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Polish Foreign Affairs Ministry releases British Katyn documents

PR dla Zagranicy
John Beauchamp 03.04.2015 13:20
The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has published a number of documents which highlight British policy towards the Katyn massacre.
Screenshot of one of the documents. Source: msz.gov.plScreenshot of one of the documents. Source: msz.gov.pl

The release of the documents coincides with the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, Friday.

The documents, dated between 1942 and 1980, were found in the British National Archives.

A great part of the materials are archival documents which illustrate the way in which London treated the event, with papers made available from a number of ministries, including the War Office, Foreign Office (later the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), CGHQ, Special Operations Executive, the PM’s Office as well as the Lord Cancellor’s Office.

Apart from British documents, there are are also a number of Polish and American note, letters, and memorandums which were sent to the British authorities in London.

Additional German materials from World War II, which were seized by the British secret services during the war or taken into possession following it, have also been released.

The documents were successively declassified and made available to historians and reserachers, with the majority made available in the 1970s, with later archival material dating from the 1980-1 released into the public domain at the end of 2014.

Uncomfortable history

The documents present the way in which successive British governments treated the Katyn massacre.

As early as 1944, a letter from then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Sir Owen O’Malley – a British diplomat and liason officer between the government in London and the Polish government-in-exile – tells him to secretly acknowledge the findings of Soviet investigations of the Katyn massacre from the so-called Burdenko Commission.

O’Malley had previously deducted that the Soviets were to blame for the crime, yet after reading O’Malley’s report on the matter, British and American authorities classified the document, with it seeing the light of day in the early 1970s.

Katyn memorial in London causing a stir

Other documents pertain to the construction of a memorial which was unveiled on 18 September 1976 at the Gunnersbury cemetery in west London.

Archival material shows that the British government of the time was not keen on the memorial and for years hampered efforts for its construction. Only after councillors of the Royal London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea – which manages the cemetery – approved the memorial, was its construction made possible.

However, while the memorial’s unveiling was a groundbreaking event for the Polish diaspora, noone from the British authorities attended the ceremony, possibly feeling the pressure from the Soviet and Polish embassies in London. (jb)

Source: MSZ/tvn24.pl

A list of the documents can be found at the Foreign Ministry website here. [in Polish, we will provide a link to the documents in English if/when made available.]

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