Newly declassified documents have been released by the U.S. National Archives showing the United States had knowledge of the slaughter of 22,000 Polish officers and prisoners in the Katyn forest on the western edge of Russia in 1940.
In May of 1943 German soldiers took a group of American and British POWs to a clearing surrounded by pine trees in the Katyn Forest. Once there, the POWs saw mass graves packed with thousands of partly mummified corpses in well-tailored Polish officers uniforms. The Germans told them that the Soviets had killed the Poles, hoping to use the POWs for propaganda, creating a wedge between the Soviet Union and its Western Allies. However the POWs found it hard to believe given the atrocities the Germans were perpetrating. Upon further analysis, they realized the bodies had been there much longer then the Germans had held the area, and seeing Polish letters, diaries, identification tags, news clippings and other objects dated no later than the spring of 1940, they realized that what the Germans were telling them was indeed true.
Polish Red Cross delegation
British, Canadian, and American officers (POWs) brought by the Germans to view the exhumations
Two of the American POWs that saw the graves were Capt. Donald B. Stewart and Lt. Col. John H. Van Vliet Jr. Stewart testified before the 1951 Congressional committee about what he saw, and Van Vliet wrote reports on Katyn in 1945 and 1950, the first of which mysteriously disappeared.
The approximately 1,000 pages of documents released on Monday shows evidence of secret coded messages sent by Stewart and Van Vilet describing the killings and the Soviet involvement according to an Associated Press report. This new revelation is significant because, until now, historians were unaware of the messages.
They also lend credence to the belief that the US government knew of the killings and actively helped the Soviet Union cover up the massacres. The Moscow Times says the documents helps to prove the long-held theory that because the Soviets were allies of the United States and the United States was counting on Soviet assistance to defeat both Germany and Japan during World War II, Roosevelt helped with the cover up so as not to anger Stalin.
The purpose of the massacres was to eliminate the Polish military and intellectual elite so they could not assist with any future resistance movement. Soviet secret police officers shot each of the 22,000 Poles in the back of the head.
Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur told the Washington Post the release of the documents was a “momentous occasion” in the effort to “make history whole.”