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The Katyn Massacre 1940 (Hardback)

History of a Crime

WWII True Crime Military Poland in WWII

By Thomas Urban
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 296
Illustrations: 70 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526775351
Published: 17th November 2020


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In the spring of 1940, Stalin‘s NKVD executed 22,000 Polish officers, ensigns and state officials near the Russian village of Katyn and other places. When Wehrmacht soldiers discovered some of the graves three years later, the Soviets succeeded in convincing US President Roosevelt of the German perpetration.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had no clear picture of the crime, and therefore made no public comments. Using thousands of recently released US documents, this book refutes the popular thesis that the Western Allies deliberately lied about the Katyn case in order not to endanger the alliance with Stalin.

As well as consulting Polish and Russian documentation on this war crime, for the first time, the diaries of the Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, who wrote a great deal about Katyn, have been examined.

Completely new for research is the role that Hitler's opponents in the Wehrmacht played in solving the crime: at the Nuremberg trial they convinced the US delegation that the executors were not from the SS, but from the NKVD.

Nevertheless, it took until 1990 for Kremlin chief Gorbachev to admit Soviet responsibility. Today in Putin's Russia, however, there is a tendency once more to keep quiet about the crime or even to blame the Germans.

This reviewer is old enough to remember the protracted post-war controversary and the sense of satisfaction that many felt when responsibility for the crime was eventually acknowledged by the perpetrators. This book leaves no stone unturned in getting to grips with the whole story up to and including the watershed moment when the truth was properly acknowledged. The author brings a journalist's eye to the topic and every line of investigation is stitched into a compelling narrative which makes this book a riveting read. One is left with tremendous sympathy for the families of the victims - those who were murdered in 1940 and the witnesses who were hounded, tortured and sometimes killed during the years that followed. It is an extremely comprehensive piece of research that must rank as the definitive account of an appalling crime that continues to arouse passions, even today - not just in the act itself but also in the cynical manipulation of the facts afterwards. Recommended.

Read the full review here

Phil Curme

About Thomas Urban

Thomas Urban was a correspondent for the major German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung in Warsaw and Moscow from 1988 to 2012 and was an eyewitness to the great upheavals in Eastern Europe. He is the author of books on the history of this part of Europe, including the Berlin years of Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov, on German and Polish footballers as objects of Nazi and Communist propaganda, and is the co-author of a biography on Pope John Paul II.

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