The truth about Katyn continued

Fr Ireneusz Skubis

Katyn, a small village near Smolensk on the River Dnieper, is still an unhealed painful wound in our history. It has begun bleeding again after the Russians stated that this crime could not be defined as genocide. Many questions arise: Is this fact only Poland's problem and in what light does it place the credibility of Russia in the international arena?
On 5th March 1940 Joseph Stalin, together with the Political Bureau KC WKP(b), signed the decree concerning the murder of 22,000 Polish officers, policemen, clerks. Thousands of innocent people, our fellow citizens, who were in the slavery of the Russian occupant, were sentenced to death by one signature! And one by one they went to be shot - in the back of their heads. The Soviet Union tried to hide this crime for a long time. In Poland it was forbidden to speak about this for many years and it was forbidden to mention this fact during lessons of history at schools. I remember that when I sometimes uttered the word 'Katyn' in the academic Church of the Name of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary there was a great silence. People were even afraid to hear that word. Nevertheless, the word functioned in Poles' consciousness and children got to know this word in their home lessons of history. For Polish people the word 'Katyn' meant the greatest crime against the elite of our nation that had ever been committed. We thought that after so many years this matter will become somehow cleansed; that the people who lived after the period of the so-called Soviet authorities would be able to face the truth and to name it properly. It was the Soviet government in 1990 that gave us reasons to think this way because the government officially confirmed the responsibility of the NKWD for the death of several thousand Polish people, murdered in various places including Katyn, and in 1992 Russia's president himself gave our president the documents confirming the responsibility of the USSR for that crime and its hiding from us.
Therefore, we are shocked and appalled today. We read: 'A year ago the Russian army prosecutor's office acknowledged that the Katyn crime was not the crime of genocide. Now it makes another step and claims that this was not Stalin's crime although it was Stalin himself who signed the decision to kill Polish officers'. We are surprised that people living in the 21st century, who judged both Hitler's crimes and Stalin's crimes from the historical point of view, cannot do anything for the cause of the truth about human being, his conscience, his morality.
The families of those who were harmed by the Russian barbarian act have the right to demand that the Russian authorities, which took over the Soviet legacy, make an honest appraisal of this crime. How can one not acknowledge that the decision to murder 22,000 or more people was the crime of genocide, especially that every single victim was innocent, and additionally an educated, noble person, having a family, children... They all lived in Europe, they were righteous, peaceful and they were led one by one as lambs for slaughter... What other meanings can the word 'genocide' have? How is the conscience, awareness of the people who cannot see the tragedy of whole communities, formed? We must shout this to the nations of the world, to Europe and Europeans. Europe, in the name of the truth about itself, must ask about this crime and it cannot say it does not care and cannot say that this is only Polish matter. This has already been a problem of the United Europe and Europeans' morality. One cannot put aside certain questions and unexplained issues. And the question about human life is a fundamental question for man. Every man has the right to life and nobody can take it away without any punishment. As Christians we know more; we know that God guarantees man the right to life from conception to natural death and only God can take it. Therefore, legal appraisal must have its deepest ethical sense. The world cannot exist without this. Man cannot feel safe without naming a crime properly. That's why the Nazi criminals were convicted in N├╝rnberg because justice was to be done.
We should wait for such justice concerning the communist Soviet criminals who harmed thousands of people and their crimes have never been named properly and condemned. Perhaps Poland's cry is needed now in order to make an objective appraisal of the communist system since the whole world needs this appraisal. The name of Rev. Msgr Zdzislaw Peszkowski, chaplain for the Katyn Family, appears in a very suitable moment as the candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is the man who has dedicated his whole life to fight for the truth about Katyn. He treated this fight as something he owed the victims of the crime. In his fight, in which he was very lonely in the beginning, he did his best not to change this lesson of history in a lesson of hatred and disagreement between our neighbouring nations, but he wanted it to yield the fruit of forgiveness, peace and confidence. It may be the time to support the candidature of Fr Peszkowski for the Nobel Peace Prize and thus we will contribute to the idea that the world gets to know this chapter of our history, which some still want to hide from us.

"Niedziela" 12/2006

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