The USSR had consistently denied murdering captured Polish army officers after its occupation of eastern Poland ever since Radio Berlin announced, on 13 April 1943, that German troops, tipped off by local inhabitants, had discovered mass graves near Smolensk. That June, the German Field Police reported that 4,143 bodies had been found in the Katyn Forest, all fully dressed in Polish army uniforms. Some 2,815 corpses were later identified by personal documents in their pockets. Without exception, all the officers, ranking from general to noncommissioned officer, had been killed by shots in the back of the head. Medical examination later showed that a few bodies had jaws smashed by blows or bayonet wounds in their backs or stomachs, probably sustained when the individuals tried to resist execution.
The Germans predictably tried to exploit the Katyn murders for propaganda purposes, pointing out to their wartime enemies that any alliance with the "Bolshevik" perpetrators of this atrocity was too dangerous to continue. By then, General Wladyslaw Sikorski's London-based Polish government-in-exile and General Wladyslaw Anders, then commander of the Polish forces in the USSR and the Middle East, had been worrying for a considerable time over the fate of the missing Polish officers. Following the Soviet-Polish agreement in the summer of 1941, a small but steady trickle of Poles arrived at the reopened Polish Embassy in Kuibyshev. These individuals, from prison camps scattered over the western parts of the USSR, agreed that their fellow servicemen had been transferred to unknown destinations when the NKVD liquidated these camps in April 1940. The arrivals at Kuibyshev turned out to be the few survivors of the Katyn Forest Massacre. The massacre was apparently a Soviet effort to deprive the Poles of their natural leaders, who would undoubtedly protest a Soviet takeover.
After numerous fruitless discussions on the subject with Soviet authorities, including dictator Josef Stalin himself, the Polish government-in-exile came to believe the German announcement of April 1943 and demanded an independent investigation by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). This move caused the Kremlin to accuse the Polish government-in-exile of siding with the "fascist aggressors" and to break off diplomatic relations. The ICRC, pursuing its policy of neutrality, could take no action without Soviet consent. London, although embarrassed by this development, made it plain that it was unwilling to risk the breakup of the alliance with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany over such an investigation. The United States took a similar stance.
When the Red Army finally drove the German armies westward, Moscow determined it needed to present its own investigation results in 1944. A Soviet "special commission," pointing out that the bullets found on the crime scene were manufactured in Germany, concluded that the Germans had killed the Polish officers in 1941. British and American protests notwithstanding, the Soviet prosecution raised the Katyn affair at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, but since the Soviets were unable to prove the Germans guilty, the tribunal simply dropped the case. Throughout the Cold War, the issue of the Katyn Forest Massacre resurfaced time and again, partly due to the efforts of the Polish émigré community. However, it remained unresolved until the demise of the USSR. Pascal Trees
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