March 1940 NKVD memo by Beria, released by Russia in 2010, proposing mass execution of thousands of Polish POWs. Signed approval by Stalin, K. Voroshilov, V. Molotov, and A. Mikoyan. Signatures in left margin are M. Kalinin and L. Kaganovich. Soviet guilt for this massacre was known to US and GB beginning in 1943, but Allies joined Stalin's conspiracy of silence.
This week's syndicated column
The power of history to speak to us depends on our ability to hear it. When we are deaf to its secrets, or too confused or conditioned to decipher them, we miss the opportunity to be empowered by them. We thus fail to overcome the propaganda our own government, like the dictatorships we revile, has all too often deceived us with.
I am struck by this aura of static around a sensational new discovery. Researcher and author Krystyna Piorkowska, the Associated Press reported this week, has unearthed a “lost” U.S. document, dating back to 1945, known as the Van Vliet report on the Katyn Forest Massacre. Few Americans are familiar with the World War II-era massacre, let alone with U.S. Army Lt. Col. John H. Van Vliet, so what is history telling us?
Its message is one that we as a people are deeply conditioned to reject. It concerns decades of U.S. appeasement, support and collusion regarding the USSR, and even in some of the evil empire’s worst atrocities. In American Betrayal I re-examine this terrible pattern, long obscured by false narratives of the “good war” that I learned along with everybody else, for evidence of Soviet agents’ influence on U.S. strategy. Equally important is the corrosive impact this subversion has had on our nation’s character. Nowhere is this moral impact more evident than at Katyn.
This chapter of the story begins when Van Vliet and other prisoners of war held by Nazi Germany were brought by German officials to the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Russia, to watch the exhumation of thousands of executed Poles, mainly officers, from mass graves discovered there in 1943. The evidence Van Vliet saw convinced him he was looking at a Soviet atrocity of colossal proportions. As part of Stalin’s diabolical plans to Sovietize Poland, the Soviets liquidated 20,000 Polish POWs in 1940, a time when this region was under USSR occupation following the Soviet invasion of Poland in tandem with Nazi Germany in 1939.
By 1943, however, the U.S. and Great Britain had struck a military alliance with the communist dictatorship against the Nazi dictatorship. At the time of the massacre’s discovery, Stalin instantly blamed Hitler. Much more importantly, so did FDR and Churchill. Did they know the truth about their murderous ally (Stalin) against their murderous enemy (Hitler)? Did they want to know the truth?
We know that a British diplomat named Owen O’Malley was dispatched to study the war crime in the spring of 1943. O’Malley wrote a remarkable report for the British government concluding the Soviets were guilty. We know Churchill gave this report to Roosevelt that same summer. Former Pennsylvania Gov. George H. Earle, Roosevelt’s personal emissary, would testify that he presented evidence of Soviet guilt at Katyn to Roosevelt personally in 1944. FDR wasn’t buying it. Meanwhile, “we mustn’t offend the Russians,” went the internal government mantra, confounding truth, morality and, I argue, U.S. strategy. As a result, both the U.S. and Great Britain would peddle Soviet lies about Katyn throughout the war. The Office of War Information, a wartime U.S. government agency we now know was riddled with Soviet agents, was a strong arm for this propaganda.
U.S. support for the Big Lie about Katyn, however, continued long after the war – which is where the Van Vliet report comes in.
At war’s end, newly liberated Van Vliet sped home with his eyewitness account of Soviet guilt. On May 22, 1945, Van Vliet presented what he knew directly to the head of military intelligence, Gen. Clayton Bissell. The general tagged the report Top Secret, and, as Van Vliet later told Congress during its investigation of Katyn in the early 1950s, “then dictated the letter directing me to silence.”
Silence. When we see the past as a struggle between silence – which includes cover-up – and revelation, a new pattern of understanding takes shape. Why was the truth of Soviet guilt at Katyn suppressed until Congress ferreted it out in 1952? What impact did this have on the advance of communism in the world? What or whose cause did silence serve? Not the causes of truth or freedom, to be sure. Meanwhile, it is this silenced American eyewitness account of Soviet guilt at Katyn that became known as the Van Vliet report. From the moment congressional investigators began looking for it in the early 1950s until now, the report has been missing.
In fact, that same report Van Vliet dictated on May 22, 1945, is still missing. What Krystyna Piorkowska discovered is a sworn deposition by Van Vliet dated May 10, 1945. As the testament of America’s most famous witness to Katyn’s toll, this document found by Piorkowska, author of English-Speaking Witnesses to Katyn, is highly significant.
Van Vliet was not the only important American witness at Katyn. Army Capt. Donald B. Stewart was there, too, and, according to declassified documents Piorkowska uncovered last year, Stewart sent a coded message in 1943 to military intelligence indicating that he and Van Vliet believed the Soviets were guilty of the massacre. In other words, U.S. brass received eyewitness information in real time.
It gets worse. In 2012, writing about Piorkowska’s earlier Katyn findings, the AP reported: “The newly discovered documents also show Stewart was ordered in 1950 – soon before the congressional committee began its work – never to speak about a secret message on Katyn.”
History is telling us that more than Polish bodies are buried there.