The Katyn Massacre was horrifying. 22,000 prisoners of war from the officer corp and high ranking civilians who surrendered peacefully to the soviets when Poland was invaded, murdered simply so there would be less resistance to Soviet rule.
Detailed information on the executions in the Kalinin NKVD prison was provided during a hearing by Dmitrii Tokarev, former head of the Board of the District NKVD in Kalinin. According to Tokarev, the shooting started in the evening and ended at dawn. The first transport on 4 April 1940, carried 390 people, and the executioners had a hard time killing so many people during one night. The following transports held no more than 250 people. The executions were usually performed with German-made 7.65×17mm Walther PPK pistols supplied by Moscow, but 7.62×38mmR Nagant M1895 revolvers were also used. The executioners used German weapons rather than the standard Soviet revolvers, as the latter were said to offer too much recoil, which made shooting painful after the first dozen executions. Vasili Mikhailovich Blokhin, chief executioner for the NKVD—and quite possibly the most prolific executioner in history—is reported to have personally shot and killed 7,000 of the condemned, some as young as 18, from the Ostashkov camp at Kalinin prison over a period of 28 days in April 1940.
The killings were methodical. After the personal information of the condemned was checked, he was handcuffed and led to a cell insulated with stacks of sandbags along the walls and a felt-lined, heavy door. The victim was told to kneel in the middle of the cell, was then approached from behind by the executioner and immediately shot in the back of the head. The body was carried out through the opposite door and laid in one of the five or six waiting trucks, whereupon the next condemned was taken inside. In addition to muffling by the rough insulation in the execution cell, the pistol gunshots were also masked by the operation of loud machines (perhaps fans) throughout the night. This procedure went on every night, except for the May Day holiday.
…but what happened with the discovery of the Katyn burial site is a lesson in how screwed up the world was at that time. when the Germans found the massacre site, they used it as propaganda material against the Russians.
When the Russians retook the area, they planted evidence and said the Germans committed the massacre.
The whole era was colossal race to the bottom: who can kill the most people, in the most brutal fashion, and claim their enemy killed more, in a more brutal fashion. a sort of anti-morality. it really makes you wonder, how humanity can be that screwed up.
When, in September 1943, Goebbels was informed that the German army had to withdraw from the Katyn area, he wrote a prediction in his diary. His entry for 29 September 1943 reads: “Unfortunately we have had to give up Katyn. The Bolsheviks undoubtedly will soon ‘find’ that we shot 12,000 Polish officers. That episode is one that is going to cause us quite a little trouble in the future. The Soviets are undoubtedly going to make it their business to discover as many mass graves as possible and then blame it on us”.
Having retaken the Katyn area almost immediately after the Red Army had recaptured Smolensk, around September–October 1943, NKVD forces began a cover-up operation. A cemetery the Germans had permitted the Polish Red Cross to build was destroyed and other evidence removed. Witnesses were “interviewed”, and threatened with being arrested as German collaborators if their testimonies disagreed with the official line. Since none of the documents found on the dead had dates later than April 1940 the Soviet secret police planted false evidence that pushed the massacre date forward to the summer of 1941 when the Nazis controlled the area. A preliminary report was issued by NKVD operatives Vsevolod Merkulov and Sergei Kruglov, dated 10–11 January 1944, concluding that the Polish officers were shot by the Germans.
Men of the 8th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment going up to the line near Frezenberg during the Third Battle of Ypres; ca. 1917
“See that little stream—we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk to it—a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation…This western-front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancée, and little cafés in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers…This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Undine, and country deacons bowling and marraines in Marseilles and girls seduced in the back lanes of Wurtemburg and Westphalia. Why, this was a love battle—there was a century of middle-class love spent here…All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with a great gust of high explosive love…”
-Dick Diver (Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
The Battle of Broodseinde was fought on 4 October 1917 near Ypres in Flanders, at the east end of the Gheluvelt plateau, by the British Second and Fifth armies and the German Fourth Army. The battle was the most successful Allied attack of the Battle of Passchendaele. Using “bite-and-hold” tactics, with objectives limited to what could be held against German counter-attacks, the British devastated the German defence, which prompted a crisis among the German commanders and caused a severe loss of morale in the German Fourth Army. Preparations were made by the Germans for local withdrawals and planning began for a greater withdrawal, which would entail the loss to the Germans of the Belgian coast, one of the strategic aims of the British offensive. After the period of unsettled but drier weather in September, heavy rain began again on 4 October and affected the remainder of the campaign, working more to the advantage of the German defenders, who were being pushed back on to far less damaged ground. The British had to move their artillery forward into the area devastated by shellfire and soaked by the return of heavy rain, restricting the routes on which guns and ammunition could be moved, which presented German artillery with easier targets. In the next British attack on 9 October after several days of rain, the German defence achieved a costly defensive success, holding the approaches to Passchendaele village, which was the most tactically vital ground.
How an end-of-the-world prophecy caused the creation of a polygamistic, proto-Communist city-state in Münster during the 1530s; or, the story of the Münster Rebellion.
In 1534, a group of Anabaptists took control of the city of Münster and created a theocratic Anabaptist state. It is also my favourite ‘end of the world prophecy’ event in history.
Anabaptists, whose main theological similarity is a belief in adult baptism (as a child cannot enter a covenant), generally predate the ‘typical’ start date for the Protestant Reformation: Luther nailing his 95 Theses up to a door in 1520. However, Melchior Hoffman, leader of the Melchiorites that took over Münster, was directly inspired by Luther to take up preaching. He was notable for his decidedly metaphorical interpretation of the Eucharist, and officially became an Anabaptist sometime in the early 1530s (although he later renounced his Anabaptism). He proclaimed in 1526 that 1533 would be the year of the return of Jesus Christ, in his commentary on the Book of Daniel (Das XII Capitel des propheten Danielis aussgelegt). Unsurprisingly, this caused not insignificant social unrest, even in the extremely radical city of Strassbourg, and he was imprisoned.
Hoffman’s eschatology involved a few components that are key for understanding the Rebellion (all derived from Finger’s A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology, page 528ff:
- The battle would be a decidedly Earthly one, with certain rulers acting for the ‘true’ Church and protecting them, and others attempting to destroy them
- That Strassbourg, the site of Hoffman’s 1533 arrest, would be the seat of the ‘good’ side of the Battle.
- That specific cities (following Hans Hut) would align on different sides, not specific regions
- That Hoffman was himself Elijah, the announcer of Jesus’ return
- That there would be a 3.5 year period of tribulation or battle between these forces
- That two holy rulers (Joseph and Solomon) would work together to create a holy theocracy
- Beginning in 1530, he believed that during the 3.5 year period of war, the Christians would no longer be passive victims, but powerful actors in the end days.
With this in mind, a Melchiorite named Jan Matthys decided to take control of Münster, deciding it was clearly part of Hoffman’s theology of the end times. However, he was quickly killed, as having decided that God was on his side, he went forth on a sally with only 30 other men and was immediately killed by besieging forces. He was replaced as ruler by John (Jan) of Leiden. Münster’s main theologian, Bernard Rothmann, decided two very important things:
- That Jesus’ reign would not come to pass until David (John of Leiden) created an early Kingdom;
- The 3.5 years of grace (not Hoffman’s war) had ended, and it was time to conquer the unfaithful.
John of Leiden, thus empowered, created a polygamist theocracy, complete with book-burning and forced redistributed of communal property. However, Münster fell shortly thereafter, and John of Leiden and his compatriots were executed and their bodies were hung, in cages, from a church steeple.
These cages are still visible, but the bones have been removed.