Saturday, April 4, 2009

Katyn: Death in the Forest

I’ve begun Death in the Forest, The Story of the Katyn Forest Massacre by J. K. Zawodny, 1962. This seems to be the “classic” of Katyn scholarship. Zawodny is succinct and meticulous. His scholarship holds up from what I have read about this book.

The search for 15,000 missing Polish Officers began sometime after June 21, 1941 when General Wladyslaw Anders was released from Soviet imprisonment. A deal was struck between the Polish Government and the USSR such that a Polish Army was to be created within Russia to aid in fighting the Germans. General Anders was to lead that army.

Anders began assembling his army sometime after June 21, 1941, as released Polish soldiers showed up to be part of that army. But very few Polish officers arrived – not enough for the army to be effective. He was able to learn a few things about the missing officers. As Polish men were released from prison and showed up, he questioned them about the missing officers. His search was well known and Anders received thousands of letters from the families of the missing officers. “The men from the three camps [where the 15,000 Polish officers had been held] stopped writing home in the middle of April 1940.” This is significant because the Germans didn’t overrun the Katyn part of Poland until July of 1941. And in 1943, the forensic teams examining the Katyn remains determined that April 1940 was the likely time of their death.

Three teams made independent examinations of the remains at Katyn, and though one of the teams was German, its findings didn’t disagree with those of the other two teams, one of which was an “international” team, and the third made up of members of the Polish Red Cross. The Poles by this time, 1943, seem to have hated the Germans worse than the Russians and suspected a German trick, but they couldn’t find one.

Page 20: “Microscopic analysis of the rope [used to tie up the Polish Officers] – made by a German scientist on the spot – showed it to be Soviet-made. The same kind of knots was found on the bodies of several men and women dressed in the remnants of garments of Soviet origin, who also were found in a separate common grave in Katyn Forest. Close examination of these cadavers established that the persons had been killed in the same manner between five and ten years earlier – many years before the Germans had come to this area.”

The bodies of several of the Polish Officers showed that they had been bayoneted, presumably because they wouldn’t hold still so that they could be shot in the head “The wounds and holes in the material were made by four cornered bayonets. It was observed that this type of bayonet was used by the Soviet Army at the time.”

The matter of the bullets is of interest. The bullets used to shoot the Polish officers were manufactured in Germany “by a factory belonging to Gustav Genschow in Durlach. German Ordnance speedily established that this type of ammunition [Geco caliber 7.56 and 6.35] was produced by the Genschow Company and was exported from Germany to Poland, the Baltic states, and the Soviet Union prior to 1939.”


I am familiar with the Mosin Nagent bolt action rifles used by the USSR in WWII. I got mine out to look at the bayonet. Mine was manufactured in 1951, but the description of the bayonet above matches what I see before me. It resembles a very long strong, reinforced four cornered ice-pick except that the point forms a very narrow flat screw-driver-shape less than ¼ inches wide. At its widest, it is about ½ inch. From base to point is slightly more than 12 inches. This is a very different sort of bayonet than the one on a K98, the German Rifle used in both world wars; which has a blade-shape.

The fact that the Polish Officers quit writing home all at the same time, about the time the forensic teams determined they had been in their graves, seems telling.

The Germans swept through Smolensk, (Katyn is just outside of that city), in July of 1941. If the Katyn massacre was some sort of elaborate trick, why wait until February 1943 to discover the grave? And why use ammo that is of German manufacture? The Germans had captured thousands of Soviet prisoners by this time and would have been swimming in unfired Russian ammo. Why not use that if this was a German hoax?

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