The Mystery of the Katyn Massacre: the Evidence, the Solution by Grover Furr


Reviewed by Raj Sahai


Grover Furr teaches at Montclair College in New Jersey and is author of several books on history of the USSR in the Stalin period 1924-53. He is termed a “revisionist historian” in the media because his books [1] reveal the history to be quite different that what is generally portrayed by historians particularly those in the US and UK. He has taken up an old controversy  in his new book, a controversy  long thought  settled: the mass killing of Polish prisoners of war (POWs), who were in Soviet custody after the 1939 war in which Poland, as it existed then, was attacked and occupied by Germany from the west and the USSR from the east.

Stephen Kotkin, in his recent three-volume biography of Stalin also noted, concerning Katyn: “On March 5 (1940), in the name of the Politburo, Stalin approved a troika — a three-judge panel– and a “special procedure” for executing the 21,857 captured or arrested Polish officers, civil servants, and intellectuals. Voroshilov, who had had to surrender jurisdiction over POWs in the Polish campaign to Beria, also signed the execution order, along with the redoubtable Molotov and Mikoyan. The officers of the Polish army—some of whom were ethnic Ukrainian and Jewish—were murdered at several sites, including near Smolensk, in the Katyn Forest”.[2]

Kotkin has not diverged from the prevailing consensus on Katyn, long established in US and UK. So, it seemed the case was settled. But Grover Furr, challenges this consensus sharply in his book. Furr does not deny that a massacre took place, but he investigates the question: was the USSR guilty of it?

He is not the first one to question the assignment of guilt. Several Russian writers began to question the official version starting in mid-1990s[3]. What Grover Furr’s book[4] on Katyn massacre has done  is unique in that he uses only the evidence that cannot be planted, and only the evidence provided by sources that does not support their own thesis and conclusions in the case. He terms this as ‘unimpeachable’ evidence. Based on such evidence and following a logical analysis he has concluded that it was the Germans who did the massacre and blamed it on the Soviets for propaganda purposes. Furr is fluent in Russian language and can also read Polish language.

Soviet politicians Gorbachev and Yeltsin, in 1990-92 had accepted the blame on behalf of the USSR on the killing of the Polish POWs. Yeltsin in 1992 gave a highly classified document to Polish President Lech Walesa, called ‘Closed Packet No. 1’ which included a signed approval by the Politburo members, Stalin included, of NKVD head Beria’s recommendation to execute the POWs. Here then was the “smoking gun” on Katyn! But the deeper question is this: are these documents genuine or forged?

Furr states that for a long time he was “agnostic” on this question of who did the killing called the Katyn Massacre. What re-opened the case for Furr is not the writings of Russians in 1990s that questioned Katyn conclusions but a new discovery: an archaeological excavation in 2011 in Ukraine by a joint Polish- Ukrainian team  which found new material evidence. Furr’s research earlier into the Stalin history had revealed that Khrushchev had lied a great deal about Stalin[5]. So, could Katyn also be a lie – of Gorbachev and  Yeltsin – by using forged documents in “Closed Packet No.1”?

The charge of mass killing of POWs is important because it has helped anti-communists in making the charge the USSR led by Stalin was as cruel and murderous as the Nazi Germany led by Hitler. So, it is of great importance to know the truth about Katyn for the future of socialism itself.

Furr’s method in his book is to subject to critical examination three previous documents: (1) The German report by government-appointed investigators issued in 1943; (2) the Soviet Burdenko Commission Report of January 1944; (3) “Closed Packet No. 1” (“CP1” hereinafter) a copy of which Russian President Boris Yeltsin provided to Polish President Lech Walesa in October 1992; and (4) the joint Polish-Ukrainian archeological report on excavations in Volodymyr-Volyinsky, Ukraine of November 2011 and related documents of the same in 2010-2013

Only German bullet shell casings were found and reported in the German report of 1943 and they all were of the markings that were manufactured in German factories in 1930 and 1931. It presented a problem for Nazi propaganda, but it was solved by the explanation that the Soviets also had used German bullets provided under their trade agreement with Germany before the war  between the two countries began in June 1941.

The German report of 1943 did not mention any Soviet bullet shell casings. Two facts: (a) that only German shell casings were used in thousands of rounds at this site and, (b) that they were manufactured in 1931, 9 years before the date of German claim of massacre by the Soviets, are suspicious. Of course, the Soviets, who were making plenty of their own bullets by 1940 could have, on purpose, used German bullets bought earlier, to plant false evidence against Germany, but then why would they think they would be attacked and occupied in this area in 1940? After all, the ‘Molotov-Ribbentrop Nonaggression Pact’ of summer 1939 was not even one year old! The German report on Katyn mass graves also included the name of a Polish officer who was in the NKVD[6] (Russian) list of prisoners in a POW camp in Ostashkov, which is located much further from Katyn than camp Mednoe (near Tver), which was the other site of mass graves of Polish POWs.

The NKVD lists of Polish POWs to be transported to locations away from the camps was captured by Germans, but there were no instructions in them for their execution. The German report also had list of prisoners from an even farther off camp at Starobel’sk (Ukraine). It does not make sense for the Soviets to send some prisoners from far off camps to be killed at Katyn, when there were other closer sites where they could be killed and buried.

What is more plausible is that these prisoners were sent to Smolensk in 1940 from three camps to do road construction work, as the Soviets explained, and there they were captured in 1941 by advancing German army, killed and buried in mass graves at Katyn and other places. Furr concludes that these two facts: German bullets and prisoners from three camps buried at Katyn destroy the credibility of German report of April 1943.

The Burdenko Commission Report has been ignored in the West, presumably as it is seen to defend the USSR, rather than find the truth. In that investigation of the materials found on the bodies of three Polish prisoners, in Katyn mass graves  were documents dated later than German report said they were killed, i.e., April-May 1940. One of them was a prisoner Zigon Tomaz, who was not in any Soviet transit list. Furr places him in Ukraine, where he was arrested, and should have been held at the Starobel’sk camp. A letter from his wife was found dated September 12, 1940 asking about her husband’s whereabouts from the Russian authorities. This letter was found on his body and was among the material collected by the Burdenko Commission.

This means he was alive at least until September 12, 1940, and so it is likely that he was killed by Germans or their Ukrainian Nationalist allies after the Germans occupied Ukraine in June
1941. However, this evidence was not used by the Burdenko Commission because the identity of Zigon was not established conclusively at that time.

Furr is the one who established his identity as explained in third chapter of the book. It is an example of what Furr calls an “unimpeachable” evidence, since the Soviets did not use it, and since Furr was able establish the identity of this prisoner.

The ‘Closed Packet No. 1’ (CP1) is the evidence that sealed the guilt of the USSR, as far as Western bourgeois intellectuals and Poles are concerned. It contained Beria’s memorandum of March 5, 1940, written to the attention of the Politburo, which said that the NKVD had gathered information on the POWs in the camps that shows they were actively engaged in anti-Soviet conspiracy even while interned in POW camps, working with other enemies located outside the camps. He recommended that all the POWs be examined by a troika – a three- judge tribunal, presumably one by one, and if found guilty, be shot. CP1 also had documents from the Politburo session March 5, 1940 and a hand-written letter signed by A. Shelepin, Chairman of the KGB proposing to destroy all files related to the Politburo resolution of March 5, 1940. (NKGB[7] was renamed KGB[8]; NKVD became MVD[9]. Beria headed both MVD and NKVD)

Shelepin was KGB chief from December 1958 to November 1961, i.e. during Khrushchev’s tenure in office as the General Secretary of the Communist Party. This appeared to be a carbon copy, not the original. It seems to have been tampered with.  Furr notes the date on upper left hand has been changed from 5 March 1940 to 27 February 1959. At the bottom, are typed J. Stalin but it stands out as, the carbon copy letters are heavier and darker, according to Furr, who also notes that at the bottom is the seal of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in its older name. But the name of the Party had changed in October 1952, so this document of 1959 should have been on a stationery with the new name of the Party.

So the documents seem to be either forgeries or at least tampered with, thus unreliable as evidence. Many readers will remember the controversy on the so called “Lenin’s Testament”. But then, given the politics that separated Stalin from Khrushchev, and given that Khrushchev lied a lot about Stalin[10], one should not accept these documents as the definitive proof that such a large war crime – killing of over 10,000 POWs was authorized by Stalin. Proof of the crime must be sought from other evidence that is material, and if that is consisted with these documents, then these can be believed. Furr’s research does enough to put a question mark on this piece of evidence. However, he does not conclusively prove them to be a forgery [11].

From the Polish-Ukrainian archeology research team finding in 2011 and 2012 in the town of Volodymyr-Volynsky, located close to Polish border in Ukraine,  Furr found evidence which he says could not have been fabricated. Two policemen’s badges along with a 1941 manufacture date of German shell casings  were found in a mass burial site. One of these two men whose identity was on the metal badges was Josef Kuligowski, thought to have been murdered and buried in the Katyn forest near Smolensk – supposedly by the Soviets in 1940. The other badge named Ludwik Malowiejski, a senior police constable. Kuligowski who was in the list of transfers that the Soviets had prepared to be sent to Kalinin from the USSR POW camp located in Ostashkov, and his Soviet NKVD transfer list showed him being sent to Smolensk, but his police badge, instead of being found in the mass burial site at Katyn near Smolensk, was found instead in Volodymyr-Volynsky, more than 500 miles south of Katyn, located in present day Ukraine.

Like Kuligowski, Malowiejski was also claimed to be a victim of Katyn Massacre.  His body supposedly was buried in a mass grave at Mednoe, near Kalinin (Tver) supposedly shot by the Soviets, in the “official” narrative. Furr asserts this evidence shattered the established wisdom that the Soviet security forces killed both these Polish officers. Furthermore, all of the bodies identified in this site were of those shot in 1941, as established by these researchers and this area was under German control since July 1941, according to Furr.

Also found in the same excavation were German bullet casings many of which bore the date of manufacture of 1941 in a German factory. Two other significant pieces of evidence were found in the same pit: (a) the method of burial was ‘sardine packing’ known to be the method of German death squads for its mass killing victims; and (b) the remains of many women and children.  Furr points out there are no known examples of Soviets shooting children and burying them in mass graves anywhere in the Second Word War.

The book contains other pieces of evidence that also lend credence to the same conclusion: that the Soviets were not the ones to have killed the Polish POWs. The Soviet explanation was they were sent to the Smolensk area to do road construction work, where the Germans captured and killed them and buried their bodies in mass graves. But until it is decisively proven that CP1 was a forgery, doubt will remain.

The importance of this book is that it provides sufficient evidence to question the long-held view that the USSR killed of thousands of POWs, which is a cruel act and a war crime. Furr believes he has proven that the USSR was not guilty, but I think that may not be convincing to many readers, but at least he has succeeded in questioning the official conclusion.

The question in any crime, besides evidence, is that of motivation. Those blaming Stalin claim that killing of Polish officers was ideologically driven: that these belonged to the enemy class, who could not be persuaded to switch sides, so they were eliminated.

But then, what explains sparing the lives of German generals and thousands of others who surrendered at Stalingrad? Twenty German generals taken POWs in the USSR returned to Germany after the war. It included Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus, who spent 10 years in Soviet captivity, where he converted to communism and after release in 1953 chose to live in East Germany. He died of natural causes in
1957. It also included General Arthur Schmidt, Chief of Staff under General von Paulus, captured by Soviets at Stalingrad, January 31, 1943. He was released in 1955, an embittered man, who remained an unrepentant Nazi. He died in 1987, 32 years after release. So, if even the highest-ranking German military officers, whose campaign against the USSR was one of annihilation–and the carnage in Stalingrad was certainly immense — were not shot and buried in mass graves, why would the Polish POWs, who only defended Polish territory, be treated differently by the Soviets? But that is the point: it helps in anti-communist propaganda to find a “great crime” of Stalin. So here is the motivation, not of Stalin, but of those who claim Katyn was a massacre ordered by Stalin.

The question of motivation also arises for Germans, if in fact they killed the Polish POWs, as Furr concludes they did. Why did they do it, instead of using them as soldiers against the USSR? The second question: why did the Nazis not blame the USSR in 1941 for the Katyn Massacre and instead decided to wait until 1943, i.e., after Stalingrad debacle? The book does not address either of these two questions. Furr’s method is evidence -based, which excludes speculation, so he does not discuss this in the book. But these questions are still important. So, perhaps this is one weakness of the book. On the other hand, Germans did a lot of mass killing against a lot of people, inside and outside the country. So, if they put to death these POWs, it is not very surprising.

The book is engaging and the analytical method employed by Furr seems to me very rigorous. Ever since socialism came to power, the struggle between the two systems is relentless and encompasses all areas, including the battle of ideas which includes history. Those who are convinced that Stalin was a murderous despot, will not be persuaded by this book, but Furr has shown that, for those who are open-minded, the official story of Katyn as established is very questionable.


[1] ‘Khrushchev Lied’, ‘The Murder of Sergei Kirov’, ‘Blood Lies’, ‘Trotsky’s Amalgams’, ‘Leon Trotsky’s Collaboration with Germany and Japan’, ‘Yezhov Vs. Stalin’, and ‘Katyn Massacre’.

[2] See ‘Stalin: Waiting for Hitler’ by Stephen Kotkin, Penguin Press, New York 2017, page 744-5

[3] Iurii Mukhin in his 1995 book Titled ‘Katynskii Detectiv’ (The Katyn Mystery) quoted by Furr:

[4] It contains 258 pages including references and appendices.

[5] See ‘Khrushchev Lied’ by Grover Furr, July 2011, Erythros Press and Media, LLC

[6] NKVD is abbreviation for ‘The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs’, the Ministry of Interior of the USSR.

[7] The People’s Commissariat for State Security was the name of the Soviet secret police, intelligence and counter-intelligence force that existed from 3 February 1941 to 20 July 1941, and again in 1943, before being renamed the Ministry for State Security.

[8] Committee for State Security, was the main security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954 until its break-up in 1991.

[9] The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation is the interior ministry of Russia. Its predecesssor was founded in 1802 by Alexander I in Imperial Russia. The Ministry is headquartered in Moscow.

[10] See ‘Khrushchev Lied’ by Grover Furr, where Furr shows that almost all of the charges made against Stalin that Khrushchev in his 1956 secret speech to the Communist Party members did; were lies.

[11] There are people in Russia who have raised many questions about this CP1 evidence. See article on website:

The Mystery of the Katyn Massacre, the Evidence, the Solution by Grover Furr

Erythros Press & Media, 2018 P.O. Box 291994, Kettering, Ohio 291994; Price: US$20.00