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Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law


Soviet Union, Germany, Katyn Forest, genocide, Russian-Polish relations, cold war


The Soviet secret police murdered thousands of Poles near the Katyn Forest, just outside the Russian city of Smolensk, in the early spring of 1940. The Soviets targeted members of the Polish intelligentsia-military officers, doctors, engineers, police officers, and teachers-which Stalin, the Soviet leader, sought to eradicate preventively. At the start of World War II, the Soviet Union viewed Poland as attractive territory, to be conquered and potentially annexed after the war. The Katyn massacre was not discovered until 1943, by the Germans, who instantly blamed the Soviets. The latter, however, blamed the Germans, and the Western Allies begrudgingly accepted this untruthful claim. The Katyn Forest Massacre remained taboo for many years, and it has only attracted significant scholarly, historical and political interest in the last two decades, following the fall of the Iron Curtain.

This Article seeks to decipher the Katyn myth by describing in Part II the events that led to the Katyn Forest Massacre as well as the killings themselves. In Part III, this Article focuses on subsequent investigations into Katyn, including the US. congressional inquiry in 1952, as well as post-Cold War revelations about Katyn, permitting to officially inflict responsibility on the Soviet Union. In Part IV, the Article examines the Katyn killings in light of international law, concludes that the killings constitute war crimes and, crimes against humanity, and that they may perhaps constitute genocide, under a more expansive reading of the Genocide Convention. Finally, Part V concludes that the admission of guilt by Russia about its role at Katyn is necessary and plays a crucial role in the thawing of Russian-Polish relations.