The lie about the Katyn massacre remains

Anna Cichoblazinska talks to Stanislaw M. Jankowski, the author of the book about the Katyn massacre.

Anna Cichoblazinska: – We are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre. What are the effects of the Katyn massacre on the national awareness of the Polish people?

Stanislaw M. Jankowski: – Whole generations of Polish people have grown without any access to the information about the massacre and the possibility to publicise it. Many documents in the Western, Russian, Belarussian archives and, unfortunately, also in Polish archives, are still unavailable to Polish historians. And all of that did not begin in Katyn but much earlier, during the conflict between Poland, which had been just restored, and communism, i.e. in the year 1920 when the Bolshevik divisions invaded the Polish territories and conducted many massacres of the Polish prisoners. That situation happened again in 1939. Throughout many years we were not allowed to remind people of how the defenders of Grodno had been murdered. We were not allowed to speak about the executions of the Polish officers, who were commanded to line up in five or seven and who were shot at the back from the cannon so that one bullet could kill them all. We were not allowed to speak about the Polish prisoners, belonging not to the front units but to the provision services, that were drowned. The Soviet and Polish governments hid all those facts. And they also hid the transports of Polish people to Siberia or Kazakhstan after 1939, and especially after 1945.

– Among the rescued from Katyn were two priests. The figure of Msgr. Zdzislaw Peszkowski, the chaplain for the Katyn Families, is known and often reminded people of but the figure of Fr Leon Musielak is less popular and little spoken of. You had a special friendly relationship with Fr Musielak…

– I got to know Fr Musielak when I was collecting materials for my book entitled ‘Return to Katyn’. I learnt that in Szczyrk there was a priest who had been in Kozielsk. We became friends. I stayed in touch with Fr Leon until his death. I used to visit him, helping to prepare his memoirs and books, helping him to receive compensation for the years he had lost in many prisons (he gave all the reparations for his books about the Katyn massacre). I went with him to Russia, to Katyn, in the middle 1990s. Then he was quite elderly, over 80 and suffered from Parkinson’s disease. Fr Musielak wanted to go to Katyn very much and he wanted to celebrate Mass there, on the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination. When some passengers aboard the plane to Moscow learnt that he was a priest they asked him to hear their confessions. He celebrated Mass in Katyn and then we went to Kozielsk. He endured the drive on terrible roads. He did not grumble. But he was sorry when he was refused to celebrate Mass in Kozielsk. The authorities tried to get rid of us. He celebrated Mass at the wall of the monastery-prison in Kozielsk. A team of the Hungarian television filmed the whole stay of Fr Musielak in Russia. They produced a wonderful documentary and we could use parts of this film to prepare two documentaries about Fr Leon. They were made by some young people from Bielsko.

– How did Fr Musielak manage to avoid the massacre?

– He was saved because he was a Salesian seminarian then. The Soviets arrested him as a civilian. He was not an officer. They made him an ancillary worker. When the prisoners of war were killed in Katyn he was chopping trees in the forest that was only several dozen kilometres from Katyn. After his group had returned there were no camps and prisoners. When the German offensive came he used that time and escaped to Poland, to Krakow, to the Salesian Society. After a provocation he was sent to prison and spent several years there. Afterwards he worked in several parishes. He happened to begin his sermons, ‘Can you hear, Kremlin? Fr Musielak speaking!’, which the faithful liked very much but the Church’s hierarchy had many problems because of that. Fr Musielak was sent to work in the parish of Witow near Zakopane where he became famous as a wonderful priest and preacher. He was steadfast, unbending, reminding people that till the end of his life he would speak about the Katyn massacre. He used to go to various places, being invited to conduct retreats and deliver talks. The communist authorities began a fierce campaign against him for preaching ‘nonsense’ during meetings and Masses.

– You accompanied Fr Musielak in the work of his life – the beatification cause of ‘the Poznan Five’...

– Those were his pupils whom he educated in the Salesian oratory in Poznan before the war. When he went to Kopiec near Czestochowa during the war and then he was imprisoned in the camp in Kozielsk, they joined the underground movement. Someone reported on them and the Germans had only one sentence – death. Fr Leon wrote a book about those boys. It was entitled ‘Bohaterska Piatka’ [The Heroic Five]. The Holy Father John Paul II raised the ‘Holy Five’ to the altars in 1999. Fr Musielak did not live then. He died in Poznan. Many of his former pupils and a highlanders’ band from Witow came to his funeral. He was loved in Witow. He was the first priest who had taken the highlanders’ children for vacations to the seaside. He cared for young highlanders, trying to draw them aside from dangerous entertainments. He made Witow famous. People from all over Poland came to the Masses, which he celebrated.

– The film about the trip of Msgr. Zdzislaw Peszkowski and the Katyn Families to the places of the massacre of the Polish officers has a moving scene shot in the basement of the prison in Smolensk where Fr Peszkowski was kneeling at the wall, praying and blessing this place with the sign of the cross. Were the executions held there?

– Yes, they were. Some journalists, and earlier some public prosecutors, contacted the official called Syromiatnikov, who had brought the prisoners from their cells before the execution platoon. He described the executions in details. The officers were brought from their cells one by one. Their hands were tied. They were brought into a room where they were asked to give their Christian names and surnames as well as their fathers’ names. Then they were brought to another room and shot. Some officers were shot next to the ditches, probably to keep within the time limit for the execution. We know the names of the torturers. They were all paid extra wages of 800 rubles or extra salaries.

– The orderly character of the crime is horrifying when we can see the Polish officers’ skulls with a whole exactly at the same place…

– The executioners were trained how to kill. They were not selected by accident. They knew their horrible profession because they had done it for years. They included a high-ranking official called Blochim. Even the NKWD officers were astonished by his ‘preparations for this job.’ He put on an apron, a cap, and gloves. He was given only loaded pistols. He put the barrel to the neck or the head of the victim and immediately pressed the trigger. He probably killed ca. 1,000 officers himself. He lived in a train car at the station. He came in the evening and said, ‘Well, comrades, time to go to work.’ After a few hours a cryptogram was sent ‘Done 216’, which meant ‘216 officers were killed.’

– We know that it was very difficult to discover the truth about Katyn. How did you manage to gain access to the documentation concerning Katyn in Russia?

– If today we speak about the successes of the Polish scientists this should be connected with what the Russian had examined earlier. There would have been no Polish successes if the Russians had not given us the information, showing the numbers and addresses of the archives or even the number of the shelf where to look for the documents. This is the success of ‘The Memorial’, which started the struggle for access to those documents and the group of the historians, e.g. Prof. Lebiediewa who was the first to reach the documentation of the so-called convoy forces. People did not know that such an archive existed at all. But the fact that Prof. Lebiediewa was allowed to see the archives resulted from the struggle between Yeltsin and Gorbachev as well as the question of the existence or non-existence of the USSR. The political struggle used the historians. Then the Katyn matter was taken up by journalists, including Gienadij Zavoronkov who reached those who might have known something about that massacre and Oleg Zakirov, who is living in Poland now and who was an NKWD and KGB officer. Zakirov reached many witnesses, conducting private investigations and he informed the Polish journalists and diplomats about the results of his investigation. He lost his job. He and his family were expelled from Russia for having revealed the Katyn massacre. The Polish authorities promised to help him but unfortunately, they did not keep their promise. He is living with his family in difficult conditions. In Poland there is another heroic Russian – an astronomer who arrived with his son in Katyn in 1989 to see the place of the massacre. He decided to publish the truth about Katyn. No editorial board accepted his book. He helped us very much when organising the Katyn exhibition in Moscow in 1990. It was a success of his and another Russian Sasha Gurianov from ‘Memorial.’ The whole group of the ‘Memorial people’ embracing military men, journalists, who were bullied (a son of one of them was killed) have been dedicated to help the Polish historians to discover the truth concerning not only the Katyn massacre.

– Today there are crosses and lights at the cemetery in Katyn. The families of the victims pray at the graves of their fathers, husbands and brothers. Official delegations come for the anniversaries of the massacre. Can we still speak about the Katyn lie?

– Yes, we can because we still do not know the names of 3,500 officers executed in Belarus. We do not know the documentation from the camps, the hearings of the officers in Kozielsk, Starobielsk and Ostashkov. We know the documentation of the officers from Starobielsk but we do not know the documentation of their transports. We do not know the burial sites of the officers in Bykivnya and other places of execution. Russia has not officially admitted to commit the massacre. The cases of the Polish families demanding reparations are heard only in Strasburg. The case to bring to court the living executioners has been lost. And we did not want to sentence almost 90 year old people but we wanted moral judgement of the crime. We did not succeed and so the lie about Katyn has remained.

"Niedziela" 11/2010

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