Communiqué of the Minister of National Defense of the Polish Government in Exile, at London5

The Polish Minister of National Defense, Lt. General Marian Kukiel, has issued the following communiqué concerning the Polish officers missing in the U.S.S.R.

On the 17th of September 1940 the official organ of the Red Army, the Red Star stated that during the fighting which took place after the 17th of September 1939, 181,000 Polish prisoners of war were taken by the Soviets; the number of regular officers and those of the reserve among them amounted to about 10,000.

According to information in possession of the Polish Government, three large camps of Polish prisoners were set up in the U.S.S.R. in November 1939:

in Kozielsk—East of Smolensk
in Starobielsk—near Kharkov, and
in Ostashkow—near Kalinin, where police and military police were concentrated.

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At the beginning of 1940 the camp authorities informed the prisoners in all three camps, that the liquidation of all camps was about to take place, and that prisoners of war would be allowed to return to their families, and for this purpose, it was alleged, lists of places to which individual prisoners would like to go after their release were made. At that time there were:

about 5,000 people in Kozielsk, among them about 4,500 officers;
about 3,920 people in Starobielsk, among them about 100 civilians, the rest were officers who included about 400 medical officers;
about 6,570 people in Ostashkow, among them about 380 officers.

On the 5th of April 1940 began the liquidation of these camps and groups of 60 to 300 were removed from them every few days, until the middle of May. From Kozielsk they were sent in the direction of Smolensk. Only about 400 people were moved from all the three camps in June 1940 to Griazoviec in the Vologda Oblast.

When after the conclusion of the Polish-Soviet Treaty of the 30th of July 1941 and the signing of the military agreement of the 14th August 1941, the Polish Government proceeded to form the Polish Army in U.S.S.R., it was to be expected that the officers from the above mentioned camps would form above all the cadres of higher and lower commanders of the rising Army. A group of Polish officers from Griazoviec arrived to join the Polish units in Buzuluk at the end of August 1941, not one officer however appeared from among those deported in another direction from Kozielsk, Starobielsk and Ostashkov. In all therefore about 8,300 were missing, not counting another 7,000 composed of N.C.O.’s, soldiers and civilians, who were in those camps at the time of their liquidation.

Ambassador Kot and General Anders,6 perturbed by this state of affairs, addressed themselves to the appropriate responsible Soviet authorities with inquiries and representations about the fate of Polish officers from the above mentioned camps. In a conversation with M. Vyshinsky, People’s Vice-Commissar for Foreign Affairs on the 6th of October 1941, Ambassador Kot asked what had happened to the missing officers. M. Vyshinski answered, that all the prisoners of war had been freed from the camps and therefore must be at liberty.

In October and November, Ambassador Kot mentioned several times in his conversations with Premier Stalin, M. Molotov and M. Vyshinsky, the question of prisoners of war and insisted upon being supplied with lists of them, which were kept by the Soviet Government very carefully and in great detail.

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Premier Sikorski during his visit to Moscow on the 3rd of December 1941, also intervened in a conversation with Premier Stalin for the liberation of all Polish prisoners of war, and not having been supplied by the Soviet authorities with their lists, he handed in to Premier Stalin on this occasion, a complete list of Polish officers to the number of 3,845, which their former fellow-prisoners succeeded in compiling. Premier Stalin assured General Sikorski that the amnesty was of a general and universal character and affected both the military and the civilians, and that the Soviet Government has freed all Polish officers. On the 18th of March 1942 General Anders handed in to Premier Stalin a supplementary list of 800 officers. Nevertheless not one of the officers mentioned in either of these lists has been returned to the Polish Army.

Apart from the interventions in Moscow and Kuibyshev, the question of the fate of Polish prisoners of war was the subject of several interviews between Minister Raczyński and Ambassador Bogomolov. [On January 28, 1942, Minister Raczyński, in the name of the Polish Government, handed a Note7 to Soviet Ambassador Bogomolov,]8 drawing his attention once again to the painful fact that the many thousand Polish officers had still not been found.

Ambassador Bogomolov informed Minister Raczyński on the 13th March 1942,9 that in accordance with the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of U.S.S.R. of the 12th of August 1941, and in accordance with the statements of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs of the 8th and 19th November 1941 the amnesty had been fully carried out, and that it related both to the civilians and the military.

On the 19th May 1942 Ambassador Kot sent to the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs a memorandum in which he expressed his regret at the refusal with which his request for a list of prisoners was met and his concern as to their fate, stressing the high value these officers would have in military operations against Germany.

Never did either the Polish Government or the Polish Embassy in Kuibyshev receive an answer, as to the whereabouts of the missing officers and other prisoners who had been deported from the three above mentioned camps.

We have become used to the lies of German propaganda and we understand the purpose behind its latest revelations. Faced however with abundant and detailed German information concerning the discovery near Smolensk of many thousand bodies of Polish officers, and categorical statement that they were murdered by the Soviet authorities in the spring of 1940, the necessity has arisen that the mass graves [Page 379] which have been discovered should be investigated and the facts quoted, verified by a proper international body, such as the International Red Cross. The Polish Government has therefore approached this institution with a view of their sending a delegation to the place where the massacre of the Polish prisoners of war is said to have taken place.10

  1. Copy transmitted to the Department by the Ambassador to the Polish Government in Exile in his despatch Polish Series No. 308, April 30.
  2. Lt. Gen. Wladislaw Anders, in command of Polish Forces in the Soviet Union.
  3. Polish-Soviet Relations, 1918–1943, Official Documents, p. 116.
  4. The bracketed words, missing from the text in the file copy of the document, are from a slightly variant translation of the communiqué printed ibid., p. 119.
  5. For text of the Ambassador’s note, see ibid., p. 118.
  6. For description of the correspondence between the Polish Government in Exile and the International Red Cross in connection with the Polish request for an investigation, see The Katyn Forest Massacre, pt. 4, pp. 750–753, and pt. 6, pp. 1723–1724.