Saturday, August 25, 2018

Katyn Redux? Moscow’s New Effort to Cover Up Stalin’s Executions Sparks Outrage

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 25 – One of the most notorious crimes followed by a coverup in the Soviet period was the brutal execution of hundreds of Polish officers by Stalin’s secret police at Katyn, an action Moscow insisted was actually the work of the Germans -- and a murder even Mikhail Gorbachev never came completely clean about.

            Instead, Soviet propagandists sought to muddy the waters by playing games with dates and commemorating some victims so as not to have to acknowledge others.  Now, in yet another echo of the Soviet past, Vladimir Putin’s regime appears to be carrying out something similar in Karelia, seeking to shift blame for mass murders there from the NKVD to the Finns.

            And Russian officials are doing so in a way that undercuts the work of besieged Memorial investigator Yury Dmitriyev, who exposed the Stalin-era killing fields at Sandarmokh in the first place, and has outraged a growing number of relatives and friends of those whom the Soviets and in no way the Finns killed.

            Dmitriyev’s research proved that Soviet chekists were responsible for the murders; but in a transparent effort to sow confusion and thereby raise questions about responsibility, several Karelian writers suggested starting in 2016 that in fact the dead were Red Army prisoners and that they had been killed by the Finns during the Winter War.

Serious scholars have called this theory “politically motivated” ( But it has been proved sufficient to give the Russian authorities to authorize excavations on the site in an effort to prove that the Finns and not the Soviets killed people there (

The excavations which would among other things disturb the burial sites of those killed there could begin as early as next week, and that has prompted relatives of those shot in Sandarmokh during the Great Terror to write an open letter to officials in Moscow and Petrozavodsk in opposition to this project (

“We, the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of those shot at Sandarmokh are opposed digging on this territory,” the open letter begins. “We respect the activity of those seeking to discover and return from oblivion the memory about soldiers who fell without being recovered.”

“But the carrying out of searches with the goal to find at the Sandarmokh memorial cemetery burial sites of hostages of Finnish concentration camps is an entirely different matter. Sandarmokh is a memorial recognized around the world after investigations in 1997 and is thus not only a historical site but a unique testimonial to the terror of the 20th century.”

The proposed digs “threaten to violate the integrity of the memorial cemetery and disturb the peace of the dead. Sandarmokh is not some nameless forest or swamp but an accessible, much visited and generally recognized memorial,” the letter continues.

“Neither in 1997 nor later did we demand the exhumation and reburial of the remains of our relatives. We agreed that this territory should remain entirely untouched and are grateful to those who found this place,” including Yury Dmitriyev. 

“Let this place remain untouched now and forever. We are against carrying out new digs here for which there is no documentary confirmation or scientifically demonstrated basis.  Don’t touch the graves of our relatives. Don’t destroy the memorial.”

The signatories call on people of good will throughout the world to join in their appeal.

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