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Officials Remember Massacre Victims But Do Not Assign Guilt

April 18, 1989

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ An urn of soil from the graves of Polish officers killed in the Katyn massacre was embedded in a monument Tuesday, and an inscription blaming the Nazis was replaced by one assigning no responsibility.

When the official ceremonies ended, some among several thousand spectators put a handmade sign reading ″Soviet murder″ on the flower-covered granite memorial.

Until this year, Poland’s communist government supported Soviet claims that the 4,500 Polish officers shot at Katyn, near the Soviet city of Smolensk, were killed by the Nazis after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

Most Poles and Western historians have concluded, however, that the massacre was committed by Soviet secret police on Josef Stalin’s order in 1940. The officers, the cream of Polish society called up from the reserves, were interned by the Soviets soon after World War II began. The fate of 10,000 more officers held at two other Soviet camps has never been revealed, and their memory was invoked by another sign placed on the monument after the ceremony.

Recent signs indicate the government is reconsidering its position on Katyn. The Polish side of a joint commission investigating blank spots in Polish-Soviet relations reported the tentative conclusion of Soviet responsibility, but the Soviet side has not acknowledged it.

Word of plans to change the inscription on the Powazki Cemetery memorial, which had blamed the crime on ″Hitlerite fascists,″ was received indicating a new official Polish position.

When it went on display Tuesday, however, the tablet said only: ″To Polish officers killed in Katyn.″

The ceremony was one of several events that mark the Katyn massacre in a new way but fall short of changing the government position.

Discussion of the massacre was forbidden in official venues for decade, but now appears in the press.

An official delegation, including family members of victims, went to Katyn and brought back two urns, which then were memorialized by military chaplains and displayed at the national army museum. It was the museum’s first reference to the museum.

On Tuesday, one urn was placed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the other brought to the cemetery, where many victims of Polish wars are buried among birch trees.

Soldiers lined the cemetery walkways. An honor guard of boy scouts and officers stood at the memorial, which was covered with tulips and carnations and surrounded by candles.

Official speakers noted the new openness about Katyn, but none spoke of Soviet culpability.

″This event indicates a victory of new thinking in Poland,″ said Gen. Roman Paszkowski, who led the Polish delegation to Katyn. ″Although you know your husbands and sons are not alive, please remember they will stay forever in our hearts and minds.″

Gen. Franciszek Skibinski said: ″It is not possible to change the course of history, but it is necessary to reveal the whole truth. I hope the Polish- Soviet commission will soon complete its work and the whole truth will be made public.″

A woman who lost her husband and brother-in-law at Katyn said she expected ″the whole truth will come out now.″

A man said: ″Poles were fighting everywhere and this is the reward we got. ... It should be openly stated that the Soviet Union and the NKVD are responsible for this slaying.″ The NKVD was the secret police bureau that preceded te KGB.

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