Voices from Russia

Monday, 17 September 2012

Katyń: Many Had Guilt, Not Just Stalin

HH at the memorial cross in honour of the victims of the Katyń killings… there’s nothing left to say but, “Вечная память”.


The publication on the internet of American National Archives documents on the Katyń killings, with archival material from the State Department, CIA, and FBI carefully collated and packaged, led to a debate about long-forgotten events in Poland. If the American and the British leadership knew the truth about the summary execution of Polish officers by Stalin’s secret police in 1940, why didn’t they reveal the truth as soon as they could? Why did they wait until the zenith of the Cold War in the early 1950s to make formal accusations? It was only in 1953 that the Madden Committee (headed by Congressman Ray Madden (D-IN)), which was investigating the matter, came out with an official statement blaming the Soviet side on the basis of materials available in the USA.

Allen Paul, an American historian who researched the Katyń affair, acknowledged that Roosevelt knew about the execution from several former American POWs, whom the Germans brought to Katyń for propaganda purposes in 1943. Paul understood why Roosevelt didn’t question Stalin’s version of events until 1945, but he declined to excuse Roosevelt’s successors for the continued cover-up. In an interview with Channel One of Polskie Radio, Paul said, “In 1943, Russia was still bearing the brunt of war; the [allied landing in] Normandy was still one year ahead. We didn’t have that many good cards with the Russians at the time, but in 1945, it was a different matter; I don’t think this could be justified”. However, the news disconcerted ordinary Poles, as their tragic twentieth century past, as well as years of post-1989 propaganda, led them to view Americans as their natural allies. Krystyna Piorkowska, a Polish history researcher, in an interview with Polskie Radio said, “I still can’t believe it that the governments of the USA and England knew the truth about Katyń as early as 1943, that they were told it by their own people, and nothing came of it”.

For years after the collapse of communism in Poland in 1989, Katyń-related accusations, suspicions, and revelations were directed (and rightly) against Stalin’s henchmen. Some of them were also directed (this time not always deservedly) at the handling of the topic by the post-Soviet Russian state. Poland almost forgot the problem of the Western cover-up. Meanwhile, documents and research by American historians show that FDR knew the truth about the executions as early as 1943. Certainly, his guilt in the cover-up was greater than the guilt often unfairly imputed to the Russian people, the vast majority of whom had no chance to learn the truth or to make it public. In the USSR, it was impossible even to question the matter publicly until an official announcement by TASS in April 1990 revealed that the Soviet leadership acknowledged that the summary execution at Katyń was the work of Stalin’s police and not of the Nazis, as they stated previously. It’s a historical fact, confirmed by research, that only the Politburo members knew the full extent of the Katyń crime. One could probably add high-placed officials of the NKVD (Lavrenty Beria’s feared People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, which included the secret police).

Another problem, so far touched upon by researchers only with great caution, consists in Stalin’s motives for the execution of 22,000 Polish officers in spring 1940. Why did the executions end abruptly in May? Why were the remaining Polish officers, no less anti-Soviet than the Katyń victims, not only spared their lives, but also allowed to leave in a few months? Why did Stalin take an overnight decision to start executions in early March 1940? Natalya Lebedeva, a researcher at Moscow’s Institute of World History, who “opened” the subject of Katyń in the Soviet media in 1990, said, “Truth is, Stalin as a politician was formed by his experience during the Russian Civil War of 1918-21, when Russia was invaded and ravaged by a combined Franco-British intervention and a revolt of Czech POWs (the so-called White Czechs) inside Russia. When the special services reported in spring 1940 that the British planned to intervene in the Soviet-Finnish War and that the French had plans to launch air-raids against Soviet oil infrastructure in the southern Caucasus from Syrian bases, obviously, Stalin had some flashbacks from his Civil War past. He stopped the war in Finland so as not to provoke the British and he decided to nip in the bud a remake of the White Czech story by destroying the Polish officers”.

In summer 1940, Hitler, unexpected by many, crushed French resistance in several weeks, making it clear to Stalin that the German Nazis, not a coalition of Britain and France, would face the USSR in a future war. In this situation, the remaining Polish POWs became useful allies for Stalin, since they wanted to fight the Germans, liberate Poland, and help the British. Therefore, Stalin let them join the British army in Iran. Lebedeva, a respected historian, who wrote several books on Katyń published in both Russia and Poland, said that some of her Polish colleagues shared her conjectures about Stalin’s motives. In the Western media, this story has a lot less circulation than the usual parallels between Hitler and Stalin. Why? It tells the uncomfortable truth. The uncomfortable truth is that not only the USSR and Germany, but also many other countries, behaved dreadfully during the 1930s and early 1940s, making a horrendous war possible.

12 September 2012

Dmitri Babich

Voice of Russia World Service



Monday, 16 July 2012

Patriarch Kirill Visited Katyń


On Sunday, Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev, the First Hierarch of the MP, consecrated a church at the Katyń Forest memorial complex, calling the Russian and Polish peoples to unity. He called the site, some 20 kilometres (@12 miles) from Smolensk, a place of common grief and shared sacrifices. The modest church, a snow-white building with an impressive cupola, can accommodate about 500 people. However, the 15 July consecration saw it completely filled with believers. Many people had to stand under the open sky for hours outside the church, despite a damp and dank steady drizzle.

In the 1930s and 40s, many Poles and Russians died in mass executions at Katyń, making it a place of remembrance for the Smolensk region. When he was still Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Patriarch Kirill raised the question of how we should memorialise the massive tragedy here, saying, “However, for many years, no one knew precisely what to erect here as a monument. When I put forth the idea to commemorate the thousands of innocents who died here, many proposals came forward. Preliminary sketches were prepared, and the Smolensk clergy made their choices amongst them. However, I didn’t approve any of them, as it seemed to me that none of these projects reflected the depth of this place’s tragedy. Finally, I decided that we should erect a simple Orthodox cross in memory of the Orthodox lying here. Then, we could think of building a memorial church to honour all of the victims of Katyń. It wasn’t easy to implement, as the authorities gave all sorts of excuses. Even after we laid the cornerstone for the memorial church, some people protested against building an Orthodox church at this place. We decided to build the church at another site nearby… and this decision turned out to be providential”.

The formal ceremony of laying the cornerstone of the future memorial church took place on 7 April 2010. Then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk attended. The head of the design atelier that drew up the plans for the memorial complex was architect Dmitri Pshenichnikov. Besides a church, the complex includes a belfry, a well with holy water, a conference hall, a dormitory for pilgrims, a refectory, and utility outbuildings.

Patriarch Kirill said, “It’s symbolic that the memorial church here is dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ. This church is a sign of our belief in God’s victory over Satan, in the victory of Good over Evil. It’s a metaphor. After all, the Resurrection is the victory of Truth over Falsehood. Because we neither conceal nor distort the truth about what happened at Katyń… this Russian Golgotha… where both Russians and Poles lie in its graves, the truth is triumphant. Today, in this magnificent church, we celebrate the risen Passionbearer, in the hope of the universal resurrection. Katyń is a place of common mourning for both Russians and Poles, a place of common suffering, a place of deep emotions. Nothing unites people as much as common suffering. It’s now time for us to realise that Katyń is a terrible symbol of our common tragedy. However, after we realise that, we should act as brothers and sisters with a shared sorrow. I believe that this could be an opening for a new era in Russo-Polish relations”.

After consecrating the church and serving its first Divine Liturgy, Patriarch Kirill, together with a Polish delegation of politicians, military officers, and Orthodox hierarchs went out to the memorial complex. After a brief Litiya for the dead at the Alley of Memory, the demarcation between the Russian and the Polish parts of the memorial, His Holiness laid a wreath at the Orthodox cross in the Russian part of the cemetery, and another at the altar in its Polish part. When His Holiness approached the Polish graves, the famous Katyń bell rang three times. This bell is placed lower than ground level, which not only recalls those who lie here, but it also serves a warning to future generations.


Russian and Polish Army soldiers stood together at Katyń at the formal opening of the memorial church on the site of mass executions during the time of repressions. Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russias led the consecration service of the Memorial Church of the Resurrection of Christ. A military honour guard and members of Scouting organisations lined up outside the church. The church is at the entrance to the memorial complex, with the graves of about 10,000 Soviet citizens and more than 4,000 Polish officers, shot by the NKVD in Katyń Forest in the 1930s and 40s. Construction of the church began in 2010, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in attendance.

The icons of the Katyń Martyrs adorn the iconostas of the church, including Archbishop Serafim Ostroumov of Smolensk, shot here with other clergy in 1937. Fr Aleksei Andreyuk, a Polish military chaplain, said, “Every bit of earth in the Katyń Forest contains the blood of Russian and Polish martyrs. We’ve prayed together here since 1996. Since 2010, when a plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczyński  to Smolensk crashed near here, we have an annual pilgrimage to this spot”. He pointed up that Archbishop Miron Chodakowski, the Polish Armed Forces Orthodox Field Bishop, was amongst the dead in that crash. Polish Army Colonel Jerzy Wiljuk and Polish Army Orthodox Field Bishop Jerzy Pańkowski of Siemiatycki led the Polish delegation. Amongst the attendees were two grandchildren of Polish Army Chaplain Szymon Fedorońko, who was shot at Katyń.

According to Patriarch Kirill, Katyń is only one of the Golgothas… Solovki and the Butovo Poligon in Moscow are others. He noted that, whilst he was still Metropolitan of Smolensk, he paid close attention to studies on the Katyń tragedy, and found out that more than 8,000 cases ended in shootings at Katyń. The Patriarch pointed up that, according to archival evidence, more than 16,000 Russians died there, amongst them, one of the last of the pre-war victims, was an outstanding hierarch, Archbishop Serafim Ostroumov of Smolensk and Dorogobuzh, saying, “He was a man with an amazing life, who, perhaps, would have been numbered amongst the saints even without a martyr’s death. Besides that, more than 4,000 Polish officers were shot here, including a remarkable man, the Orthodox archpriest Szymon Fedorońko, who was a Polish military chaplain”.

The snow-white church fits naturally into the memorial complex and the pine forest surrounding it. Orthodox St Tikhon Humanities University (PSTGU) in Moscow made the iconostas, following their electronic database of the Assembly of Russian New Martyrs and Confessors of the Twentieth Century. The memorial complex has both Russian and Polish sections. In the Polish portion, memorial crosses and a memorial stele are on the site of the mass graves. Annually, in April, Polish delegations come here. On the Russian side, there’s a 10-metre-high Orthodox cross in front of the graves of victims of political repression (the perimeter of each of the nine fences surrounding the graves is shaped irregularly, emphasising that the exact number of dead is unknown). An Alley of Memory lies between the Russian and Polish memorials.

15 July 2012

Voice of Russia World Service


Sunday, 15 July 2012

Patriarch Kirill Began a Two-Day Trip to Smolensk


Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russias, the First Hierarch of the MP, arrived in Smolensk for a two-day pastoral visit, which is of significance for both Orthodox and Catholic believers . This isn’t his first visit to Smolensk, for His Holiness was the ruling bishop of the Diocese of Smolensk before he became Patriarch, and he still frequently visits this ancient Old Russian town. During his stay in Smolensk, Patriarch Kirill will serve Divine Liturgy in local churches and consecrate the Orthodox Church of the Resurrection of Christ at the memorial complex at the infamous Katyń Forest site.

Deacon Aleksandr Volkov, the head of the patriarchal press service, said in a VOR interview, “The consecration of this memorial church has a prominent place in the reconciliation between the fraternal Russian and Polish peoples. Not once, but many times, Patriarch Kirill emphasised the importance of building such a church at the memorial complex commemorating what he called ‘the Golgotha of Smolensk’. Construction started in 2010, and the church is now complete, ready for consecration. The Church will host joint prayers at this spot, for both the Russians and Poles buried in the Katyń Forest, so that it’ll serve as an earnest of the reconciliation of our two peoples, despite all of the historical and contemporary political differences between us. This reconciliation will only occur if we come to an awareness of the pain and bloodshed that happened here”.

The Katyń memorial complex is located in the Katyń Forest, some 20 kilometres from the Smolensk city-centre, on the site of tragic events in the 1930s and 40s that engulfed  both Soviet and Polish citizens. Today, the Katyń Forest has become a symbol of martyrdom, a mute witness to tragedy, and a sign of the monstrous power of totalitarianism. Today, the memorial complex holds about 150 mass graves, holding about 14,000 Soviet and Soviet victims of the repression. However, no one really knows the exact number of victims. For a long time, the “Katyń Affair” was a sticking point in diplomatic relations between Russia and Poland. In 2010, the RF Gosduma adopted an official statement, “About the Katyń Tragedy and its Victims”, which recognised this mass execution of Polish citizens in the time of the Stalinist repression.

Poles are watching Patriarch Kirill’s current trip to Smolensk with great interest, as it’s coming ahead of an historical event for both countries. For the first time in Polish history, a First Hierarch of the MP will visit this mostly-Catholic country, where His Holiness will sign a joint communiqué urging Russian Orthodox and Polish Catholic believers to reconcile. It’s taken three years to come up with a mutually-acceptable text, but its exact content remains unknown. We only know that the statement aims to bring together two different peoples, with different religious faiths, on the basis of the Gospel and common Christian values.

Bishop Jerzy Pańkowski of Siemiatycki, an official representative of the Polish Orthodox Church and Orthodox Field Bishop of the Polish Armed Forces, told our VOR correspondent, “For me, as a religious man and a Christian, it’s impossible to imagine that the gloomy shadows of the past can forever separate our two peoples. Of course, there were difficult times in both Russia and Poland, and in the relations between our countries and peoples, we know that. However, I don’t think that we should allow the past to ruin the prospects of mutually-rewarding ties between Russians and Poles, for they can change our lives for the better. In that sense, I believe that Patriarch Kirill’s upcoming visit to Poland is extremely important. Even though it’s not yet happened, it’s generated a great deal of buzz in Poland. Personally, I’d like to think that this official visit of the First Hierarch of the MP to Poland would have a most beneficial impact on Russo-Polish relations”.

Patriarch Kirill will visit Poland from 16 to 19 August.

14 July 2012

Milena Faustova

Voice of Russia World Service


Editor’s Note:

There are major problems with the translation posted on the English-language side of VOR. For instance, it incorrectly identifies Bishop Jerzy as a Catholic cleric. In another, it talks about “Stalin’s secret police”, when such a term isn’t used or implied in the Russian text. I’ve taken the above directly from the Russian-language text, and I follow it faithfully. Shame on VOR… they’re usually much better than that.

Also note that there will be “joint prayers”, but not a shared service. If it were the latter, one would speak of a Molieben in Russian, and that usage wasn’t employed. It spoke of “prayers”, with no mention of a “service” of any sort. After the considerable upset that the Blunder caused with his ecumaniacal (not a typo) doings at the Dublin Eucharistic Congress, the fact that HH is allowing this is a major concession.


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