Surviving Katyń wins 2022 Mark Lynton History Prize

  • Winner: Jane Rogoyska’s SURVIVING KATYŃ: Stalin’s Polish Massacre and the Search for Truth (Oneworld/Simon & Schuster)

The Mark Lynton History Prize is awarded to the book-length work of narrative history, on any subject, that best combines intellectual distinction with felicity of expression. Books must have been published between January 1, 2021, and December 31, 2021. Judges: Julia Keller (chair), Anthony DePalma, and Kerri Greenidge.

Surviving Katyń, Stalin’s Polish Massacre and the Search for Truth

Jane Rogoyska is the author of Gerda Taro: Inventing Robert Capa. She has a particular interest in the turbulent period from the 1930s to the Cold War in Europe. Her research into the 1940 Katyń Massacre led to her first novel, Kozłowski (long-listed for the 2020 Desmond Elliott Prize) and Still Here: A Polish Odyssey, which she wrote and presented for BBC Radio 4.

The Katyń Massacre of 22,000 Polish prisoners of war was a crime committed in utmost secrecy in April-May 1940 by the Soviet Union’s interior ministry, on the direct orders of Joseph Stalin. For nearly 50 years, the Soviet regime succeeded in maintaining the fiction that Katyń was a Nazi atrocity, the story unchallenged by Western governments fearful of upsetting a powerful wartime ally and Cold War adversary. SURVIVING KATYŃ: Stalin’s Polish Massacre and the Search for Truth explores the decades-long search for answers, focusing on the experience of those individuals with the most at stake — the few survivors of the massacre and the Polish wartime forensic investigators — whose quest for the truth in the face of an inscrutable and utterly ruthless enemy came at great personal cost.

Judges’ citation: To the chilly and brutal abstraction of the phrase “mass grave,” SURVIVING KATYŃ provides an eloquent and crucial clarification: They were individuals, those 22,000 Polish prisoners of war secretly murdered during World War II and buried in a Polish forest. For decades the crime was blamed on the Nazis. As Rogoyska traces with a quietly masterful breadth of detail, however, evidence now proves that Stalin personally ordered the massacre. Thus her book is part detective story, part historical narrative, part biography of the victims, and part moral reckoning with urgent relevance to contemporary conflicts.