President, PM, US Ambassador mark Katyn Forest Massacre

April 13 marks the 80th anniversary of the Katyn Forest executions. Pictured the Polish war cemetery in Katyn. Radek Pietruszka/PAP

President Andrzej Duda, PM Mateusz Morawiecki and US Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher on Monday paid homage to the victims of the 1940 Katyn Forest Massacre, in which Soviet secret police executed 22,000 Polish officers, policemen and administrative staff.

April 13 marks the 80th anniversary of the Katyn Forest executions.

In an online statement, Duda wrote that the Katyn massacre had a symbolic meaning without which it was not possible to understand Polish history. He added that the ethos surrounding the Katyn events was a legacy for younger generations of Poles.

"We Poles will always remember Katyn. Today, we are commemorating the 80th anniversary (of the executions - PAP) in a different way than we planned, in the form of a virtual exposition. Because, also in this exceptional time, Katyn remains a symbol without which the history of Poland cannot be understood," Duda wrote.

Duda also stated that although the truth about the Katyn killings was officially negated in the communist era and the blame was laid on the Germans, Poles preserved it in their hearts up to the time when Poland regained its freedom from Soviet domination, and the real course of the events saw the light of day.

"Today, we remember all its (the truth's - PAP) depositaries with appreciation and gratitude. Katyn is also a symbol of the struggle for truth, which began with the discovery of the mass graves. The final victory in this struggle came with the regaining of independence by our people. Once again independent, Poland restored the truth about Katyn to its deserved place in national history (...), and took on the obligation to guard and preserve it forever. (...) For Poles, Katyn is the quest for truth and remembrance. Free and sovereign, the Republic pays tribute to the victims of Soviet crimes. Hail to the heroes, eternal remembrance of those who fell for Polish independence," the president wrote on Twitter.

In his commemorative address on Facebook, Morawiecki wrote that the Katyn events wrought a chasm in the texture of the Polish nation that was still felt today. He also said that the true aim of the executions was to prevent the reemergence of an independent Polish state.

"Today we are observing the 80th anniversary of the Katyn genocide. Over the decades of communist Poland, Katyn was a symbol of mendacity and historical falsehood. For those who lost their loved ones in the East, it symbolised the memory of Soviet atrocities against the Polish people. The Katyn crime was a Soviet ploy to destroy the Polish elite (and - PAP) prevent the rebirth of a free Poland. (...) The Katyn crime has left a chasm in the texture of our people that is still present today," Morawiecki wrote.

In her tribute to the Katyn anniversary on Twitter, US Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher called the executions a dark page in European history.

The Katyn Massacre was a series of mass executions of Polish POW's, mainly military officers and policemen, carried out by the Soviet security agency NKVD in April and May 1940. The killings took place at several locations but the massacre is named after the Katyn Forest in west Russia, where some of the mass graves of the victims were first discovered.

The massacre was initiated by NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria, who proposed to execute all captive members of the Polish officer corps. The victim count is estimated at about 22,000. The executions took place in Katyn Forest, the Kalinin and Kharkiv prisons, and elsewhere. About 8,000 of the victims were officers imprisoned during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, another 6,000 were police officers, the rest were Polish intellectuals, deemed by the Soviets to be intelligence agents and saboteurs.

In 1943, the government of Nazi Germany announced the discovery of mass graves in Katyn Forest. When the London-based Polish government-in-exile asked for an investigation by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Stalin promptly severed diplomatic relations with the London-based cabinet. The Soviets claimed that the killings had been carried out by the Germans in 1941 and denied responsibility for the massacres until 1990, when it officially acknowledged and condemned the perpetration of the massacre by the NKVD.

Soviet responsibility for the Katyn killings was confirmed by an investigation conducted by the office of the Prosecutors General of the Soviet Union (1990–1991) and the Russian Federation (1991–2004), however, Russia refused to classify them as a war crime or genocide.

In November 2010, the Russian State Duma passed a declaration blaming Stalin and other Soviet officials for having personally ordained the massacre.