Myth 8 – The Nazis Committed the Executions of Poles in Katyn


The Nazis Committed the Executions of Poles in Katyn

Oleksandr Zinchenko

Yury Mukhin, The Anti-Russian Vileness, 2003

“The Germans had absolute motive to dig up the graves of the Poles who they killed and buried in Katyn as a show of grandeur and for a drawn-out propaganda show.”

The Essence of the Myth

In Katyn in the summer of 1941, the Germans shot 11,000 Polish prisoners of war and the Soviet documents in the “Special Folder No.1” are falsified.

Fast Facts

The mass execution of Polish prisoners of war was committed in the spring of 1940 by the NKVD in simultaneous special operations in Katyn, Kalinin, Kharkiv, Kyiv and other cities.

Detailed Facts

On 13 April 1943, the world first learned about the Katyn massacre when the Third Reich occupational authorities reported on the radio about the discovery of mass graves (10,000) of Polish officers killed in the USSR.

The USSR issued a statement soon after, which rejected these accusations and blamed the Nazis for the destruction of the Poles.

The Soviet commission headed by academic Nikolay Burdenko stated in January 1944: during the summer of 1941, the evacuation of the front-line zone near Smolensk failed to take 11,000 Polish internees who were in the ON-1, ON-2, ON-3 camps, who were subsequently shot by the Nazis.

In 1946, the USSR tried to accuse the Nazis of the destruction of the Poles in Katyn during the Nuremberg Trials. However, the Military Tribunal questioned the arguments of the Soviet party and did not support the charges. Their allegations were not supported by the Tribunal due to a lack of evidence.

So, what actually happened? In September 1939, thousands of Polish officers and several hundred thousand soldiers who were citizens of Poland were held in Soviet captivity – Poles, Ukrainians, Jews, Belarusians, Lithuanians and Armenians. In November 1939, most soldiers were released home. Three special NKVD camps – Starobilsk, Kozelsk, Ostashkov – were created with 14,700 Polish army officers, Border Guards and police officers. Another 11,000 were in prisons in western Ukraine and western Belarus.

On 5 March 1940, the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs, Lavrentiy Beria, presented to the Politburo a memorandum which proposed the destruction of the captured Poles: “Based on the fact that they are the defective inveterate enemies of Soviet power, the NKVD of the USSR considers it necessary…to consider this in a special manner, with the use of capital punishment – death.”

In this document, those “for” were Stalin, K. Voroshilov, V. Molotov and A. Mikoyan. M. Kalinin and L. Kaganovich agreed via telephone.

The protocols from these “Notes” were literally copied word for word in the No. 13 Protocol of the Communist Party from 5 March 1940. Question No. 144 of the Protocol involved the destruction of 25,700 prisoners of war without a trial. The question contained 935 letters which means that for every one letter, 27 lives were lost.

Prisoners in the Starobilsk camp (3,820 people) were shot in the premises of the NKVD office in the Kharkiv city center and hid in a secret forest cemetery in the suburbs of Piatykhatky. Those from the Ostrashkov camp (6,311 people) were taken by the Kalinin NVKD (now – Tver) and buried near the village of Mednoye. The prisoners of the Kozelsk camp (4,421 people) were shot in Katyn near Smolensk. About 7,300 prisoners from the prisons in western Ukraine and Belarus were shot in various cities of the USSR.

According to a note from 3 March 1959 from Alexander Shelepin, the head of the KGB to Nikita Khrushchev, the first secretary of the Communist Party, 21,852 prisoners were liquidated during the Katyn massacre.

A common Soviet myth about Katyn eventually grew into a new falsification: which weapons were used and who shot the victims (the use of German company “Geco” cartridges), when and who forged the documents in the Special Folder No. 1 and as to the number of those buried in Katyn (11 thousand).

Extract from Protocol No. 13, prepared by the head of the KGB of the USSR, Alexander Shelepin (27 February 1959)

In fact, 11,000 victims were never buried in Katyn. The German commission under Dr. Butz in the spring of 1943 examined 4,143 bodies from eight mass graves.

In the spring of 1943, during the exhumation, 1,650 letters were found along with 1640 postcards and 80 telegrams that were dated before April 1940 and from a Kozelsk address. All this indicates that those who were shot in Katyn were prisoners of the Kozelsk camp.

The rest of the 14,700 prisoners were condemned to death in POW camps and killed in Kharkiv and Kalinin (Tver). Nearly 6,500 prisoners of the Ostashkov camp were buried in mass graves near the village of Mednoye, which was never under German occupation. From 17–20 October 1941, the village was on the front line but on 21 October the Wehrmacht was driven back during a Red Army counteroffensive.

Another one of the Katyn myths was associated with the ammunition found in the graves near Smolensk: “The Germans shot the Poles in Katyn because in the heads of the dead were found German ammunition bullets.”

Indeed, there were German bullets and shells found in Katyn – the 7.65 D Geco. This same German bullet was also found in the mass graves of Poles in Mednoye, where the Germans never entered.

There was an explanation for this in the testimony of the KGB General Dmitry Tokarev, who in 1940 was the head of the Kalinin NKVD. The perpetrators of the mass executions used the small-caliber Walter gun because these weapons overheated much less than the Soviet ones. The guns were specially brought in for the Kalinin operation.

A shot from a standard Soviet weapon resulted in an external hemorrhage with 1 liter of blood loss. In one night in Kalinin, 250–350 prisoners were killed – this meant 250–300 liters of blood on the floor of the killing chamber. A smaller caliber gun significantly reduced this external hemorrhage.

In Kharkiv, the TT pistol was used. The problem of severe hemorrhaging was solved in another way by the Kharkiv NKVD – rationing their method for mass executions. A shot to the cervical vertebrae was used rather than a shot to the head. The bullet went through the vertebrae and came out through the eye opening. This greatly reduced the bleeding.

The burial of the Poles in Katyn and Kharkiv was organized in secret KKVD cemeteries. Beginning in 1938, about 5000 Kharkiv residents were buried in Piatykkhatky near Kharkiv. Polish citizens who were “moved” to the communist regime were also murdered in Bykivnia and Katyn by the Soviet Union. If you accept the statement that the Germans shot the Poles, it is difficult to understand why the Germans would bury their victims solely in NKVD cemeteries. The only exception to this rule was in Mednoye.

The next myth: the Katyn documents in Special Folder No. 1 are falsified, hence, Stalin’s guilt is not proven.

There is no doubt about the authenticity and accuracy of the materials in the Special Folder. Even if these documents were never found – it does not change anything in the Soviet responsibility of this crime: the Katyn case has hundreds of documents with thousands of pages.

Site map of the massive Polish burials in Piatykhatky near Kharkiv. From the archives of the Ukrainian KGB in the Kharkiv oblast, 1969

The Special Folder No. 1 is only 11 pages: the original Beria notes with the proposal to shoot prisoners, a page with Question No. 144 from the 13th Protocol of the Politburo, multiple copies made for Beria in 1941 and a note from the USSR KGB head Shelepin to Khrushchev from 3 March 1959.

Aside from the Special Folder, there are detailed lists of all the prisoners of war in all the camps, orders for the organization and holding of the operations from the NKVD’s prisoner of war office, camp management reports on its implementation, partially preserved informational details and lists, and the daily cryptograms from the NKVD heads in Kalinin and Kharkiv on the implementation of the executions.

There is no possible way to falsify such a huge amount of documents. These materials give an almost complete picture into all the circumstances of the Katyn crime and leave no doubt about the responsibility of Stalin’s communist regime.