Sunday, April 28, 2013


On Wednesday, April 28, shortly after dawn, the 14 forensic specialists left the Hotel Adlon, which lay but a block away from the Tiergarten, and travelled to Tempelhof Airport.  They flew on a Condor FW200, a 26 person aircraft, which then landed in Brest-Litovsk, midway to Smolensk, and where the group breakfasted.  Journeying with them were a female physician from Berlin, a Foreign Office representative, Dr. Zeitz and a photographer.  The journey occupied all of that day and according to Dr. Tramsen they arrived around 6-7PM.

The journey of close to 1,550 kilometers took them over Warschau (Warsaw) where as Dr. Tramsen noted in his diary (albeit dating it the 27th) on this the 10th day of the Uprising:
                Warsaw in flames. The Ghetto
Clearly, the news about the Uprising had reached western Europe, while the POWs did not ever mention that news of the Uprising had reached them in the Oflags or the Ilag.

Once in Smolensk they were put up in, as Dr. Zeitz described it
 a hotel of which the Russians boasted, which consisted of nothing but a facsimile,
They took their meals at the officer’s mess, which is described as the mess of the Surgeon General Army Mitte, Generalstabsarzt Dr. Med. Karl Holm who met them at the airport and accompanied the specialists together with Dr. Buhtz.  Major General Holm served in the Smolensk area from September 10, 1942 through May 20, 1943.  His name is not mentioned in general Katyn studies as he committed suicide on March 30, 1945.

The fact is that the Germans had wanted other forensic specialists to be part of the group.  A Swedish specialist suffered a spinal injury just prior to leaving for Berlin, Dr. Piga ‘evacuated’ shortly after arrival in Berlin, but even earlier there were disappointments.  As the Germans were trying to organize this and other visits with no lead time, they hit roadblocks – in Switzerland they had wanted Prof. Dr. Zanger to be a member, he had already retired.  

In the case of Dr. Tramsen of Denmark, who as it was later revealed was a member of the Danish Underground, it was his superior, Professor Sand who was to have gone to Katyn.  When that proved impossible, Tramsen was suggested and he checked with the Underground (much as the Polish Red Cross had checked) and he received permission to go to Katyn.  So at least three of what we could understand to be original members of the Commission fell to the wayside, and at least two of them were world class specialists.

It is emblematic of the importance which the Germans were placing on documenting this Soviet war crime that they ensured that the foreign specialists were met by a general who was the senior medical officer in the area.  That they managed to have personnel assigned to plan this out, just weeks after the confirmation of defeat in the battle of Stalingrad (early March 1943) posits that the Germans also placed their hopes in splitting the Soviet – US/Great Britain Alliance.  That hope is also confirmed by what occurred in the weeks following the IMC visit to Katyn.  

To summarize – although pressure had not been put on the specialists while they were in Katyn, pressure was put on at least one of them, Dr. Tramsen after his return from Katyn and it can be surmised that it was similarly put on the others.  Dr. Orsos, already 64, when he travelled to the massacre site, was a man of character, as was confirmed in his actions when both the Germans pressured him to testify and he refused.  In his case, age protected him, in the case of Dr. Tramsen a refusal to publicize the matter upon his return from Katyn meant that he was arrested and sent to a concentration camp.

These were not the only substitutions the Germans had to make in the groups sent to Katyn.

© Krystyna Piórkowska