Friday, April 5, 2013


Although April 11, 1943 at 11:45AM (GMT time) is the official date and time when Radio Berlin announced the discovery of a massacre site outside of Smolensk, the Nazi powers, as would be expected, had been aware of and working on both the site and on their propaganda efforts for some time.  

In early March, Berlin had been informed that this grave site existed, that these were the bodies of Polish officers and that each had been individually shot in the back of their head at close range – something that might in contemporary language be described as a personalized murder and not a neutral execution.  The Nazis were additionally well aware that the Polish Army under the command of General Anders had been attempting to locate over 10,000 men who had disappeared after the Soviet incursion onto Polish territory on September 17, 1939 – and given the estimated size of the graves it began to be thought that all the missing men were buried there.
Information about the discovery of the mass graves at Kozie Gory had been first submitted by Police Secretary (Polizeisekretär) Ludwig Voss of Gruppe 570 Geheime Feldpolizei in writing to Berlin no later than March 4, 1943, but it appeared that there was little interest in the matter in headquarters. Yet this was not the first report submitted by Voss – he had written earlier that

At the beginning of February it was reported by a contact that in the vicinity of Katyn several thousand Poles are buried, having been shot by members of the NKVD in April and May of 1940...
and he submitted this report to the Commander of Group Army Mitte, as well as the Oberkommando des Heeres, and CC’d it to Dr. Gerhardt Buhtz (professor at Breslau University, then assigned to the Quartermaster of the 4th Army as an “advisor on forensic medicine” [beratender Gerichtsmediziner] and thus responsible for the investigation of war crimes), with a request for instructions as to how to proceed.  Having received no reply he proceeded to resubmit his request for instructions to the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht.
It was only the resubmission of this information by Voss and then direct contact by Hans Meyer of the 689 Propanganda Kompanie, stationed in Smolensk, who had travelled to Berlin, with Werner Stephan, Ministerial Advisor (Ministerialrat) in the Reich Propaganda Ministry (in addition to other posts,) that led to the presentation of this material in person by Werner Stephan to Joseph Goebbels.  Goebbels decided to meet with Meyer – which meeting occurred on April 1 or 2, 1943. Stephan believed that Goebbels had not heard information about the site until then – the information had not moved up the chain of command in Berlin.  That is when the propaganda machine began preparing to publicize the discovery.  The following days saw a flurry of activity both in planning in Berlin and activity at the massacre site.

There was in fact a clear and continuing conflict between the Wehrmacht and Goebbels, as he believed that the Wehrmacht would not understand how to exploit this or other matters.
It took a little over a week for the German propaganda machine to begin to ramp up their operations.  At least for the first few days of April, Goebbels was not able to meet with Hitler to discuss the matter, as he was at his Eastern Front HQ – so planning went on without final approval until Goebbels travelled to meet with Hitler and received it.

©Krystyna Piórkowska