The Katyn Massacre was tragic war crime committed by the Soviet Union during World War II. Historians believe that they are closer to understanding the true scope of that tragedy thanks to documents located in an archive in Minsk.
In 1939, the Soviets signed a non-aggression pact with the Nazi government of Germany. The agreement allowed the two countries to split occupation of Poland with Germany taking the western side and the USSR occupying the east.
When the Germans invaded the USSR in 1941, the Polish government-in-exile agreed to work with the Soviets to fight against Germany. A Polish army was formed in the Soviet Union.
When General Wladyslaw Anders began assembling this army, he asked the Soviets to release 15,000 Polish prisoners of war. He was informed that all those soldiers had escaped to Machuria and were not able to be found.
In 1943, the Germans announced that they had located mass graves in the Katyn forest near Smolensk. Over 4,000 corpses were found that had been shot in the back of the head.
The corpses were identified as Polish army officers who had been interned in a Soviet prison camp. Later investigations concluded that the men had been shot in 1940 prior to the German invasion.
In 1992, Boris Yeltsin released many documents related to the Katyn Massacre. Historians were shocked to learn that the order to kill the prisoners also included prisoners in western Belarus and western Ukraine.
In the documents, the head of the KGB at the time requested permission to destroy the files of 21,857 prisoners. This number is much higher than the number previously associated with the massacre.
In 1994, historians were able to gather the details on those murdered in the Ukraine when the Ukrainian government provided Poland with a list of prisoners from its archives. To this day, the identities of the Belarusian prisoners are unknown.
From the released Soviet documents, historians learned that there was a list which identified those murdered in Belarus.
Known as the Belarusian List, researchers have searched for clues to its whereabouts for years but have not been able to find it. The list is believed to exist in the Belarusian archives but the government of that country has not been willing to cooperate in finding it – denying that they even possess such a list.
But new clues were recently uncovered when historians discovered another file in the Belarusian archives. This document provides names and details of several Polish police officers who were arrested by the NKVD. Three of the named men were sentenced to execution by shooting and the fourth was sentenced to hard labor in a gulag.
Historians know that one of those men was Stanisław Jaskorzyńśki who was sent to a camp in Ostashkov. He was murdered in Kalinin and buried in Mednoye.
Researchers hope that they will be able to use the information about these officers to reconstruct the Belarus List.
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Finding the Belarus List has long been a high priority for the Polish government. With the latest discovery, Polish historians have vowed to continue working to learn the names of the Polish victims in Belarus.