Fifteen thousand Polish officers shot and buried in mass graves by the Soviet secret police. That is the genocidal reality that the "progressive" Left hoped to wipe away from our historical memory. But post-communist reality has made that effort impossible.
Just recently, on July 28, Russia and Poland officially dedicated a memorial commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Katyn forest massacre. The memorial honors the thousands of Polish officers who were executed and dumped into mass graves in the Spring of 1940 by the Soviet NKVD in the forest outside Katyn, a small town just west of Smolensk in Russia. German troops discovered the mass graves as they swept toward Moscow in 1943. Stalin, naturally, blamed the massacre on the Nazis, and for fifty years the Soviets would steadfastly maintain their innocence.
Despite the incontrovertible evidence of Soviet guilt, many Western Leftists passionately embraced the Soviet version of Katyn throughout the Cold War. They found their voice in revisionist historian Gabriel Kolko, a Western academic who created excuses for Katyn that only an intellectual could formulate.
As Kolko attempted to exonerate the Soviet perpetrators, he provided several illuminating, and contradictory, interpretations of Katyn. First, he argued that the crime was so evil that only the Nazis were capable of it. Then, as the evidence pointed toward Soviet guilt, Kolko explained that the crime was "understandable," since Moscow had a "political incentive" to carry it out. Kolko emphasized that the "criminological evidence" proved the "culpability of both sides" and that the Katyn incident had to be "downgraded," since it was the "exception rather than the rule" in Stalin's behaviour. The historian went on to praise Stalin for not indulging in "liquidation" in the 1940-1945 period, stressing that "mass murder" did not occur in Poland.
And then there is reality.
We know that Stalin did engage in genocide in the 1940-1945 period. After the Soviets invaded Poland in 1939, an estimated 1.5 million Poles were deported to Soviet labour and prison camps, where many were either executed or died from starvation or forced labour. This genocidal program originated in the September 1939 German-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty, which contained secret provisions for the handing over of eastern Poland and the Baltic states to the Soviets and the mutual extermination of the Polish people. It explains why, in the spring of 1940, the Red Army captured some 15,000 Polish officers and removed them to three camps in the wooded Smolensk region. In an attempt to eliminate future defenders of the Polish people, the Soviet NKVD took the groups into Katyn Forest and massacred them, dumping their bodies into mass graves.
Along with the Poles, six national minorities in the Crimea and the Caucasus were deported wholesale to Soviet labour camps in 1943-44 period. Approximately three million Russians were also exterminated in the penal camps of Kolyma from the early 1930s to the late 1950s.
In April 1990, Premier Mikhail Gorbachev publicly admitted the NKVD's responsibility for the Katyn executions. In 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin handed over to the Polish government Stalin's "Supreme Punishment" decree of March, 1940, ordering the execution of over 14,000 Polish officers and 10,000-plus other Poles. It explains why mass graves of Poles were uncovered decades later in other parts of the Soviet Union.
Today, a deafening silence emanates from the Left, which at one time so vociferously denied Soviet guilt for Katyn. Kolko, meanwhile, lurks in hiding, licking his wounds as the Soviet archives discredit every lie he perpetrated about the Cold War.
Just as the Western Left is not taken to task for its lies about the Soviet holocaust, so too the perpetrators of the Soviet gulag are not hunted down -- as their Nazi colleagues were for the Jewish holocaust. Because of the Left’s achievement in molding social discourse, genocide in the name of racial hatred is inexcusable, while mass murder in the name of class hatred remains not only forgivable, but laudable.
Yet despite the attempts of the Western Left to wipe out the historical memory of the Soviet gulag’s victims, the wreaths that now lie at Katyn fertilize their memory. That tragic pine forest near the Russian town of Smolensk reminds us that human lives ultimately matter more than the heartlessness of intellectual ideas. To be sure, the lighted candles, flowers and red-and-white national Polish flags that reside at the Katyn memorial say something far more than Gabriel Kolko’s hundreds of footnotes ever will.