Memory Waka

Memory Connection Journal

Current Journal

Previous Journals


Remembering Katyn: Mourning, Memory, and National Identity

Vanessa Fredericks


This article examines the connection between mourning, memory, and national identity in Poland after World War II, with specific reference to the Katyn Massacre. In 1940, approximately 22,000 Polish citizens were executed by the Soviet secret police under Stalin’s orders, and then buried in mass graves. In 1943, German soldiers discovered one of the graves in the Katyn Forest. Stalin denied responsibility for the massacre and accused the Germans of committing the crime. Successive Soviet governments denied culpability for the Katyn massacre until documents that proved Soviet guilt were released under Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, and then Boris Yeltsin in 1992. Drawing on Jacques Derrida’s work on mourning, this article argues that mourning and historical memory are integral to recreating a sense of national identity after traumatic events. Commemorations and memorials are often instrumental in aiding this memory work. In post-World War II Poland, however, Soviet policy dictated which historical memories could be told. Memorials were used to reinforce the Soviet narrative of Katyn, silencing the public work of mourning and memory for the relatives of the victims.