On Wednesday, Poles saw for the first time copies of documents ordering the execution of 14,700 Polish officers during World War II. Josef Stalin's signature was scrawled across them.
President Lech Walesa's voice shook as he accepted the documents from a Russian envoy and spoke of what has become known as the Katyn massacre, one of the most tragic events in Polish history.
"We are witnessing the handing over of the most important documents concerning the cruel crime against the Polish nation," Walesa said. "My legs are trembling."
The existence of the documents had been suspected, but Wednesday was the first time they were disclosed.
Until two years ago the Soviets insisted that the Nazis had killed the officers. Katyn was a taboo subject under the Communist regime in Poland, and it came to symbolize for many Poles a series of Soviet lies and crimes against their nation.
Those slain were the cream of Poland's intelligentsia, including doctors, scientists and lawyers called up from the army reserves. As Stalin had planned, the absence of these leaders from Polish society made it easier for Soviet-backed functionaries to step in as the Communists consolidated power after the war.
The officers had been interned after the Soviet army invaded Poland in 1939. The bodies of 4,200 officers held at one camp were the first to be unearthed, by the Nazis in 1943 in the Katyn forest near the western Russian city of Smolensk. Only in the last two years has information surfaced on the burial sites for soldiers held at two other camps.
Wednesday's disclosure appeared to have been prompted at least in part by the bitter dispute between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Gorbachev was the first Soviet leader to acknowledge, in April 1990, that the crime had been carried out by Stalin's secret police in 1940. The documents show the orders were signed March 5, 1940, by Stalin and several members of his Politburo.
In Moscow, Yeltsin's spokesman, Vyacheslav Kostikov, said the documents were found in a secret file of the Central Committee that was in Gorbachev's personal archive during the attempted coup in August 1991. Kostikov said Gorbachev continued to "camouflage" the truth about Katyn during his term.
KAL data turned over: President Boris Yeltsin swept away a vestige of the Cold War on Wednesday by giving the United States and South Korea documents and recordings showing how a Soviet warplane shot down a Korean jetliner in 1983, killing all 269 people aboard.
The contents of the documents were not immediately made public, but they could help solve longstanding mysteries about the plane's downing _ specifically, whether Soviet authorities knew they were shooting down a civilian airliner. The Soviets claimed at the time that they thought KAL Flight 007 was a military spy plane.
"Sharing your pain, we would like to express our sympathy and condolences with the families of all those who perished. . . . We regret we are not capable of undoing the wrong of the past," Yeltsin told a group of Americans whose relatives died.
No Gorbachev trip to Italy: Boris Yeltsin's government blocked Mikhail Gorbachev from going to Italy on Wednesday, standing firm on its decision to restrict the former Soviet president's travel abroad.
The dispute arises from Gorbachev's refusal to testify in a trial on Yeltsin's ban of the Communist Party. Gorbachev calls the trial a farce. Acting on a court request, Russian officials revoked Gorbachev's foreign travel passport until he appears in court.
Authorities returned the passport so Gorbachev could go to Germany on Saturday for the funeral of former Chancellor Willy Brandt, but Gorbachev insisted he also would use it for a scheduled trip to Italy.
Russian officials withheld the document until after commercial flights to Italy had left.