Tuesday, April 9, 2013


On April 9, 1943, the Propaganda office of the German government in Occupied Warsaw contacted the Chairman of the Polish Red Cross and summoned him to come to a meeting with a special envoy of Minister Goebbels of the Reich Propaganda Ministry, however, the Chairman refused. That same day the representative of the Warsaw office, telephoned and informed him of the discovery of the graves and in a second call advised the Red Cross that a plane would be flying to Smolensk on the following day and would take the Berlin Propaganda official as well as two members of the Polish Red Cross to Katyn. The Chairman of the Red Cross again demurred.  The decision had been made by the Polish Red Cross to contact the Underground via their liaison, Dr. Górczycki and ascertain their decision about participation in any German sponsored visit to Katyn.  As Kazimierz Skarzyński noted about that day:

                …and the public didn’t know yet about Katyn. It was not yet official.
That same day, Minister Goebbels noted in his diary that “some 10,000” graves (!) had been discovered in Katyn Forest” and he delineated the steps he planned for in dealing with this matter:

I saw to it that the Polish graves be inspected, that neutral journalists from Berlin be sent to conduct an inspection of the site of the mass Polish graves. I also ordered that Polish intellectuals be brought there. They can see with their own eyes what awaits them if their desire is fulfilled and Germany is vanquished by the Bolsheviks.
Lt. Voss had been collecting testimony from various local citizens as early as February 27 and they included Parfeon Kiselov (age 72), Ivan Grivasorov (age 26), and Ivan Andreyev (age 26) and it is Kiselov’s testimony that Voss quoted extensively in his March 4 report.  Three lesser known local witnesses testified somewhat later: Ivan Krivozercov’s (age 27) statement was taken on April 5, and on April 6, the final two appeared: Mikhail Schigulov (age 28) and Alexei Sladkov (age 68).  Their statements concurred as to dates, locations, the fact that it had been Polish officers who had been brought there and the reputation of the site. It is clear that the Wehrmacht Special Police Unit was working on determining the facts prior to any instructions or responses from the Propaganda Ministry in Berlin.

It is also clear that the Wehrmacht Medical Committee under the command of Dr. Buhtz, who had been stationed in Smolensk, must already have been in situ prior to April 9 and conducting its work as the Polish representatives who were brought there in early April could note. General von Gersdorff noted that the Wehrmacht Medical Commission (actually members of the Institute of Forensic Medicine then located in Breslau) under Dr. Buhtz were working in Katyn in March, and Albert Pfeiffer, assigned to Lt. Voss’ unit stated the exhumations started in the second half of March, similarly Hans Bless, a reconnaissance officer in the Wehrmacht stated he had been in Katyn and seen exhumations no later than March 20-25.   
In addition to the Wehrmacht, there were Volksdeutsch working with the forensic team on the exhumation, primarily used for typing the reports or reading the written materials hidden in the uniform pockets. The presence of the Volksdeutsch at the site is generally not specifically noted, in part perhaps,  because included in that group were the only women present, on an ongoing basis, at the Katyn Massacre site during the German exhumations.

Almost none of the reports mention that women worked at the site of the exhumations, and none of them were ever called as witnesses either in Nuremberg or at the Madden Committee Hearings – however German propaganda photos certainly do show them and those images even appear as evidence in the Madden Committee Testimony.

©Krystyna Piórkowska