Newly Declassified Documents Show Allies Buried Proof of the Soviets' Katyn Massacre


Speaking of important documents being ignored, turns out, as Reason 24/7 noted yesterday, the United States has long known more than it was telling about a 70-year-old war crime. The Katyn forest massacre was the killing of 22,000-odd Polish officers and various prisoners in 1940. For decades, the Soviets denied responsibility and tried to blame Nazi Germany, but in 1990, it was confirmed that the real responsible parties were definitely, most assuredly the Soviets…because they finally admitted as such. 

Now, according to the AP, 100 pages of newly declassified documents prove that Allied prisoners of war, including Americans Capt. Donald B. Stewart and Lt. Col. John H. Van Vliet Jr, were taken to the site by their German captors in 1943 and shown the corpses in an attempt at anti-Soviet propagandizing. The Americans reluctantly believed the Germans, due to the state of decomposition of the bodies, as well as papers and letters, none of which were dated past 1940, years before the Germans arrived in Russia. 

Stewart testified before the 1951 Congressional committee about what he saw, and Van Vliet wrote reports on Katyn in 1945 and 1950, the first of which mysteriously disappeared. But the newly declassified documents show that both sent secret encoded messages while still in captivity to army intelligence with their opinion of Soviet culpability. 

That congressional panel concluded that the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) was responsible for the massacre, even without Stewart and Vliet's testimony being part of the official record. But it took another 40 years for the U.S. to feign surprise when Russian confirmed it was indeed the work of the Soviets. 

The declassified documents also show the United States maintaining that it couldn't conclusively determine guilt until a Russian admission in 1990 — a statement that looks improbable given the huge body of evidence of Soviet guilt that had already emerged decades earlier. Historians say the new material helps to flesh out the story of what the U.S. knew and when.

The Soviet secret police killed the 22,000 Poles with shots to the back of the head. Their aim was to eliminate a military and intellectual elite that would have put up stiff resistance to Soviet control. The men were among Poland's most accomplished — officers and reserve officers who in their civilian lives worked as doctors, lawyers, teachers, or as other professionals. Their loss has proven an enduring wound to the Polish nation.

That '51 panel also concluded that there were "clear danger signals in Russian behavior evident as early as 1942" and that the U.S. might have behaved differently towards the Soviets if they had had more information earlier. Notes AP, congress:

found that Roosevelt's administration suppressed public knowledge of the crime, but said it was out of military necessity. It also recommended the government bring charges against the Soviets at an international tribunal — something never acted upon.

Despite the committee's strong conclusions, the White House maintained its silence on Katyn for decades, showing an unwillingness to focus on an issue that would have added to political tensions with the Soviets during the Cold War.

In '43, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill also sent U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt a long message that concluded Soviet culpability in the massacre. 

The history of shuffling Soviet atrocities aside does not began or end with Katyn, though. For example, letters have long proven that Pulitzer-winning New York Times foreign correspondent Walter Duranty was aware of the extent of the 1930s Ukrainian famine which killed perhaps 6 million peasants, but he deliberately refrained from reporting on it. Pulitzer has so far refused to posthumously revoke Duranty's prize. 

For more on whitewashing (contemporary) dictatorships, check out Reason TV's conversation between contributor Kennedy and contributing editor Michael C. Moynihan on why travel books tend to swoon over some of the world's worst countries:

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  1. Come on Lucy, their already Polish. There’s no need to call them odd, that just seems offensive.

  2. That ’51 panel also concluded that there were “clear danger signals in Russian behavior evident as early as 1942”

    Chomsky claims those to be overrated.

    1. I love that.

      Gosh, as early as 1942 there were signs that the Soviets were acting like murderous psychopathic mass killers?

      1. LOL indeed.

      2. After everyone thought they were so sweet for the previous 25 years.

  3. What the heck else is new? The Stalin-sympathizing lefty scum in the government/media complex of the west has ALWAYS pretended that World War II only started when Germany invaded the Soviet Union.

  4. 22,000? Holy fucking shit.

    1. That doesn’t include the Ukrainians.

      1. To Stalin, 22,000 was a rounding error. Not even a statistic.

        1. And to Chomsky, probably.

          1. You gotta break some eggs to get agrarian reform…or something.

  5. Newly Declassified Documents Show Allies Buried Proof of the Soviets’ Katyn Massacre

    FDR didn’t call him “Uncle Joe” for nuthin’!

  6. At, some of the commenters are all “why do the right-wing teabaggers make such a big deal about this? Everyone knew about it, and anyway raison d’etat.”

    1. Yeah. For a legal blog, the Volokh Conspiracy has an incredibly poor quality selection of commenters. I’m half convincing most people post there just to discredit the writers. The most inane arguments come out of people there, even worse than here. We’re lucky we only have a few trolls. Their whole comment pool is practically made of them.

  7. 22,000? Holy fucking shit.

    22,000 deaths are a tragedy, but a million? That’s hardly enough to get Walter Duranty out of bed.

  8. newly declassified documents prove that Allied prisoners of war, including Americans Capt. Donald B. Stewart and Lt. Col. John H. Van Vliet Jr, were taken to the site by their German captors in 1943 and shown the corpses

    Trout Mask Replica is an overrated album anyway.

    1. Thanks. I was wondering where I knew that name from.

    2. How can an album that almost no one has listened to all the way through be overrated?

    3. I agree, but “Doc at the Radar Station” is extremely underrated. It’s probably his best.

      1. Philistines. And what about Clear Spot?

  9. There aren’t many episodes in history as disgraceful as the Allies giving Eastern Europe to Stalin. This is not even close to surprising.

    1. I’m surprised most Czechs and Slovaks didn’t despise the West after the Berlin Wall fell. The UK and France broke their defense treaty to let them get fucked in 1939, the US and UK let them get fucked in 1945, and they all just sat and watched in 1968.

    2. Should’ve launched Operation Unthinkable and perhaps nuked Moscow. Another intervention we didn’t do but should have.

      1. It’s the only way to be sure: nuke everyone who looks at us funny, or COULD look at us funny.

        1. It’s your only way of responding: attack the strawman like the stupid asshole you are.

    3. Not only disgraceful, but stupid. We knew we’d be having problems with the Soviets.

  10. Maybe the Poles should seek reparations from the Russians. Oh wait, they’re not actually bankrupt yet.

  11. I went to the Khatyn Memorial near Minsk in 1987. It was…powerful. I got a paper heart that said “katyn” and had a pin from the memorial stuck on it from a little girl who was maybe 6 years old. She made it. I still have the thing.

  12. George S Patton was right. He may have been a little nuts, but being wrong was not one of his faults.

  13. I can understand why you wouldn’t talk trash about an ally during wartime, but after the war, when your onetime ally has turned into, potentially, just as big an adversary as the Nazis, why wouldn’t announce this to the world in the 1950’s when the cold war was really ramping up?

    1. Depending on exactly how the timeline played out…testimony in 1951, maybe a few months (or more) to get things sorted out, overcome the previous belief system. Stalin dies 3/1953; US hoping Khrushchev is going to be a reformer and don’t want to embarrass him?

  14. Oh wow, no way man how messed up is that dude? Wow.

  15. It couldn’t have been too much of a secret, as I distinctly remember reading about Churchill and Roosevelt’s communication over the massacre in Churchill’s “Second World War” series, which was published in the late 1940s.

  16. FWIW, the movie “Katyn” (three guesses as to what it’s about) was on youtube in its entirety. (So was Der Untergang, at one time) It is one of the most horrifying movies I’ve ever watched, particularly the ending, but it is well worth your time.

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