Читать онлайн "Russia at war 1941-1945" автора Верт Александр - RuLit - Страница 181


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There was no full record of all the Poles in the Soviet Union. The areas over which they were scattered were so enormous that it had not been possible to get in touch with everybody.

The Polish organisations—schools, hospitals, et cetera, run by the Polish Embassy at Kuibyshev were quite unsatisfactory; the Union of Polish Patriots had taken the

whole thing over. By September 1, there would be enough schools for all Polish

children in the Soviet Union.

It was difficult to say whether any rapprochement with the Polish Government in London was possible.

The Union of Polish Patriots merely dealt with Poles in the USSR; it had no

pretension of being an ersatz Polish Government.

But it strongly felt that the future Government of Poland must come from the

people, not from the émigrés. Poland must be democratic, not feudal.

Sikorski [who shortly before had been killed in a plane crash] was a good, honest man, but he was too weak, and he was unable to resist the pressure of the


The Union of Polish Patriots was not conducting any propaganda inside Poland,

but, the very existence of a Kosciuszko Division here would certainly make the

strongest impression on the Polish people— especially once it started, together with the Red Army, driving the Germans out of Poland.

Clearly, the whole thing was of far-reaching political importance, and this is not altered by the fact that both Wassilewska and Berling were—for different reasons—to disappear as leaders of the movement before very long. Other, and stronger, people were to take their places.


In September, 1943, the Russian Army recaptured Smolensk from the Germans, and soon

people in Moscow were asking when light would at last begin to be thrown on the Katyn murders. But for a long time nothing happened, and it was not till January, 1944, that the Russians published their findings, and also invited the Western press in Moscow to visit the mass graves.

On January 15 a large group of Western correspondents, accompanied by Kathie

Harriman, the daughter of Averell Harriman, the United States Ambassador, went on

their gruesome journey to look at the hundreds of bodies in Polish uniforms which had been dug up at Katyn Forest by the Russian authorities. It was said that some 10,000 had been buried there, but actually only a few hundred "samples" had been unearthed and were filling even the cold winter air with an unforgettable stench.

[The London Poles alleged that only 4,000 were buried at Katyn and that there were two other "Katyns" inside Russia which had not been discovered.]

The Russian Committee of Inquiry, which had been set up, and was presiding over the

proceedings, consisted of forensic medicine men, such as Academician Burdenko, and a number of "personalities" whose very presence was to give the whole inquiry an air of great respectability and authority; among them were the Metropolitan Nicholas of

Moscow, the famous writer Alexei Tolstoy, Mr Potemkin, the Minister of Education, and others. What qualifications these "personalities" had for judging the "freshness" or

"antiquity" of unearthed corpses was not quite clear. Yet the whole argument turned precisely on this very point: had the Poles been buried by the Russians in the spring of 1940, or by the Germans in the late summer or autumn of 1941? Professor Burdenko,

wearing a green frontier guard cap, was busy dissecting corpses, and, waving a bit of greenish stinking liver at the tip of his scalpel would say "Look how lovely and fresh it looks."

Hundreds of pages have been written about the findings of the Committee of Inquiry set up in April, 1943, by the Germans and of the Russian Committee of Inquiry of January, 1944. Both cases have been very fully summarised in a number of books, particularly in General Anders's Katyn. Anders's conclusion, of course, is that, however many millions of people the Germans had murdered elsewhere, there was not the slightest doubt that in this case the Russians were guilty.

While this is more than probable, if not absolutely certain, it must be said that the Russians conducted their publicity round the case (including the visit of the Western press to Katyn) with the utmost clumsiness and crudeness. The press was allowed to

attend only one of the meetings of the Russian Committee of Inquiry, which questioned several witnesses. Among them were a Professor Bazilevsky, an astronomer, a doddery

little man whom the Germans were said to have persuaded or compelled to become the

assistant burgomaster of Smolensk; he declared that his chief, a quisling who had since fled with the Germans, had told him that the Polish officers were to be liquidated; a notebook said to belong to this ex-burgomaster was produced with this significant, if somewhat cryptic, entry: "Are people in Smolensk talking about the shooting of the Poles? "

Among other witnesses was a girl who had been a servant at the former NKVD villa

taken over by the Gestapo, where the German killers lived.

[Why was there such a villa near Katyn Forest? One might well have wondered.]

She related how lorries used to drive into the forest and how, soon afterwards, with her employers absent from the villa, she could hear shots being fired some distance away.

There was also a railwayman who explained how it was impossible to evacuate the Poles from the camps near Smolensk in July 1941 during the German advance. The railways

were in a state of grave disorganisation, with the Red Army in full retreat.

Another witness declared that on the roads leading to Katyn Forest he had met large

lorries covered with tarpaulins from which came a terrible stench of corpses—the

inference being that not all the killing had been done at Katyn, and that many bodies had been brought by the Germans from elsewhere—indeed old, 1940 corpses, which would

help to confirm their story about these Poles having been killed in 1940. One very scared peasant admitted that he had been bullied by the Germans into testifying as they wanted him to, during their inquiry into the Katyn murders. All this was very thin.

One strange peculiarity of the one and only session of the Committee of Inquiry which the foreign press was allowed to attend was that it was not permitted to put any questions to the witnesses. The whole precedure had a distinctly prefabricated appearance.

Altogether, the Russian starting-point in this whole inquiry was that the very suggestion that the Russians might have murdered the Poles had to be ruled out right away; the

whole idea was insulting and outrageous, and there was, therefore, no need to dwell on any facts which might have led to the Russians' "acquittal". It was essential to accuse the Germans; to acquit the Russians was wholly irrelevant.

The circumstances of the captivity and the exact number and whereabouts of the Polish officers and N.C.O.'s, in fact, continued to be treated as a "State secret" which concerned the Russian authorities only. No outsider was ever shown the three camps "near

Smolensk" at which the Poles were supposed to have been trapped by the Germans.

It must be said that the Russians did not do much to destroy the "London-Polish"

arguments for disbelieving the Russian version. For one thing, they did not even trouble to deal with the circumstantial evidence which, on the face of it, was favourable to them.

First, whatever the Germans said to the contrary, the technique of these mass murders was German, rather than Russian; in countless other places exactly the same technique had been used by the Gestapo in their mass murders. The record of the NKVD, on the



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