Russians have a long tradition of blaming the victims by saying, for example, that they are “enemies of the people.” This is how they defined the Polish officers murdered in Katyń in 1940.
The Second World War would not have started if Germany and the Soviet Union would not have signed a common pact on August 23, 1939 – together with a secret protocol speaking of dividing the conquered states between them. This accord opened the way for these countries to attack Poland on September 1, 1939 and September 17, 1939. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a form of agreement between Berlin and Moscow, but a trade agreement was also signed on this occasion. It was the basis for the flow of natural resources and agricultural products from Russia to Germany. This pact was much more important in the context of the outbreak of World War II than the Munich Pact signed on September 30, 1938 – mainly because it opened the way for the Russians and Germans to attack Poland and annex its territory.
Before this pact was signed, the Soviet Union and Germany used very harsh rhetoric against each other, making strong accusations. It seemed that they were divided by such a deep ideological dispute that their cooperation was out of the question. However, when it turned out that they share a common goal – the division of Poland between them – they quickly changed their attitude, practically overnight. Both countries treated the existence of Poland as a threat to themselves. Therefore, when an opportunity arose to erase this country from the map, they immediately found a common language in the matter.
The attack of the Soviet Union on September 17, 1939 took place under the false argument that Poland had lost the ability to defend its own citizens. General Semyon Timoshenko, who commanded the Red Army troops crossing the Polish eastern border that day, said that the Soviet troops were entering in order to “liberate” the Polish population. Except that was not a genuine argument. The Russian actions amounted to no liberation. Moreover, Poland was losing the war against the Third Reich – in the third week of fighting its army was retreating on all fronts – but it was not crushed yet.
Stalin believed in this pact so strongly that, until the last moment, he believed the Germans would not decide to attack the Soviet Union – so when the Third Reich moved against the USSR on June 22, 1941 it achieved a full surprise effect. It seemed to Stalin that his country’s cooperation with Germany was mutually beneficial, that the Nazi state needed Soviet natural resources too much to decide to make such a move. In 1941, he found out how wrong his calculations were.
Today, Russia is repeating the mendacious arguments of Stalin’s times. For example, it says that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact only served to defend against possible aggression from Poland, France, and the UK. This is an old argument drawn from textbooks written back in the times of the KGB and NKVD, which we have already learned by heart. Russians have a long tradition of putting the blame on the victims by saying, for example, that they are “enemies of the people”. This is how the Polish officers who were captured during the war in 1939 and murdered in Katyń in 1940 were described.
The massacre of Polish soldiers and officers in Katyń was a direct consequence of this pact. It was another element of Stalin’s strategy that was aimed at making Poland as defenseless as possible. Katyń became the most dramatic form of demonstration of how this strategy was to be implemented.
.Killing Polish officers with a shot to the back of the head was only one of its elements. Another was the mass deportations of the population from the parts of Poland occupied by the Russians deep into the Soviet Union. They started in 1940 and lasted until the day of the German attack on the USSR. Four major operations of this type were carried out, resulting in the exile of between 700,000 and one million people (more precise data are not available). They ended up in Siberia, Kazakhstan, or near the Arctic Circle in the European part of the Soviet Union. This is a little known consequence of the accord that Germany and the Soviet Union signed on August 23, 1939, which proved so traumatic for many Poles.
Text published in monthly „Wszystko Co Najważniejsze” (Poland), issue no. 19 [LINK] and, simultaneously, in „Washington Post” (USA) and „Taggespiel” (Germany), as part of a historical education project of the New Media Institute (INM, Poland) and the Polish National Foundation (PFN).