Monthly Archives: September 2012

Bronze Medal Awarded Surviving WWII Merrill’s Marauder

From Associated Press, September 25, 2012:

One of the last surviving members of the famed World War II guerrilla force known as “Merrill’s Marauders,” 88-year-old Stanley M. Sasine of Vinings, was presented with the Bronze Star, a Combat Infantry Badge and a Ranger Tab on Monday, decades after he was authorized to receive it.

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who presented the honors, said Sasine was authorized, but never received the Bronze Star Medal.

Sasine earned the decorations, Chambliss said, “during a campaign in 1944, very deep behind Japanese enemy lines, and he was a member of a very select group called Merrill’s Marauders that made a huge difference in the campaign in Burma, China and India.”

The guerrilla force took its name from its commander, Brig. Gen Frank Merrill. Their mission was to infiltrate Japanese-occupied Burma and cut off Japanese communications and supply lines. The hope was for the force to prepare the way for Gen. Joseph Stillwell’s Chinese-American Force to reopen the Burma Road, which was closed in April 1942 by the Japanese in-vaders, and once again allow supplies and war material into China through this route, according to

The unit consisted of about 3,000 soldiers officially called 5307th Composite Unit, codenamed “Galahad.”

Sasine said there are only 18 Merrill’s Marauders alive.

A native of Brooklyn, Sasine and his wife, Renee, have four children, 12 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren, several of whom attended Monday’s ceremony at Chambliss’ Cumberland office.

Sasine said he would have received the award earlier were it not for a fire that burned some of the records detailing his service.

“I’ve been trying to get this Bronze Star for many, many years, and it was always `no record of your name being a Marauder,”‘ Sasine said. “Finally we put it together, piece by piece. I’m very happy. I’m very mellow now. Finally, I got my due.”

Among those in attendance were LTC Bob O’Brien, 5th Ranger Training Battalion Commander, and his command sergeant major, Frank James, who came from Camp Frank D. Merrill in Dahlonega to honor Sasine.

“We hold a special place of honor for those of you that served in the 5307th Composite in our hearts because our unit, although it’s formally known as the 5th Ranger Training Battalion, is affectionately nicknamed the Merrill’s Marauders, so we’re the legacy of men like this,” O’Brien said. “So we came down to honor you and honor your legacy.”

Sasine said he was enrolled at Cornell University for a mere two weeks before he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942.

Blocked from flying because he was color-blind, he was trained in intelligence recognizance and learned how to shoot mortars. Originally, he was bound for Europe until he signed up for new clothing.

“And that gave them the right to put me in jungle warfare,” Sasine said. “And that’s how I became a Marauder. You don’t read all this little nonsense that you’re signing all the time.”

He joined the Marauders in 1943 and remained with them until he was wounded in June of 1944.

Being colorblind turned out to be an asset in the jungle because he could spot camouflaged Japanese snipers, he said.

“When you’re in the jungle, you’re in a maze of woods and swamp and every kind of bad condition in the world,” he said. “You’re looking for them. They don’t know you’re there. And it’s a question of hit and run, hit and run, hit and run. And we did that for month after month until this last particular need to capture this airport, to stop the Japanese from being able to receive their ammunition, their food or whatever it was, and to hold that airport because the war was just about over.”

The airfield in question was the Myitkyina Airfield in northern Burma.

“A dear friend of mine, a medic and I, he was right beside me, and we were crawling our way forward to get to the airport and a sniper from a tree I didn’t see (shot him),” Sasine said.

“You don’t stand up or get up on your knees, but I happened to see the Japanese sniper in the tree that shot my friend, took his head off. And the only way I could get on him was to get up a little bit, stand up. And with that as I shot him out of the tree that bullet hit me in the left shoulder. He meant to hit me in the face. Took out my whole wing bone. I was told I’d never be able to move my arm higher than this, and it took many, many years of work and pain and pain and pain, but I play golf. I play at the game. But that’s another story.”

Sasine said he crawled through the jungle until he was helped into an oxcart and taken to a field hospital.

His fellow Marauders were ultimately successful in seizing the airfield, he said.

For decades Sasine said he had a recurring dream that bothered him, which was the story of his “first kill.”

“Crawling through the jungle, (they) were all around us,” he said. “We were in their territory, and I was moving north and this young Japanese soldier was moving right, and we met each other at a great big tree. He couldn’t see me, and I couldn’t see him. And as we sort of just got together, passed each other, we both stood up in fright. My hand and finger was on a Thompson submachine gun . And that bullet just cut him in half. And that memory was with me for 40 years until I told this story.”

The reoccurring dream stopped once he talked about the event with his grandson, he said.

“My finger just happened to be on the trigger first,” he said. “All of us veterans I don’t think ever talked about what we went through and what happened in World War II. We loved it. To us it was a game. We were only 18 years old. And when we came to realize how horrible were the things we did, we never talked about it.”

At the same time, it was a matter of kill or be killed, he said, describing the Japanese soldiers as “animals.”

“I experienced it amongst themselves some of the things they were doing,” he said. “Horrible. They would kill their own wounded because they would slow them down from where they needed to go. They’re looking for us, for all of these months, and (Brigadier Gen. Frank Merrill) was brilliant. We all had our exact orders. We would move in a direction north, northeast, south, we all had proper tools to tell us where we were going, for exactly seven minutes and stop and break off a quarter of a mile or a mile away. Thirteen hundred miles of jungle fighting.”

After being shot, Sasine was moved to India where he spent nine months in recovery before returning to the U.S. reports that all surviving Merrill’s Marauders had to be evacuated to hospitals to be treated for everything from exhaustion and various tropical diseases to malnutrition or A.O.E. (“Accumulation of Everything”). They were awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation in July 1944, which was re-designated the Presidential Unit Citation in 1966. Every member of the commando force also received the Bronze Star.

Sasine married his high school sweetheart, Renee, and pursued a career as a Wall Street broker, and as the owner of a truck equipment company. His luck continued in the 1990s when he won $1 million in a Reader’s Digest contest.

But returning home at first was not easy.

“It was difficult,” he said. “I always had that want to kill. I recall just days before I was out I was called in with a colonel, went through all my records, and he said, `Stan, I want you to do me a favor. Buy yourself a gun, a rifle. Hunt as much as you can, as often as you can. Shoot birds, shoot anything you can.’ And over time my desire to use a weapon went away.”


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Young Canadian Soldier of WWI Receives New Gravestone

From BBCnews, September 22, 2012:

Cpl Alfred Gyde Heaven was injured at Vimy Ridge in France in April 1917 – a year after enlisting in the army at the age of 16, after lying about his age.

He was sent to hospital in Crosshouses, Shropshire, but died days later.

Local historians realised he had no gravestone and spent 10 years researching and campaigning for one.

Cpl Heaven, who was born in Ontario, Canada, came to England for military training in Liverpool and went on to fight for the 11th Canadian Infantry Brigade.

In November 1916 he was awarded the Military Medal for his part in the Battle of the Somme.

However, less than six months later he suffered serious injuries to his face and jaw and was taken to Crosshouses for treatment.

‘Least we can do’

After his death he was buried in Shrewsbury Cemetery, but having died before the War Graves Commission was set up, he did not automatically qualify to get a marked grave.

The new gravestoneThe new gravestone was unveiled as part of Saturday’s memorial service

Researchers Phil Morris and Clive Bakeway, members of the Shrewsbury Military Research Group, spent a decade building up evidence to prove it was Cpl Heaven who was buried in the grave.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission then accepted the evidence and agreed to provide a headstone for the soldier.

Historian Ken Bishop, who was also involved in the campaign, said it had been important for Shropshire residents to honour the “war hero” who was buried locally.

He said: “When we consider he was only a child and he went through all that and showed so much leadership, it’s quite incredible.

“We need to make sure people like him are never forgotten. They paid the ultimate sacrifice, it’s the least we can do.”

The memorial service, attended by representatives from the Canadian military and the High Sheriff of Shropshire, took place at 11:00 BST at Shrewsbury Cemetery.


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WWI Relics Exposed in Alps

From Christian Science Monitor, September 17, 2012:

They lay undetected for more than a century, a hidden legacy of the highest, most forbidding battlefield of World War I.

But last month, as Italy sweltered through one of the hottest summers on record, a cache of more than 200 rusted explosives emerged from beneath a melting sheet of ice in the Dolomite range in the country’s north.

The appearance of the explosives – at the end of the hottest summer since 2003 and one of the warmest since record keeping began – fed concerns about Italy’s rapidly dwindling glaciers and the threat posed by global warming. Across the Alps – not just in Italy but in neighboring Austria, Switzerland, and France – glaciers are in retreat at an alarming rate due to rising temperatures.

How much do you know about climate change? Take our quiz.

“In the worst-case scenario, by the end of the century glaciers in the Alps will be reduced to 5 to 10 percent of what we have now,” says Michael Zemp, a scientist with the World Glacier Monitoring Service.

‘Strange objects’ in the ice

The explosives – probably stored in an ammunition dump carved into what was once a massive glacier – were discovered by mountain-rescue experts during a routine border-police patrol.

They emerged from the 10,500-foot-high Ago di Nardis glacier in the Trentino region of northern Italy, which, during World War I, was bitterly contested by Italian troops fighting the opposing forces of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The armaments, each weighing up to 22 lbs., were removed after the patrol noticed “strange objects” sticking out of the melting mass of ice.

The discovery was one of the more unusual manifestations of a phenomenon that has governments, economists, and environmentalists deeply worried.

Mountaineers and hikers are also seeing more avalanches and rock falls as the morphology of the Alps changes.

When a large iron cross tumbled from its pedestal on the summit of the Dolomites’ highest peak earlier this month, its collapse was blamed on its rock base fracturing as a result of melting permafrost.

Four days later, mountain climbers in Austria removed a similar cross from the 11,800-foot-high Grossvenediger peak because they feared it, too, had become dangerously unstable.

A worsening trend

More than half of the ice-covered area of the Alps has disappeared since 1850, the end of a cold spell known as the Little Ice Age.

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Antietam 150

From Washington Post, September 17, 2012:

SHARPSBURG, Md. — Hundreds on Monday marked the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Antietam amid patriotic music and cannon fire, recalling the mind-boggling carnage and an ensuing Confederate retreat that Abraham Lincoln considered divine approval for abolishing slavery.

Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation five days after the 1862 battle in Maryland, “a decision that transformed and redefined the purpose of the Civil War and ignited the modern Civil Rights movement,” National Park Service Associate Director Stephanie Toothman said at the commemoration.

More than 23,000 men were reported killed, wounded or missing in the dawn-to-dusk clash at Antietam, making the battle of Sept. 17, 1862, the bloodiest day of combat on U.S. soil.

“Although Antietam battlefield witnessed the deadliest single day in American history, it resulted in a significant step forward in eliminating a system by which human beings had been held in bondage in this country for more than two centuries,” Toothman said.

She spoke before more than 500 visitors to the battlefield, which is set on rolling farmland along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, about 60 miles from Washington in western Maryland.

The battle was inconclusive but the Confederates retreated to Virginia the next day, ending Gen. Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North. The Battle of Gettysburg, Pa., the following July marked the high-water mark of the Confederacy.

The Army of Northern Virginia, emboldened by Confederate victories in Virginia in 1862, had crossed the Potomac River into the Union state of Maryland that September, aiming for a decisive victory in the North. England and France appeared poised to recognize the Confederacy as a separate nation and Lincoln was praying for guidance, said Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson.

He said then-President Lincoln told his cabinet after the battle that as the Confederates moved toward Sharpsburg, “I made the promise to myself that if God gave us the victory in the approaching battle, I would consider it an indication of divine will in favor of emancipation.”

Lincoln’s preliminary proclamation warned the Confederate states that unless they returned to the Union by Jan. 1, 1863, their slaves would be considered free.

The crowd at the ceremony included Brian Gardner, 63, a retired Pennsylvania state forestry bureau worker from Williamsport, Pa., whose ancestor fought at Antietam. Gardner said it was important to pause and reflect on such momentous events.

“I think too many people in this fast-paced world we have now, everybody’s wrapped up in their own little bubble with all their electronic toys,” he said. “These people deserve to be remembered.”

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Oldest Known Roman Fort in Germany Uncovered

From, September 14, 2012:

Archaeologists say they’ve identified the oldest known Roman military fortress in Germany, likely built to house thousands of troops during Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul in the late 50s B.C. Broken bits of Roman soldiers’ sandals helped lead to the discovery.
Researchers knew about the large site — close to the German town of Hermeskeil, near the French border — since the 19th century but lacked solid evidence about what it was. Parts of the fort also had been covered up or destroyed by agricultural development.

“Some remains of the wall are still preserved in the forest, but it hadn’t been possible to prove that this was indeed a Roman military camp as archaeologists and local historians had long suspected,” researcher Sabine Hornung, of Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz (JGU), said in a statement.

Hornung and her team began work on the site in March 2010, first mapping the fort’s dimensions. They found that the military base was made up of a rectangular earthwork enclosure with rounded corners, covering about 45 acres (182,000 square meters). They also found an 18-acre (76,000-square-meter) annex that incorporated a spring, which may have supplied water to the troops.

During excavations the next year, they found one of the gates of the fort, according to a statement from JGU. In the gaps between stones that paved the gateway, the team found shoe nails from the sandals of Roman soldiers and shards of pottery that helped confirm the site’s date. The underside of the shoe nails showed a pattern of a cross with four studs, which was typical for that time period. The researchers think the tiny nails, just an inch or 2.6 centimeters in diameter, likely loosened from the sandals as soldiers walked along the path.

The fort is just 3 miles (five kilometers) from an Celtic settlement once inhabited by the Treveri tribe. That ancient town had monumental fortifications known as the “Hunnenring” or “Circle of the Huns,” but was abandoned around the middle of the first century B.C. The discovery of the nearby Roman fort hints that the Treveri tribe’s flight likely was linked to Caesar’s troops moving in.
“It is quite possible that Treveran resistance to the Roman conquerors was crushed in a campaign that was launched from this military fortress,” Hornung said.

The findings have been published in the German journal Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt.

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Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair Restoration

Joanna Berendt for The New York Times, September 17, 2012:

KETRZYN, Poland — For nearly three years, Hitler commanded the Third Reich from a vast network of bunkers and buildings hidden in the forest here, guiding his genocidal war effort from an encampment called the Wolf’s Lair.

A visitor in the shell of the transcript service building.
But while Poland went to great lengths to preserve the memory of Nazi death camps like Birkenau, the significance of this historic outpost was largely lost. Under lease to a private company, the Wolf’s Lair was transformed into a place to take pottery lessons and play paintball. Although most people still come here for the historic value, there is little in the way of educational materials, and at least one nod to the past is more kitschy than thoughtful: visitors can pose for photos wearing Nazi uniforms.

Now, however, the Polish government has decided that the Wolf’s Lair holds valuable history lessons that need to be preserved, especially amid signs that right-wing ideologies of hate and blame are taking root in corners of Europe. As a requirement of issuing a new lease, the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage has demanded that the company running the site transform it into a historical and educational destination with detailed outdoor exhibits and a museum.

“At this moment, one does not feel the tragic dimension of this place,” said Tomasz Chincinski, a historian who is working on the project. “We need to work on new ways of telling history, to make young generations want, need, to learn it and understand it.”

Hitler built the Wolf’s Lair as his headquarters on the Eastern front; it covered over 600 acres of remote woodland that was once the site of estates for the landed gentry of Prussia. The compound was a self-contained world of 200 buildings, including bunkers, barracks and power plants, all serving 2,000 of Hitler’s men (and a few women).

In 1945, the Germans, retreating from advancing Soviet forces, tried to blow up the buildings, with limited success. After the war, Poland opened the outpost to tourists, but did little to help educate those who visited, mainly displaying photographs of the headquarters from Hitler’s time there.

The breakup of the Soviet bloc did not change much at the Wolf’s Lair. The newly liberated Polish state leased it to a private company called Wolf’s Nest.

The company turned bunkers into a restaurant and a hotel, cleared some tourist trails of debris, and made the bunker that had belonged to Gen. Alfred Jodl — who was tried at Nuremberg and hanged — into an indoor shooting range.

Over time, according to Jan Oldakowski, 40, a director of the popular Warsaw Uprising Museum, the Wolf’s Lair become a “grotesque Disneyland.” Aside from the restaurant and hotel, the site is in disrepair. Most of the bunkers are hidden beneath carpets of moss. The trails are in poor condition and are not handicapped accessible.

“The biggest change they’ve introduced in the last decade was getting a cash machine here,” said Lukasz Joachymek, 36, who has been showing German tourists around the Wolf’s Lair for 11 years as a freelance tour guide.

Luiza Jankowska, 22, a political science student from Gdansk, Poland, who visited here recently, said she came because she wanted to see the place where Claus von Stauffenberg, a top German official, tried to assassinate Hitler on July, 20, 1944.

She was disappointed by the site’s dilapidated state. Nevertheless, she said, “It’s fascinating to be in a place that could have changed the history of the Second World War and, who knows, maybe even our lives.”

Jan Zaluska, 65, Wolf’s Nest’s director, said the site’s poor condition was partly a result of years of uncertainty over who owned the site, Ketrzyn County or an agency of the federal government that oversees forests. “It took years before the matter was settled,” he said. “Before that, we could not think about investing.”

Now that the forestry agency’s ownership has been established, he said, Wolf’s Nest is ready to proceed. Mr. Zaluska defended the company, saying that the Wolf’s Lair site might have been even more commercial under different operators. In 1991, an American company proposed building a casino there, he said, though that company was also going to replicate Hitler’s office.

But Mr. Zaluska said that in February, when Wolf’s Nest was awarded another two-decade lease, it agreed to respect the site’s standing as “a witness to history, a historical site where the fate of the Second World War was decided.”

The company has promised to restore a movie theater to show documentaries about the war and is coordinating with forestry officials and with historians from the Museum of the Second World War — scheduled to open in Gdansk in 2014 — to construct a permanent outdoor exhibition about what happened at the Wolf’s Lair. The company also plans to create trails to guide visitors through the bunkers’ remains, encouraging visitors to familiarize themselves with the outpost’s history.

The goal of the exhibits, the cultural ministry official said, is to allow people to see how beliefs like Nazi ideology can warp a society. The exhibits will try to tell the story of everyday life at the command post and of the horrifying decisions that were made here.

For Wiebke Soor, 51, and her husband, Matthias, 48, from Germany, the site was worth visiting even before its reconstruction. They said they needed to see with their own eyes a place where the unimaginable had happened.

“On the other hand, it shows us what a long way we’ve come since then,” Mr. Soor said.

But his wife shook her head and said: “Yes, but we all still need a reminder. History likes to repeat itself.”

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U.S. Hushed up WWII Katyn Massacre

The American POWs sent secret coded messages to Washington with news of a Soviet atrocity: In 1943 they saw rows of corpses in an advanced state of decay in the Katyn forest, on the western edge of Russia, proof that the killers could not have been the Nazis who had only recently occupied the area.

The testimony about the infamous massacre of Polish officers might have lessened the tragic fate that befell Poland under the Soviets, some scholars believe. Instead, it mysteriously vanished into the heart of American power. The long-held suspicion is that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt didn’t want to anger Josef Stalin, an ally whom the Americans were counting on to defeat Germany and Japan during World War II.

Documents released Monday and seen in advance by The Associated Press lend weight to the belief that suppression within the highest levels of the U.S. government helped cover up Soviet guilt in the killing of some 22,000 Polish officers and other prisoners in the Katyn forest and other locations in 1940.

The evidence is among about 1,000 pages of newly declassified documents that the United States National Archives is releasing Monday and putting online. Historians who saw the material days before the official release describe it as important and shared some highlights with the AP. The most dramatic revelation so far is the evidence of the secret codes sent by the two American POWs — something historians were unaware of and which adds to evidence that the Roosevelt administration knew of the Soviet atrocity relatively early on.

The declassified documents also show the United States maintaining that it couldn’t conclusively determine guilt until a Russian admission in 1990 — a statement that looks improbable given the huge body of evidence of Soviet guilt that had already emerged decades earlier. Historians say the new material helps to flesh out the story of what the U.S. knew and when.

The Soviet secret police killed the 22,000 Poles with shots to the back of the head. Their aim was to eliminate a military and intellectual elite that would have put up stiff resistance to Soviet control. The men were among Poland’s most accomplished — officers and reserve officers who in their civilian lives worked as doctors, lawyers, teachers, or as other professionals. Their loss has proven an enduring wound to the Polish nation.

In the early years after the war, outrage by some American officials over the concealment inspired the creation of a special U.S. Congressional committee to investigate Katyn.

In a final report released in 1952, the committee declared there was no doubt of Soviet guilt, and called the massacre “one of the most barbarous international crimes in world history.” It found that Roosevelt’s administration suppressed public knowledge of the crime, but said it was out of military necessity. It also recommended the government bring charges against the Soviets at an international tribunal — something never acted upon.
Despite the committee’s strong conclusions, the White House maintained its silence on Katyn for decades, showing an unwillingness to focus on an issue that would have added to political tensions with the Soviets during the Cold War.

It was May 1943 in the Katyn forest, a part of Russia the Germans had seized from the Soviets in 1941. A group of American and British POWs were taken against their will by their German captors to witness a horrifying scene at a clearing surrounded by pine trees: mass graves tightly packed with thousands of partly mummified corpses in well-tailored Polish officers uniforms.

The Americans — Capt. Donald B. Stewart and Lt. Col. John H. Van Vliet Jr. — hated the Nazis and didn’t want to believe the Germans. They had seen German cruelty up close, and the Soviets, after all, were their ally. The Germans were hoping to use the POWs for propaganda, and to drive a wedge between the Soviet Union and its Western Allies.

But returning to their POW camps, the Americans carried a conviction that they had just witnessed overwhelming proof of Soviet guilt. The corpses’ advanced state of decay told them the killings took place much earlier in the war, when the Soviets still controlled the area. They also saw Polish letters, diaries, identification tags, news clippings and other objects — none dated later than spring of 1940 — pulled from the graves. The evidence that did the most to convince them was the good state of the men’s boots and clothing: That told them the men had not lived long after being captured.

Stewart testified before the 1951 Congressional committee about what he saw, and Van Vliet wrote reports on Katyn in 1945 and 1950, the first of which mysteriously disappeared. But the newly declassified documents show that both sent secret encoded messages while still in captivity to army intelligence with their opinion of Soviet culpability. It’s an important revelation because it shows the Roosevelt administration was getting information early on from credible U.S. sources of Soviet guilt — yet still ignored it for the sake of the alliance with Stalin.
One shows head of Army intelligence, Gen. Clayton Bissell, confirming that some months after the 1943 visit to Katyn by the U.S. officers, a coded request by MIS-X, a unit of military intelligence, was sent to Van Vliet requesting him “to state his opinion of Katyn.” Bissell’s note said that “it is also understood Col. Van Vliet & Capt. Stewart replied.”

MIS-X was devoted to helping POWs held behind German lines escape; it also used the prisoners to gather intelligence.

A statement from Stewart dated 1950 confirms he received and sent coded messages to Washington during the war, including one on Katyn: “Content of my report was aprx (approximately): German claims regarding Katyn substantially correct in opinion of Van Vliet and myself.”

The newly uncovered documents also show Stewart was ordered in 1950 — soon before the Congressional committee began its work — never to speak about a secret message on Katyn.

Krystyna Piorkowska, author of the recently published book “English-Speaking Witnesses to Katyn: Recent Research,” discovered the documents related to the coded messages more than a week ago. She was one of several researchers who saw the material ahead of the public release.

She had already determined in her research that Van Vliet and Stewart were “code users” who had gotten messages out about other matters. But this is the first discovery of them communicating about Katyn, she said.

Another Katyn expert aware of the documents, Allen Paul, author of “Katyn: Stalin’s Massacre and the Triumph of Truth,” told the AP the find is “potentially explosive.” He said the material does not appear in the record of the Congressional hearings in 1951-52, and appears to have also been suppressed.
He argues that the U.S. cover-up delayed a full understanding in the United States of the true nature of Stalinism — an understanding that came only later, after the Soviets exploded an atomic bomb in 1949 and after Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe were already behind the Iron Curtain.

“The Poles had known long before the war ended what Stalin’s true intentions were,” Paul said. “The West’s refusal to hear them out on the Katyn issue was a crushing blow that made their fate worse.”

The historical record carries other evidence Roosevelt knew in 1943 of Soviet guilt. One of the most important messages that landed on FDR’s desk was an extensive and detailed report British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent him. Written by the British ambassador to the Polish government-in-exile in London, Owen O’Malley, it pointed to Soviet guilt at Katyn.

“There is now available a good deal of negative evidence,” O’Malley wrote, “the cumulative effect of which is to throw serious doubt on Russian disclaimers of responsibility for the massacre.”
It wasn’t until the waning days of Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe that reformist leader Mikhail Gorbachev publicly admitted to Soviet guilt at Katyn, a key step in Polish-Russian reconciliation.

The silence by the U.S. government has been a source of deep frustration for many Polish-Americans. One is Franciszek Herzog, 81, a Connecticut man whose father and uncle died in the massacre. After Gorbachev’s 1990 admission, he was hoping for more openness from the U.S. as well and made three attempts to obtain an apology from President George H.W. Bush.

“It will not resurrect the men,” he wrote to Bush. “But will give moral satisfaction to the widows and orphans of the victims.”

A reply he got in 1992, from the State Department, did not satisfy him. His correspondence with the government is also among the newly released documents and was obtained early by the AP from the George Bush Presidential Library.
The letter, dated Aug. 12, 1992, and signed by Thomas Gerth, then deputy director of the Office of Eastern European Affairs, shows the government stating that it lacked irrefutable evidence until Gorbachev’s admission:

“The U.S. government never accepted the Soviet Government’s claim that it was not responsible for the massacre. However, at the time of the Congressional hearings in 1951-1952, the U.S. did not possess the facts that could clearly refute the Soviets’ allegations that these crimes were committed by the Third Reich. These facts, as you know, were not revealed until 1990, when the Russians officially apologized to Poland.”
Herzog expressed frustration at that reply.
“There’s a big difference between not knowing and not wanting to know,” Herzog said. “I believe the U.S. government didn’t want to know because it was inconvenient to them.”

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