HL Deb 17 June 1971 vol 320 cc737-75

5.17 p.m.

LORD BARNBY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will now support an effort to secure pronouncement establishing beyond contention the authorship of the mass murder of over 4,000 Polish officer prisoners of war in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Russia, in the spring of 1940, and bring to light the disappearance without trace of a further 10,000 Polish officers interned in 1939 in the Soviet camps of Ostashkow and Starobielsk. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is a curious coincidence of Parliamentary Orders that two consecutive matters of business should each refer to countries which are alleged to be in the unfortunate position of being oppressed. With the indulgence of the House, I would say that having heard the discussion on the previous Bill I am reminded that I happen to be among the few in this House who actually sat in another place with the Irish, and tonight I heard the familiar talk of the "oppression" by Britain of another country. Perhaps I might tell the House with regard to my Motion that the first time I visited Poland was when she was under the oppression of a foreign country, as the Congress of Poland was still under the subjection of Russia.

To turn to my Question, it has of course no Party partisan aspect. In that way, it is the more pleasing to put forward. I seek to report a gap in history, in the hope that there might be put in motion an exploration through some recognised international authority which will correct the omission. It will be remembered that Napoleon's early victories were achieved with relatively small forces—Marengo with 23,000 and Austerlitz with 73,000. How different from the vast numbers mobilised by whole nations in the last War! But it is with regard to the relationship of those numbers that the 200,000-odd military prisoners who fell into the hands of Russia were great in volume compared to the forces with which Napoleon achieved so much.

It is right that I should try to recapitulate some events of history. It will be remembered that in the spring of 1939 Britain signed an agreement with Poland that she would go to Poland's aid if she were attacked. The Germans attacked Poland on September 1, 1939. We declared war on Germany. The German armies had the advantage of the persuasion of Britain in those difficult days of August, 1939, to delay mobilisation in the hope of avoiding a situation. I remember it well, because I was in the South of Poland at that time. I took a train to Warsaw the next day, as a result of a conversation with our Ambassador, Sir Nevile Henderson, and heard from him a conversation that he had had the day before with Goering: and I was curious, as other noble Lords would have been, as to the prospects of peace or war.

Anyhow, the Germans had attacked. Their thrust was strong, and they pushed back the Polish armies. As your Lordships will remember, on the 17th of that month the Russians attacked from the East, and under the pressure from East and West the Polish armies were quickly overrun. Poland was divided almost equally between Russia and Germany by the Ribbentrop-Molotov line. The Germans exercised their power to remove some 1½ million Poles to the extreme East, well into Russia.

Meanwhile, these Polish military prisoners had also been moved to camps well inside Russia. But, of these prisoners, some 15,000 officers were removed to three special, known camps. They were there sifted. Some 500, it is understood, yielded to the temptation of collaboration with Communism, and were appropriately employed. Of the remainder, some 4,500 were removed to the camp at Katyn, near Smolensk, in Russia. Nothing was ever heard of those men again after April, 1940. It should be remembered that Russia was then at peace. We should remember, too, that British officers, prisoners of war in the last war, had access to the International Red Cross, and they had contact with home. No such privileges were ever afforded to those 4,500 men, about whom nothing more was ever heard. That is why I think it is right that there should be an appropriate arrangement for the establishment of an iron-clad prisonerof-war protection agreement aiming at effectiveness far beyond that provided by the rules of the Geneva Convention of August, 1949.

I return to the course of events. Germany attacked Russia on July 22, 1941, also in defiance of treaties. The German armies advanced rapidly, causing fear in Russia of how serious the position might be. Russia decided to make a treaty with Poland, who by then had a Government resident in London, and General Anders, released from Lubianka Prison and commissioned to raise an army, naturally asked to get the officers who had been captured, many of whom were known to him personally. Excuses were made, and no officers were produced. General Anders proceeded with the mobilisation of what forces he could. Those were the armies that fought so gallantly with us at Monte Cassino and elsewhere throughout the world, adding to the effective support given by the Polish Air Force in the Battle of Britain, where I understand they had the highest proportion of "kills". So we should keep in correct perspective the gallant support that we had for the Allied cause from the Polish Army.

In April, 1943, Germany had been in possession for some eighteen months of big areas of Russia, which included that in which was situated the Forest of Katyn, near where these prisoners had been. They began to dig, and they discovered the graves of a great number of Polish officers. The Germans invited the International Red Cross to investigate. The Russians refused to agree. The Germans then decided that they would appoint an international medical commission—this was in 1943—which was accorded every opportunity of access and research, and made an impressive report. At this stage, I would remind your Lordships that there exist two excellent books on this subject: one is entitled Katyn, by Louis Fitzgibbon, and the other, Death in the Forest, by J. F. Zaviodny.

I would wish to expound at greater length, but time does not permit. Other speakers will follow, and I hope that reference will be made to points with which I shall not deal, other than to tabulate them. There are the report of the international medical commission which the Germans appointed; the sequence at Nuremberg of the charges; the unreserved findings of the U.S.A. Congressional Committee in 1952; and the recent convincing B.B.C. documentary film. I did not myself see the film, but I understand that it was a very good impartial presentation of the facts; it was historical and effective in its presentation. Why did the Soviets refuse to agree to an International Red Cross investigation? Lastly, where were the officers in 1941 that Anders sought to man the force which he raised in Russia and with which he proceeded to the Allied front? There has been a complete conspiracy of silence. There is a blank in history as to the authorship of this odious crime. There has been much talk in other circles of our obligation, the British obligation for the respect of international morality. There are other concurrent contemporary topics. I feel this is one which justifies ourselves and the other Allies examining our consciences.

If I may be pardoned for striking a personal note, I speak on this matter because between the wars I visited the then Polish Independent Republic four or five times a year and travelled widely. I knew at that time a good deal about Poland and I was astonished, as all noble Lords would have been had they been there, at the achievements of Poland in the integration in a short time of the currency. weights and measures and legal system. Those three systems were merged into one as a result of the fusing together of the areas occupied by Russia, Austria and Germany.

A similar Motion to this one, with over 180 signatures to it, is down for debate in another place. I understand that steps are being taken to put this matter on the agenda of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, or before the General Assembly of the United Nations which next meets in September. It will be thought by many: why raise this subject now so long after its occurrence? My Lords, what are the thoughts of the relatives of those murdered men and all the other Poles who died in the Allied Cause in the last war? No indemnification was every received by any of them. Now the relatives of those living in our country, ageing, many in dire poverty, believe that their feelings would receive some balm if they could only be assured as to what had happened and what was the fate of these people. Many of them are living with us in an alien country without normal contact with their own people.

My Lords, I have tried to approach this question with a fairness of mind and a moderation of language. But I do so with the feelings of the deepest emotion. I have tried to compress my remarks into a reasonable time, but I have sought to get the matter into focus. I am sure that these remarks will be amplified by succeeding speakers much more eloquently and clearly than I can do. In conclusion, with all sincerity, I would urge that the Minister in reply not only offers sympathy, but also the prospect of some action of an effective character. I beg to ask the Question.

5.36 p.m.


My Lords, when I examined the list of speakers earlier this afternoon I learned that it was the intention of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, to follow the noble Lord. Lord Barnby. I have since received an intimation that the noble Marquess prefers to defer his observations until later in the debate. It would have been a high distinction to follow the noble Marquess because, if nobody else in your Lordships' House is familiar with the subject, he was at the time in question, in 1939, occupying an honourable position in His Majesty's Government. Therefore he will speak with expertise, with a knowledge of the subject which I cannot claim to possess.

May I begin by offering congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, for his exposition. He has coupled logic, a series of facts, with a quite creditable and justifiable emotion in the circumstances. I offer my congratulations to him. In the course of the week questions have been asked about whether this debate was necessary: Why delve into history? It is all of the past. Why refer to old complaints, sores and the like? It is singular that such questions should have been asked because preceding this debate there was another in which we discovered that in 1925 it was decided by a Privileges Committee of your Lordships' House that only a certain number of Irish Peers were entitled to be represented in this Assembly. In 1925 the matter was settled. That was just as remote—even more remote—than the incidents which form the subject of this debate. We are entitled—completely justified—to delve into the history of this sordid and squalid affair.

In 1939 war broke out; the Nazis invaded Poland. They bombed Warsaw and practically destroyed it. Almost simultaneously the Russians, for reasons best known to themselves, decided to invade Poland. As the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, stated in the course of his observations, we were, so far as Russia was concerned, at peace. We had declared war because of the invasion by the Nazis of Poland. Russia was at peace. Nevertheless, after the Nazis had bombed Warsaw and had engaged in wholesale destruction, Russia invaded Poland. The question may be asked: Why did they invade Poland; why did they carve Poland up along with the Nazis? Why did they seek to obtain as much loot as possible? And, moreover, why did they take from Poland a large number of officers and men of the Polish Army and deport them forcibly to Russia? The reason is best known to themselves; these officers and men were never heard of again. This is a justifiable Question, even although the matter seems remote and no longer topical.

Let me recount a personal incident which has some bearing on this subject, but I preface my observation by asking a question. Why was it—perhaps the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, could respond in the course of his remarks later on—that the Foreign Office at the time, although it must undoubtedly have been aware of what happened, never said a word about it; appeared to take no appropriate action? I can recall Questions asked in the other House on the subject. Rumours were floating around. No facts were available to honourable Members in the other place. But the Foreign Office must undoubtedly have been aware, because of the rumours that were current, that something of the kind, on which the rumours were based, had been operating.

At just about that time I was asked to pay a visit to the Russian Embassy when Maisky was the Soviet Ambassador. Maisky was a friend of the United Kingdom. I had gone at his own request to talk with him about the possibility of Russia's entering the war on the side of the Allies. Noble Lords may wonder why I should have been consulted by Maisky. It so happened, although some of my colleagues decided to join Winston Churchill in the Coalition Government, that I refused the invitation, and so I found myself on the Opposition Bench, not the official Opposition Leader, but unofficial—if noble Lords prefer it, self-appointed. Maisky asked me to come and meet him. His reply to my question, whether Russia intended to enter the war on the side of the Allies, evoked a rather peculiar reply. He did not reply directly, but said, "Britain will not be defeated." I remember that remark vividly. So far as Maisky was concerned, he was on our side.

I repeat the question: If the Foreign Office were aware of what was happening in Poland, why were the facts not exposed? It may be because the Foreign Office diplomatically, and probably rightly in the circumstances, had no desire to offend Russia, in the hope that Russia would join with the Allies against the Nazis, and in the circumstances that would be regarded as a correct posture. I certainly at the time would not have objected to it because, like others in the other place, I wished for the successful prosecution of the war against the Nazis. It is remarkable how these events have been shrouded in obscurity, despite several commissions of inquiry. For example, there was the United States Congress Commission of Inquiry, when it was stated that there was not a scintilla (I am quoting accurately from the Report itself) of evidence which could refute the allegations and the rumours about the destruction wrought by the Russians when they invaded Poland and deported officers and men.

There was another inquiry. I am not certain whether it was of an international character: I think it was the International Red Cross. They engaged in an inquiry and were satisfied that there was truth in the rumours connected with the allegations about the massacre of officers and men—the number stated at the time was something like 15,000. Even Winston Churchill made no reference to the subject, except in relation to a controversy in which he engaged with Stalin at the end of 1945 when they were discussing what was to happen about the carving up of Poland and the frontiers. The references are contained in the Sixth Volume, 29th chapter, of World War, for which Churchill is responsible.


My Lords, if I may interrupt my noble friend —did he mean 1944 or 1945?




1945? But Churchill was not in office at the end of 1945.


No, my Lords; I am wrong. I have the dates wrong. It was immediately after the war. Churchill was engaged in controversy on what was to happen about Poland. This is contained in the reference I have just mentioned. Perhaps my noble friend would care to consult the volume in the Library, and there he will see the actual statement made by Churchill about the disputes with Stalin. It was not about the events which have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, which occurred in 1939 and the year following. This was in connection with an allegation about a smaller number of officers who had been captured by the Russians and massacred. Churchill asked Stalin whether anything could be done in order to prevent happenings of that kind from recurring. Stalin absolutely refused, and in point of fact, according to Churchill's reference in the volume which I have just mentioned, Stalin went so far as to declare these officers as revisionists who were trying to defeat the aims of the Soviet Union on behalf of, presumably, so-called reactionaries. This is part of the story: the rumours in 1939 and in 1940, and then a similar event when Churchill came to office and engaged in controversy with Stalin on a similar subject but of course concerning fewer men.

It may be argued that we ought to be extremely careful not to engage in disputation of this kind which might offend the Russians. I have a reply to that. We are a small country, Russia is a big country. Militarily we are not as strong as Russia, but that is no reason why we should not seek to rectify incidents mentioned in this debate. It may also be argued that in Poland at the present time they have been somewhat regardless of minority interests, and therefore although Poland was an ally of ours during the war (so far as it was possible to be an ally under General Anders, who was operating in this country on behalf of the Polish exiles) we ought to be extremely careful not to offend the Russians. But, after all, we are concerned with principles. We are concerned with the question of whether there should be an exposure of those events, whether there should be some rectification, some justification, some compensation— I am not speaking financially, because most of those people have died. Probably some of their successors are still alive and are in this country or elsewhere, but it is not a question of financial compensation. It is a matter of an inquiry which may afford consolation for those events, and, in the circumstances the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, was justified in raising this topic.

I do not want to proceed any further than that, except to repeat that, so far as I know, no responsible person—the Prime Minister or Lloyd George, for example—took any action in the matter. A reference is made to Lloyd George in the book by Frank Owen The Tempestuous Journey which must he familiar to noble Lords, in which he refers in a casual fashion to the rumours that were current in 1939; but Lloyd George took no action in the matter. Winston Churchill took no action in the matter, although he must have known what was happening. The Foreign Office must have been aware. I am not quite sure who was Foreign Secretary at the time, whether it was Lord Halifax or Sir Anthony Eden (now Lord Avon)—perhaps the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, will be able to tell us who was Foreign Secretary at the time. At any rate no prominent person and nobody in the Foreign Office raised the issue, presumably because they dared not offend the Russians.

It may be said even now that we must not offend the Russians. I do not want to offend the Russians or anybody else, but I want what the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, is anxious about: that there should be an exposure of what happened, so that the world should know who was responsible for those events. That is the reason why the noble Lord has asked this Question; whether the Government can respond by appointing a Commission is a matter for them to decide. My own impression is that they will refuse, presumably because Russia is a strong country militarily and we must be extremely careful, we must be prudent, we must be cautious.

I should like to end by saying one thing on the ideological issue. I am not concerned about Russian ideology for Russia and the Russian people, but I condemn Russian ideology which is used as propaganda in all parts of the world for subversive reasons. If for no other reason than that, I think the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, was justified in raising this issue, and the very least that the Government can do is to endeavour to find out the facts of this squalid affair, so that history can place them on record. They were based on rumours at the time, but rumours which obviously had an element of truth. I support the noble Lord, Lord Barnby.

5.54 p.m.


My Lords, the massacre of Katyn took place a long time ago, probably in the spring of 1944, and if we are asked, as the noble Lord who has just spoken thought we might be asked, what good purpose can now be served by raking up this 3I-year-old atrocity in a world where violence and cruelty seem to be becoming almost universal, I think the right answer is that we should try to put ourselves in the position of a near relation of any one of those Polish soldiers who, after having fought in vain for his country and after being held for seven months in a prison camp, was then slaughtered, together with 4,000 of his comrades, and buried secretly in the neighbourhood of the camp.

A great many of the families of these men are now living in this country. You would not feel, if you were one of them, that it made very much difference to your son or your brother or your husband or your friend whether he was murdered by the Russians or by the Germans, but I think it would seem important to you that history should seek to tell the truth about his death. I am sure that history makes a great many mistakes, and even in the most liberal society where freedom of speech and freedom of writing and freedom of research are all fully permitted the best historians may sometimes be deceived by the false propaganda of an earlier age, or even of their own age. If Germany had won the last war school children in many civilised countries would have been taught a version of history which would have been prescribed by Dr. Goebbels, and some of it might never have been unlearned.

When the news of the discovery of the dead bodies at Katyn was published in the latter part of the war, in 1943 or 1944, I, like the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, was a Member of another place. We had to choose between two contradictory statements, one by a Communist Government, another by a Nazi Government, both based on political philosophies which shamelessly subordinate truth to expediency. But I think the noble Lord will bear me out when I say that my recollection is that at that time, although the Germans were our enemies and although the Russians were our allies, nobody in Parliament had the slightest doubt that the Russian version of the affair was a totally false fabrication.


Hear, hear!


My Lords, that was not because of Nazi propaganda; it was, as the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, has mentioned, mainly because of the evidence of the International Red Cross, who had examined the circumstances on the spot.

Since then I think it has always been recognised in this country that these were the facts, and I doubt whether my noble friend Lord Barnby would have troubled to raise the question now if it had not been that one of the directors of the B.B.C. who was going to make an official visit to Poland had his visit cancelled the other day by the Polish Government because of a documentary film about Katyn which had been shown on B.B.C.2. We know very well how extremely offensive the dissemination of false history can be. We have ourselves seen a citizen of a country which is now free, the German Hockhuth, publishing the most inexcusable libels about both Sir Winston Churchill and Pope Pius XII, and some of them I think have appeared on the stage and on the screen. Of course we can understand if young Polish Communists have been officially taught and indoctrinated with a falsehood about the slaughter of their fellow countrymen at Katyn, how they may be offended when they hear the truth which they have been taught to regard as a falsehood.

My noble friend Lord Barnby asks in this Question for a pronouncement which will put the facts beyond contention. When he says "beyond contention", I take it he means beyond reasonable doubt in a country where men are free to examine the historical evidence, which I am afraid does not apply to the inhabitants of Communist countries. If we were to make such a pronouncement, accompanied by hostile criticism of Communist Governments for suppressing the truth, I would say that such criticism might only have the effect of delaying the time, if the time ever conies, when writers in Communist countries may begin to be allowed some degree of intellectual freedom. But I think it could do no harm if we were to publish, not in any provocative manner but in a purely objective and rational context, without any moral overtones, a true summary of the facts about this unhappy story of Katyn. in the interests of true history and for the sake of the exiled families of those murdered men who once helped us to fight for the freedom of the world but whose own country has lost its freedom in doing so.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, 1 have waited 30 years for this day; I have waited for an inquiry preferably by the United Nations, and for a straight answer by a British Government, which I confidently expect, on the simple question as to "who done it?" Meanwhile, history has been traduced and with the deliberate connivance of successive British Administrations, for, my Lords, it is and always has been common knowledge in the Foreign Office that Katyn was the act of the Russians and not the Germans. I am prepared to believe anything bad about the Nazis between 1939 and 1945, and indeed I would draw a sharp distinction between German murders and Russian murders; the one, I should like to suggest, deliberate, administrative, cold-blooded, sadistic; the other inefficient, haphazard and in some ways comparable to the murders of Shin Fein. But whether we like it or not, this odious crime at least is not attributable to our German friends and allies but to our comrades of yesteryear.

I do not propose to go into the evidence; it has been ably presented by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. I have only one small piece to add to the jigsaw. In 1943, I was working closely with the Foreign Office news department. Its head, Sir William Ridsdale, had personal access to the Foreign Secretary, and his job was to give information and background guidance to the diplomatic correspondents of the British Press, information which those distinguished men used with all the care and discretion which was enjoined on them. At the time of the discovery of the Katyn graves, I distinctly remember Sir William telling his conference of officials that though there was little doubt that this was the deed of the Russians, it was regarded by the War Cabinet as highly dangerous to put the blame where it properly lay. I believe that Mr. Iverach McDonald, then Diplomatic Correspondent of The Times and Mr. Richard Scott, then a member of the department and now Foreign Editor of the Guardian, were concerned and would confirm it.

I understand this blurring of the truth at the time; I understood it then and I understand it now. To blame the Russians might have meant a break of the Alliance and even losing the war. We were forced to accept this, together with other odious necessities. For instance, we were forced to declare war on Finland to appease the Russians. Finland which we had tried to defend in the winter of 1939 with a voluntary brigade. The Americans, who have a soft spot for Finland, perhaps because it was the only country to repay its First World War debts, were furious with us. But I believe we were right; quite simply, we had no alternative. After the war, too, it could be and was agreed that in our desire to keep on terms with the U.S.S.R. at any price it would be impolitic to take the skeletons out of the cupboard. Hence the persistent refusal of successive Governments to face the issue, to set up, for instance, the inquiry demanded by the late Professor Sir Douglas Savory and over 100 members of the other place; hence the deliberate concealment of what those Governments knew and this Government know to be the truth.

But there can surely be no justification to-day for keeping silence. There is no further reason to appease the Russians. "Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?" There is no reason for falsifying history. Over the years history can all too easily become mythology. Who knows but that perhaps one day the vile story of Sir Winston Churchill's responsibility for the death of General Sikorsky may not come to be accepted as at least a possibility?

There is only one country which we in Britain cannot look squarely in the face, and that is Poland. In 1939 we guaranteed her territorial integrity. To-day our guarantee remains unfulfilled, our pledge broken. The Poles are forgiving and realistic; they do not expect us to honour our undertaking. But they fought at our side for just that reason. They realise that to do so would mean war against Soviet Russia, and that is totally impossible. But I repeat: towards Poland and the Poles we must have a had conscience, for we broke faith. Should we not do what lies within our power to redeem our national honour? We cannot give Poland back her freedom. Should we not at least give her back her history?

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support, briefly, for there are others who have to speak, but most sincerely, what has been so well said this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, and those other noble Lords who have spoken. I suppose none of the many horrible things which were done in the last Great War have more appalled the conscience of humanity than the Katyn massacres. The killing of 4,000 officers, and almost certainly 10,000 more, would in any case be a dreadful thing, but what made it so specially shocking was the fact that it appears to have been done not in hot blood, not even in revenge, though that would have been bad enough, but quite deliberately in cold blood as an act of policy, to remove from Poland her natural leaders and maim her, if possible, for ever. That it utterly failed in these objects because of the unvanquished spirit of the Polish nation does not make it any the less atrocious. It remains an indelible stain on the nation responsible, and if such a crime is never to be perpetrated again, it seems to me of the first importance that the guilt should be nailed down, once and for all, officially, where it belongs. The facts, as the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, has said, are now pretty well known, and that should not be an impossible task.

I am not going into the question of what we should have done or should not have done in the past, to which the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, attached so much importance. I believe that now to be a sterile inquiry. I am concerned more with what is, I believe, to be the true purpose of this Motion, and it is surely this: what should we do now? I would say that I believe it is our duty to the Polish people, who have fought so heroically and so tragically on our side in that Great War, that this matter should be finally cleared up. I hope that it will be possible for the Government, in their reply, to make it clear once and for all. and in no uncertain fashion, that that also is their view.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships will be glad to hear that, because so many of my noble friends have said what I had intended to say, I have cut my speech in half. I want to take a slightly different aspect, in that Poland was, and is, the geopolitical heartland of Europe, and every struggle has gone over or through Poland. Every time she has been put down she has been resurrected, and I am sure she will be once again.

Towards the end of the war I was in Palestine and used to go up to the border of Persia to meet the Polish troops coming out of Russia on to our side, as it were, and one always noticed the shortage of the middle rank officers. They were simply not there. There were some very young and some very old, but in the main there were not sufficient officers of any sort coming out of Russia, through Persia, into Palestine to take part in the rest of the war. When General Anders was released from Lubianka to form the Polish Army to fight with the Russians and the West, he asked, "Where are the missing 15,000 officers?". He knew that there were 15.000 officers missing altogether. We now know, both from the evidence of a doctors' commission, which was international, and from a British officer and a United States officer who were in a German prisoner-of-war camp and were allowed to go to see that at least the 4,500 were killed—murdered, as several of my noble friends have said, in cold blood. Worse still, from the evidence, they were probably shot at close range from the back, falling into the graves they had probably had to dig themselves. This is known, but has never been really fairly and properly put. To do this in war, when you have been at peace with that nation and you want them to fight on your side, is almost inconceivable; but, as my noble friend Lord Salisbury said, it was cold policy to stop the future leaders of the Polish nation—those who would be leading Poland now had it not been for this ghastly act of inhumanity.

We owe a debt of honour to the Polish people, even to those in Poland now who are free to hear the truth. I want to add that not only do we owe a debt of honour, we owe a debt to truth. The United States of America has admitted some of the terrible things that have happened with some of her troops in Vietnam, has "come clean" and has charged the people concerned. Why not have the truth on this matter? We know what happened in Czechoslovakia, and we know what happened a little further back in Hungary. It is the truth that we ought to have, and truth has no deadline.

6.16 p.m.


My Lords, without adding unduly to this debate, I should like to say a few words about this Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, because I was First Secretary of the British Embassy in Poland before the war; I was a diplomatic liaison officer with the Poles in Rumania, and afterwards in Iran, when General Anders and his Polish Army, and about 70,000 civilians came out at rather short notice—may I say, one of the miracles of our century—and I was again Counsellor in Poland at our Embassy in Warsaw after the war. After that I was head of the Northern Department, and had responssibility at departmental level for Anglo Vol. 320 Polish relations, including the political problems of demobilising the Polish Army in the West. Afterwards I was Minister in Hungary, and I know, to my cost, what living under the N.K.V.D. in the last years of Stalin's life was like.

I cannot echo too strongly what has been said about the appalling, hideous massacre at Katyn. There is no doubt that it really is a very shocking crime, and if the facts were to come out in an absolutely incontestable form, nobody would be more glad than I. I should like to say that the file of the German Inquiry did, as a matter of fact, pass through my hands at one time, and I had the opportunity to look through it carefully. The date at which this massacre took place has always been slightly difficult to identify with absolute clarity. In actual fact, it depends largely on the diaries found in the pockets of the dead men. I can confirm what the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley said, that these men were shot in the back of the head, which was a practice unfortunately current on both sides of that terrible front.

The dates of the entries in the diaries all end in about March and April 1940; but as the evidence was released by the Germans in 1943, it is incredible that they would have allowed any diaries to survive which had an entry of a subsequent date. Therefore, one has to say that there is a conceivable residual doubt on this subject. I am not in any very great doubt myself, I am afraid, as to where the blame lay. I only say that if you want legal evidence, there is a legitimate residual doubt, and I do not think that it has been possible to clear it up on the evidence which has hitherto been released.


My Lords, would it have been possible to fabricate a diary which came to an end in March, 1940, with all the rest of the diary blank?


No, my Lords; I do not think it would. I have seen photographs of the entries in the diaries; they were incontestably genuine. I personally think that the evidence points strongly to the fact that these men lost their lives in April, 1940; but all I say is that the Nazis were consummate liars and when they brought out a lot of evidence of this sort it was hard to know exactly what to believe. It was difficult for the Foreign Office at that time—faced as they were with the difficulty of encouraging the Russians to go on fighting, although we were not in a position to launch the Second Front which they demanded with such insistence—to take this matter up on evidence released by the Germans. I do not think it is true that the Foreign Office suppressed the evidence. One noble Lord suggested that, but I do not think that is true. I was not in the Northern Department at the time, but I do not think the Foreign Office ever suppressed evidence.


My Lords, I am very sorry. I speak only for the official and not for the Ministerial level. But it was the guidance given out by the News Department, which I am sure the noble Lord respects as much as I do, that the Foreign Office was firmly convinced that it was a Russian crime and not a German crime. But it was impolitic to say so, and I personally agreed with them at the time. Mr. Iverach McDonald, now assistant Editor of The Times and then diplomatic correspondent of The Times, and Mr. Richard Scott, of the Guardian, would confirm that that was the guidance given to us.


My Lords, I am not disagreeing with the noble Earl, and I think he is quite right. I think his remarks about what Sir William Ridsdale said were extremely significant and very interesting, and I share the same view. In fact I thought I was agreeing with him. All I am saying is that the Foreign Office did not conceal this. They did not think they had absolutely cast-iron evidence; and, anyhow, even if they had, they would not have thought it very politic to release the evidence at a time when the issues of war were so very great. Nor would the Foreign Office at any time—and nor should any of us—be greatly impressed by crocodile tears shed about this by the Nazis. Nothing could be nearer to hypocrisy than Nazi sorrow about a crime of this sort.

When I was. in Poland after the war, I made it my business to go to the extermination camps of Majdanek and Oswiecim, which is better known in this country by the German name of Auschwitz. and I saw evidence of what the Germans did which really makes one's blood run cold. I have seen the receipts given by the man at the gas chamber of Majdanek. The Germans were very careful; a receipt was given once every 20 or 30 minutes for several years, and every time about 35 people were put to death. A typical receipt would be, "10 Poles, 12 Polish Jews, 6 Ukrainian women with 5 children, one Norwegian and one Rumanian Jew." I have seen the tins of poison gas which were used for the purpose, labelled" Zyklon" and produced in tins with a skull and crossbones on them and red paint all around, and with many notices about the danger of handling it.

The Germans were very careful. Before the prisoners were pushed into the gas chamber, everybody was given a hot shower and a shave. I have seen a receipt given by a firm in Hamburg for 1,000 kilograms—which is a ton—of human hair. I have seen 800,000 pairs of shoes in an enormous hut, one of several consignments which were left behind. I had the chance to examine them. There were the sort of shoes worn by old Polish women in going to market. There were the sort of shoes worn by Frenchwomen to go shopping. There were Norwegian shoes, German shoes, Ukrainian shoes. every imaginable sort of shoe in those 800,000. There were tiny shoes, two inches long. It was a terrible sight.

I am sorry to say that, on many occasions, the gas chambers could not work hard enough, and the men who had to carry the corpses up the incline to the furnaces were unable to get there quick enough. On those occasions the S.S. men shot people down into ditches. I have seen the ditches which they were shot into. At Auschwitz they did not leave things at all to chance. The gas chambers were mechanised. They pressed a button, on went the moving floor, and the bodies were tipped into a furnace. I am sorry to spoil your Lordships' evening, but it is necessary to see the terrible crime of Katyn against the other appalling crimes that have been committed in Poland against our gallant allies. This is a most shocking affair and one wonders how it could have happened.

We British have made one terrible mistake in our time. We have been inclined to say, " Well, it does not much matter what people believe. What really matters is what they do." We could not have been more wrong. When Rosenberg produced his theory of "dehumanisation" or Entmenschlichung, which was that if by suffering you could dehumanise people and reduce them to the level of beasts then it did not matter if you killed them, perhaps we ought to have taken more notice. Perhaps we ought also to have realised that these terrible doctrines would find expression in the appalling acts which we have seen in our century. You have to go back hundreds of years to find the like.

Many of my friends died in the Warsaw Ghetto. They were herded into it, deprived of food and finally destroyed and burned alive. Many of my friends were killed in the Warsaw Rising. It was impossible after the war, when Warsaw had been destroyed by flame-throwers, house by house, to know what continent you were standing in when you stood in the middle of the Castle Square in Warsaw. I remember that in the house next to the one I lived in there was a handwritten notice which said, "Under this doorway there are two bodies. Do not disturb them. I will come back and bury them." It was signed, "Their brother". During that terrible episode of the Warsaw Rising—I saw all the diplomatic telegrams at the time—we made many applications to the Russians for them to give help or to allow us to send aeroplanes and to drop help ourselves. Warsaw was too far away for our bombers to go there and back at that time, without being able to land and refuel in Russia. It is a matter of history that Stalin, although pressed at the highest levels, refused to allow that to be done. The Russians were just over the river in the suburb of Praga. Your Lordships must imagine that the Germans were here and the Russians were at the Shell centre or possibly at the Elephant and Castle, somewhere between the two, but nothing whatever was done to help those gallant men, all our allies, fighting the Nazis in Warsaw. It was, I think, a crime not much less to be condemned than the crime of Katyn, for I suppose that far more gallant men were killed in that appalling episode.

I am not very much in favour of looking back on these shocking episodes of our century, except that we may be able to learn some lessons for the future. What can we learn from these awful events? First of all, how can we help our gallant Polish allies? We have in the United Kingdom a wonderful Pole in almost every office. They are very valued and esteemed members of our community. They earn a good deal, because they are efficient people and very devoted and they work hard. But there is much hardship, also, among the widows, and especially among the retired intellectuals and the elderly people who cannot earn their living any more. They need our help and sympathy. There are excellent Polish charities which I can recommend for your Lordships' consideration.

Secondly, we have to recognise that we should not handle this affair, or other affairs, so as to stir up the Poles in Poland against the Russians. It is no good: one has to recognise the strategic facts of life in the years in which we live. I have heard it said (I have never had concrete proof) that there were broadcasts either from London or from Russia —the two sides blame each other—requesting the Poles in Warsaw to rise when they did. I have never seen the actual proof; but there is no doubt that when they did rise they got themselves effectively destroyed. If we were to say the same to the Poles to-day, it would just be another Warsaw rising; it would just be another Czechoslovakia of 1968. I think we should not do them any good. I should like to go further than this. I should like to say that, viewed in modern terms, Poland has nothing to gain by East/West tensions.

I think that one can go even further than that now and say that it reaily is essential to bring about better East/West relations altogether. I myself believe that we should never miss a chance to settle outstanding issues with the Russians. We have a great common interest in the preservation of peace. Poland is perhaps not so well off as it would have been if it had been a free Western country, but it is making some progress and the people there seem to keep alive. Nevertheless, my Lords, it really is a grim and sombre cloud that hangs over the East of Europe. The Russians are a people with very high discipline. They are extremely secretive about their affairs. I think there will never be any chance of establishing the facts of Starobielsk and the other camps unless the Russians give permission for an investigation, or undertake an absolutely objective investigation themselves. Therefore, I find it very hard to see how we can carry this matter to the full elucidation of the truth which I agree would be desirable.

Fourthly, my Lords, I think the time has come, looking at these events on the broadest scale, to recognise how important it is that we should strengthen Western Europe. The U.S.S.R. aims to exploit the differences between nations: she despises weakness. The lightning invasion of Czechoslovakia was really the writing on the wall. It is high time—very high time, my Lords—to unite Europe still more. I think we should draw NATO closer together; and in my view it is high time that the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community and lent its weight to those who wish to strengthen the Free World.

Finally, my Lords, as a philosophical reflection, if I may be permitted this at the end of this very distressing speech, I should like to say that it is important to strengthen our own society. I believe, looking back at the history of Rosenberg and at the history of what happened in Russia, that it is vitally important to look into our own society and to look at the doctrines on which our young are being brought up. How do you think they will react to possible future crimes of ruthless lust, violence and brutality, such as Katyn, or new Katyns nearer home, when they are nurtured daily by the cinema and T.V. on scenes of rape, murder and bestiality? Should we not be thinking about the ideas on which we are bringing up the young generation, whose duty it will be to control the Governments of the future? Was it not the failure of German and Russian opinion to control their Governments which led to the terrible events of our century? With Katyn, Auschwitz and the Warsaw ghetto behind us, and having before us much ruthless murder and violence in our own cities, especially in Northern Ireland, with declining security in many cities in North and South America, I am full of foreboding for the future of our civilisation. For democracy to be worth while, it should know what it believes in and be prepared to defend its beliefs at home and abroad. At present, our Christian civilisation is living on capital, and there may not be all that much capital left—and perhaps not so much time, either.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, I too have personal recollections of Poland, though they are not so extensive or so far-reaching as his. But I was sent to Poland in July, 1939, as a special correspondent of The Times to cover the events leading up to, and indeed following, the outbreak of war. Therefore, to this day I remember with great vividness the first days of the World War there: the darkened, silent streets; the disappearance of men to mobilisation and, only a very few days later, the disintegration, the partition and the arrival of the Russian tanks. Like the noble Earl, Lord Arran, I share a haunting sense of a foul conscience over Poland—a Poland that we urged to fight, a Poland that we encouraged to fight, a Poland that we promised to back to the end.

My Lords, as the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, put it, we owe a debt of honour to the Polish nation. "Oh !", it is said, "Why rake it all up again? Why revive old quarrels?"


My Lords, I am very sorry to interrupt, but on a point of historical fact—and I did see all the diplomatic correspondence in 1939—we did not encourage the Poles to fight; we really did beseech them to be very moderate, and they really were very moderate. I do not think that we carry responsibility for pushing the Poles into war.


My Lords, with the very greatest respect, and paying particular respect to one who was much closer to events than I was, because the noble Lord was in the Diplomatic Service, I remember Mr. Chamberlain's "Peace Front", which was an endeavour to ring Germany round with allies in Eastern Europe; and, whatever may have been done diplomatically, the people of Britain prayed that the Poles would resist and prayed that our Government here would stand up and fight as well. But this is a matter of opinion, and I am sure the noble Lord and my personal friend Lord Hankey will agree to let us differ on that interpretation.

What I do believe is that there are times when we must look back, albeit with prudence. Those who were responsible on either side are no longer with us. The Baldwin-Chamberlain epoch of appeasement, when young Tory reformers denounced their Front Bench as a row of extinct volcanoes and their BankBenchers as the Forty Thieves, may have been shameful in many ways. But the epoch of Hitler and Ribbentropp, of Stalin and Molotov, which begat the Nazi-Soviet Pact—this is something very different. For that Pact was one of the great betrayals of history, and that Pact is the context of this debate. I am not one who shares the common fashion of believing that foreign policies should be founded on moral indignation about the domestic affairs of other countries, because I do not believe that Governments are the same as individuals. Nor can one expect them to be responsible in the same moral sense as individuals. But at Nuremberg we joined with the United States, France and Russia to judge and condemn crimes against humanity. My belief is that, whoever was responsible for the Katyn massacres—and the opinion of this House, it is quite evident, is unanimous so far—the Katyn massacres were certainly in the class of crimes against humanity.

"Oh, yes", they say, "but it is all old history; let bygones be bygones." My Lords, there are two attitudes to history. You may say, as did Lord Chesterfield, that it is just a "confused heap of facts". You may say, as did Carlyle, that history is "a great dust heap". You may even re-echo, as did Lord Beaverbrook, the immortal words of Henry Ford that, "History is just bunk". I believe that the dignity of history deserves to be better attested, and by whom better than the father of history, Thucydides himself, who said that history is philososphy learned from examples, or in the words of Sir Walter Raleigh, something from which we may gather a policy, no less wise than eternal by the comparisons and applications of other mens forepast miseries with our own like error and ill deservings. Perhaps it was best summed up in Schiller's lines: Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht. —world history is the world's judgment.

It has been said of a man before now that if he has no enemies he has no honour. It has been said that, if so, he also deserves no friends. We have had brave friends among the smaller nations: Greece, Jugoslavia, New Zealand and Poland come to mind at once. I pray God that this House and this country will never, never shrink from supporting, encouraging and honouring our friends. To discard our friends is to besmirch their honour; to neglect their record—or to connive at such a thing—would be to dishonour ourselves. I beg Her Majesty's Government to recognise to-day our debt of honour at least to go as far as, in the words of this Motion, "To support an effort.

6.41 p.m.


My Lords, we have been debating this afternoon an epic tragedy and an epic crime, the deliberate assassination of close on 15,000 defenceless prisoners of war, mostly officers and intellectual leaders. These were men who had surrendered and whose surrender had been accepted, under the existing rules of war by which civilised nations normally abide, even when they arc dragged by cruel circumstances or by cruel design over the brink of war. These men had surrendered in such circumstances to a powerful and crushingly victorious foe. They had conceded and defined their helplessness, with bitter dismay, and placed themselves in the hands of that victorious enemy. They were totally defenceless, totally at the mercy of their captors. They had ceased to fight and counted upon the laws of civilised man to preserve their lives. There was no question of any form of trial before their execution, because their innocence of any offence was patent and never in dispute. The condemnation of this House in this debate has been unanimous. How could it be otherwise?

Let there be no mistake or underestimate as to what this Unstarred Parliamentary Question contains. It contains a charge, a charge that the Soviet authorities, in the spring of 1940, planned and implemented this mass assassination. It is a crime, as I have said, perpetrated thirty years ago, but it concerns the future conduct of human affairs in a way which the equally bestial crimes of Nazi Germany do not concern that future. It concerns our world and its future because the accused is not only free and unpunished but powerful, self-righteous and influential. It even claims to be a pattern of morality, a mirror in which the more gullible nations of the world, the more gullible groups and individuals, are encouraged to gaze bemused. Some of them gaze; many are bemused. That is a danger which confronts the present population of this globe.

This small but significant debate does not pretend to be a trial of the Soviet rulers, either those immediately accused or their successors who express no concern over this unexpiated crime. This is not a trial of the directly accused, because your Lordships' House is not sitting judically; and if it were there would be no sanctions or penalties available to such a court. But in a sense, at one remove or at two removes, somebody is on trial to-day and we all hope within a few minutes to see innocence declared and proven. Her Majesty's Government, of which I am a devoted supporter, is on test, if not on trial, in the terms of my noble friend's Question. Her Majesty's Government are asked to do something well within their power, to support an effort to secure pronouncement upon the authorship of mass murder.


And to tell the truth!


And to insist upon the truth being known, as the noble Earl has said. Their response to this disinterested appeal will be a measure of their own sense of international morality. I am confident that this Government's sense of morality is at least as high as that of any Government in the world.

Evidence of the crime was first discovered after a delay of nearly three years, and the evidence then bore the stigma of being presented by the German Nazi Government and through the agency of Dr. Goebbels. The British Government of the day stood back, understandably enough, from judgment. I think that we can be indulgent to the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Anthony Eden, for saying in his statement to Parliament on May 4, 1943: His Majesty's Government have no wish to attribute blame for these events to anyone except the common enemy. Later in the same statement, he said: The Germans need indulge no hope that their manoeuvres will weaken the combined offensive of the allies or the growing resistance of the enslaved populations of Europe. That reassuring forecast was accurate in a large degree. Goebbels's propaganda, based so consistently on lies, did not succeed, when, by a savage windfall of war, it was able to employ the truth. It did not succeed in undermining the will of the Anglo-American alliance. What is more wonderful by far is that it did not lead to a reduction of fighting effort by the Poles themselves who had such grim, predictive evidence of the future awaiting them, when one form of slavery would be exchanged for another. These Poles were still to throw themselves, heroically, into the taking of Monte Cassino in the Allied cause; they were still to undertake the sacrifice of the Warsaw rising when they were so ruthlessly, deliberately, betrayed by the Soviet Army, on the orders of the Soviet Government; condemned to slaughter by the retreating German invaders, who crushed that rising while the Soviet forces waited outside Warsaw and allowed them to do so. The purpose then was identical with the cold purpose of the massacre of Katyn: to kill off, or to permit to be killed off, the flower of the leadership of a nation not amenable to the despotism they were preparing to impose.

That could have been the end of it, an incident quietly, quiescently, forgotten or relegated as a footnote to history. That would be comfortable, perhaps. But nations have achieved greatness and maintained greatness by other endeavours than simply seeking comfort, by sheltering behind the circumstances and conditions of the past. To pick up Sir Anthony Eden's phrase again, to go back to May 4, 1943, and submit it to the factors of our day: there is now no war and no common enemy to menace our existence; by the same token there is no common scapegoat and no sweeping indemnity—and in saying this I am echoing the theme of the noble Earl, Lord Arran. To-day all nations are equal before the law, in theory at least. What my noble friend Lord Barnby is demanding is that, in the light of recorded history, with the threat of Nazism long extinguished, never to be revived, Her Majesty's Government shall insist on a proper and public evaluation of the evidence assembled and tested in the thirty years subsequent to that savage and sickening event.

The crime in itself, the massacre of 14,500 Polish captives, is not questioned. Nobody claims that they evaporated in some miraculous and painless manner. The corpses of 4,133, each with a bullet in the back of the neck, have been exhumed in the Forest of Katyn. The fate of the remaining two-thirds is a matter of conjecture so far as the whereabouts of their murders is concerned; but nobody doubts that their end was violent, treacherous and inhuman. This is an epic atrocity of our own times. It is a condemnation, perhaps, of what our own highly developed species can do to each other in the 20th century. It is the deliberate, organised, premeditated nature of the crime which sets it apart from many other crimes of our epoch.

There is another characteristic upon which my noble friend Lord Barnby and following speakers have thrown a strong light to-day. Nobody has been brought to the bar of justice. There was a cynical attempt to add this to the list of Nazi crimes paraded and punished at Nuremberg. With all the facilities for gathering and presenting evidence available to that court, the attempt was so hollow that this charge, though included in the initial indictment at the behest of the Russians, was significantly omitted altogether from the judgment. It is a matter so horrifying in its nature that, so it seems to me, it must be treated either at great length and in great detail or briefly, by concentrating upon the essence of the crime itself. Important and poignant is the opportunity given to us by my noble friend this evening. It is not, as I see it, the opportunity to present the full case; and to attempt to present a condensed case would be to duplicate the opening speech of my noble friend Lord Barnby.

Evidence there is in abundance and, as we have seen, much of that evidence has been studied by noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. There is the evidence of those few who escaped, by some quirk or some strange reasoning of their captors, the fate which befell their fellow prisoners; and whose surviving witness points to guilt convincingly enough for most of us. There is the Report of the International Medical Commission which went to the scene of the massacre in Katyn Forest in April, 1943. There is the Report of the Select Committee of the United States Congress, a model of thoroughness and meticulous research. There is the report of the Polish Government Special Committee set up in 1944, its findings published in February 1946, under the title The Facts and Documents Concerning the Polish Prisoners of War captured by the U.S.S.R. during the 1939 Campaign. There is other separate fully corroborative evidence which has been collected over the years.

In the course of the past few months two books and a 70-minute television programme, all three comprising deep, systematic research, have brought part of that research in a responsible form before the scrutiny of the British public. At this point I must mention a factor which possibly I should have mentioned earlier. We are so properly scrupulous in this House in declaring an interest of any kind that I must mention my part as the publisher of one of those books. The impulse to publish and the impulse to speak sprang equally from a conviction—shared by all those taking part so far in this debate— that this hideous page of history should be studied and judged upon. Both of those books have been referred to more than once in this debate. One is entitled, Death in the Forest; the other, Katyn, A Crime Without Parallel. I do not know whether the latter is a valid title, for who is capable of comparing one crime with another?

My Lords, we deem ourselves as living in a civilised age, an improvement on others. How sound is our diagnosis? It seems crucial to me that we should study ourselves, not simply as individuals or nations but as a civilisation which will have to pass on an inheritance, hopeful, ominous or indifferent, to those who come after. I do not think it is inordinately hubristic to claim that the nations of the democratic West are healthily self-critical compared to the self-glorifying dictatorships of the East. Certainly in the strictures which opposing political Parties pass upon each other in this Parliament building there is plenty of scope for questioning and for debunking our designs. This we all believe to be our strength. There is a corresponding weakness in the dictatorships which we ignore. But because that weakness weakens the world we live in, we cannot, responsibly, shrug it off or look the other way.

I have myself seen and listened to the hubristic arrogance of the Communist countries, and I have seen how easily duped are the unwary and the uncommitted nations, gapingly impressed by such aggressive confidence. I have seen them unimpressed, contemptuously unimpressed, by the manner in which we, the Western nations, willingly, repeatedly, turn the other cheek and give a soft answer in preference to an honest and informative answer—anything for a peaceful life, even if it means cringing away from awkward facts. Here we have an undoubted awkward fact. I have said earlier that the innocence of the murdered was never disputed. I do not believe that the guilt or identity of the murderers can be disputed to-day, in this place or in any place where free speech is permitted. Very little, if any, investigation remains to be done. The material evidence, collected, codified and ready for inspection, is there. The weight of that evidence, to one who has studied it, is overwhelming. It awaits an authoritative judgment and verdict delivered to the world. It could be the simplest, least laborious task that the United Nations had ever been set. I hope that Her Majesty's Government, satisfied by the force of what has been said to-day and no doubt satisfied by the facts which they themselves have read, may present that task to the United Nations.

The Soviet rulers are on visibly weak ground in the matter of treatment, past and present, even of their own minorities within their own borders. This weakness is reflected in the monstrously arrogant or widely diversive speeches delivered by their spokesman at the United Nations when kindred subjects are raised; either in the Third Committee, in the Economic and Social Committee, before the Human Rights Commission or before the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. Here is a case concerning the dead who cannot be brought back, a case which cries out for world attention and obloquy. What is required is a lead, and I believe that lead could most properly be given by the British Government. Yet for thirty years British Governments have been treading water; or, to put it more luridly, since this is a lurid chronicle which has to be related, Governments of all complexions and of many lands have been treading blood. It is the blood of 15,000 of our own innocent and defenceless allies; of a nation which fought staunchly and with legendary valour beside us in the war against Nazism from the beginning to the end. Such a lead would also demonstrate hearteningly that good men are not forgotten; that gratitude does not wither; that decent people care about the fate of their fellow men, whether they lie in a known or a secret grave, furtively buried beyond sight by their assassins. We owe this assurance in particular to Poland, one of the noblest, bravest and most unflinchingly loyal of allies that this country has ever had the good fortune to fight beside. I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, say that had we raised the matter of Katyn we could not have persuaded the Russians to go on fighting. Nothing stopped the Poles fighting, even after they knew that part of our victory would be the sacrifice of their own land!

What we, who have taken part in this debate to-day, are trying to achieve is not to punish a still unpunished crime, because punishment is neither feasible nor desirable in this context. What I think most of us have been trying to do is to state the obvious, and not turn away and leave it in placid anonymity. The obvious to us all is that where an inhuman crime has been committed, there is a criminal to be arraigned. What is dangerous for us all is that this criminal should be permitted to stalk and straddle the world scene, not simply flaunting his immunity, but repeating his crime, as a kind of primitive droit de seigneur, repeating it in the Baltic countries, in one Balkan country after another, in Poland again, in Hungary and in Czechoslovakia. We have been persuaded to dignify it with the title of the Brezhnev doctrine. It has come to the point where we accept the primitive, brutal appetite of Soviet Russia in each new manifestation as if it were a kind of unfortunate, now almost hereditary, mannerism, a recognised and tacitly legalised mannerism with which we have to live, so far at the cost of our neighbours, while we whistle and look the other way like a philosophical, docile peasantry.

Even though there can be no penalty attached to the judgment we utter to-day as participants in this debate, let us treat this—and I beg the Government to treat this—as a test case. Take it as a detective challenge, so much more of a challenge because the case is thirty years old, an ostensibly unsolved crime, only unsolved because so far nobody has had sufficient mettle to name the criminal. If an unquestionably democratic Government such as our own were to go back thirty years to pin a historic crime upon the criminal, that would impress the uncommitted world—and it would impress the criminal. It might even do something to deter continuing crime. That is the opportunity that my noble friend Lord Aberdare has this evening, in giving the Government's answer to the Question presented to them.

7.4 p.m.


My Lords, this has been a very moving debate and not surprisingly, I think, virtually unanimous. The crime which gives rise to this debate is, I suppose, one of the greatest crimes in history. As has been said by previous speakers, it is difficult to give an order of villainy but it is difficult to conceive of a viler crime than this was. If anything could increase its vileness, I think it would be that this colossal act of murder seems to have been executed as an exercise in social engineering, the necessity to prejudice the possibility of a country's recovery and its future by taking away all power —and generally the simplest way of doing that is by taking away all life—from its natural leaders.

My noble friends in all quarters of the House have so well expressed the points I should have made that I should not have added my voice to-night had it not been that my silence might perhaps have been misunderstood by my Polish friends. It so happens that Poland has played a large part in my political life, for it was 26 years ago that I found it necessary to resign from Winston Churchill's war-time Government because it seemed to me that the Agreement at Yalta was unprincipled and wrong. I thought then, as I have thought ever since, that it was not only unprincipled and wrong, but that it was one of the great blunders of history. When I resigned, for reasons which seemed to me overwhelming, I do not think that I then had a Polish friend. My action depended on what I thought of the issues involved. But since then I have had a great number of Polish friends, and I should not like any of them to think that I was lacking in support on this Question that has been raised to-day.

But there is another ground on which I commend the proposal before the House, one that was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Monckton of Brenchley— the truth. Some people may think that the establishment of the truth may not much matter, and it is difficult to demonstrate that it does. I suppose that fundamentally it is a matter of faith. I believe that the establishment of the truth is always right. I will not enlarge on that, because it is a matter of faith. In the end, the truth will be established. Lies will not prevail for ever—at least, I hope not—unless the Communists conquer the world. But there is something to be said for accelerating the revelation of truth, the discovery and establishment of the truth. I would conclude my few remarks by a notable hut sad quotation from the English poet, Coventry Patmore: When all its work is done, the lie shall rot; The truth is great and shall prevail, When none cares whether it prevail or not ".

7.9 p.m.


My Lords, I am not on the list of speakers, but as the House is in a reminiscent mood perhaps I could briefly tell your Lordships of a deputation which went to Russia in the dark days of January, 1945, to pay the respects of both Houses of Parliament to the Supreme Presidium of the Soviet Republic. There were two Peers and also members of the Forces, a soldier, a sailor and an airman, and for some obscure reason I was chosen as a Peer and as a soldier. I was suffering from war wounds at the time and I wore my uniform, and I took with me films of the Normandy landings. Perhaps for that reason, I had more chance of talking to Stalin than any other member of the delegation, which was led by the late Colonel Walter Elliot, whose widow Baroness Elliot of Harwood, now sits in our House. Stalin allowed me to ask one question which was of considerable importance from the point of view of bringing back information to this country. The question I asked was, "As you roll back the German armies" (the advance was then pushing on from Stalingrad, where Russia turned and fought back) "what will the Russian armies do in the next fortnight?" Stalin replied, through Mr. Maisky, the Ambassador at the Court of St. James's, who had then returned to Moscow, "When we reach the Vistula we shall pause."

This is the point which I think the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, made when he said that was a deliberate policy. The noble Viscount, Lord Monckton, also made the point that it was Russian policy to exterminate the Polish leaders and what happened in Warsaw was the attempted destruction of the Polish people. With all respect to Lord Barnby, to whom we are so grateful for having inaugurated this debate to-day, the massacre in the Forest of Katyn was small beer in comparison to what happened in Warsaw. I feel that the message of whatever we have discovered to-day is that you cannot crush the leaders of a country like Poland. The forest massacre was only one incident in a much bigger series of crimes.

7.12 p.m.


My Lords, in putting his Question, the noble Lord. Lord Barnby, spoke with very great sincerity and depth of feeling. This has been the case with every successive speech this evening. Indeed, I think many speeches have gone even further and have been made with deep emotion on this subject, on which all your Lordships obviously feel so very strongly. There can he no doubt in the mind of anyone who has listened to this debate or who may subsequently read it, what your Lordships' opinions are of this tragic affair. There have been some very distinguished contributions, including one from my noble friend Lord Salisbury, and other of your Lordships have made very well informed contributions to the debate. Some new items of history have emerged. The noble Lord. Lord Shinwell, told of the meeting he had with Mr. Maisky: the noble Earl. Lord Arran of his Foreign Office and Press conferences: and just now my noble friend Lord Lovat told us of his interview with Stalin. All this has been of great value to the debate.

There was one item of history which I think perhaps might be put right. There was an inaccuracy which crept in at one point when the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell and my noble friend Lord Dundee referred to an inquiry by the International Red Cross. This was something which the Germans sought, but it never took place because of objections from the Russians in 1943; and in fact the Germans set up their own inquiry, which I shall mention a little later and which has already been referred to by my noble friend Lord Barnby. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, described it as "a sordid and squalid affair" and my noble friend Lord St. Oswald as "a savage and sickening event". I am sure we all agree. All wars are sordid and squalid affairs, all wars are savage and sickening events; and the Second World War was no exception.

Some of its most atrocious events have begun to fade from our consciousness with the passage of time, though the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, reminded us of some of them. But there is a special and dreadful fascination about the tragedy of the Katyn massacre and the disappearance of 10,000 other Poles, which has resulted in persistent attempts to penetrate the obscurity in which these events are still shrouded. Against the total number of lives lost during the war, a figure of 10,000 or 15,000 is perhaps not striking in itself. At least 800,000 Russians died in the seige of Leningrad alone. But the Polish officers who disappeared, and some of whom were later found dead in the Forest of Katyn, formed part of the elite of the Polish nation, a nation which had already been cruelly buffeted by history and was to suffer still more cruelly before the war was over. It is perhaps this aspect in particular, together with the mystery to which I have referred, that has attracted, and still attracts, the public interest to which my noble friend's Question gives expression.

May I say at once that the Government are not insensitive to public thinking on these dreadful events. Governments are composed of human beings, and we have followed the recent public discussion of the issue very closely. But I would ask the House to bear in mind that, unlike private individuals or the information media, Governments are not at liberty to voice half-formed views, speculations or suspicions. Therefore, although I sympathise deeply with my noble friend's motives in raising this question, we must look closely and dispassionately at what the Government are asked to do.

As I understand it, the Question in effect asks Her Majesty's Government to take a lead in organising a definitive pronouncement on who was responsible for the death or disappearance of over 14,000 Polish officers more than thirty years ago. It is towards the Soviet Government that the Question points its finger. It states that the 4,000 victims at Katyn were murdered "in the spring of 1940", and noble Lords will be aware that the Germans did not invade that area until the following year. There are a number of objections to acting in the way my noble friend proposes. First, Her Majesty's Government have absolutely no standing in this matter. It may be said that this is not a legal but a moral question. Even if this were so, and if it were the duty of Her Majesty's Government to take up every moral challenge regardless of legal competence, I ask the House to consider for a moment the history of the question in order to judge whether the proposal of the noble Lord is realistic.

Since the initial discovery of the bodies in the Katyn Forest by the Germans in 1943, there has been no dearth of investigations and attributions of guilt, and my noble friend Lord Barnby explained them. The German Government, as I mentioned earlier, established an International Medical Commission, none of whose members was of German nationality, though all, except one (a Swiss), came from German occupied countries. This Commission found that the Polish officers had been murdered in the spring of 1940; that is, before the German invasion. As I have already pointed out to the House, that is exactly the conclusion assumed in the Question. In 1944, a Special Commission set up by the Soviet Government found that the Germans had perpetrated the massacre in the autumn of 1941. Later still, in 1952, an American Congressional Committee concluded that responsibility for the massacre lay with the Soviet Union.

I would emphasise that Her Majesty's Government were in no way associated with any of these three investigations, nor have Her Majesty's Government accepted any of their various conclusions. The only inquiry in which Britain was involved took place at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal in 1946. The results were inconclusive and the judgments issued by the Nuremberg Tribunal contained no reference to the Katyn massacre.

In these circumstances, we must ask ourselves what kind of inquiry, by whom and in what conditions, could possibly establish "beyond contention", to use the words of my noble friend's Question, the authorship of those crimes.


I should like to ask my noble friend this question. When the Katyn crime came up for investigation at the Nuremberg trials, was the possibility of Russian guilt investigated, or only the possibility of German guilt?


My impression is that it was only the question of German guilt that was investigated at Nuremberg. All I wanted was to state exactly what are the facts as seen from the Government's point of view. I was asking what we could possibly do to establish beyond contention who was the author of this crime. Is it likely, is it even conceivable, that the truth about these events could be established now to universal satisfaction, when it was not established in 1941, in 1944, in 1946 or in 1952? The Soviet Government, on whose territory the forest of Katyn lies, maintains the position it adopted in 1941; that all Polish officers in Soviet prison camps were released, and that those found dead at Katyn were killed by the Germans. The Polish Government (whose wishes should surely be respected in the matter) has said that it regards the incident as closed. Can it really be suggested that these Governments would now co-operate in a fresh inquiry? And, if not, what would be the value of any conclusion that might be reached?

I suggest to the House that the only result of a new inquiry would be to reopen old wounds. Historians are free to discuss this mystery, and no doubt they will continue to do so. The Press, radio and televison are not muzzled or controlled in this country. But the noble Lord's Question invites Her Majesty's, Government to take certain action, and this action we regard as not only beyond our competence, but likely to lead to nothing but pain, disagreement and illwill. Having said that, may I add that I have been deeply impressed by what your Lordships have said in the course of this debate, and I will certainly undertake to pass on to my right honourable friend the depth of feeling unanimously expressed by your Lordships' House.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him: is he saying that Her Majesty's Government are funking it?


No, my Lords, that was not the tenor of my remarks.


My Lords, I have no right to speak again, because this is an Unstarred Question and I have had my opportunity. But I want only to ask the noble Lord this. In passing on what has been said in this House to-day to his right honourable friend, would he also make the suggesttion contained in my speech: that if it is impossible to raise this matter before the United Nations—and I agree that it would be useless, because the Russians would immediately put on their veto—would it not be possible for Her Majesty's Government to do something which they have not done up to now, and that is to express their own view about the Katyn massacre?


My Lords, I will certainly convey that point to my right honourable friend.


My Lords, perhaps I may point out to my noble friend that it is absurd to say that the Polish Government opposes this matter. The Polish Government is under the Russian Government. Of course it would oppose it.