04/11/2010, 1:09 PM #
On September 1, 1939, just a week after the Molotv-Ribbentrop Pact, the Germans invaded Poland from the north, south and west. Both Britain and France had assured Poland that any aggression by Germany would be met with attacks by both of those countries against Germany. (Polish-British Common Defence Pact, Franco-Polish Military Alliance) Instead, Britain and France did essentially nothing to defend Poland, and that inactivity has come to be known as the Western Betrayal.
The Polish army retreaded to the east.
Two weeks later, on September 17, the Soviets came in from the east. When the dust had settled, Poland had been overrun, and the Germans and Soviets controlled the entire country.
The Soviets had rounded up something like 250,000 (estimates vary) military POWs in Poland, but had released around 200,000 almost immediately, those being Ukrainians and Belarusians. And so by March 1940 the Soviets held around 40,000 Polish military or "intelligentsia" POWs. These POWs were then "interviewed", the interview being essentially an audition to save your own life. If you were seen as something of a "nationalist" or a "counterrevolutionary"...you were sent to a camp in Ukraine or Belarus.
In March 1940, Levreniy Beria, prominent member (eventually head) of the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, sent a letter to Joseph Stalin suggesting that 26,000 or so Polish prisoners of war be executed. Beria argued that such action should be taken in order to deplete a future Polish army of leadership, although in addition to the Polish military officers and soldiers being held in Western Ukrainian and Belarusian prisons, Polish "itelligentsia" such as lawyers, doctors, authors. poets, writers, teachers, priests, and journalists were included in the list of those who were to be whacked.
Stalin agreed as did the Politburo.
The executions began in April, and took place simultaneously in prisons, camps, and in one case a forest.
The Katyn Forest lies about 12 miles west of Smolensk, Russia. It was there some of the 26,000 were taken, and shot. It is said that one man, Vasili Blokhin, of the NKVD, personally shot 6,000 men over the course of 28 days. The killings went on day and night, and they only took a break for May Day.
For a long time, the Soviet Union denied any "Katyn Massacre" ever took place. They covered it up, and then tried to blame the Nazis. In 1989 Russian scholars had dug up enough shit in the old archives to confirm the truth, and in 1990 Mikhail Gorbachev finally admitted that the atrocity had indeed taken place, and acknowledged the existence of two other mass grave sights, Mednoye and Piatykhatky.
The Katyn Massacre was a rallying cry for the Solidarity Movement. I have heard stories of the Katyn Massacre for years. Stories that make you want to fucking puke. Imagine Soviet soldiers lining up 3 or 4 Poles front to back, and shooting the man in front in an attempt to save bullets. 4th guy still standing? Well, he becomes the front man for the next stack.
The horror of Katyn is part of them. You need only say that one word, and faces grow very sad. It's like "Pearl Harbor" or "9/11" to Poles.
It was 70 years ago, and Katyn was the reason Polish President Lech Kaczyński and 96 others were flying to Smolensk. They were going to visit Katyn memorials.
Chicago has the largest population of Poles outside of Warsaw. Up on the northwest side, well, trust me, there are lots and lots and lots of Polish people living up here. In early May, on Constitution Day, these maniacs run up and down Milwaukee Avenue with their horns blowing and their flags waving. 5-6 people jammed into a sedan, and having a hell of a time just driving around waving that red and white flag with the eagle on it. You'd think a wedding was going by with all the horns, only they're just sitting at a stop light laying on the freaking horn. It's kinda cool to see. These cats know how to party, and they are proud of their heritage.
Back in 2000, at St. Adalbert Cemetery, about 5 blocks south on Milwaukee Avenue, a monument was erected to the victims of the Katyn Massacre. The work was done by a Chicago sculptor named Wojciech Seweryn. Serwyn's father was one of those murdered in Katyn Forest. Wojciech was one year old in 1940.
I stopped by St. Adalbert this morning, and paid my respects along with dozens of others. The Polish flags were at half mast, and there were flowers all around the base of the monument.Hundreds and hundreds of people had been coming since yesterday, not only to remember the 70th anniversary of the massacre, but to honor Wojciech Seweryn, who was also on that plane.