Tuesday, April 16, 2013


The Germans were moving rapidly to try to get witnesses to Katyn – the news had appeared in the Völkischer Beobachter – and Polish POWs held in Wodenburg reported that they had read about the Katyn news in the press. Together with POWs from other camps, they were brought to Stettin (Szczecin) where the group totalled eight men – the exact same number as the English-speaking witnesses, who ultimately made it to Katyn, and the Senior Officer, Colonel Mosser was asked to sign a parole – and he refused, just as the SO of the later POW group, Lt. Colonel Stevenson, would refuse to sign. Thus the group, consisting of Colonel Mossor, Major Nowosielski, Captain Adamski, and Witold Rowiński was taken under guard to Berlin on April 16 and then on to Smolensk.

In the POW camps the officers were of one opinion, and once the group arrived in Smolensk, the night before going to Katyn, they were given a number of crime scene photographs, according to Witold Rowiński:

…We all believed that most probably the Germans constructed this mass grave, put into the grave the bodies perhaps not even of Poles, but other bodies, then put the Polish uniforms on the bodies and that they just filled it in. This was the general opinion of the camp. Therefore, we decided to try and find out the truth and to get our own impression about this.

By this time the POWs in the Oflags in Rotenberg am Fulda, Eisenstaedt, Rottweil and in other locations had heard of the Katyn announcement, and their opinion was no different.  The British officers, who had in some cases been POWs for almost three years camp, had an extensively developed program of code users and had, as well, been receiving equipment concealed in aid packages.  Thus Oflag IX A/Z, where Lt. Col. John H. Van Vliet, Jr. and Captain Donald B. Stewart were initially held, together with 125 other US Army officers captured at the battle of Kasserine Pass, on February 17; also had radios, and it is possible that they also heard of it that way, in addition to the German press campaign. Captain Stewart noted that they arrived in the camp at the end of March, and both officers as well as Captain Stanley S.B Gilder from Rottweil reported that they learned of the crime in the Oflag.

However, the largest number of witnesses that would be brought to Katyn during the approximately three months the exhumations took place would be the Axis soldiers, and a lengthy procession of official delegations wended their way through Katyn. 

Contrary to what can be imagined, i.e. that the Kozie Gory forest was a desolate place imbued solely with the presence of a miniscule number of live souls (predominantly medical personnel conducting autopsies), it was in fact full of movement and activity.  In addition to the medical teams and the reporters; as well as Polish and English-speaking POWs; large groups of Wehrmacht soldiers; as well as members of the Vichy French Foreign Legion known as the Charlemagne Division; and the Spanish División Azul (Spanish) [Blaue Division (German), Divisão Azul (Portuguese) – the name by which the  Wehrmacht 250 Infantry Division (also the División Española de Voluntarios) was known, formed during the summer of 1941, its members were Spanish and Portuguese volunteers, they fought on the Eastern Front in 1941-3, including the battle of Krasny Bor (near Leningrad). There was a special Spanish Medal awarded for service on the Eastern Front, and their presence there is acknowledged in the museum at the Alcazar.], they were brought there, so that they might see what awaits them, if they were to be taken prisoners by the Soviet Army.

Paul Vogelpoth, who served in the 689 PropagandaKompanie, and was responsible for security in the Katyn Forest, estimated, in his testimony to the Madden Committee, that between the end of March through June 1943, Katyn was visited by some 200,000 individuals.

Witold Rowiński, had been a criminal prosecutor in pre-war Poland and thus was familiar with Dr. Buhtz’s work on traffic accidents, and when the second Polish group arrived at Kozie Gory the next day, he mentioned that work to Buhtz. This statement understandably impressed Buhtz and he began to question Rowiński about his pre-war experience, when he learned that he had worked as a prosecutor, he seemingly adopted Rowiński as a junior partner in studying the crime scene.

So, first of all, when we had all the documents and all the photographs of the documents found in the grave, we started to examine them and tried to find out if they could be forged. The general impression was that they were genuine, especially because there were a lot of Polish savings-bank books, a lot of them. They were quite distinct; you could see the stamps of the different places where the money was drawn.


©Krystyna Piórkowska