Sixty-five years ago, in April and May 1940, NKVD shot almost 22,000 Polish citizens – captured Polish officers and other prisoners of Kozelsk, Ostashkov and Starobelsk interment camps, and Poles imprisoned in the Western regions of Byelorussian SSR and Ukrainian SSR. This NKVD “operation” became known as “the Katyn Crime” (Katyn is a location a few kilometers off Smolensk city where the burial site of one group of victims was first found).
For fifty years the soviet leaders carefully concealed the truth about the Katyn crime and refused to admit its obvious evidence, trying to blame the Nazi Germany. It was only in April 1990 that the Soviet Union officially admitted that the Polish citizens had been shot by NKVD. President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev handed over to President Wojciech Jaruzelski of Poland the archival documents that listed the names of 14,589 massacred prisoners. Shortly after this, at the soviet President’s instructions, the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation of “the fate of Polish officers interned in Kozelsk, Ostashkov and Starobelsk camps.”
In October 1992, at the instruction of the RF President, Boris Yeltsin, other documents were handed over to President Lech Walesa, including the Politburo decision dated March 5, 1940, with personal signatures of J. Stalin, K. Voroshilov, V. Molotov and Mikoyan, and with additional signatures of M. Kalinin and L. Kaganovich, both favoring execution. These documents confirmed that the decision to have the Polish POWs executed without a court trial had been taken by the top USSR leaders. Besides, the documents revealed that 7,305 citizens imprisoned in the Western regions of Byelorussia and Ukraine had also been killed without being tried in court, along with the Polish officers. The Ukrainian authorities handed over a list of 3,435 prisoners who had been shot in Ukraine to the Polish authorities in May 1994. The Byelorussian segment of the list is still not in the public domain (the Byelorussian authorities say the archival search did not yield any results).
During the 62 years that have passed after the burial sites were discovered, much has been said and written about “the Katyn crime” but many vital issues remain unclear. Yet, on March 11, 2005, Russia’s Chief Military Prosecutor A. N. Savenkov told a special press conference that investigation of the “Katyn case” was about to be terminated. He referred to “the absence of genocide as the subject of crime” and the death of officials who had been found guilty of the crime.
We believe this termination of investigation is inadmissible.
First, even if there was no genocide, a statement should be made to explain how these shootings without any court trial are treated – as a war crime, a crime against humanity, or as an intended first degree murder. Closing the case without a legal judgment looks like an attempt to disclaim all and any responsibility for the crime.
Second, the identities of many victims of the crime (almost 4,000) are still unknown – these are mostly prisoners shot in Byelorussia. The Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office says that crimes committed outside the present-day Russia should be investigated by the respective national law enforcement authorities. But this argument does not hold water in this case because the decision to shoot all Polish citizens was taken in Moscow, the operation was headquartered in Moscow, and all accounts and reports about the operation came to Moscow (e.g., a list of Polish officers from Starobelsk camp, who were shot in Krakov, i.e., in Ukraine, is kept in the Moscow archive). Russia’s Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office must produce evidence of searching for the “Byelorussian” list in the Russian archive; it should also confirm that it had contacted the Byelorussian law enforcement authorities about the list of killed prisoners and produce these authorities’ response.
Third, the statement of the Russian Chief Military Prosecutor who said the fact of killing only 1,803 people “has received absolute confirmation” requires explanation because it is common knowledge that more than 14,500 prisoners were killed.
Finally, the Katyn case cannot be treated as closed unless and until the identities of all those who took part in the crime are established and publicized – both initiators (who are known) and executors at all levels. We understand that criminals cannot be brought to court if they are dead. But their names should be made public. This was and is done in all civilized countries, usually without involvement of any special tribunals. Russian legislation requires this, too – in particular, the RF Law On the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression (Sec. 18, part 2).
We cannot accept the decision of the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office to keep most of the investigation materials secret (including the resolution on closing the criminal case). This is an unlawful decision because the RF Law On the State Secret states that “information about facts of violating the rights and freedoms of man and citizen” “shall not be the state secret subject to being classified” (Sec. 7). Classification of details of the case that has elements of war crimes and crimes against humanity will inevitably be treated by the public in Russia and abroad as a reversal to the old soviet policy of concealing the Stalinist regime’s criminal acts and covering up of initiators and executors. The reputation of the country and its external relations must not fall victim to the corporate “ethics” and departmental norms.
No matter whether the army lawyers wanted this, the statement on closing the Katyn case, which was made on the eve of the 60th anniversary of Victory, reminded the world that the Soviet Union was not only a member of the anti-Hitler coalition and carried the heaviest burden of the anti-fascist fight. It also reminded of the indisputable fact: after signing the pact with Hitler in 1939, the USSR annexed the eastern regions of the pre-war Polish state, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, North Bukovina and Bessarabia. It immediately launched mass-scale terror in these regions, and the “special operation” of massacring the Polish prisoners was part of this sweeping terror, along with arrests and deportations.
Memory of the victory in 1945 is inseparable from the memory about all people who have fallen victims to the totalitarian regimes in the 20th century – those who were killed on the battlefield and perished in the torture chambers throughout World War II. Attempts to hush up or weaken this memory are attempts against the meaning and goals of the great anti-fascist war.
We call on the country’s top leaders to continue the policy of the President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev and President of Russia Boris Yeltsin in revealing the truth about the events of 1940, and take all and every necessary measures to reopen investigation of the Katyn crime. The nature of the crime should be determined from the legal perspective, the identities of all its victims should be named, and the names of all perpetrators and executors should be made public. All the materials of the investigation, after it is completed, should be open for the world public, particularly the Polish and Russian public. We strongly feel that only such actions are worthy of a great country that won a victory over fascism, threw away the legacy of communism and chose the democratic way of development.
We are also convinced of the need to rehabilitate all the victims of the Katyn crime. In compliance with Sec. 6 of the RF Law On the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression, passed on October 18, 1991, we file a rehabilitation petition to the Chief Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation.
Board of International Memorial Society