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Katyń Commemoration Ceremony

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3 May 2023

Katyń Commemoration Ceremony


The annual Ceremony to commemorate the victims of the Katyń genocide in April 1940 was held on 30 April at the Katyń Memorial in Gunnersbury Cemetery, West London. The ceremony, organised by The Polish Ex-Combatants Association in Great Britain Trust Fund and assisted by the Polish Scouts, was attended by around 200 people and followed Holy Mass at Saint Andrew Bobola’s church. The Polish Air Force Memorial Committee was represented by Trustee Rodney Byles who laid a wreath on its behalf.


On 1st September 1939, Germany attacked Poland, the Polish army fought valiantly but then on 17th September, Germany’s ally, the Soviet Union, attacked from the East.  The Polish Army had no chance of defending attacks from two fronts and Poland was divided effectively in half between Germany and the Soviet Union.  The Soviets immediately started a programme of Sovietisation, through organised ethnic cleansing and social genocide.  Hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens were forcibly deported to the depths of the Soviet Empire, many to their deaths in appalling conditions.  Thousands of Polish Officer Prisoners of War, Border Guards, Police, professors, teachers, priests, rabbis, community leaders etc were sent to special camps in Kozielsk, Starobielsk and Ostaszkow and Miednoje plus many other places.


In April 1940 at the request of the Head of Stalin’s secret police Beria, Stalin ordered the NKVD to carry out mass executions of these prisoners. 4,500 corpses were later found in mass graves in the Katyń forest, others being executed at other sites. All together approximately 22,000 people were executed.


What came to be known as the Katyń Massacre was commemorated by the Polish Community living in exile immediately after the end of World War II.  The Polish Community wanted to create a lasting memorial to their murdered brothers, but as a result of Soviet pressure, the British authorities firstly refused permission.  The victims of the Katyń genocide had to wait until 1978 when permission was finally granted to erect the Katyń Memorial in Gunnersbury Cemetery.


Krzysztof de Berg

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