WW-II allies hushed up massacre of Poles: Documents

WW-II allies hushed up massacre of Poles: Documents

An estimated 22,000 Polish officers, intellectuals were killed

Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill hushed up evidence that the Soviet secret police had killed thousands of Polish men in the Katyn forest in 1940 for fear of alienating World War II ally Josef Stalin, newly-declassified documents show.

An estimated 22,000 Polish military officers and intellectuals were killed in the massacre at Katyn, in western Russia, many of them trucked in from prison camps, shot in the head from behind, and shoved into mass graves. The killings still cast a shadow over relations between Russia and Poland, but the new documents shift the focus elsewhere: to how Washington and London put fears of upsetting the Kremlin before exposing the truth.

Instead, for years they backed the Soviet Union’s version of events that Nazi Germany was behind the massacre at Katyn despite dozens of intelligence reports and witness accounts pointing to Soviet involvement. A telegram from US military intelligence dated 28 May, 1943, responding to an offer of information about Katyn, put the allied position bluntly: “If you mean Katyn affair am interested only if report shows German complicity.”

That telegram was among 1,000 pages of newly-declassified documents and photographs that were released late on Monday by the US National Archives. The documents - many of them marked secret or confidential — included a series of exchanges between British Prime Minister Churchill, US President Roosevelt, and Soviet leader Stalin about reports emerging in April 1943 about the massacre.

Their concerns focused on a demand from the Polish government, in exile in London, for a Red Cross investigation into Soviet involvement in the killings, and a threat from Stalin to break off ties with the Polish government as a result.

Washington and London feared a row would harm the effort to defeat Nazi Germany. A letter from Roosevelt to Stalin said Polish leader General Wladyslaw Sikorski “has erred” in pressing for an investigation. “I am inclined to think that Prime Minister Churchill will find a way of prevailing upon the Polish government in London in the future to act with more common sense,” Roosevelt wrote.