Socialist Worker

Katyn: a painful reminder of the depths of Stalinist terror

by Daniela Manske
Issue No. 2158

A scene from Katyn

A scene from Katyn

Like others who grew up in Eastern Europe, I was taught that the Second World War was fought against fascism, and that it ended in our liberation by Soviet troops.

Anyone with a similar background will find this film deeply disturbing.

It opens with Polish refugees fleeing the dual invasion of Poland by German and Soviet armies in 1939. While the country was divided between these temporary allies, Stalin imprisoned 22,000 Polish officers – most were then secretly executed in Katyn forest in Russia in 1940.

After Germany invaded Russia in 1941 the discovery of the mass graves was used widely in Nazi propaganda.

Katyn derives much of its power from being told from the perspective of wives, sisters and daughters of the victims. It shows their hopes that their loved ones might return, and their pain when these hopes are shattered.

A brave few are like Agnieska, who challenges the official lie about her brother’s death, but most are like her sister who resigns herself to silence in order to survive.

In post-war Poland the truth about Katyn was suppressed – both Soviet and Polish authorities claimed the massacre was committed by German troops.

The truth is that Stalin perceived the Polish intelligentsia as a future political and military threat to Soviet rule, which he decided to extinguish.

This is not the history that was taught in our schools.

Most of us only learned about the terror Stalinism unleashed after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the early 1990s.

Director Andrzej Wajda lost his father to Stalin’s executioners in Katyn. His mother believed, almost until the end of her life, that one day her husband would come back.

To her, and all those who fought for the truth, Wajda has done an invaluable service.

Director: Andrzej Wajda

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Article information

Tue 30 Jun 2009, 18:25 BST
Issue No. 2158
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