The Institute of World Politics and its Kościuszko Chair of Polish Studies have firmly and consistently supported endeavors to publicize historical documentation on all things pertaining to US-Polish relations, including the Katyn Forest Massacre. The Soviet-perpetrated genocidal operation claimed the lives of approximately 25,700 members of the Polish elite, including officers, policemen, and teachers. Thus, we view the Katyn declassification conference – which took place on Capitol Hill on Monday, 10 September 2012 – as a most welcome development and a step in the right direction.
The event crowned long-time efforts initiated by the Polish-American community for the US National Archives and Records Administration to declassify and release documents on the massacre. Instrumental in this push were the Libra Institute of Mrs. Maria Szonert-Binienda, which has collaborated with the Kościuszko Chair on Katyn; the US Katyn Council with branches in DC, MD, VA, NJ, NY, Il, CT, CA, FL, TX, and OH; Prof. Witold Łukaszewski of the Kresy-Siberia Foundation; and many others. In addition to the Polonia, representatives of the Polish Foreign Ministry and the US Congress played a prominent role throughout the event; Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) stressed the importance of declassification in her speech.
In the short-term, of course, publicizing the secrets of the past sometimes reveals ugly episodes. For instance, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his administration knew the truth about Katyn, but nevertheless intentionally chose to suppress it. Quite simply, FDR viewed appeasing the Soviets, in the context of the war against the Axis, as a greater priority than defending a “lesser” ally. In the long-term, however, the truth provides a more solid basis for good relations and national reconciliation.
The Katyn Forest Massacre might also serve as a useful case study from the perspective of genocide prevention.