Paul  Kengor

The people of Poland got an early Christmas present this year. It’s bittersweet but long awaited, and indeed a gift of sorts—and from an unlikely source: Russia. In Moscow, the State Duma, Russia’s legislature, passed a statement conceding Soviet responsibility for the Katyn Woods massacre, one of the 20th century’s 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 apology from the Duma was 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 did 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 in assessing Stalin. He was 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, and a war hero, as 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 America’s wartime ally would not look good to the American public.