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"Doing justice to the dead"


In recent years the unspoken knowledge of the suffering and slaughter under Soviet power has become a more open subject in the USSR. The peoples under Soviet power have had to deal with knowledge of purges, GULAGs, the informers, the secret police by its many names, and the mass graves at Kuroparty, Poltava, Kolyma, Leningrad, etc, etc. With this glasnost, or openness, comes the burden of adjudication and the problems of assimilating the knowledge into everyday life in such a way as to do justice to both the living and the dead. The Katyn massacre is different. Katyn involved the coldly calculated killing of prisoners from another country, taken in a brutal demonstration of power and disregard for treaties. Katyn was designed to ensure the smooth transition to Soviet power in Poland.

The Second World War was devastating for both Poland and the Soviet Union. Before the conflict was over vast areas of both countries had been decimated and many people had paid for the accident of their place if birth with their lives. From September 17, 1939 tens of thousands of Polish people were deported into the Soviet Union. Many of them disappeared in the turmoil of war and its aftermath. Most of them now lie in Soviet soil unknown and unpitied, lost to an unbridled force which exploited the opportunity to eradiate them.

The fate of some is known. For example, 3,000 died at the Chukotsk lead mines in August 1940. Some 4,500 are buried at Katyn, and another 10,000 are reported as buried at Kalinin [Tver} and Kharkov. Of the original eight mass graves reported at Katyn in 1943, seven were exhumed and the bodies reburied in smaller graves after identification [where possible], and a religious service. I think it is wrong that these foreign victims of the Stalinist actions remain buried in Soviet soil. The error is magnified when one considers the dead lie inside a KGB enclosure. The families of the Poles in Katyn Woods should be able to mark their loss with a tangible memorial in Polish soil which contains as many of the Polish dead as practical.

With recent changes in the relationship between the Polish and Soviet governments it is now possible to consider the return of the Polish dead at Katyn to their homeland. Repatriation of the "eighth grave" could be done simply at little cost. Some one hundred twenty people lie in a small grave about five metres long and two metres wide, which has not been previously exhumed. It was opened in June 1943, some thirteen Polish bodies in summer clothing were identified and the grave was closed again. If this repatriation was successful, consideration could be given to the return of the other Poles lost in the same period. I acknowledge the turbulent history between the Poles and the Russians [Tsarist or Soviet]. I hear the voices which say the Poles are only a few of the many of all races which suffered in the process of war, conquest and despotism. I am aware of the losses of the peoples of the Soviet Union in the Second World War. I remember the Russians killed in dubious circumstances at Courtine in France. I also recall the figure of 220 per thousand [22%] of Polish population killed or murdered by invaders from East and West during the Second World War. Repatriation of the Poles from Katyn would be a small way to show compassion and understanding at a personal level. Katyn is an example of the hypocrisy, duplicity and machinations of international politics. A textbook case of the cynical manipulation and destruction of truth, morality and people, aimed at retaining absolute power for a despot. A shameful illustration of the overt and covert support from other nations which colluded in the cover-up for a wide variety of reasons. One can argue that politics is about reality, not morality. The disbelieving response of the Allies to the German announcements in 1943, accusing the Soviets of the Katyn massacre, was very understandable. The continued efforts to ensure no real progress was ever made to resolve the issue make a more interesting and complex study. The exigencies of the political realities of any given period tend to override factors which, in other circumstances, would clearly require a different response. The Allies' behaviour over the Katyn tragedy until Nuremberg could be defended. At Nuremberg and beyond, especially during the "cold war" collusion by the Allies in the continuing cover-up only served to prolong Soviet power and its consequent misery.

As more information becomes available It is going to be fascinating to discover the hidden agendas and loyalties of the people who influenced events in the struggle between Soviet power and the West. If the continued pursuit and punishment of people for the crimes of the Nazi Germany is acceptable, and indeed seen as necessary to help prevent the rise of another such regime, how can we avoid the conclusion that those responsible for Katyn and other associated sites should not also be pursued?