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A Death in the Forest: The U.S. Congress Investigates the Murder of 22,000 Polish Prisoners of War in the Katyn Massacres of 1940 - Was Stalin or Hitler Guilty?

A Death in the Forest: The U.S. Congress Investigates the Murder of 22,000 Polish Prisoners of War in the Katyn Massacres of 1940 - Was Stalin or Hitler Guilty?

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A Death in the Forest: The U.S. Congress Investigates the Murder of 22,000 Polish Prisoners of War in the Katyn Massacres of 1940 - Was Stalin or Hitler Guilty?

111 pages
2 hours
Sep 1, 2014


In September 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union invaded and occupied the republic of Poland, dividing the country between them. Some two hundred thousand Polish soldiers became prisoners of war in Russian camps, which were often converted monasteries. In March 1940, Joseph Stalin approved a plan to murder twenty-two thousand officers, sergeants, and civilian intellectuals, the better to deprive eastern Poland of the men who might contest communist rule when the eastern half of the country was incorporated into the Soviet Union.

After the German invasion of Russia the following year, the first mass graves were uncovered and revealed to the world by Nazi propagandists. The Russians in turn blamed the atrocity on the Germans, claiming that the bodies were actually Jews dressed in Polish uniforms. Britain and the United States accepted this fabrication so as not to harm their alliance with the Soviet Union. But in 1952 the U.S. Congress convened hearings that convincingly laid the murders at the doorstep of Stalin himself. This is the story of those findings.

Sep 1, 2014

About the author

Daniel Ford has spent a lifetime chronicling the wars of the twentieth century. He lives in Durham, New Hampshire, where he is a recreational pilot and writes for the Wall Street Journal.

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A Death in the Forest - Daniel Ford

A Death in the Forest

A Death in the Forest

The U.S. Congress Investigates the Murder of 22,000 Polish Prisoners of War in the Katyn Massacres of 1940 - Was Stalin or Hitler Guilty?

Daniel Ford

Warbird Books 2014


The Katyn Atrocity (Daniel Ford)

1 - Findings

2 - Statement of Historical Facts

3 - Testimony of Survivors of the Three Camps


4 - Search for the Missing Polish Officers

5 - Discovery of Graves at Katyn

6 - Testimony of Observers at Katyn

7 - Other Witnesses

8 - Testimony of International Commission

9 - Russian Report

10 - Nuremberg

11 - Conclusions

Copyright - Editor

Poland’s Daughter

The Katyn Atrocity

By Daniel Ford

IN SEPTEMBER 1939, German and Russian armies crashed into Poland from opposite sides, like two hammers beating the anvil. The Germans were the first to march, and for that reason they got much more attention in the world press than the Russians who followed them two weeks later. The German invasion was a big deal, and it would seem even bigger now: with a million and a half men, the Wehrmacht was nearly three times the size of the U.S. Army of today. At least ten thousand of them died during the month it took them to subdue Poland.

The invasions introduced something new to my vocabulary: blitzkrieg, lightning war, what the U.S. military now practices (none better!) under the name of maneuver warfare. For a hundred years, armies had gone to war across a broad front, guarding their flanks and protecting their supply lines as they advanced; when the advance stalled, they dug trenches and defended them in depth. Wars thus involved stupendous numbers of men, of whom stupendous numbers died; wars spread across continents, and they lasted for years. The U.S. Civil War was the first such combat, which to this day remains the bloodiest in American history. Then came the Great War, as it was called at the time – the First World War, as we began to call it in 1939 – which destroyed the old order in Europe and left the United States as the world’s leading economy.

To break the stalemates of conventional warfare, the Germans developed blitzkrieg. Speed, flexibility, and violence would be the strategy: the Wehrmacht, the German armed forces, would smash through Polish defenses, taking huge chances in the hope of confusing and demoralizing the enemy, rendering them unable to mount a coherent defense. This wasn’t an entirely new concept. Genghis Khan, when he led his Mongol horsemen on the gallop across four thousand miles of Asia and Eastern Europe, was a blitzer. So was William Quantrill in the U.S. Civil War, and T. E. Lawrence in the First World War. And even in the trench warfare on the Western Front, the Germans had experimented with sturmtruppen, storm troopers, who with dash and daring broke through the Allied defenses and spread death and panic behind the lines.

What the Wehrmacht now added to the concept were tanks, dive bombers, radio communication, and the principle of leading from the front – putting the commander in the lead tank or letting a sergeant make the decisions as he clattered along. Where they could, the Germans bypassed the Polish army and attacked its supply lines, without which it could not fight. The chaos was compounded by refugees trying to escape the fighting: All along the road, recalled one of them, the farmers stared in amazement at this winding river of people, without beginning or end, this river of anguish.

Thus it was that Germany’s 1st Mountain Division, a light force of twelve thousand Bavarians and Austrians, hooked into Poland’s south. In the lead was the 98th Regiment under Colonel Ferdinand Schoerner from Munich, who had whipped Hitler’s paramilitary SS troopers into the dreaded Waffen SS. His men traveled on foot and on horseback, by motorcycle, truck, bicycle, and city bus, and probably some tanks. They covered up to thirty-five miles a day, with the rest of the German 14th Army trailing on behind. Their goal was the city of Lwow, in Poland’s southeast, and their mission was to seal the country’s southern border, so the the Polish army couldn’t slip into Romania and thus survive to fight on another front.

Lwow held out long enough to be confounded by another enemy: the Red Army crossed the virtually undefended eastern border on September 17. Five days later, Lwow surrendered to the Red Army. After a few photographs for the record – a German officer, a Russian officer, and a Polish officer, smiling broadly in an open touring car – 1st Mountain Division withdrew from the city in deference to Hitler’s new best friend.

For the Red Army, the surrender document was signed by General Semyon Timoshenko, who genially accepted every condition requested by the defenders. Polish enlisted men were to register themselves with the Soviet authorities, then go home. Officers would do the same, and they could keep their personal kit and, if they chose, leave Poland for any country willing to take them. This last concession was especially important to the Poles, who wanted to continue the fight against Germany in French or English service.

The Red Army entered Lwow at noon or shortly after, accompanied by the NKVD, which spent the afternoon breaking the agreement Timoshenko had signed a few hours earlier. Officer or enlisted man, every uniformed Pole was arrested. They were marched at gunpoint to Lwow’s central market square, assembled in groups of fifty or so, trucked to the main railroad station, and loaded into what Americans call boxcars, what Europeans know as goods wagons, and the survivors of such treks remember as cattle cars. In filth and hunger they were transported 750 miles east to a prison camp at Starobilsk in the Ukraine. The mostly Catholic Poles found themselves sleeping on the floor in a church and convent, formerly the property of the Eastern Orthodox church. The quarters were impossibly crowded, though they improved somewhat when the enlisted men were moved to another camp, leaving only the officers at Starobilsk.

Hitler and Stalin now set about the task of erasing Poland from the map. Poland never will rise again in the form of the Versailles treaty, boasted Hitler in Danzig, the historic Gdansk, now rejoined to the Fatherland. That is guaranteed not only by Germany, but also Russia. The pledge was echoed by the Soviet foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov: One swift blow to Poland, he told the Supreme Soviet on October 31, first by the German Army and then by the Red Army, and nothing was left of this ugly offspring of the Versailles treaty.

In dismembering Poland, the Russians were infinitely more clever – and much more successful – than their German allies. The Hitler-Stalin agreement of August 23 had split the country almost exactly in half. In the west, German death squads now began to line up Poles (and especially Polish Jews) in front of open pits that the victims themselves had been forced to dig. They were shot at its edge, so that the dying fell upon the dead – or upon the living, for it sometimes happened that someone tumbled into the pit without being shot, to crawl out of the mass grave in the night. We like to think that this work was done by depraved Nazis, particularly the SS Einsatzgruppen. Not at all! Most of the killers were, in Daniel Goldhagen’s memorable phrase, ordinary Germans. Soldiers of the Wehrmacht did this work. Policemen did this work, and so did Germany’s allies and even police and milita from the conquered nations. Here is an Austrian policeman, writing to his wife at home about his first Ausserordentliche Befriedungsaktion, or extraordinary pacification action:

During the first try, my hand trembled a bit as I shot, but one gets used to it. By the tenth try I aimed calmly and shot surely at the many women, children, and infants. I kept in mind that I have two infants at home, whom these hordes would

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