Monday, April 22, 2013


As early as April 15 the Germans were advising Bern that:

…By April 11th, 160 corpses had been taken out of the graves and identified.  Among these were two Polish generals, Brigadier-General Smorawinsky, Mecyslaw (Sic) of Lublin PI, Litwenski (Sic) and General Bronislaw Bogaterewitsch (Sic). Until now all ranks of officers from lieutenant to general have been identified. A strikingly large section of the officers are wearing the traditional braid of the Pilsudski Regiments. Of the corpses in the Polish mass graves it is estimated that 90% are officers,… The total number of buried Polish corpses in the said woodland is estimated (on the grounds of statements made by civilian persons about the constant unloading in March and April 1940) at about 10,000. The corpses were examined by forensic pathologists of Army Group Mitte…

Clearly, the Nazis were attempting to place what they believed to be all the missing men in one location and so they presented this tally of 10,000 and even stated it was as high as 12,000.  One would wonder -how were they made aware of the tally of the missing?

When they had first occupied Poland, the Germans had incorporated parts of Poland into the Reich and each of these areas now carried various  Germanic names including one purely consisting of purely Polish territory - Reichsgau Wartheland originally Reichsgau Posen, also called Warthegau, while the remainder of what remained had been named the General Gouvernement with the capital in Krakau (Kraków) under General Hans Frank.  The USSR did not act any better, in fact they simply annexed the territories in the East claiming they were Belarusian or Ukrainian and by fiat all Polish citizens residing in these areas were now Soviet citizens – this despite the Treaty of Riga which clearly defined the borders. The Soviets then removed the families of any of the men whom they held as prisoner (easy enough to locate them once they were allowed to mail letters to them)  as well as any member of the educated classes who had not previously fallen into their nets. 

The ancient borders of Poland had been much more expansive and there were large numbers of ethnic Poles residing within the confines of a pre-1939 USSR.  Beginning in the mid-1930s, Stalin ordered and the NKVD completed a number of purges directed solely at the Polish population.  It included executions, arrests for political crimes, or expulsions from their homes and resettlement thousands of miles away.  The victims were men, women and children.  A specific subset was the clergy which was either executed, sent to forced labor camps or to GULAGs, where living conditions were such that execution might have been easier.  These victims included priests of the Roman Catholic and Byzantine Rites, and in the camps they were often comingled with priests of the Orthodox Rite.

 Current analysis of statistical data proves empirically that the Poles were not randomly selected, or that the groups were comingled – specific orders were given concerning the Polish population, and the percentages of those killed or exiled, exceeded their actual proportions by enormous multiples.  Stalin’s plan for the Polish population, both those residing on ancient lands and those residing within the borders of interwar Poland were clear – this was an enemy population and was to be eliminated.  The issue of religion, i.e. whether one espoused Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism or any faith was irrelevant – once one identified oneself as Polish one was necessarily the enemy. This was clearly proved in the Katyn Massacre, where all faiths were represented – which proved to be a problem for the Nazis, since their propaganda referred to Jewish Bolsheviks organizing the crime.

For six years there was no Polish nation on the maps of either the Reich or the Soviet Union. There was a Polish Underground State which reported to London, and the military structure which came to be known as the Armia Krajowa reported into that structure and was the main organized armed resistance, thus the ŻZW reported into it.  It was only after the start of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, that the USSR  began to send in its operatives to organize any semblance of a resistance, but that structure reported into the Soviet government and not a Polish one, and was already construed to serve as a Soviet lackey. 

During this period, for both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, any semblance of local Polish organization was precluded from existing, and all educational activities were banned, although in German occupied areas the Church had some autonomy.  Even so, for the Reich, before the Polish Christians were eliminated, they were to serve as slave underclass, only somewhat better than the Jews or the Roma who were to be immediately liquidated.  Thus the Polish Red Cross was not allowed to operate.

Nonetheless, the Germans found themselves in a quandary, since, unlike the Bolshevik Soviets whom they so condemned, and who had severed all manner of international agreements, or had not signed new accords, the Germans had consistently signed and supported them.

One of them dealt with the Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross in Switzerland, which recognized the Polish Red Cross. As a result, the Reich had been forced to acknowledge that these untermenschen did have the right to have their Red Cross continue operating, albeit in a limited fashion.  The war had however, already caused losses in personnel, including those who were abroad at the start of the war,  and so the position of Secretary General was made available, which was how Kazimierz Skarzyński, who had worked in manufacturing and had lost that job once the Germans seized the company, came to occupy that post.

The Polish Red Cross, as did many national Red Cross units, began to collect information on the various injured, imprisoned and missing in action.  They compiled lists and became aware of the large number of men missing.  Their list was not complete, since it (necessarily) could not include the names of the men who had lived and served in various capacities in eastern Poland, now incorporated into the Soviet Union, for the families of these men had been taken by the NKVD and forcibly resettled into the depths of the Soviet Union – to the various ‘stans’ – but primarily Kazachstan, and there were few relatives left to report on the missing, and certainly even if there had been – the Soviets would not be collecting it.

Nonetheless, as Skarzyński reported, the Germans had, at one point, ordered the Polish Red Cross to prepare to receive a large number of military prisoners from Russia – and in January 1940 they were preparing to do so as best they could – 14,000 men were to arrive. Skarzyński stated
We waited at this camp ready to receive the officers for several months. I don’t remember if it was April or May 1940 that the German authorities told us to close the camps, telling us that the officers won’t come back.

The spring of 1940 was a period when the German Gestapo and the NKVD were still holding organizational meetings, one of which had occurred in Brześć nad Bugiem (September 27, 1939), a second in Przemyśl in mid-Galicia (November [?] 1939), a third in Zakopane (February 20, 1940) and there were rumors that a fourth had occurred In Krakau (March 1940).  In this period of cooperation, it was perhaps possible that the Germans had been informed by the Soviets of the executions, but no documentation has been found to confirm this.

But the number of 14,000 prisoners – now, executed victims, resonated throughout the partitioned land.

NB – for cities in German occupied Poland, German names will be used.

©Krystyna Piórkowska