WASHINGTON, D.C. It was a very proud moment for Allen Paul - author of "Katyn: The Untold Story of Stalin's Polish Massacre" (1991/2007) - when Ambassador Robert Kupiecki invested him with the gleaming Commander's Cross, Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, here on April 2, 2009 at Poland's embassy before a large gathering of family, friends and Polonia.
Allen Paul thanked Ambassador Kupiecki for his glowing and extensive introduction, and Poland and all Poles for the high honor they bestowed upon him. With no direct connection to Poland, Paul said that he authored the book because he is a reporter at heart and recognized Katyn as a most tragic story that needed to be told again - but this time in a personal, humanizing manner.
In his somber tome, Paul painstakingly examines Stalin's infamous act of genocide whereby he ordered his Soviet NKVD to murder over 15,000 captive Polish Army officers, officials, professionals and intelligentcia in the Katyn Forest, near Smolensk, Belorussia in the spring of 1940, early on in WWII. Scholarly research in recent years has now placed the presently known number of the select Polish victims at approximately 22,000.
The families of the mass-murdered did not escape Soviet persecution either. They - the wives and children - were targeted and brutally deported to Siberia in 1940, along with approximately 1.7 million of ordinary Poles living in Soviet-occupied eastern Poland. They were assigned to slave labor camps and most ultimately perished because of the cruel conditions and deadly climate, complicated by the calculated indifference and criminal apathy of their captors. Most of the Polish exiles - over 1 million - never survived to return home to Poland after WWII ended in 1945.
Medal Ceremony at Embassy. Ambassador Robert Kupiecki (above, left) is shown presenting Allen Paul, author of the book "Katyn", with the Commander's Cross, Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, at the Embassy of Poland this past April.
And this is where Paul's publication takes a very unique course. He puts a very human face on the Katyn victims by introducing us to some of them and their families before WWII began in 1939, and then following the "lucky" survivors on their journeys through a living hell and back. Their personal narratives of suffering, grief and death make one's blood run cold.
"Katyn" has undergone several revisions since first being published in 1991.The most recent was in 2007 for the Polish edition titled "Katyn: Stalin's Massacre and the Triumph of Truth." The volume is a best seller in Poland, with three editions being published there to date.
A petite reception followed the award ceremony, which led into a full screening of Andrzej Wajda's Academy Awards nominated movie "Katyn" in Polish with English subtitles. Then we saw on the screen what Paul and other Katyn authors have been writing about. The abstraction of names and numbers quickly morphed into reality - and in a very personal way - as we became well acquainted with human faces and the gripping individual stories behind them. We entered into their lives as invited, removed observers. Our traumatic exit was an entirely different matter.
The concluding graphic and bloody Katyn Massacre scenes are stomach churning and heart-rending. Almost defying human belief of man's inhumanity to man. But we must suffer-to-witness this nadir of darkest evil so as not to allow it to happen again to anyone, anywhere.
The evening began on a high, celebratory note. It ended on a very solemn, sad and reflective one...the stark reality of Katyn.
Richard P. Poremski, e-mail:
Polish American Journal; Washington, DC Bureau
April 14, 2009
Here is a link to the book:
Katyn: The Untold Story of Stalin's Polish Massacre, By Allen Paul
and the film done by Andrzejj Wajda, Oscar winner: