US, Britain hushed up Katyn killings


THE US president Franklin D Roosevelt and Britain’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill hushed up evidence the Soviet secret police had killed thousands of Polish men in the Katyn forest in 1940 for fear of alienating their second World War Russian ally Josef Stalin, newly declassified documents show.

An estimated 22,000 Polish military officers and intellectuals were killed in the massacre at Katyn, in western Russia, many trucked in from prison camps, shot in the head and shoved into mass graves.

The killings still cast a shadow over relations between Russia and Poland, but the new documents shift the focus to how Washington and London put fears of upsetting the Kremlin before the truth.

For years, they backed the then Soviet Union’s version of events that Nazi Germany was behind the massacre at Katyn, despite dozens of intelligence reports and witness accounts pointing to the Soviets.

A telegram from US military intelligence, dated May 28th, 1943, responding to an offer of information about Katyn, put the allied position bluntly: “If you mean Katyn affair am interested only if report shows German complicity.”

That telegram was among 1,000 pages of documents and photographs released late on Monday by the US National Archives. They included exchanges between Churchill and Stalin about reports emerging in April 1943.

Their concerns focused on a demand from the Polish government, in exile in London, for a Red Cross investigation into Soviet involvement in the killings, and a threat from Stalin to break off ties with the Polish government.

Washington and London feared a row would harm the effort to defeat Nazi Germany and a letter from Roosevelt to Stalin said Polish leader Gen Wladyslaw Sikorski “has erred” in pressing for an investigation. “I am inclined to think that Prime Minister Churchill will find a way of prevailing upon the Polish government in London in the future to act with more common sense,” Roosevelt wrote. Churchill made a similar point to Stalin, saying he would “oppose vigorously” any Red Cross investigation.

The documents showed London and Washington had strong evidence of Soviet involvement as early as mid-1943, soon after German forces overran the Katyn area and found the mass graves.

Owen O’Malley, Britain’s ambassador to the Polish government in exile, wrote in a May 1943 letter: “We have in fact perforce used the good name of England like the murderers used the conifers to cover up a massacre.”