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Ghosts of Katyn

April 15, 2010

Some crimes refuse to be forgotten. The Katyn massacre is one of them. In 1940, about 22,000 Polish officials were massacred by the Communists in a bid to crush the Polish nation once and for all. This massacre was carried out by the Soviet Union, by the ‘people’s paradise’. It was kept secret at first, as the NKVD thought that the world would never be in a position to know about it. The sky was rosy then, for the Communists. Stalin had just concluded a secret treaty with Hitler which divided Europe between the two dictators. He trusted this alliance more than anything. He was sure that Hitler would defeat the Western powers and Europe will be a playing ground between the Nazis and the Commies. Who would then dare to ask him about Katyn?

But history has never worked straight, even for Stalin. 22 June, 1941 was one of the very few occasions, when Comrade Stalin was really betrayed. His favorite monster broke his heart and the SS tanks rolled into the Soviet zone. As they occupied Western Russia, they uncovered the mass graves in the Katyn forest and the massacre became world news. Soviet Union, the land of the complete ‘freedom of expression’, quickly denied the ‘rumors’ and blamed the crime on the Nazis instead. The logic was: what does it matter if Hitler wins? And who is going to question Stalin if Hitler doesn’t?

And indeed they didn’t. For half a century, the lie of Katyn being a Nazi crime was pedaled by the Communist fifth column all over the world. The Nazis had lost, and it was them who had discovered the Katyn massacre. When they themselves were responsible for the Holocaust, who was going to believe their discovery of a Communist crime? The Great Terror was still largely an inside story. The Holodomor had been silently carried through and the first Soviet dissidents hadn’t yet started migrating to the West. Communism was all good.

Political leaders world over were war weary. They had just defeated one monster. They weren’t ready for another one, especially one who had just emerged vastly more powerful from the War. Roosevelt went to his grave with an olive branch for Stalin. Churchill made a few annoyed grunts but the wind wasn’t blowing his way. The world kept silent, choosing to ignore reality. Once again, a Communist crime had been lied about and forgotten, largely due to the machinations of the Leftist fifth column in the capitalist world.

The world behind the Iron Curtain became increasingly bleak as Stalin tightened his hold over ‘his’ people. 1953 brought a ray of hope but the massacre of the Polish officers, whom everyone in Russia hated anyway, was not on the priority list of the grievances to be aggrieved. Khrushchev’s secret speech of 1956 finally revealed to the world the excesses of Stalin but Katyn was yet again forgotten. It took another 34 years for the crime to be officially recognized by Gorbachev.

Even this recognition was half-hearted. The Russian leadership is reluctant to realize the full extent of the crime, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union. In the seventy years of Communist rule, old Russia was systematically annihilated. Three generations of cultural vandalism resulted in a rootless generation which gropes in dark when it comes to the question of history. The only tangible history they have is their Soviet past and the only good thing about it is its power. One has to have self-respect. The modern Russians get it from the identification with their Soviet past. This in turns prevents them from condemning the Communist crimes. Hence, the continuing tragedy.

Yet the little nation of Poland never forgot its martyrs. It kept its struggle to get the Katyn massacre internationally recognized as a Communist crime. The Solidarity movement finally got success in 1989. Lech Kaczyński was one such nationalist Pole who didn’t let his nation and the world forget the truth about Katyn. It was for this purpose that he died in a plane crash on April 10, 2010. He was going to pay tribute to the Katyn victims when his ill fated plane hit trees in the woods near Smolensk. All passengers on board died. The President had devoted much of his life for Katyn. He finally died for it. Katyn once again became headline news. Poles, pain and death. The cycle goes on. The ghosts of Katyn revisit again.

Polish history is a tragic one. It has the misfortune of having a wrong geography and wrong choice of religion. A Catholic nation sandwiched between Protestant and Orthodox military powers, it has been repeatedly occupied by their forces. Unlike Western Europe and like other Eastern European countries, the Poles had nowhere to run when Hitler invaded. Turning east was no good. Even the end of the war didn’t bring hope. The specter of anti-Semitism had largely disappeared but the Iron Curtain had enveloped Poland and it was now at the mercy of the Communists. Only the fall of Communism brought respite.

It must cost a lot of pain and anguish for the Poles to look back at their history… and yet they do it. They look back at the tragedies they met, blood that they lost, pain that was inflicted upon them. They do all this so that the future generations should never forget the cost their ancestors had to pay so that one day Poland could once again be free again.

This is the lesson to be learnt from Katyn. Many nations have tragic history. India is one of them. The story of the medieval ages is a long saga of blood and pain. What is left for us to do is to recognize the crime committed and the pain inflicted on our nation. A nation forgets its history on its own peril. From what is going on these days, India doesn’t seem to be aware of the peril.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2010 4:59 AM

    Thank you for this post, Pankaj. I’m of Polish descent, and much of my literary efforts are directed toward making sense of horrors like this–the absurd persistence of suffering (despite our ignoble efforts to ignore it).

    FYI, I found you through The Hog’s Head–welcome. I’ll look forward to reading more of your comments there, and more of your thoughts here.

    • May 17, 2010 10:21 PM

      Thanks for visiting! Your ares of interest seem to same as mine. I am much interested in the history of Communism, especially its atrocities on the occupied nations. Good to find someone from Poland who can share his own experiences.

      Keep visiting. And yes I will keep visiting the Hog Head.

  2. Joivre permalink
    May 15, 2010 5:45 AM

    I second what Mr. Pond said. Including the Polish heritage –

    When you wrote that the Poles remember their tragic history and that –

    They do all this so that the future generations should never forget the cost their ancestors had to pay so that one day Poland could once again be free again.

    You are so right. It is so important to remember.

  3. July 7, 2010 3:38 PM

    Nice and interesting posting, Pankaj I think that our blogs are useful for English learners in order to improve their English. Congratulations, I already added your website check out keep up doing the great job. Carlos, owner from English Tips.

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