Sunday, April 11, 2010

'Jewish Victims of the Katyn Massacre:

This article is all bullshit, by the way. Fox is an agent of the something...the devil is as good a guess as any. I leave it here unadorned to let it speak for itself. Truth, on the other hand, can be found in my blog The Nuremberg Trials, as Seen From Above

By Frank Fox EAST EUROPEAN JEWISH AFFAIRS, vol. 23, no. 1, 1993/1350-1674/49-55

Soviet leaders admit Katyn crime'

On 14 October 1992 Rudolf Pikhoya, Chairman of Russia's Archives Commission and a personal envoy of Boris Yeltsin, delivered to the Polish President, Lech Walesa, the rarest of parcels.2 The parcel contained forty-two documents on the Katyn massacre, the cold-blooded killing in 1940 of approximately 26,000 Polish officers and enlisted men by the Soviet security services.

This was not the first time that a Soviet leader had made a confession of his system's sins. In 1956, at the Twentieth Party Congress, Nikita Khrushchev revealed some of Stalin's crimes. But 'Katyn' was not mentioned in that secret speech. It says something about the lingering ghosts of Stalinism that it took thirty-five more years for another Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to renew the strategy of piecemeal confession. Nevertheless, for five years after his election as General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1985, he too hesitated to confront the shame identified with the word 'Katyn'. Finally, on 13 April 1990, a year before he was forced out of office, Gorbachev pointed an accusing finger at Stalin and Beria and released the NKVD lists of Polish prisoners and some accompanying documentation, but even then he failed to produce the most incriminating papers.3

This continued reluctance is not hard to understand. For more than half a century a curtain of silence descended over an event unique in the annals of state crimes. In peace time, without any formal charges, contrary to all solemn covenants signed at Geneva, the leadership of the Soviet Union ordered the death of approximately one-half of the officer corps of its Polish neighbour. The secret of this unprecedented horror was bequeathed to successive generations of Soviet leaders. It bound them in complicity and shame. Of all their many lies, this was the most enduring.

1 This article is based primarily on Simon Schochet's paper 'An attempt to identify the Polish-Jewish officers who were prisoners in Katyn' in Working Papers in Holocaust Studies II (Holocaust Studies Program, Yeshiva University, March 1989). Also by the same author is 'An attempt to identify Polish officers of Jewish origin who were prisoners in Soviet camps' in Nowy Dziennik—Przeglad Polski (New York), 21 November 1990. A recent memoir by one of the Jewish officers who escaped the massacre is Salomon Slowes, The Road to Katyn: A Soldier's Story (London 1992).
2 The New York Times, 15 October 1992.
3 'Documentation relating to the NKVD prisoner camps in Kozielsk, Ostaszkov and Starobielsk, obtained from the Soviet authorities on 13 April 1990'.

As the Yeltsin government released the forty-two documents, it accused Gorbachev of having concealed them. A spokesman, Vyacheslav Kostikov, said in an official statement that Gorbachev had known for a long time about 'the real organizers and instigators of the tragedy' because the documents were in the Sixth Division of the Central Committee archives which had become Gorbachev's personal records. According to Kostikov, in an effort 'to delude public opinion,' on 8 March 1990 Gorbachev signed an ordinance, which instructed the Procurator General to continue the Katyn investigations, although Gorbachev 'knew where all the archival documents were and what was in them'. Gorbachev defended himself angrily. He argued that the Katyn files had turned up only in the waning days of the Soviet regime. He revealed that both he and Yeltsin had sat down to read them in the Kremlin on 23 December 1991, two days before he resigned as President. It might have been a scene worthy of Eisenstein's guilt-ridden Ivan the Terrible. 'I said to Boris Nikolayevitch', Gorbachev remembered, 'it is your turn now.' He advised Yeltsin to study the file, and they both agreed that the Polish people must be told.4 But Yeltsin had the last word. In an interview on Russian television he said that Gorbachev refused to testify before the Constitutional Court on the legal status of the Communist Party because he knew he would be asked about the Katyn documents and about his refusal to make them public while he was in office.

What was it about the forty-two documents that made Gorbachev so reluctant to make them public and why did this matter of Katyn acquire such new urgency?

In 1988 reports began to circulate about captured Luftwaffe aerial photographs that showed the process of exhumation by the Russians at Katyn as their forces recaptured Smolensk. The photographs were said to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Soviets not only cruelly put to death many thousands of Polish citizens but also scattered their remains in order to hide the extent of the crime.5 There was additional pressure due to the research done by Nataliya Lebedeva, a prominent Russian historian who had been investigating movements of rail transports for the Polish prisoners following the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1939. The documents released by Yeltsin on 14 October 1992 showed how the pace of investigations increased after the aborted coup of August 1991.

4 The New York Times, 16 October 1992.
5 The author of the present article has just completed a manuscript entitled God's Eye: History Exhumed. It concerns the work of Waclaw Godziemba-Maliszewski, an aerial photography specialist whose analysis of World War II Luftwaffe photographs at the National Archives in Washington has made possible the discovery of burial sites of the victims of Katyn. Godziemba-Maliszewski was honoured for his work by the Katyn Institute in Poland in 1992 and has lectured on this subject in Polish universities.

The Polish Academy of Sciences published facsimiles of the documents with a Polish translation within weeks. A volume entitled Dokumenty ludobojstwa (Documents of Genocide) made clear why it was so difficult for Gorbachev to reveal them.' He had been willing earlier to assign blame to Beria and Stalin. But the documents proved conclusively that it was the leading members of the Politburo who had appended their signatures to the death sentences. If Gorbachev still thought that he could salvage some shred of legality for Communism as a theory and for the Communist Party as an instrument to implement it, the documents shattered that hope. Gorbachev's strategy, alternately audacious and cautious, had been to use and control the explosive elements in his society. But the grudging and gradual opening of the archives was the start of a 'meltdown'— as devastating a symbol for his political career as Chernobyl was for the system as a whole. Moreover, the Katyn documents showed how Gorbachev sought to conceal the facts of Katyn and to delay their release. Even without a coup to depose him, his stewardship was over.

Central among these was an excerpt from the minutes of the Politburo, dated 5 March 1940.7 It was a lengthy memorandum from Lavrenty Beria, head of the NKVD, to Stalin. Scrawled boldly across the first page were the approving signatures of Stalin, Voroshilov, Molotov, Mikoyan, as well as those of Kalinin and Kaganovich. In the opening sentences Beria set forth the reasons why the Polish officers could not be set free. They were 'counter-revolutionary' elements, engaged in anti-Soviet agitation in their detention camps, 'each of them awaiting liberation' only in order to wage a struggle against Soviet power. He referred to them as 'bitter enemies', filled with hatred for the system. His letter enumerated the ranks and categories of 14,736 officers (among them 295 with ranks of generals, colonels and lieutenant-colonels), and included such 'enemies' as factory owners, landowners and clergymen, as well as those considered spies, partisans and deserters. What Beria did not mention was that the ranks of the Polish prisoners included over 800 physicians, hundreds of educators, lawyers, engineers, members of many professions and clergy of all faiths. There was another shocking revelation. Beria added to this list a further 11,000 Polish commissioned and non-commissioned officers kept in the prisons of Western Ukraine and Byelorussia, making a total of 26,000.

6 Katyn: Dokumenty ludobojstwa (Katyn: Documents of Genocide) (Warsaw, Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences, 1992).
7 Ibid., 34-41.

At the end of his letter to Stalin Beria announced the alternative to letting the Poles 'go free'. All of them were condemned to death by 'supreme punishment', that is by shooting. The sentences were to be carried out without summoning die condemned to a hearing and without presenting them with any indictments. A 'troyka' of NKVD officials was assigned the carrying out of the order which, to be effective, meant that the Poles were to be kept unaware of their fate until the very last moment.

Jewish officers at Katyn

Included within the 'arithmetic' of Beria's letter to Stalin was a Jewish tragedy which has only recently received its proper hearing and whose dimensions, like those of Katyn itself, are yet to be fully evaluated. Simon Schochet, an historian and survivor of Dachau, has recently made a major contribution to the question of the Jewish victims of the massacre in particular, and to Katyn studies in general. In a paper entitled 'An attempt to identify the Polish-Jewish officers who were prisoners at Katyn', and starting with the list of names compiled by the historian Adam Moszynski, as well as the list compiled by the German investigators in April 1943, he has been able to shed light on one of the less known aspects of the Katyn story.8 In so doing, he has not only honoured the memory of the brave men who were executed but he has provided a powerful impetus to deal justly with one of the most intractable problems of modern Polish history—antisemitism.

8 Schochet, 'An attempt to identify...prisoners in Katyn'.

Even though many of the remains at Katyn and elsewhere were found without sufficient identification, and misspellings and omissions made a correct count difficult, Schochet was able to identify 262 names of Jewish officers from the Kozielsk internment camp alone, about 5 percent of the officer population. The work was not easy and is still incomplete. Schochet has estimated that there were at least 700 and perhaps as many as 800 Jewish officers in the three internment camps which, in addition to Kozielsk, included Starobielsk and Ostaszkov. The presence of many Jewish officers was verified from the names, both first and family, among the dead, although obviously the names of Jews which were of German origin or names of assimilated Jews made a precise count impossible. The religion of the soldiers was not noted on either the Officers' Almanacs or the list compiled by the Germans. The only reference that touched on the Jewish faith was that of Major Baruch Steinberg, Chief Rabbi of the Polish Armed Forces, who was originally imprisoned at Starobielsk and was deported on Christmas Eve 1939 from Kozielsk with a group of clergymen from the other two internment camps. His name appeared on a list of men sent to their deaths on 9 April 1940, being thus among the first victims of the massacre. His remains and those of his fellow clergymen have never been found.

The fact that many of the officers were members of professions such as medicine, law and engineering (more than 50 per cent of Poland's prewar physicians were Jewish) accounted for a disproportionate number of Jewish officers compared to their numbers in the general population. Schochet's research has had the quality of detective work as he has sought out every clue in the deaths of people whose remains could not be found or identified. His conclusion was that there were approximately 462 Jewish officers among the prisoner population of Kozielsk and Starobielsk, the composition of the prisoner population at Ostaszkov making it unlikely that there was an appreciable number of Jews among them.9

In August 1990, the year that Gorbachev first made the lists of Polish prisoners and some related documents available to the Polish government, Schochet traveled to Poland to meet with other scholars who were now able to conduct their research in the open. The Russian lists provided to President Jaruzelski on 13 April 1990 were more extensive than any lists previously available. They provided the first names of the prisoners' fathers, which made the identification of the Jewish officers easier.

In November 1990 Schochet published further results of his research. He was able to add more names to the list of Jewish officers murdered by the NKVD in 1940. 10 But while his analysis had revealed some of the factors motivating the NKVD in classifying Jewish officers as members in prewar 'counter-revolutionary' organizations (associations of lawyers, Polish Zionist movement, etc.), his investigations were still far from complete. The almost total destruction of Polish Jewry, and the lack of documentation and corroboration from family members, made his work extremely difficult. Still, Schochet's verified list of approximately 800 Jewish officers was impressive. The largest group was that of doctors, followed by lawyers, engineers, pharmacists and dentists. Most were first and second lieutenants. The highest rank, that of colonel, was held by Jan Wladyslaw Nelken, a psychiatrist."

Schochet's appeals for information in periodicals, newspapers and on Radio Free Europe resulted in his obtaining more materials, including photographs of Jewish officers executed by the Russians. He received six photographs of the Chief Rabbi of the Polish Armed Forces, Rabbi Baruch Steinberg. One photograph in particular was striking. It showed the celebration of the Passover seder led by Rabbi Steinberg. Around the table sat high-ranking officers of various faiths and officials of the Warsaw government.

9 Ibid.
10 Schochet, 'An attempt to identify...prisoners in Soviet camps'.
11 Sunislaw Jankowski, 'The recovered Katyn documents', Nowy Dziennik—Przeglad Polski, 9 May 1991.

The Biuletyn Katynski of the Katyn Institute, an underground organization founded in Cracow in 1978, dedicated its June 1990 issue to Major Steinberg and his fellow Jewish officers. It estimated that Jewish officers comprised 15 per cent of all the Katyn victims, a percentage higher than that of Jews in the prewar Polish population. An issue of the Bulletin published in 1992 carried a biography of Rabbi Baruch Steinberg, largely a product of Schochet's research." Rabbi Steinberg was born in 1897 into a family of rabbis. Of his four brothers three were rabbis and one a doctor. A highly educated man, he not only completed his studies at the Stefan Batory University in Wilno, but also studied Arabic, an interest he continued some years later at the Oriental Institute of the Jan Kazimierz University in Lwow. He volunteered for and fought against the Russian armies in the 1919-20 campaign. In 1928 he was called upon to serve as a rabbi with the rank of captain in the Third Corps District in Grodno. In 1932 he was appointed with the rank of major to serve as the Chief Rabbi of the Polish Armed Forces. He resided in Warsaw and received many commendations for exceptional service.

There were just a few references to Rabbi Steinberg in the contemporaneous accounts of the imprisonment. On 11 November 1939 he had apparently taken part in a secret commemoration of Poland's independence in the prison camp. Schochet's research has given Rabbi Steinberg a posthumous recognition. In 1991 a tablet honouring him was dedicated in Cracow.

An antisemitic leaflet distributed in recent years in Poland referred to Katyn as a crime committed by Zydokomuna, a word used in prewar Poland to connect its Jewish population with Communism.13 Written as a poem, with lines reminiscent of Nazi caricatures, it voiced calumnies that have been part of a long and tragic history of antisemitism in Poland. 'Who killed you and why?', the poem asked and answered: 'It was the kind of "work" that only a Jewish mind could conceive.' Referring to the Katyn massacre and the deaths of thousands of other Poles as 'Operation Cholent' (a Jewish meat dish prepared ahead of time to be served on Sabbath when no cooking is allowed), the poem identified Polish Communist leaders as Jews: 'The Jew has paid you for your hospitality...he has murdered your family.' The Jews are referred to as followers of Satan and as haters of Jesus. The leaflet blamed them not only for the Katyn murders but also for causing the deaths of 300,000 other Poles between 1939 and 1945 and of being responsible since then for despoiling die country, killing the unborn through abortions, and of spreading radioactivity: 'Murderers and saboteurs, to judgment!'

12 Biuletyn Katynski (Cracow), no. 36, 1992, 74-6.
13 A leaflet given to the author on a recent visit to Poland.

Schochet has emphasized that the presence of Jews in the Polish armed forces was not exceptional, and that 'from the days of Berek Joselowicz the first Jewish officer in the Polish army [the Kosciuszko uprising], to the January Insurrection of the men who joined Pilsudski's Legion and who fought for Polish independence', there was a tradition of a Jewish presence in the armed forces. The situation regarding Jews changed drastically with Pilsudski's death in 1935, when quotas were instituted for Jews in all universities and professions, including the armed forces. Schochet has explained the motivation for his research: '...the deaths of the Polish Jews who took part in the defence of their homeland have been largely ignored by their fellow Polish citizens and their lives have not been addressed by their fellow Jews.'14

The antisemitism that has besmirched modern Polish history is not likely to disappear overnight. But if there is hope for a change it lies in the work of scholars such as Schochet and those at the Cracow Katyn Institute. Acknowledgment that Polish Jews served side by side and died side by side with their fellow officers is more than a historical fact that needs to be affirmed. It can become a cornerstone on which a more just society should erect the most lasting of monuments, a common memory of a cause in which Poles and Jews struggled and died.

14 Schochet, 'At attempt to identify...prisoners in Katyn

1 comment:

Lou said...

This article is NOT bullshit, and Jews who died as loyal Poles at Katyn and the other NKVD killing sites should be fairly and justly remembered, in the rest of the world as well as Poland.

Lou Coatney, whose Katyn thesis you reference