London, April 21, 2000
WAY OF THE WORLD
A Lost Generation
by Auberon Waugh
THE 60th anniversary of the Katyn massacre has provided a good opportunity for President Putin to demonstrate his government's repudiation of its Communist past. At Katyn, in western Russia, it will be remembered, Stalin set his paramilitary secret police, the NKVD, to murder a large part of the Polish officer and professional class. His intention was to set up a workers' state in Poland after the war.
To that end, more than 4,000 Polish officers were shot in the back of the head and buried at Katyn alone. The bodies of at least 4,000 more who disappeared at this time, including professors, judges, engineers and artists, as the Polish prime minister pointed out last week, have never been found.
For many years it was official Soviet policy to claim that the murders had been committed by the German army, who first found the mass graves and exposed them to the world. The Poles, who knew perfectly well what had happened, were not much impressed by this. Poles wishing to collaborate with the Soviet occupiers had to pay lip service to this obvious lie, which may have reduced the appeal of idealistic socialism for a generation or two.
But the oddest manifestation of this historical falsehood was in Britain. For very nearly all of these 60 years, it has been Foreign Office policy to assert that the Germans were, indeed, responsible for the Katyn massacres, and for the attempt to destroy the greater part of Poland's traditional ruling class, the cream of Polish society.
This was understandable enough for the duration of the war, when there was little to be gained by antagonising a major ally. But the British pretence continued long afterwards.
I made this discovery nearly 40 years ago as a very junior reporter on The Daily Telegraph, and have confirmed it on two or three occasions since. Perhaps it continues to this day -- I do not know. Never mind that Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged the Soviet Union's responsibility 10 years ago. If the same F.O. mandarins are still around on the scene they might overlook President Putin's apologies.
For 30 or 40 years, these people have controlled the Foreign Office. I sometimes used to wonder how many of my contemporaries among them were merely socialist sympathisers, how many were actually Soviet agents.
We will never know now. They are all retired, and living happily in places like St Tropez or Florida. But I wish someone would write a book about them.