The country was now occupied by the Germans, but a Polish government-in-exile existed in London, led by General Wladyslaw Sikorski. The Polish-Soviet Agreement in the summer had led to a general amnesty in which Poles were released from Soviet prisons, but thousands of Polish officers were unaccounted for. In December, Sikorski met with Stalin and asked him about the missing Poles. The Soviet leader replied, "The amnesty encompassed everyone and all the Poles have been freed." If any are missing, he lied, it was because they escaped. The two men then signed a declaration of friendship and mutual assistance between the Polish republic and the Soviet Union.
But Stalin had lied not just about the fate of the missing Polish officers, who had been executed by the NKVD in April 1940, he had also lied about the fate of their families. Many of the relatives of the murdered Polish citizens were still exiled in places such as Kazakhstan, where they had been sent by the NKVD almost two years earlier.
Western leaders knew that Stalin and the rest of the Politburo were capable of committing atrocities, but they needed the Red Army to keep fighting the Nazis. So Western politicians tried to work with Stalin, which proved difficult. At a December meeting with Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary, Stalin proposed a secret deal with the British. Postwar, he wanted to keep the massive amounts of territory the Soviets had snatched before 1941, including almost half of Poland. When Prime Minister Winston Churchill heard Stalin's demands, he rejected them outright, telling Eden that the British had never recognized Stalin's claim to eastern Poland and reminding him that the Soviets had acquired the territory only "by acts of aggression in shameful collusion with Hitler."