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211 ANDRZEJ PRZEWOZNIK THE PROCESS OF REVEALING THE TRUTH AND COMMEMORATING THE VICTIMS AFTER THE EVENTS at Katyn were brought to public attention in April 1943, the name of that small town became the symbol of one of the most revolting and brutal crimes committed by the Soviet regime against—as we know today—almost twenty-two thousand citizens of Poland. Obviously, it is just one of many places connected with crimes perpetrated by the NKVD on the basis of a decision made by the Politburo of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), or AUCP (b), on 5 March 1940. The opening of Russian archives and investigations carried out by Russians, Poles, and Ukrainians revealed other crime sites: Mednoye, Kharkov, Kherson, Kiev, Bikovnya, and Minsk. The decision by the top party and state authorities of the Soviet Union on 5 March 1940 to exterminate 25,700 Polish citizens decimated the elite of the Polish nation and the leadership stratum of the young Polish state, so laboriously reconstructed after 123 years of subjugation. The great majority of those murdered by the NKVD at Katyn and other execution sites were not professional soldiers. In civilian lives, they had been teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, landowners, artists, and civil servants or filled other roles. They were people known and respected not only in areas where they resided and worked but also across Poland and abroad. Many of the junior officers were young people, only beginning their adult lives. They belonged to the first generation of Poles brought up in an independent Poland. Others had fought for Poland’s independence and later defended the threatened frontiers of a resurrected state that was building a new existence. They were the tutors of that first generation of independent Poland. In September 1939, they rallied in defense of their country, invaded by Nazi Germany, and mobilized as its citizens or reported for duty as volunteers. They became its defenders , with all the consequences of that act. While defending itself against overwhelming enemy forces attacking from the west, the Polish state on 17 September 1939 was struck with a knifé 212 ANDRZEJ PRZEWOzNIK´ in the back—from the east. The Republic of Poland was invaded by the Red Army—the armed forces of the Soviet Union, with which Poland had signed a nonaggression treaty in 1932 that was binding until the end of 1945. Confused Polish units (their commander in chief, Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły, issued a directive in the evening of 17 September that there should be no fighting against the Soviets) in most cases were deceitfully disarmed and taken prisoner in their own state’s territory. Despite the absence of a formal declaration of war, these soldiers were de facto prisoners of war (that is how they were described in Soviet documents), with their status regulated by the Geneva Conventions. Yet, all died at the order of the Soviet authorities. In the “substantiation” of his criminal motion, Lavrentiy P. Beria wrote that they were “hardened and implacable foes of Soviet rule.” To Poles, the document discovered in Soviet archives ordering the elimination of thousands of their compatriots, prisoners of war, and close relatives is and will surely forever remain an unequivocal, indisputable accusation against the communist system, which—in violation of international law—did not hesitate to commit even the gravest crime. The murder, perpetrated exclusively for political reasons, is one of the few World War II mass crimes that has yet to be denounced and adjudicated, either by Russia or by international tribunals. The victims of Katyn were killed with gunshots to the back of the head; attempts were also made to kill the memory of them. It is symptomatic that even though the authorities accused the Germans of the crime, there was a ban in the Polish People’s Republic on honoring the victims or even publicly mentioning them. Yet, the attempts to erase and eradicate the memory of Katyn proved ineffective and, paradoxically, contributed to its cultivation by Poles with greater determination and persistence. From the very beginning, Katyn was shrouded in lies. Its initiators attempted to conceal the truth from the world. During the wartime hostilities and also later, for whole decades when the communist system functioned in this part of Europe, Soviet security services, in collaboration with the services of their European satellites, doggedly and consistently, using every possible method, suppressed or even liquidated witnesses of the crime and people propagating the truth about its circumstances. Every effort was made...


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