FDR and the Massacre at Katyn
By Paul Kengor
Published December 07, 2010
At the end of November something historically quite significant happened in
Russia. The State Duma passed a statement conceding Soviet responsibility
for the Katyn Woods massacre, one of the 20th centurys worst war crimes.
The roots of this atrocity date to September 1939, when the Nazis and
Bolsheviks jointly invaded, annihilated, and partitioned Poland. The Soviets
seized thousands of Polish military officers as prisoners.
Their fate was sealed on March 5, 1940 when Stalin signed their death
warrant, condemning 21,857 of them to the supreme penalty: shooting. This
we now know conclusively through the surviving NVKD document.
The officers were taken to three execution sites, the most infamous of which
bears the namesake of the crime: the Katyn Forest, 12 miles west of
Smolensk, Russia. There, these Polish men were slaughtered. The Bolsheviks
covered their crime with a layer of dirt.
The recent apology from the Dumaplus a pledge by President Dmitri Medvedev
to visit Poland this monthwas something Poles waited decades to hear. It
was something many of us who have studied and written about this incident
have waited to hear. And it is too bad that Franklin Delano Roosevelt is not
around to hear it.
FDR? Yes, FDR. Let me explain.
The Katyn massacre was first exposed by the Nazis in April 1943. By then,
the Nazis had betrayed the Hitler-Stalin Non-Aggression Pact. They
discovered the mass graves, and immediately converted the atrocity into a
propaganda coup to split the Big Three Allies. The Soviets, in turn, claimed
the Nazis had done the crime. Stalin and his goons attempted to pin the
massacre on Hitler and his goons. Stuck in between was the civilized world,
which sought to determine which devil had done the deed.
FDR was among those stuck in between. Where would he stand?
Truth be told, FDR, who was terrific in stopping Hitler, was terribly naïve
when it came to Stalin. He was too often inclined to give Uncle Joe the
benefit of the doubt. Nonetheless, he realized the need to take a close
look. Thus, he dispatched George Earle, former Democratic governor of
Pennsylvania, a war hero, a diplomat, and a presidential special emissary,
to investigate Katyn.
In short order, Earle discerned the obvious, which was not what FDR wanted
to hear. Not only had the president made it a habit to turn a blind eye
toward things anti-Russian and anti-Stalin, but he needed Russia and Stalin
to help vanquish the Nazis. This killing field created by Americas wartime
ally would not look good to the American public.
Earle made his case:
About this Katyn massacre, Mr. President. I just cannot believe that the
American president and so many people still think it is a mystery or have
any doubt about it. Here are these pictures. Here are these affidavits and
here is the invitation of the German government to let the neutral Red Cross
go in there and make their examination. What greater proof could you have?
FDR was wont to disagree, replying: George, the Germans could have rigged
Earle was frustrated. As he later put it, including in a Congressional
investigation of Katyn, Roosevelt was adamant that the claims were entirely
German propaganda and a German plot. The president said to his special
emissary: Im absolutely convinced that the Russians didnt do this. An
amazed Earle responded: Mr. President, I think this evidence is
overwhelming. It was.
It was also no surprise. The Soviets had been shipping captured Poles into
Russian territory since 1939. This was hardly a secret. The April 15, 1940
edition of the New York Times reported, The Soviet authorities are
transporting a large part of the population of Eastern Poland into inner
Russia. They were given only fifteen minutes to leave their homes, added
The Times, and even seriously ill persons are forced into the unheated
But FDR refused to believe Earle. And even then, the debate was not over.
Earle saw FDRs denial of Katyn as a microcosm of a more dangerous denial of
the overall Russian situation, and how the USSR had deceived too many
Americans, including in the
House, which was being duped by Uncle Joe and his cronies.
FDR was getting annoyed with Earle. George, the president lectured, you
have been worried about Russia ever since 1942. Now let me tell you. I am an
older man than you and I have had a lot of experience
. FDR explained why
his colleagues concerns were overblown. The Democratic governor again
pressed the evidence. He urged the president to please look over the
photos and affidavits. The president did, but to no avail. George Earle
later expressed his exasperation, saying he felt hopeless.
Alas, hope springs eternal. And for the people of Poland, a people of deep,
unwavering faith, they never lost hope that the truth about their loved ones
would be told, even as it was denied by quarters as high as the Oval Office.
Last month, their faith and hope was finally rewarded, not by Americas
wartime president but by the nation that perpetrated this heinous act. May
the ghosts of Katyn rest at last.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College in Grove
City, Pennsylvania. His latest book is "Dupes: How Americas Adversaries
Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."
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