Those targeted at the Katyn massacre were groups of people that would offer resistance against Stalin and the Soviet Union. Men that held the highest positions in the military, professors and intellectuals, as well as civil servants and police were executed at Katyn. Joseph Stalin wanted to rid hes country of the incredibly educated. Among those killed were 11 generals, an admiral, 77 colonels, 197 lieutenant colonels, 541 majored, 1,441 captains, 6,061 lieutenants and other ranks, 18 chaplains, and the Polish army’s chief rabbi. They wanted to eliminate religious leaders because in a Communist regime religion was frowned upon and was considered the opiate of society.

The families of those killed at Katyn were targeted by the NKVD, and many were deported into different countries or into rugged Siberia. Half a million people are still unaccounted for. The NKVD traced letters sent from their prisoners at the camps to find the families. The NKVD continued to follow witnesses and relatives that knew of the massacre, and traced  then destroyed any evidence of Katyn.

600 men were saved from this terrible fate, due to their invaluable military experience that would be useful to the Soviet Union in future wars. There were some survivors from the massacre, however. Father Zdzisław Peszkowski was also a POW at the camp Kozielsk, were he escaped the execution. He later served as a priest for the families of the Katyn victims.

Joseph Stalin, who’s title was the first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s Central Committee, ran the Soviet Union from 1922 until his death in 1953. Joseph Stalin was one of the most murderous dictators in history. Stalin’s crimes are comparable to Hitler but less widely recognized due to the poor documentation and records kept by the Soviet Union. During the Nuremberg trials, where many leading Nazis were tried for crimes committed during World War II, Stalin and his officers were spared trial due to an agreement with the Allied Powers.  Stalin was notorious for executing anyone who spoke against him or communism, and quickly rid his country of his political enemies and threats, the victims of Katyn being some of the many.

The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, or the  NKVD, was the secret communist police under order of Joseph Stalin, who were responsible for security and law enforcement. It conducted mass executions, ran forced labor camps, suppressed underground resistance, conducted mass deportations of entire groups and nationalities and conducted espionage and political assassinations around the world. The NKVD were responsible for carrying out the execution at Katyn and the handling of the officers, intellectuals and civil servants prior to massacre.

Uniform of a NKVD officer.

Of the 22,000 victims of the Katyn massacre, about 2,000 of those were drowned at sea by the hands of Stalin’s secret police. 2,000 Polish officers were taken on a leaky barge far north of Russia, where the Barge was shot down and the men drowned in the icy water of the Barents Sea.

A letter, signed by Lt. Leanord Kordecki, reads as follows: “I am writing in terrible distress and in haste and in the last hour of my life and that of my colleagues. I hope that some day this will reach the conscience of the world and will tell of our martyrdom. We have been sailing for four days now in an old Soviet barge northward in the direction of the Barents Sea. We are being towed by a Soviet naval vessel, the Zarya Vostoka. The holds and deck are crowded with our officers. There is nowhere even to lie down. I think there are about 2,000 Polish officers aboard. On May 7th, 1940, we were disembarked from two trains of cattle-cars in Archangel harbor and forcefully embarked on this leaky barge. Since then we have received no food or water. On every side you can hear the screams of the sick and dying. The Soviet guards push us about, strike us with their rifles and curse us, but they ignore our pleas for water. We are sailing through a rough and icy sea. All the prisoners are frozen and resigned to their fate. This morning the Soviet ship heaved to and sent its lifeboats to our barge. All the guards were taken aboard and sailed away. The next minute gunfire from the ship shattered the barge and wounded and killed many officers. The last judgment is approaching. A second salvo has hit the barge. We are sinking…I am putting this letter into a bottle and throwing it into the sea. Maybe the good Lord will carry it to safety and tell the world of our terrible fate. Farewell- and bless my wife and children.”

The first report of this tragedy was published in the London Daily Telegraph in 1978.

Sources:

Floyd, David. “Russia Drowned 2,000 Polish Officers at Sea.” Daily Telegraph, London. 1978. Web. 31 Jan. 2011. http://www.auntentico.org/oa09165.php.

In April to May 1940 Polish Prisoners were taken from their prison camps and few expected the fate that was awaiting them. The prisoners were executed and buried in mass graves at the Katyn Forest, located near Smolensk, Russia. The mass graves were discovered by German occupation forces in April 1943.

Some of the killings were more humane then others. Some prisoners were taken into to a neighboring sound proof chamber and shot in the back of the neck. Other prisoners suffered: “They stood in groups by open pits, many of them had their hands bound with barbed wire and had nooses around their necks.” In most cases personal items were taken from the prisoners. One diary ends, ” They have taken away my rubles, my belt, my penknife.” One victim at the Katyn Forest had carved in a piece of wood a diary of his last days.

From a few diary entries and items found on the site, the German occupation forces were able to piece together what had taken place, and all evidence pointed to the Soviet Secret Police (NKVD) under order of Joseph Stalin. They knew that the Soviet Union was at fault when the Swiss Red Cross did the autopsies on the exhumed bodies, and discovered that the guns used to massacre the people was the same gun that was distributive to the Soviet army. Sources:

The Katyn Masssacre, pgs. 374-385, Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him, Donald Rayfield.

On September 17th, 1939 the Red Army entered the eastern part of Poland in accordance with the secret agreements between Germany and the USSR in the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. Ten days later, Poland surrendered and Germany and the Soviet Union divided Poland between them. In the months following the Soviet invasion there were widespread arrests, deportations and executions. The first victims were associated with the defeated Polish government and Polish army. The surrender of Polish army units which had neither been captured by the Germans nor broken into neutral Romania had not been planned for, and the prisoners of war were handed over to the NKVD, which was the Soviet Secret Police. These units of the Polish army were put into prison camps.

The amount of prisoners in the camps were overwhelming, and more were expected to be on their way. Finally, a recommendation to Joseph Stalin, leader of the Communist party. was made on March 5th, 1940: “They(prisoners of the camps) are all thorough going enemies of Soviet power, saturated with hatred for the Soviet system…the only reason they want for liberation is to be able to take up the tight against Soviet power…” The inmates of three camps, 14,700 POWs, and 11,000 Polish civil servants, police and intellectuals held in prisons “should be dealt with by special measures and the highest measure of punishment, shooting, should be applied to them.” Only 600 men were reprieved from this death sentence, because their military experience would be crucial in a future war with Germany.

Sources:

“Uncovering the Past.” Hoover Digest. Hoover Institution. N.d. Web. 31. Jan. 2011. http://hooverdigest.org/002/uncoveringthepast.html.

The Katyn Massacres, pgs. 374-385, Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tryant and those Who Killed for Him, Donald Rayfield