A historical “WTF” to wrap up a rough week:
The National Archives released 1,000 declassified documents on the 1940 Katyn Forest Massacre on Monday. In case you’re not up on your mid-century atrocities, Katyn was a mass slaughter of 22,000 Polish military officials and members of the intelligentsia committed by the Soviet secret police.
When the mass graves were discovered in 1943, the Soviets crossed their fingers behind their backs and pinned the blame on the Nazis. (Silver lining to proximity to an aggressive regime committing genocide and crimes against humanity on an unprecedented scale: No one really bats an eye when the odd extra atrocity gets entered on their side of the ledger.) When that went off without a hitch, the Soviets decided shame was for chumps, and attempted to get the Katyn Forest Massacre added to the list of charges at Nuremberg.
Although a number of investigations suggested that the Soviets were the true perpetrators, neither the U.S. nor the U.K. challenged their account, either at the time or in the half century that followed. U.S. government officials maintained that they “did not possess the facts that could clearly refute the Soviets’ allegations that these crimes were committed by the Third Reich” until the 1990 official Russian admission of guilt.
Turns out, they lied.
The newly released documents show clearly that the U.S. government not only had evidence as early as 1943 that the Nazis could not have committed the massacre, but made a deliberate decision to suppress it and continued to do so for fifty years after the wartime rationale of maintaining the Allied alliance disappeared. If that doesn’t earn a resounding “WTF,” I don’t know what does.
(Image from the National Archives.)