Harrowing diaries of Katyń massacre victims translated into English
Personal diaries written by Polish officers before they were murdered in the Katyń massacre have been published in English for the first time.
The moving entries written on scraps, notebooks and loose sheets of paper, reveal the everyday lives of the victims, revealing their thoughts, plans and dreams unaware of their fate.
They also make it possible to better understand and reconstruct the last days before their executions.
Marek Sobieralski who translated and published The Katyń Diaries said: “The tragic and awful story of the Katyń Massacre is now, finally, quite well known, and has received deserved attention, however these diaries open up the human experience for us.”
The Katyń massacre was a series of mass executions of up to 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia carried out by the NKVD in April and May 1940.
The killings took place at several locations but the massacre is named after the Katyń Forest in western Russia, where mass graves of the victims were first discovered in 1942 by Germans.
Along with the bodies, personal items such as letters, photographs and identification tags were found. They were packed into crates.
In one crate were 22 diaries and personal notes. Four copies of these were made soon afterwards in Kraków. The Home Army then delivered the copies to the Polish government in exile, in London.
Sobieralski’s book contains English translations of twelve of those diaries.
He told TFN: “I was aware of the Katyń Massacre, the lies, cover up etc, and was surprised to learn that there were no English language translations. I decided that this really should be done.
“Each diary author is very different, and with many, you can really get a sense of their character, the person, the individual. You see clear differences, but also camaraderie and a real unity of spirit.”
On 6 October 1939 Major Adam Solski wrote: “After a good night's sleep, snow in the morning as in Poland in December. A glass of hot water and many promises of breakfast. Our money has no value. We do nothing. Quarrels – fault-finding – bickering. Until midnight, we had no sustenance except hot water.”
On Poland’s independence day on 11 November, Lieutenant Maksymilian Trzepałka wrote: “Captivity is terrible, losing freedom. We held a small service in the barrack. In the evening a colonel recited a poem, and a friend (a singer from Poznań) sang a few songs.”
Just before Christmas in 1939, Lieutenant Dobiesław Jakubowicz wrote about his wife: "Sometimes when I think about you, something squeezes my throat and makes me feel somehow strange. Tomorrow it is Christmas Eve my darling Maryś."
In April 1940, while the killings were taking place, Lieutenant Jan Zienkiewicz wrote: “Individuals continue to be called to depart – various assumptions are circulating.”
In one of his last entries on 17 April 190 he wrote: “We crossed the Dniepr at 16:00 on 17.04. and are clearly heading further east.”
When the diaries were discovered during the war, they were dirty and damaged after spending time buried in the ground.
A wartime forensics team in Krakow, headed by Dr. Jan Zygmunt Robel, was faced with the considerable task of preserving them.
They spent many hours carefully bathing the fragments of paper in chemicals and then made four copies of the diaries.
According to Sobieralski, the original diaries have not survived. “In August 1944, the Germans took the crates with the various artefacts (including the diaries) to Silesia, and then further west. Apparently, they were all burned at Radebeul near Dresden,” he said.
The copies, however, are held at the Polish Underground Movement Study Trust in London.
Sobieralski said: “these peoples’ individual stories needed to be added to the narrative of the Katyn Massacre, however grim or upsetting they may be. I want to remind people that each of these murdered officers was a living, breathing person, like you and me.”
“You learn that, for example, Christmas in particular is a very emotional time for the prisoners, when longing seems most acute, yet they come together to celebrate it as best they can in the terrible circumstances.”
The book features seven illustrations by Rafał Mróz, which add an additional visual touch and help bring the diaries to life even more.
As well as the diaries, the book contains short biographies of the diary authors, as well as a brief description of the Katyń Massacre.
The book is now available on Amazon.