In April 1943, Nazi Germany announced that it had discovered the mass grave of 4,500 Polish officers near Katyn in Byelorussia; Berlin claimed they had been murdered by the Soviets. Moscow immediately denied the charge and used the international debate over Katyn as an opportunity to break diplomatic relations with the London-based Polish government in exile. Until 1992 Moscow denied responsibility for the killings, despite physical and human evidence that the NKVD was guilty. Documents presented to the Polish government in 1992 by Russian President Boris Yeltsin established conclusively that on Lavrenty Beria’s recommendation, Joseph Stalin authorized the murder of 25,800 Polish military officers, civil servants, and religious figures captured in 1939. Beria’s recommendation was that “examination of the cases is to be carried out without summoning those detained and without bringing charges.” The verdict in all cases was death by shooting.
   The killings took place at several locations in Byelorussia and the Ukraine, and were carried out by NKVD execution teams. Directing the execution of the Poles was Petr Soprunenko, who sent a telegram to Moscow every day, detailing progress in executing Polish officers and civilians. Beria drafted a special order on 26 October 1940, rewarding every member of Soprunenko’s team with a sum of money equal to a month’s pay “for the successful execution of special assignments.” So carefully were the execution sites hidden that not all the graves have been found.
   Katyn demonstrated the lengths to which the Stalin regime would go to purge Soviet society and Soviet satellites of suspected enemies of the people. In a macabre way, it demonstrated the efficiency—as well as the brutality—of the security service. But its history lives on, for Katyn and the other massacres continue to poison relations between Poland and Russia. The duplicity of Soviet leaders from Nikita Khrushchev to Mikhail Gorbachev still troubles Poles who lost family members.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

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