Largely unknown outside Poland, the Katyń massacre refers to the killing of 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals in the forests of western Russia during the second world war. These so-called ‘enemies of the state’ were seen as a threat to communist ideology and were executed between April and May 1940.
The first mass grave of 4,500 bodies was discovered by the German army near Katyń, and subsequently other unmarked graves were found across a wide area. Many people remain unaccounted for and graves remain undiscovered to this day.
In the post-war years, the soviet occupiers of Poland put the blame for the massacre on the Nazis, and this was the ‘official’ version of history until the fall of communism. Throughout the post-communist years a relentless search for the truth culminated in the Russian Parliament admitting that the order for the executions came directly from Stalin himself, with a declaration confirming the truth being passed as recently as 2010.
With the truth of the massacre now finally in the public domain, the museum offers both a gruelling account of what happened in the forests of western Russia and a sombre memorial to the victims.
The exhibition gives a sense of the personal cost of the atrocities through displaying some of the everyday items that were found in the mass graves, while the outdoor section acts as a memorial to the victims and a testimony to those that fought to uncover the truth about the events of 1940. Like so much of Poland’s post-war history, the final victim of Katyń – the truth – has finally been allowed to rest in peace.
Signs are currently only in Polish, but this does not detract from the experience as the objects and design of the space provide a universal explanation the scale of the tragedy.
Admission is free.
Open 10am – 4pm (5pm Wedesday)
Closed Monday and Tuesday
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