If Janina still had her watch, she might have known it was her thirty-second birthday, April 22, 1940.
It had been a trying seven months in Soviet captivity. No matter. Janina kept her spirits for her strength was her stubbornness. Nobody but her God, and sometimes her father, was allowed to set limits upon her. That’s how she had become a pilot and even a parachutist, unheard of for a woman. It’s how she’d earned the rank of Lieutenant in the Polish Army. She never let her situation define her and wasn’t about to acquiesce now. So when the NKVD officer appeared that morning to transfer more of her fellow officers to yet another unknown prison, she demanded not to be separated from them.
At first, the young soldier assigned to transport her revealed a hint of decency and was somewhat gentler on Janina as he secured her wrists behind her back. But when she slipped her hand through the knot and waved it in his face, he grew red and became extra-rough in his second attempt. The rope now tore into her skin and he threw a sack over her head before shoving her into the back of a Black Maria.
The car rumbled away from Smolensk for a short time and then it took a sharp right into the forest. It stopped at a place called Goat Hill and Janina was dragged by three waiting soldiers for about 50 yards before halting. They yanked off her hood.
The first and last thing Janina Lewandowska saw in the next three seconds was a pit. Twelve feet deep and a hundred feet wide. It was full of bodies.
The Katyn massacre signaled the extermination of nearly 25,000 of Poland’s best and brightest, including almost half of its officer corps.