Despite Goebbels allegations that the Wehrmacht would not take appropriate propaganda advantage of the situation, the Wehrmacht officers in Smolensk had made a significant decision prior to any announcement or actions by Goebbels – they had decided on the name the crime site should be known by - without which the propaganda effort would have had even less of a chance.
This is why it is referred to as Katyn – and not Gniezdowo which would have been the more accurate name, as this was not only the railroad station at which the officers disembarked, but it was also significantly closer to Kozie Gory, where the murders took place, than the hamlet of Katyn, and thus would have been the appropriate name for the massacre site.
As becomes clear from the1952 testimony to the Madden Committee by General Rudolf von Gersdorff, the wartime Chief of Intelligence of Army Group Mitte located in the Smolensk region, as well as his materials prepared for the Headquarters United States Army, Europe, for which the general consulted in the postwar period, it is due to the decisions of the Wehrmacht that the NKVD crime passed into history under the name of the Katyn Massacre.
von Gersdorff: In the vicinity of Gniezdowo there were prehistoric Russian cairns, old prehistoric tombs in caves. They were overgrown with shrubs and heavily so. They were actually in the area, so that was the reason why, when the graves of the Polish officers were discovered, we did not call it the murders of Gniezdowo, but to distinguish it from these old prehistoric tombs, we called it the murders of Katyn, so as not to get these two things mixed up.
Flood: Then these graves were actually closer to Gniezdowo than they were to the village of Katyn.
von Gersdorff: Yes; that is correct.
Flood: Who finally conferred the title of the Katyn Massacre on this thing? Did you do that?
von Gersdorff: This was done by my unit with the chief of our Staff agreeing to it
The name of General von Gersdorff, as a member of anti-Hitler conspiracies which included Admiral Canaris, chief of the Abwehr, is known – but his role in the naming of Katyn is of equally great importance, since the choice of name did carry a great significance, as became clear in the initial Soviet response to the matter.
It also due to General von Gersdorff that we learned who was responsible for discovering the truth about the conifer saplings planted on the graves. The seemingly inconsequential remarks in his and various other testimonies allow us to create a clearer image not only of what occurred on site, but also of how German propaganda rapidly created a “marketing plan” meant to disrupt the British-USA-Soviet Alliance and how that plan essentially collapsed within days.
This is in contrast to the Soviet disinformation plan concerning Katyn, which began, it would appear over 15 months before the Soviet exhumations and propaganda campaign of January 1944, went into full gear.