Denied by the Soviets, and hushed up by Poland’s allies.
The Katyn massacre was a series of mass executions of nearly 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia that was carried out by the Soviet Union’s secret police – the NKVD – in April and May 1940.
Mass graves were discovered in 1942, and with the bodies there were numerous Polish artefacts such as letters, diaries, photographs and identification tags. They were packed into crates and evacuated westward in 1944.
There was a small crate, into which were placed twenty-two diaries and personal notes. Four copies of these items were made soon afterwards in Krakow, and the Polish Home Army then delivered its transcripts to the Polish government in exile, in London.
Presented for you here are English translations of twelve of those diaries, which open a window into the individual and personal tragedies of these very different individuals. They give us an insight into their everyday lives in captivity, and the very real and very human emotions and hardships they experienced during what was undoubtedly a difficult and testing time.
Reviews of The Katyn Diaries:
The diaries of the prisoners of Kozelsk camp, discovered on their bodies in 1943, provide a fascinating insight into daily life in the NKVD prison camps where the men were held between September 1939 and April/May 1940. By making the diaries available in English for the first time, Marek Sobieralski renders a valuable service to scholarship on this subject.
Historian and biographer, acclaimed author of Gerda Taro: Inventing Robert Capa
Miraculously survived, these twelve notebooks by the victims of the Katyn massacre reveal the details of their life in captivity, and document their subjective experiences. Frozen and underfed, these young officers took their ordeal with peace of mind. “This trip is not good at all”, wrote one of them. “Will they hand us over to the Germans? Will we sit here?”, asked another. “The Bolsheviks are generally decent people”. Though conditions were worsening, letters were permitted and, sometimes, actually arriving. Crowded in the ruined monasteries, these Poles admired the beauty of the Russian woods and churches. They received vaccinations for typhus and watched Soviet films with the titles such as “Golden Taiga” or “Great Comrade”. They wrote down their nightdreams and even organised “spiritualist seances“ to see their dear ones. Until the last moments, they did not anticipate their forthcoming end. Carefully translated and commented by a grandson of Polish refugees to England, this stunning collection will be cherished by its readers.
Professor of History, European University Institute in Florence
Targeted Age Group:: 16+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
A very interesting and moving, tragic episode in history, the truth of which took decades to come out. The diaries of the victims have not been translated before, and I felt it was something that should be made available to a wider and international readership.
Today at 6:00 it has been five months since the time of leaving. (…)
Today, four months have passed (at 11:55) from the moment of falling into the hands of the Bolshevik army at Tarnogrod by the Tanwia. Our stay without changes.
Yesterday (i.e. 27 January 1940) mjr. Rogoziński, after being interrogated by a bolshevik major – said that he was assuring him that they would hand us over to the Germans before the spring. So, we will also experience captivity and abuse from Germans.
Nothing new here, and no change. Longer days. Food: fish – for or a change – a few each. Tulles, herrings for breakfast and buckwheat for dinner. We have not had sugar or tea for the last ten days.
Bugs have appeared in our room. Dogs have been taken from the camp. A list of previously uncollected mail (letters from families) was posted. I have not received any news from Danka – apart from a few sentences from Białystok.
How is she coping in this harsh winter with Ewusia and her parents. Is there anyone to help her? In a few days – 3-4 February – I will write a third letter, since 4 August we have not written and we have no news about each other, and that after all these years, we are left helpless, without the most essential things. Who would have said that it would end like this? I do however have hope that soon everything will end well for my family. What will the nearest weeks bring?
The weather today, Sunday, 28 January, beautiful, sunny, but cold (-15, -29 ° C.) Our quarters: ten of us living in a small room. Among others artillery capt. Hoffman; a reserve officer older than me, works at the sugar refinery in Opalew. The rest are three lieutenants and five second lieutenants. All infantrymen from 55, 57 and 58 infantry regiments. What is to become of us and when will it end?
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