April 13 is designated the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the 1940 Katyn Forest Massacre.
The massacre, which still casts a shadow over Polish-Russian relations, was a series of mass executions of Polish POW's, mainly military officers and policemen, carried out by the NKVD in April and May 1940. The killings took place at several locations but the massacre is named after the Katyn Forest in western Russia, where some of the mass graves of the victims were first discovered.
"We pay homage to the people who had never given up their patriotism and commitment to their homeland," President Andrzej Duda said at a monument commemorating the victims of the Katyn Massacre in Warsaw on Tuesday.
The president admitted that it was impossible to organise large ceremonies owing to the coronavirus pandemic, but expressed his hope that "all Poles remember, that young Poles remember."
Speaking about Katyn’s victims, the president said they had been united by their conviction that Poland was their homeland, and that it was worth giving their lives for a sovereign, independent and free country.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Facebook that Poland had to protect the truth of the Katyn Massacre and pass it on to the next generation.
"Even today, there are people who want the Katyn Massacre not to be spoken about, there are people trying to whitewash the crimes committed by murderers, who accused the victims of acts they did not commit," Morawiecki wrote.
"The Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Katyn Forest Massacre, established by the Sejm (the lower house of parliament) in 2007 and observed on April 13, commemorates this terrible crime whose victims were the Polish people," the prime minister added.
"They were murdered because they were Poles," he added. "This was the only argument for the Soviet murderers. The perpetrators of this crime have never been brought to justice."
The Foreign Ministry also paid homage to the victims of the Katyn Massacre.
"Their graves in Katyn, Kharkov, Mednoye, Bikivnia and other places are a symbol of Soviet crimes and falsifying history," the ministry wrote on Twitter.
"The mass murder of Poles in Katyn is a tragic stain on Europe’s past," Bix Aliu, charge d'affaires of the US Embassy in Poland, wrote on Twitter. "On the Day of Remembrance for Victims of Katyn Massacre we pay solemn tribute to the almost 22,000 Polish citizens - prisoners of war and political prisoners - brutally murdered by the Soviet NKVD 80 years ago."
About 8,000 of Katyn’s victims were officers imprisoned during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, another 6,000 were police officers, the rest were Polish intellectuals, deemed by the Soviets to be intelligence agents and saboteurs.
In 1943, Nazi Germany announced the discovery of mass graves in Katyn Forest. The Soviets claimed that the killings had been carried out by the Nazis in 1941 and denied responsibility for the massacres. In 1990, Russia officially acknowledged and condemned the massacre by the NKVD. (PAP)