The British Government acknowledged the 75th anniversary of the Katyn Massacres by formally handing over documents from the National Archives to the Polish Republic. I am not a historian so the following is a personal summary, a journey with my grandfather. The documents can be seen on the MSZ website
The documents divide into six sections
- 1-2 Polish deportations and missing officers within Anders’ Army.
- 3-17 Discussion of German announcement of 13th April 1943
- 18-36 US Congressional hearing of 1952
- 37-52 Erection of Katyn monument in London 1970s
- 53-61 Requesting HMG admit Soviet guilt and attend ceremony 1979-80.
- 62 Mass grave discovered near Orenburg 1980.
1-2 Polish deportations and missing officers within Anders’ Army.
In June and October 1942 Colonel Hulls, the liaison officer with the Polish army wrote two detailed reports full of raw intelligence informing HMG (His Majesty’s Government) of the plight of the deported Poles in the USSR, the deaths due to hunger and disease, the missing officers and General Anders difficulties in forming an army. They give a very good overall picture of what was happening.
I include this next section on the arrest of the embassy delegates because my Babusia, Urszula Muskus, was one of them. Because she stayed in Aktyubinsk to aid the Poles fleeing south she received a 10 year hard labour sentence and 4 years eternal exile in the taiga. She was not released until 1955.
3-17 Reaction to German announcement of 13th April 1943
It may seem obvious now, but during the war years there was genuine disagreement as to who was guilty. Those with more experience of the Soviets believed in their guilt, but there were many who, knowing of the German’s many atrocities, believed them the perpetrators. Wartime expediency of saving the Soviet alliance dictated a non committal public policy while hiding the truth. These ethics were on the consciouses of those in the know.
Winston Churchill believed the Soviets guilty, but being an astute politician whose primary responsibility was to the welfare of the British public kept the secret until he wrote his memoirs.
18-36 US Congressional hearing of 1952
The requests from Representative O’Konski to interview witnesses in the UK and for the release of secret archives concerned HMG who wanted no part of it despite the Cold War being in full swing. The US administration seemed less concerned, but there was a flurry of discussion on what to do about it.
37-52 Erection of Katyn monument in London 1970s
By this time HMG was keen to improve diplomatic relations and trade with Poland and the USSR, but there was wider knowledge of Soviet guilt in the UK. These documents cover the proposed Katyn monument, first in a churchyard in Chelsea, and then in Kensington Council cemetery at Gunnersbury Park. Supporting détente was the name of the game with HMG saying that they ‘deplored’ the proposal, but ‘could do nothing’ about it.
53-61 Requesting HMG admit Soviet guilt and attend ceremony 1979-80.
Pressure was building for public acknowledgement of Soviet guilt and with the Conservatives now in power Margaret Thatcher sends a Government Minister to the ceremony at Gunnersbury Park. The following year she approved a military band. It should be noted that Airey Neave, who was a close friend of Thatcher’s and had been assassinated by the Irish NLA, was one of the main supporters who got the monument erected.
62 Mass grave discovered near Orenburg 1980.
It was reported that Polish workers on a ‘Friendship’ gas pipeline near Orenburg discovered a mass grave of Polish officers.
All in all there is little new for those who have studied the subject, but the discussion is put into chronological order. If you are tempted to read the documents I suggest that you start with nos. 1, 2 and 44. It is interesting to learn how governments work, and get locked into an international web of lies which have to be continued in order to avoid admitting to them. What’s new!