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Soviets and Poles agree to take unblinkered look at their history

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Soviet and Polish historians are about to open long-secret files on what Mikhail Gorbachev and Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski recently termed ``white gaps'' in the history of the often-troubled relations between the two countries. ``It will be the first time anything like this has happened,'' a senior foreign affairs official said. The historians are expected to work together in both capitals, he said.

Academics here welcome the plan - guardedly: Many lost their jobs for courageously demanding that they be allowed to treat history ``as it was,'' without ignoring its dark moments.

The ``white gaps,'' or half-truths and outright omissions, in the Soviet rendering of its relations with Poland include:

The August 1939 pact between Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. Attached to the pact was a secret protocol about German and Soviet interests in Eastern Europe, making the concept of an independent Poland subject to their future decision. For almost 40 years, the inside story of pact and protocol has been a ``no go'' area for debate here.

The Sept. 17, 1939, entrance of Soviet forces, following Adolf Hitler's Sept. 1 blitzkrieg from the west, and the prolonged joint-occupation partition of Poland that followed.

The massive deportations of Poles - including the Jaruzelski family - that came a few weeks later.

The wartime fate of some 10,000 Polish Army personnel, whose bodies were found in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk in western Russia in April 1943. Germany and the Soviet Union accused each other of being responsible for the killings. There was considerable controversy at the time, but paranoic Soviet secrecy then and ever since World War II, as much as any evidence, convinced Poles at large that the Soviets were guilty.

The Soviet role during the Warsaw uprising in the summer of 1944, when the advancing Russians halted in the city's eastern approaches and made no move to aid the beleaguered insurgents. (There were political animosities at the time between the Polish government-in-exile in London and resistance forces in Poland. But no single act by Joseph Stalin in relation to Poland did more to fuel lasting antipathies than this ``betrayal,'' as most Poles still call it.)

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