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Katyn Mednoye 1940 - 2000

Jolanta Adamska

Bulletin of the Council for the Protection of Memory of Strugle and Martyrdom “Przeszłość i Pamięć”, No. 3 (16) 2000, pp. 4–33

The Polish war cemeteries, the burial grounds of the Kozelsk and Ostashkov prisoners of war, prisoners of NKVD special camps, victims of the Katyn Massacre murdered in the spring of 1940, were ceremonially opened ad consecrated on 28 July in Katyn and on 2 September in Mednoye, within the territory of the Russian Federation.

Katyn has dominated the activities of the Council for the Protection of Memory of Strugle and Martyrdom (Rada Ochrony Pamięci Walk i Męczeństwa - ROPWiM) so strongly and for such a long time that now that the greatest tensions have subsided and the cemeteries actually exist, it is still hard for us to believe this.

The funeral, which took place after 60 years, of those who went to war in 1939 and were deceitfully murdered after being taken captive received a lot of publicity in Poland and was also noted in many world mass media. The Katyn Families, Poles, have lived to see the Katyn victims commemorated not only by the leaders of Poland but also of the Russian Federation, and the places of murder and burial have become widely known and recognized.

Deputy Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation, W. I. Bragin said: I think that it is from Poles that we should learn respect for history, memory of the past, care for graves. You have a very emotional attitude to these matters, but it probably cannot and should not be done in any other way (interview for “Gazeta Wyborcza”, no. 256/1997).

As it is known, Polish prisoners of war taken captive after the USSR's attack on Poland on 17 September 1939, were placed in 8 camps subordinated to the Board for Prisoners-of-War of the NKVD USSR (further on referred to as the “POW Board”), created upon Beria’s order of 19 September 1939.

After the division of prisoners, 3 special NKVD camps were established in October: Starobilsk (the first one, by virtue of the decision of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of 2 October) and Kozielsk for officers of the Polish Army, Ostashkov - for policemen and prison officers, gendarmes, intelligence service agents, counterintelligence officers. According to the ordinance of the Head of the POW Board, Soprunienko, of 29 October, military settlers - privates and junior commanders should also be sent to Ostashkov. The period from October to November was the final formation of the camps and the movement of prisoners in accordance with their “qualification”. People from the central regions of Poland were directed to points of exchange with Germany, and people living in the “USSR territories " were taken over. Privates and non-commissioned officers were released home, apart from 37,000 detained in labour camps subordinate to the NKVD, residents of the so-called western regions of Ukraine and Belarus. Individual or group transfers of prisoners to individual camps according to their intended purpose took place until the final days before their liquidation. The NKVD labour camps handed over officers and policemen who had been exposed, and Polish military internees, inhabitants of western Ukraine and Belarus were taken over from the Lithuanian government (by the decision of the Political Bureau of the WKP(b) of 9 November 1939). From this group, part was sent to 3 special camps (in January 1940, 150 officers and policemen from Juchnow).

The camp in Kozelsk was established in the facilities of the Gorky holiday house, in the buildings of the old monastery (Optina Monastery), 5 km from Kozelsk, 7 km from the railroad station, in the Smolensk region. Initially, at the end of September and the beginning of October, it functioned as a distribution camp; following Beria’s Directive of 3 October it was assigned to privates - prisoners of war, residents of the German-occupied part of Poland. From the end of October 1939 (decree of the POW Board of 23 October) it became the second - besides Starobilsk - NKVD special camp for officers of the Polish Army.

Kozelsk, entrance to the Optina Monastery, 1995.
Kozelsk, entrance to the Optina Monastery, 1995.

It consisted of two parts: the monastery buildings (several Orthodox churches and several other buildings), surrounded by old 3-metre walls and a moat, and the so-called “skit” 300 m away, a former hermitage, a place of residence of hermits and pilgrims, with wooden free-standing small buildings; the entire area was surrounded by a 2.5-metre-high wooden fence. After the arrival of the prisoners of war, the fence of both the monastery and the skit was reinforced with barbed-wire and guard towers, and headlights were installed. External protection was provided by a subdivision of the 136th battalion of the NKVD convoy troops (in the spring of 1940, this battalion transported prisoners to the execution sites).

Major Vasily N. Korolov was appointed the camp commander in Kozelsk, and the senior political commissar Mikhail M. Alekseyev was appointed camp commissar. On 6 October 1939, the newly appointed head of the special unit, Captain of National Security, Borisov, arrived at the camp. He was soon replaced by Lieutenant of National Security Hans A. Ejlman (the “operational and Cheka support” of the POWs was provided by the Special Department of the NKVD USSR and its field units - special departments of the NKVD regional boards). The head of the regional board of the NKVD (UNKWD) in Smolensk was Captain of National Security Yemelyan Kupriyanov.

By 28 September, 7571 prisoners of war were admitted to Kozelsk, and 8843 prisoners (6242 in the central camp, 2601 in the skit) were there on 3 October.

The camp was not prepared for so many people. The rooms were not heated, there were no bunks (about 2,000 prisoners slept on the bare floor), the kitchen could serve only up to 900 people, the bathhouse was not opened, there was insufficient water supply, sanitary conditions were very bad.

On 5 November 1939, there were 3876 prisoners of war in Kozelsk, including 3309 officers, 57 privates, 2 non-commissioned officers, and 8 refugees; on 19 October - 4629 prisoners. The NKVD's specific activities in the field of “educating" prisoners, creating an intelligence and information network in the camps, and records with detailed information about each of them have already been mentioned in an article about Kharkiv.

On 31 October, Inspector of the POW Board, National Security Major, Vasily Mikhailovich Zarubin, left Moscow for Kozelsk. His opinions on Polish prisoners of war, obtained as a result of many hours of “talks”, probably had a significant impact on the decision concerning their tragic fate.

The camp in Ostashkov was established on Stolobny Island on Lake Seliger, 11 km from Ostashkov, in the Kalinin Oblast. It was established on the basis of the NKVD labour unit for minors, liquidated by order of Beria on 19 September 1939. The camp was connected by a wooden bridge with the nearby Svetlica peninsula, the dyke connecting the island with the land was built by Polish prisoners of war. Also here, Poles were placed in the buildings of the old (founded in 1594) Nilov hermitage. Between 29 September and 1 October the camp received 9193 prisoners, it was prepared for 7 thousand people. There was a shortage of rooms (1500 people were placed in the corridors and in the former club) and equipment; in this situation, the authorities ordered to put up 35 winter tents (for 50 people), later barracks were added. The canteen could accommodate only 300 people, the bathhouse - 50. Drinking water supplies were not organized, food and sanitation were very bad.

Ostashkov, monastery
Ostashkov, monastery

Under Beria's directive of 3 October, the Ostashkov camp was designated for prisoners of war - policemen, intelligence agents, counterintelligence officers, gendarmes and prison guards. Major Pavel F. Borisovets was appointed camp commander, and Ivan V. Yurasov, senior political commissar was appointed camp commissar (they arrived in Ostashkov on 21 September). A special unit in the camp was headed by national security younger lieutenant Grigory Korytov. Colonel Dmitrii Stepanovich Tokarev Tokarevwas the head of the Kalinin UNKVD.

The camp was very well guarded; it was surrounded by a wide strip of barbed-wire and a fence, guard towers, headlights and internal and external security posts were placed around it (company 235, battalion unit of the 11th NKVD USSR convoy brigade of the USSR - 112 soldiers, from April 1940 it was replaced by the 12th company of the 236th convoy regiment).

On 10 October, there were 9113 prisoners of war in Ostashkov, including: 184 officers, 92 policemen, 8851 privates, 14 women. 63 people were ill, 150 slightly wounded. Out of 33 camp buildings, 19 were occupied by prisoners of war, 3 by military units, and 11 were used for economic purposes. Officers, policemen and gendarmes were placed in separate blocks and rooms. It was still cramped, the bunk beds were three-storey, and there was not enough space for 728 people. According to the report of 22 February 1940, the prisoners of war were deployed in 20 blocks - based on voivodeship and category. The officers were placed in one block.

Between 28 September and 27 October, 12,238 prisoners of war were admitted to Ostashkov; 8790 were sent back by 23 October. On 30 October, there were 4258 people in the camp, including: 1696 from personnel police, 204 from reserve police, 36 gendarmes, 20 settlers, 11 junaks, 40 prison officers, 74 officers, 10 doctors, 8 officials, 329 privates and non-commissioned officers of the border guard, 47 infantry privates, 6 women (sent back), 74 civilians, 1 - from counterintelligence, 1702 - without documents.

Plaques from 1994 in front of the entrance to the monastery in Ostashkov.
Plaques from 1994 in front of the entrance to the monastery in Ostashkov.

On 31 October, the POW Board Inspector, National Security Captain, G. I. Antonov was sent to Ostashkov. Beria's instructions to TokarevTokarev and Borisovets imposed a strict regime against policemen and the like arriving in Ostashkov, ruling out the possibility of escape, a systematic and thorough verification of each prisoner in order to detect persons who worked in intelligence agencies in the border zone and took part in the fight against the USSR. Informants were recruited from among the prisoners of war and the local population. In addition to the specialists from the central and regional NKVD apparatus, on 4 December, an even more numerous operational brigade, headed by National Security Lieutenant, Styepan J. Byelolipyetski arrived in Ostashkov from Moscow. By the end of January it was supposed to prepare the investigative files of all the prisoners; in the third decade of December, another 7 NKVD officers were sent there, and on 31 December - upon Beria’s order - the head of the POW Board, Soprunyenko, along with 10 employees of the central apparatus, arrived in the camp. Deputy head of the POW Board, Yosif M. Polukhin and senior lieutenant Yakov A. Yorsh, Head of the 1st Department of the Main Economic Board, were sent to Kozelsk.

Prisoner of war statistics

The number of prisoners in the camps in Kozelsk and Ostashkov between November 1939 and March 1940 was as follows:

  29 November 31 December 9 January 20 January 4 February 22 February 16 March 1 April
Ostashkov 5959 6291 6286 6278 6378 6371 6364 -
Kozelsk 4718 4766 4763 4665 4702 4609 4594 4599

Composition of the camps

Kozelsk

Admirals 1 (29 November - 1 April); [Rear admirals, in fact.]
Generals 4 (29 November - 1 April)
Colonels 24 (29 November), 27 (29 December - 22 February), 26 (16 March, 1 April)
Lieutenant colonels 79 (29 November), 76 (29 December, 9 January), 74 (20 January, 4 February), 73 (22 February), 72 (16 March, 1 April)
Majors 258 (29 November), 240 (29 December, 9 January), 236 (20 January), 235 (4 February), 232 (22 February, 16 March, 1 April)
Captains 653 (29 November), 663 (29 December, 9 January), 652 (20 January), 651 (4 February), 653 (22 February), 647 (16 March, 1 April)
Navy captains 17 (29 November - 1 April)
Other officers 3419 (29 November), 3439 (29 December), 3436 (9 January), 3404 (20 January), 3437 (4 February), 3485 (22 February), 3482 (16 March), 3480 (1 April)
Chaplain 7 (29 November), 1 (29 December - 16 March), 8 (1 April)
Landowners 4 (29 November), 28 (29 December - 9 January), 6 (20 January, 4 February), 9 (22 February - 1 April)
Senior officials 43 (29 November - 9 January), 33 (20 January, 4 February), 61 (22 February - 1 April)
Privates to be sent back 78 (29 November), 173 (29 December, 9 January), 134 (20 January, 4 February), 5 (from 22 February)
Refugees 131 (29 November), 54 (29 December, 9 January), 76 (20 January), 82 (4 February), 41 (22 February), 37 (16 March, 1 April)

Ostashkov

Officers (police and gendarmerie) 199 (29 November), 264 (31 December), 281 (9, 20 January), 283 (4 February), 282 (22 February), 288 (16 March)
Non-commissioned officers (police and gendarmerie) 603 (29 November), 615 (31 December), 742 (9 January), 740 (20 January), 827 (4 February), 780 (22 February), 775 (16 March)
Privates (police and gendarmerie) 5016 (29 November), 5020 (31 December), 4878 (9 January), 4932 (20 January), 4964 (4 February), 5007 (22 February), 4924 (16 March)
Prison officers 104 (29 November), 110 (31 December), 111 (9, 20 January), 114 (4, 22 February), 189 (16 March)
Intelligence Agents 2 (29 November), 5 (31 December), 6 (9 January), 7 (4 February), 8 (22 February), 9 (16 March)
Privates and non-commissioned officers of the Polish Army (to be sent back) 145 (31 December), 140 (9 January), 82 (20 January), 72 (4 February - 16 March)
Chaplains 11 (31 December, 9 January), 5 (20 January - 16 March)
Military settlers 27 (31 December - 20 January), 35 (4 February - 16 March)
Refugees 35 (29 November), 93 (31 December), 89 (9 January), [further included in the column: “others”]
Others 1 (31 December - 20 January), 67 (4 February), 64 (22 February), 63 (16 March)***

According to the NKVD, the national composition of the prisoners of war was as follows (28 February):
Ostashkov: in total - 6072; including: Poles - 6013 (99%), Belarusians - 28, Ukrainians - 23, Germans - 4, Czechs - 2, Russians - 2.
Kozelsk: in total - 4486; including: Poles - 4347 (96.9%), Jews - 89 (1.98%), Belarusians - 23 (0.5%), Germans - 11, Lithuanians - 8, Ukrainians - 6, Czech Republic - 1, Georgians - 1.****

By 30 December Byelolipyetski's investigating brigade (14 people) had drawn up 2 thousand investigative files, sent 500 files to a special board and prepared 150 indictments.

On 1 December 1939, there were 5963 prisoners of war in Ostashkov (5033 from full-time police, 40 from gendarmes, 41 from KOP (Border Protection Corps), 27 settlers, 8 junaks, 263 officers of all categories, 127 soldiers and non-commissioned officers, 169 from the police reserve and 105 civilians). Among the officers there were many teachers, doctors, pharmacists. One of the rescued prisoners recalls that a song by an unknown author was sung in the camp:

On the Ilowa island, among the forests and waters
We spend our grey days of captivity
 And longing and pain reside with us
The eternal companion of misery.**

Attempts to escape were made by single prisoners or groups of prisoners of war - both from Ostashkov and Kozelsk. They were stopped with the help of internal agents and local people.

Among the Kozelsk POWs there were many reserve officers, often people with higher education, with high professional and scientific status.

The highest ranking officers included:
senior rear admiral Ksawery Stanislaw Czernicki, 57 (in 1940), engineer, head of the Navy management services,
retired Div. Gen. Henryk Odrowąż-Minkiewicz,aged 60, former KOP commander,
Brig. Gen. Mieczysław Makary Smorawiński, aged 46, OK Commander. II
retired Brig. Gen. Bronisław Bohaterewicz, aged 70,
retired Brig. Gen. Jerzy Wołkowicki, aged 57, called up for active service, commander of the stages of the "Prussia" Army, commander of the City of Chełm, from 14 September 1939 commander of the combined DP in the SGO "Polesie".

gen. Henryk Odrowąż-Minkiewicz (photo CAW)
gen. Henryk Odrowąż-Minkiewicz (photo CAW)

The first four were taken to death in one transport - on 7 April 1940, General Wołkowicki was sent to the camp in Gryazovets.

As alraedy mentioned, prisoners were moved between individual camps according to criteria set by the NKVD; some of them were sent to local prisons or to Moscow. Prisoners showing particularly bad will, refusing to work and simulants who had a negative impact on the remaining prisoners of war were sent to the Ostashkov camp from e.g. NKVD labour camps (Soprunienko’s order from 29 December).

Apart from prisoners of war taken captive by the Soviets in September 1939, special camps also included people arrested in the following weeks and months in the western oblasts of Ukraine and Belarus. On 14 November and 19 December 1939, the People's Commissioner of Internal Affairs of the BSSR Canawa sent to the subordinate bodies of the NKVD lists of police officers, gendarmes, secret agents, provocateurs, residents, intelligence and counter-intelligence personnel, prepared, on the order of Beria and Mierkulow, by a special operational group, on the basis of Polish archival materials acquired by the Russians, with an order to arrest the persons mentioned therein. Some of them are on the lists of victims of the Katyn crime. At the end of November and in December, the NKVD's regional boards sent officers, gendarmes and policemen, as well as members of political parties, landowners, property managers, officials and the so-called speculators, from prisons in western Ukraine to the camp in Yukhnov, and then to three special camps.

On 10 December in western Ukraine, an "operation" was carried out to arrest all personnel officers of the Polish Army (a total of 570 people were arrested at that time, in total 1057 officers, together with the "participants of various counterrevolutionary organizations" who had been arrested earlier, were imprisoned). On 29 December Soprunyenko informed Beria that the NKVD authorities of western Ukraine systematically sent people who were arrested, and against whom an investigation was carried out, and who were not subject to detention in special POW camps to such camps without consulting the POW Board. Many of them were charged with counter-revolutionary crimes. He asked for permission to send back those who did not qualify for the POW contingent to NKVD authorities according to the place of arrest (on 8 January 1940, 94 people were transferred from Kozelsk to Kyiv as part of this operation). At the beginning of January 1940, the NKVD of the USSR issued an order prohibiting the deportation to special camps of those arrested in the western regions of Ukraine and Belarus.

Among the prisoners of special camps, despite the intrusive “educational” work carried out on them, patriotic feelings intensified, and the desire to continue the fight against the occupants of Poland and to liberate their Homeland remained unshakeable. The officer cadre of the former Polish Army openly expresses patriotic feelings towards former Poland we read in the note made by the Commander of Kozelsk of 31 December 1939.

On 1 February 1940 Soprunyenko and Byelolipyetski reported the end of the investigation against the former Polish policemen in Ostashkov. 6050 cases were prepared. The files were then sent to a special board. At the beginning of February, the investigation in Kozelsk was also completed.

Soprunyenko’s regulation issued on 23 February to the heads of the UNKVD ordered the transfer of civilian prisoners of war, former prison officers, intelligence officers (this category included officers and employees of the 2nd Division of the General Staff, information officers, military censors and professional officers of the KOP, who directed intelligence work against the USSR), provocateurs, settlers, court workers, landowners, merchants and great land owners from Ostashkov, Starobilsk and Kozelsk to prisons. At the beginning of March, 115 people were sent from Kozelsk to the Smolensk NKVD (including 2 Colonels, 1 Lieutenant Colonel, 10 Majors, 13 captains, 34 other officers, 22 landowners), and on 7 March - 12 intelligence officers and provocateurs. Their further fate is unknown (probably some of them also rest in the Katyn Forest, I. Krivozercov mentioned 2 transports with Poles also in March). 8 people were sent from Ostashkov (2 police officers, 5 police privates, 1 from the remaining category). On 7 March, 244 prisoners from these categories were still in the camp. It is not known whether they were also sent back. The last movements from camps and prisons (including priests and other prisoners of war deported from Kozelsk on Christmas Eve 1939) also continued.

Before the beginning of the “operation of emptying” of the camps, Colonel Zarubin came to Kozelsk again, and National Security Lieutenant Kholichev arrived in Ostashkov. Representatives of the Main Board of Convoy Forces of the NKVD of the USSR were also sent to the camps (to Kozelsk - the deputy head of the Operations Department, Col. Ivan A. Stiepanov, to Ostashkov - the commander of the Main Board of Convoy Forces, Brigadier Commander Mikhail S. Krivyenko).

The basements of the UNKVD building in Smolensk (about 260 km by rail to the southeast of the camp), located 18 km from the seat of the Katyn Forest District, and the basements of the UNKVD building in Kalinin (former Tver), about 200 km away, were to be the place of execution of officers from Kozelsk.

The first “Death Lists” were signed on 1 April in Moscow; orders to send prisoners to the UNKVD in Kalinin region (a total of 343 prisoners). On 5 April, the head of the UNKVD Tokarev informed Mierkulov about their murder. On 2 April, the order was given to send 78 prisoners of Kozelsk to the UNKVD in Smolensk. The first transport left the camp on 3 April. Historians have not found the “key” to forming the lists, according to Dr. Marek Tarczyński (Katyń. Księga Cmentarna), officers with leadership skills were sent in the first transports.

Gniezdowo Station
Gnezdowo Station

As might be expected, there are only a few accounts and testimonies about the transport itself and the manner of murdering the officers from Kozelsk. These include the accounts of a professor of Vilnius University, Stanislaw Swianiewicz, rescued from the execution almost at the last minute - and former employees of the Smolensk NKVD - Piotr Klimov, a prison janitor and Ivan Titkov, a driver. Additional information was collected at the beginning of the 1990s by a former KGB officer in Smolensk, Oleg Zakirov. It is worth noting that retired Brig-Gen. Piotr K. Soprunyenko, a resident of a prominent building in Moscow, former head of the NKVD USSR POW Board, who was interrogated in 1992, said: (...) I heard about Katyn on the occasion of the arrival of the President of Poland, Jaruzelski, in Moscow in April 1990. (!)

The information of the NKVD Transport Board concerning the unloading of some of the wagons from Kozelsk in Smolensk and the letter of P. Klimov published in "Moskovske Novosti" on 16 September 1990 confirm that some of the officers, especially from the first transports, including priests, were murdered in the basement of the NKVD prison in Smolensk at 13 Dzerzhinsky Street (the convict was presumably placed in the sewer manhole, his head was placed on the edge and then shot in the back of the head).

The remaining transports were unloaded at the Gnezdovo station, in small groups of 20 or 30 people. Each group was placed in 4 prison buses (czornyje worony- divided into single narrow, dark cells) and taken to the place of execution, a 3 km-away distant part of the forest (stretching between the villages of Katyn and Gnezdovo), called Kozy Gory (Goat Mountains). This area had been the site of mass shootings of “enemies of the people” already from 1918. Before their death, the Polish officers were inspected in a villa on the Dnieper River, built in 1931-34, located on the premises of the NKVD holiday resort (about 600 m from the death pits. It was demolished in the second half of the 1940s and a new building was built on its foundations in the 1960s). According to Klimow, Poles were unloaded straight from the cars into a huge ditch (the graves were presumably dug at the beginning of March by prisoners from Smolensk, or - according to a second version - by a special NKVD unit), or placed on the edge, shot in the back of the head, some were killed with bayonets. This method of execution - shooting the victims at the already dug graves, possibly also in the graves - is mentioned in the reports on the exhumation in 1943, both by the head of the German team, professor of forensic medicine Gerhard Buhtz from Wrocław, as well as the doctor of the Technical Committee of the Polish Red Cross - Dr. Marian Wodziński. Both point to a large number of shell cases found under the conifer needles in the immediate vicinity of the graves and the loose shell cases in the pits, as well as the numerous bullets found at a height of 1.5-2 m above the ground in the trunk of a pine tree growing just above the edge of death pit No. 1. The examination of sculls carried out during the exhumation in 1943 and in 1994-95 proved that the shots were fired from close range or by putting the gun to the back of the head, using a handgun (Walther pistol), of officers in a standing position. The graves filled up gradually. In some the bodies were arranged carefully, in layers (in two pits - up to 12 layers) in others they were scattered randomly. Sometimes there was a different arrangement in the same grave.

The body of an officer of the Polish Army with his neck and hands bound (photo. in Amtliches Material...)

The body of an officer of the Polish Army with his neck and hands bound (photo. in Amtliches Material...)

The crime committed in the Katyn Forest, although already known in spring 1943, still has many unresolved mysteries. E.g. a different way of murdering the victims - directly at the graves, than in Kharkiv and Kalinin. This may have caused resistance on the part of the young and energetic men who were aware of their fate. It is not entirely known how this problem was “solved” by the Smolensk NKVD. According to Prof. Buhtz and Dr. Wodziński, the victims before their death were incapacitated by helpers (presumably held under both arms). Numerous bodies (according to Dr. Wodziński - about 20%) had their hands tied at the back. All the victims from pit No. 5 (51 people) had coats on their heads and their necks were tied with a cord, the loop of which was tied to their hands (the distance was 17.5 cm and the diameter of the neck loop was 11 cm). In this case (also observed in individual cases in other graves) the shot was made through the coat. Prof. Buhtz also found cases of fracture of the lower jaw caused by a blow when the victim was still alive (he does not specify the number of such cases) and bayonet stab wounds. Several people had gags in their mouths. According to the locals, shots and screams were heard from the Katyn Forest. Perhaps the information from a certain Pole sent to the ROPWiM in 1990 is also true: during a stopover in 1977 on his way to Moscow, an old man from a petrol station showed him a place in the bushes (behind the exit to the Katyn forest) with 5 crooked crosses on a small barrow. According to the old man, in the spring of 1940 the NKVD, accompanied by dogs, caught a Polish general and 4 officers escaping from the Katyn forest. They were shot on the spot. The crosses were erected by the locals after the Germans arrived. Two years later the old man was no longer at the station, and the area of the graves, at the turn to Smolensk, became an area for the construction of a two-level junction. However, the place where the crosses used to stand is still called the “General’s Hill” by the locals. In this case it is difficult to get carried away by excessive fantasy, as a historian is never quite sure, in the absence of basic sources, whether a given account or which part of it is actually true. The fact is that during the exhumation in Katyn, two of the three generals murdered there were identified, and a hat belonging to the fourth highest ranking officer Rear Admiral Czernicki was found. However, there are no traces of General Minkiewicz who was transported with them. The testimony of the head of the UNKVD in Kalinin, Tokarev is also significant in this respect (...) They told me in Smolensk about a very stupid behaviour. They began to shoot people at the burial site  (...) And this became a signal, someone ran away, tried to escape, screamed, and people heard it (“Zeszyty Katyńskie” No. 4, 1994). There was also a version about the NKVD shooting from behind a barrack board or from a bench behind a fence.

The bodies were buried by a special branch of the NKVD (according to Klimov), or 16 Soviet recruits, who were later also killed (according to Titkov).

After the “action”, the executioners received a snack and spirit. They even had a kind of competition - who killed faster and more efficiently...

The unloading of the camps caused great revival among the prisoners of war, who were hoping for change in the monotonous, difficult, humiliating and uncertain existence to date. The movement of prisoners [resumed after a short break] on 15-17 April, met with the prisoners' joy. In connection with the movement, some of the prisoners started to actively express their patriotic feelings. (...) so far, the most current issue for a great number of them was one thing, where were they going? (...) Among a certain part of the POWs, one can see concern about the lack of letters from the POWs who had already left the camp, i.e. from their colleagues, because before their departure they promised to write (reports from the Kozelsk camp headquarters). Prisoners who were “the most hostile towards the USSR” wanted to leave the camp as soon as possible in order to go to England and France and take part in the defeat of Germany and then the Soviet Union.

The last prisoner of war, master corporal Ignacy Żurowski, was sent from Kozelsk on 20 May.

In total, 4404 prisoners were sent to the UNKVD of the Smolensk region (listed on 45 death lists), 205 were sent to Gryazovets, some to NKVD prisons in Moscow and Smolensk.

The NKVD headquarters in Kalinin
The NKVD headquarters in Kalinin

We know quite a lot about the “process” of murdering the prisoners of Ostashkov from the testimony of UNKVD head in Kalinin Dmitry S. Tokarev, interrogated in March 1991 in Volodymyr-Volynskyi by the military prosecutor Colonel A. Jablokov (when asked about his criminal record he reacted violently: Never, what are you talking about?! God Forbid!).

A group from Moscow came to lead the “operation”; including: National Security Senior Major N. I. Sinyegubov, Head of the Investigation Division and Deputy Head of the NKVD USSR Transportation Authority; National Security Major W. M. Blokhin, Head of the Department of Command of the NKVD USSR Administrative and Economic Board; Brigade Commander Mikhail Krivyenko,  Commander of the Main Board of the NKVD USSR Convoy. They brought a case of Walther guns with them...

Tver, plaques on the former NKVD building
Tver, plaques on the former NKVD building

In total, about 30 people took part in the murder of Poles; apart from the “guests” from Moscow, there was a group from the commandant's office (with the commandant, National Security Senior Lieutenant Andrei M. Rubanov) and employees of the Kalinin UNKWD, including drivers (in Smolensk the shooting was done by the local NKVD with National Security Lieutenant Ivan I. Stielmach, the NKVD internal prison commander, there was also talk of “Cheka” from Minsk).

Three leading executioners lived in a saloon wagon at the railroad station.

(...) when they came into my office for the first time: Blokhin, Sinyegubov and Krivyenko. Come on, let’s go, let’s begin! It was difficult to say no. Let’s go! (Tokarev).

Prisoners designated for death were led in columns to Ostashkov, they were brought to Kalinin in prison cars, from the station - in prison buses - to the internal prison in the UNKVD headquarters at 6 Sovietska St., emptied from other prisoners at that time. The condemned were placed in the cells of the basement section of the building. The executions took place at night, the “limit” was 250 people at a time (the night turned out to be too short to murder 300 people from the first transport). The prisoners were led out of their cells one by one, led to the “red room” (the Lenin Room), where their personal data was checked. Then handcuffs were put on, they were grabbed under the arms and led to a cell with felt-covered doors and walls. There they were shot in the back of the head. The prosecutor did not take part in the executions. The corpses were pulled out through a second exit from the cell to the yard, where they were loaded onto tarpaulin-covered trucks. (...) Blokhin put on his special clothing: a brown leather cap, a long brown leather apron, brown leather gloves with cuffs above the elbows... (Tokarev). After the shootings, the executioners were given alcohol (no one drank during the “job”). After the whole “operation” was completed, the Moscow group organized a banquet in their saloon wagon.

Two things are worth noting. Tokarev in his testimony (of course, he claimed that he had nothing to do with the murders) tries to convince us of the great psychological burden on the executioners, even causing their suicides, or later alcoholism. In some cases this was true, but not in the case of the main executioners. For example, it is not true that Blokhin committed suicide, he died in 1955. In 1940, he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. Blokhin also went down in history (its dark side) as the murderer of the outstanding Soviet writer, Isaac Babel, on whom, in January 1940, he carried out the “death sentence”. We should also remember that some of the shooting groups were composed of volunteers.

The “unloading” of Ostashkov lasted until 22 May. By the 23 May, there were no more POWs in the camp. In total, 6287 prisoners were sent to UNKVD in Kalinin (65 death list were drawn up), 112 to Gryazovets. According to Tokarev, 6295 people were shot, plus 1 “bandit” (a rebellious Soviet deserter). The report of the camp command from 25 May 1940 gives the number of 6288 Poles sent to Kalinin. As mentioned in the article on Kharkiv, these numbers vary slightly from one document to another.

The bodies of the POWs from Ostashkov were buried in the area of Yamok-Mednoye village, about 25 km from Kalinin, near the NKVD holiday resort (0.5 km from Tokarev’s summer house), on the Tvertsa river. According to Russian data, Soviet citizens were shot there already in the 1930s. The death pits were dug and buried by an excavator (2 excavator operators came from Moscow). After the end of the “action”, a guard was settled there, who, under the guise of guarding Tokarev’s summer house, guarded the whole area.

Both in Katyn and Mednoye, the pits were filled up, the area was levelled and young pines were planted. The area of Kozy Gory had already been fenced off, access to it was forbidden, and in 1940, sentries and dogs appeared there. The commanders of the camps were ordered (22 May) to put the files of the Polish prisoners of war in order, write a note on each file about the “loss” of a prisoner and send the files by courier to Moscow.

Meanwhile, the families continued to delude themselves that their loved ones were still alive.

On 20 May 1940, a letter from four children of prisoners murdered in Kalinin was sent from the Zaporizhzhya region: Dear Father Stalin! We, the children, ask the Great Father Stalin from the bottom of our hearts that our fathers who work in Ostashkov be returned to us. They sent us from western Belarus to Siberia and told us not to take anything (...) Father Stalin, as it is well known, had a particularly sensitive heart...

The buried death pits in Mednoye were covered with a veil of silence for 50 years.

As we know, the case of Katyn was completely different. Information about the place of murder of Polish officers was provided in 1940 by NKVD prisoner Eng. Edward Koźliński, who in April that year saw the bodies of the victims in the pit. At the end of 1941, his son, Zbigniew, arrived at the place with a ZWZ (Union of Armed Struggle) patrol. However, we do not know whether their accounts were heard out or taken seriously. Also in June 1942, Stanisław Swianiewicz, a survivor of Kozelsk and later of the Soviet gulags, spoke about the place where the officers were unloaded - Gnezdowo station.

Among the first Poles to reach the death pits in the Katyn Forest in 1942 were forced labourers on a work train (Bauzug No. 2005) of the Todt Organization (Germans occupied the Gnezdowo area on 27 July 1941). They learned about the shooting of Poles from one of the local residents, the place itself was indicated to them by Parfien Kisyelov, also a “local”. With a shovel and pickaxe borrowed from him, they dug into one of the pits and found the bodies of Polish officers. They put the first two birch crosses on the grave. Ivan Krivozyertsov from Gnezdowo, after reading in the press about the search for Polish officers, informed the translator from Geheime Feldpolizei about the death pits in the Katyn Forest in February 1943. The graves were found on 28 February. This was the beginning of the Katyn case and the Katyn lie. Without addressing this aspect of the Katyn Massacre, widely known from literature, we will move on to what happened on the grounds of the future Polish war cemetery in the following years.

On 29 March 1943, the German High Command of the Land Forces (OKW) issued an order to open the Katyn graves, determine the number of victims and the circumstances of the crime. On the same day, the Germans began exhumation works in the Katyn Forest (for the sake of conscientiousness, let us add that on 13 April the Berlin radio station announced the discovery of mass graves of 10,000 (!) Polish officers in Katyn). The works were led by a special medical commission. On 17 April, the Technical Commission of the Polish Red Cross joined the works (initially composed of 3 people, new members were added to the group, some employees were replaced). The bodies were exhumed from the death pits on stretchers by local residents (10-30 a day). Soviet POWs worked at digging and filling the graves - 30-50 a day. In total, 4243 bodies from 7 death pits were exhumed by the end of the exhumation (3 June) (during the work in 1995, the remains of another 4 officers were found in death pit No. 6). On 2 June, approx. 200 meters from the first group of graves death pit No. 8 was found. Only 10 (according to the Germans - 13) bodies were exhumed from it. Due to the weather conditions (heat) and the plague of flies, the exhumations were ceased (at that time Smolensk was only 30-40 km from the front line). Most of the bodies were found with items allowing their identification (members of the German commission and, separately, two persons from the Technical Commission of the Polish Red Cross examined them and wrote down the details in an office located in a small house about 6 km away from the graves). The largest grave (No. 1) had the shape of the letter “L” and the following dimensions - length of one side 26 m, shorter side - 16 m, width - 5.5-8.9 m, an area of 252 m2. It contained about 2500 bodies. The other graves contained about 700 bodies (No. 2), 250 (three - No. 3, 6 and 7), 150 (No. 4) and 51 (No. 5). The depth of the pits was 1.85 - 3.30 m. Seven death pits occupied an area of 478 m2. Adding the number of approx. 200 bodies that had not been exhumed from pit No. 8 to the sum of the already exhumed corpses, we obtain the number of approx. 4,443 Poles resting in the Katyn Forest. 2815 victims were identified (including 2 generals, 12 colonels, 50 lieutenant-colonels). Out of this number, over 230 people were not on the transport lists from Kozelsk. Dr. Marek Tarczyński assumes, by analogy, that out of the 1600 or so unidentified persons, about 150 were prisoners of war not included on the death lists. Thus, there may rest about 400 Poles not included on the deportation lists drawn up for Kozelsk in Moscow in the Katyn forest. This is yet another Katyn mystery. The pit mentioned by President Putin in his telephone conversation with Aleksander Kwaśniewski on 12 April 2000, containing a few, presumably Polish remains has not been yet explored by Polish specialists.

Fr. Stanislaw Jasinski in the Pits of Death in Katyn 1943, (Photo: AmtlichesMaterial...)
Fr. Stanislaw Jasinski in the Pits of Death in Katyn 1943, (Photo: AmtlichesMaterial...)

After the exhumation, the first cemetery was established in Katyn, the so called Polish Red Cross cemetery. The bodies were buried in 6 neighbouring graves (310, 980, 700, 1220, 700 and 331 people). The sides of the graves were covered with turf, and a 2.5-metre high planed cross made of pine wood was placed above each one. On top of each grave a large earthen cross was formed, also covered with turf. The highest cross was placed in the middle of the 1st row of graves. Two generals of the Polish Army were buried in individual graves. The cemetery covered an area of 60 x 36 m (according to Prof. M. Głosek - it was actually 40 x 33 m). On 9 June, the last members of the Technical Commission of the Polish Red Cross hung a large metal wreath painted in black on the highest cross with a crown of thorns in the middle and an eagle from an officer's cap nailed to a wooden cross.

After 2.5 months from these events, on 25 September 1943, the Soviet Army occupied Smolensk. The Russians attached great importance to the Katyn case, as evidenced by the fact that already on 26 September the Soviet Special Commission, whose most important task was not so much to investigate but to obliterate traces of the crime, arrived in the Katyn Forest. The statement of the so-called N. Burdenko Commission published in 1944 in Moscow cannot be treated seriously nor as a source. According to the statement, a committee of forensic medical experts was to carry out examinations on 925 exhumed bodies on 16-23 January 1944. But, as we read in the same statement, the forensic medical experts arrived in Katyn as early as 26 September 1943. They did not interrogate any witnesses. In other words, with regard to the activities of the Burdenko Commission on the Katyn graves, we know that we know nothing.

The graves were certainly opened; we know from the accounts of witnesses revealed in the 1990s (confirmed by the testimony of Klimov, who in 1943 (!) saw in the Smolensk NKVD Club 5 chests with the skulls of Poles prepared to be sent to Moscow; they then returned to Smolensk), that a special group from Lubyanka transported a number of corpses in crates from Katyn to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Moscow, where the bullets in the skulls were changed and German newspapers and money were placed near the bodies. This fact is confirmed by Polish research from the years 1994-95. In some layers of the Katyn graves an excess number of skulls and long bones were found, while in others these were missing. German aerial photographs from the period April-June 1944 show further works carried out in the Katyn Forest. Some kind of “expert research” was also conducted by another Soviet commission in the 1950s in connection with the report of the so-called Madden’s commission (the commission for the investigation of the Katyn Massacre, established on 18 September 1951 by the US Congress House of Representatives). Therefore, we do not know when and how many bodies were excavated from the Katyn graves from September 1943, when the remains from death pit No. 8 were exhumed; the Burdenko Commission’s materials examined by the Russian prosecutors did not provide answers to these questions (the prosecutor, Henryk Stawryłło, also read them). The Commission examining the execution of Polish POWs, established on 17 March 1992 by A. Yablokov, prosecutor of the Supreme Military Prosecutor's Office of the USSR, stated in its investigative materials that the exhumation in the Katyn Forest was carried out before the arrival of the Burdenko Commission on 16 January 1944. Moreover, according to Yablokov’s commission, death pit No. 8 was not interfered with by Burdenko Commission. According to Prof. Marian Głosek, it is possible that the main exhumation works did not take place until spring 1944, while a special group worked both before and after Burdenko Commission, this group also “prepared” the cemetery for the ceremony of 30 January 1944 (see below). The fact is that the Polish Red Cross cemetery was destroyed. According to the communication of Burdenko Commission, 2 mass graves (with the dimensions of 60 x 60 x 3 m and 7 x 6 x 3.5 m) were created on its site. However, in this case we cannot be sure either. According to Tadeusz Pieńkowski, there was one mass grave (with the dimensions 10 x 10 x 0.5 m), and next to it there was a mound about 0.8 m high, about 1.5 m wide and about 4 m long. According to Prof. M. Głosek, the smaller grave mentioned in Burdenko Commission’s communication was death pit No. 8. Soldiers of the 1st Corps of the Polish Armed Forces in the USSR, at a ceremony organized by the command on 30 January 1944, erected an approx. 2-metre-high high wooden cross on one of the graves. The chaplain of the 1st Armoured Division, Lieutenant Colonel Franciszek Kupsz celebrated mass at the graves.

We are also uncertain as to when the next Soviet commemorations of Polish officers murdered by “German fascists” were created. As we know, after the ceremony of 30 January 1944, a collection for the Katyn Monument was started among Polish soldiers, there was also talk about funding the “Mściciel Katynia [Avenger of Katyn]” tank. It is assumed that in 1957 a concrete slab without inscriptions lay in the area of the Katyn graves and there was a 1.5m-high wooden cross (photo by Stanislaw Bujnowski from June 1957). Probably in 1960s, on the site of the mass graves, a small, approx. 2-metre black granite monument was erected, surrounded by a low metal fence. One grave mound was formed in front of it, measuring about 4 x 4 m. It was meant to be a soldier's grave containing ashes collected from numerous graves scattered all over the forest (information from the Embassy of the People's Republic of Poland in Moscow of 31 May 1967). In 1967, on All Saints’ Day, a delegation of the Embassy of the People's Republic of Poland laid flowers on the graves in Katyn for the first time. The inscription (in Russian and Polish) on the obelisk reads as follows: “R.I.P. Here are buried the slaves, officers of the Polish Army murdered in terrible torment by German-Fascist occupiers in the fall of 1941. The concrete base of the obelisk and the cut vertical pipes of its fence were dug out - outside the Memorial wall - in 1994 by a Polish exhumation team. In May 1974 (an article by Stanisław Błaszczyk, “Express Wieczorny” 212/1988) the construction of the so-called Memorial began, which consisted of 4 (until 1988 - 2) concrete-framed graves and an approx. 1.7-meter high stone wall with ornamental grating inside. On the wall there were 2 granite black plaques with inscriptions in Russian and Polish: In memory of the victims of fascism - /Polish officers/ - shot by the Nazis in 1941. On 11 October 1978, on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of LWP (Polish People’s Army), a delegation of the Polish Embassy in Moscow laid wreaths there, accompanied by the regional and party authorities of Smolensk. The soldiers of the Smolensk garrison were on guard of honour. This was continued in the next years. In 1988 the surroundings of the grave were cleaned up. It was surrounded by a high fence on three sides, behind it were the KGB recreation areas.

On 31 August 1988, the Polish authorities - in a hurry before the church ceremony, which was being prepared for the next day - placed a plaque in front of the decorative grating of the wall: In this area a complex of monuments will be built in honour of the Polish officers who died in Katyn.

Katyn, Polish Government Plaque
Katyn, Polish Government Plaque

On 2 September of that year, the ceremony of erecting a 4.5-metre-high cross on an iron base, commonly known as the “Primate’s Cross”, took place in the Katyn Forest (designed by Prof. Eng. Leszek Klajnert), with the following inscription engraved: At this place a cross will be erected to commemorate the death of Polish officers. The cross was placed behind the wall of the Russian Memorial. It was consecrated by the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Józef Glemp.

Katyn, Primate’s Cross.
Katyn, Primate’s Cross.

We wrote about the taking of soil from the Katyn graves by the Polish state delegation and the Katyn Families on 5 April 1989 in the previous Bulletin.

The year 1989 marked the beginning of pilgrimages from Poland to Katyn. It is worth mentioning that after a visit of one of the groups at the end of April that year (organized by the “Kalinka” tourist office), the embassy of the People's Republic of Poland in Moscow wrote: Polish tourists behaved provocatively. For example, during the three services attended by three priests from Poland, sermons were delivered in which the Katyn victims were compared with Poles murdered in Kazakhstan and Siberia. The participants placed plaques and badges with the inscription “Katyn -1940” on the graves! It seems that in view of the increasing number of Polish tourists coming to Katyn, it would be appropriate to undertake educational work with them on a larger scale (...).

Katyn, commemoration by the family
Katyn, commemoration by the family

On the night of 3-4 April 1990, before the arrival of the delegation of the Katyn Families and the state delegation (Minister of State in the President's Chancellery - Piotr Nowina-Konopka, Deputy Minister of National Defence - Bronisław Komorowski, Deputy Chairman of the ROPWiM - Dr. Cezary Chlebowski, Bishop Michał Kędziora celebrated the mass), the plaques with false inscriptions were removed from the wall of the Memorial (their place was covered with black paint). An inscription in Russian also appeared on the empty plate on the right side. Here, between 1937 and 1940, hundreds of innocent Soviet citizens were shot by NKVD USSR officers.

In the late 1980s, however, demands were made, not only in Poland, to reveal the truth about the Katyn crime. The more progressive circles in the USSR also demanded an end to the lies about the NKVD murders. During the Second Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR in January 1990, deputy Ilya Zaslavskiy addressed a written interpellation to the Presidium of the Congress (signed by a group of deputies) concerning Katyn and the so-called “trial of 16”, addressed to the Prosecutor General of the USSR and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. They demanded answers to the question whether criminal proceedings and the investigation into the murder of interned Polish officers were initiated and the rehabilitation process for those sentenced in the “trial of 16” was requested (“Biuletyn Specjalny” 13008/16 I 1990). Alexander Guryanov, in the newspaper “Pozycja”, the body of the Interregional Group of Deputies, wrote the following: It is necessary to reconcile with the Polish nation, but without repentance there can be no reconciliation. One of the steps in this direction should be to encourage the Prosecutor's Office of the USSR to quickly implement the requests of the Prosecutor General of the People's Republic of Poland (request of 9 October 1989). Articles on Katyn were published in “Moskovskiye Novosti” since 1989 (Alexandr Akulichev, Alexei Pamiatnykh, Gennadiy Zavoronkov). As we remember, on 13 April 1990 President Wojciech Jaruzelski (who visited Katyn on 14 April, the representative company of the Polish Army and the honorary company of the Soviet Army took part in the ceremony of paying tribute to the murdered, and a remembrance roll of the dead was also held) received essential documents on the Katyn crime (NKVD deportation letters) from President Mikhail Gorbachev. At the same time an official announcement of the USSR authorities was published by the TASS Agency, stating that the murder of Polish officers in Katyn was committed by the NKVD. However, Poles expected more. So far, our expectations have not been met. In April 1990, the Polish Sejm and Senate adopted resolutions stating that the USSR authorities' acknowledgement of the crimes against Polish prisoners of war committed by the NKVD was an important step towards an understanding between the two nations, but it was also necessary to clarify other crimes committed against Polish citizens and to solve the problem of compensation (“Gazeta Wyborcza” No. 100, 30 IV-1 V 1990).

Katyn, Soviet Memorial
Katyn, Soviet Memorial
Plaques on the Memorial after 1991
Plaques on the Memorial after 1991

The following months also brought a long-awaited breakthrough in finding the places where bodies of the murdered Polish Army officers from Starobilsk and policemen from Ostashkov were buried. The search for them took a long time, all possible traces were explored. There were particularly many versions concerning the murder of Ostashkov prisoners (although they were not confirmed, they may be a clue to solving the mystery of the disappearance of other groups of Poles in the USSR). There was talk of sinking ships in the White Sea or barges on the Seliger Lake. The Bologoye region was mentioned, where the trace of railroad transports from Ostashkov led (prison wagons with prisoners of the camp were detached there and attached to the train going to Moscow via Kalinin). At the end of the 1980s, the name Mednoye also appeared - at that time without response - on the basis of the analysis of Luftwaffe aerial photographs (information from the Paris “Kultura” of 1988, quoted by Dr. B. Łojek).

In mid May 1990 “Tverskiy Memorial” printed an article in the newspaper “Kalininska Pravda” entitled Where are the bodies of victims of repressions. Letters were received from readers, including a report by a former UNKVD employee in Kalinin at the turn of the 1930s and 1940s, according to whom Polish officers (!) after being brought from Ostashkov were imprisoned in the basements and the attic (?) of the NKVD building, where they were shot, while the corpses were taken to the village of Mednoye, to the area of the NKVD holiday resort. Memorial submitted the collected information to the Polish Ambassador in Moscow (June 1990) in a letter. On 6 June the District Prosecutor's Office in Kalinin initiated proceedings to finally clarify the place of burial of the Polish prisoners. This was supervised by Prosecutor Yevgeniy Artemyev. In June 1990, the head of the regional KGB board also made a statement to “Kalininska Pravda” that KGB authorities had been searching for the graves of Polish officers (!) for several months, but so far found no evidence to indicate that they were buried near Yamok, despite a meticulous search of the archives. Let us leave it without any comment, the files of the labour camp cemeteries, published in the Bulletin of the ROPWiM, confirm unambiguously the constant interest of the KGB in the sites of the NKVD victims' graves and the fact that the local authorities had accurate information on the subject. Let us also add that - as emphasized by the head of the Polish exhumation team, Prof. В. Młodziejowski in his reports - all graves of the Polish policemen in Mednoye were located within the area of work designated by the KGB in Tver.

Meanwhile, a delegation of the Polish Sejm, with Marshal Mikołaj Kozakiewicz, who had been in Moscow since 11 June, was unofficially informed by the Soviet authorities that the place of burial of the murdered prisoners from Ostashkov was located within the KGB and militia sports and recreation facility, near the town of Mednoye, located on the Moscow-Leningrad road, 25 km north of Kalinin. Mass graves of the victims of Stalinist terror, mainly Russians, were found there, but there were many indications that Polish prisoners of war were also buried in the same place. At this point, one would like to shout: At last! On 18 June, the Soviet side also unofficially informed the Polish Embassy about the supposed burial place of Polish prisoners of war from Ostashkov near Mednoye, where the mass graves of victims of Stalinist repressions were revealed. While taking action, the Embassy of the Republic of Poland reserved the participation of the Polish side in future exhumations. At the beginning of July 1990, the head of the Kalinin KGB confirmed that graves of Polish officers from Ostashkov were found in Mednoye, and then the spokesman of the USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs G. Gierasimow officially announced the existence of mass graves of Poles from Starobilsk and Ostashkov in the Kharkiv and Tver regions.

Mednoye, the area of the graves, 1994
Mednoye, the area of the graves, 1994

As mentioned in the previous article, after the actions of the Polish side, at the end of June 1991 Russian prosecutors brought the instructions with the exhumation dates in Kharkiv and Mednoye to Warsaw. These were to be conducted within the framework of the Soviet investigation, with the participation of the Polish side. The aim of the exhumation in Mednoye was to locate the site of burial of the bodies and determine the exact place where the crime was committed. It was carried out from 15-30 August 1991. On behalf of the Soviet Prosecutor's Office (general and military), the works carried out by Polish specialists were supervised by: Colonel A. Tretetsky, Colonel S. Rodziewicz, Prosecutor Anatoliy Yablokov, General W. Kupiec, General Rybakov, forensic medical expert, Lieutenant Colonel Dr. L. Byelayev.

The composition of the Polish team was as follows: Prosecutor Stefan Śnieżko - head of the team; Zbigniew Mielecki, MA - prosecutor from the Ministry of Justice; Erazm Baran, Ph.D. - assistant professor in the Chair and Department of Forensic Medicine of the Medical University of Krakow; Roman Mądro, Ph.D. - assistant professor in the Chair and Department of Forensic Medicine of the Medical University of Lublin; prof. dr hab. Bronisław Młodziejowski - an anthropologist, director of the Institute of Police Sciences at the Police Academy in Szczytno; Dr. Marian Głosek - an archaeologist, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, branch in Łódź; Jarosław Rosiak, M.Sc. - a specialist in firearms, Central Forensic Laboratory of the Police Headquarters; Aleksander Załęski - expert in photography, Central Forensic Laboratory; retired Colonel Zdzisław Sawicki - expert in phaleristics and uniforms; Jędrzej Tucholski M.Sc. - Institute of Electrical Engineering; Colonel Przemysław Tomaszewski; Elżbieta Rejf - Main Board of the Polish Red Cross. The team was accompanied by: Stanisław Mikke, attorney-at-law, editor-in-chief of “Palestra”, and Józef Gębski, MA - director of the Documentary Film Studio.

Mednoye, death pit area, publ. OPWiM 1994.
Mednoye, death pit area, publ. the ROPWiM 1994.

The work area was an elongated polygon (with maximum dimensions of about 115 x 150 m) separated from the forest area occupied by the KGB holiday resort. The whole area, belonging to the KGB, was about 700 x 400 m and was fenced off. Auxiliary works were performed by 54 soldiers from the Guards Company of the Kantemirovskaya Armoured Division. The upper layer of the ground was removed with an excavator. Three mass graves were located, marked with the letters А, В and C, then another one with D, and a fragment of grave E was unveiled. Due to the short period of exhumation, only grave B (420 cm in diameter and 375 cm deep) was fully explored; it probably contained 243 corpses, mostly mixed, joined by fat wax and soaked in water. As the Polish specialists stated, the specific climatic and soil conditions existing in Mednoye caused the biological clumping of the bodies into a compact mass and the formation of compact blocks from the remains, mixed with fragments of clothing. Sometimes it was possible to exhume an entire body. Often the heads were wrapped in police coats (this confirms Tokarev's testimony). It was found that the cause of death of the victims was a shot in the back of the head (168 certain cases out of 243 exhumed bodies), taken from close range or by putting the gun to the back of the head. Specialists also found that, on the basis of the location of inlet holes and the direction of the gunshot channels, the shooters must have been very skilled. The bodies were thrown into the graves in a chaotic manner, the pits were not penetrated later.

Next to the remains there were fragments of police uniforms (they stained the ground dark blue), uniform buttons, police caps and badges, shoes, personal items, sometimes documents. There were no belts. In order to assess the range of the graves, 30 small survey excavations were made with an excavator. The entire outline of grave A (diameter - 5.2 m) was uncovered. The shape of the graves was spherical. During the work, a white brick foundation was found; as it turned out, it was the foundation of washing facilities, erected directly on the graves; the builders found the bodies in the trench, covered it with a layer of earth and only then started to brick the walls. Unfortunately, this is not the only, although one of the most dramatic, examples of the attitude of totalitarian state officials towards the bodies of those murdered, which was not caused by somebody’s “fancy”, but was the result of top-down instructions. In one of the excavations, a pit containing the personal belongings of those murdered was found. During the works in 1991, it was not possible to extract all of them. The remnants of uniforms, shoes and other items were placed in 4 chests in empty grave B.

89 personal and official documents, banknotes, newspapers and their fragments and 47 other evidence found were delivered to the Central Forensic Laboratory of the Police Headquarters. Some other objects were also transported to Poland (currently in the Katyn Museum). Excavation C was not explored at all, and excavation A was only partially explored.

The remains exhumed from grave В were buried in a number of coffins in a dug tomb measuring 4 x 5 x 2 m (a clearing on a small hill was chosen as the place of burial). Russian soldiers placed a tall wooden cross on it. Birch crosses (about 1.5 meters high) were placed at the survey excavations where the bodies were found. On 30 August, Stefan Melak used a truck to bring a cross which was then placed on the site of excavation no. I.

On 31 August 1991, a special train came to Tver from Warsaw; it brought the Katyn families, MPs, representatives of the Police Headquarters, the UOP (Office for State Protection), the Fire Department Headquarters, the Military Police, the Prison Service, the Border Guard, Nadwiślańskie Military Units, and a representative orchestra of the Warsaw Police Headquarters. The government of the Republic of Poland was represented by: Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of the Interior - Jan Widacki, head of the National Security Bureau (BBN) - Jerzy Milewski, representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Polish Embassy in Moscow (with Ambassador S. Ciosek) and the Chairman of the ROPWiM - S. Broniewski. The last coffin, wrapped in a white and red flag with a ribbon of the Virtuti Militari cross, was lowered into the grave. Mass was celebrated by the Field Bishop of the Polish Army, Brigadier General Sławoj Leszek Głódź, prayers were also said by clergy of other faiths. Soil from Poland, as well as from the graves in Katyn and Kharkiv, was thrown onto the coffin. A granite plaque made by the ROPWiM with an eagle and an inscription was placed under the highest cross: In memory of 6295 Police Officers, Soldiers of the Border Protection Corps and other formations of the Polish Army, Border Guard Officers and Employees of the State Administration and Justice of the Republic of Poland, Prisoners of War of the Ostashkov camp murdered by the NKVD in spring 1940 and buried here.

Mednoye, August 1991, Compatriots

The ceremonies were organized by the Office of the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the ROPWiM.

Katyn, commemoration by the families
Katyn, commemoration by the families

To conclude the topic of the Katyn exhumation in August 1991 in Mednoye, which was extremely important for the Katyn case, we must note - apart from the extreme working conditions due to the state of the corpses - additional tensions and uncertainty as to the continuation of the work, as well as the fate of the members of the Polish team - caused by Yanayev’s coup (19 August) and the introduction of the state of emergency in Russia.

In November 1991, the Office of Public Procurator of the USSR notified the Polish side of its intention to carry out a partial exhumation in Katyn on 20-21 November of that year, in order to determine whether there were any remains of the murdered Poles on the grounds of the Memorial (as we know, this was not certain; there was talk of deportation in 1944 of 80 wagons of decomposing corpses to Kazakhstan). The Polish side was not invited to the planned works. In this situation, upon the order of Prosecutor S. Śnieżko, Prosecutor Henryk Stawryłło went to Moscow and Katyn . The work in the Katyn Forest was supervised by the deputy head of the Supervisory Branch of the Supreme Military Prosecutor's Office of the USSR, Colonel A. Tretetsky (the group also included: Prosecutor S. Rodziewicz and Lieutenant Colonel W. Granyonov from the Supreme Military Prosecutor's Office, W. Tyukavin from Smolensk KGB and a forensic medical expert - L. Byelayev). The excavations were made using a bucket excavator and shovels (officers and soldiers from the School of Missile Troops in Smolensk). The Russian side did not have any plans of the burial places (no such plans were found in the Burdenko Commission’s files). Prosecutor Stawryłło submitted Luftwaffe aerial photographs as legal aid. Two witnesses from nearby towns were also called (the place indicated by one of them turned out to be empty). A total of 20 excavations were made in the Katyn Forest, 8 of which were successful (in the southern parts of the Memorial - where shovels were used - at a depth of about 1.2 m numerous bone remains were found, including 2 skulls and parts of a Polish uniform, and deeper on further bone remains without any anatomical arrangement. On the right side of the forest road towards the Dnieper, small bone remains and soldiers’ water bottles were found). The exhumed skulls, bone fragments and objects were sent to Poland for an expert opinion. The work took about 6 hours in total. Due to their superficiality, negligible scale and lack of a plan, they did not answer the fundamental question: were there any graves of Polish officers in Katyn and if so, where? It was only found that there were some remains of the murdered officers of the Polish Army.

Soon, the Katyn Forest became publicly accessible; the fences were removed. One should also mention that there were attempts to take over the area by private persons; a part of the Katyn Forest, fortunately quite far from the graves (about 9 km), was bought in 1991 from the Smolensk authorities by the Polish-Russian company SEPCO-UNION, which intended to build a recreation and tourist complex with a church and a monument commemorating the place of execution of the Polish officers (a similar situation occurred in Kharkiv). After a local visit of the representatives of the ROPWiM, NKHBZK (Independent Historical Committee for the Investigation of the Katyn Massacre), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, FRK (Federation of Katyn Families) and PFK (Polish Katyn Foundation), as well as after talks with the authorities of Smolensk, the opinion of the ROPWiM - formed on the basis of the opinion of the Katyn Families - was presented to the company i.e. that for the Polish raison d'etat, the most important thing was to build a Polish war cemetery within the boundaries set as a result of the exhumation, according to a project selected in a competition.

It should also be noted that for quite a long time the Russian side promoted the idea of creating a joint “Memorial” (not a cemetery, but a monument) in the Katyn Forest.

As mentioned in the previous article, in March 1992, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs began working on the text of the Polish-Russian agreement on the protection of graves and memorial sites, with the participation of the established Katyn Advisory Board. The draft agreement was submitted to the Russian side on 13 June 1992, together with a note requesting the consent to immediately proceed with the exhumation. As a result of the activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Katyn community in April and June of that year, agreements of intent were signed with the regional authorities of Smolensk and Kalinin on joint actions aimed at building cemeteries in Katyn and Mednoye. At the meetings of the Katyn Group (from 16 July at the ROPWiM), matters related to exhumations and the competition for future cemeteries were determined (the selected working group developed a document entitled “The Organization of exhumation works and equipment for Katyn - Mednoye - Kharkiv cemeteries, approved for implementation by the Group on 27 July 1992).

On 19-25 September that year, upon the invitation of the political advisor of President Yeltsin, Dr. Sergiej Stankiewicz, an 8-person delegation of the Federation of Katyn Families went to Moscow, headed by Dr. Bozena Łojek. The delegation held a number of talks (among others at the Supreme Military Prosecutor's Office); on 23 September it was received by the Vice President of - at that time already the Russian Federation - Alexander Rutskoy, who was presented with the Petition of the delegation of Polish Katyn Families. A. Rutskoy stated that in view of the difficulties concerning the Katyn case, in agreement with President Yeltsin, he was taking personal patronage over the case. Soon he set up a working group for Katyn Affairs with General Leonid Zaika at the head (Dr. Piotr Romanov was secretary). The aim of the investigation was: to bring the investigation to an urgent conclusion (“it is still ongoing” in 2000), to assist with the exhumation and to complete the arrangement of cemeteries in 1994 (!) (without denying President Rutskoy’s goodwill, it must be remembered that, due to “objective” difficulties, the construction was completed in 2000). A group of Russians with Gen. Zaika visited Warsaw from 6-10 October. It was agreed that Polish topographers would go to Katyn and Mednoye.

In November 1992, the Russian side also presented its version of the agreement; in December, Polish-Russian negotiations began, which lasted until the 2nd half of January 1993. After the agreement of 20 January, at the level of ministers Skubiszewski and Stankiewicz, on the “final” text, the Russian side presented a completely new version of the agreement, which again prolonged the negotiations.

In the meantime, the ROPWiM in agreement with the Head of the Topographic Board of the Polish Army, Colonel Henryk Bednarek and the Military Centre for Geodesy and Remote Sensing, organized visits of military surveyors to Katyn (12-16 November 1992) and Mednoye (19-21 November). They were to make measurements for the basic map (1:500) of the future cemetery grounds (for the purposes of the competition), an art map (1:1000) and an art table (1:250). The team consisted of: surveyors - Major PhD Eng. Bogdan Kolanowski, Major PhD Eng. Jerzy Wiśniowski, Captain MSc.  Ireneusz Chudzik, Lieutenant MSc. Tadeusz Dadas, drivers-mechanics - warrant officer Tadeusz Dobrzyński, master corporal Jan Włosiński, master corporal Karol Wlosiński and geologist - Piotr Łojek. The team was headed by retired Colonel Zdzisław Sawicki. By the end of January 1993 the maps were completed.

The year 1993 was essentially a time of difficult work on the final text of the agreements with Russia and Ukraine, efforts to obtain permission for exhumation (which was again hampered by a lack of agreement), completing the teams and equipment and preparing a competition for the cemeteries.

Finally, on 22 February 1994, in Krakow the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland and the Russian Federation signed the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Poland and the Government of the Russian Federation on the Graves and Memorial Sites of Victims of Wars and Repression.

Its integral part includes the Joint statement by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland and the Russian Federation. It reads as follows: (...) Guided by good will and humanitarian values, the Russian side intends to begin in May 1994 the exhumation of the remains of the victims of totalitarianism, including Polish officers, in Katyn and Mednoye and to participate in a memorable burial. The Russian side declares that it is ready to bear the related costs and provide assistance in the arrangement of memorial cemeteries in Katyn and Mednoye.(...) In accordance with Article 11, each party was to designate an authorized body responsible for the coordination of activities related to the implementation of the agreement. It seemed that now everything would go smoothly. But, as it turned out, the joy was premature. The May deadline passed, without any steps taken on the part of the Russians (after 20 April they were to give the date of arrival of the teams from Poland). In the meantime, the Polish side was ready; the composition of the teams was established, the equipment prepared. The entire preparations were managed by the ROPWiM as the principal, with the help of the Polish Red Cross, the General Staff of the Polish Army and the Ministry of the Interior. At the end of May, the Tver administration informed that it was ready to accept Polish representatives on 30-31 May to determine the scope of work and organizational matters (!), however, the final decisions were dependent on the approval of the cost estimate submitted to Deputy Prime Minister V. Chernomyrdin; these talks, however, did not take place, and it was not possible to set a date for a meeting with the authorities of Smolensk (appeals by the ROPWiM and official notes from the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not help). On 14 July the Polish delegation, headed by Minister A. Zakrzewski, was received by Deputy Prime Minister Yarov. The talks were difficult. Contrary to the provisions of the agreement, the Russians were of the opinion that the exhumations would not do much good, because the remains were mixed up, and Poles were not the only group buried in these places; that the Russian society may have objections as to why only Poles were to be exhumed; that in this situation it would be best to erect a joint “Memorial” for all the murdered. Finally, it was agreed that within 10 days both parties would appoint plenipotentiaries to consider these issues in their bilateral contacts. The Russian side also undertook to give a deadline for the exhumation to start later that year. This was always the case - one step forward, two steps back. Then suddenly the situation changed.

By a note of 25 July 1994, the MFA of the Russian Federation informed that on 23 July the Russian government issued a special ordinance approving the composition of the Coordinating Committee for the Commemoration of Victims of Totalitarian Repression in Katyn and Mednoye. At the same time, the Government of the Russian Federation had entrusted the Committee with the function of a plenipotentiary body responsible for the coordination of activities aimed at the implementation of the provisions of the agreement of 22 February 1994. It was obliged to create an “operational group”, consisting of representatives of the Smolensk and Tver regions, as well as the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministries of Defence, Culture and Finance, the Federal Counterintelligence Service, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Red Cross. This group was to deal with issues related to the erection of memorials in Katyn and Mednoye. The governors of the Smolensk and Tver regions were instructed to develop and approve, within 2 weeks, a plan of undertakings related to securing the works connected with the commemoration of Soviet and Polish citizens - victims of wars and repressions - and to welcome the Polish experts and provide them with accommodation. The Ministry of Finance was to allocate funds to cover the costs related to the burial and commemoration of Soviet and Polish citizens in both places.

The Deputy Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation, Vyacheslav I. Bragin was appointed plenipotentiary of the Russian side and chairman of the Committee (successively: from 21 February 1998 - Deputy Minister Natalia Dementieva and most recently the Minister of Culture Mikhail Shvydkoy).

As we see, the Russian side proved to be “better” in this particular case, as - despite the appeal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland (under pressure from the ROPWiM and the Katyn Families) to appoint a government plenipotentiary for Katyn Affairs on our part - the government remained “silent”. In this situation the ROPWiM, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sent a letter to the Russian side expressing its readiness to start work. Talks were also held with the authorities of Tver and Smolensk, who agreed to receive the group on 18 August. The trip was arranged for 20 August. This date was confirmed by the Polish Embassy in Moscow. Everything was ready, except for the still open question of participation in the work of Polish prosecutors. Prosecutor Śnieżko decided that this could not be done within the framework of official investigative activities, as the investigation was conducted by the Russian side. The decision in this case was to be made during a visit to the works (in the end, Polish prosecutors did not go to Katyn or Mednoye).

On 19 August, in the evening, in the Primate's Chapel, a mass was held for members of the groups from all over Poland. When they left the service, they found out that the Russian side refused to accept the Polish groups, warning them that their entry into the Russian Federation would be treated as illegal. The reason for such a step, one must admit somewhat justified, was the Polish side's failure to fulfil its obligation to appoint a body responsible for coordinating the activities related to the implementation of the agreement of 22 February. However, there was great confusion and disappointment. Finally, on 19 August, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland, Włodzimierz Pawlak, issued Order No. 23 on the appointment of the Commission for the Commemoration of the Victims of the Katyn Massacre acting at the Prime Minister to coordinate all activities in this field. The Commission was composed of: Prosecutor S. Śnieżko - chairman, secretary of the ROPWiM A. Przewoźnik - vice-chairman and secretary, members: Director of GKBZpNP IPN (Main Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation of the Institute of national Remembrance) - Ryszard Walczak, division general Roman Graczyk, Deputy Director of the Consular and Exile Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Marek Masiulanis, Advisor to the Minister in the Office of the Council of Ministers - Zbigniew Bylica, Deputy Minister of Culture and Art - Michał Jagiełło. Włodzimierz Dusiewicz, Chairman of the Board of the Federation of Katyn Families, and Andrzej Kojder, representative of the President's Chancellery, were also to take part in the work of the Commission.

The organizational and technical support of the activities was provided by the ROPWiM (let us add that it never received any additional man force or funds from the Government for this task). The first meeting of the Commission was held on 24 August 1994. In fact, the entire burden concerning Katyn conducted in the Polish-Russian relations since the establishment of both delegations (the Russian Committee and the Polish Commission) rested, on our side, on the shoulders of A. Przewoźnik. On 23 August 1994, during the talks in Moscow, representatives of the Polish Commission and the Russian Committee, as well as the Deputy Prime Minister Yarov and the MFA of the Russian Federation, finally agreed that survey and topographic works (the Russian side did not agree to the exhumation works) to find and determine the location of the Polish remains will begin on 5 September. The Russians undertook to provide the Polish specialists with all necessary help (accommodation, man force, heavy equipment). As an element of reconciliation, they proposed to build a common cemetery selected in a single Polish-Russian competition. However, the most important thing was to start the works. On 3 September both groups left Poland. The dramatic circumstances connected with the start of work in Katyn were described by Stanisław Mikke (Śpij mężny. W Katyniu, Charkowie, Miednoje...). We are pleased to note that at that time the matter depended on one man - the Secretary General of the ROPWiM and that he coped with the situation by explaining the purpose of the work and turning the moods of the agitated crowd in favour of Poland, which was an extremely difficult task in these conditions.

The Katyn group, which arrived at Smolensk on 4 September, started working the next day, however, as a result of obstruction by Russian offices (failure to deliver transport, people and heavy equipment - the visit of Prime Minister Chernomyrdin to Katyn finally helped; a similar situation also took place in 1995), intensive work lasted only 2 weeks and ended on 25 September.

We will now discuss the results of both periods, i.e. also the season of work in 1995 (6 June - 8 September), which at that time were already of a survey and exhumation nature.

In both years the groups included (some of them during the whole period of work, others temporarily): prof. dr hab. Marian Głosek, head of the works in 1994 and 1995; archaeologists: Dr. Maria Blombergowa, Wojciech Śmigielski MA., Mirosław Pietrzak MA, Justyn Skowron MA, Dominik Abłamowicz PhD, Jan Grześkowiak PhD, Piotr Świątkiewicz MA., Błażej Muzolf MA.; forensic physicians - dr Erazm Baran, prof, dr hab. Roman Mądro; anthropologists - Bogdan Łuczak PhD., Wiesław Lorkiewicz MA; uniform expert-phalerist - Marek Dutkiewicz PhD; Polish Red Cross - Stefan Pedrycz MA., Andrzej Karski MA., Eugeniusz Taradejko MA., Andrzej Szuwarski; documentalists, photographers - Gabriel Rycel MA., Przemysław Mądro MA. and students of archaeology. For two weeks, the works were attended by Stanislaw Mikke, attorney-at-law, Jędrzej Tucholski MSc., Colonel Zdzisław Sawicki, Fr. Zdzisław Peszkowski. Moreover, in 1994 - topographers from the Military Centre for Geodesy and Remote Sensing: Major Adam Kazik and Cpt. Waldemar Kubisz (the surveying works in Katyn lasted from 5 to 13 September, were connected with making fragments of the basic map and securing the surveying research).

Medals of the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites awarded to members of the exhumation groups.
Medals of the ROPWiM awarded to members of the exhumation groups.

In 1994 their main goal was to find the answer to the question: are there any remains of Polish officers in Katyn, and if so, where; in 1995 the aim was to fully and precisely locate both the death pits and mass graves, and to designate the area of the future cemetery. Both these questions were answered. Without going into the detailed descriptions of the course of work and its results, we can state that all the mass graves were located within the grounds of the so-called Memorial - 6 large ones and two single graves of generals, arranged after the exhumation conducted in 1943 by the German Commission and the Technical Commission of the Polish Red Cross and the transfer of the remains from 7 death pits; all death pits were also found. The fence of the Memorial passed through grave No. 1; the first layer of the bodies was disturbed, it was similar in the case of grave No. 6. In general, the range of the graves was as follows:

Grave No.1 It was arranged by the Germans before the arrival of the Polish Red Cross commission. 310 bodies were buried in this grave. It was found that the remains - in the middle and eastern part of the grave - were moved after the exhumation in 1943. It has a rectangular shape of 10.5 x 7.2 m. It was not possible to identify whole skeletons. During the works in 1994-95 about 130 bodies were exhumed from the grave.

Grave No.2 Irregular shape, dimensions 14-12 x approx. 11 m. There are 980 bodies buried there. The first three layers of bodies were probably moved after the exhumation in 1943; two layers were not penetrated. About 44 skeletons were exhumed from the grave (in 1995).

Grave No.3 Dimensions: 10.5 x 6 m. 700 bodies were buried there. It is not known whether it was penetrated after 1943. Currently, about 8 skeletons were exhumed from the grave.

Grave No.4 Dimensions: 13 x 12 m. According to German data 1220 people were buried there. In the examined part of the grave (about 1/6 of the whole) no secondary interference was determined in the skeleton system. The remains of about 18 people were exhumed from the grave.

Grave No.5 Dimensions: 12.5 x 8.5 m. 700 bodies were buried there in 1943. Secondary interference in the grave after 1943 was determined. It has not been established whether this applies to the entire grave. About 46 skeletons were exhumed from the grave.

Grave No.6 Dimensions: 13 x 7,2-6,5 m. 331 people were presumably buried there, including 10 from death pit No. 8. The anatomical structure of the corpses was disturbed. About 114 skeletons were exhumed from the grave.

In total, during the works in the years 1994-1995 Polish specialists exhumed the remains of about 360 people.

Katyn Forest, the area of execution and death pits, pub. OPWiM 1994
Katyn Forest, the area of execution and death pits, pub. the ROPWiM 1994

A manual geological drill was use in the conducted works. The boreholes were verified through excavation. In 1994, 83 boreholes and 6 excavations were made within the Memorial ground, and in 1995 - 946 boreholes (every 2 meters or more) - in the area of the death pits.

Katyn, works carried out in 1994
Katyn, works carried out in 1994

The main difficulty for Polish specialists working in Katyn was to assemble the skeleton of one individual. This proved impossible in 50% of the cases. As we know, this was due to repeated interference in some layers of the remains. After the inspection, the exhumed remains were marked with numbers and placed in the same grave by a representative of the Polish Red Cross.

The dimensions of the death pits slightly differed from the German data, as a result of the interference during the exhumation and careless measurements. After the German exhumation, some small bones remained, and even - in pit No. 6 - four complete skeletons (they were buried in grave No. 1). During the exhumation of 1943, the personal belongings of Polish officers were thrown into the pit No. 3 (during the work in 1995 this pit was not fully explored due to lack of time). All small remains and objects from pits 5 and 8 were extracted. As already mentioned, death pit No. 8, which was not exhumed in 1943, turned out to be empty. According to prof. Głosek, it contained more than 200 bodies, as had been reported so far, because smaller death pit No. 3 contained 250 bodies.

Katyn, works carried out in 1994
Katyn, works carried out in 1994

Works carried out in 1994-95 proved the presence of the remains of Polish Army officers murdered by the NKVD in the spring of 1940 in the Katyn Forest within the so-called Memorial ground. It is worth mentioning that within the area of death pit No. 8 Polish specialists identified 41 graves (smaller ones) of Soviet citizens, and one more in another part of the Katyn Forest.

Katyn, a mapbook found in 1995.
Katyn, a mapbook found in 1995.

The objects excavated during the works, after conservation (commissioned by the ROPWiM), were placed in the Katyn Museum. They were selected for transportation to Poland according to the following criteria: for the purposes of an ongoing investigation, allowing for the identification of the owner, which could provide information about the lives of the prisoners and items whose state of preservation or value predisposed them to be presented at exhibitions. In general, several thousand items corresponded to these categories; it is impossible to list them here even by type; it is worth mentioning the hat of Rear Admiral Czernicki, items found in the coffins of Generals M. Smorawiński and B. Bohaterewicz, so far unexplored, as well as items presumably belonging to Lieutenant Janina Lewandowska nee Dowbór-Muśnicka.

The main work was completed on 31 August 1995. The remains of the Polish officers were buried on that day, with the participation of Fr. Ptolomeusz from the Roman Catholic parish in Smolensk. On 5 September 1995 the group finished filling in the pits, on 7 September - in the presence of General Smorawiński's family, the delegation of the Katyn Families and A. Przewoźnik, the generals' funeral took place; they were buried in the original place, next to the present altar wall (as it is known, the plane with the government delegation did not arrive, due to the lack of formal permission to land as a result of the late notification of the flight).

Katyn, the generals’ graves after exhumation, 1995.
Katyn, the generals’ graves after exhumation, 1995.

The works in Mednoye lasted from 6 to 22 September 1994 and from 7 June to 31 July 1995. The teams were led by Prof. Bronisław Młodziejowski, an anthropologist. In addition, both teams were composed of: Justyn Skowron MA., an archaeologist, Eugeniusz Taradejko MA., Polish Red Cross and Lieutenant Urszula Frankiewicz - documentalist, and periodically - attorney S. Mikke. The following persons also took part in the works of 1994 or 1995: Colonel Z. Sawicki - phaleristics expert; Tomasz Jablonski, MA - phaleristics expert and documentalist; Bartłomiej Tuchaczewski, MA - documentalist, depositary; Assistant Police Commissioner Bernard Łuczyński, MA - photographer, documentalist; Colonel Aleksander Wojciechowski; inspector Aleksander Załęski - photographer; Robert Gwiazdecki and Małgorzata Brzozowska - forensic physicians; Ryszard Stasiak - archeologist; Elżbieta Rejf - Polish Red Cross; major Henryk Łagód - Chief Commander of the Border Guard; Chief Commissioner Sławomir Stochmal and Commissioner Arkadiusz Szkrzypczak - Police Training Centre in Legionowo; privates: Ryszard Dzieliński, Grzegorz Niczyporuk, Piotr Szelwicki and Paweł Zając from the Police Academy in Szczytno, also Stanisław Buda, Sławomir Zakrzewski and Tadeusz Boniecki - drivers, operators of the geological drill. Auxiliary work was performed by Russian soldiers of the internal army, the Russians also supplied a hydraulic excavator. In 1994, 246 boreholes were drilled, 98 of which were made in the places where the bodies were buried. 17 graves were located, covering the area of approx. 56 ares. In total, 23 death pits were found and verified during the two years. In addition, 19 excavations were made with an excavator. All Polish graves were located and two were entirely exhumed. No graves of Soviet citizens were found near the Polish graves. Some of the items were designated to be transported to Poland. From 15-22 September, the same military surveyors that worked in Katyn also worked in Mednoye.

Mednoye, works carried out in 1994
Mednoye, works carried out in 1994
Mednoye, a regular State Police cape found in 1994..
Mednoye, a regular State Police cape found in 1994..

In 1995, a total of 104 boreholes were drilled, the remains of 2,115 people were exhumed and examined.

Mednoye, one of the graves after the exhumation
Mednoye, one of the graves after the exhumation

Only death pits No. 1A and 1C (from under the septic tanks) were explored in whole, i.e. at least 437 people were exhumed. Almost complete maceration of bone tissue occurred in these pits. The exhumed remains of the corpses were buried in a grave dug in 1991, next to the main cross. A third pit with equipment was also discovered. As in Katyn, the burials were carried out by representatives of the Polish Red Cross, the remains were placed (except for graves 1A and 1C) in the pits from which they were exhumed. In 1994, one of the residents of the district indicated a post-tank pit near Tver on the former military training ground, containing a large number of items of Polish police equipment (metal dishes, mugs, water bottles, etc.), among which the Silesian Voivodeship Police identification symbols were also found. As it was established, they were thrown there approx. 20 years after the crime was committed. All items were pierced with a square spike. In 1995 another pit with similar contents was found nearby. It was also emptied.

Mednoye, a State Police badge found in 1994
Mednoye, a State Police badge found in 1994

After the work was completed and the graves were filled, the group formed the surfaces of all graves. A birch cross was placed on each of them.

Meanwhile, on 25 March 1995 in Smolensk, documents were signed on the building of Polish war cemeteries in Katyn and Mednoye. This was the result of arrangements made at the February meeting of the Polish Committee and the Russian Commission in Warsaw, when it was agreed that Polish facilities would be built in both places - as part of a general complex commemorating the victims of the totalitarian system. Maps of these areas with the range of the cemeteries drawn by Polish surveyors constituted the basis for delimiting the boundaries of the cemeteries. The course of the boundaries was to be determined as a result of the continuation of the survey and exhumation works in 1995. Until 20 May, the Smolensk and Tver Administrations were supposed to settle the formal and legal issues connected with the construction of the Polish cemeteries (however, this deadline was not met; in fact, these issues still had not been settled in October that year).

The dates of the ceremony of laying the foundation stones for the future Polish cemeteries were also agreed, prepared as part of the celebrations of the Katyn Year and the 55th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre.

The ceremony of laying the foundation stone, consecrated by John Paul II and the foundation act (signed by President Wałęsa) for the future Polish war cemetery took place in Katyn on 4 June 1995. It had a very solemn setting. The ceremony was attended by President Wałęsa and Prime Minister Oleksy, Speakers of the Sejm and Senate, MPs and members of the Government, Katyn Families, Polish Primate Cardinal Józef Glemp, Field Bishop of the Polish Army Sławoj L. Głódź, Orthodox Field Bishop Archbishop Sawa, Bishop of the Evangelical-Augsburg Church Jan Szarek and Chief Rabbi of Poland Menachem Joskowicz, as well as the honorary company and representative orchestra of the Polish Army. The ROPWiM was represented by Stanisław Broniewski and A. Przewoźnik. The message from President Yeltsin was read by the head of his administration, Sergei Pilatov.

The ceremony of laying the foundation stone for the future cemetery in Katyn, 4 June 1995.
The ceremony of laying the foundation stone for the future cemetery in Katyn, 4 June 1995.
Katyn, a can with the foundation act of the Polish war cemetery
Katyn, a can with the foundation act of the Polish war cemetery

A similar ceremony was held on 11 June in Mednoye. The President of the Republic of Poland was represented by his personal envoy, Minister A. Zakrzewski (who read the message from L. Wałęsa). Moreover, the head of BBN was present - min. H. Goryszewski and the deputy head of UOP - Col. Dr. Jerzy Nóżka, deputy marshals of the Sejm and Senate, ministers of internal affairs (A. Milczanowski) and justice (J. Jaskiernia), as well as Chief Commanders of the Police, Border Guard and Fire Department. Representatives of the clergy of various faiths, the Katyn Families and the Honorary Police Company were also present. The Russian side was represented by: The First Deputy Minister of the Interior Gen. Aleksander Kulikov, Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Sergei Krasavchenko, min. V. Bragin, regional authorities. Four days earlier, the Russians unveiled a monument in Mednoye commemorating over 4 thousand inhabitants of Tver and the surrounding area, murdered by the NKVD.

Mednoye, the plaque above the bricked-in foundation stone.
Mednoye, the plaque above the bricked-in foundation stone.

The matter of the competition announced by the ROPWiM (17 July 1995) for the concept of the spatial arrangement of the Polish war cemeteries in Katyn, Mednoye and Kharkiv was presented in the previous Bulletin.

The results of the survey and exhumation works were summarized at the meeting of the Russian Committee and the Polish Commission in Warsaw on 17-19 April 1996. It was stated that only the burial sites of Polish victims of the crime were located within the borders of the future cemeteries proposed by the Polish side. The parties also expressed their willingness to start building the cemeteries as early as 1996, which, as we know, did not happen. In May there was a meeting between Russian and Polish architects in Katyn and Mednoye, who discussed the concept of the future Polish war cemeteries.

Resolution No. 1247 of the Government of the Russian Federation on the creation of memorial complexes at the burial sites of Soviet and Polish citizens - victims of totalitarian repressions in Katyn (Smolensk region) and Mednoye (Tver region), having the status of state institutions, signed by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin on 19 October 1996, proved extremely important for the whole matter. Polish war cemeteries were to be built within their boundaries, within the limits defined by the Russian-Polish protocol of 25 March 1995. The document also defined the tasks of individual Russian institutions and services. The projects of the Russian memorial complex were to be selected in a competition organized by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. By the end of September 1997, the Russian side was also supposed to provide Poland with complete official documentation concerning the delimitation of the land for the cemeteries and the final shape of their borders. In May 1997, the Russians intended to set up working groups to search and examine the burial sites of Soviet citizens in Katyn and Mednoye.

On 19 August 1997 in Smolensk, at an extended meeting of the Committee and Commission, the Polish general concept of the war cemeteries in Katyn and Mednoye was presented. The meeting was attended by the authors of the Polish projects (selected as a result of a competition), the jury of the Russian competition for memorial complexes in both places, representatives of the Association of Architects and the Association of Artists and Designers of the Russian Federation, the administration of the Smolensk and Tver regions, sightseeing experts, veterans of war and work, etc. The general concept of the Polish part of the complex was fully approved by the whole body. It was also agreed that the construction of the Polish cemeteries would start regardless of the date of erection of the Russian part of the complexes. The administrations of both districts undertook to provide the Polish side, in September that year, with the cartographic documentation of the areas for the construction of the Polish part. Polish specialists, together with representatives of the authorities of the districts concerned, were then to mark out the borders of the Polish parts of the complexes in Katyn and Mednoye and designate the construction site. As we can see, these were very concrete proposals. On 30 October 1997, the ROPWiM also concluded an agreement with the authors of the awarded concept for the execution of specific projects (by 15 December that year) of the Polish war cemeteries in Katyn and Mednoye. The Polish working group (archaeologists, topographers and surveyors), in accordance with the decisions made at the meeting on 19 August, stayed in Katyn and Mednoye from 5 to 7 November 1997 in order to map the proper boundaries of the cemeteries and mark out the areas for construction sites.

Continuing these activities, the Polish group invited (A. Przewoźnik with the authors of the cemetery projects), at the meeting of the Russian Committee on 23 January 1998 in Moscow (with the participation of the directors of the memorial complexes in Katyn and Mednoye already appointed by the Russian side, representatives of Deputy Prime Minister Sysuyev, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Finance, as well as the administration of Tver and Smolensk), presented the design of Polish cemeteries, handed over the design documentation, and asked for a quick approval by the relevant authorities and services of the districts, as well as a formal permission for the construction of the cemeteries. In accordance with the arrangements adopted, this was to happen - at the regional level - by 15 February, at the central level - by the end of that month. However, these deadlines were delayed, and finally on 23 March in Moscow Secretary General of the ROPWiM received the documents with the arrangements of the design documentation of the Polish military cemetery, allowing for the start of construction works, but only for Mednoye. The approval for Katyn had not yet been granted. The decision to allocate the area for construction in Mednoye was finally issued on 1 June 1999, and the formal permission to build the cemetery was issued on 2 July 1999. On 23 April 1999, the ROPWiM finally obtained the decision of the Russian authorities to allocate the land for the construction of the Polish war cemetery in Katyn, and on 22 June a formal building permit (obtained as a result of adapting Polish projects to Russian standards). One can only imagine how much effort, discussions, interventions, arrangements were behind all of this...

Katyn, the reconstruction of the death pit, 1999
Katyn, the reconstruction of the death pit, 1999

On 5 October 1998, a commission decision on the tender for the general contractor for the construction of all three cemeteries in Katyn was made; as we know, the winner was Budimex S. A., which signed a relevant agreement with the ROPWiM on 10 November that year. Earlier, on 23 October, the Secretary General of the ROPWiM and representatives of Budimex agreed with the Committee in Moscow on the dates of commencement of construction and the schedule of work. The contract for the execution of sculptural elements, their delivery and assembly was signed on 12 May 1999 (with the consortium Budimex S.A. and Metalodlew S.A.). The ROPWiM also addressed the Russian side, in accordance with the provisions of the agreement of 22 February 1994, for a one-off exemption from customs duty and VAT on imported building materials and VAT on construction service of the company building the cemeteries (there were some problems with that, however).

Work on the construction of the Polish Military Cemetery in Katyn began on 18 May 1999, a commission appointed by the Secretary General of the ROPWiM accepted the completed construction on 17 July 2000. More information on this subject may be found in the previous Bulletin, so here, in order not to dwell on the issue, we will limit ourselves to noting these fundamental and historical facts.

Katyn, a cemetery under construction
Katyn, a cemetery under construction

Religious symbols

The cemetery in Katyn occupies an area of 13,900 m2, i.e. approx. 1.4 ha. The whole area is fenced with 470 m long metal elements. The wall surrounding the graves includes 4412 individual epitaph plates. The altar wall complex was designed similarly for all three cemeteries, including obelisks with the national emblem, the Virtuti Militari Cross and the September Campaign Cross. Katyn differs from Mednoye and Kharkiv because of its monumental crosses lying on the graves, death pits lined with slabs, seven for the time being, (the eighth one would be reconstructed in 2001, it had not been included in the boundaries of the Polish cemetery), and two individual graves of Generals Bohaterewicz and Smorawiński. Next to the altar, a plaque was placed with the following inscription: In tribute to more than 4400 officers of the Polish Army buried in the Katyn Forest – prisoners of war from the Kozelsk camp murdered by the NKVD in the spring of 1940. The Polish Nation.

The ceremony of opening the cemetery in Katyn, 28 July 2000
The ceremony of opening the cemetery in Katyn, 28 July 2000
Katyn, 28 July 2000 к, the Polish Prime Minister delivering his speech (photo by Ryszard Rzepecki)
Katyn, 28 July 2000 к, the Polish Prime Minister delivering his speech (photo by Ryszard Rzepecki)
Katyn, 28 July 2000, the generals’ graves
Katyn, 28 July 2000, the generals’ graves

Katyn, 28 July 2000.

Katyn, 28 July 2000.

Katyn, 28 July 2000, consecration of the graves
Katyn, 28 July 2000, consecration of the graves
Katyn Bell
Katyn Bell

In the summer of 1999, the construction of the Russian memorial in the Katyn Forest also began, commemorating about 10,000 Soviet citizens shot there between 1937 and 1953 and about 500 Russian prisoners of war shot by the Germans in May 1943.

However, it was not possible to commemorate neither the camp in Kozelsk nor the burial sites of about 30 Polish Army officers who died before its “unloading” (which had not been found), despite the fact that efforts in this matter were undertaken already in the early 1990s by the Consul from Moscow M. Zórawski, the ROPWiM and the Ostrołęka Voivodeship Governor (as part of the town's contacts with Kaluga nearby Kozelsk), and even though the placement of such a plaque was approved in 1992 by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Alexei. In August 1995 the monks of the monastery, regained by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1987, demonstrated a hostile attitude towards a group of Polish specialists working in Katyn, e.g. not allowing them to go around the monastery walls (the Polish group arrived at the invitation of the Governor of Smolensk, and Minister Bragin from Moscow and Consul M. Zórawski witnessed this demonstration of “Christian feelings”). In Ostashkov a bilingual plaque was placed next to the entrance to the monastery in August 1994 (upon the initiative of Consul Zórawski, who with the support of the ROPWiM made the necessary efforts in this matter, the plaque was made by Budimex from Moscow), Now there are demands for it to be moved. The Russian authorities proposed to commemorate the Polish officers in Kozelsk itself, however, due to its distance from the monastery, this idea is not advisable.

The works in Mednoye began on 2 July 1999, ended on 9 August 2000, and were formally accepted on 28 August

Mednoye, reconstruction of the graves
Mednoye, reconstruction of the graves
Mednoye, the laying of epitaph plates
Mednoye, the laying of epitaph plates

The cemetery covering an area of approximately 17,000 m2 is fenced with metal elements that are 524 m long. The mass graves (25, there were 26 death pits) are located behind the altar wall, marked with 8-metre-high cast iron crosses (cast iron dominates in all three cemeteries, chosen for its “indestructibility”. Of course, the few “disappointed” (fortunately, not numerous), mainly in their own ambitions, take advantage of the colour, purposefully used by the contractors, to tell the uninformed that elements of the cemeteries are rusting). The outlines of the graves are marked with slabs. There are 6296 epitaph plates in the cemetery. Other elements are similar to those in Katyn and Kharkiv, apart from the religious symbols (among the prisoners of Ostashkov there were only Catholics). A plaque commemorating the murdered Polish prisoners of war was also built in Mednoye.

Mednoye, the altar wall
Mednoye, the altar wall

When the construction was completed, both cemeteries were officially handed over to the authorities of the memorial complexes in Katyn and Mednoye, who were to take care of them on a daily basis.

The former NKVD building in Tver, currently occupied by the Medical Institute, was also commemorated (in June 1992 by the Opole Katyn Family), and the Secretary General of the ROPWiM began talks on placing a memorial plaque and organizing a permanent exhibition in the basement of the building, where Polish policemen were murdered.

Probably 45 policemen died in the Ostashkov camp before deportation. They were buried on two cemeteries in the area of Svietlica village and supposedly also in the forest, by the lake (behind the monastery). One Polish grave is left in the Trojeruczyce cemetery, where a retired teacher, Boris F. Karpov, erected a small cross in the early 1990s, with a metal plate containing 41 names of deceased Poles (photo - Kronika). After examination by the specialists from the ROPWiM in the summer of 2000, a project of a permanent commemoration of the grave and all previously deceased prisoners of Ostashkov was prepared.

The cemeteries were consecrated and opened - in Katyn (July 28) and Mednoye (September 2). These were very special days for many Poles from all over the world, days when those murdered 60 years ago and the living who kept the pain and memory in their hearts were commemorated by representatives of the highest authorities of both countries; the ceremony in Katyn was attended by the Prime Ministers, the Polish Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior of the Russian Federation attended the ceremony in Mednoye. Members of the Polish government, Marshals of the Sejm and Senate, MPs, the highest dignitaries of the church, the army and the police, and finally - the Families. These cemeteries exist, and, as the Russian journalist Svetlana Filonova movingly described, they are visited in great numbers and are alive, just as they continue to live in the memory of the nation - not only the Polish nation.

Mednoye, 2 September 2000, the Polish Prime Minister delivering his speech
Mednoye, 2 September 2000, the Polish Prime Minister delivering his speech
Mednoye, 2 September 2000
Mednoye, 2 September 2000
Mednoye, 2 September 2000
Mednoye, 2 September 2000

The volume of this article is far from the standard we have set ourselves for texts published in our Bulletin. But the Katyn case has had a special rank in the ROPWiM - for almost 12 years. Today, visitors to the Katyn cemeteries are no longer aware of how much effort and how many people were required to bring them to life. Of course, these are special heroes, their names are connected with the history of the Katyn necropolises, national necropolises.

Thus, this somewhat chronicle-like, although abridged record of the dramatic history of the Katyn Forest on the Dnieper River and the forest on the Tvertsa River in Mednoye, which to some extent also intertwined with the history of the ROPWiM and all its employees, will be a kind of summary of the “Katyn” chapter in our institution. And despite the stress and bitterness (“Polish hell”) experienced especially by the one who devoted most of his heart and efforts to the cause, Secretary General Andrzej Przewoźnik, such letters as the one below, from Dr. Ewa Gruner-Żarnoch are a great satisfaction for him and for us: Thank you for the first peaceful All Souls' Day. For the first time this year, after 55 years, I am lighting a candle on the abandoned, nameless graves - not for my Father, who has his own grave, or the words of Józef Szymonik from Szczecin: My father rests in the most beautiful cemetery in the world...


*The article constitutes a whole with the article published in Bulletin No. 2/2000 on Kharkiv.

** Ilowaja - is another name for Stolobny Island.

*** In the summary, the total number from both Ostashkov tables concerning dates is correct: 29 September, 31 December and 19 January, while the summary of the numbers of the lower table differs slightly from the upper table; 20 January - 6185, 4 February - 6374, 22 February - 6367, 16 March - 6360. All the numbers used in the tables and the documents quoted come from the source publication Katyn. Dokumenty zbrodni, Vol. 1, pp. 481, 482, 483.

**** The number of prisoners of both camps differs from the total number of the top table given as of 22 January. Perhaps not all categories of prisoners are included here, or in the meantime some prisoners were sent back (Katyń . Dokumenty zbrodni, Vol. 1, pp. 446, 452).

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