Russian court dismisses complaint about removal of plaques honouring Katyn victims

In May 2020, two plaques commemorating Polish officers murdered by the NKVD, the soviet secret police, and the second one commemorating the victims of Stalinist repression were dismantled from the wall of the Medical University in Tver, former Kalinin, Russia. Recently a court in Moscow dismissed the complaint of the “Memorial” Association about the unlawful removal of the plaques.

Officially, no one has admitted making the decision to remove the plaques. University authorities explained that these were the recommendations of the prosecutor’s office. City officials are distancing themselves from this decision, and the prosecutor’s office emphasised that the people responsible for hanging the plaques mixed up the addresses.

Additionally, the Tver prosecutors said there was no evidence that Polish officers were murdered in the building. The trial in this case, brought by the “Memorial” association and the families of the victims of political repression, was pending before the court in Tver. The court decided that the plaques had been placed without justification. The Court of Cassation in Moscow upheld the decision of the Tver judges.

In a statement, the Polish Ambassador to Russia, Krzysztof Krajewski, pointed out that for almost 30 years no one has ever questioned the legitimacy or legality of the plaques placement.

“We should ask ourselves if we are not dealing with a planned policy of gradual liquidation of the memory of the Katyn Massacre in Russia,” the Polish diplomat stressed.

Around 6,300 Poles were murdered at the building in Tver that used to belong to the secret NKVD Soviet police. Before being transported to Tver, the victims were held prisoner in the camp of Ostashkov. Most of the Poles murdered in Tver were police and Border Protection Corps (KOP) officers.

Train transport for prisoners marked for execution was carried out from April 4 to May 16, 1940. The prisoners were put in the building’s basements. At night they were ushered to a spacious basement one by one. There, a prisoner was asked for his name and taken out to another room with his or her hands cuffed. The door of that room was felt-padded. It is there that the prisoner was shot in the head.

The corpses were carried out of the basement, loaded onto trucks and disposed of 20 km away in the town of Mednoye. The bodies were dumped into 23 mass graves, 250 corpses per pit.

Among the places where the crimes, later referred to as the Katyn Massacre, were carried out, there were facilities belonging to the NKVD-MGB board of the Kalinin Oblast in the present Tver (formerly: Kalinin).

In later years, the Soviet authorities tried to conceal the truth about this crime by attributing it to other perpetrators and cynically using the Katyn lie to strike the Polish state within the anti-German coalition. In 1946, the USSR made an unsuccessful attempt to convict someone else for this crime, calling it genocide, before the Nuremberg Tribunal. To blur the facts about the crime, a monument was built in Katyn to hide the truth about Soviet guilt. For decades people speaking openly about Katyn were persecuted.

It was not until the 1990s that the Soviet authorities decided that lying about Katyn was causing political damage to the USSR, that their hypocrisy in this case could no longer be continued. The authorities confessed to the crime, and published relevant, previously classified documents. Yet, in subsequent years, they have still refused to disclose the full documentation of the investigation into this case, and over time have begun to return to various forms of manipulating the truth about the Katyn massacre.