Katyn Forest Tragedy Lives On With Death Of Polish President
Murderer Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, one of literature’s most famous villains, was created by Russian author Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky.
And with him the moral dilemma of how to expiate one’s guilt. Raskolnikov, in “Crime and Punishment,” ultimately turns himself in and is sent to Siberia where he may one day find redemption.
How can the weight that the former Soviet Union bears, in just one case, the Katyn Forest massacre, be lifted off its collective back if it won’t even apologize? No matter how much Vladimir Putin tries to absolve Russia of its guilt because it was committed under its previous name.
On Saturday, a plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of other senior military and other officials were killed near the site of the massacre en route to a memorial for the 22,000 Polish officers and intelligentsia killed in the spring of 1940.
Also among those on the plane was Ryszard Kaczorowski, Poland’s president in exile during the Cold War.
Soviet leaders had admitted responsibility for the massacre in 1990, but even this week, at an earlier ceremony, Putin stopped short of apologizing. It was part of a strategy to make sure Poland would be easier to control once the war was over.
“Prime Minister Putin, the eye sockets of those killed here by a shot to the back of the head are looking at us today and waiting to see whether we are ready to turn this lie into reconciliation,” Polish Prime Ministersaid to the Russian prime minister. Tusk was not on the plane that crashed Saturday near Smolensk.
No one has been prosecuted for the killings, blamed by Stalin’s government on Hitler’s Germany, though how the Nazis would have managed to kill so many Poles deep inside Russia was never explained. Putin’s attitude could be compared to Germans saying they couldn’t be blamed for what Hitler did.
Indeed, Russia has a long history of suppressing Poland. In 1831, Frédéric Chopin, wrote his “Revolutionary Etude” about a Polish attempt to break free from Russian control. Despite several victories they ultimately had to surrender to the vastly larger Russian army.
The Russian people this week also had an opportunity to see the unvarnished truth about Katyn when a film made by Polish director Andrzej Wadja, winner of an honorary Academy Award for his work, was shown on national television, albeit the culture channel.
Wadja’s father, a cavalry officer, was among those killed at Katyn.
The film, available on the general market with English and other subtitles, is titled “Katyn.”
The film tells the story of both the murdered and their families, desperately seeking definitive word of what had happened to their loved ones.
It begins with Poles fleeing Germans encountering their countrymen trying to escape Russians. Stalin had taken advantage of the German invasion to seize a portion of Poland under a secret agreement with Hitler.
When the two invading armies meet they are shown as friends celebrating their victories.
At the heart of the story is a Polish family: a mother, her university professor husband, her Polish army captain son and his wife and daughter.
The wife, learning that her husband has been taken prisoner by the Russians, travels across Poland on a bike, dragging a second one, hoping to persuade him to discard his uniform and flee. He refuses because of his patriotic duty, and ends up among those with a bullet in the back of the head.
The professor ends up dead in a Nazi concentration camp.
The wife, in her own way, also refuses a possible escape route. A Russian captain living in the same building with her offers to marry her, warning her that Stalin has ordered the wives of all Polish officers killed.
“Once I wasn’t able to save my own family,” he tells her, assuring her that he soon will be headed to the Finnish front and has no amorous intentions. He also tells her that her husband and all the others are dead. It is too late by then, in any case, as the Russian soldiers arriving looking for her within minutes. He hides her long enough for her to escape.
Like other Poles, Anna (Maja Ostaszewska) waits five years to learn what has happened to her husband, listening to announcements in public squares of confirmed deaths. Because he is not on a published list her hope keeps her going.
Ultimately, a former Polish officer who has joined the Russians, arrives to tell her that her husband is dead. The two had swapped sweaters and thus the mistake.
By now a major in the Russian army, Jerzy Porucznik (Andrzej Chyra) has decided it is better to be alive. When criticized for abandoning his comrades, he says he can’t tell the truth. “I might just as well shoot myself in the head.” Later he does.
The killing in Katyn hasn’t been shown yet, but the film flashes ahead to the war being over. Even then the family members of victims are not permitted to speak the truth about the true killers.
The executions in Katyn end the film, with the director spending a mercifully brief time on them.
Documentary film made by the Germans, when they found the bodies during Operation Barbarossa, and by the Russians, perhaps some of the same film taken by the Germans, is shown.