"The Soviet memory hole"
Are any of the Polish dead from the Soviet genocide known as the Katyn Forest Massacre still buried at Katyn?
I have asked this question of the relevant authorities. I have written and asked people whom I know for sure know the answer to the question. All omit or refuse to reply.
Those I have been able to discuss the issue with are not able to irrefutably confirm that the bodies are gone, but the consensus that I have now convinces me that the majority of the Polish bodies are no longer at Katyn, and that a "don't rock the boat" conspiracy of silence is in place, supposedly to protect the limited insecure access the current rulers of Russia permit Polish families to the three known sites of the Katyn Massacre and hopefully to allow memorials to be eventually built.
Katyn is but one of many issues caught up in the fact that the Russians think they lost a battle, and the Americans think they won a war. Both of them are still floundering around in their own paradigms, which they both fondly project into all their dealings with each other. The Americans fondly think the Russians are born again Orthodox reformists headed for a market driven capitalist economy, and the Russians still think of themselves as a mighty superpower that can deter any American enquiry as to their acts and omissions by threatening nuclear devastation on all and sundry. Money will still solve all problems for the Americans, and violence will still solve all problems for the Russians: what has changed?
I think the very system that was responsible for the genocide at Katyn is still holding the reins of power in Russia, so a very good case can be made for seeing Katyn as a litmus test for relationships with the Russians and for assessing the genuineness, or otherwise, of all the claims about change and reform in the former Soviet Union. The Russians have never understood that a carbuncle, infecting all in its path as it weeps for your lost illusions or your nations grandeur, is better lanced than suppurating all over your national pride from generation to generation, suppressing any chance of a fresh start. Apart from Katyn there are any number of suppurating sores in the history of the Soviet Union [like the Raoul Wallenberg affair], it is just that we are not able to make them reveal, let alone confront their past, hidden by the Yeltsins of the system who in turn have too many skeletons in their personal cupboards. They are scared that if they open one of these cupboards the whole Potemkin facade of "change in Russia" will collapse, so the Soviet communist practices of disinformation, lies, denial and avoidance measures still dominates the Russian psyche. The fundamental problem to confront when dealing with Russia in its many guises is that the leadership of the place and their minions have for generations been not immoral, but amoral by any objective measure of humanity. What is it that the Soviets/Russians are still covering up in relation to the Katyn Massacre that is so horrendous that they are unable to face it even after all this time? Is this simply the pathetic, insecure blustering of the Russians continuing, or do they really have some other things to admit from the past, or present, that they are afraid will stop the flow of Western money if they are disclosed?
Are we truly to be thought of as being so stupid that we will not expect any documents from the period between the Nazi discovery of Katyn and the Burdenko media circus to have survived? There must have been piles of paper expended setting up the Burdenko Commission and putting out the lies it created and endlessly endorsed. Where are these files? Emboldened by the West's acts and omissions in respect to Katyn, the Soviets tried to blame the Nazis at Nuremberg for Katyn. Where are the papers relating to that fiasco? Some 25,700 Poles are covered by the order signed by Stalin on 5 March 1940. Over 21,000 were apparently shot. Three "Katyn" sites have been admitted, where are the rest buried? There are many possible scenarios for events at Katyn after the Burdenko show, but only the Soviets know what really happened, and they are not telling. There have been various partially reported excavations in the Katyn Forest. For example, one in November 1991 [allegedly done by the Soviet Army in the course of their investigation of the Katyn Massacre], which supposedly found only a few bone fragments, two skulls, and pieces of Polish uniforms in the course of about twenty trial excavations. Later, in September 1994, supposedly "some" headless corpses were found on the site of the 1943 Polish Red Cross cemetery. This would be consistent with the way the Polish bodies were dismembered and body parts mixed up by Burdenko and his team of clowns.
Judging by the photos and the film of the events, the bodies as discovered by the Nazis and re-exhumed by Stalin's Burdenko circus would have burned very easily and very thoroughly. I think that most, if not all, of the bodies of the Poles buried at Katyn in 1940 have been destroyed, and that this happened immediately after the Burdenko circus. Also I do not think that there is the slightest truth to the dramatic rumours, about a "Polish woman who saw rail wagons loaded with Polish uniformed body parts mixed with soil being transported by the Soviets," being related to Katyn. Why cart the bodies around, to where and for what reason?
The Soviet communists were pretty damn stupid at times, but genocide, ethnic cleansing and the full spectrum of human slaughter methods were their pride and joy. The Soviets may have had some grand destruction plan for the Polish remains, but I think it far more likely that with experience born of many similar tasks they simply burnt the bodies, or [less likely in my opinion] ground them up and threw the remains in the Dnieper; either event occurring in the controlled safety and security of the Katyn Forest. Stalin had been caught out and embarrassed by his own behaviours in the case of Katyn. He was unlikely to risk any further exposure if he could avoid it. Far better to make sure the bodies were destroyed completely. There was always the risk, until after Nuremberg anyway, that the fledgling UN or the Allies might suddenly developed a spine and want to send in the Red Cross after all, or even a UN team. This was also the period when Stalin deluded himself that money to rebuild his shattered country would be forthcoming after the Great Patriotic War from America, so with that much money at stake consent to the previously unacceptable/unthinkable might be required. How simple to be able to avoid any question of confrontation over an issue like Katyn by saying with a straight face that, to paraphrase Merkulov's previous disclosure to the Poles prior to Katyn's discovery; "a mistake has been made with those. The person responsible has of course been punished, but unfortunately the Poles are no longer in Katyn. The Soviet Union's position is of course in accord with the findings of the Burdenko Commission." I think those in the West who know the Poles are gone from Katyn are caught in their own paradigm of fear and illusion about the Soviets and quite unable to face the reality that there has been and will be no change in the Russian position on Katyn. A very small window of opportunity, opened by domestic considerations [including the power struggle between Gorbachev and Yeltsin], allowed a very limited admission and a small amount of information to leak out about Katyn. But all parties and personalities in the Soviet Union come from the same mould, were trained and inculcated by the same system, and will respond in the same way to any question which can be made to appear to touch on Russian pride. Perhaps one day Gorbachev closed his well thumbed copy of "What is to be done?", turned to Raisa and said, "The Polish dead of Katyn is a subject that has been troubling me for some time, but let no one forget that the Soviet people suffered greatly as well, but more so. They are on my conscience as a good Soviet leader, but let no one forget that the Soviet people suffered greatly under the Soviet leaders as well, but more so. I have decided to release documents about this matter to the Polish government and admit the NKVD did the shootings, but let no one forget that the Soviet people suffered greatly under the NKVD as well, but more so. It was unfortunately another case of that Stalin's cult of the personality inflicting suffering on innocent people, but let no one forget that the Soviet people suffered greatly under the great leader and teacher as well, but more so."
I think it is more likely that with his political demise in the offing Gorbachev was simply stirring; it would be too little too late for the Poles and too much too soon for the Soviet nomenclature and apparatchiks, not to mention the KGB and its antecedents luxuriating in retirement. Hoisted with their own petard, the Russians now face the problem of how to deal with the aftermath of their admissions over Katyn, small as they were. One of the great services the Soviet system did for the nutters, fellow-travellers and anti-Semites of the world is that they closed off Eastern Europe, used the Nazi concentration camps as their own, and called many of the NKVD burial sites, "Nazi war graves".
All of this led to it being some fifty years before any valid on site investigations could be carried out. Little wonder that the more than mildly paranoid on the Internet and in the revisionist history camp have such weird theories about such matters as Katyn and Babi Yar. Russia is simply a country with a long history of childish behaviours when ever they are confronted with any request for a "please explain" in an increasingly adult world. When they were caught it was always someone elses fault, when they want something it is others duty to provide it, when they change their minds or up their demands it is the place of others to accept this behaviour unquestioningly, when offered a choice, either or, they expect both. Most of us grow out of this phase by our teens, others encouraged by the weakness and indecisiveness of parents persist in the childish behaviours until life forces them to grow up. This has yet to happen in Russia. Lying, cheating, stealing, murder, oppression and blackmail have all worked very well for the various rulers of Russia, why should they change now? Gromyko went to his grave denying the secret protocol to divide Poland between Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, the current Russian foreign ministry is claiming the entry of Soviet troops into Poland in 1939 was not an invasion, rather it was "dictated not so much by the wish to gain new territories but the need to protect our own country". So who is going to ask why it was that they so brutally and enthusiastically joined in with Hitler's Nazis in a programme of genocidal slaughter and repression, while they supplied him with everything he needed to wage war on the Western allies? After all, despite the noises President Clinton has made over Chechenya, apparently 5 million metric tons of food aid requested by the Russians from the US for 2000 will all be supplied: a million tons of milling wheat, 3 million tons of feed grains, and a million tons of soybeans. Now that should help free up Russian resources for their military campaigning and the subsequent occupation of Chechenya. I think the nearest analogy we in the West can best use in relation to the problems of dealing with Russia is to see the relationship as being akin to our dealing with lawyers. They are steeped in the beguiling ways of saying much but meaning nothing, they never seem to be able to clearly and directly answer the questions you ask, it is crucial to them for many meanings to be able to be logically drawn from what is said, but be sure the meaning you draw will not be the one they later claim to have clearly represented to you at the time, and one can never pin them down to any responsibility for their acts and omissions. The analogy is also true after the relationship is ended, in that their account is often stamped "paid by deduction" from funds entrusted to their tender mercies. The Soviet/Russian parliament has never acknowledged the Katyn Massacre as being anything but the event as described in the Burdenko Commission report, let alone a Soviet/Russian responsibility. Indeed there has been quite a concerted move to deny the whole business altogether. The Soviet Army started an investigation with great promise and it fizzled out as most things Soviet seem to, gone without even a whimper, let alone a bang. Like children the world over, the Russians are not sorry they shot the Poles, they are sorry they got caught out having done it.
Chasing after the boxes of Polish personal items recovered from the bodies during the Nazi exhumations at Katyn, the ruthless pursuit across Europe by the NKVD would leave little doubt in any reasonable mind that the matter was of significant importance to the Soviet system of the day. That they should also destroy the Polish bodies in Katyn at the first opportunity is very likely in my opinion as part of the need to cover up the whole affair as best they could. To some extent it is like fastening the stable door after the horse has bolted, but with all physical evidence destroyed, including the bodies, it would be so much harder for any non-Soviet enterprise to prove anything relating to Katyn at all. After all, it was the 1990s before the copies, hidden by the Polish underground, of documents recovered from the bodies finally surfaced, stored in oilcloth in an attic behind a chimney. Stalin's fascination with Katyn [as portrayed by his daughter in her book], the Poles being drowned "up North" according to the rumours post-1940, the wild tales of NKVD men so "distraught at being involved in such an atrocity that they threw themselves into the graves and were in turn destroyed by their comrades", the book by the "survivor" of Katyn: one thing Katyn has not lacked is attendant publicity seekers and genuine nutters. It has lacked any application by the Western governments to hold anyone accountable for the affair as part of the price for accepting the Russians back into the human race. As was said many years ago, shortly after Katyn was announced by the Nazis, it would be fair to say that the good name of England is still being "used like the conifers planted by the NKVD" to cover up the crime. One of the more bizarre statements that has been made to me about Katyn, based I understand on Soviet propaganda including articles in a Soviet military history magazine in early 1995 which took this line, is that what happened to the Poles at Katyn was quite justified because the "Poles did it to our POWs in the 1920's." What better example of the infantile, neurotic approach to this matter by the Russians could one ask for? This response is also in complete conformity with the Russian practice of not answering any question requiring any element of an admission of mea culpa, but using a question by way of reply in the hope it will deflect any further enquiry into the embarrassing point raised. The denial syndrome is not a characteristic of the Russians alone. The Japanese government and people have vigorously refused to face a very similar problem, for the same period as the Katyn Massacre. They cannot face the reality of the senseless destruction and barbaric slaughter their xenophobic culture brought to the rest of Asia in the 1930s and 40s. This is a cultural trait that needs to be accepted and understood by other nations when dealing with this type of nation, otherwise you will be dead in the water. The Russians have long had a very deeply ingrained inferiority complex, especially when dealing with the West, they also have a pathologically xenophobic attitude to any consideration of their acts and omissions as a nation, especially any comparison with the West. One way for the Russians have dealt with this is by seeing themselves as God's chosen people. As Petr Chaadaev postulated in the "Philosophical Letters" of the 1830s, God and history have a special mission in store for the Russian people because Russia was a nation of slaves whose achievements on the plane of world civilisation amounted to nil. Perhaps this was an adequate sop then for placating the pliant, superstitious, ignorant masses, but I think it had worn a bit thin for the ordinary Russian as the excuse for the shortages and inadequacies they faced under Soviet power, and it is a less than realistic approach in these days of TV, computers and the Internet.
As with any slave/serf culture emerging into new paradigms is hard. A crisis of identity is only to be expected. A good analogy is with battered families where one is dealing with a violent home with violence worshipped and practised by those who rule. It is the historic reality that this tragic pattern continues until those perpetrating the violence can be brought to understand that their behaviour is merely aping the failures of their previous generations. Until this fact is understood and accepted there is no hope of facing and solving the problem, all that will happen is that the cycle will repeat itself, viz the Russians in Chechenya. Bullies lash out violently, bewildered and confused when their pattern of aggressive behaviours fails them, because they have no other paradigm to work from, and it is the basic nature of the Russian culture to viciously bully anyone they have the power to impose their rule over.
Ask the inhabitants of the former Soviet ruled states in the Baltics and elsewhere, brutality and terror were the order of the day, the norm for Soviet power; and 1956, 1968 etc ad nauseam are not that long ago. The result of generations of conditioning, this is not a matter for blame, that will not reduce Russian paranoia and progress the nation and its people. Just do not expect a people that has been brutalised itself for generations to suddenly assume more than the veneer of civilisation long enough to take the money and run, until held accountable and encouraged by understanding and firmness to try another way. The hard part for the West to understand, let alone accept, is that whatever new way the Russians develop will be specifically suited to Russian culture and heritage. It will in my opinion not be capitalism or democracy as we know it, unless it is in one of the distorted forms we blandly accept and praise, in places such a Singapore, Malaysia and in South American and other countries, in the name of continued material profits from such recognition.
How could the Russians make amends? There are a few simple things they could do to start with. There is the matter of the Soviet memorial at Katyn to the nonexistent dead POWs created in the Burdenko Commission report as part of the Soviet cover-up of the NKVD massacre. Knock it down and throw it in the Dnieper, with an explanation about the Burdenko Commission lies that created it included with coverage of the event shown on prime time State TV. Then there is the whole matter of the Burdenko Commission itself, which led to the Soviet Katyn memorial to the non-existent POWs in the first place. The Russians could grow up, own up, publish, apologise and so start to put it behind them. An open admission of the Soviet ethnic cleansing and genocidal slaughter of Poles in the areas of Poland they invaded in 1939 in support of the Nazis, and again when retreating from the Nazis in 1941, and an acknowledgement of Soviet duplicity [again with genocidal intentions], at the time of the Warsaw uprising would also go a long way to heal wounds directly attributable to Soviet power. Will the Russians ever grow up and climb out of the hole the Soviets left them in at Katyn? I doubt it. Unfortunately it is much easier for them to beg the West for more food aid and money, wallow in self pity and periodically bash the Chechens to try to feel self important again.