- Title: VARIOUS / FILE: Russia, Poland PMs to attend Katyn massacre memorial
- Date: 6th April 2010
- Summary: PHOTOGRAPHS OF KRAKOW OFFICIALS WHO WERE KILLED IN KATYN PHOTOGRAPH OF SKAPSKI'S FATHER BOLESLAW SKAPSKI CHILDHOOD PHOTOGRAPH OF SKAPSKI WITH FATHER SKAPSKI LOOKING THROUGH FAMILY ALBUM PHOTOGRAPH OF SKAPSKI FAMILY
- Embargoed: 21st April 2010 13:30
- Topics: International Relations,History
- Reuters ID: LVABBEYVK3UBP7QWC59T2AN3UDQT
- Aspect Ratio: 4:3
- Story Text: As preparations go ahead for a ceremony remembering the Katyn massacre, Andrzej Skapski recalls his father who was among the 20,000 Polish officers and officials murdered by Soviet forces in Katyn, western Russia.
The ceremony on April 7 will mark a positive shift in Polish-Russian relations, with Prime Ministers Vladimir Putin and Donald Tusk attending. Poland and Russia have been at loggerheads over the actions of Soviet leader Josef Stalin in 1939, when he clinched a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany that opened the way for the invasion of Poland and World War II.
Thousands of Polish soldiers were disarmed by the advancing Soviet troops and sent to prison camps across the Soviet Union.
According to historians, the order to execute Polish officers in Katyn came from Stalin himself.
Andrzej Skapski was five years old when he heard that his father died in Katyn, his family being denied the truth for three years.
"On June 3, 1943, my father's name appeared on the exhumation list. I was 5 years old then, my mother unfortunately wasn't alive anymore. She died six months before; she didn't live to that moment. She didn't know that all these years she was a widow," Skapski recalls.
His father Boleslaw was an attorney before the war and was arrested as the family fled east from the German offensive.
After World War II, the Polish communist authorities followed Soviet propaganda in blaming the Katyn crime on German troops, who uncovered mass graves of the victims in 1943.
Families of the victims often faced persecution by the Polish authorities and were not allowed to openly mourn or reveal their fate.
"The mothers, the generation of mothers were denied the right of existence. They couldn't find a job and if they found one and someone found out that they are a widow of an officer or Katyn victim, they were fired. Young people, the sons and daughters, were in fact cut off from higher education, from universities," Skapski said.
Marek Lasota, who works with the Krakow office of the Institute of National Remembrance explains the attempts to cover up the Katyn crime.
"From the very moment of discovering the remains of Polish officers in the forest outside Smolensk, the Katyn crime was a subject of many manipulations and lies mainly on the side of the authors of this crime, the Soviet empire and its leaders, who immediately tried to shift the blame to the Germans. And this version was maintained throughout the post-war era during the Polish Peoples Republic," Lasota said.
Even though former President Boris Yeltsin admitted in 1992 that his country was to blame for the Katyn massacre, committed near the city of Tver, 160 km (100 miles) northwest of Moscow, Poland wants more to be done.
Poland demands the opening of archives related to an investigation, carried out between 1990 and 2004, of the massacre, as well as an official rehabilitation of the victims.
Lasota is optimistic that the presence of Putin at the ceremonies might be a step forward in a matter which has brought so much controversy.
"I would like to believe that if Prime Minister Putin will really take part in these ceremonies on April 9th, then it means that the Russian side is not avoiding responsibility for the historical heritage that it's taken. That in this way it wants to emphasise and articulate its emotions and feelings towards this crime," Lasota said.
Such sentiments are shared by some in Russia, foremost among them the historian Natalia Lebedeva.
"It's one of the barriers in the improvement of relations between not only the leaders but the people as well. You understand, people are deeply hurt that we don't share their pain, that we are hiding the truth. As soon as they feel that for us this pain is very close, that we share their pain and we want to know the truth about it, people in Poland will be satisfied," said Lebedeva.
"When people tell me that I work in the interests of others, I say that we are the ones interested in the truth about Katyn before anyone else because this crime was committed in our land. If we don't uncover the whole truth about the actions of Stalinism, then sooner or later we will end up in the same situation," Lebedeva added.
In September 2009 a senior Polish bishop, visiting the site of one of the graveyards in Katyn, said Poland must forgive Russia for Soviet crimes in order to improve relations.
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