Before there was Katyń

Jozef Szaniawski

During World War II the Soviet NKWD, to the order of Stalin and his government, murdered about 35 hundred of prisoners – officers of the Polish Army in Katyń, Miednoje, Charkow and Kuropaty. Whereas, the same communist genocide took place in summer of 1920, but on a small scales. Then it were the Soviets who, for the first time, were shooting at a mass of defenceless prisoners – officers of the Polish Army, among the others, in Białystok, Kolno and Chorzele in Kurpie, Płock and near Lwów. Carrying out their aggression on Poland in 1920, Bolsheviks literally treated the motto of Prime Minister of the Russian Government and a communist dictator Lenin: ‘Let’s go forward to the West! Let’s go over the corpse of Poland to the heart of Europe!’

The Soviet genocide in 1920

During the war in summer 1920, there had already been well-documented cases of barbarism and bestiality of the Red Army. In Leman near Kolno, a column of about 200 Polish prisoners with their hands tied on their backs were freed and used by the Russians to practise fighting with swords like living mannequins. In Lidia the Russians murdered or injured Polish prisoners – 93 soldiers and officers. The most numerous, the strongest repressions and political murders took place in Vilnius. During the Soviet occupation in July and August 1920 soldiers murdered nearly 3 hundred Poles, and they also carried out a typical Russian slaughter of the Jewish. General Lucjan Żeligowski mentioned later: ‘The sight of the field gave a sad impression. There were a large number of corpses on it. These were civil people but the majority of them were our soldiers and officers, not only injured but also killed during the battle; how many of them were killed after the battle, as soldiers taken into Bolshevik captivity! The whole long rows of corpses in underwear only and without shoes on were lying along fences in the nearby bushes. They were stabbed with sabres and bayonets, their faces were massacred and had gouged out eyes. At that time I was told that an English General with a few officers had come (...). I was furious. ‘Will you, General, tell Mr Lloyd George how his political friends behave towards our prisoners, please?’ -I asked then. The General and English officers remained silent’. Those weren’t single cases, but mass crimes of genocide done to the order of Moscow. The Revolutionary Russian Council – to the command of the government of Prime Minister Włodzimierz Lenin – issued a directive, signed by Lew Trocki; the directive said that Czeka must shoot a hundred of Polish hostages for each communist killed by Polish authorities. Whereas Czeka must shoot 50 hostages for each Soviet pilot killed in Poland or other European countries. Soviet leaders, among the others, Stalin, Tuchaczewski, Budionny, Woroszyłow, Jegorow, Jakir used the mass terror against Poles on the areas conquered in 1920, in Eastern provinces of the Republic of Poland. Soviet soldiers were committing mass murders, rapes and plunder to helpless people – women, children, priests. Houses, churches and synagogues were burnt as well.

A testimony of Izaak Babel

A testimony about mass murder of helpless prisoners, officers of the Polish Army was given by a famous Russian writer and a young political commissioner of the Red Army at that time – Izaak Babel. His records are a shocking historical document: here the crime of genocide in Katyń in 1940 was preceded by the same Soviet genocide 20 years earlier – in summer 1920.
‘I get involved in ordinance work – wicked planning of murder. This is due to communism. (…) Prisoners were brought and one of them, very healthy, was shot twice by a member of the Red Army without any reason. (…). It’s the evening a Pole was caught in rye, hunted like animal, wide fields, the crimson sun, golden dust, corn sways, a shot being fired, a Pole in convulsion falls onto the ground. You don’t feel like living any more, murderers, incredible meanness, crime (…). They rush prisoners, take off their uniforms, shoes. There are terrible events ahead of us (…), a battlefield. I was going along the first line, begging them not to kill the prisoners. Szekow murmured muttered: ‘Why not?’ It played a terrible role. I was not looking at their faces, the prisoners were stabbed by swords, the Russians were shooting at them, corpses on dead bodies, one more corpse is being undressed, other one is being shot down, moaning, cries, hoarse voices, it was our troop going to attack. Hell. What freedom do we bring? It’s a horror. We took prisoners from the Zawady station in the early morning. There were ten of them. They were wearing only underwear. Lots of uniforms were lying around Poles; that was their dodge so that we couldn’t distinguish officers from civil men. They were taking off their clothes by themselves but, this time, Trunow decided to show the truth.
Officers, step forward! –he commanded, coming up to prisoners, and took out a revolver.
Officers, tell me the truth! He repeated and started poking Poles with the revolver butt.
Then an old thin man came out from the group; the man had protruding shoulder-blades, yellow cheeks and drooping moustaches. Trunow pushed him away with a sword.
Your officers are mean people – said the squadron commander – your officers have thrown their clothes here. And here a soldier took out a hat with a stripe from a pile of rags and put it on the old man’s head.
Just right – murmured Trunow, coming closer and groaning– just right....-and slipped a sword into the prisoner’s throat. The old man fell down, moved his legs, a foamy coral stream of blood flew from his throat’.

A testimony of lord d’Abernon

In Plock conquered by the Red Army (the only town where the Bolsheviks managed to get directly to Vistula), on 16 August, Russian soldiers murdered several hundreds of injured Polish soldiers in the local hospital. They also murdered all doctors and nurses.
On 17 August in Zadwórze near Lwów there was a dramatic battle called Polish Thermopylae then. Soldiers of the Polish Army were fighting till the very end, despite the great majority of the Russians. The Battle of Zadwór had a significant meaning for Lvov defence. Therefore soldiers of the Red Army did not capture Poles. Polish injured soldiers were shot down with bayonets without any mercy. Nobody from the Polish battalion survived, everybody died: 318 soldiers and officers of the Polish Army!
A famous English diplomat and ambassador in Berlin – lord d’Abernon, present in Warsaw as a member of British and French mission for the government of the Republic of Poland – wrote in a diary, after the victory of the Polish Army over the Soviet army on 15 August 1920: ’I have sent a letter to London today as it follows: the Polish counteroffensive aimed against the left wing of the Russian army changed the war situation completely. The enemy who was coming to the gate of Warsaw was defended at Narew and Bug. Poles captured several hundreds of prisoners. The final estimation of the military conquests is: 60 hundred prisoners, 100 artillery and 1000 machine guns, very little ammunition, and a lot of banknotes of a doubtful value. The Polish government has problems with feeding so many prisoners. I took it as a task to check what condition Russian prisoners live in. I did not notice any trace of bullying the vulnerable. Prisoners are thought by Poles to be rather unhappy victims than hated enemies. Whereas I saw that they had healthy and good food and that the majority of them gave an impression of being happy about living in safety and far from the Russian front line’.
That report of an English diplomat is a very important document. It shows exactly how Poles treated the Soviet prisoners, although the latter ones were aggressors as it was Russia which conquered Poland, not the other way.

Anti-Polish Moscow

For half a century the government of the Soviet Russia were hiding the crime of genocide in Katyń, the crime done to helpless Polish prisoners, and then they were telling lies about it. When communism and the empire of evil fell through in 1991– the lie about Katyń and falsification of history were impossible. Therefore, after 1991, the Russians made an attempt of manipulation and telling a new lie which were to neutralise the truth about the crime in Katyń. Moscow liars meant persuading the world public opinion into a belief that it was Poles who started to murder prisoners in 1920, after the defeat of the Red Army on 15 August, near Warsaw. A scandalous and shameful anti-Polish lie and Russian forgery which started propaganda action of Kreml lasting till today, was a statement made by a diplomat of Russian Minister Boris Szardakow on 7 November 1994 in Cracow. He stated then: ‘Poland regained its independence in 1918, only thanks to a decree of Włodzimierz Iljicz Lenin (...) in 1920 Józef Piłsudski established Polish concentration camps for war prisoners – soldiers and officers of the Red Army, in which 60 hundred people were killed without any court verdicts, and Poles were making shooting targets from some of them. (...) The Home Army were murdering soldiers from the Red Army, entering Polish lands in 1944. (...) Józef Piłsudski is the same criminal as Józef Stalin.
Gaining the power in Kreml and rebuilding the empire of Russia by Wladimir Putin intensified anti-Polish activities in Moscow. Russian media have been showing thousands (!) of anti-Polish publications in the recent years, whose lying character is out of the question. We should notice the fact that they appear on the occasion of Polish and Russian visits. It proves that they are inspired by Kreml and their arrogance refers to the worst anti-Polish traditions in Russia, first tsarist and then the communist one. For example, before president Putin’s visit in Poland in 2001, using the method of a black propaganda, channel I of Moscow’s TV, in the most important political program, was proclaiming counterfeiting against Poland: ‘Let’s remember also about Polish concentration camps in Tuchola and Puławy, Strzałków and Baranowicze, where, after the war in 1919 – 1920, Poles barbarously killed 80 hundred captured soldiers of the Red Army and where tortures beyond any cruelty, like those in Oswiecim, were used. Other Russian media understood it as a clear signal for spreading the so-called anti- Katyń, that is, opposing the Katyń crime to an alleged crime of genocide committed by Poles against Soviet prisoners in 1920. As a result, a planned cynical anti-Polish political, scientific and media action was developed in Kreml; the purpose of the action was to compromise Poland on the international forum.
Poles are allegedly to be not only Russo-phobia people but also murderers of Russian prisoners who did not return from Polish captivity after 1920. And, as they did not return, it means that they had been killed by Poles in concentration camps. This understanding is not only a lie and traditional Russian manipulation but also Russian logics – as they did not return, it means that they had been murdered, whereas the truth is completely different.

‘Instead of the truth – a lie’

In 1920 the Soviet Russia had about five and a half million soldiers as a weapon, of whom there were 4 424 317 in the Red Army; the rest of them were officers, and, first of all, Czeka – the Soviet criminal political police. In the first strategic plan, in spring 1920, 2 million of the Red Army invaded Poland. The second strategic plan Soviet armies were to start conquering Europe, after conquering Poland in August. Those plans fell through on 15 August in 1920. The Russians were defeated during Miracle on the Vistula. Prime Minister of the Russian government and a communist dictator Lenin knew the plans the best and the purposes of Bolshevik aggression and it was him who, in Kreml during a meeting of the government of the Soviet Russia, on 24 September 1920, defined the Bolshevik defeat in Warsaw: ‘Germany was overwhelmed by revolutionary upheaval, and English proletariat rose onto a completely new revolutionary level. (...) Everything in Europe was ready to be taken. But Piłsudski and his Poles caused a gigantic unbelievable defeat of the world revolution’. As a result of that revolution the Red Army suffered much loss including about 110 hundred Soviet prisoners under the Polish captivity.
The Russians know very well that several thousands of Soviet prisoners died of typhoid and malaria, dysentery, chickenpox and cholera). After the World War I, in Poland and also other countries of Europe, several million people died because of these illnesses, and most of them in Russia! Several thousand soldiers of the Red Army chose freedom and never returned to Russia, they did not stay in Poland but in Germany. It happened as a result of crossing the Polish and German border in August 1920 by whole Soviet divisions beaten and isolated from the Polish Army after 15 August. Russian soldiers, peasants from poor and under-developed Russia suddenly saw bikes, watches, butter and meat for dinner, shoes on ordinary people’s feet. And they did not want to return to Russia! Many prisoners found work in Polish agriculture, workshops, and even in the army. Besides Piłsudski ordered to free Soviet soldiers from Polish captivity – thousands of the Polish and Ukrainians forced to join the Red Army. That’s the truth about thousands of Soviet prisoners, allegedly murdered by Poles about which the Russian state propaganda impudently is telling a lie.
Ronald Reagan - the greatest president of America in XX century, Poles’ friend, especially of John Paul II, described communist Russia as an empire of evil. Being asked what he understands through the term ‘an empire of evil’, he defined it precisely: ‘Instead of peace – war, instead of freedom – captivity, instead of the truth – a lie’. Even if the empire of evil in XXI century doesn’t exist, the Russian lie remains as its symptomatic heritage.

"Niedziela" 39/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: