Files prove Stalin signed Katyn death warrants
Published 29/04/2010 | 05:00
RUSSIA has published previously top-secret documents that prove Josef Stalin personally approved one of the Second World War's worst massacres, in which nearly 22,000 Polish officers were murdered.
Although the documents have been available to a handful of researchers since 1992, it is the first time that the public has been given access to the files on the 1940 Katyn massacre.
The sight of Stalin's signature on what amounts to a collective death warrant quells decades of debate on the massacre and gives the lie to claims by die-hard Stalinists that their idol did not personally sanction the killings.
The disclosure is also a blow to Stalin's grandson, Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, who has tried to sue media that have said that Stalin personally signed the death warrants of innocent people.
The files catalogue the decision-making process that culminated in Stalin and his aides approving the execution of 21,587 unarmed Polish army reservists in 1940.
The massacre of "bourgeois" Poles by the Soviet NKVD secret police was carried out in three locations but took its name from just one of the three killing fields -- the Katyn Forest in western Russia.
One of the documents made public is a note from Lavrenty Beria, the head of the NKVD, to Stalin about the fate of the Poles. The Poles included military officers, priests, writers, professors and aristocrats. In the note, Beria proposes the NKVD "quickly examine the use of the highest means of punishment -- death by shooting."
Stalin's signature and a red stamp reading "top secret" are on the first page of the document, which is dated March, 1940. (© Daily Telegraph, London)