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Orange link to the Katyn Massacre

Curator of the Museum of Orange Heritage, Dr Jonathan Mattison takes a close look at an Orange Order connection to the Katyn Massacre.

Between 3 April and the end of May 1940 one of the least well-known atrocities of the Second World War took place. This year marks the 80th anniversary of this terrible event. During this six-week period almost 25,000 Polish Officers, Policemen, Intellectuals and Politicians were executed and buried by the Soviet Secret Police, the NKVD.

At the start of the Second World War, Germany and the Soviet Union had entered into a non-aggression pact. One of the consequences of this pact was that the Soviets took advantage of the German advance into Poland and moved to seize parts of Eastern Poland. When gallant Poland was finally defeated, prisoners were exchanged between both the Nazis and the Soviets.

Most of those Prisoners who fell into Soviet hands ended up in forced labour and prisoner of war camps. Many would later fight alongside them to defeat Nazi Germany. However, between 22,000 and 25,000 Polish Patriots were not so fortunate. They were sent to prison camps run by the feared Soviet Secret Police, the NKVD. By March 1940 the Soviet leadership decided that these prisoners, who formed the intellectual and military elite of Polish society, should not play any part in a post War Poland. Orders were issued for their execution.

The massacre and subsequent mass burials were concealed in the Katyn Forrest in Russia. Two years after those terrible events, German soldiers discovered the mass graves, as the Russians retreated in the face of a German invasion. Initially the Soviet leadership blamed the Germans, but it soon became clear that the NKVD had been responsible. The Polish Government in exile were outraged but the issue had become a complicated one as Soviet Russia was now part of the Allied fight against the Nazis.

The Orange link to this tragedy came in the form of a Professor of French from Queen's University, Belfast.


Professor Sir Douglas Lloyd Savory had been born in Suffolk and educated at Marlborough College and Oxford. He originally lectured in French at the University of Marburg before being appointed a Professor at Queen's University, Belfast. During the Great War he was attached to Admiralty intelligence and would later become a Stormont MP for QUB and then South Antrim.

After the discovery of the mass graves at Katyn, the International Red Cross launched an investigation and Douglas Savory was appointed as the British Special Investigator into the incident. It would, however, take another 67 years before the Russian State Parliament passed a resolution deploring the incident and blaming Stalin and his Soviet administration for the tragedy.

Savory was President of the Huguenot Society of London and a member of Eldon LOL No. 7 in Belfast.

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