In the weeks leading up to the outbreak of WWII in August 1939, Germany and Russia signed a pact of non-aggression.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement also contained a secret clause: the division of Poland into German and Russian zones.
On September 1 the same year, German troops invaded Poland, followed 16 days later by Red Army tanks.
Around 250,000 Polish soldiers were taken prisoner by the Red Army. The rank-and-file were allowed to go free, but Stalin himself ordered that officers and intellectuals be executed.
On to spring 1940 and more than 22,000 prisoners were executed at Katyn as well as nearby Kharkov and Kalinine. The lawyer Boleslaw Skapski was among them. His son grew up without a father.
“On June the 3rd, 1943, my father’s name appeared on the list of exhumations,” said Andrezj Skapski. “I was five years old then, my mother was no longer alive, she died six months before. She didn’t live to see that moment, she didn’t know she had been a widow for all those years.”
By Spring 1943, the pact between Germany and Russia had been torn up. A few months later, German troops uncovered the first mass grave.
Berlin blamed Moscow, but for a long time, the international community refused to believe this version of events.
Historian Marek Lasota said: “From the moment the remains of Polish officers were found in the forest outside Smolensk, the Katyn crime was the subject of many lies and distortions, mainly from those responsible, that’s to say the Soviet empire and its leaders, who immediately tried to shift the blame onto the Germans. This version of events was kept going, throughout the post-war era, during the Polish People’s Republic.”
It would take the advent of Glasnost before Russia would finally admit its guilt. In 1992, documentary evidence proving that fact was handed to Polish president Lech Walesa.
But Poland still wants more. Moscow has refused to hand over further evidence, and classes the massacre as an ordinary crime whose time for prosecution has expired. No one has been brought to justice. Since 2006 Warsaw has been waiting for the European Court of Human Rights to decide whether to recognise Katyn as genocide.