Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Katyn — 1943

When Poland was divided between Russia and Germany in 1939, over 180,000 Polish prisoners of war fell into Soviet hands: officers were segregated in special camps. In April 1943, the Germans discovered a mass grave in Katyn forest near Smolensk, later found to contain the remains of 4,400 Polish officers, and accused the Russians of mass murder, summoning an international team of experts to investigate the crime. Although the Russians long blamed the Germans for the atrocity, in 1990 they at last admitted responsibility.

The victims had their hands wired behind their backs (above) and had been shot in the back of the head. This evocative photograph sums up the fate of tens of thousands of victims of mass murder during the war.

The German-sponsored international experts (below, all but one from Axis or occupied countries) examining of the bodies of Katyn. When the London-based Polish government in exile suggested an impartial International Red Cross investigation, the Russians broke off diplomatic relations.

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