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Friday, May 22, 2009

1940 massacre of Poles remains potent issue




The Polish war cemetery at Mednoye (source of photo:
Efforts to gain justice for thousands of Polish captives executed apparently at Stalin's orders have been rebuffed by Russia's courts. The country's mood has swung away from probing the Soviet past.


By Megan K. Stack May 20, 2009
Reporting from Mednoye, Russia -- There were 6,295 Polish prisoners (Polish military officers, police, gendarmes and landlords were kept after the Soviet Union invaded Poland in September 1939.) They were held captive at the monastery when the order came to "unload" the camp. It took a month and a half to kill all of them.The prisoners were mostly military officers, police, gendarmes and landlords, rounded up as a dangerous "bourgeois" elite when the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland in the run-up to World War II. The following year, 1940, the Communist Party decided to eliminate them.



Prison directors began to send the men by train, a group at a time, to the provincial town of Tver, then called Kalinin, about 100 miles northwest of Moscow. There, in the basement of intelligence headquarters, the prisoners were executed: a single bullet to the head from a German pistol, historians here say.The executioners worked through the spring nights, loading bodies into trucks and carting them nearly 20 miles to this pine glade that once encircled a rest house for the NKVD, the feared precursor to the Soviet KGB. They threw them into deep trenches. Even the truck drivers were ordered to take part in the slaughter, to ensure their silence."The situation is normal," the prison camp commissar wrote to his superiors in Moscow. "The Polish officers are not guessing anything. They think they're being deported back home. Even those who are sick try to pretend they're healthy so they can go too."
It was a bloody spring. The same fate was unfolding for Poles held in other camps throughout the western flank of the Soviet Union.


Today, lawyers, Polish families and human rights organizations are calling on the Russian government to establish the victims' innocence by "rehabilitating" the Polish prisoners. They are also pushing for the declassification of documents and recent decisions about the probe into the massacre.The requests are meeting stiff resistance from Moscow. Appeals to the courts have failed and investigations have halted. The government has progressively curtailed access to intelligence archives, where historians believe more evidence may lie.


Whatever the reason, the Polish case remains shrouded in what Yelena Obraztsova, research director at a memorial site in Mednoye, calls "a syndrome of half-truths and lies."State newspapers have started to backpedal to Stalin-era propaganda about the Polish prisoners, recycling the claim that it was in fact the Nazis, and not the Soviets, who killed the men and dumped them into mass graves.In October 2007, Russia's most popular newspaper published, without a dissenting view, a Soviet general's denial of the Soviet Union's hand in the death of the Poles. He termed the mass graves "a German provocation."



Some Russian courts have ruled that since no criminal case was filed against the Poles, there was no proof of repression; and since many of the bodies were never identified, the victimization of specific people was impossible to prove. Others simply ruled that the executioners were all dead, and therefore there was nobody to blame."It boils down to the idea that, although mass graves were found, since nobody was identified, nobody was executed," Stavitskaya said. "I can't find the logic. I can't grasp it with my mind."
She is disappointed by the verdicts, she says, but not surprised. She had always viewed the Russian courts as a formality to be dispensed with before taking the case abroad."Everybody considers this a political case, and I knew on a political case the result couldn't be different," Stavitskaya said. "It couldn't be resolved in Russia."Some observers point out that, in seeking a reckoning and an admission of guilt, the Poles are asking for something that even Russians haven't demanded of their own government.


To read a Polish perspective on this massacre in 1940 go to: http://www.policja.katowice.pl/osrp.1939/historia-e.htm

2 comments:

Alex said...

I just saw a special on public television dealing with the Allies and Poland. Did that by chance spark your interest?

Wayne said...

Hi Alex, no it wasn't a PBS special which sparked my interest, I saw the news article at the LA Times website,that is what caught my attention. I wish I had seen the PBS Special, hopefully it will be rebroadcast in the future. Thanks for telling me about it! :)

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