Poles take Russia to court over 1940 Katyn massacre

Relatives of Polish soldiers executed by Joseph Stalin's secret police in one of the Second World War's most infamous massacres are to take Russia to the European Court of Human Rights to try to make it disclose the full truth about the killings.

In the so-called Katyn atrocities, personally ordered by Stalin in 1940, the NKVD (forerunner of the KGB) killed 21,587 Polish Army reservists in cold blood on the grounds that they were "hardened and uncompromising enemies of Soviet authority". Russia has refused to prosecute surviving suspects or reveal their names. It is keeping two-thirds of the files on the subject classified, and has classed the murders as an ordinary crime whose statute of limitations has expired.

Relatives of victims say that the killings amounted to genocide and that Russia has a moral obligation to open its archive on them.

The killings took place at three locations but the massacre took its name from just one, the Katyn Forest in modern-day Belarus. The murders killed many of Poland's intelligentsia; among the dead were officers, chaplains, writers, professors, journalists, engineers, lawyers, aristocrats and teachers. All were killed by a single shot to the back of the head.

Some 15,000 bodies have been found and the rest are thought to be still buried in secret mass graves.

The murders have soured Moscow's relations with Poland for six decades, with Warsaw accusing the Kremlin of deceit, a lack of remorse and brutal indifference. It was only in 1989 that the then Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, admitted that the killings had been perpetrated by Stalin's secret police. Before that the USSR blamed the atrocities on the Nazis who occupied the area during the war, even going to the trouble of reburying bodies and bulldozing evidence in an elaborate attempt to deflect blame.

Seventy families related to the murdered soldiers are to lodge a case at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in the next few weeks. Some want surviving suspects to be prosecuted, while others simply want the killings to be classed as genocide and for Russia to be forced to disclose everything it knows about the atrocity.

"We are not interested in revenge or even in punishing anyone," said one Katyn survivor, Mgr Zdzislaw Peszkowski, aged 85. "We only want the full truth to be universally known. This is not just a Polish issue. Revealing all the circumstances of this atrocity is needed to finally close the chapter known as the Second World War."

Lawyers for the families believe that Russia flouted the European Convention on Human Rights by never properly investigating the atrocities. Russia's "investigation" lasted for more than a decade on and off and was definitively closed in September 2004. Poland's Institute of National Remembrance has said that Russia's position on Katyn was a "humiliation of the memory of the Polish victims and an offence to the feelings of their living family members".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map