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Vassili Zarubin

Vassili Zarubin


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Vassili Zarubin (also used the name Vasili Zubilin), the son of a railway worker, was born in Moscow in 1894. During the First World War he served in the Russian Army on the Eastern Front. A supporter of the Russian Revolution he fought in the Red Army in the Russian Civil War. (1)

In 1920 he joined the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage (Cheka). He served in the its internal security section. In 1923 he was appointed as the chief of economic division in Vladivostok. In 1925 he transferred to foreign intelligence. He served in several different countries including China (1925) and Finland (1926). (2)

In 1928 he was posted to Denmark. Later that year he was joined by fellow spy, Lisa Rozensweig. They married soon afterwards. "In Denmark, the Zarubins gave themselves out to be Czech citizens and organized a small textile export company as their cover. In 1929 Moscow Center decided to relocate them to France. After some time, they managed to settle in a suburb of Paris posing as a Czech couple, and Vassili became a partner in an advertising firm. The agent group Zarubin organized in France managed to obtain documentation not only from French but also from German sources, some of which included secret communications of the German Embassy in Paris." (3)

After Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933, Zarubin and his wife were sent to Nazi Germany. One of their tasks was to work with Gaik Ovakimyan in Berlin. In 1939 he returned to the Soviet Union where he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. It has been claimed that in 1939 Zarubin took part in the Katyn Forest Massacre when the Soviet Union conquered eastern Poland under the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. (4) However, Christopher Andrew, the author of The Mitrokhin Archive (1999), has argued that "in reality, though Zarubin did interrogate some of the Polish officers, he does not appear to have been directly involved in their execution." (5)

In February 1941 he was appointed assistant head of foreign intelligence. He was sent to China with the task of resuming contact with Walter Stennes, who was a German military advisor to Chiang Kai-shek (the leader of Kuomintang) and the head of his security guard. Stennis, a former leader of the Sturmabteilung (SA) told Zarubin that he was in possession of information on Hitler’s preparations for the attack against the USSR and indicated that it was to be launched in May-June, 1941. (6) After Operation Barbarossa Zarubin helped to establish anti-fascist resistance groups to fight the German Army.

In the autumn of 1941 Vassily Zarubin and his wife, Elizabeth Zarubina, were sent to work in the United States. Christopher Andrew argues: "Vassily Zarubin (alias Zubilin, codenamed MAKSIM) was appointed legal resident in New York. Already deeply suspicious of British commitment to the defeat of Nazi Germany, Stalin also had doubts about American resolve. He summoned Zarubin before his departure and told him that his main assignment in the United States was to watch out for attempts by Roosevelt and 'US ruling circles' to negotiate with Hitler and sign a separate peace. As resident in New York, based in the Soviet consulate, Zarubin was also responsible for sub-residencies in Washington, San Francisco and Latin America." (7)

The FBI agent, Robert J. Lamphere, has revealed that the FBI had the couple under observation soon after they arrived in the country: "Vassili Zubilin - alias Zarubin, alias Luchenko, alias Peter, alias Cooper, alias Edward Joseph Herbert - was another character from the shadows. All evidence pointed to the notion that he became the chief KGB resident in the United States after Ovakimian's departure. Zubilin and his wife, Elizabetha, were veteran KGB officers whose espionage activities dated back to the 1920s and had taken them all over the world. Zubilin was stocky and blond, with a broad-featured face and a manner that, according to those who had dealt with him, could be alternately pleasant and menacing... Zubilin's name cropped up in a number of cases, and during my time in New York we charted his comings and goings and tailed him when the manpower was available. We tried to learn what he was doing; most of the time we didn't know." (8)

In December, 1941, Zarubin arranged for Alfred Stern, the husband of Martha Dodd, and Boris Morros to form a music publishing house in the United States. Stern agreed to invest $130,000 in the venture and Boris Morros agreed to put $62,000 in the Boris Morros Music Company. According to Allen Weinstein, the author of The Hunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America (1999): "Using funds provided by the NKGB, Morros would establish a music publishing house in the United States - a business that could also serve as a cover for Soviet illegals." (9)

Zarubin was unpopular with the other agents in New York City. It was believed that he showed too much faith in Elizabeth Zarubina and other officers he had brought with him to the United States. One of his officers, Vassili Dorogov reported back to Moscow that he disapproved of his "crudeness, general lack of manners, use of street language and obscenities, carelessness in his work, and repugnant secretiveness." (10)

Zarubin and his wife became close friends with two members of their network, Hede Massing and Paul Massing. They used the names Helen and Peter. Hede wrote in her autobiography, This Deception: KBG Targets America (1951): "In time I was to learn that her name was Elizabeth Zarubin; that she and her husband, Vassili Zarubin, had been stationed in the United States in the early 1930's and returned during the war years when Zarubin occupied various Soviet Consulate and Embassy posts. In Moscow I would realize that they were top-shelf officials of the GPU, or the NKVD, as it had meanwhile been renamed. The food and drink at such parties was superb and always too abundant. The procedure the same. Very much to drink, rapid toasting for all sorts of reasons, very much to eat, and singing until the early morning hours. They are a gifted people, the Russians, and they can sing! Peter would take his place in the center of a room and strum his balalaika tirelessly, singing in a strong, natural voice the long, sad Russian folk ballads, or gay, naughty stanzas with a wicked grin on his face; at the end were always the Red Army songs. At such parties he looked like a simple Russian peasant, blond, blue-eyed, happy. I could not help but think that without the Bolsheviks, he might have been just that." (11)

Zarubin came to the attention of the FBI when in April 1943, he attempted to meet Steve Nelson, a member of the Communist Party of the United States in California. "Zarubin travelled to California for a secret meeting with Steve Nelson, who ran a secret control commission to seek out informants and spies in the Californian branch of the Communist Party, but failed to find Nelson's home. Only on a second visit did he succeed in delivering the money. On this occasion, however, the meeting was bugged by the FBI which had placed listening devices in Nelson's home." (12)

The FBI bug confirmed that Zarubin had "paid a sum of money" to Nelson "for the purpose of placing Communist Party members and Comintern agents in industries engaged in secret war production for the United States Government so that the information could be obtained for transmittal to the Soviet Union." (13) J. Edgar Hoover responded by telling Harry Hopkins, a close advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, that he was instituting a special codenamed COMRAP program to "identify all members of the Communist International (Comintern) apparatus with which Steve Nelson and Vassili Zarubin are connected as well as the agents of this apparatus in various war industries." (14) Hopkins then warned the Soviet ambassador that a "member of his embassy had been detected passing money to a Communist in California". (15)

The FBI carried out an investigation into Vasssily Zarubin. Robert J. Lamphere reported: "Zarubin was stocky and blond, with a broad-featured face and a manner that, according to those who had dealt with him, could be alternately pleasant and menacing." (16) According to Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner, the authors of Venona: Soviet Espionage and the American Response (1996) it was established that Zarubin held the rank of general and that he was "engaged in the movement of Soviet agents into and out of the United States" and "organizes secret radio stations, prepares counterfeit documents, obtains industrral and military information for transmittal to the Soviet Union." (17)

Vassili Zarubin was moved to Washington in 1943. This indicated that Soviet's senior intelligence officer should based in the capital. (18) Zarubin took up the position of third secretary of the Russian Embassy. However, on 7th August, 1943, J. Edgar Hoover received an anonymous letter naming Vassili Zarubin, Elizabeth Zarubina, Semyon Semyonov, Leonid Kvasnikov and seven other NKVD agents working in the United States. This included Soviet officials, Vassili Mironov and Vassili Dolgov, and consular officials Pavel Klarin (New York) and Gregory Kheifets (San Francisco). (19)

The letter also accused Zarubin of being a Japanese agent and his wife was working for Nazi Germany. Zarubin was also accused of being involved in Katyn Forest Massacre and was "interrogated and shot Poles in Kozelsk, Mironov in Starobelsk". The writer went on to describe a large network of Soviet agents, "among whom are many U.S. citizens". He named Earl Browder and Boris Morros. He also claimed that a "high-level agent in the White House" (this was probably Lauchlin Currie). The FBI believed the letter was genuine and carried out surveillance on Zarubin and other Soviet operatives mentioned in the letter.

Vassili Zarubin continued to work in Washington. In early 1944 it was reported that he had lost his temper at an official dinner and upset important guests. Soon afterwards a NKVD Personnel Directorate reported that his period in charge had been marked by a series of blunders, including calling his agents by their codename in front of American government officials. That summer, one of NKVD's agents, Vassili Mironov, contacted Joseph Stalin and accused Zarubin of being in secret contact with the FBI. (20)

In August 1944, Zarubin, his wife, Elizabeth Zarubina, and Mironov, were recalled to Moscow and he was replaced by Anatoly Gorsky. Mironov's allegations against Zarubin were investigated and found to be groundless and he was arrested for slander. However, at his trial Mironov was found to be schizophrenic. (21) According to Pavel Sudoplatov, the author of Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness (1994), the letter sent to the FBI had been written by Mironov. (22)

Vassili Zarubin now became deputy chief of foreign intelligence in Moscow. Mironov was sent to a labour camp. In 1945 Mironov tried to smuggle out of prison to the US Embassy in Moscow information about the Katyn Forest Massacre. Mironov was caught in the act, given a second trial and shot. (23)

On 6th May 1946, Zarubin and Gaik Ovakimyan had a meeting with Earl Browder, who had recently been expelled from the American Communist Party. It was reported that the "NKGB of the USSR believes that Browder's expulsion from the party may lead him into a transition toward extreme means of struggle against the Communist Party and may inflict damage to our interests. Therefore, the NKGB of the USSR considers it expedient to allow Browder's arrival in the Soviet Union. We should see if it is possible to recommend... to the Executive Committee of the American Communist Party that Browder be reestablished in the party under a convenient pretext and that the American Communist Party adopt a more tactful line of behavior with regard to him." Reference was made to the recent defection of Elizabeth Bentley. They feared that Browder was a dangerous man to upset as he had the names of a large number of Soviet agents in the United States. (24)

Vassili Zarubin died in 1972.

Using funds provided by the NKGB, Morros would establish a music publishing house in the United States - a business that could also serve as a cover for Soviet illegals. Since Moscow could not provide funds for such a project at the time, Zarubin approached "the Red millionaire," Martha Dodd's husband, Alfred Stern ("Louis"). Zarubin's superiors in Moscow endorsed the project and assigned the code name "Chord."

Soviet intelligence's adventure in the American commercial music industry was launched at a September 1944 meeting of Morros and Stern brokered by Zarubin. The enterprise that unfolded resembled the classic film comedy The Producers, substituting for that movie's famous song line ("Springtime for Hitler and Germany") a chorus of "Autumn for Stalin and Motherland." Zarubin described the venture's opening phase to Vsevolod Merkulov in Moscow: "At the first meeting ... we discussed all the questions of principle. I repeated once more that (Stern) wouldn't have the right to interfere in ( "Chord's") operational and commercial essence.... Afterward, the lawyers drew up an agreement"

The New York station chief became enmeshed in the project's "operational and commercial essence." Zarubin told Merkulov that plans for the company already underway, led by the energetic Boris Morros, included contests involving South American composers, with the winners and best works signed to contracts, and negotiations with well-known conductors Leopold Stokowski and (in Paris) Serge Koussevitzky for purchasing their works. Morros had already acquired record production equipment for a Los Angeles plant he intended to purchase. In addition, he had already begun to promote the new company to broadcasting networks, orchestras, and motion picture studios: "In fact," Zarubin proudly informed his Moscow colleague, "Chord has already begun practical activities.... Financially, it will be ready this winter for use as a cover but, if we needed it even earlier... we could send people under Chord's flag right now."

It was at this party that I learned for the first time of the relationship between Helen and Peter. Peter was Helen's husband! Helen had come back aglow from a successful mission, judging by the many toasts that were made to her health. Peter, rather high, was enamored with her, and when I said, something like, "You show good taste in women, Peter," he could hardly stop rolling with laughter.

Between gasps, he said, "That's a good one! She's been my wife for over ten years and the mother of my son! You must come and meet our son!" In the many, many meetings we had had, never was there an indication of this relationship. It added one more feature to the conspiratorial setup.

In time I was to learn that her name was Elizabeth Zarubin; that she and her husband, Vassili Zarubin, had been stationed in the United States in the early 1930's and returned during the war years when Zarubin occupied various Soviet Consulate and Embassy posts. In Moscow I would realize that they were top-shelf officials of the GPU, or the NKVD, as it had meanwhile been renamed.

The food and drink at such parties was superb and always too abundant. I could not help but think that without the Bolsheviks, he might have been just that.

In 1942-43 the New York rezidentura was ruled by the unpopular and bombastic Major-General Vasili M. Zarubin (MAXIM) who operated from January 1942 under the nom-de-guerre Zubilin with the rank of third (later second) secretary, and was married to the shrewd Elizaveta (VARDO) who held the rank of colonel. Originally from Bukovina in Romania, Elizaveta had a degree in philology, and spoke several languages, including French, German, English and her native Romanian. According to her declassified KGB file, she had been recalled from Germany in April 1941 to cultivate the wife of a senior German diplomat in Moscow, and later successfully ran a code-clerk in the German Foreign Ministry.

Zubilin, who had been a banker in Moscow before he joined the NKVD, had worked under diplomatic cover at the Soviet embassy in China, and was believed to have been implicated in the massacre in 1939 of thousands of Polish officers at Kozielsk in the Katyn woods. In late 1943 Zubilin was replaced by Stepan Apresyan (MAY), and was transferred to Washington DC, where he initiated direct communications with Moscow, eliminating the necessity of relaying them via New York. The Zarubins stayed in Washington only briefly because, as a result of a false allegation made by Vasili's secretary, Colonel Mironov, the rezident and his wife were recalled to Moscow at the end of August 1944 to face a lengthy investigation. In March 1943 Leonid R. Kvasnikov (ANTON) was sent to New York to establish a separate rezidentura on behalf of the 8th Department and concentrate on collecting information about the Anglo-American atomic bomb programme, which he accomplished until his hasty withdrawal in October 1945.

On August 7, 1943, the director of the FBI received an anonymous letter written in Russian. It purported to name leading KGB officers operating under diplomatic cover in Soviet offices in the United States, Canada, and Mexico and charged that they were engaged in espionage on a broad scale. The letter stated that the chief KGB officer in the United States was Vasily Zubilin, that Zubilin's real name was Zarubin, and that his wife, Elizabeth, was also a KGB field officer running her own network of American sources. Other KGB officers named in the letter were Pavel Klarin and Semyon Semenov, officials at the Soviet consulate in New York; Vasily Dolgov and Vasily Mironov, officials at the Soviet embassy in Washington; Grigory Kheifets, Soviet vice-consul in San Francisco; Leonid Kvasnikov, an engineer with Amtorg; Andrey Shevchenko and Sergey Lukianov, officials with the Soviet Government Purchasing Commission; Vladimir Pavlov, second secretary of the Soviet embassy in Canada; and Lev Tarasov, a diplomat at the Soviet embassy in Mexico.

The FBI was, not surprisingly, perplexed by the letter and suspicious that it was a fraud. But an investigation of the activities of the Soviet diplomatic personnel named in the letter quickly convinced the bureau that they probably were indeed Soviet intelligence officers. Years later, the deciphered Venona messages further confirmed the accuracy of the identifications provided in the letter.

The motive behind the letter was clear: the anonymous author hated Vasily Zubilin and accused him of a variety of sins, including participating in the murder of thousands of Polish prisoners of war in the Katyn forest. This last accusation caught the attention of American authorities because at that time they were not sure what had happened at Katyn, and out of nowhere came a letter asserting inside knowledge about one of the participants in the Katyn action. Only a few months earlier, the German government had announced that it had uncovered a mass grave containing the bodies of thousands of executed Polish military officers in the Katyn forest near Smolensk, on Soviet territory overrun by Nazi forces. According to the Nazis, the Soviet Union had captured these Poles in 1939 when it conquered eastern Poland under the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. The USSR blamed the mass murder on the Nazis, saying that the Germans had captured the Poles alive when they overran Soviet prisoner-of-war camps and had subsequently murdered them. In fact, the Soviets had murdered the Poles: on March 5, 1940, Stalin ordered the KGB to shoot 14,700 Polish prisoners of war.

The anonymous letter also correctly asserted that Zubilin had some role in the KGB's Katyn operation. The FBI had no way to verify it at the time, but eventually the Venona Project deciphered a KGB cable in which Zubilin himself confirmed having played a role. On July 1, 1943, he reported to Moscow that he thought he had noticed surveillance of his activities by a hostile intelligence agency and speculated that it had found out about his 1940 service at one of the camps at which the Poles had been murdered.

But while the claim that Zubilin had taken part in the Katyn massacre was accurate, the letter also contained the outlandish claim that he had betrayed the Soviet Union and was spying on the United States in the service of Japan. It urged American authorities to reveal Zubilin's treachery to Soviet authorities and asserted that when his betrayal was revealed, one of the other KGB officers, Vasily Mironov, would surely execute Zubilin on the spot. Mironov, nominally a Soviet diplomat, was described as a patriotic KGB colonel who hated Zubilin.

The FBI suspected that the author of the anonymous letter was a disgruntled KGB officer, but it was never sure of his identity. A passage in the 1994 memoir of a retired KGB general, Pavel Sudoplatov, suggests that Mironov wrote the letter. Sudoplatov, who held a headquarters role in KGB foreign intelligence operations during World War II, states that Mironov, a KGB lieutenant colonel, had sent a letter to Stalin denouncing Zarubin (the anonymous letter was correct about Zubilin's real name) as a double agent.

Mironov's letter caused Zarubin's recall to Moscow. The investigation against him and Elizabeth lasted six months and established that all his contacts were legitimate and valuable, and that he was not working with the FBI. Mironov was recalled from Washington and arrested on charges of slander, but when he was put on trial, it was discovered that he was schizophrenic. He was hospitalized and discharged from the service.

Given the closeness of the British-American "special relationship", the Centre inevitably suspected that some of the President's advisers sympathized with Churchill's supposed anti-Soviet plots. Suspicions of Roosevelt himself, however, were never as intense as those of Churchill. Nor did the Centre form conspiracy theories about its American agents as preposterous as those about the Cambridge Five. Perhaps because the NKVD had penetrated OSS from the moment of its foundation, it was less inclined to believe that United States intelligence was running a system of deception which compared with the supposed use of the Five by the British. The CPUSA's assistance in the operation to assassinate Trotsky, combined with the enthusiasm with which it "exposed and weeded out spies and traitors", appeared to make its underground section a reliable recruiting ground. Vasili Zarubin's regular contacts with the CPUSA leader, Earl Browder, plainly convinced him of the reliability of those covert Party members who agreed to provide secret intelligence.

By the spring of 1943, however, the Centre was worried about the security of its large and expanding American agent network. Zarubin became increasingly incautious both in his meetings with Party leaders and in arranging for the payment to them of secret subsidies from Moscow. One of the files noted by Mitrokhin records censoriously, "Without the approval of the Central Committee, Zarubin crudely violated the rules of clandestinity." On one occasion Browder asked Zarubin to deliver Soviet money personally to the Communist underground organization in Chicago; the implication in the KGB file is that he agreed. On another occasion, in April 1943, Zarubin travelled to California for a secret meeting with Steve Nelson, who ran a secret control commission to seek out informants and spies in the Californian branch of the Communist Party, but failed to find Nelson's home. On this occasion, however, the meeting was bugged by the FBI which had placed listening devices in Nelson's home. The Soviet ambassador in Washington was told confidentially by none other than Roosevelt's adviser, Harry Hopkins, that a member of his embassy had been detected passing money to a Communist in California.

Though Zarubin became somewhat more discreet after this "friendly warning", his cover had been blown. Worse was yet to come. Four months later Zarubin was secretly denounced to the FBI by Vasili Mironov, a senior officer in the New York residency who had earlier appealed unsuccessfully to the Centre for Zarubin's recall. In an extraordinary anonymous letter to Hoover on 7 August 1943, Mironov identified Zarubin and ten other leading members of residencies operating under diplomatic cover in the United States, himself included, as Soviet intelligence officers. He also revealed that Browder was closely involved with Soviet espionage and identified the Hollywood producer Boris Morros (FROST) as a Soviet agent. Mironov's motives derived partly from personal loathing for Zarubin himself. He told Hoover, speaking of himself in the third person, that Zarubin and Mironov "both hate each other". Mironov also appears to have been tortured by a sense of guilt for his part in the NKVD's massacre of the Polish officer corps in 1940.

Zarubin, he told Hoover, "interrogated and shot Poles in Kozelsk, Mironov in Starobelsk". (In reality, though Zarubin did interrogate some of the Polish officers, he does not appear to have been directly involved in their execution.) But there are also clear signs in Mironov's letter, if not of mental illness, at least of the paranoid mind set generated by the Terror. He accused Zarubin of being a Japanese agent and his wife of working for Germany, and concluded bizarrely: "If you prove to Mironov that Z is working for the Germans and Japanese, he will immediately shoot him without a trial, as he too holds a very high post in the NKVD.

By the time Mironov's extraordinary denunciation reached the FBl, Zarubin had moved from New York to become resident in Washington - a move probably prompted by the steady growth in intelligence of all kinds from within the Roosevelt administration. As the senior NKVD officer in the United States, Zarubin retained overall control in Washington of the work of the New York and San Francisco residencies; responsibility for liaison with the head of the CPUSA, Browder, and with the head of the illegal residency, Akhmerov; and direct control of some of his favourite agents, among them the French politician Pierre Cot and the British intelligence officer Cedric Belfrage, whom he took over from Golos.

Vassili Zubilin - alias Zarubin, alias Luchenko, alias Peter, alias Cooper, alias Edward Joseph Herbert - was another character from the shadows. Zubilin was stocky and blond, with a broad-featured face and a manner that, according to those who had dealt with him, could be alternately pleasant and menacing. He operated from a position as third secretary of the Russian embassy in Washington.

As to his exploits, he seems to have been more of a "fixer" than Ovakimian, but perhaps this is because it was in this role that the FBI had caught more glimpses of him. We knew people who had worked with him at various times in Hollywood, San Francisco, New York and Washington. He was involved in everything from using a film company as a front to funnel money to clandestine activities, to attempted atomic espionage. Zubilin's personality seems to have been more outgoing and less cerebral than Ovakimian's - but both men survived the purges. We tried to learn what he was doing; most of the time we didn't know. In later years, after he had left the United States, we heard that he had been made a general in the KGB, and that he had died an alcoholic.

Trying to counter the work of Ovakimian and Zubilin was a task full of frustration and repeated failures, with only occasional and partial successes-a pattern reflective of the difficulties the FBI experienced in fighting the KGB at the outset of the postwar period. In this intense but nearly invisible combat, counterintelligence was playing catch-up ball; the Soviets had built up an early lead and the FBI, new to the endeavor, was not as knowledgeable or as sophisticated as the enemy.

One evening in 1946 my friend Emory Gregg and I were bemoaning the fact that although we knew the top GRU man in New York (Pavel Mikhailov, the consul general), we had not been able to identify the leading KGB agents. Emory and I were aggressive and young, and had a lot of ideas for actions the Bureau ought to be taking against the KGB, but we didn't have much clout within the organization because we were just foot soldiers. This night we resolved to try something new.

The FBI thought that the U.S. headquarters for the KGB was in the Soviet consulate on East Sixty-first Street, a block off Central Park, and believed that the top KGB man, called the "resident," was in that consulate. Our knowledge of the Soviet espionage system suggested that while strings were ultimately pulled from Moscow, the New York resident had the power to develop targets of espionage, to enforce discipline within his own ranks and to insist on full reports from subordinates. Under the resident's direction, coded cables would be sent to Moscow (more bulky papers went in a section of the diplomatic pouch), and at his behest logs were maintained which noted the location and substance of all meetings between espionage agents and recruits. We knew a lot about the resident's job, but we didn't know his identity.

(1) Svetlana Chervonnaya, Vassili Zarubin (2008)

(2) Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (2000) page 394

(3) Svetlana Chervonnaya, Vassili Zarubin (2008)

(4) Annoymous letter to the FBI, belived to have been sent by Vasily Mironov (7th August, 1943)

(5) Christopher Andrew, The Mitrokhin Archive (1999) page 162

(6) Svetlana Chervonnaya, Vassili Zarubin (2008)

(7) Christopher Andrew, The Mitrokhin Archive (1999) page 142

(8) Robert J. Lamphere, The FBI-KGB War (1986) page 27

(9) Allen Weinstein, The Hunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America (1999) page 117

(10) Christopher Andrew, The Mitrokhin Archive (1999) page 142

(11) Hede Massing, This Deception: KBG Targets America (1951) page 219

(12) Christopher Andrew, The Mitrokhin Archive (1999) pages 161-162

(13) Athan Theoharis, Chasing Spies (2002) page 50

(14) J. Edgar Hoover, memorandum to Harry Hopkins (7th May, 1943)

(15) Christopher Andrew, The Mitrokhin Archive (1999) pages 161-162

(16) Robert J. Lamphere, The FBI-KGB War (1986) page 27

(17) Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner, Venona: Soviet Espionage and the American Response (1996) pages 57 and 108

(18) Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (2000) page 225

(19) Athan Theoharis, Chasing Spies (2002) page 63

(20) Christopher Andrew, The Mitrokhin Archive (1999) pages 163

(21) Nigel West, Venona: The Greatest Secret of the Cold War (2000) page 47

(22) Pavel Sudoplatov, Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness (1994) pages 196-197

(23) Christopher Andrew, The Mitrokhin Archive (1999) pages 164

(24) Allen Weinstein, The Hunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America (1999) pages 306-307


Brigadier-Commander (ComBrig) Zarubin.

Vasily Mikhailovich Zarubin, remembered by Polish officers interned in Kozielsk Special Camp as "the highest Soviet authority" there - although he was not Camp Commandant. the "ComBrig" was remembered by survivors as correct, polite - even apparently friendly. He was clearly well-educated, multi-lingual and cultured. His interviews with selected prisoners were more like friendly "purposeful conversations" rather than interrogations. He lent books from his private library to prisoners - the most popular read was Winston Churchill's "The World in Crisis".

Zarubin's education and culture suggested to some prisoners that he had been associated with the Soviet Foreign Service, and that this had familiarised him with the outside world had he, perhaps, been attached to the Soviet Embassy in Warsaw ? His influence seemed to be responsible for the generally correct treatment received by the prisoners on the part of the NKVD guards (as far as circumstances, and Soviet political priorities) allowed. When he failed to return from one of his frequent trips to Moscow, some prisoners assumed that this marked a major decision as to their fate having been made. Perhaps - even now, it is not clear whether, and to what extent, Zarubin's views might have influenced the highest Soviet authorities to liquidate their "enemies", the Polish officers interned at Kozielsk Camp, who died in early April 1940 at Katyn Wood.

Actually, recent revelations make clear that, in many respects, the prisoners' observations on Zarubin were close to the mark. Born in 1894, the son of a railway worker in Moscow, Zarubin was a veteran of the Tsarist army in WW1 in which context - like so many others - he became a convert to Communism. Having served in the Red Army during the Russian Civil War, he joined the Soviet State security services. By the time the Polish officers encountered him, he was a highly-trained 20-year veteran Bolshevik spook. If the local NKVD deferred to him, this is hardly surprising he far outranked them all.

Zarubin had served as a Soviet agent under diplomatic cover in Manchuria, Finland, and Denmark, and as an "illegal" agent in Germany and in the USA. For much of his undercover career he operated as part of a "double act" with his wife, Elizaveta. As to why this Foreign Intelligence superstar was consigned to assessing the social and political leanings of Polish officers in an obscure PoW camp in late-'39/early '40 - it appears that he was denounced by NKVD chief Beria as a "Gestapo accomplice" about this time and - although he was one of the few so denounced to avoid a terminal visit to what Zhukov called "Beria's basement", he may still have been under something of a cloud at this time.

After his time at Kozielsk, Zarubin spent another "diplomatic" term in China, before being despatched - on Stalin's personal orders - to the USA again, this time serving under diplomatic cover as a Third Secretary at the Soviet Embassy. In Washington, Zarubin had the job of satisfying Stalin's unbridled paranoia by reporting on any hint that the US might have thoughts of making a separate peace with Germany. At some point, he was compromised by an anonymous letter sent, apparently, by a discontented Washington operative both to Moscow and to the FBI. Both of the recipients seem to have drawn what was, for once, the appropriate conclusions. Zarubin was recalled to Moscow in August, 1944 but - perhaps surprisingly - not shot. In fact, he was promoted Major General, and appointed deputy heaad of foreign intelligence. He was retired in 1948, but remained active in training younger Soviet agents.

For his services over the years, he was awarded tthe Order of Lenin (twice), the Order of the Red Banner, and the Order of the Red Star. Vasily Zarubin died in Moscow in 1974.

Recent comments

Thanks for your appreciation, Victor Sierra. A story strange (in a John le Carré sort of way) - but true. Best regards, JR.


Contents

One of the documents in the Venona collection is an anonymous letter, dated 7 August 1943, to "Mr. Guver" (Hoover). It identifies Soviet "intelligence officers and operations that stretched from Canada to Mexico." It also includes accusations of war crimes against the KGB Rezident in Washington, D.C., Vassili M. Zarubin (a.k.a. Zubilin), and his deputy, Markov (in the United States under the alias of Lt. Col. Vassili D. Mironov).

The anonymous author asserted that Zarubin and his deputy Markov were directly implicated in the bloody occupation of eastern Poland during the Nazi-Soviet alliance of 1939-1941 and the murder of some 15,000 Polish soldiers—officers and NCOs, regulars and reservists—captured by the Red Army. The letter provided accurate and early confirmation of Soviet complicity in the executions in the Katyn Forest, where German occupation forces in April 1943 discovered a mass grave containing 4,300 Polish corpses. Only someone "in the know" could have revealed that Polish soldiers had been interned at Kozelsk and Starobelsk and that Polish soldiers had been killed "near Smolensk." This information was known to only a handful of people in 1943 and was carefully concealed for almost 50 years by Soviet authorities.

Pavel Sudoplatov, head of the NKVD's Administration for Special Tasks wrote in 1992 that the author of this letter is Markov.

The letter caused Zarubin to be recalled to Moscow. An investigation of him and Elizabeth Zarubina lasted six months and established that he was not working with the FBI. Markov was recalled from Washington and arrested on charges of slander, but when he was put on trial, it was discovered that he was schizophrenic. He was hospitalized and discharged from the service.

References

  • Russian Foreign Intelligence Service
  • John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, Yale University Press (1999). ISBN 0-300-08462-5.
  • Document No. 10 in Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner, eds., Venona: Soviet Espionage and the American Response, 1939-1957 (Washington, DC: National Security Agency/Central Intelligence Agency, 1996).
  • Document No. 20 in Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner, eds., Venona: Soviet Espionage and the American Response, 1939-1957 (Washington, DC: National Security Agency/Central Intelligence Agency, 1996).
  • No author [probably William K. Harvey, CIA], Memorandum for the File, "COMRAP," 6 February 1948, Central Intelligence Agency, Vassili M. Zarubin file. [1]

WOMAN WAS INSIDER TO RUSSIAN HISTORY

Speaking virtually unaccented English, Zoya Vasilyevna Zarubina casually described a life that put her on the ragged front edge of Russian history and in contact with some of the towering figures of this century.

She began with an account of the Nazi invasion of her homeland in 1941 - when her first husband went off to the front from which he never returned. Then she told how, in her mid-20s, she became a trusted member of what became the KGB and an interpreter for Joseph Stalin, eventually translating atomic secrets stolen from the United States.

Finally, with several hundred students at McLean High School listening closely, she spoke of her country's struggle to recover from the communist system she had loved and long defended. Life in Russia now is chaotic, she said, but a time of strength and stability will return.

''I am an unsinkable optimist,'' said Zarubina, a grandmotherly-looking woman who remains loud and sure at 74. ''I know that we will turn around.''

Zarubina, who lives in Moscow, is in the United States to visit a grandson who attends James Madison University. Her hourlong appearance was arranged by a Russian teacher at the Fairfax County high school.

It was an extraordinary tale for the students, many of whom are studying Russian and seemed dazzled by the presence of a woman who lived key moments of history they have read about in class.

''I thought it was incredible,'' said Mandy Neville, a 17-year-old senior, who rushed to speak with Zarubina after her presentation this month. ''Just hearing about it is mind-boggling.''

In fact, Zarubina and her family were so entwined in the fabric of Soviet power during World War II and its aftermath that they are mentioned several times in a new book called ''Special Tasks, the Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness - A Soviet Spy Master.''

Her father, Vassili Zarubin, was an important intelligence official stationed in China, the United States and elsewhere. Her stepfather, Leonid Eitingon, as decorated for helping to arrange the assassination of Leon Trotsky, and later jailed after being falsely accused of plotting a coup against Stalin, according to the authors.

Zarubina considered Stalin, the Soviet premier from 1941-1953, to be a generous and crafty statesman, and she claims that never in those years was she aware of the horrors he had committed during purges in which tens of millions died.

''In those days, we looked upon him not as a terrorist, not as a tyrant,'' she said, adding that during the summits where she interpreted, ''he was very attentive. He was a very good host, very hospitable.''

According to Jerrold and Leona Schecter, coauthors of ''Special Tasks,'' Zarubina managed to maintain high-level contacts throughout the Cold War.

Zarubina explained that fluency in English, French and German helped her every step of the way. After World War II, for example, she worked as a translator at the war crimes trials in Nuremberg.

In 1951, when her stepfather was accused of plotting against Stalin, she resigned from the KGB and went to work in Moscow as a teacher at the Institute of Foreign Languages.

She later became dean of the school and went on to direct the United Nations foreign language school in the Soviet Union.

She shared brief anecdotes about leaders she met, including Dwight D. Eisenhower as a general (''He had a very good heart and he cared for the GIs.'') and President Reagan (''He was a good sport.'')

But when she looks back on her role in the events that shaped a world, she plays down her significance.

''Of course,'' she told the students, ''my life is of a very ordinary person in very unordinary circumstances.''


Stalin's Killing Field

Benjamin B. Fischer
One of the earliest–and certainly the most infamous–mass shootings of prisoners of war during World War II did not occur in the heat of battle but was a cold-blooded act of political murder. The victims were Polish officers, soldiers, and civilians captured by the Red Army after it invaded eastern Poland in September 1939. Strictly speaking, even the Polish servicemen were not POWs. The USSR had not declared war, and the Polish commander in chief had ordered his troops not to engage Soviet forces. But there was little the Poles could do. On 28 September, the USSR and Nazi Germany, allied since August, partitioned and then dissolved the Polish state. They then began implementing parallel policies of suppressing all resistance and destroying the Polish elite in their respective areas. The NKVD and the Gestapo coordinated their actions on many issues, including prisoner exchanges. At Brest Litovsk, Soviet and German commanders held a joint victory parade before German forces withdrew westward behind a new demarcation line. 1
Official records, opened in 1990 when glasnost was still in vogue, show that Stalin had every intention of treating the Poles as political prisoners. Just two days after the invasion began on 17 September, the NKVD created a Directorate of Prisoners of War. 2 It took custody of Polish prisoners from the Army and began organizing a network of reception centers and transfer camps and arranging rail transport to the western USSR. Once there, the Poles were placed in “special” (concentration) camps, where, from October to February, they were subjected to lengthy interrogations and constant political agitation. The camps were at Kozelsk, Starobelsk, and Ostashkov, all three located on the grounds of former Orthodox monasteries converted into prisons. The NKVD dispatched one of its rising stars, Maj. Vassili Zarubin, to Kozelsk, where most of the officers were kept, to conduct interviews. Zarubin presented himself to the Poles as a charming, sympathetic, and cultured Soviet official, which led many prisoners into sharing confidences that would cost them their lives. 3
The considerable logistic effort required to handle the prisoners coincided with the USSR’s disastrous 105-day war against Finland. The Finns inflicted 200,000 casualties on the Red Army and destroyed tons of materiel–and much of Russia’s military reputation. That war, like the assault on Poland, was a direct result of Stalin’s nonaggression pact with Hitler.
The Soviet dictator offered Helsinki “remarkably moderate terms,” in the words of British military historian Liddell Hart, taking only territory needed to defend the land, sea, and air approaches to Leningrad. 4 The difference between Stalin’s treatment of Finland and Poland underscored his imperial ambitions toward the latter. Moscow and Helsinki even exchanged prisoners once hostilities had ceased. (Stalin, however, dealt harshly with his own soldiers who had been in Finnish captivity. At least 5,000 repatriated troops simply disappeared from an NKVD prison and were presumably executed. 5)
Stalin was anxious to settle with Finland so he could turn his attention to Poland and the Baltic countries, which the Red Army would soon occupy and the NKVD would “pacify” using terror, deportations, and executions. Militarily, the war was over by late February, though a peace agreement was not signed until March. NKVD interrogations were completed about the same time. The Poles were encouraged to believe they would be released, but the interviews were in effect a selection process to determine who would live and who would die. On 5 March 1940, Stalin signed their death warrant–an NKVD order condemning 21,857 prisoners to “the supreme penalty: shooting.” They had been condemned as “hardened and uncompromising enemies of Soviet authority.” 6
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The Killing Field
During April-May 1940, the Polish prisoners were moved from their internment camps and taken to three execution sites. The place most identified with the Soviet atrocity is Katyn Forest, located 12 miles west of Smolensk, Russia. For years historians assumed that the grounds of an NKVD rest and recreation facility were both an execution and burial site for nearly a fifth of the unfortunate Poles who found themselves in Soviet captivity. Post-Cold War revelations, however, suggest that the victims were shot in the basement of the NKVD headquarters in Smolensk and at an abattoir in the same city, although some may have been executed at a site in the forest itself. In any event, the Katyn Forest is–and will probably long remain–the main symbol of the atrocity, even if it was not the actual killing field.
Memorandum on NKVD letterhead from L. Beria to “Comrade Stalin” proposing to execute captured Polish officers, soldiers, and other prisoners by shooting. Stalin’s handwritten signature appears on top, followed by signatures of Politburo members K. Voroshilov, V. Molotov, and A. Mikoyan. Signatures in left margin are M. Kalinin and L. Kaganovich, both favoring execution.
The Katyn Forest massacre was a criminal act of historic proportions and enduring political implications. When Nazi occupation forces in April 1943 announced the discovery of several mass graves, propaganda minister Josef Goebbels hoped that international revulsion over the Soviet atrocity would drive a wedge into the Big Three coalition and buy Germany a breathing space, if not a victory, in its war against Russia. (A headline in the May 1943 Newsweek read: “Poles vs. Reds: Allied Unity Put to Test Over Officer Dead.”) But Goebbels miscalculated. Despite overwhelming evidence of Soviet responsibility, Moscow blamed the Germans, and for the rest of the war Washington and London officially accepted the Soviet countercharge. When the Polish government-in-exile in London demanded an international inquiry, Stalin used this as a pretext to break relations. The Western allies objected but eventually acquiesced. Soon thereafter, the Soviet dictator assembled a group of Polish Communists that returned to Poland with the Red Army in 1944 and formed the nucleus of the postwar government. Stalin’s experience with the Katyn affair may have convinced him that the West, grateful for the Red Army’s contribution to the Allied military effort, would find it hard to confront him over Poland after the war.
Professor Stanislaw Swianiewicz was the sole survivor of Katyn. He was waiting to board a bus to the forest area when an NKVD colonel arrived and pulled him out of line. Swianiewicz was an internationally recognized expert on forced labor in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, who had been born in Poland when it was still part of the Russian empire, and had studied in Moscow. He ended up in Siberia, and after the war emigrated to the United States, where he taught economics at the University of Notre Dame. At least one CIA analyst remembers the professor from his days in South Bend.
Those who died at Katyn included an admiral, two generals, 24 colonels, 79 lieutenant colonels, 258 majors, 654 captains, 17 naval captains, 3,420 NCOs, seven chaplains, three landowners, a prince, 43 officials, 85 privates, and 131 refugees. Also among the dead were 20 university professors 300 physicians several hundred lawyers, engineers, and teachers and more than 100 writers and journalists as well as about 200 pilots. 7 It was their social status that landed them in front of NKVD execution squads. Most of the victims were reservists who had been mobilized when Germany invaded. In all, the NKVD eliminated almost half the Polish officer corps–part of Stalin’s long-range effort to prevent the resurgence of an independent Poland.
Recent historical research shows that 700-900 of the victims were Polish Jews. 8 Ironically, the Germans knew this, and it complicated Goebbels’ effort to portray the atrocity as a “Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy”–a mainstay of the Nazi regime’s anti-Semitic propaganda.
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Katyn in America
Katyn created a big echo in the United States. Dozens of books have been written on the subject–the Library of Congress has catalogued 19 new ones since 1975–and several Web sites on the Internet are devoted to it. There is a Katyn memorial in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and one Web site belongs to a Baltimore group trying to raise funds to erect a monument there. Several states and many cities have issued commemorative proclamations. The most recent was signed by New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, who designated 15 September 1996 “Katyn Forest Massacre Day.” The commemorative statement is available on the Internet. In 1988, Alaska chose 30 April as a “Day To Remember Katyn.” A Web site maintained by the Archaeological Institute of America tracks excavations at Katyn and two other execution sites, one at Mednoye (near the former city of Kalinin, now Tver’, in Russia) and the other near Kharkiv (formerly Kharkov), Ukraine.
Katyn played a convoluted role in US politics and US-Soviet relations. Two US servicemen, brought from a POW camp in Germany, were at Katyn in 1943, when Berlin held an international news conference there to publicize the atrocity. The ranking officer was Col. John H. Van Vliet, a fourth-generation West Pointer. After returning to Washington in 1945, he wrote a report concluding that the Soviets, not the Germans, were responsible. He gave the report to Maj. Gen. Clayton Bissell, Gen. George Marshall’s assistant chief of staff for intelligence, who deep-sixed it. Years later, Bissell defended his action before Congress, contending that it was not in the US interest to embarrass an ally whose forces were still needed to defeat Japan.
In 1944, President Roosevelt assigned Capt. George Earle, his special emissary to the Balkans, to compile information on Katyn. Earle did so, using contacts in Bulgaria and Romania. He too concluded that the Soviet Union was guilty. FDR rejected Earle’s conclusion, saying that he was convinced of Nazi Germany’s responsibility. The report was suppressed. When Earle requested permission to publish his findings, the President gave him a written order to desist. Earle–who had been a Roosevelt family friend–spent the rest of the war in American Samoa.
As the Cold War heated up, Katyn became a shibboleth in US politics. In 1949, an American journalist assembled a committee of prominent Americans, which included former OSS chief Gen. William Donovan and future DCI Allen Dulles, to press for an official inquiry, but it went nowhere. Then came the Korean war and concern that Communist forces were executing American GIs. “Katyn may well have been a blueprint for Korea,” one Congressman declared. 9 In September 1951, the House of Representatives appointed a select committee to hold hearings. It was chaired by Rep. Ray J. Madden and was popularly known as the Madden Committee. Although not without political or propaganda overtones, the hearings were the most comprehensive effort to date to gather facts and establish responsibility. 10 The committee heard 81 witnesses, examined 183 exhibits, and took more than 100 depositions. The hearings gave Democrats a chance to deflect charges of having “betrayed” Poland and “lost” China at Yalta and offered Republicans an opportunity to court voters of Polish and other East European ancestry who traditionally favored Democrats. 11
Before disbanding the select committee, Madden tried to get the UN to bring the Katyn massacre before the International Court of Justice and sought Congressional support for a joint Senate-House inquiry. 12 But the political will to do so was lacking. Stalin’s death, the rise of a new leadership, and the end of the Korean war seemed to auger a thaw in US-Soviet relations.
Meanwhile, the Soviets obliterated references to Katyn on maps and in official reference works. Then, in 1969, Moscow did something strange that many believe was further calculated to confuse the issue further: it chose a small village named Khatyn as the cite for Belorussia’s national war memorial. There was no apparent reason for the selection. Khatyn was one of 9,200 Belorussian villages the Germans had destroyed and one of more than a hundred where they had killed civilians in retaliation for partisan attacks. In Latin transliteration, however, Katyn and Khatyn look and sound alike, though they are spelled and pronounced quite differently in Russian and Belorussian. When President Nixon visited the USSR in July 1974, he toured the Khatyn memorial at his hosts’ insistence. Sensing that the Soviets were exploiting the visit for propaganda purposes, The New York Times headlined its coverage of the tour: “Nixon Sees Khatyn, a Soviet Memorial, Not Katyn Forest.” (The Times probably got it right. During the Vietnam war, the Soviets frequently took visiting US peace activists to Khatyn.)
While Katyn was taboo in the USSR and Poland, numerous books and articles appeared in the United States and the UK. The standard scholarly work was written by Dr. Janus K. Zawodny, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1988, the National Endowment for the Humanities sponsored a Polish translation of his Death in the Forest for distribution in Poland. Later, the Reagan and Bush administrations both released previously classified records bearing on Katyn. These were the first official US efforts since the House hearings aimed at documenting Soviet responsibility.
Old habits die hard. In the summer of 1998, a US corporation sponsored an exhibit of World War II photographs from the Russian Army Museum at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington. Incredibly, in a souvenir program sold at the exhibit, the Russian exhibitors repeated the Soviet lie that the Nazis, not the NKVD, had murdered Polish prisoners at Katyn. 13
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A Terrible–and Partial–Truth Emerges
For 50 years, the Soviet Union concealed the truth. The coverup began in April 1943, almost immediately after the Red Army had recaptured Smolensk. The NKVD destroyed a cemetery the Germans had permitted the Polish Red Cross to build and removed other evidence. In January 1944, Moscow appointed its own investigative body, known as the Burdenko Commission after the prominent surgeon who chaired it. Predictably, it concluded that the Polish prisoners had been murdered in 1941, during the German occupation, not in 1940. To bolster its claim, the commission hosted an international press conference at Katyn on 22 January. Three American journalists and Kathleen Harriman, the 25-year-old daughter of US Ambassador Averell Harriman, attended. After viewing exhibits of planted evidence, they endorsed the Burdenko Commission’s findings. (Ms. Harriman later repudiated her 1944 statement before the House select committee.) Eight days later, the Soviets held a religious and military ceremony attended by a color guard from the Polish division of the Red Army to honor the victims of “German-fascist invaders.” A film was made and shown for propaganda purposes.
Katyn was a forbidden topic in postwar Poland. Censors suppressed all references to it. Even mentioning the atrocity meant risking reprisal. While Katyn was erased from Poland’s official history, it could not be erased from historical memory. In 1981, Solidarity erected a memorial with the simple inscription “Katyn, 1940.” Even that was too much. The police confiscated it. Later, the Polish Government, on cue from Moscow, created another memorial. It read: “To the Polish soldiers–victims of Hitlerite fascism–reposing in the soil of Katyn.”
Then came Mikhail Gorbachev and glasnost. In 1987, the Soviet president signed an agreement with the head of Poland’s military government, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, for a joint historical commission to investigate “blank spots,” that is, censored subjects, in the two countries’ troubled history. Polish historians tried unsuccessfully to include Katyn on the agenda. The commission did provide a forum, however, for Polish historians to press their Soviet counterparts for access to official records, even if to confirm the Burdenko Commission’s conclusions. (There were, after all, “court historians” on both sides.) Gorbachev had a chance to address Katyn during a July 1988 state visit to Warsaw, but dodged the issue.
Pressure was building on the Soviets, however. Prominent Polish intellectuals signed an open letter asking for access to official records and sent it to Soviet colleagues. A month after Gorbachev’s visit, demonstrators paraded in the streets of Warsaw demanding an official inquiry. The Kremlin had to do something it chose to deceive. In November, the Soviet Government announced plans for a new memorial at Katyn commemorating Polish officers “[who] together with 500 Soviet prisoners . . . were shot by the fascists in 1943 as our army approached Smolensk.” This was not true, and the change of dates was a further obfuscation, but more important was the subliminal message directed to the Poles: Russia and Poland were both victims of German aggression, something neither country should forget. 14
In early 1989, three top Soviet officials sent Gorbachev a memorandum warning him that the issue was becoming “more acute” and that “time is not our ally.” 15 Some form of official admission, even a partial one, would have to be made. At a Kremlin ceremony on 13 October 1990, Gorbachev handed Jaruzelski a folder of documents that left no doubt about Soviet guilt. He did not, however, make a full and complete disclosure. Missing from the folder was the March 1940 NKVD execution order. Gorbachev laid all blame on Stalin’s secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria, and his deputy. (This was a safe move, because Beria and his deputy had been branded criminals and summarily shot by Stalin’s successors.) Gorbachev also failed to mention that the actual number of victims was 21,857–more than the usually cited figure of 15,000. By shaving the truth, Gorbachev had shielded the Soviet Government and the Communist Party, making Katyn look like a rogue secret police action rather than an official act of mass murder.
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New Evidence From an Old Source
The next major discovery turned up in an unexpected place–the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. While conducting research on Katyn at the Archives in spring 1990, a Polish-American art and antiques expert named Waclaw Godziemba-Maliszewski was given a copy of an article entitled “The Katyn Enigma: New Evidence in a 40-Year Riddle” that had appeared in the Spring 1981 issue of Studies in Intelligence. It was written by CIA officer and NPIC analyst Robert G. Poirier, who used imagery from Luftwaffe aerial photoreconnaissance during World War II to uncover evidence of the original crime and a Soviet coverup during 1943-1944. 16 The imagery, selected from 17 sorties flown between 1941 and 1944 and spanning a period before, during, and after the German occupation of the Smolensk area, was important evidence. Among other things, it showed that the area where the mass graves were located had not been altered during the German occupation and that the same area displayed physical changes that predated the Germans’ arrival. It also captured the NKVD on film bulldozing some of the Polish graves and removing bodies. Poirier speculated that the corpses had been removed and reburied at another site.
Largest of seven mass graves. Five layers of 500 murdered Polish officers buried here by the Soviets.
At the National Archives, Godziemba-Maliszewski located the same imagery that Poirier had used. He also found additional shots of Katyn and the other two execution sites at Mednoye and near Kharkov. He discovered much additional imagery, new collateral evidence, and eyewitness testimony, resulting in important new conclusions about what actually happened at Katyn.
After completing further research, in January 1991 Godziemba-Maliszewski turned over copies of the imagery and Poirier’s article to scientists at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. They in turn passed the information to the Polish Ministry of Justice. The Ministry had to be convinced that the article and photographic evidence were bona fide and that Godziemba-Maliszewski was not, as some suspected, a CIA agent! Stefan Sniezko, Poland’s deputy general prosecutor, then gave an interview to the German newspaper Tagesspiegel [Daily Mirror], published on 12 May 1991. This was the first public disclosure of the Luftwaffe imagery and its utility for identifying burial sites in the USSR.
The disclosure had an immediate impact in Germany, where media interest in Katyn had been running high since the 1980s, and in the USSR as well. Armed with this “smoking gun,” a Polish prosecutor assigned to investigate Soviet crimes flew to Kharkov (now Kharkiv), where the Ukrainian KGB, under watchful Russian eyes, assisted in identifying a series of sites, including Piatikhatki, where prisoners from the Starobelsk camp had been executed. Ironically, for a second time the German military had provided evidence, albeit unwittingly, of Soviet complicity in the massacre.
The new evidence put additional pressure on the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation to reveal the full truth. In 1992, Moscow suddenly “discovered” the original 1940 execution ordered signed by Stalin and five other Politburo members– in Gorbachev’s private archive. 17 Gorbachev almost certainly had read it in 1989, if not earlier. 18 In October 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin presented a copy of the order along with 41 other documents to the new Polish president, former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa. In doing so, he made a point of chiding his arch enemy Gorbachev, with whom he was locked in a bitter domestic political battle. During a 1993 visit to Warsaw’s military cemetery, Yeltsin knelt before a Polish priest and kissed the ribbon of a wreath he had placed at the foot of the Katyn cross. 19 In a joint statement with Walesa, he pledged to punish those still alive who had taken part in the massacre and make reparations–a promise that has not been kept. Meanwhile, Soviet and Polish teams were permitted to excavate at Katyn and the other two sites, on a selective basis, where Polish prisoners had been executed. In 1994, a Soviet historian published a book that for the first time called Katyn a “crime against humanity.” 20
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The Pendulum Swings Back
Katyn is a wound that refuses to heal. In May 1995, officials from Russia, Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus announced their intention to end an official probe into “NKVD crimes” committed there and at other sites. 21 But even that announcement revealed “new” information that had long been known in the West. Stalin’s secret police had committed crimes against some 11,000 Poles living in western Ukraine and western Belorussia after the USSR had incororated those regions, and murdered more than 3,000 Polish prisoners in panic killings when Germany attacked in June 1941.
With the official investigation complete, Yeltsin appeared a few days later at a ceremony to lay the cornerstone for a Polish cemetery at Katyn. Those expecting an expression of contrition were disappointed. Yeltsin told his audience that “totalitarian terror affected not only Polish citizens but, in the first place, the citizens of the former Soviet Union.” 22 He added that 10,000 bodies of the “most varied nationalities” had been found there. (The NKVD had used the forest as a killing ground in the 1930s.) Yeltsin’s plea that the tragedy “not be allowed to divide our nations and be the subject of political games” fell on deaf ears. Less than two weeks later, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman warned Poles still insisting on an apology not to exploit the memorial service to sow “distrust between Russia and Poland.” 23 He too could not resist remarking that “totalitarian rule” had “killed, among others, millions of Russians.”
Some Poles undoubtedly took offense at Yeltsin’s effort to commemorate Katyn as a common Russian and Polish tragedy and blame it on “totalitarianism.” Moreover, the Russian president refused to apologize and did not follow up on his pledge to punish still-living culprits and pay reparations. Meantime, resentment by extreme nationalists and Communists in the Duma was increasing. In January 1996, a book with the provocative title The Katyn Crime Fiction, written in Polish under the pseudonym “Juri Micha,” began circulating in the Duma and was placed on sale in the Russian parliament’s bookstore. It repudiated Gorbachev’s 1990 admission (without mentioning Yeltsin’s elaboration two years later) and repeated the old Stalinist charge of German guilt.
The book came at a bad time for Godziemba-Maliszewski, who was completing a study based on new information, some of it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and the good offices of former national security adviser Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski. His manuscript included declassified satellite imagery and maps as well as eyewitness statements, personal photographs, stills from a documentary film, and other items. It also contained a detailed study and reinterpretation of Luftwaffe imagery. The manuscript was entitled “Katyn: An Interpretation of Aerial Photographs Considered with Facts and Documents,” and it eventually appeared as a special issue of the Polish journal Photo-Interpretation in Geography: Problems of Telegeoinformation with parallel texts in Polish and English. 24
Before the manuscript went to press, the Polish editor, with an eye toward Moscow’s retrenchment on the Katyn question, insisted on deleting 20 pages of text and notes and other material. The editor also dropped a tribute to analyst Poirier, presumably on the grounds that it would give the manuscript an unacceptable CIA imprimatur.
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New Allegations
And so the story stood until fall 1998, when Moscow made a bizarre move. In September, Procurator General Yuri Chayka sent a letter to Poland’s minister of justice demanding an official inquiry into the deaths of Russian soldiers captured during the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1921. The letter asserted that 83,500 internees had died “in Polish concentration camps as a result of cruel and inhuman conditions.” Chayka added: “The information we have allows us to conclude that genocide was applied to Red Army POWs.” 25 Poland officially rejected the allegation but not before offering to cooperate in a joint search of Polish and Russian archives for additional information. (The offer was not accepted.)
This was the first time Moscow had raised such an allegation at an official level, but such charges had been circulating in Russian circles for some time. A rumor heard in Warsaw in the early 1990s claimed that Gorbachev had ordered his staff to find a “counterbalance” to Katyn. The rumor has not been confirmed, but after the first Katyn disclosure in 1990 the Soviet (and later Russian) press occasionally cited alleged abuses in Polish POW camps. Headlines such as “Strzakowo–A Polish Katyn” and “Tuchola–A Death Camp” were typical but attracted little notice.
Then, in July 1998, the Moscow paper Nezavisimaya Gazeta [Independent Newspaper] ran a front-page article claiming that tens of thousands of prisoners had died as a result of shootings, starvation, and exposure. This article formed the basis of Chayka’s demarche. 26 It went beyond previous assertions that Russians and Poles both were victims of Stalinism: “The present position of Warsaw resembles the former position of the USSR, which failed to confess the Katyn crime for a long time . . . . It would be good if Poland followed in Russia’s footsteps and pleaded guilty to the savagery [against Red Army soldiers].” The case for moral equivalence had been replaced by a claim to moral superiority.
No one knows for certain what prompted the new charge, but it may have been a preemptive reaction to more revelations about Katyn and new evidence of Soviet crimes in Poland. In 1997, a Russian and a Polish archivist collaborated on a compendium of documents entitled Katyn: Prisoners of an Undeclared War. 27 Then, in 1998, a Russian-Polish research team issued a series of previously classified secret police reports with the title Eyes Only for J.V. Stalin: NKVD Reports from Poland, 1944-1946. The reports detailed a second wave of terror unleashed during the postwar occupation, showing that the crimes committed during 1939-1941 were not an aberration but part of a single imperial design. Soon thereafter, a group of Polish members of parliament spent 10 days in Russia, trying unsuccessfully to obtain an official acknowledgment that the Soviet Government had engaged in genocide. In the meantime, more graves filled with Polish corpses were found near Tavda and Tomsk, east of the Urals.
Russians cannot look at Katyn without seeing themselves in the mirror of their own history. Thus official Moscow resists using the “g” word (genocide) to describe the atrocity. When Gorbachev’s advisers warned him in 1989 that Poland’s demand for the truth contained a “subtext . . . . that the Soviet Union is no better–and perhaps even worse–than Nazi Germany” and that the Soviet Union was “no less responsible” for the outbreak of World War II and the 1939 defeat of the Polish Army, they were also thinking of undercurrents in their own country. 28 Russian intellectuals were already beginning to equate Communism with fascism and Stalin with Hitler. Reports of vandalized war memorials and looted battlefield cemeteries underscored growing popular disillusionment with the cult of triumphalism built around Stalin and the USSR’s victory over Nazi Germany. 29 Now some Russian revisionists go so far as to claim that Hitler’s invasion launched a preventive war aimed at forestalling Stalin’s plan to strike Germany first–a view that even Western historians reject. 30
In June 1998, Yeltsin and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski agreed that memorial complexes under construction at Katyn and Mednoye, the two NKVD execution sites on Russian soil, should be completed before 2000. But that is not likely to end the controversy. Two days earlier, speaking at a ceremony in the Ukrainian village of Piatikhatki, the site of the third killing field, Kwasniewski declared that Poland has a duty to continue speaking the truth about Katyn. Until Russians and Poles reach some mutual understanding about their past, Katyn will continue to cast a shadow over their futures.
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Benjamin B. Fischer is on the History Staff of CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence.
NOTES
1 For photographs of the parade, see Olaf Groehler, Selbstmorderische Allianz: Deutsch-russische Militarbeziehungen, 1920-1941 [Suicidal Alliance: German-Russian Military Relations, 1920-1941] (Berlin: Vision Verlag 1993), pp. 21-22, 123-124. These photographs were intended for official use only, since German policy was still officially anti-Communist. Relations between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht were genuinely friendly, based on mutual hostility toward Poland and years of secret collaboration after World War I. In addition to Groehler’s book, see Aleksandr M. Nekrich, Pariahs, Partners, Predators: German-Soviet Relations, 1922-1941 (Columbia University Press, 1997).
The parade was organized by Col. (later Gen.) Semyon Krivoschein and Gen. Heinz Guderian, both outstanding tank commanders who would go on to distinguish themselves in the Soviet-German war. Guderian’s panzer group was the first German force to reach the outskirts of Moscow in 1941. Krivoschein’s tank corps was the first to reach Berlin in 1945 and capture Hitler’s headquarters. His 1939 encounter with Guderian almost cost Krivoschein his life in April 1945, when a SMERSH military counterintelligence detachment searching Nazi archives discovered a photograph of Krivoschein and Guderian shaking hands. The Soviet general was questioned and released, probably because he was Jewish and therefore an unlikely Nazi spy.
2 Nataliya Lebedeva, “The Tragedy of Katyn,” International Affairs (Moscow), June 1990, p. 100.
3 In October 1941, Stalin sent Zarubin to Washington as his NKVD rezident (station chief) with orders to cultivate agents of influence in the US Government. He remained until 1944, and he and his wife Elizabeth, an NKVD captain, launched the Soviet effort to penetrate the Manhattan Project and steal US atomic secrets. Zarubin’s daughter, Zoya Zarubina, herself a former intelligence officer and translator, may be familiar to some readers from her appearance in the first segment of the CNN series Cold War.
4 As cited in Albert Axell, Stalin’s War Through the Eyes of His Commanders (London: Arms and Armour, 1997), p. 55.
5 Lebedeva, “The Tragedy of Katyn,” p. 105.
6 For a translation of the order, see Allen Paul, Katyn: Stalin’s Massacre and the Seeds of Polish Resurrection (Annapolis, MD the Naval Institute Press, 1996), pp. 353-354. The same order identified an additional 18,632 prisoners, including 10,685 Poles, being held in NKVD jails in western Ukraine and Belorussia (formerly eastern Poland) for possible execution. A KGB memorandum of February 1959 cites 21,857 as the total number of executions during the April-May 1940 action. See Dmitri Volkogonov, Autopsy of an Empire: The Seven Leaders Who Built the Soviet Regime (New York: The Free Press, 1998), p. 220.
The killings probably continued after May 1940, and the total number of victims may have exceeded 27,000. Ongoing excavations in Ukraine and Russia are turning up more Polish corpses, so this number may increase. There were many more Polish victims of Stalin’s crimes. During 1940-1941, the NKVD unleashed a reign of terror, arresting, torturing, and killing thousands of Poles and inciting national and ethnic violence among Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, and Belorussians in the former eastern Poland. Some 1.2 million Poles were deported to Siberia and Central Asia, where many died in transit or in exile. See Jan T. Gross, Revolution from Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland’s Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).
7 Lebedeva, “The Tragedy of Katyn,” pp. 102-103. The social and professional profile of the other two groups was similar.
8 See Frank Fox, “Jewish Victims of the Katyn Massacre,” East European Jewish Affairs, 23: 1 (1993), pp. 49-55.
9 The NKVD filmed executions carried out in Smolensk, either at the local prison or in the basement of its headquarters. During the Korean war, the Soviets gave North Korea a copy of the film for instructional purposes.
10 US Congress, House of Representatives, Select Committee on the Katyn Forest Massacre. The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings before the Select Committee on Conduct an Investigation of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, 82d Congress, lst and 2d Session, 1951-1952, 7 parts. (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1952).
11 Representative Madden’s district included a substantial Polish-American population in Gary, Indiana. The hearings began in a campaign year.
12 In 1946, the chief Soviet prosecutor at the Nuremberg Tribunal tried to indict Germany for the Katyn killings but dropped the matter after the United States and the UK refused to support it and German lawyers promised to mount an embarrassing defense.
13 See Benjamin J. Stein, “Can We Talk?” American Spectator, November 1998, p. 66.
14 During the Cold War, the Soviet Union constantly reminded Poland, which had absorbed much of Germany’s former eastern regions, that it was the Poles’ sole protection against German revanchism.
15 Pavel Sudoplatov and Anatoli Sudoplatov, Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness–A Soviet Spymaster (New York: Little, Brown & Company, 1994), pp. 278-279, n14.
16 Godziemba-Maliszewski’s lifelong interest in Katyn was personal as well as scholarly. A relative of his, an uncle of his father’s, was among the victims.
17 The document’s survival is in itself an interesting story. In March 1959, the head of the KGB recommended to Nikita Khrushchev that all records of the execution of Polish soldiers and civilians be destroyed, arguing that they had no operational or historical value and could come back to haunt the Soviet Government. For reasons that remain unclear, Khrushchev refused. A rumor that has never been confirmed claims that Khrushchev wanted to reveal the truth about Katyn, but Polish leader Wladislaw Gomulka rejected the idea because it would discredit the Polish Communist Party, which had fabricated evidence to implicate the Germans and exculpate the Soviets. The rumor is probably not true, however even while acknowledging some of Stalin’s crimes, Khrushchev was always careful not to implicate the Communist Party. Volkogonov, Autopsy of an Empire, p. 220.
18 Ibid.
19 Yeltsin almost certainly was emulating former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who, in December 1970, fell to his knees after placing a wreath at a Warsaw memorial commemorating the Nazis’ destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. A press photo of the event became one of the most poignant images of the Cold War.
20 N. Lebedeva, Katyn: prestuplenie protiv chelovechestva [Katyn: A Crime Against Humanity] (Moscow: Izdatel’skaia gruppa Progress: Kul’tura, 1994).
21 Warsaw PAP in English, 1658 GMT, 31 May 1995.
22 Warsaw PAP in Polish, 1017 GMT, 4 June 1995.
23 Moscow ITAR-TASS in English, 1523 GMT, 15 June 1995.
24 Mr. Godziemba-Maliszewski kindly sent me a copy of his study after reading a monograph I had written for the Center for the Study of Intelligence. Copies are available from the author, whose address is PO Box 343, Bethel, Connecticut 06801. The price is $60.00.
25 The letter was given to the press. See Wojciech Duda and Czary Chmyz, “Back to the Past,” Zycie, 12-13 September 1998, p. 1.
26 Yuri Ivanov, “The Tragedy of the Polish Camps,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 16 July 1998, pp. 1, 6.
27 R. G. Pikoia and Aleksander Gieysztor, eds., Katyn’: plenniki neob’ iavlennoi voiny (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnyi Fond “Demokratiia,” 1997).
28 Nina Tumarkin, The Living & the Dead: The Rise & Fall of the Cult of World War II in Russia (New York: Basic Books, 1994), p. 180.
29 Ibid., p. 203. The graverobbers were looking for artifacts to sell to military collectors.
30 See, for example, B. V. Sokolov, “Did Stalin Intend to Attack Hitler?” in The Journal of Slavic Military Studies 11:2 (June 1998), pp. 113-141. The author’s answer is yes. In an intrductory note, the US editors expressed their disagreement with this view.
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Historical Document
Posted: Apr 14, 2007 11:27 AM
Last Updated: Jun 27, 2008 07:34 AM


Fra 1920 til 1948 var Sarubin hovedsagelig i tjeneste for sovjetisk udenlandsk spionage. Sammen med sin kone Elisabeta Sarubina, født Liza Rosenzweig , blev han brugt som en ulovlig beboer ( agentleder ). Efter korte opgaver i Sydamerika, Japan og USA rejste han til Danmark i to år i 1927. Han flyttede derefter til Paris med sin kone, hvor han var involveret i at udspionere den anti - sovjetiske all - russiske militærunion , en sammenslutning af tidligere officerer for den eksar-hær i eksil. I 1930 var han involveret i kidnapningen af ​​general Alexander Kutepov , der emigrerede til Sovjetunionen.

I Berlin , hans næste stilling (1934–1938), ledede han Gestapo- officer, der var ansvarlig for kontraspionage ved RSHA og SS-Hauptsturmführer Willy Lehmann (1884–1942). Han arbejdede officielt i Berlin som en repræsentant for den amerikanske filmproducent Paramount Pictures , ifølge legenden var han en amerikansk statsborger af tjekkisk oprindelse.

Efter sin tilbagevenden til Moskva i 1939 beskyldte den nye NKVD-chef Lavrenti Beria ham for at have spioneret for Gestapo. På hjemmesiden for den russiske udenlandske efterretningstjeneste SWR , som ser sig selv i traditionen med de sovjetiske tjenester, bemærkes det, at den overlevede efterforskningen "med stor værdighed".

Efter at have afsluttet undersøgelsen arbejdede Sarubin i Moskva Lubyanka i det 7. departement, som var ansvarlig for Balkan og Grækenland. I begyndelsen af ​​1940 gennemførte han afhøringen af ​​de polske officerer der var interneret i Koselsk speciallejr . Efter sit ophold i Koselsk skrev han en instruktion med præcise instruktioner om, hvem af de polske officerer, der kunne rekrutteres til NKVD, og ​​hvordan. Imidlertid havde han ikke anbefalet det overvældende flertal af de officerer, der blev taget til fange i Koselsk, til yderligere afhøring. Disse blev skudt i Katyn i april og maj 1940 . Polske historikere beskylder derfor Sarubin for at have bidraget til udryddelsen af ​​den polske elite på denne måde.

Fra 1941 til 1944 var han bosiddende i Washington, DC (som Vasily Zubilin ). Inden han blev sendt til Washington, havde Stalin personligt forklaret ham sin vigtigste opgave: at arbejde mod tilnærmelse mellem USA og Det Tredje Rige må der på ingen måde være en separat fred i Vesten. På samme tid skulle Sarubin vinde informanter i den amerikanske våbenindustri, især i atombombe-projektet.

1943 var, da FBI- chef J. Edgar Hoover , et anonymt brev på russisk, hvis forfatter adskillige sovjetiske diplomater som agenter for udenlandsk efterretning NKGB kaldte og kaldte hendes rigtige navn. Blandt dem var Sarubin alias Zubilin. Han siges at have været involveret i skyderiet af 10.000 polakker nær Molensk (sic!, Der tydeligvis betyder Smolensk ).

FBI observerede Sarubin, som også havde kontakter med amerikanske kommunister, og som ifølge de amerikanske myndigheder ulovligt sendte dem midler fra Moskva. Han måtte forlade USA som en persona non grata .


Haitian Revolution

In 1791, supported by the ideas of the revolution and the voodoo the slaves led per Toussaint Louverture raised and massacred the french colonists.

Spanish brought their assistance to insurgent but, when in 1794 the french government abolished the slavery, the Toussaint Louverture’s army turned against them.

In 1795 the whole island was under french domination. After his seizure of power, Napoleon Ith worried about the autonomy whose the colony, under the government of Toussaint Louverture, profited from. He sent in 1802 a forwarding of 1 500 soldiers under the command of the General Leclerc who captured Toussaint Louverture and exiled him in France where he died in a wet and cold dungeon.

Howhever under the leading of the generals of Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Christophe, the former slaves drove out French and proclaimed on January 1, 1804 the independence of the Western part of the island. The new nation taken the old indian name of the island and became the Republic of Haiti.

The Eastern part remained some time under French domination fell down to the hands of Spanish with the help of Great-Britain then in war with Napoleon.

In 1821 it became in its independent turn under the name of Dominican Republic. In 1822, it was invaded by the army of Haiti and remained under this domination until 1844.

Dessalines which was crowned emperor was assassinated two years after the independence. Haiti was divided into two part. In the North, the kingdom of Christophe, in the South, the republic led by president Petion.

The U.S. reaction to the Haitian revolution:

The U.S. reaction to the Haitian revolution can be characterized from several different aspects. There was fear that the spread of slave rebellions might affect slavery in the United States. There was also a great deal of concern over how relations with Haïti might affect U.S. relations with France, the key American ally in Europe.

Some citizens of the United States were opposed to the revolution because they had close ties to the plantations of Saint-Domingue many feared that the Haitian slave revolts could provoke similar revolts in their own country. They felt that the Haitian revolts were anti-plantation and anti-white, and feared that slave emancipation would result in domination of whites by former slaves.

The surprising factor in story of freedom and determination is that it’s not well known.
Comment by Malvo.


Katyn Massacre: Soviet’s Unknown War Crime

A nation cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, are heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor. He speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly, and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague.”

One of the most infamous mass killings that took place during World War II did not occur in battle but instead, was a cold-blooded act of political murder. The victims were Bolshevik Jew Polish officers, soldiers, and civilians captured by the Red Army after it invaded eastern Poland in September of 1939. These mass killings, which occurred in Katyn, Poland would be blamed on Germany’s Third Reich, with many German officials being sentenced to death for these crimes. Crimes they had not occurred. Several Germans were even turned over to the Soviets at the end of the Nuremberg trials, convicted for these crimes. Thereafter, the Soviets tortured, and murdered these Germans, for crimes the Soviet leadership knew all along, they alone were guilty of.

On September 28th, the USSR and Germany, allied since August through a “Peace Accord”, partitioned and dissolved the Polish state. At Brest Litovsk, Soviet and German commanders held a joint victory parade before German forces withdrew westward behind a new demarcation line. Official records, opened in 1990 when glasnost was still in vogue, show that Stalin had always intended to treat the Poles as political prisoners. Just two days after the invasion began, the NKVD created a Directorate of Prisoners of War. This agency took custody of Polish prisoners from the Army and began organizing a network of reception centers and transfer camps, and arranged rail transport to the western USSR. Once there, the Poles were placed in the camps, and from October to February, they were subjected to interrogations. The camps were at Kozelsk, Starobelsk, and Ostashkov, all were located on former Orthodox monasteries converted into prisons. The NKVD dispatched one of its rising stars, Maj. Vassili Zarubin, to Kozelsk, where most of the officers were kept, to conduct interviews. Zarubin presented himself to the Poles as a charming, sympathetic, and cultured Soviet official, which led many prisoners into sharing confidences that would later cost them their lives.

During April-May 1940, the Polish prisoners were taken to three execution sites. The location most identified with the Soviet atrocity is Katyn Forest, located 12 miles west of Smolensk, Russia. For years historians assumed that the grounds of an NKVD rest and recreation facility were both an execution and burial site for nearly a fifth of the unfortunate Poles who found themselves in Soviet captivity. Post-Cold War revelations, however, suggest that the victims were shot in the basement of the NKVD headquarters in Smolensk and at an abattoir in the same city, although some may have been executed at a site in the forest itself.

The Katyn Forest massacre was a war crimes act that had enduring political implications. When German occupation forces in April 1943 announced the discovery of several mass graves, propaganda minister Josef Goebbels hoped that international revulsion over the Soviet atrocity would drive a wedge between the American, British and French Allied Forces. After all, it was these three western allies that entered the war in defense of the German invasion into Poland.

Despite overwhelming evidence of Soviet responsibility, Moscow blamed the Germans, and for the rest of the war Washington and London officially accepted the Soviet’s lie. When the Polish government-in-exile in London demanded an international inquiry, Stalin used this as a pretext to break relations. The Western allies objected but eventually acquiesced. Soon thereafter, the Soviet dictator assembled a group of Polish Communists that returned to Poland with the Red Army in 1944 and formed the nucleus of the postwar government.

Professor Stanislaw Swianiewicz was the sole survivor of Katyn. He was waiting to board a bus to the forest area when an NKVD colonel arrived and pulled him out of line. Swianiewicz was an internationally recognized “expert” on forced labor in Soviet Russia and Germany, who had been born in Poland when it was still part of the Russian empire, and had studied in Moscow. He ended up in Siberia, and after the war emigrated to the United States, where he taught economics at the University of Notre Dame.

Those who died at Katyn included an admiral, two generals, 24 colonels, 79 lieutenant colonels, 258 majors, 654 captains, 17 naval captains, 3,420 NCOs, seven chaplains, three landowners, a prince, 43 officials, 85 privates, and 131 refugees. Also among the dead were 20 university professors, 300 physicians, several hundred lawyers, engineers, teachers, and more than 100 writers and journalists as well as about 200 pilots. It was their social status that landed them in front of NKVD execution squads. Most of the victims were reservists who had been mobilized when Germany invaded. In all, the NKVD eliminated almost half the Polish officer corps as part of Stalin’s long-range effort to prevent the resurgence of an independent Poland. Most of the Polish victims were Jews.

Katyn played a convoluted role in U.S. politics and US-Soviet relations. Two U.S. servicemen, brought from a POW camp in Germany, were at Katyn in 1943, when Berlin held an international news conference there to publicize the atrocity. The ranking officer was Col. John H. Van Vliet, a fourth-generation West Pointer. After returning to Washington in 1945, he wrote a report concluding that the Soviets, not the Germans, were responsible. He gave the report to Maj. Gen. Clayton Bissell, Gen. George Marshall’s assistant chief of staff for intelligence, who deep-sixed it. Years later, Bissell defended his action before Congress, contending that it was not in the U.S. interest to “embarrass” an ally whose forces were still needed to defeat Japan.

In 1944, President Roosevelt assigned Capt. George Earle, his special emissary to the Balkans, to compile information on Katyn. Earle did so, using contacts in Bulgaria and Romania. Earle also concluded that the Soviet Union was guilty. FDR rejected Earle’s conclusion, saying that he was convinced the Germans were responsible. This report was also suppressed. When Earle requested permission to publish his findings, the President gave him a written order to desist. Earle, who had been a Roosevelt family friend, spent the rest of the war in American Samoa

As the Cold War heated up, Katyn became a shibboleth in U.S. politics. In 1949, an American journalist assembled a committee of prominent Americans, which included former OSS chief Gen. William Donovan and future DCI Allen Dulles, to press for an official inquiry, but it went nowhere. Then came the Korean war and concern that Communist forces were executing American GIs. “Katyn may well have been a blueprint for Korea,” one Congressman declared. In September 1951, the House of Representatives appointed a select committee to hold hearings. It was chaired by Rep. Ray J. Madden and was popularly known as the Madden Committee. Although not without political or propaganda overtones, the hearings were the most comprehensive effort to date to gather facts and establish responsibility. The committee heard 81 witnesses, examined 183 exhibits, and took more than 100 depositions. Before disbanding the select committee, Madden tried to get the UN to bring the Katyn massacre before the International Court of Justice and sought Congressional support for a joint Senate-House inquiry. But the political will to do so was lacking.

Meanwhile, the Soviets obliterated references to Katyn on maps and in official reference works. Then, in 1969, Moscow did something strange that many believe was further calculated to confuse the issue further, it chose a small village named Khatyn as the cite for Belorussia’s national war memorial. Khatyn was one of 9,200 Belorussian villages the Germans had occupied during WWII. In Latin transliteration, however, Katyn and Khatyn look and sound alike, though they are spelled and pronounced quite differently in Russian and Belorussian. When President Nixon visited the USSR in July 1974, he toured the Khatyn memorial at his hosts’ insistence. Sensing that the Soviets were exploiting the visit for propaganda purposes, The New York Times headlined an article, “Nixon Sees Khatyn, a Soviet Memorial, Not Katyn Forest.” The article is posted online here.

For 50 years, the Soviet Union concealed the truth. The cover-up began in April 1943, almost immediately after the Red Army had recaptured Smolensk. The NKVD destroyed a cemetery the Germans had permitted the Polish Red Cross to build and removed other evidence. In January 1944, Moscow appointed its own investigative body, known as the Burdenko Commission after the prominent surgeon who chaired it. Predictably, it concluded that the Polish prisoners had been murdered in 1941, during the German occupation. To bolster its claim, the commission hosted an international press conference at Katyn in January. Three American journalists and Kathleen Harriman, the 25-year-old daughter of U.S. Ambassador Averell Harriman, attended. After viewing exhibits of planted evidence, they endorsed the Burdenko Commission’s findings. Ms. Harriman later repudiated her 1944 statement before the House select committee. Eight days later, the Soviets held a religious and military ceremony attended by a color guard from the Polish division of the Red Army to honor the victims of “German-fascist invaders.” A propaganda film was created to celebrate the facade.

Katyn remained a forbidden topic in postwar Poland. Censors suppressed all references to it. Even mentioning the atrocity meant risking reprisal. While Katyn was erased from Poland’s official history, it could not be erased from historical memory. In 1981, Solidarity erected a memorial with the simple inscription “Katyn, 1940.” The police confiscated it. Later, the Polish Government, on cue from Moscow, created another memorial. It read: “To the Polish soldiers, victims of Hitlerite fascism, reposing in the soil of Katyn.”

In 1987, the Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev signed an agreement with the head of Poland’s military government, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, for a joint historical commission to investigate censored subjects within the two countries’ troubled history. Polish historians tried unsuccessfully to include Katyn on the agenda. The commission did provide a forum, however, for Polish historians to press their Soviet counterparts for access to official records, even if to confirm the Burdenko Commission’s conclusions. Gorbachev had a chance to address Katyn during a July 1988 state visit to Warsaw, but dodged the issue.

Pressure was building on the Soviets, however. Prominent Polish intellectuals signed an open letter asking for access to official records and sent it to Soviet colleagues. A month after Gorbachev’s visit, demonstrators paraded in the streets of Warsaw demanding an official inquiry. The Kremlin had to do something. It chose to deceive! In November, the Soviet Government announced plans for a new memorial at Katyn commemorating Polish officers “[who] together with 500 Soviet prisoners were shot by the fascists in 1943 as our army approached Smolensk.” This was not true, and the change of dates was a further obfuscation, but more important was the message directed to the Poles that both Russia and Poland were victims of German aggression.

In early 1989, three top Soviet officials sent Gorbachev a memorandum warning him that the issue was becoming “more acute” and that “time is not our ally.” Some form of official admission had to be made. At a Kremlin ceremony in October of 1990, Gorbachev handed Jaruzelski a folder of documents that left no doubt about Soviet guilt. Gorbachev did not, however, make a full and complete disclosure. Missing from the folder was the March 1940 NKVD execution order. Gorbachev laid all blame on Stalin’s secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria, and his deputy. Beria and his deputy had been branded criminals and summarily shot by Stalin’s successors. Gorbachev also failed to mention that the actual number of victims was 21,857, far more than the 15,000 that was usually cited. By shaving the truth, Gorbachev shielded the Soviet Government and the Communist Party, making Katyn look like a rogue secret police action rather than an official act of mass murder.

The next major discovery turned up in an unexpected place, the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. While conducting research on Katyn at the Archives in spring 1990, a Polish-American art and antiques expert named Waclaw Godziemba-Maliszewski was given a copy of an article entitled “The Katyn Enigma: New Evidence in a 40-Year Riddle” that had appeared in the Spring 1981 issue of Studies in Intelligence. It was written by CIA officer and NPIC analyst Robert G. Poirier, who used imagery from Luftwaffe aerial photoreconnaissance during World War II to uncover evidence of the original crime and a Soviet cover-up during 1943-1944. The imagery, selected from 17 sorties flown between 1941 and 1944 and spanning a period before, during, and after the German occupation of the Smolensk area, was important evidence. Among other things, it showed that the area where the mass graves were located had not been altered during the German occupation and that the same area displayed physical changes that predated the Germans’ arrival. It also captured the NKVD on film bulldozing some of the Polish graves and removing bodies. Poirier speculated that the corpses had been removed and reburied at another site.

At the National Archives, Godziemba-Maliszewski located the same imagery that Poirier had used. He also found additional shots of Katyn and the other two execution sites at Mednoye and near Kharkov. Godziemba-Maliszewski discovered additional imagery, new collateral evidence, and eyewitness testimony, resulting in important new conclusions about what actually happened at Katyn. After completing further research, in January 1991 Godziemba-Maliszewski turned over copies of the imagery and Poirier’s article to scientists at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. They in turn passed the information to the Polish Ministry of Justice. The Ministry had to be convinced that the article and photographic evidence were bona fide and that Godziemba-Maliszewski was not, as some suspected, a CIA agent. Stefan Sniezko, Poland’s deputy general prosecutor, then gave an interview to the German newspaper Tagesspiegel [Daily Mirror], published on May 12th 1991. This was the first public disclosure of the Luftwaffe imagery and its utility for identifying burial sites in the USSR.

The disclosure had an immediate impact in Germany, where media interest in Katyn had been running high since the 1980s, and in the USSR as well. Armed with this “smoking gun,” a Polish prosecutor assigned to investigate Soviet crimes flew to Kharkov (now Kharkiv), where the Ukrainian KGB, under watchful Russian eyes, assisted in identifying a series of sites, including Piatikhatki, where prisoners from the Starobelsk camp had been executed. Ironically, for a second time the German military had provided evidence, albeit unwittingly, of Soviet complicity in the massacre. This new evidence put additional pressure on the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation to reveal the truth. In 1992, Moscow suddenly “discovered” the original 1940 execution order signed by Stalin, and five Politburo members, in Gorbachev’s own private archive. Gorbachev certainly had read it in 1989, if not earlier. In October 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin presented a copy of the order along with 41 other documents to the new Polish president, former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa. In doing so, he made a point of chiding his arch enemy Gorbachev, with whom he was locked in a bitter domestic political battle. During a 1993 visit to Warsaw’s military cemetery, Yeltsin knelt before a Polish priest and kissed the ribbon of a wreath he had placed at the foot of the Katyn cross. In a joint statement with Walesa, he pledged to punish those still alive who had taken part in the massacre and make reparations, a promise that would not keep. Meanwhile, Soviet and Polish teams were permitted to excavate at Katyn and two other sites where Polish prisoners had been executed. In 1994, a Soviet historian published a book that for the first time called Katyn a “crime against humanity.”

In May 1995, officials from Russia, Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus announced their intention to end an official probe into “NKVD crimes.” But even that announcement revealed information that had long been known in the West. Stalin’s secret police had committed crimes against some 11,000 Poles living in western Ukraine and western Belorussia after the USSR had incorporated those regions, murdering more than 3,000 Polish prisoners in panic killings when Germany attacked in June 1941.

With the official investigation complete, Yeltsin appeared a few days later at a ceremony to lay the cornerstone for a Polish cemetery at Katyn. Those expecting an expression of contrition were disappointed. Yeltsin told his audience that “totalitarian terror affected not only Polish citizens but, in the first place, the citizens of the former Soviet Union.” Yeltsin added that 10,000 bodies of the “most varied nationalities” had been found there. The NKVD had also used the forest as a killing ground in the 1930s. Yeltsin’s plea that the tragedy “not be allowed to divide our nations and be the subject of political games” fell on deaf ears. Less than two weeks later, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman warned Poles still insisting on an apology not to exploit the memorial service to sow “distrust between Russia and Poland.”

Some Poles undoubtedly took offense at Yeltsin’s effort to commemorate Katyn as a common Russian and Polish tragedy and blame it on “totalitarianism.” Moreover, the Russian president refused to apologize and did not follow up on his pledge to punish still-living culprits and pay reparations. Meantime, resentment by extreme nationalists and Communists in the Duma was increasing. In January 1996, a book with the provocative title, The Katyn Crime Fiction, written in Polish under the pseudonym “Juri Micha,” began circulating in the Duma, and was placed on sale in the Russian parliament’s bookstore. It repudiated Gorbachev’s 1990 admission, and repeated the old Stalinist charge of German guilt. The book came at a bad time for Godziemba-Maliszewski, who was completing a study based on new information, some of it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, and the good offices of former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. His manuscript included declassified satellite imagery and maps as well as eyewitness statements, personal photographs, stills from a documentary film, and other items. It also contained a detailed study and reinterpretation of Luftwaffe imagery. The manuscript was entitled “Katyn: An Interpretation of Aerial Photographs Considered with Facts and Documents.” It eventually appeared as a special issue of the Polish journal, Photo-Interpretation in Geography: Problems of Telegeoinformation with parallel texts in Polish and English. Before the manuscript went to press, the Polish editor, with an eye toward Moscow’s retrenchment on the Katyn question, insisted on deleting 20 pages of text, notes and other material. The editor also dropped a tribute to analyst Poirier, presumably on the grounds that it would give the manuscript an unacceptable CIA imprimatur.

And so the story stood until fall 1998, when Moscow made a bizarre move. In September, Procurator General Yuri Chayka sent a letter to Poland’s minister of justice demanding an official inquiry into the deaths of Russian soldiers captured during the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1921. The letter asserted that 83,500 internees had died “in Polish concentration camps as a result of cruel and inhuman conditions.” Chayka added, “The information we have allows us to conclude that genocide was applied to Red Army POWs.” Poland officially rejected the allegation but not before offering to cooperate in a joint search of Polish and Russian archives for additional information. However, the offer was not accepted. This was the first time Moscow raised such an allegation at an official level, but such charges had been circulating in Russian circles for some time. A rumor heard in Warsaw in the early 1990s claimed that Gorbachev had ordered his staff to find a “counterbalance” to Katyn. The rumor has not been confirmed, but after the first Katyn disclosure in 1990 the Soviet, and later Russian press occasionally cited alleged abuses in Polish POW camps. Headlines such as “Strzakowo–A Polish Katyn” and “Tuchola–A Death Camp” were typical, but attracted little notice.

In July of 1998, the Moscow paper Nezavisimaya Gazeta ran a front-page article claiming that tens of thousands of prisoners had died as a result of shootings, starvation, and exposure. This article formed the basis of Chayka’s demarche. It went beyond previous assertions that Russians and Poles both were victims of Stalinism: “The present position of Warsaw resembles the former position of the USSR, which failed to confess the Katyn crime for a long time. It would be good if Poland followed in Russia’s footsteps and pleaded guilty to the savagery against Red Army soldiers.” The case for moral equivalence had been replaced by a claim to moral superiority. No one knows for certain what prompted the new charge, but it may have been a preemptive reaction to more revelations about Katyn and new evidence of Soviet crimes in Poland. In 1997, a Russian and a Polish archivist collaborated on a compendium of documents entitled Katyn: Prisoners of an Undeclared War. Then, in 1998, a Russian-Polish research team issued a series of previously classified secret police reports with the title, “Eyes Only for J.V. Stalin: NKVD Reports from Poland, 1944-1946.” The reports detailed a second wave of terror unleashed during the postwar occupation, showing that the crimes committed during 1939-1941 were not an aberration but part of a single imperial design. Soon thereafter, a group of Polish members of parliament spent 10 days in Russia, trying unsuccessfully to obtain an official acknowledgment that the Soviet Government had engaged in genocide. In the meantime, more graves filled with Polish corpses were found near Tavda and Tomsk, east of the Urals.

Russians cannot look at Katyn without seeing themselves in the mirror of their own history. Thus official Moscow resists using the genocide word to describe the Katyn Massacre. When Gorbachev’s advisers warned him in 1989 that Poland’s demand for the truth contained a “subtext that the Soviet Union is no better, and perhaps even worse than Nazi Germany” and that the Soviet Union was “no less responsible” for the outbreak of World War II, and the 1939 defeat of the Polish Army, they were also thinking of undercurrents in their own country. Russian intellectuals were already beginning to equate Communism with fascism and Stalin with Hitler. Reports of vandalized war memorials and looted battlefield cemeteries underscored growing popular disillusionment with the cult of triumphalism built around Stalin and the USSR’s victory over Germany. Now some Russian scholars claim that Hitler’s invasion of the USSR launched a preventive war aimed at forestalling Stalin’s plan to strike Germany first, a view that Western historians reject.

In June 1998, Yeltsin and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski agreed that memorial complexes under construction at Katyn and Mednoye, the two NKVD execution sites on Russian soil, was to be completed by 2000. Those memorials however, are not likely to end the controversy. Two days earlier, speaking at a ceremony in the Ukrainian village of Piatikhatki, the site of the third killing field, Kwasniewski declared that Poland has a duty to continue speaking the truth about Katyn. Until Russians and Poles reach some mutual understanding about their past, Katyn will continue to cast a shadow over their futures.


One of the earliest–and certainly the most infamous–mass shootings of prisoners of war during World War II did not occur in the heat of battle, but was a cold-blooded act of political murder. The victims were Polish officers, soldiers, and civilians captured by the Red Army after it invaded eastern Poland in September 1939. Strictly speaking, even the Polish servicemen were not POWs.

The USSR had not declared war, and the Polish commander in chief had ordered his troops not to engage Soviet forces. But there was little the Poles could do. On 28 September, the USSR and Nazi Germany, allied since August, partitioned and then dissolved the Polish state. They then began implementing parallel policies of suppressing all resistance and destroying the Polish elite in their respective areas. The NKVD and the Gestapo coordinated their actions on many issues, including prisoner exchanges. At Brest Litovsk, Soviet and German commanders held a joint victory parade before German forces withdrew westward behind a new demarcation line.

Official records, opened in 1990 when glasnost was still in vogue, show that Stalin had every intention of treating the Poles as political prisoners. Just two days after the invasion began on 17 September, the NKVD created a Directorate of Prisoners of War. It took custody of Polish prisoners from the Army and began organizing a network of reception centers and transfer camps and arranging rail transport to the western USSR. Once there, the Poles were placed in “special” (concentration) camps, where, from October to February, they were subjected to lengthy interrogations and constant political agitation. The camps were at Kozelsk, Starobelsk, and Ostashkov, all three located on the grounds of former Orthodox monasteries converted into prisons. The NKVD dispatched one of its rising stars, Maj. Vassili Zarubin, to Kozelsk, where most of the officers were kept, to conduct interviews. Zarubin presented himself to the Poles as a charming, sympathetic, and cultured Soviet official, which led many prisoners into sharing confidences that would cost them their lives.

The considerable logistic effort required to handle the prisoners coincided with the USSR’s disastrous 105-day war against Finland. The Finns inflicted 200,000 casualties on the Red Army and destroyed tons of materiel–and much of Russia’s military reputation. That war, like the assault on Poland, was a direct result of Stalin’s nonaggression pact with Hitler.

The Soviet dictator offered Helsinki “remarkably moderate terms,” in the words of British military historian Liddell Hart, taking only territory needed to defend the land, sea, and air approaches to Leningrad. The difference between Stalin’s treatment of Finland and Poland underscored his imperial ambitions toward the latter. Moscow and Helsinki even exchanged prisoners once hostilities had ceased. (Stalin, however, dealt harshly with his own soldiers who had been in Finnish captivity. At least 5,000 repatriated troops simply disappeared from an NKVD prison and were presumably executed.

Stalin was anxious to settle with Finland so he could turn his attention to Poland and the Baltic countries, which the Red Army would soon occupy and the NKVD would “pacify” using terror, deportations, and executions. Militarily, the war was over by late February, though a peace agreement was not signed until March. NKVD interrogations were completed about the same time. The Poles were encouraged to believe they would be released, but the interviews were in effect a selection process to determine who would live and who would die. On 5 March 1940, Stalin signed their death warrant–an NKVD order condemning 21,857 prisoners to “the supreme penalty: shooting.” They had been condemned as “hardened and uncompromising enemies of Soviet authority.”

During April-May 1940, the Polish prisoners were moved from their internment camps and taken to three execution sites. The place most identified with the Soviet atrocity is Katyn Forest, located 12 miles west of Smolensk, Russia. For years historians assumed that the grounds of an NKVD rest and recreation facility were both an execution and burial site for nearly a fifth of the unfortunate Poles who found themselves in Soviet captivity. Post-Cold War revelations, however, suggest that the victims were shot in the basement of the NKVD headquarters in Smolensk and at an abattoir in the same city, although some may have been executed at a site in the forest itself. In any event, the Katyn Forest is–and will probably long remain–the main symbol of the atrocity, even if it was not the actual killing field.

The Katyn Forest massacre was a criminal act of historic proportions and enduring political implications. When Nazi occupation forces in April 1943 announced the discovery of several mass graves, propaganda minister Josef Goebbels hoped that international revulsion over the Soviet atrocity would drive a wedge into the Big Three coalition and buy Germany a breathing space, if not a victory, in its war against Russia. (A headline in the May 1943 Newsweek read: “Poles vs. Reds: Allied Unity Put to Test Over Officer Dead.”) But Goebbels miscalculated. Despite overwhelming evidence of Soviet responsibility, Moscow blamed the Germans, and for the rest of the war Washington and London officially accepted the Soviet countercharge. When the Polish government-in-exile in London demanded an international inquiry, Stalin used this as a pretext to break relations. The Western allies objected but eventually acquiesced. Soon thereafter, the Soviet dictator assembled a group of Polish Communists that returned to Poland with the Red Army in 1944 and formed the nucleus of the postwar government. Stalin’s experience with the Katyn affair may have convinced him that the West, grateful for the Red Army’s contribution to the Allied military effort, would find it hard to confront him over Poland after the war.

Professor Stanislaw Swianiewicz was the sole survivor of Katyn. He was waiting to board a bus to the forest area when an NKVD colonel arrived and pulled him out of line. Swianiewicz was an internationally recognized expert on forced labor in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, who had been born in Poland when it was still part of the Russian empire, and had studied in Moscow. He ended up in Siberia, and after the war emigrated to the United States, where he taught economics at the University of Notre Dame. At least one CIA analyst remembers the professor from his days in South Bend.

Those who died at Katyn included an admiral, two generals, 24 colonels, 79 lieutenant colonels, 258 majors, 654 captains, 17 naval captains, 3,420 NCOs, seven chaplains, three landowners, a prince, 43 officials, 85 privates, and 131 refugees. Also among the dead were 20 university professors 300 physicians several hundred lawyers, engineers, and teachers and more than 100 writers and journalists as well as about 200 pilots. It was their social status that landed them in front of NKVD execution squads. Most of the victims were reservists who had been mobilized when Germany invaded. In all, the NKVD eliminated almost half the Polish officer corps–part of Stalin’s long-range effort to prevent the resurgence of an independent Poland.

Recent historical research shows that 700-900 of the victims were Polish Jews. Ironically, the Germans knew this, and it complicated Goebbels’ effort to portray the atrocity as a “Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy”–a mainstay of the Nazi regime’s anti-Semitic propaganda.

Katyn created a big echo in the United States. Dozens of books have been written on the subject–the Library of Congress has catalogued 19 new ones since 1975–and several Web sites on the Internet are devoted to it. There is a Katyn memorial in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and one Web site belongs to a Baltimore group trying to raise funds to erect a monument there. Several states and many cities have issued commemorative proclamations. The most recent was signed by New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, who designated 15 September 1996 “Katyn Forest Massacre Day.” The commemorative statement is available on the Internet. In 1988, Alaska chose 30 April as a “Day To Remember Katyn.” A Web site maintained by the Archaeological Institute of America tracks excavations at Katyn and two other execution sites, one at Mednoye (near the former city of Kalinin, now Tver’, in Russia) and the other near Kharkiv (formerly Kharkov), Ukraine.

Katyn played a convoluted role in US politics and US-Soviet relations. Two US servicemen, brought from a POW camp in Germany, were at Katyn in 1943, when Berlin held an international news conference there to publicize the atrocity. The ranking officer was Col. John H. Van Vliet, a fourth-generation West Pointer. After returning to Washington in 1945, he wrote a report concluding that the Soviets, not the Germans, were responsible. He gave the report to Maj. Gen. Clayton Bissell, Gen. George Marshall’s assistant chief of staff for intelligence, who deep-sixed it. Years later, Bissell defended his action before Congress, contending that it was not in the US interest to embarrass an ally whose forces were still needed to defeat Japan.

In 1944, President Roosevelt assigned Capt. George Earle, his special emissary to the Balkans, to compile information on Katyn. Earle did so, using contacts in Bulgaria and Romania. He too concluded that the Soviet Union was guilty. FDR rejected Earle’s conclusion, saying that he was convinced of Nazi Germany’s responsibility. The report was suppressed. When Earle requested permission to publish his findings, the President gave him a written order to desist. Earle–who had been a Roosevelt family friend–spent the rest of the war in American Samoa.

As the Cold War heated up, Katyn became a shibboleth in US politics. In 1949, an American journalist assembled a committee of prominent Americans, which included former OSS chief Gen. William Donovan and future DCI Allen Dulles, to press for an official inquiry, but it went nowhere. Then came the Korean war and concern that Communist forces were executing American GIs. “Katyn may well have been a blueprint for Korea,” one Congressman declared. In September 1951, the House of Representatives appointed a select committee to hold hearings. It was chaired by Rep. Ray J. Madden and was popularly known as the Madden Committee. Although not without political or propaganda overtones, the hearings were the most comprehensive effort to date to gather facts and establish responsibility. The committee heard 81 witnesses, examined 183 exhibits, and took more than 100 depositions. The hearings gave Democrats a chance to deflect charges of having “betrayed” Poland and “lost” China at Yalta and offered Republicans an opportunity to court voters of Polish and other East European ancestry who traditionally favored Democrats.

Before disbanding the select committee, Madden tried to get the UN to bring the Katyn massacre before the International Court of Justice and sought Congressional support for a joint Senate-House inquiry. But the political will to do so was lacking. Stalin’s death, the rise of a new leadership, and the end of the Korean war seemed to auger a thaw in US-Soviet relations.

Meanwhile, the Soviets obliterated references to Katyn on maps and in official reference works. Then, in 1969, Moscow did something strange that many believe was further calculated to confuse the issue further: it chose a small village named Khatyn as the cite for Belorussia’s national war memorial. There was no apparent reason for the selection. Khatyn was one of 9,200 Belorussian villages the Germans had destroyed and one of more than a hundred where they had killed civilians in retaliation for partisan attacks. In Latin transliteration, however, Katyn and Khatyn look and sound alike, though they are spelled and pronounced quite differently in Russian and Belorussian. When President Nixon visited the USSR in July 1974, he toured the Khatyn memorial at his hosts’ insistence. Sensing that the Soviets were exploiting the visit for propaganda purposes, The New York Times headlined its coverage of the tour: “Nixon Sees Khatyn, a Soviet Memorial, Not Katyn Forest.” (The Times probably got it right. During the Vietnam war, the Soviets frequently took visiting US peace activists to Khatyn.)

While Katyn was taboo in the USSR and Poland, numerous books and articles appeared in the United States and the UK. The standard scholarly work was written by Dr. Janus K. Zawodny, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1988, the National Endowment for the Humanities sponsored a Polish translation of his Death in the Forest for distribution in Poland. Later, the Reagan and Bush administrations both released previously classified records bearing on Katyn. These were the first official US efforts since the House hearings aimed at documenting Soviet responsibility.

Old habits die hard. In the summer of 1998, a US corporation sponsored an exhibit of World War II photographs from the Russian Army Museum at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington. Incredibly, in a souvenir program sold at the exhibit, the Russian exhibitors repeated the Soviet lie that the Nazis, not the NKVD, had murdered Polish prisoners at Katyn.

For 50 years, the Soviet Union concealed the truth. The cover-up began in April 1943, almost immediately after the Red Army had recaptured Smolensk. The NKVD destroyed a cemetery the Germans had permitted the Polish Red Cross to build and removed other evidence. In January 1944, Moscow appointed its own investigative body, known as the Burdenko Commission after the prominent surgeon who chaired it. Predictably, it concluded that the Polish prisoners had been murdered in 1941, during the German occupation, not in 1940. To bolster its claim, the commission hosted an international press conference at Katyn on 22 January. Three American journalists and Kathleen Harriman, the 25-year-old daughter of US Ambassador Averell Harriman, attended. After viewing exhibits of planted evidence, they endorsed the Burdenko Commission’s findings. (Ms. Harriman later repudiated her 1944 statement before the House select committee.) Eight days later, the Soviets held a religious and military ceremony attended by a color guard from the Polish division of the Red Army to honor the victims of “German-fascist invaders.” A film was made and shown for propaganda purposes.

Katyn was a forbidden topic in postwar Poland. Censors suppressed all references to it. Even mentioning the atrocity meant risking reprisal. While Katyn was erased from Poland’s official history, it could not be erased from historical memory. In 1981, Solidarity erected a memorial with the simple inscription “Katyn, 1940.” Even that was too much. The police confiscated it. Later, the Polish Government, on cue from Moscow, created another memorial. It read: “To the Polish soldiers–victims of Hitlerite fascism–reposing in the soil of Katyn.”

Then came Mikhail Gorbachev and glasnost. In 1987, the Soviet president signed an agreement with the head of Poland’s military government, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, for a joint historical commission to investigate “blank spots,” that is, censored subjects, in the two countries’ troubled history. Polish historians tried unsuccessfully to include Katyn on the agenda. The commission did provide a forum, however, for Polish historians to press their Soviet counterparts for access to official records, even if to confirm the Burdenko Commission’s conclusions. (There were, after all, “court historians” on both sides.) Gorbachev had a chance to address Katyn during a July 1988 state visit to Warsaw, but dodged the issue.

Pressure was building on the Soviets, however. Prominent Polish intellectuals signed an open letter asking for access to official records and sent it to Soviet colleagues. A month after Gorbachev’s visit, demonstrators paraded in the streets of Warsaw demanding an official inquiry. The Kremlin had to do something it chose to deceive. In November, the Soviet Government announced plans for a new memorial at Katyn commemorating Polish officers “[who] together with 500 Soviet prisoners . . . were shot by the fascists in 1943 as our army approached Smolensk.” This was not true, and the change of dates was a further obfuscation, but more important was the subliminal message directed to the Poles: Russia and Poland were both victims of German aggression, something neither country should forget.

In early 1989, three top Soviet officials sent Gorbachev a memorandum warning him that the issue was becoming “more acute” and that “time is not our ally.” Some form of official admission, even a partial one, would have to be made. At a Kremlin ceremony on 13 October 1990, Gorbachev handed Jaruzelski a folder of documents that left no doubt about Soviet guilt. He did not, however, make a full and complete disclosure. Missing from the folder was the March 1940 NKVD execution order. Gorbachev laid all blame on Stalin’s secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria, and his deputy. (This was a safe move, because Beria and his deputy had been branded criminals and summarily shot by Stalin’s successors.) Gorbachev also failed to mention that the actual number of victims was 21,857–more than the usually cited figure of 15,000. By shaving the truth, Gorbachev had shielded the Soviet Government and the Communist Party, making Katyn look like a rogue secret police action rather than an official act of mass murder.

The next major discovery turned up in an unexpected place–the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. While conducting research on Katyn at the Archives in spring 1990, a Polish-American art and antiques expert named Waclaw Godziemba-Maliszewski was given a copy of an article entitled “The Katyn Enigma: New Evidence in a 40-Year Riddle” that had appeared in the Spring 1981 issue of Studies in Intelligence. It was written by CIA officer and NPIC analyst Robert G. Poirier, who used imagery from Luftwaffe aerial photo reconnaissance during World War II to uncover evidence of the original crime and a Soviet cover-up during 1943-1944. The imagery, selected from 17 sorties flown between 1941 and 1944 and spanning a period before, during, and after the German occupation of the Smolensk area, was important evidence. Among other things, it showed that the area where the mass graves were located had not been altered during the German occupation and that the same area displayed physical changes that predated the Germans’ arrival. It also captured the NKVD on film bulldozing some of the Polish graves and removing bodies. Poirier speculated that the corpses had been removed and reburied at another site.

At the National Archives, Godziemba-Maliszewski located the same imagery that Poirier had used. He also found additional shots of Katyn and the other two execution sites at Mednoye and near Kharkov. He discovered much additional imagery, new collateral evidence, and eyewitness testimony, resulting in important new conclusions about what actually happened at Katyn.

After completing further research, in January 1991 Godziemba-Maliszewski turned over copies of the imagery and Poirier’s article to scientists at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. They in turn passed the information to the Polish Ministry of Justice. The Ministry had to be convinced that the article and photographic evidence were bona fide and that Godziemba-Maliszewski was not, as some suspected, a CIA agent! Stefan Sniezko, Poland’s deputy general prosecutor, then gave an interview to the German newspaper Tagesspiegel [Daily Mirror], published on 12 May 1991. This was the first public disclosure of the Luftwaffe imagery and its utility for identifying burial sites in the USSR.

The disclosure had an immediate impact in Germany, where media interest in Katyn had been running high since the 1980s, and in the USSR as well. Armed with this “smoking gun,” a Polish prosecutor assigned to investigate Soviet crimes flew to Kharkov (now Kharkiv), where the Ukrainian KGB, under watchful Russian eyes, assisted in identifying a series of sites, including Piatikhatki, where prisoners from the Starobelsk camp had been executed. Ironically, for a second time the German military had provided evidence, albeit unwittingly, of Soviet complicity in the massacre.

The new evidence put additional pressure on the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation to reveal the full truth. In 1992, Moscow suddenly “discovered” the original 1940 execution ordered signed by Stalin and five other Politburo members– in Gorbachev’s private archive. Gorbachev almost certainly had read it in 1989, if not earlier. In October 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin presented a copy of the order along with 41 other documents to the new Polish president, former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa. In doing so, he made a point of chiding his arch enemy Gorbachev, with whom he was locked in a bitter domestic political battle. During a 1993 visit to Warsaw’s military cemetery, Yeltsin knelt before a Polish priest and kissed the ribbon of a wreath he had placed at the foot of the Katyn cross. In a joint statement with Walesa, he pledged to punish those still alive who had taken part in the massacre and make reparations–a promise that has not been kept. Meanwhile, Soviet and Polish teams were permitted to excavate at Katyn and the other two sites, on a selective basis, where Polish prisoners had been executed. In 1994, a Soviet historian published a book that for the first time called Katyn a “crime against humanity.”

Katyn is a wound that refuses to heal. In May 1995, officials from Russia, Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus announced their intention to end an official probe into “NKVD crimes” committed there and at other sites. But even that announcement revealed “new” information that had long been known in the West. Stalin’s secret police had committed crimes against some 11,000 Poles living in western Ukraine and western Belorussia after the USSR had incororated those regions, and murdered more than 3,000 Polish prisoners in panic killings when Germany attacked in June 1941.

With the official investigation complete, Yeltsin appeared a few days later at a ceremony to lay the cornerstone for a Polish cemetery at Katyn. Those expecting an expression of contrition were disappointed. Yeltsin told his audience that “totalitarian terror affected not only Polish citizens but, in the first place, the citizens of the former Soviet Union.” He added that 10,000 bodies of the “most varied nationalities” had been found there. (The NKVD had used the forest as a killing ground in the 1930s.) Yeltsin’s plea that the tragedy “not be allowed to divide our nations and be the subject of political games” fell on deaf ears. Less than two weeks later, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman warned Poles still insisting on an apology not to exploit the memorial service to sow “distrust between Russia and Poland.” He too could not resist remarking that “totalitarian rule” had “killed, among others, millions of Russians.”

Some Poles undoubtedly took offense at Yeltsin’s effort to commemorate Katyn as a common Russian and Polish tragedy and blame it on “totalitarianism.” Moreover, the Russian president refused to apologize and did not follow up on his pledge to punish still-living culprits and pay reparations. Meantime, resentment by extreme nationalists and Communists in the Duma was increasing. In January 1996, a book with the provocative title The Katyn Crime Fiction, written in Polish under the pseudonym “Juri Micha,” began circulating in the Duma and was placed on sale in the Russian parliament’s bookstore. It repudiated Gorbachev’s 1990 admission (without mentioning Yeltsin’s elaboration two years later) and repeated the old Stalinist charge of German guilt.

The book came at a bad time for Godziemba-Maliszewski, who was completing a study based on new information, some of it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and the good offices of former national security adviser Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski. His manuscript included declassified satellite imagery and maps as well as eyewitness statements, personal photographs, stills from a documentary film, and other items. It also contained a detailed study and reinterpretation of Luftwaffe imagery. The manuscript was entitled “Katyn: An Interpretation of Aerial Photographs Considered with Facts and Documents,” and it eventually appeared as a special issue of the Polish journal Photo-Interpretation in Geography: Problems of Telegeoinformation with parallel texts in Polish and English.

Before the manuscript went to press, the Polish editor, with an eye toward Moscow’s retrenchment on the Katyn question, insisted on deleting 20 pages of text and notes and other material. The editor also dropped a tribute to analyst Poirier, presumably on the grounds that it would give the manuscript an unacceptable CIA imprimatur.

And so the story stood until fall 1998, when Moscow made a bizarre move. In September, Procurator General Yuri Chayka sent a letter to Poland’s minister of justice demanding an official inquiry into the deaths of Russian soldiers captured during the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1921. The letter asserted that 83,500 internees had died “in Polish concentration camps as a result of cruel and inhuman conditions.” Chayka added: “The information we have allows us to conclude that genocide was applied to Red Army POWs.” Poland officially rejected the allegation, but not before offering to cooperate in a joint search of Polish and Russian archives for additional information. (The offer was not accepted.)

This was the first time Moscow had raised such an allegation at an official level, but such charges had been circulating in Russian circles for some time. A rumor heard in Warsaw in the early 1990s claimed that Gorbachev had ordered his staff to find a “counterbalance” to Katyn. The rumor has not been confirmed, but after the first Katyn disclosure in 1990 the Soviet (and later Russian) press occasionally cited alleged abuses in Polish POW camps. Headlines such as “Strzakowo–A Polish Katyn” and “Tuchola–A Death Camp” were typical but attracted little notice.

Then, in July 1998, the Moscow paper Nezavisimaya Gazeta [Independent Newspaper] ran a front-page article claiming that tens of thousands of prisoners had died as a result of shootings, starvation, and exposure. This article formed the basis of Chayka’s demarche. It went beyond previous assertions that Russians and Poles both were victims of Stalinism: “The present position of Warsaw resembles the former position of the USSR, which failed to confess the Katyn crime for a long time . . . . It would be good if Poland followed in Russia’s footsteps and pleaded guilty to the savagery [against Red Army soldiers].” The case for moral equivalence had been replaced by a claim to moral superiority.

No one knows for certain what prompted the new charge, but it may have been a preemptive reaction to more revelations about Katyn and new evidence of Soviet crimes in Poland. In 1997, a Russian and a Polish archivist collaborated on a compendium of documents entitled Katyn: Prisoners of an Undeclared War. Then, in 1998, a Russian-Polish research team issued a series of previously classified secret police reports with the title Eyes Only for J.V. Stalin: NKVD Reports from Poland, 1944-1946. The reports detailed a second wave of terror unleashed during the postwar occupation, showing that the crimes committed during 1939-1941 were not an aberration but part of a single imperial design. Soon thereafter, a group of Polish members of parliament spent 10 days in Russia, trying unsuccessfully to obtain an official acknowledgment that the Soviet Government had engaged in genocide. In the meantime, more graves filled with Polish corpses were found near Tavda and Tomsk, east of the Urals.

Russians cannot look at Katyn without seeing themselves in the mirror of their own history. Thus official Moscow resists using the “g” word (genocide) to describe the atrocity. When Gorbachev’s advisers warned him in 1989 that Poland’s demand for the truth contained a “subtext . . . . that the Soviet Union is no better–and perhaps even worse–than Nazi Germany” and that the Soviet Union was “no less responsible” for the outbreak of World War II and the 1939 defeat of the Polish Army, they were also thinking of undercurrents in their own country. Russian intellectuals were already beginning to equate Communism with fascism and Stalin with Hitler. Reports of vandalized war memorials and looted battlefield cemeteries underscored growing popular disillusionment with the cult of triumphalism built around Stalin and the USSR’s victory over Nazi Germany. Now some Russian revisionists go so far as to claim that Hitler’s invasion launched a preventive war aimed at forestalling Stalin’s plan to strike Germany first–a view that even Western historians reject.

In June 1998, Yeltsin and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski agreed that memorial complexes under construction at Katyn and Mednoye, the two NKVD execution sites on Russian soil, should be completed before 2000. But that is not likely to end the controversy. Two days earlier, speaking at a ceremony in the Ukrainian village of Piatikhatki, the site of the third killing field, Kwasniewski declared that Poland has a duty to continue speaking the truth about Katyn. Until Russians and Poles reach some mutual understanding about their past, Katyn will continue to cast a shadow over their futures.


Stalin's Killing Fields in Katyn Forest

One of the earliest--and certainly the most infamous--mass shootings of prisoners of war during World War II did not occur in the heat of battle but was a cold-blooded act of political murder. The victims were Polish officers, soldiers, and civilians captured by the Red Army after it invaded eastern Poland in September 1939. Strictly speaking, even the Polish servicemen were not POWs. The USSR had not declared war, and the Polish commander in chief had ordered his troops not to engage Soviet forces. But there was little the Poles could do. On 28 September, the USSR and Nazi Germany, allied since August, partitioned and then dissolved the Polish state. They then began implementing parallel policies of suppressing all resistance and destroying the Polish elite in their respective areas. The NKVD and the Gestapo coordinated their actions on many issues, including prisoner exchanges. At Brest Litovsk, Soviet and German commanders held a joint victory parade before German forces withdrew westward behind a new demarcation line. 1

Official records, opened in 1990 when glasnost was still in vogue, show that Stalin had every intention of treating the Poles as political prisoners. Just two days after the invasion began on 17 September, the NKVD created a Directorate of Prisoners of War. 2 It took custody of Polish prisoners from the Army and began organizing a network of reception centers and transfer camps and arranging rail transport to the western USSR. Once there, the Poles were placed in "special" (concentration) camps, where, from October to February, they were subjected to lengthy interrogations and constant political agitation. The camps were at Kozelsk, Starobelsk, and Ostashkov, all three located on the grounds of former Orthodox monasteries converted into prisons. The NKVD dispatched one of its rising stars, Maj. Vassili Zarubin, to Kozelsk, where most of the officers were kept, to conduct interviews. Zarubin presented himself to the Poles as a charming, sympathetic, and cultured Soviet official, which led many prisoners into sharing confidences that would cost them their lives. 3


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