Russia has made public top secret documents which prove that Josef Stalin personally approved one of the Second World War’s most infamous 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 general public has been given access to the files which concern the 1940 Katyn massacre, according to The Telegraph.
“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 paper wrote.
The massacre was a mass murder of Polish nationals carried out by the Soviet secret police in April-May 1940. The victims were murdered in the Katyn Forest in Russia, the Kalinin and Kharkov prisons and elsewhere.
About 8,000 were officers taken prisoner during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, the rest being Polish doctors, professors, lawmakers, police officers and other public servants arrested for allegedly being intelligence agents, gendarmes, saboteurs, landowners, factory owners, lawyers, priests and officials.
The Soviets were able to round up much of the Polish intelligentsia, and the Russian, Ukrainian, Protestant, Muslim Tatar, Jewish, Georgian, and Belarusian intelligentsia of Polish citizenship.
Nazi officials announced the discovery of mass graves in 1943.
The Soviet Union continued to deny responsibility for the massacres, blaming the Nazis for the killings until 1990, when it officially acknowledged the massacre, as well as the subsequent cover-up.
The files detail the decision-making process that culminated in Stalin and his associates approving the execution of 21,587 unarmed Polish army reservists.
One of the documents made public is a note from Lavrenty Beria, the head of the Soviet NKVD secret police, to Stalin about the fate of the Poles, which included military officers, priests, writers, professors and aristocrats.
“In the note, Beria proposes that 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,” according to The Telegraph.
“Another document, a secret internal Soviet Communist party memo from 1965, refers to ‘what was formerly Bourgeois Poland’ and warns against any public disclosure, arguing that the documents have no historical value,” the publication added.
While opening the files to the public is seen as positive step, Russia has stubbornly refused to fully open its archive on the subject or to prosecute or even reveal the names of surviving secret policemen who took part in the killings, the paper reported.
The files were posted on the web site of the Russian state archive service on Wednesday morning, which swiftly ground to a halt after more than 700,000 people rushed to take a look.