[This review appeared in the Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, Spring 1999, pp. 124-126; and also in The St. Croix Review, February 2000, pp. 63-64.]

Katyn: The Untold Story of Stalin's Polish Massacre

Allen Paul

Charles Scribner's Sons, 1991

            This book is of especial relevance to the academic community's recent studies of genocide. Although the mass graves in the Katyn Forest contained only 4142 bodies, references to Katyn have come to include the execution by the Soviet Union's NKVD of a total of 15,000 Polish officers and "bourgeois" in April and May of 1940. (The other bodies are buried in still-unlocated mass graves.) Between October 1939 and June 1941, the Soviet Union additionally deported some 1.5 million Poles to various locations within the Soviet Union. More than a million of these were never heard from again. This was out of a total Polish population of 36 million.

            In this scholarly account, Allen Paul ascribes the murders in particular to Stalin's desire "to eliminate Poland's educated class." The army was the single institution most vital to the unity of Poland's highly diverse population. "By eliminating all traces of its leadership, the Soviets expected to decapitate the country, rendering it helpless and compliant." Stalin's efforts along these lines ran parallel to Hitler's, since both countries wished to subjugate Poland completely - and between September 1939 and the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe had successive control over Polish territory.

            A follow-up study of the effects upon the Polish people is, accordingly, very much in order. What are the consequences, in a number of dimensions, of the "decapitation" of perhaps two generations of a people's leadership? A study of the Polish example would have much to tell us about the effects of World Wars I and II on Europe as a whole, since they involved the death of great numbers of several nations' best men.

            This book is valuable for a number of other reasons, as well, which include the following, though they are by no means exhaustive:

            The events of the Katyn massacres themselves. For many years, the Soviet Union placed the blame on Germany. Germany, indeed, was indicted for the crime at Nuremberg. Strong evidence pointed toward Soviet guilt, and all question about it was removed in 1990 when Mikhail Gorbachev, in a ceremony at the Kremlin, released voluminous documents to the president of Poland showing commission of the executions by the NKVD.

            The complicity of successive administrations within the United States and Great Britain in blaming the Nazis and hiding the fact of Soviet guilt. This points to a serious side-effect of the democratic nations' having allied themselves with one totalitarian power against another. (It has long been an established premise within Western opinion that the alliance with Stalin against Hitler was morally necessary, but it was a premise questioned by former United States president Herbert Hoover and a good many Americans before World War II.)

            The perspective it provides about the Nuremberg tribunal. The indictment of the Nazis for the crime, and the subsequent dishonesty of quietly omitting all mention of it in the final judgment despite strong evidence of Soviet guilt, demonstrates perhaps better than anything else can the travesty, in terms of the Rule of Law, of having the victors prosecute and judge war crimes cases. The lesson applies even when none of the victors is a totalitarian power, as was the case at Nuremberg; the show trial of John Demjanjuk in Israel for being Ivan the Terrible at Treblinka, a trial that resulted in a death sentence that was set aside only after Soviet archives opened to show that another man had been Ivan, tells us that even a democracy is capable of sham justice.

            The perspective it provides, also, about Communism as a totalitarian system as compared with Nazism. Even today, a double standard allows Marxism-Leninism a comparatively favorable image in the world's understanding of the twentieth century, despite its murderous record.

            Paul mixes a careful study of Katyn with an enlightening review of Polish history and the personal stories of certain Polish officers and their families. It is highly recommended.

                                                                                                                    Dwight D. Murphey