Stalin's Denial of the Katyn Massacre to the Roosevelt and Allies
(Paraphrasing Butler): In September 1939 the Red Army took some fifteen thousand Polish soldiers from prisoner-of-war camps and later killed many of them. They buried forty-five hundred near Smolensk, in the Katyn Forest. In 1941 and 1942, rumors that prisoner-of-war camps had been disbanded, the Polish government-in-exile in London sought repeatedly to learn what had happened to the soldiers.
They were stonewalled by the USSR. The Germans retreated in April 1943, they announced they had discovered the bodies of thousands of Polish officers, all of whom had been shot in the back of the head, and charged they were victims of the Russians from 1940.
The USSR countered the Germans had killed the officers in July 1941. This cover-up worked to an extent: a group of Allied war correspondents who were given a tour of selected graves by the USSR offered the general opinion that the Russian case, based on dated evidence (in hindsight clearly planted by the Soviets), was "convincing." The Polish government-in-exile, however, continued to present convincing evidence of its own, including records of the refusal of the USSR to answer their repeated queries as to the fate of the officers and abrupt cessation of letters from the officers of their families after March 1940, which indicated that the Kremlin had done the deed.
Faced with demand for investigation by the International Red Cross, an investigation that the Soviets could not control and which would certainly have led to the truth, Stalin severed relations with the Polish government-in-exile. This issue -- the killing of the flower of the Polish officer corps, which the Poles knew about and were determined to prove, and which Stalin was equally determined would remain hidden -- was a major factor in the Polish government-in-exile's hostility toward Stalin.
The killings, according to documents released by the Soviet Union in 1992, were carried out because Beria and Stalin believed that the officers were potential enemies of the Soviet Union. Wladyslaw Sikorski was the premier of the Polish government-in-exile. The president was in Monterey, Mexico, when he received the following message from Stalin, forwarded by Secretary of State Cordell Hull via the Map Room on 24.April.1943.
April 21, 1943
The recent conduct of the Polish Government towards the Soviet Union is regarded by the Soviet Government as absolutely abnormal and contrary to all rules and standards governing relations between allied countries.
The campaign of calumny against the Soviet Union, initiated by the German fascists regarding the Polish officers they themselves slaughtered in the Smolensk area, on German-occupied territory, was immediately taken up by the Sikorski government and inflated in every possible way by the official Polish press. The Sikorski government, far from taking a stand against the vile fascist slander of the Soviet Union, did not even see fit to ask the Soviet government for information or explanations.
The Hitlerite authorities, after perpetrating an atrocious crime against the Polish officers, are now engaged upon an investigation farce for the staging of which they have enlisted the help of certain pro-fascist Polish elements picked up by them in occupied Poland, where everything is under Hitler's heel and where honest Poles dare not lift their voices in public.
The governments of Sikorski and Hitler have involved in these "investigations" the International Red Cross which is compelled to take part under conditions of a terroristic regime with its gallows and mass extermination of a peaceful population, in this investigation farce, under the stage management of Hitler. It should be clear that such "investigations," carried out, moreover, behind the Soviet Government's back, cannot inspire confidence in persons of any integrity.
The fact that this campaign against the Soviet Union was launched simultaneously in the German and Polish press, and is being conducted along similar lines, does not leave any room for doubt that there is contact and collusion between Hitler, the enemy of the Allies, and the Sikorski government in the conduct of the campaign.
At a time when the people of the Soviet Union are shedding their blood in the bitter struggle against Hitlerite Germany and straining every effort to rout the common foe of all liberty-loving democratic countries, the government of Mr. Sikorski, pandering to Hitler's tyranny, is dealing a treacherous blow to the Soviet Union.
All these circumstances force the Soviet Government to infer that the present government of Poland, having fallen into the path of collusion with the Hitler government, has actually discontinued relations of alliance with the USSR and assumed a hostile attitude toward the Soviet Union.
In view of these circumstances the Soviet Government has come to the conclusion of the necessity for breaking relations with the present Polish government.
I deem it necessary to inform you of the above and trust that the Government of the United States will realize the inevitability of the step which the Soviet Government has been compelled to take.
END OF STALIN MESSAGE
The following remarks of Hull
In considering this matter the following are the most important developments with respect to Soviet-Polish relations which have taken place during your absence:
1. On Aprile 14 the Polish Minister in the absence from Washington of the Ambassador brought to the attention of the Department the charges made by German propaganda agencies to the effect that the Germans had discovered near Smolensk a mass grave containing the bodies of some 10,000 Polish officers executed by the Russians in 1940. The Minister under instructions while acknowledging that the story might well be a falsification on part of the Germans, said that the Polish Government could not fail to take note of the allegations since it had for over a year and one-half been endeavoring to ascertain without success from the Soviet authorities the whereabouts of approximately 8,000 Polish officers known to have been captured by the Red Army in 1939. He also pointed out that in December 1941 the Polish Prime Minister himself had tkaen up with Stalin and Molotov the whereabouts of the missing Polish officers and advised the Government of the evasive reply received.
2. Lord Halifax on April 21 handed me an aide mémoire indicating that because of the recent grave deterioration of Polish-Soviet relations there was a danger of serious trouble among the Polish armed forces abroad particularly those in the Middle East. It stated that Mr. Churchill was considering sending a message to Stalin. The draft text of this message, together with further information on recent developments and on the actions which the British Government would like to take, would be communicated to the United States Government shortly with a view of ascertaining whether we would wish to make a similar approach to the Soviet Government.
The Ambassador said then that the aide mémoire was only a premiliminary reference and that he expected in a few days to receive a somewhat more elaborate statement from his Government. Lord Halifax has not yet taken up the matter in detail.
3. In connection with the statement in paragraph 4 of Mr. Stalin's messaging indicating that the International Red Cross has been "compelled" to take part in the investigations carried out behind the back of the Soviet Government, it should be pointed out that the American Consul in a telegram from Geneva dated April 22, 6 p.m. stated that he had been informed that the International Red Cross Committee had communicated in April 22 to the Polish and German Governments that the International Red Cross was prepared to propose the designation of neutral experts to conduct an investigation provided "all parties concerned" request it to do so (special reference to the Soviet Union as a party concerned was made therein).
The Department of State has thus far had no intimation from any source other than Stalin's message quoted above that the Soviet Government contemplates breaking relations with the Polish Government.
I am endeavoring to delay action on the Finnish matter until you return in view of the foregoing developments.
The President drafted a reply, which he sent through the Map Room to Secretary Hull for his opinion, noting to Hull that he should read "long telegram from Churchill to me dated 25th." Churchill had written Roosevelt that as the result of "strong representations" by Anthony Eden, Sikorski had withdrawn his request for an investigation by the Red Cross.
The following cable went out as Roosevelt wrote it, with the excision of the word "stupid" in the second paragraph.
26 April 1943
Mr. Stalin, Moscow.
I have received your telegram while on my Western inspection trip. I can well understand your problem but I hope in present situation you can find means to label your action as a suspension of conversation with the Polish Government in exile rather than a complete severence of diplomatic relations.
It is my view that Sikorski has not acted in any way with Hitler gang, but rather that he made a
stupidmistake in taking the matter up with the International Red Cross. Also I am inclined to think that Churchill will find ways and means of getting the Polish Government in London to act with more common sense in the future.
Let me know if I can help in any way, especially in regard to looking after any Poles you may desire to send out of Russia.
Incidentally, I have several million Poles in the United States, very many of them in the Army and Navy. They are all bitter against the Nazis and knowledge of a complete diplomatic break between you and Sikorski would not help the situation.