The Tragedy and Irony Of Katyn

By Sadie Bass

Apr 12, 2010 9:48am

ABC's Tom Nagorski reports from New York: It was a war crime, followed by a lie. More than twenty thousand Polish officers captured by the Soviet Army, executed in a forest in the spring of 1940, the crime denied and then blamed – by Josef Stalin and his successors – on the Germans. Decades later the great Polish director Andrzej Wajda – whose father was among those murdered in the Katyn forest – planned a film about what happened and wrestled with a question: “Should I make a film about the crime, or about the lie?” Ultimately, he chose both. His film, “Katyn,” was nominated for an Oscar. The terrible irony of what happened in that same patch of forest this weekend is that Polish dignitaries were traveling to honor the men who were murdered, at a moment when honesty and even contrition about Katyn had finally become permissible in Russia. The Soviet-era “official version” – the lie – was gone. The Poles on that plane were coming to mark one of the most brutal events in a war that devastated – and nearly erased – their nation. Seventy years ago, Stalin’s strategy involved the decapitation of Poland’s future leaders, the cream of the crop of a nation. Now, on the anniversary, the current leadership was gone – and with them many relatives of the Katyn victims. One reaches for a parallel in history; it’s hard to find. Reaching for a silver lining, there is this: Katyn, for so long lied about or ignored, is now the subject of a rich and powerful conversation. The international press – most significantly, the Russian press – is filled with the story, and the history. “Katyn” is a rising Google search. Wajda’s great film is getting fresh attention – the story of the crime, and the lie. Of course neither Wajda nor anyone else could have imagined the story’s final chapter.

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