Monday, April 15, 2013


The first two line news item that appeared in “The New York Times” appeared on April 16, 1943 and was headlined Nazis Accuse Russians, presenting the information which had appeared in London on April 15th.  These delays might seem extensive to a Twitterer, however, given that all news stories had to pass through the censors office, it is surprising that news appeared with the speed it did.  Thus stories originating in Germany were either prepared by the Propaganda Ministry or it lackeys, or went through that censor’s office there, and in the case of the New York Times or other US Press then passed through the Office of War Information (OWI) which oversaw not only print but radio and film media, Britain had a similar Censor’s office.

News needed to not only present the facts, but it also needed to maintain national esprit d’corps and could not impact on the bonds of the Allies – and this last item became of increasing significance as the days passed and suddenly Poland’s continuing questions were seen as exacerbating.

To be very clear, the Polish Government in London, as well as the Polish Army in Russia (as it was then called) had been asking questions and attempting to locate its officers since the moment the army was allowed to form in August 1941.  With some 60,000 soldiers, the army only had a bit over a 1,000 officers and the fact that there were officers missing was clear – not only to the soldiers, but to each of the officers.  In fact, Józef Czapski, an artist and reserve officer, who had been held in Starobielsk, was designated as point-man, and led the effort to locate the missing men.  Every officer, who joined the army, prepared a name list of men, those whom he had known in the pre-war army or had been imprisoned with.  Lists were checked and counterchecked and Czapski as well as others travelled (as much as the Soviets allowed them to) throughout the USSR seeking these men – this was, despite all logic a reasonable move, since Stalin had stated that these officers were, among others, being held north of the Arctic Circle in Franz Josef Land, that they had escaped their camps and en masse, and on foot travelled across the USSR to Manchuria (!?!?!).  Each of the various Kremlin reports needed to be checked out as did the statements of the various arrivées to the army camp.

To be precise, reports detailing the available information about Katyn began being issued every two to three months since the fall of 1941 - these reports were not only internal documents - they had been passed on to US and British officers and officials, while some of them were created by them, yet none appeared to evoke much pressure on the Soviets:

1.       February 7, 1942 – report submitted to the Department of State, by Admiral Stanley,  and prepared in Moscow, enclosing Józef Czapski’s report.;
2.       June 2, 1942 – US Ambassador to the Government of Poland in London, Anthony Drexel Biddle’s report (dépêche no. 158-9) sent directly to President Roosevelt, copied to the Secretary and Undersecretary of State;
3.       June 11, 1942 – Report of the US Military Attaché assigned to the Government of Poland in London, containing information obtained from General  Władysław Anders;
4.       June, 1942 – Secret report of Lt. Colonel Henry Szymanski, US Military Liaison officer to the Polish Army in the East, sent from Cairo together with British Colonel Hull’s report

The enormous propaganda effort mounted around the investigation of the Katyn Massacre, which had been undertaken by Goebbels, and at his behest, by the entire Propaganda Ministry of the III Reich, had but one defined purpose according to Goebbels.  In his diary, he noted on several occasions that his essential premise was the exploitation of the murdered officers in an anti-Bolshevik propaganda effort – not only in Germany itself but also throughout all of Europe.  The Soviets gruesome massacre served Goebbels’ purpose and he bridled when the Wehrmacht forced through the removal of a film clip of the exhumations at Katyn from the weekly film chronicle Die Deutsche Wochenschau.

Goebbels and his compatriots accurately appraised the innate great potential of the discovery of the graves in Katyn.  Truth be told, it occurred shortly after the German defeat at Stalingrad; thus there was no surprise that the anti-Bolshevik aspect was so prominent.  Thousands of Axis soldiers were brought to Katyn in order to ensure that they were aware of what awaited them if they were taken prisoner.

Equally important for Goebbels was the opportunity to show Europe the „real face of Bolshevism” and to ensure that unoccupied Europe was aware of it as well.  Both he and his Propaganda staff – and even his rivals – sought to make sure that news of the massacre was spread wide and far and made as credible as possible.  That was the purpose of bringing the neutral reporters prior to the announcement of the discovery of the graves.  That was the purpose for the formation of the International Medical Commission.  That also was the reason why POWs – first Polish and later the English and Americans were brought to Katyn.

©Krystyna Piórkowska