Monday, June 1, 2009

Guilt and those who survived the Katyn massacre

On pages 144 - 145 of Death in the Forest, The Story of the Katyn Forest Massacre, (1962) J. K. Zawodny writes,

“Two American psychiatrists operating as a team studied communist interrogation and indoctrination of ‘enemies of the state’ and arrived at the conclusion that

persons who carry with them strong feelings of guilt associated with a highly organized system of moral values likewise become ready targets for the persuasion of the interrogator. Very few people are entirely free of guilt feelings, but often such feelings are found in the highest degree in those in whom they are least appropriate. For example, many strongly religious people have a profound sense of sin. They constantly see themselves as transgressing their own moral code, and are in need of forgiveness for doing so. Skilled interrogators make use of this. They point out that many of the ostensible ideals of communism are the same as the ideals to which the prisoner himself subscribes’”


This section was from a larger one in which Zawodny discusses the brainwashing techniques used on Polish officers prior to the Katyn Massacres. Why would the NKVD bother interrogating these officers if it was going to execute them? Not all the officers were executed. On page 143 Zawodny writes, “On March 4, 1940, General V. M. Zarubin left Kozelsk Camp. On April 3 the first group of Polish officers was assembled for departure into the unknown. From 15,570 only 448 were selected to live.”

Unless one is a diehard Stalin-didn’t-do-anything-wrong believer, the evidence is overwhelming that Stalin got rid of his enemies, whom he called enemies of the State. Those who were outspoken against him and even those who were suspected of having non-supportive thoughts were shipped off to the Siberian Gulags. So when Russia took its half of Poland, it of course applied the same Stalinistic techniques to deal with dissenters; which in the case of Poland meant almost all of it. But the NKVD had a lot of experience brainwashing Russians and so had tools available for separating the wheat from the Polish-officer chaff. We think now only of the large number of officers killed at Katyn and elsewhere, but this was only because this large number was intransigent. 448 were saved from the Kozelsk Camp. The NKVD thought that those 448 could be useful in the Communist efforts to build a Communist, pro-USSR Polish state. The remaining 15,122 Polish Officers were found to be unsuitable.

Let us consider those 448 who were saved. Some of them were apparently Polish Catholics who were filled with guilt. And from what the American psychiatrists discovered, the NKVD brainwashing experts were able to use this Catholic guilt to good purpose. They were apparently able to alleviate their guilt by getting them to accept the idea that Communism was a better means of achieving the goals of the Catholic church – at least as far as the guilty Polish Officers were concerned.

After the Hitler-Stalin split, and after Stalin decided that a Polish division or two might be useful in the saving of Soviet Russia, General Anders was asked to build a Polish Army. He was agreeable, but when Polish soldiers began showing up, few were officers. Where are the officers he asked Stalin (apparently face to face)? They escaped, Stalin said. “Where could they escape to,” Anders asked. “To Manchuria,” Stalin replied.

We know that wasn’t true. The bulk of those from Kozelsk ended up in the Katyn-Forest graves. But what of the 448 who were saved from those graves? Did they join General Anders’ Polish army? And if they did, did their new-found belief in Soviet Communism suffer any reverses? If many of these officers were subject to strong feelings of guilt, what were their feelings when they discovered they had been duped by the NKVD?

Surely they would find it difficult to accept the official Communist-party line that the Gestapo perpetrated the massacre; when it was the Nazis who exposed the massacre and invited foreign experts to come in and check whatever they liked.. The 448 had been interrogated at great length at Kozelsk by the NKVD and then they had been shipped off to safety. What did they think when they showed up for duty with General Anders and he asked them what happened to the other officers? And what guilt would these 448 have felt when they realized that the only reason they weren’t in the Katyn mass graves was that the NKVD found them more susceptible to their propaganda and brain-washing?

I suppose one can step back and try to see things from Stalin’s and the NKVD’s point of view. If what they believed was true then the whole world would one day be Communist; so a few sacrifices would be acceptable if the whole is saved. However, one can’t think too long about that. The whole was saved. The Red Army and the USSR was victorious. They got to do whatever they liked in the “Soviet Bloc.” It isn’t likely that any of the 448 would have been used in Poland once Poland fell under Soviet control after the war, at least not if they fought with General Anders, because those Poles didn’t return to Poland (if I recall correctly). But suppose some of the 448 didn’t fight with Anders. Suppose they stayed in Moscow and were eventually sent to Poland to facilitate the Communist takeover there. Surely Catholic matters such as “guilt” would have been erased from the personalities of any such individuals. It would be an alien thing to abandon one’s religion, accept Communism as a religious replacement, and also understand (as understand they must) that it really wasn’t and that the NKVD had been lying, but somehow still accept Communism as a great good.

I think that surely none of the 448 could have survived World War II without feeling enormous guilt – much more guilt than the guilt that caused them to be susceptible to NKVD brainwashing. It doesn’t seem possible that anyone could live with such guilt . . . of course if such a person returned to the Catholic church and confessed his sins, he might manage. He was after all a dupe. He was a blind man being led into the ditch by blind NKVD agents, and while he must accept responsibility for going into the ditch, he doesn’t need to stay there. He can crawl out, rejoin the Church and ask forgiveness.

And what of the NKVD brainwashers? Surely they must all realize now that the great Communist experiment was a colossal failure. Is it possible that feelings of guilt could occur in such people? And if they did feel guilt, could they turn to the Russian Orthodox Church and receive absolution?

I don’t off-hand know where to go to find the answers to all these questions, but maybe it is enough to roll these matters and their implications around in ones thoughts. Of course it would be possible to avoid guilt by rationalizing ones actions, blaming others, claiming nothing really happened, but at the present time I have no sympathy for people who would take that self-blinding course. Covering up one’s guilt doesn’t get rid of it. One can never find release from guilt unless one confesses it – and sometimes not even then.

No comments: