanese Battles of Khalkhin Gol in the east on 16 September. The campaign ended on 6 October with Germany and the Soviet Union dividing and annexing the whole of Poland under the terms of the German–Soviet Frontier Treaty.
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was a neutrality pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939 by foreign ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov, respectively.
During the Red Army's rapid advance, about 6,000–7,000 Polish soldiers died in the fighting,230,000–450,000 were taken prisoner—230,000 immediately after the campaign and 70,000 more when the Soviets annexed the Baltic States and assumed custody of Polish troops interned there.
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, frequently shortened to Red Army was the army and the air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, and, after 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The army was established immediately after the 1917 October Revolution. The Bolsheviks raised an army to oppose the military confederations of their adversaries during the Russian Civil War. Beginning in February 1946, the Red Army, along with the Soviet Navy, embodied the main component of the Soviet Armed Forces; taking the official name of "Soviet Army", until its dissolution in December 1991.
The Soviets often failed to honour the terms of surrender. In some cases, they promised Polish soldiers freedom after capitulation and then arrested them when they laid down their arms.Some Polish soldiers were murdered shortly after capture, like General Józef Olszyna-Wilczyński, who was taken prisoner, interrogated and shot on September 22, during the invasion itself. On September 24, the Soviets murdered forty-two staff and patients at a Polish military hospital in the village of Grabowiec near Zamość. After a tactical Polish victory at the battle of Szack on September 28, where the combined Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza (KOP) or Border Protection Corps forces, under General Wilhelm Orlik-Rueckemann, routed the Soviet 52nd Rifle Division, the Soviets executed all the Polish officers they captured. The Soviets also executed hundreds of defenders at Grodno, the exact number of those killed has not been established.
Józef Konstanty Olszyna-Wilczyński[ˈjuzɛf ɔlˈʂɨnavilˌt͡ʃɨɲski](
Grabowiec is a village in Zamość County, Lublin Voivodeship, in eastern Poland. It is the seat of the gmina called Gmina Grabowiec. It lies approximately 24 kilometres (15 mi) north-east of Zamość and 84 km (52 mi) south-east of the regional capital Lublin.
Zamośćpronounced [ˈzamɔɕt͡ɕ] is a city in southeastern Poland, situated in the southern part of Lublin Voivodeship, about 90 km (56 mi) from Lublin, 247 km (153 mi) from Warsaw and 60 km (37 mi) from the border with Ukraine. In 2014, the population was 65,149.
Some Polish prisoners were freed or escaped, but 125,000 found themselves incarcerated in prison camps run by the NKVD.Of these, the Soviet authorities released 42,400 soldiers (mostly soldiers of Ukrainian and Belarusian ethnicity serving in the Polish army who lived in the former Polish territories now annexed by the Soviet Union) in October. The 43,000 soldiers born in West Poland, then under German control, were transferred to the Germans; in turn the Soviets received 13,575 Polish prisoners from the Germans.
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, abbreviated NKVD, was the interior ministry of the Soviet Union.
17 days after the German invasion of Poland in 1939, which marked the beginning of the Second World War, the Soviet Union invaded the eastern regions of Poland, which Poland re-established during the Polish–Soviet War, and annexed territories totaling 201,015 square kilometres (77,612 sq mi) with a population of 13,299,000. Inhabitants besides ethnic Poles included Czech, Lithuanian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Jewish, and other minority groups.
Poland and the Soviet Union never officially declared war on each other in 1939; the Soviets effectively broke off diplomatic relations when they withdrew recognition of the Polish government at the start of the invasion.The Soviets regarded captured Polish military personnel not as prisoners-of-war, but as counter-revolutionaries resisting the legal Soviet reclamation of western Ukraine and West Belarus. The USSR refused to allow Red Cross supervision of prisoners - on the grounds that it had not signed the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Treatment of PoWs and did not recognise the Hague Convention. The Soviet military handed the Polish prisoners over to the Narodnyy komissariat vnutrennikh del (People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, better known as the NKVD or secret police), they received sentences under clauses in the Soviet penal code relating to crimes including treason and counter-revolution, and were not considered subject to the "Regulations for the Treatment of Prisoners of War" approved by the Soviet Council of Ministers.
Ukraine, sometimes called the Ukraine, is a country in Eastern Europe. Excluding Crimea, Ukraine has a population of about 42.5 million, making it the 32nd most populous country in the world. Its capital and largest city is Kiev. Ukrainian is the official language and its alphabet is Cyrillic. The dominant religions in the country are Eastern Orthodoxy and Greek Catholicism. Ukraine is currently in a territorial dispute with Russia over the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. Including Crimea, Ukraine has an area of 603,628 km2 (233,062 sq mi), making it the largest country entirely within Europe and the 46th largest country in the world.
The Geneva Convention (1929) was signed at Geneva, July 27, 1929. Its officianame is the Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Geneva July 27, 1929. It entered into force 19 June 1931. It is this version of the Geneva Conventions which covered the treatment of prisoners of war during World War II. It is the predecesor of the Third Geneva Convention signed in 1949.
As early as September 19, 1939, the People's Commissar for Internal Affairs and First Rank Commissar of State Security, Lavrenty Beria, ordered the NKVD to create the Administration for Affairs of Prisoners of War and Internees to manage Polish prisoners. The NKVD took custody of Polish prisoners from the Red Army and proceeded to organize a network of reception centers and transit camps and to arrange rail transport to prisoner-of-war camps in the western USSR. The camps were located at Jukhnovo (Babynino rail station), Yuzhe (Talitsy), Kozelsk, Kozelshchyna, Oranki, Ostashkov (Stolbnyi Island on Seliger Lake near Ostashkov), Tyotkino rail station (56 mi/90 km from Putyvl), Starobielsk, Vologda (Zaenikevo rail station) and Gryazovets.
Kozelsk and Starobielsk held mainly military officers, while Ostashkov was used mainly for Boy Scouts, gendarmes, police and prison officers. Inmates at these camps were not exclusively military officers or members of the other groups mentioned, they also included members of the Polish intelligentsia. The approximate distribution of men throughout the camps was as follows:
They totalled 15,570 men.
According to a report from 19 November 1939, the NKVD had about 40,000 Polish POWs: about 8,000-8,500 officers and warrant officers, 6,000–6,500 police officers and 25,000 soldiers and NCOs who were still being held as POWs. [ not in citation given ] In December, a wave of arrests took into custody some Polish officers who were not yet imprisoned; Ivan Serov reported to Lavrentiy Beria on 3 December that "in all, 1,057 former officers of the Polish Army had been arrested". The 25,000 soldiers and non-commissioned officers were assigned to forced labor (road construction, heavy metallurgy).
Once at the camps, from October 1939 to February 1940, the Poles were subjected to lengthy interrogations and constant political agitation by NKVD officers such as Vasily Zarubin. The Soviets encouraged the Poles to believe they would be released,but the interviews were in effect a selection process to determine who would live and who would die. According to NKVD reports, the prisoners could not be induced to adopt a pro-Soviet attitude. They were declared "hardened and uncompromising enemies of Soviet authority".
On March 5, 1940, a note to Joseph Stalin from Beria saw the members of the Soviet Politburo — Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, Mikhail Kalinin, Kliment Voroshilov, Anastas Mikoyan and Beria — sign an order for the execution of 25,700 Polish "nationalists and counter-revolutionaries" kept at camps and prisons in occupied western Ukraine and Belarus. This execution became known as the Katyn massacre.
Diplomatic relations were, however, re-established in 1941 after the German invasion of the Soviet Union forced Joseph Stalin to look for allies. Thus the military agreement from August 14 and subsequent Sikorski–Mayski Agreement from August 17, 1941, resulted in Stalin agreeing to declare the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in relation to Poland null and void,and release tens of thousands of Polish prisoners-of-war held in Soviet camps. Pursuant to an agreement between the Polish government-in-exile and Stalin, the Soviets granted "amnesty" to many Polish citizens, from whom a military force was formed. Stalin also agreed that this military force would be subordinate to the Polish government-in-exile. This force was known as the Anders Army. From 1943 Poles were recruited into the Berling Army.
The third group of Polish prisoners were members of Polish resistance organizations ( Armia Krajowa , or 'cursed soldiers') loyal to the Polish government-in-exile and seen by the Soviets as a threat to their establishment of a power base in Poland. Relatively few were sent to the Soviet Union (although there were notable exceptions, see Trial of the Sixteen); most were transferred to the Polish communist security forces and prisons, or enlisted in the Berling Army.
It's estimated that over six million Polish citizens, divided nearly equally between ethnic Poles and Polish Jews, perished during World War II. Most were civilians killed by the actions of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and their respective allies. At the Nuremberg Tribunal, three categories of wartime criminality were established: waging a war of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. These three core crimes of international law were set apart from other crimes, and for the first time since the end of the war categorised as violations of fundamental human values and norms. They were committed in occupied Poland on a tremendous scale.
Konstanty Plisowski of Odrowąż was a Polish general and military commander. He was the Commander in the battle of Jazłowiec and the battle of Brześć Litewski. He was murdered on Stalin's orders in the Katyn massacre.
Brigadier General Mieczysław Makary Smorawiński (1893–1940), was a Polish military commander and officer of the Polish Army. He was one of the Polish generals identified by forensic scientists of the Katyn Commission as the victim of the Soviet Katyn massacre of 1940.
Stanisław Swianiewicz was a Polish economist and historian. A veteran of the Polish-Bolshevik War, during World War II he was the only survivor of the Katyn Massacre and an eyewitness of the transport of Polish prisoners of war to the forests outside Smolensk by the NKVD.
Leon Billewicz was a Polish officer and a General of the Polish Army. He was murdered during the Katyń massacre.
Bronisław Bohatyrewicz of Ostoja (1870–1940) was a Polish military commander and a general of the Polish Army. Murdered during the Katyn massacre, Bohatyrewicz was one of the Generals whose bodies were identified by forensic scientists of the Katyn Commission during the 1943 exhumation.
Alojzy Wir-Konas was a Polish military commander and the Colonel in the Polish Army. Serving as Divisional Commander during the Invasion of Poland, he was murdered in the Katyn massacre.
Piotr Skuratowicz was a Polish military commander and a General of the Polish Army. A renowned cavalryman, he was arrested by the NKVD and murdered in the Katyn massacre.
Katyn war cemetery is a Polish military cemetery located in Katyn, a small village 22 kilometres away from Smolensk, Russia, on the road to Vitebsk. It contains the remnants of 4,412 Polish officers of the Kozelsk prisoner of war camp, who were murdered in 1940 in what is called the Katyn massacre. Except for bodies of two Polish generals exhumed by German authorities in 1943 and then buried separately, all Polish officers murdered in Katyn were buried in six large mass graves. There is also a Russian part of the cemetery, where some 6,500 victims of the Soviet Great Purges of the 1930s were buried by the NKVD. The cemetery was officially opened in 2000.
George Sanford is a former professor of politics at the University of Bristol, England. He specializes in Polish and East European studies. On several occasions he has been interviewed on Polish affairs in the mass media.
Katyń is a 2007 Polish film about the 1940 Katyn massacre, directed by Academy Honorary Award winner Andrzej Wajda. It is based on the book Post Mortem: The Story of Katyn by Andrzej Mularczyk. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film for the 80th Academy Awards.
Zdzisław Peszkowski, of the Jastrzębiec coat of arms was a Polish Roman Catholic priest and one of a small group of Polish army officers who managed to survive the 1940 mass execution of over 20,000 Polish citizens by NKVD, the Katyn massacre. Peszkowski was a leading advocate and chaplain for the Katyn Families Association, which works with survivors of the Katyn massacre and their families.
Leonard Wilhelm Skierski was a Polish military officer and a general of the Imperial Russian Army and then the Polish Army. A veteran of World War I and the Polish-Bolshevik War, he was one of fourteen Polish generals and one of the oldest military commanders to be murdered by the NKVD in the Katyn massacre of 1940.
Vasily Mikhailovich Blokhin was a Soviet Russian Major-General who served as the chief executioner of the Stalinist NKVD under the administrations of Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov, and Lavrentiy Beria.
Baruch or Boruch Steinberg was a Polish rabbi and military officer. He was Chief Rabbi of the Polish Army during German invasion of Poland in 1939 and was murdered in the Katyn massacre by the Soviet Union in April 1940.
Anti-Katyn is a propaganda whataboutery campaign intended to reduce the impact of the Katyn massacre of 1940 — when approximately 22,000 Polish citizens were murdered by the Soviet NKVD on the orders of Joseph Stalin — by referencing the deaths of thousands of Russian and Red Army soldiers at Polish internment camps from 1919–1924.
The Katyn Commission or the International Katyn Commission was the International Red Cross committee formed in April 1943 under request by Germany to investigate the Katyn massacre of some 22,000 Polish nationals during the Soviet occupation of Eastern Poland, mostly prisoners of war from the September Campaign including Polish Army officers, intelligentsia, civil servants, priests, police officers and numerous other professionals. Their bodies were discovered in a series of large mass graves in the forest near Smolensk in Russia following Operation Barbarossa.
Adam Solski was a soldier of the Polish Legions of World War I, a participant in the Polish–Soviet War, and a major in the Polish Army in the interwar period. Solski fought in the 1939 Invasion of Poland. Captured by the Red Army during the Soviet invasion of Poland, he was murdered in the Katyn massacre, on April 9, 1940.
The Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence, and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre was established by United States House of Representatives in 1951, during the Korean War. At that time, there was concern that the Katyn Massacre could have served as a "blueprint" for the execution of U.S. troops by Communist forces.