Polish Deniers of Katyn and “Nuremberg” for Stalin in the Anti-Russian Policy of Great Britain and the USA.

In the literature devoted to the “Katyn” problems, a common place is the assessment of the events of April 1943 as a successful propaganda action by Nazi Germany, which used the burials in the Kozy Gory to bring discord into the ranks of the anti-Hitler coalition [9, 16, 26, 27 and many others]. The emphasis is on the impact that the “Katyn affair” had on relations between the Soviet Union and the Polish government in exile, as well as their long-term consequences in the general context of Soviet-Polish relations.

It should be borne in mind that the Polish government in exile was not only united politically, but was torn apart by the strongest internal contradictions. Relations with politicians representing the former ruling elite were one of the most important problems that the fugitive government in exile faced back in September 1939: suffice it to recall the crises of September 30, 1939, July 1940, August 1941 and a number of others [ 15, s. 74]. It included not only supporters of V. Sikorsky, but also a strong opposition group “Pilsudchiki”, as well as pre-war opponents of the “Front Morzha” (Front Morzha) (1). The Polish historian M. Hulas assesses the next internal government crisis in April 1942 as follows: “Sikorsky’s opponents continued their attempts to discredit him in the eyes of the Poles and allies – alarming news reached even China” [15, s. 134], “despite attempts to create the image of a unanimous government, it was clear that the situation was alarmingly approaching a split, and it is not known what the effect would have been if it had not been for the German communique on the opening of Polish coffins in Katyn” [15, s. 131].

Probably, a number of Polish émigré politicians initially decided to use the “Katyn provocation” as a means of internal government and internal political struggle. Those politicians who were actively involved in the popularization of the “Katyn Truth” (signatories of the memorandum on April 16, 1943, Minister of War M. Kukel, Minister of Foreign Affairs E. Rachinsky, Minister of Information S. Kot (2), as well as A. Zaleski, K. Sosnkovsky etc.), used this issue as a tool in the struggle for political weight and influence in the Polish government in exile. In the mental sphere, this was an important step in turning the attitude towards the problem of responsibility for the “Katyn Crime” into a kind of test for Polish patriotism.

General Kukel was distinguished not only by his anti-Soviet views, but was ready to cooperate with the Nazis against the Soviet Union. It was he who was one of the main initiators of the communique on April 16, 1943, which launched a chain of events that led to the forced rupture by the USSR of the Polish-Soviet allied relations against Nazi Germany. In December 1944, it was Kukel who would head the “Special Commission to Investigate the Katyn Crime” created in London, under whose auspices the preparation of the “White Book of Katyn” began, the content of which supported the version voiced by the Goebbels about the responsibility of the Soviet Union for the Katyn Massacre.

The attitude of a particular Polish figure towards Katyn became a formal reason that gave the “fighters for the Katyn truth” the opportunity to legalize and justify personnel changes, and even remove some politicians from the political arena.

On June 30, 1943, the head of the underground Polish state, General Stefan Rowiecki, was captured by the Nazi authorities as a result of betrayal. After he refused to cooperate against the USSR, he was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp; in August 1944 he was shot by order of G. Himmler. Rowiecki’s place as commander of the Home Army on July 9, 1943 was taken by Tadeusz Komorowski (Bur-Komarowski).

At the same time – on July 4, 1943 – under circumstances that have not yet been clarified to the end, the Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief, General Vladislav Sikorsky, died. As Polish researchers note, this happened at a time when the fate of Poland in the international arena was being decided [1, p. 286]. General Sosnkovsky became the new Supreme Commander, and S. Mikolajczyk became the new Prime Minister.

The politicians of the Polish Government in exile, who came to the forefront as part of their uncompromising anti-Soviet position, did not slow down their efforts to bring discord between the USSR, on the one hand, and Britain and the United States, on the other. By strongly supporting the thesis of the “criminality” of the Soviet regime, they sought not only to strengthen the determination of Great Britain to fight for the return of Polish emigrants to Warsaw after the war, but also to strengthen their position regarding the future Soviet-Polish border.

Interpreting the provisions of the Atlantic Charter in their favor, the Polish emigrant leaders were sure that they would again get the territory of Western Belarus and Western Ukraine, captured by Poland as a result of the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1921, in violation of the Versailles decisions. Polish emigrant leaders continued to reject all proposals from the Soviet side regarding the restoration of the national eastern border. The London government of S. Mikolajczyk was forced to resign (November 24, 1944). The new Polish government in exile was headed by T. Artsishevsky.

Such was the situation in which the Polish Government in exile decided to create in December 1944 a special structure under its Council of Ministers – the Special Commission to Investigate the Katyn Case (Komisija Specjalna dla zbadania Sprawy Katynskiej) [9, s. 193; 25, s. fourteen]. This commission was headed by General Kukel. In addition to him, Foreign Minister Count Adam Tarnowski (3), Minister of Information and Documentation Adam Pragier (4), as well as experts M. Heizman and V. Sukennicki became members of the commission. All the main work on the preparation of materials for the investigation of the so-called Katyn Crime was carried out by these two experts. Over the next few months, they selected materials that, in 1946, were published by the Polish “Council of Ministers” and formed the basis of the position of the Polish political emigration on the Katyn case in the post-war period.

Viktor Sukennitsky (1901-1983) – Polish-American historian, political scientist, Sovietologist, chief investigator of the Polish Government in exile in the Katyn case, Doctor of Laws. Member of the Polish military organization (in Kaunas), volunteer in the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1921. In 1941 he was arrested and sent to a labor camp in the Krasnoyarsk Territory. Released in December 1941 under the Sikorsky-Maisky agreement, he worked as the first secretary of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Kuibyshev. In September 1942 he moved to Tehran, where he was an employee of the embassy. In 1952–1959 he worked as an analyst for Radio Free Europe, sponsored by the US Central Intelligence Agency. In 1959 he emigrated to the USA, where he worked as a researcher at the Hoover Institution [13, s. 51, 86, 87, 88, 167, 244–245; 19] (5).

The results of the activities of this Special Commission for the investigation of the Katyn Case will be revealed as early as 1946. It must be borne in mind that by 1946 the international position of Polish émigré figures would undergo serious changes. This change in the international legal status is extremely important for understanding the content and political direction of the so-called facts and documents selected by the Commission.

In February 1945, the Yalta Conference was held in the Crimea. The western border of post-war Poland was supposed to pass along the “Curzon Line” (with small retreats of 5–8 km in favor of Poland). In addition, Poland was promised “a significant increase in territory in the north and west.” The London Government in exile rejected the Yalta resolution: “it was decided not to agree under any circumstances, so as not to legalize lawlessness, that is, the deprivation of Poland of half of its pre-war territory” [1, p. 302].

At the Yalta Conference, Stalin managed to get the allies to agree to the creation of a new government in Poland itself – the Provisional Government of National Unity. On June 28, 1945, the composition of the Government of National Unity was approved. On June 29, 1945, it was recognized by France, on July 5 by Great Britain and the USA. The Polish Government in exile refused to recognize the Government of National Unity.

On July 6, 1945, the United States and Great Britain officially refused to recognize Artishevsky’s London Government. Only the Vatican, Ireland, Cuba and Lebanon maintained diplomatic relations with him [6, p. 363].

Soon after Potsdam, relations between the recent allies entered the stage of open conflict. At the end of February, J. Kennan’s “long telegram” appeared, speaking about the impossibility of cooperation with the USSR [18]. In March 1946, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain, W. Churchill, announced that an “Iron Curtain” had descended across the entire European continent, and demanded the urgent creation of an Anglo-American alliance that would oppose the USSR.

In the context of such an international political situation, meetings of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg over the main Nazi criminals were held – the last “common cause”, as it gradually became clear, within the framework of the Anti-Hitler coalition (“Great Union”).


It is believed that the London Special Commission for the investigation of the Katyn Case prepared several versions of the Katyn materials. They had a different volume (from several tens to four and a half hundred pages) and different degrees of accessibility (“Secret”, “Top Secret”, “For Private Use”) [27, s. 381–385]. At present, they have not been introduced into scientific circulation as a publicly available source about the Katyn Case.

The very first edition was prepared in London in February 1946 and was called “Report on the Massacre of Polish Officers in the Katyn Forest. Facts and documents” (Report on the Massacre of Polish Officers in the Katyn Wood. Facts and Documents) [29; 27, 381–382]. Under the leadership of Sukiennitsky, an extensive publication “Facts and Documents on Polish War Prisoners Captured by the USSR during the 1939 Campaign” was also prepared. (Facts and Documents Concerning Polish Prisoners of War Captured by the USSR during the 1939 Campaign) [12; 25, s. fourteen; 27, s. 382]. In the literature there is a mention of an abridged version of these “Facts and Documents …”, which was called “The Mass Murder of Polish Prisoners of War in Katyn” (“The Mass Murder of Polish Prisoners of War in Katyn”). These 31-page materials were prepared in March 1943 and were labelled “Most secret” and “Not for publication” [27, s. 383]. The time of the appearance of these materials coincides with an attempt to publish at Nuremberg a typewritten text of a secret additional protocol to the Non-Aggression Treaty between the USSR and Germany of August 23, 1939. As is known, the existence of a secret additional protocol to the treaty dated August 23, 1939 was reported by A. Seidl, the defender of R. Hess at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg (MWT) at the end of March 1946. The judges, despite the efforts of the lawyer, refused to listen to the text received from an unknown source, but included it in the trial materials. Thus, it received the status of an official document. But the Tribunal did not discuss it and did not decide on its authenticity [7, p. 198].

It can be assumed that after the side of the defense successfully planted the “secret additional protocol to the agreement of August 23, 1939” to the judges of the Tribunal, the idea arose in the same way to carry out “documents” that would prove the innocence of the Nazis in the Katyn Massacre.

By July 1946, another “small pamphlet” was prepared under the title “Report on the Massacre of Polish Officers in the Katyn Wood. Facts and Documents” [27, s. 381], which the Polish emigrant leaders tried to legalize during the MMT on July 2, 1946, handing them over to the defender of K. Dönitz, Admiral O. Kranzbuhler, as materials for the defense of the Nazi side [31, p. 383].

From the point of view of studying Katyn as a Polish place of memory (6), it is noteworthy that in all known sources of the period under consideration, the description of the “Katyn Events” is conducted from September 17, 1939, and not from August 23, as in modern politicized (“classical”) Western version [3, p. 167-188]. It seems extremely unlikely that the authors of the “Report” were not aware of the Soviet-German treaty of August 23, 1939, the text of which was published in Pravda, which was published in millions of copies. This means that at that time the Non-Aggression Treaty between the Soviet Union and Germany of August 23, 1939, in the eyes of Polish leaders and representatives of the “world community” was not yet considered something special from the point of view of the current practice of international law.

 “Report on the Murder of Polish Officers in the Katyn Forest”, in fact, fixes the beginning of a new stage in the formation of Katyn mythology.

The narrative in it begins on September 17, 1939, when the Polish ambassador in Moscow was handed a note that the Red Army had received an order to cross the Polish border. It goes on to talk about how the Red Army “captured Poland”, while the Polish troops fought to the death with the Wehrmacht in the west. Polish officers captured by the Red Army were placed in three camps – Kozelsk, Starobilsk and Ostashkov, where they were interrogated for six months. The memoirs cited in the “Report” say that these were not interrogations, but some “conversations on political topics” (about the causes and expected outcome of the war with Germany, about the bourgeois and socialist system, etc.). According to the results of these conversations, questions, as the authors suggest, a certain classification of prisoners was carried out. At the end of March, such conversations ceased, and rumors began to circulate among the prisoners that they would all be taken home soon. Everyone was eagerly waiting for the moment when they would start naming the names for the shipment. In Starobelsk, this was called “the time of the parrot” (the parrot time). In the Kozelsk camp, before sending the Polish officers, they were fed Russian pancakes: “The departure of the first group from Kozelsk was arranged as a holiday. The officers who remained in the camp lined up and greeted the departing. The new camp authorities arranged something like a reception for the departing prisoners and offered them Russian pancakes” [29, p. eight].

As follows from the Report, the further fate of the prisoners of the three camps became known from the inscriptions on the walls of prison cars, which were found by “prisoners of the second and subsequent groups”: “… The inscriptions made on the walls of the cars by their predecessors, who were on the route Kozelsk – Gnezdovo – Katyn read: “We get off at the second station from Smolensk. Trucks are waiting for us. We are leaving the train” or “We are being taken out of the train to Gnezdovo, we can see the trucks” (7)” [29, p. eight]. Prisoners from Starobilsk saw similar inscriptions showing that their predecessors had been sent to Kharkov. The path of the “Ostashkovites” was traced to Vyazma [29, p. eight].

In this case, either the authors of the “Report” were completely let down by logic, or behind their statements there was a desire to hide their sources of information: obviously, in order for the “prisoners of the subsequent groups” to tell someone about the inscriptions seen on the walls of the cars, they had to remain alive.

A number of facts described in the “Report” are missing in the modern official version of the “Katyn case”. It is also noteworthy that Starobelsk is named as being located “near” Kharkov, 240 km away from it, in the same way as it was done in the famous “Shelepin’s Note” from the Secret Package No. 1 (8).

In addition to the “facts”, the Report also contains “documents”. What were they like?

These are excerpts from Soviet newspapers in September 1939 and 1940 [2; 5]; transcripts of S. Kot’s negotiations with A. Ya. Vyshinsky, V. M. Molotov, I. V. Stalin; negotiations between V. Sikorsky and V. Anders with Stalin; excerpts from Starobelskie memoirs by Y. Chapsky (9); note by M. Kukel dated April 17, 1943; Memorandum of the international commission of forensic experts of April 30, 1943; conclusion of the commission N.N. Burdenko; several anonymous testimonies and others. A total of 33 “documents” given in typewritten text.

All these materials were handed over to the defense of the main Nazi criminals in Nuremberg – in order to shake the court’s confidence regarding the guilt of the Nazis in the Katyn Massacre. On July 2, 1946, O. Kranzbuhler tried to present to the Tribunal the materials prepared by the London Special Commission to investigate the Katyn Case, which were supposed to prove the innocence of the Nazi authorities in the Katyn crime. However, IMT Chairman J. Lawrence refused to consider these materials [31, s. 377-383].

The very fact of accepting these anonymous “Polish materials” for official consideration would mean an indirect recognition of the right of their authors – so far unnamed “Polish representatives” – to speak on behalf of Poland or the Polish people. Meanwhile, an official delegation of the PPR was in Nuremberg. Therefore, it is quite understandable that it was precisely this moment that caused the remark of the Soviet prosecutor. The answer to the question, “from which Polish delegation is he [ Kranzbuhler. – OK.] received this document because the Polish delegation represented here could not prepare such a fascist propaganda document as this one” [31, s. 383-384], was not received by the Soviet side.

The serious disagreements that existed by the events of July 1946 described among the former allies in the fight against Nazism led to the fact that Katyn Deniers were allowed to distribute anti-Soviet materials among the members of the Tribunal.

The “Report on the Massacre of Polish Officers in the Forest of Katyn”, proposed for consideration by the IMT, was not attached to the materials of the process. However, the fact that the Tribunal’s verdict does not explicitly lay the blame for the Katyn Crime on Nazi Germany allowed the West to use this anti-Soviet provocation throughout the Cold War. And to use without any restrictions and legal consequences. Moreover, the Polish emigrant figures (and the political forces behind them) used this lack of solution for political purposes, raising the level of anti-Soviet propaganda to a new – international – level.


In the post-war period, the figures of the Polish emigration continued to popularize their version of the Katyn Events. Moreover, they decided nothing less than to arrange their “Nuremberg” for Stalin and the leaders of the Soviet Union. In 1949, they prepared and published a book called Stalin and the Poles: An Indictment of the Soviet Leadership [30] in English, which was determined by its target audience.

Bronisław Kuznerž (1883–1966), the Minister of Justice of the Artishevsky (1944–1947) and Boer-Komorowski (1947–1949) émigré government that lost its international legitimacy, was its author or, rather, compiler. Kuznerzh at the beginning of the Polish campaign of the Wehrmacht served in the military censorship unit. He repeated the route of many emigrant figures who in September 1939 left their country and fled to Romania. From January to July 1940 he was under an assumed name in internment camps, then until July 1942 he served in the Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade in Palestine and Egypt. Then he was the Head of the camp for Italian, then German prisoners of war from October 1942 in Great Britain.

The preface to the book was written by August Zaleski (1883–1972), the so-called President of the “Polish Government in Exile” from June 7, 1947 to April 7, 1972. Zaleski became Foreign Minister twice: the first time in the interwar period (1926–1932); the second time in the Sikorsky Government (September 30, 1939 – July 25, 1941). He was an ardent opponent of Sikorsky’s policy of establishing any kind of allied relations with the Soviet Union; in 1941, he categorically opposed the signing of the Sikorsky-Maisky agreement, after which he defiantly resigned as a sign of disagreement. In 1943–1945 served as head of the presidential service V. Rachkevich, after whose death he became the new president.

The cover of the book “Stalin and the Poles” carried the statement: “Almost ten years ago the Polish Government was expelled by the German and Russian invaders. This very Government, never rejected by the people of Poland, now presented the first official accusation of Soviet oppression: from the senseless brutality of the Red Army during the first invasion and the terrible massacre in the Katyn forest to the rigged elections of 1947 and the gradual elimination of all forms of national culture…”. 

Indicatively, the publication itself uses the name of those categories of crimes that were used at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg against Nazi criminals: crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Only in this edition, Polish leaders apply them already in relation to the Soviet Union and the Soviet leadership.


The book consists of two parts: 1939–1941. and 1941–1948, which corresponds to the concept of the “first Soviet” and “second Soviet occupation” of Poland that was developed at that time. Among the “Soviet Crimes against the Poles”, the authors include almost the entire Polish history, starting from the “planned aggression of 1939” and ending with “manipulation in the elections of 1947”.  One of the sections (about 40 pages) is devoted to “the murder and cruel treatment of war prisoners and the massacre in the Katyn Forest” [24, p. 88–125].

Probably, for the first time on the pages of this book, the concept of “Katyn Lie” (kłamstwo katynskie) appears, which began to denote the Soviet policy of hiding the so-called Katyn Truth. The comparison of “Nazi and Soviet attempts to destroy Polish identity, culture and political independence” is characteristic, as well as the conclusion that Stalin’s methods of committing crimes against Poles show “even greater planning and psychological sophistication” compared to Nazism. The Polish emigration accused the USSR not only of committing the “Katyn Massacre”, but also of committing numerous other crimes against Poland. According to the “accusers”, Poland became the very first example of what the USSR planned to do with the whole world – in this case, the wording of J. Goebbels in 1943 is almost one to one repeated: “Katyn is an example of what the Soviet Union planned to do with everything the world.”

Since the late 1940s the number of anti-Soviet publications began to grow and multiply. Books, pamphlets, articles, leaflets began to be published en masse. In 1949, a book by V. Anders entitled “Army in Exile” was published in London in English [10]. General Kukel will start writing one of the first political biographies of Sikorsky [20]. Kukel will also take the initiative to create a Polish Research Center in London and lead it. It is this organization that in 1972 will publish the memoirs of Jan Schembek, in the 4th volume of which the first known photocopy of the secret additional protocol in the Non-Aggression Treaty of August 23, 1939 between Germany and the USSR will be published [7, p. 197].

Much and fruitful will be written by “independent observers” and participants in the exhumation work in the spring of 1943. In 1948, the Polish writer J. Mackiewicz published the book “The Katyn Crime in the Light of Documents” [21], which in Polish historiography is considered one of the classic Katyn publications.  In 1949, A. Moshinsky prepared and published the Katyn Lists in London, in which the names and surnames of prisoners of Kozelsk, Starobelsk and Ostashkov are given, who “go out” to the figure of 10 thousand victims [23]. One gets the impression that in the post-war years, all Polish officers, whose fate was not known by that time, were recorded as Katyn victims. So, in the lists of Moshinsky (1949), the names of those Katyn victims that were made public by M.S. Gorbachev and published by the Polish side [17; 22; 32; 8], make up an extremely small number (according to Kozelsk, about a third). As far as is known,what is the fate of the remaining Katyn Victims from these Katyn Lists, has not been established by the Polish side so far.

Chapsky will complete and publish “Memoirs of a Prisoner of Starobelsk”. F. Goetel will actively publish his articles about Katyn [14]. Sukennitsky will prepare another “White Book”, now about interwar Polish-Soviet relations, a significant part of which is devoted to Poland’s claims to the possession of “skinny armchairs” [11]. This list can be continued for a very long time.

At the turn of the 1940s – 50s. various committees began to be actively organized, and numerous eyewitnesses spoke, testifying to the “crimes of the Soviet regime” in front of them. An example is the Polish Society of Former Soviet Political Prisoners (Polskie Stowarzyszenie bylych Sowieckich Wieznow Politycznych), founded in London in 1949 [33; 25, s. 15], which was headed by the same Anders.


In the late 1940s – early 50s the formation of anti-Soviet and anti-communist structures was actively going on in the USA as well. During these years, the CIA launched a number of powerful anti-communist projects, among which there was the organization of the Committee for Free Europe (10) and the American Committee for the Liberation from Bolshevism (11) [28]. Anti-Soviet and Nazis of all stripes who fled from Europe quickly found patrons among them.

It would be strange (and probably unprofessional) if the American fighters for “Free Europe” did not use such a powerful weapon as the “Katyn Problem” – a weapon that in 1944-1945 fell out of the hands of Goebbels, but was kept in the “arsenal” thanks to the efforts of Polish emigre circles.

In August 1949, the American Committee was organized in New York to investigate the Katyn Crime. (The American Committee for Investigation of the Katyn Massacre (English), Amerykanski Komitet dla zbadania Zbrodni Katynskiej (Polish)). It was composed of: A. Bliss-Lane (Chairman), writer M. Eastman and journalist D. Thompson (Deputy Chairman), J. Epstein (Executive Secretary), as well as General W. J. Donovan, writer and Congresswoman Claire Booth Luce, oh J. F. Cronin, C. Rozmarek (President of the Polish American Congress) and others (12) [25, s. fifteen; 27, s. 303]. Among the members of this Committee were also congressmen J. Dondero, D. Flood, J. Lodge, R. Madden, J. Rankin on whose initiative, in the conditions of the Korean conflict, the so-called Madden Commission to investigate the Katyn crime would be organized.

Among the members of the American Committee to Investigate the Katyn Crime is the name of Allen W. Dulles, the founder and first head of the US Central Intelligence Agency.

In fact, in the conditions of the Cold War, Goebbels’ concept of “strength through fear” was used:  again and again raising the issue of the Katyn Case, demonstrating to the whole world the criminality and cruelty of the state system of the Soviet Union and the communist movement as a whole.

For the United States, allowing Polish activists to propagate an anti-Soviet version of the Katyn affair was only part of a general policy to weaken the USSR and fight against the communist movement.

Thus, it is obvious that for the representatives of the Polish emigration permanently registered in London and Washington, the active propaganda of the Katyn Case became a matter of their own political survival: first in Great Britain, and then in the USA, whose leadership in opposing communism at that time becomes part of the general leadership in western world. This position of the Polish émigré circles was recognized by the Americans, who began to use and recruit them as part of their struggle to liberate Eastern Europe from communism.

On a symbolic level, all this struggle led to the fact that the “Katyn Issue” – regardless of what the participants who propagandized it actually thought – gradually began to turn into a marker of true Polish patriotism. Those Poles who agreed with the Soviet arguments received a reputation as collaborators, people with their backs bent before the Russian occupiers. Those who had the courage to believe or say otherwise, automatically acquired the halo of fighters for “free Poland”.

Over time, it turned out that the attitude towards the “Katyn Case” turned into a tool for the formation of a dissident movement in People’s Poland.  The pretext of fighting for the “Truth about Katyn” and the mask of worries about the suffering of Polish officers were a very powerful ideological “hook”, on which the soul-catchers hooked those who initially sympathized with People’s Poland, supported the changes, and at the same time were ready to support the Soviet presence and influence.

Author of the article: Kornilova Oksana Viktorovna, Candidate of Historical Sciences, in 2000–2017 Head of the Scientific and Exposition Department of the Katyn Memorial, Smolensk, Russian Federation.





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