Katyn as a crime of genocide

Czeslaw Ryszka

The MPs reached agreement concerning the bill on the 70th anniversary of 17 September 1939. The draft, accepted by all parliamentary groups, confirms that the massacre in Katyn was a war crime that ‘has the characteristic of genocide’. Moreover, the draft introduces the word ‘aggression’ to describe the attack of the USSR against Poland, condemns the falsification of history and contains an appeal for Polish-Russian reconciliation through respecting the truth. ‘One cannot silence and manipulate the truth.’
One should remember that the confusion concerning the bill was caused by the statement of the Deputy Speaker of the Polish Sejm Stefan Niesiolowski. Criticising the project of the bill prepared by the Law and Justice Party, which called this crime a crime of genocide, he said that ‘Katyn was not a crime of genocide but only a war crime.’ According to him the project of the Law and Justice Party was ‘provocative and harmful to Poland.’ Similarly, the head of the parliamentary group of the Citizen’s Platform Zbigniew Chlebowski said that the project proposed by the Law and Justice Party is ‘characterised by anger and aggression.’ As he stressed ‘a big part of this project is the language of confrontation with Russia.’
Two years ago, on 14 September 2007, the Senate did not have doubts what the Soviet attack against Poland was and what the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact was. Then the Senate wrote in the bill that on 17 September 1939 ‘the Soviet occupation of a half of Poland and the genocide of Polish citizens began and its most tragic part was Katyn as a symbol of massacre towards the Polish military officers as prisoners of war. […] The Senate of the Republic of Poland reminds us of this tragic chapter in the Polish-Russian relationships, rejecting the attempts to falsify history, to depreciate the communists’ crime and refuse calling the massacre of Katyn a crime of genocide.’ What happened within the last two years that today one tries to change the classification of this crime? Who wished that political quarrel and who conducted it? It is worth mentioning that in 1993 a group of Russian specialists examining the materials concerning the execution of the Polish prisoners of war stated that the massacre of Katyn should be treated as a crime of genocide. In fact, the Russians acknowledged that for the second time. The first time they did it in 1946 during the process of Nazi criminals in Nurnberg. Then the Soviets wanted to blame the Germans for this crime and they called it a crime of genocide.
It should be added that in the year 2000 the US Senate passed a bill, which defined the massacre of Katyn as a crime of genocide. For years the Federation of Katyn Families has called this crime genocide although quite unexpectedly, the Chairman of the Board of the Federation Andrzej Skapski stated in one of his speeches that ‘the massacre of Katyn was not a crime of genocide.’ In the meantime, in 2004 the Institute of National Remembrance, opening the investigation of the Katyn crime and preparing the Polish stand for the talks in the headquarters of the Central Office of the Russian Military Prosecutor’s, did not have doubts that Katyn was a crime of genocide. The Institute referred to the act of the accusation of the Tribunal of Nurnberg in which it was written that the accused were responsible for having organised a systematic massacre of people, i.e. the genocide of Jews, Poles, Gypsies and representatives of other nationalities. Unfortunately, the Institute of National Remembrance, demanding access to the archives in Moscow, received the answer from the Russian courts and prosecutors that Katyn should be recognised only as a criminal offence, i.e. is outdated and does not give any grounds for compensation claims.
Someone may say that we argue about words. This is not true. This is a dispute about understanding our history and how others will interpret it. The term ‘genocide’ includes a systematic massacre of victims, which was the case of Katyn, Miednoje, Ostashkov and many other places. It was not only the shooting of 22,000 officers at the back of their heads but also the transports of the members of their families deep into the territory of the Soviet Union and the exodus of many millions of Poles sent to death by the command of the Soviet authorities.
Certainly, one cannot treat the anniversary of 17 September in the category of a short-term political struggle. But we cannot allow some kind of Russian censorship in Poland, censorship that would close the mouth of the government and would not let them speak in accordance with the historical truth. Questioning the genocide of Katyn opposes the Polish interests, undermines our national solidarity and lowers the emotional overtone of this crime. One must not give up the truth of history, which does not mean that we should be hostile towards any country. That’s why evoking the political argument about the word ‘genocide’ is a bad tactic of the present government that is afraid of telling the Russians that they are also responsible for the outbreak of World War II. Does it not astonish us that the President, the President of the Institute of National Remembrance and many other high ranking officials expressed their unhesitating opinions about Katyn whereas the Prime Minister has not presented his stand, which is characteristic – he does not say anything in such kinds of difficult matters? After this argument the Russians will try to use the differences of the opinions of the Polish politicians or the Polish public opinion. They will show how the Poles themselves argue about this issue between themselves. Now they will make use of our argument in their historical propaganda even more.

"Niedziela" 39/2009

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