President highlights importance of truth about Katyn Massacre for Poland

The truth of the 1940 Katyn Forest Massacre of Polish prisoners of war by the Soviet secret police NKVD is the foundation of a free, sovereign and independent Poland, Polish President Andrzej Duda said in Ukraine on Sunday.

President Andrzej Duda and First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda took part in a ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the horrid massacre of Polish POWs at the Katyn Forest. The commemoration took part on Sunday evening at the Polish Military Cemetery in Bykivnia near Kyiv.

The Polish president said that he was very satisfied that "thanks to the kindness of the Ukrainian authorities" the Polish delegation could "stand on this land of blood in Bykivnia," the place where thousands of Poles were murdered.

He said that a lie about the Katyn massacre was the foundation of communist Poland, "the strongest unifying element of the people of that era," and „therefore we are proud that the truth about the Katyn massacre, about the bestial genocidal murder that the Soviets committed against Polish officers in Katyn, in Kharkiv and here in Bykivnia, is today one of the strongest foundations of a free, real, truly sovereign, independent Poland."

Soviet Union’s lie about the Katyn massacre

What the President meant by “a lie about Katyn” refers to the portrayal of the event by the Communist authorities of post-WWII Poland as a crime perpetrated by Nazi Germany. In fact, they were the Soviet secret police that stood behind a series of mass executions of nearly 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia carried out in April and May 1940.

Following the unfolding of Operation Barbarossa and the resulting Nazi-German eastward offensive against the Soviet Union, the German forces occupied Smolensk and its surrounding territories. In early 1943, Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff, a German officer serving as the intelligence liaison between the Wehrmacht's Army Group Centre and Abwehr, received reports about mass graves of Polish military officers. These reports stated the graves were in the forest of Goat Hill near Katyn.

The Germans brought in a European Red Cross committee called the Katyn Commission, comprising 12 forensic experts and their staff, from Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Switzerland, and Slovakia. The Germans were so intent on proving the Soviets were behind the massacre they even included some Allied prisoners of war, among them writer Ferdynand Goetel, the Polish Home Army soldier imprisoned in Pawiak.

After extensive preparations, the Reichssender Berlin radio broadcast to the world informed about the Nazi-German discovery of massive graves of Polish POWs and charged the Soviets with the crime. The Soviet government immediately denied the German charges. They claimed the Polish prisoners of war had been engaged in construction work west of Smolensk, and consequently were captured and executed by invading German units in August 1941. This, however, was a lie.

In Poland, the pro-Soviet authorities following the Soviet occupation after WWII covered up the matter in accordance with the official Soviet propaganda line, deliberately censoring any sources that might provide information about the crime. Katyn was a forbidden topic in postwar Poland. Censorship in the Polish People's Republic was a massive undertaking and Katyn was specifically mentioned in the "Black Book of Censorship" used by the authorities to control the media and academia. Not only did government censorship suppress all references to it, but even mentioning the atrocity was dangerous.

In the late 1970s, democracy groups like the Workers' Defence Committee and the Flying University defied censorship and discussed the massacre, in the face of arrests, beatings, detentions, and ostracism.

In 1981, Polish trade union Solidarity erected a memorial with the simple inscription "Katyn, 1940". It was confiscated by the police and replaced with an official monument with the inscription: "To the Polish soldiers—victims of Hitlerite fascism—reposing in the soil of Katyn". Nevertheless, every year on the day of Zaduszki, similar memorial crosses were erected at Powązki Cemetery and numerous other places in Poland, only to be dismantled by the police. Katyn remained a political taboo in the Polish People's Republic until the fall of the Eastern Bloc in 1989.

Important declaration to be signed on the sidelines

The Polish president also condemned the Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and Moscow's support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as he called for respecting international law.

After the ceremonies, Mr Duda's chief aide, Krzysztof Szczerski, said that the Polish president and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, would sign a joint declaration on the strategy and goals of the two countries' common policy on history, economy and security. The signing of the declaration will take place later on Monday.

"The presidents will adopt a very important political declaration that will sum up and outline all the key issues in bilateral relations, in the areas of security, economy, the situation of national minorities in both countries as well as historical issues," Mr Szczerski said.