The Katyn massacre, also known as the zbrodnia katyńska ('Katyń crime'), was a mass execution of Polish POW officers and citizens ordered by the Soviet authorities in 1940. The most widely accepted estimate of the number of dead is about 22,000. The victims were murdered in the Katyn forest, Kalinin (Tver) and Kharkiv prisons, and elsewhere. About 8,000 were officers taken prisoner during the Soviet 1939 invasion of Poland, the rest being Poles arrested for allegedly being "intelligence agents, gendarmes, spies, saboteurs, landowners, factory owners, lawyers, priests, and officials."
During the German occupation of Poland, the Germans used the massacre for propaganda purposes against the Soviets. However, after the war, when Poland fell under Soviet influence, the truth about the event was suppressed by the Soviet authorities, who maintained an official line throughout the Eastern Bloc that the massacre was committed by the Germans. With the fall of communism in Poland in 1989, the first non-communist Polish government immediately acknowledged that the crime was committed by the Soviets. In 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged Soviet responsibility for the Katyn massacre for the first time. In 1991, Boris Yeltsin made public the documents which had authorised the massacre.
There are now some cemeteries of Polish officers in the vicinity of the massacres, but many facts of the event remain undisclosed to this day and many graves of the Polish POWs east of the Bug River are either still unmarked or in a state of disrepair.
The events of Katyn are relayed through the eyes of the women, the mothers, wives, and daughters of the victims executed on Stalin's orders by the NKVD in 1940.
Andrzej (Artur Zmijewski) is a young Polish captain in the 8th Uhlan Regiment of Duke Jozef Poniatowski, who keeps a detailed diary. In September 1939, he is taken prisoner by the Soviet Army, which separates the officers from the enlisted men, who are allowed to return home, while the officers are held. His wife Anna (Maja Ostaszewska) and daughter Weronika, nicknamed "Nika" (Wiktoria Gąsiewska), find him shortly before he is deported to the USSR. Presented with an opportunity to escape, he refuses on the basis of his oath of loyalty to the Polish military.
Helped by a sympathetic Soviet officer, Anna manages to return to the family's home in Cracow with her daughter. There, the Germans carry out Sonderaktion Krakau, shutting down Jagiellonian University and deporting professors to concentration camps. Andrzej's father is one of the professors deported; later, his wife gets a message that he died in a camp in 1941.
In a prisoner of war camp, Andrzej is detained for a while and continues to keep a diary. He carefully records the names of all his fellow officers who are removed from the camp, and the dates on which they are taken. During the winter, Andrzej is clearly suffering in the low temperature, and his colleague Jerzy (Andrzej Chyra) lends him an extra sweater. As it happens, the sweater has Jerzy's name written on it. Finally, Andrzej's is taken from the camp, while Jerzy is left behind.
In 1943, the population of Cracow is informed by the occupying power about the Katyn massacre. Capitalizing on the Soviet crime, the Nazi propaganda publishes lists with the names of the victims exhumed in mass graves behind the advancing German troops. Andrzej's name is not on the list, giving his wife and daughter hope.
After the war, Jerzy, who has survived, has enlisted in the Peoples’ Army of Poland (LWP), which is under the complete control of the pro-Soviet Polish United Worker's Party. He feels personal loyalty to his friends, loves his country, and has sympathy for those who have suffered. He visits Anna and her daughter to tell them that Andrzej is dead. Apparently, when the list of the names of the victims was compiled, Andrzej was misidentified as Jerzy on the basis of the name in the sweater that Jerzy had lent to Andrzej; it was Andrzej who was killed, not Jerzy. Despondent that he is now forced to acknowledge a lie and to serve those who killed his comrades in Katyn, Jerzy commits suicide.
Evidence of Soviet responsibility for the Katyn massacre is carefully concealed by the authorities. However, a few daring people working with the effects of the victims eventually deliver Andrzej's diary to his widow Anna. The diary clearly shows the date in 1940 when he must have been killed from the absence of entries on subsequent days. The date of the massacre is crucial for assigning responsibility: if it happened in 1940, the USSR controlled the territory, while by mid-1941 the Germans took control over it.
The film ends with a re-enactment of parts of the massacre, as several of the principal characters are executed along with other soldiers.
The film includes excerpts from German newsreels presenting the Katyn massacre as a Soviet crime, and excerpts from Soviet newsreels presenting the massacre as a German crime.
Filming began on October 3, 2006, and ended on January 9, 2007. The film premiered on September 17, 2007, the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939.Andrzej Chyra, as Jerzy – Porucznik (1st Lieutenant) in the 8th Uhlan Regiment
Artur Żmijewski, as Andrzej – Rotmistrz (Captain) of 8th Uhlan Regiment
Maja Ostaszewska, as Anna, wife of Andrzej
Wiktoria Gąsiewska, as Weronika ("Nika"), daughter of Andrzej and Anna
Władysław Kowalski, as Jan, father of Andrzej and a professor at the Kraków University
Maja Komorowska, as Maria, mother of Andrzej
Jan Englert, as General
Danuta Stenka, as Róża, wife of the General
Sergei Garmash, as Captain Popov - a sympathetic and protective Red Army officer
Agnieszka Kawiorska, as Ewa, daughter of General and Róża
Stanisława Celińska, as Stasia – a servant in the General's house
Paweł Małaszyński, as Piotr Baszkowski, a lieutenant (porucznik pilot) with 1 Aviation Regiment, Deblin
Magdalena Cielecka, as sister of Piotr
Agnieszka Glińska, as sister of Piotr
Anna Radwan, as Elżbieta – a relative of Anna
Antoni Pawlicki, as Tadeusz, son of Elżbieta
Alicja Dąbrowska, as an actress
Jakub Przebindowski, as priest Wikary
Krzysztof Globisz, as a medical doctor
Oleh Drach, as a commissar
Jacek Braciak, as a lieutenant Klin
There has been controversy over the politics surrounding the film. According to Wajda's production notes, the film was made under the honorary patronage of President Lech Kaczyński, a conservative politician. There was some controversy in Poland over how the then Polish authorities tried to use the film during the election campaign.
On September 18, 2007, Rossiyskaya gazeta, the official newspaper of the Russian government, published a short comment by Alexander Sabov claiming that the widely accepted version of the tragedy is based on a single dubious copy of a document related to the massacre, and hence the evidence for the Soviet responsibility would be unreliable. This prompted an immediate response from the Polish media. As a retort, the next day, Gazeta Wyborcza emphasized the formal admission by the Soviet Union of NKVD responsibility and republished documents to that effect.
In April 2009, the authorities of the People's Republic of China banned the movie from being distributed in the country due to its anti-communist ideology. However, imported copies are widely available.