The Collapse of the USSR Provides Answers
On September 19, 1976, the Katyn Memorial Fund unveiled a memorial in Gunnersbury Cemetery in London. At the unveiling were members of Parliament and embassy representatives from the united Sates, Bolivia, and other ally nations. When the cover was removed from the memorial the date displayed was 1940 and not 1941. The Soviet Union was not happy and viewed the monument as an overt act of defiance.
The Kremlin continued to denounce the commemorations in Poland and elsewhere honoring the victims of Katyn. This action only contributed the the use of the Katyn Murders as a symbol and unifying force in the growing Solidarity movement. As time passed, more governments accepted the fact that the Soviets had indeed murdered the Polish army officers. Despite this, the Soviet Union continued to state that it has now involvement with the incident.
As the Solidarity movement grained strength inside Poland and in Polish communities throughout the world, it delivered a loud blow to the official Soviet stance on Katyn. On March 7, 1989, Poland directly accused the Soviet Union of murdering Polish army officers in the Katyn Forest and dumping the bodies in a mass grave to rot. This was the first time that any movement had openly accused the Soviets of the war crime. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev did not confirm this accusation despite his recent declaration of glasnost or open policy.
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Katyn Murders the date on the memorial in the Warsaw military cemetery was changed under the cover of darkness from 1941 to 1940. A few days later, on April 13, 1990, the Soviet Union officially admitted to the crime at Katyn. Polish people around the world rejoiced in the news that they had believed and waited for for over 50 years. With the admittance from the Soviets an official account of what happened to the Polish army officers became public knowledge.
In the middle of the night in late-1939, the Soviet secret police burst into the homes of Polish army officers. The police forced the men to put on their military uniforms and leave their homes without saying goodbye to their wives or children. The men were placed on cattle trains and transported to prisons far into the interior of the Soviet Union where they were often beaten, tortured, and forced to work while in captivity. During evening hours, the prisoners wrote letters home. In April 1940, the men were once again forced onto cattle trains.
The trains arrived at a makeshift train station in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk. Soviet soldiers forced the men off of the train where they waited their fate. One by one each man was taken away from the heavily-guarded train station. Panic and perhaps relief set in when the men heard the single shot. Soon, the secret police would take another officer and march them away into the forest. This process continued until over 4,100 Polish officers lay dead in mass graves in the Katyn Forest. Bulldozers filled the pits with dirt and were placed onto the empty train cars. As the train left the station nature began to overtake the newly dug and filled graves.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:
Adam Zamoyski. The Polish Way: A Thousand-year History of the Poles and their Culture. New York: Hippocrene Books, 2003.