In 1939, the Nazi Germans and Soviet Russians divided Poland amongst themselves. The Soviets quickly arrested the “cream of the crop” of Polish Citizens: military officers, police, university professors, landowner, lawyers, and other leading Polish citizens, about 25,000 of the best Poland had. On or about March 5, 1940, Stalin approved an NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) order for the murder of these Polish citizens.
On April 3, 1940, and continuing through May 1940, these executions, cold-blooded murders, were carried out. The prisoner was handcuffed, taken to a soundproofed room or area, approached from behind, shot in the back of the head, the body taken out the back and dumped in a truck, and the next one led in. This went on for days and weeks until 22,000 of the finest Polish citizens had been murdered, their bodies dumped in mass graves, covered up. Many of them (~5000) were buried in a mass grave in the Katyń forest, and this tragic event has since been known as the Katyń Massacre.
In 1943, the invading Germans found the mass graves and publicized it. The Allies, weak-kneeded and not wanting to offend their “ally” Joseph Stalin, ignored this. They did not want to “offend” Stalin. After the war when German Nazis were being tried and convicted of their war crimes, the allies again chose to ignore this particular Soviet crime. It was not until the 1990s and the fall of Communism that the Russians began to change their tune, and not until 2010 that the Russian Duma (parliament) admitted that the Stalin regime was at fault.
But, blame aside, the stark fact remains, 22,000 people, the top leaders of Poland, were murdered at the hands of the Soviets. But today, Poland is a strong and proud, independent country, one that has risen beyond this tragic loss, has produced new leaders, and is a model of freedom as well as the resiliency of national spirit. Poland lives today. It was crippled in 1940, but rose beyond that. But those terrible events of 1940 began 75 years ago today, on April 3, 1940.
You can read a more detailed history of the Katyń Massacre in English here, or in Polish here. And for an excellent dramatization of these sad events, see the Polish film, Katyń, directed by acclaimed Polish director Andrzej Wajda and nominated for an Academy Award.