Friday, May 24, 2013


Additional facts that have been discovered make it clear that an in depth study of each of the personages involved in an onsite review (let us use a genteel word) of the Katyn Massacre opens up further and earlier paths of knowledge by the Western Allies.

Thus, persistent research on Dr. Piga, who although a member of the International Medical Commission, never made it to Katyn and has therefore generally been omitted from the list of IMC members, and review of the previously mentioned Goebbels letter of July 1943, questioning Dr. Piga’s sudden Berlin illness, led to two even more damaging possibilities – with both conclusions based on the 1952 interview with Dr. Piga at the US Embassy in Madrid –

  • firstly, (and as mentioned earlier) that the US was so firmly convinced of Soviet guilt in April of 1943, that it wanted to ensure that a lesser number of credible IMC forensic specialists was present, and therefore that it pressured the Spanish Foreign Ministry, and that therefore there must exist additional still unknown State Department documents confirming this action, and that
  • Secondly, there may have been further attempts by the State Department, perhaps in Denmark, Finland or Switzerland to try to keep their specialists from going to Katyn. 
Certainly, if attempts had been made to keep Drs. Naville and Tramsen from going, it might explain some of the post-war attacks on their good names.

This timeline concerning reports and knowledge of the facts is very significant in that it interfaces with the US President’s Special Emissary to the Mediterranean and Red Sea basins, Archbishop Spellman’s report on a meeting with FDR.  For, based on the Archbishop’s aide de memoire, Roosevelt was clear in his decision about the post-war fate of Central and Eastern Europe no later than the summer of 1943 and announced it to the Archbishop on September 2, 1943, well before the Yalta Conference, and several months prior to Teheran.

Although the President had returned from Montreal with Churchill and the three had dinner together on September 1, it was not until the morning of the following day, when Churchill had departed, that FDR discussed these matters.  It would appear that FDR’s desire to accommodate Stalin at any cost, included satiating his desires for expansion of the Soviet empire, without advising Churchill in a timely fashion.

The various occurrences in the timeline under review will also clarify the reasoning behind FDR’s response to George Earle’s efforts to present the truth about Katyn.

As time progresses, various of these newly raised issues will be addressed in detail as will the ongoing efforts of the Polish Underground to document the facts as best they could.

There will also be a discussion of the troubling role of the Orthodox prelate, Metropolitan Nikolai, who abetted international Soviet propaganda efforts starting in 1941 and continued by serving on both Soviet Extraordinary Commissions, as well as the wartime and postwar actions of the various Western journalists in Moscow at the time of these commissions.

Finally, there will be a review of what can now be determined to be unfounded postwar allegations against General Bissell.

But let us remember that as all the progressed, in Paris, the theatres were open, the galleries mounted shows – all approved by the German censors – and Cocteau, Picasso and others saw no issue in presenting their work in venues attended by the Wehrmacht.  In France, as has been written – the show went on.


© Krystyna Piórkowska

Thursday, May 23, 2013



As my readers may begin to wonder – why all this detail – why this meticulous attempt to reconstruct the jigsaw puzzle that should be best entitled “Multiple Machinations Surrounding the Facts of the Katyn Massacre” – and as they wonder about the specifics of the coded letters, it behooves me to clarify why I write in detail.

It is true that the English-speaking POW witnesses to the 1943 German investigation of the Katyn Massacre appear to be but a miniscule footnote to the entire history of the bloody murders (and bloody they were, with one of the non-Katyn site Soviet executioners wearing a floor-length leather apron and gloves, while other executioners pleaded that they could not kill at such a rate as they had been held to during the first days), yet it is necessary to study the details.

In her generous critique of my book, Professor Cienciala wrote that there is an assumption that these witnesses do not add anything to our knowledge of the history.  Yet I would dare to attempt to amplify the Professor’s words.  It is only by studying these detailed facts, even those seemingly totally unrelated to the English-speaking witnesses, that our knowledge of how quickly and what information was held by the Western Allies can be documented and placed in a clear timeline.  Too often, reference is made to the fact that these Allies did not have hard proof of the facts about Katyn, as it was clear that the Soviets would not allow for an open investigation by the Western Allies, or perhaps more precisely, as a result that the Western Allies did not have proof from their own men, from sources that they could consider to be unpolluted and untainted. 

Yet research over the period of over three years has not only moved the date for US and British possession of “hard and untainted data” from the general United States (if not world) perception of Colonel Van Vliet’s May 1945 report, as being the first, if not only, report, to the discovery of Lt. Colonel Stevenson’s report of February 1945 in the South African Military Archives as preceding that report.  Since Stevenson had served as the Senior Officer of the group, his report should have either served as the major documenter of facts and as such, should have been shared with the US, yet there is no reference in any currently known US documents, of the existence of this report.   Similarly, the British National Archives deny possession of such a report.

Yet two things are clear from the report,

  • firstly that Stevenson had undergone questioning by senior British officers and presumably been oriented to avoid a clear statement of Soviet guilt, and
  • Secondly, that despite having been the SO – he constantly referred to making decisions in conjunction with Van Vliet.

Both the Van Vliet and Stevenson reports were preceded by Captain Gilder’s report of November 1944.  It should be here noted that Captain Gilder’s report was shared by the British with their US counterparts, which leads one of two unpleasant suspicions. Since officially the US and Britain had agreed to share all relevant intelligence detail, and the US had officers imbedded in the military intelligence offices in Britain, that

  • either Van Vliet’s and Stewarts’ summer of 1943 correspondence had been shared with the British, and that they also, have never released information on this matter,
  • Or that the US did not, in fact, share all the information it possessed with the British.  

Further to this, confirmation of the fact that all the officers submitted letters of protest not only to the German Oflag Commandant, but also to the Swiss Protecting Powers, and that both the British and the United States received and thereby were aware of the fact that their soldiers were sent to Katyn moves the date of initial knowledge of the officer’s presence to the summer of 1943.

However, once research made it clear that the US Army officers were Registered Code Users, contacting their superiors on a regular and quite rapid basis, even planning a mass escape from Oflag 64, more questions developed.  This is how a supposition arose that letters concerning the Katyn truth would have been sent by the officers – and that is what led to the discovery of one of the Coded Letters in last days of August, 2012 in the US National Archives.

These letters were initially sent by the two US POWs as early as June and July of 1943, most probably from Oflag 64, where the US Army officers had been transferred by mid-June.  They were sent as late as April of 1944, after the Soviet-orchestrated Burdenko Commission had presented its report in January of 1944, and stateside MIS-X officers had written to the US POWs asking them to confirm their opinions on the matter.  (US citizens’ participation in the Burdenko scenario will be discussed later.)

It is this aerogramme (POWs were allowed to send correspondence in specifically proscribed formats – postcards or aerogrammes, which were a lined sheet of lightweight paper which folded in upon itself to form an envelope) from April of 1944 with its coded but unequivocal statement that the Russians were responsible, as well Captain Stewart’s response to written queries in 1950, when the search for the ‘missing Van Vliet report” was on, that confirms that the US knew from its own officers in the summer of 1943, that the Soviets committed the slaughter.

© Krystyna Piórkowska

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


One may wonder what occurred when the eyewitnesses returned to the Lagers – obviously, we do not know what happened with the Other Ranks and Stevenson certainly could not mention where he was held for two months – however, the three other officers and Stroobant did leave a record.  Each of them noted that they did not discuss the matter of Katyn with their fellow prisoners – although they all knew that the individuals in questions had been to Katyn to view the graves of the officers.

Nonetheless, despite this knowledge, it appears that the other prisoners did not question the witnesses, nor did they disclose their opinions on the subject to their prison mates.  The Germans had supplied Colonel Stevenson with copies of various photographs that had been taken during their stay in Kozie Gory and in Smolensk – thus there were images of various sites in addition to the grave site itself.

Captain Stewart testified that

You will find me in very few of those pictures, because I was convinced this was a propaganda effort, and every time I saw someone pointing a camera in my direction, I moved out of range or moved around on the other side, where possibly my back would show.

I was only in those pictures I could not avoid, because I did not want to be used for propaganda purposes. The other people were not quite so fortunate.

He also noted that

The Germans were taking movies, they were taking still pictures, and if we looked at anything with too much interest we felt they might make some propaganda out of it. If we indicated too much interest, we felt we would be playing into their hands.

Captain Stewart supplied the Committee with seven photographs which he described as follows

Two are unimportant. One shows a picture of a typical Russian village, according to the Germans, near Smolensk, and has nothing to do with this. ..

Another one shows the picture of the old city wall at Smolensk which I saw. It has nothing to do with this.

Stewart also added that each of the images he had been given had been stamped Gepruft by the Germans – i.e. that the censors had approved the images and they could be kept by the POWs.  Van Vliet made similar statements.

What is clear from a careful reading of the testimony to the Madden Committee is that:

  • the photographs which had been in the possession of Lt. Colonel Van Vliet had been attached to the 1945 version of his report and that
  • Those images were now missing (although that is never stated directly – the only reference being

 copies of which Mr. Mitchell now has, and

  • The images that were viewed and discussed in the first two sessions were the ones supplied by Captain Stewart. 

However, the Colonel Stevenson file contained at least two other images that do not appear in the Van Vliet or Stewart files.


© Krystyna Piórkowska

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


No more than (probably) eight days after their visit to Katyn, Stevenson had been removed to an unknown site, while shortly after that the two American officers, Van Vliet and Stewart, were returned to Oflag IX A/Z.  Major changes were afoot in the Oflag, as the Germans were preparing to comply with the Hague Convention and were preparing a camp, in what was formerly Poland, but now incorporated into the Reich, and which had housed French officers to hold the Americans who were now flowing into the Reich after being captured in battle.

The last POW to be held in Berlin was Dr. Gilder, although, if he had been accompanied by David Suttie, the New Zealander, it would have made sense, because then the Germans would not have held him alone.  As earlier mentioned, I have hypothesized that David Suttie was one of the Other Ranks brought to Katyn, and my reasoning flows as follows:

·         In his November 1944 report Dr. Gilder mentions David Suttie by name as the person who was to have accompanied him.  The question arises, why, in a reasonably short report, would Gilder mention the name of a person who DID NOT accompany him?

·         During the stay in Berlin, Dr. Gilder mentions a batman who serviced the officers and states that he was a New Zealander.

·         In his report to the Polish underground, Dr. Wodziński clearly states that a New Zealander was present.

·         Finally, Witold Kawecki, the journalist who joined the group on that leg of the Wroclaw-Katyn segment of the flight, mentions an Australian in the group – perhaps New Zealand’s linkage to Australia in the British Empire allowed him to compound the two.

Perhaps, and admittedly, this is an enormous supposition, it is Sergeant Suttie, attired in British battle dress, who is visible on one of the photos included as an exhibit in the Madden Hearings. This is the only enlisted man who does not turn his face away from the autopsy being conducted before the group, which response could only be ascribed to his work in the hospital both in New Zealand and in Rottenmunster.

It is during these last days in Berlin that Dr. Gilder discovered that Stevenson had been sent to a separate location, from which he was later sent to Bologna, Italy.

 Van Vliet only noted, and that in his recreated report, and not his 1952 testimony, that

One afternoon Lt. Col. Stevenson was bundled off by the Germans on about ten minutes notice.  He seemed very surprised and quite uneasy as he left the Jail. We never saw or heard of him again.

However, there was no public testimony to this matter, and the report was simply placed in the record and not read into the record.   It must be noted that there are several other cases during the Madden Commission Hearings when material, which might require greater discussion and lead to difficult issues, is simply placed in the record – and not read into it.

Neither did Stewart, despite not being accompanied by a US Army counsel, as the rest of the military witnesses were, make any comment pertaining to Stevenson’s removal from the Arbeit Lager in Berlin during his testimony some four months earlier.  (Although generally officers were held in Oflags or Officer Lagers – the witnesses were quite clear in their reports/testimony that this was an Arbeit Lager – presumably one for individuals who were willing to cooperate with the Germans – thus the decision of the Germans to locate the witnesses there – which indicated a desire to keep them apart from any other group of POWs which was not cooperating with the Germans.)


© Krystyna Piórkowska

Monday, May 20, 2013


 Everyone who has read or viewed feature films about Lisbon during the war has been presented with a clear image of a city where every nation not only had its diplomatic corps, but where every intelligence service had its operatives – both overt and covert – and where every civilian was presumed to be in the service of some power.  Certainly, Portugal served as an escape point for Jews and other ‘undesirables’ from France or those who could get to France, albeit many simply stayed in Spain once they crossed the border from France.  Myriad are the stories of purported contacts between Admiral Canaris of the Abwehr and the head of MI-5 and ‘Wild’ Bill Donovan of the OSS.   Lisbon, at the western edge of the Iberian Peninsula and Istanbul, at the extreme cusp of Europe, were the two cities fabled for their intelligence networking and sources and seemed to serve as counterbalances at either end of the Mediterranean Sea.

One of the individuals who factored greatly in the US documentation of the Katyn Massacre was George Earle, Special Emissary (Envoy) to the Balkans, who was stationed in Istanbul, where just as in Lisbon, German diplomats were also stationed.  Earle (a former governor of Pennsylvania) had served in Vienna where he had befriended certain German diplomats who later joined the anti-Hitler opposition.  In the Istanbul of 1943, Earle had access to the International Medical Commission reports and crime scene photographs, which will be discussed.

However, in the Berlin Arbeit Lager, presumably after the Other Ranks and Stroobant had been returned, Lt. Col. Van Vliet noted that

We gathered from the Germans that the front office didnt (sic) know what to do with us. There was some hopeful amplification that we might be released possibly through Spain.

Certainly, the Germans should have been able to get the POWs through to Spain, even to the border with Portugal.  Once there, crossing the border, even officially, would not have been a problem.   This added to the fact that there was no outcry from the officers that this clearly was a German atrocity, could have led the Wehrmacht and the Propaganda Ministry to believe that the officers were of the opinion that it was a Soviet atrocity.  The primary goal of each of these institutions was the same – a break-up of the British-Soviet-US Alliance – although the ultimate goal differed.

Certainly, if the Germans wanted to make public the views of the English-speaking witnesses, they were aware that the officers would not make a public statement while POWs – clearly a treasonous act – however, they could speak out if they were released and might even do so if they were in ‘neutral’ territory.

Why, then, did the Germans fail to transfer the POWs to Portugal? Although this matter is not specifically discussed in any known document, there is a tantalizing clue in a recently (June, 2013) declassified document from the US National Archives. 

As earlier mentioned, one of the members of the International Medical Commission was a Spaniard, Dr. Piga, who upon his arrival in Berlin visited the Spanish Embassy and then immediately declined travel to Katyn – feigning – as Goebbels referred to it, in a letter of July 17, 1943, ultimately directed to the Spanish Foreign Minister Jordana and General Muñoz Grandes, an illness of a ‘diplomatic character’.  Apparently, although it had taken almost three months, the Germans had discovered the nature of Dr. Piga’s ‘illness’.

Recently declassified State Department materials contain a report of a 1952 interview conducted with Dr. Piga in the US Embassy in Spain.  In the document, Dr. Piga is quoted as stating that, apparently, the US government had learned of the planned presence of Dr. Piga as part of the IMC, and had contacted the then Spanish Foreign Minister Jordana.  They pressured the Foreign Ministry to such an extent, that Dr. Piga was instructed to withdraw from the Katyn trip, albeit he received the message only upon his arrival to Berlin.

Clearly, the United States, and particularly, Franklin D. Roosevelt did not want the credibility and good guy image of ‘Uncle Joe’ Stalin to be damaged by such a highly public visit of known forensic specialists to the Katyn site, particularly if they would affirm Soviet guilt in the matter; this, at a moment when the Soviets were bearing the brunt of losses, both in dead and wounded.  This then would indicate that there was US State Department certainty, nay, even more, FDR’s certainty of clear Soviet guilt even prior to the end of April, 1943 – this can be stated with some certainty – since many matters which would appear to be minute – including the issuance of passports to US citizens did often pass through FDR’s hands – witness the case of Oskar Lange and Stanisław Orlemański.  Although no State Department minutes have yet been disclosed on the subject – there had to be directives from Washington to force a local diplomat to pressure the Spanish Foreign Ministry.  But a decision to intrude on this high a level could not have been taken by an underling at the State Department.

This knowledge, that the Spaniards had been influenced by the United States to such an extent that they ‘betrayed’ their German allies in such an important propaganda mission, might have caused some concern on the part of the Germans as to how the Spaniards would proceed if the group of POWs were brought into Spain to either then cross in Portugal or perhaps be released in Spain.  The Germans would have no certainty that the POWs would be allowed to speak publicly, or that the US government would not pressure them to present the ‘pro-Soviet’ version of the massacre.

Thus, if one is to presume that the Germans were aware of the US pressure on the Spaniards, which the letter to the Spanish Ministry implies, they would have major concerns about releasing the POWs on Spanish territory – or into murky Lisbon.  Therefore, if there was no guarantee of a presentation of Soviet guilt in the massacre, the decision was clear there was no benefit to releasing them – the POWs would be returned to their camps. 


© Krystyna Piórkowska

Sunday, May 19, 2013


A number of times in this lengthy paragraph (which has been segmented for analysis purposes) Stevenson indirectly touches upon a fact which has not been discussed – why is it that Frank Parker Stevenson, a reservist and not a career officer, holding a rank identical to that of John H. Van Vliet, Jr. who was a career officer (and who noted this in his report and testimony), is consistently identified as the Senior Officer of the group.  Yet although Van Vliet and Stewart never modified that stance, in his report Stevenson seems to indicate that there was a clear consultative nature to his functioning as Senior Officer.

We were P.O.W.s, Russia our ally, and by such our duty and loyalty was definite and clear. This instruction applied not only to our presence in Berlin but should be obeyed as far as our own camps were concerned. It would be common knowledge that we had been taken to Katyn and perhaps unwise to conceal, but on our return to camp, we must maintain silence relative to our experience. This policy was unanimously agreed to by Col. van Vliet (sic) and the Other Ranks were called together and issued with an instruction bearing on this matter. The photographs were not distributed to the Other Ranks. The officers were given a set. The remainder I retained.  Supplies are attached. 

 “The policy was unanimously agreed to by Col. Van Vliet (sic)” – logical reasoning might lead one to consider the following theory – the Germans were well appraised of the military backgrounds of their POWs – and as such, they would have faced a difficult quandary in the case of officers of equal rank – is an officer with a degree from a military academy to be accorded a higher level of respect?  Or is an officer senior in age and years of military service to be accorded the respect?  Or in fact, would it be the fact that Britain had entered the war before the US did, and that Lt. Colonel Stevenson had been a POW longer than Lt. Colonel Van Vliet, Jr.? Bearing in mind that this visit was organized by the Wehrmacht – for publicity purposes – but nonetheless by the Wehrmacht – this would have been an issue.

However, I suspect that another factor may have influenced the matter.  John H. Van Vliet was supremely aware of the political nature of this trip and that the group was being photographed, filmed and recorded (not only in the forest, but as they noted, in their rooms) and as a result, he may have wanted to recede a bit from the omnipresent monitor, to be less of a focus.  This is clearly apparent in the photographs from the site.  As previously mentioned, Dr. Gilder is generally front and center speaking to Dr. Buhtz or Kiselev, and then standing in the clear forefront is Lt. Col. Stevenson, while on a number of images we see Van Vliet only from the rear, or a partial side view. 

Thus, if the Germans were to use these photographs, the natural tendency in describing them would be to state the names of the people who were clearly visible and/or front and center.  The others might not be mentioned, or if they were, their names would not be the first to be listed.  Perhaps it is all happenstance, but I would conclude that Van Vliet and Stewart (who also tends not to appear full face, were highly sensitive to the propaganda value of an image that would list their names and the fact that they were graduates of the US Military Academy.   In the stratified society of the 1930’s and 1940’s, and in the Wehrmacht, where not only military rank but aristocratic titles were still mentioned, referring to the presence of a graduate of Sandhurst, or alternatively the Military Academy, would have had great propaganda value.

 Thus, what Captain Gilder describes as Stevenson’s paranoidal nature may have led to Stevenson wanting to assume the function of Senior Officer, while Van Vliet’s innate ability to discern the propaganda issues, would have led him to demur and deflect any suggestion that he serve as Senior Officer.  Van Vliet described Stevenson in the following words:

                He was a windbag

 Nonetheless, Van Vliet clearly attempted to direct Stevenson’s reasoning in the matter, as is noted by Stevenson, not I would vouchsafe as an acknowledgment of Van Vliet’s input – but rather as an attempt, in 1945 to ensure that if an erroneous decision had been made, the blame could be equally shared by the South African reservist and the American career officer.


© Krystyna Piórkowska

Saturday, May 18, 2013


John H. Van Vliet, Jr. stated that the officers were taken under guard, for walks in the Tiergarten, and that it was only there, once they were able to distance themselves from their “guardians” that they felt comfortable in discussing what they had seen.  It is difficult for a non-internee to imagine how these POWs must have felt walking through a park in the middle of Berlin, which although the capital of a country at war, still had a semblance of normal life.  Clearly, there was no possibility of escape, which was the one extreme, yet on the other hand, this was not a POW camp with fences and guards. This was a park in the middle of Berlin, where one could promenade, despite the news from the Eastern Front, yet there is no mention of these aspects, of seeing children and women, not solely men. The Tiergarten walks gave them a respite from not only the POW camps but an extreme contrast to what they had seen and smelled in the forest of Kozie Gory.

It is Colonel Stevenson’s February 1945 report, which verbalizes a number of questions that logically, may have arisen and as we read his statement, certain questions are answered, while new ones arise:

During the return journey from Katyn, certain photographs were handed to me by the German Officer in Charge, Captain Bentham (?) who instructed me to distribute them to the men and officers. I accepted the photographs, realising they were safer in my care than distributed surreptitiously by the Germans. On arrival in Berlin we were placed again in the same Arbeit Lager. The lager contained French and Russian prisoners. We, the officers were confined to our room, N.C.O.s and Other Ranks occupying a room on a lower floor of the building. We were forbidden contact with all other prisoners.

If Stevenson is correct, then the Germans changed the room allocation upon their return, since Stroobant noted that the Other Ranks and he were held at the top of the building upon their initial arrival to Berlin. This section of Stevenson’s report differs, to a certain extent, with what the others reported, since they emphasize that the Other Ranks and Stroobant were immediately returned to the Lagers they had come from.  Of course, Stevenson may have consolidated facts, and so what is consistent, is that the group was, once again, individually questioned upon their return.

Here we were kept for eight days. During this period a number of attempts were made to get us to express an opinion of all we had seen, but I had issued definite instructions in conjunction with Lt. Col. Van Vliet, both to officers and men, that they were to refrain from all discussion relative to Katyn – the matter was full of deep and dangerous political significance and had no bearing on our position, future or present.

It would appear possible that what occurred was that the entire group was individually questioned, and that once it was clear that no individual was willing to speak out publicly, the Germans decided that the propaganda value of the Other Ranks, even if they did finally accede and speak out,  would be worthless.  That perhaps, is why they, together with Frank Stroobant, were shortly returned to their Lagers. The questioners apparently included Lord Haw Haw.  Readers of World War II history, familiar with the name of Lord Haw Haw, may not be aware that this pseudonym was used by a number of British citizens who broadcast to the English-speaking world and presented the Nazi viewpoint, including P.G. Wodehouse.  Generally, however, the individual most closely related to this identity, is a US-born son of Irish and British parents, who left Ireland, lived in Britain and then went to Germany -William Joyce, and it is presumably he who was one of the questioners.


© Krystyna Piórkowska

Friday, May 17, 2013


There is no record of who the three British Other Ranks were, although it is highly probable that British MI-9 which conducted interviews with every returning POW, has a record of their names, and it clearly was not a secret within the POW camps that men had been taken to Katyn.  Unfortunately, the intransigent unwillingness of the British to declassify and make available such materials remains unabated.

However, Frank Stroobant, the civilian from Guernsey, he, who had not only worn his best suit (thinking that he would thus appear to be more serious – he must have been concerned about his youth and also possibly his lack of education) but had also written his will prior to leaving to Katyn wrote about these events as well as his return.

This elegant attire had not served him well, however, and when he arrived in Berlin, Colonel Stevenson took care to advise him of the possibility of being charged under the ‘Defense of the Realm’ act (the Treachery Act had not yet been passed) if only there existed an inkling of supposition that he had collaborated with the Germans.
By dressing in my best suit, with a collar and tie, I had hoped to give the impression that I was a respectable British citizen, rather than a scruffy internee.  Possibly I looked too smart and it may have been that they believed me to be a collaborator

Stroobant had clearly been afraid of this trip. Bearing in mind the worst options that could occur, Stroobant prepared his will before departing from Laufen:
Not knowing when I would be called upon,… I made all preparations for a prolonged absence from Laufen at best, or at worst, my non-return. 

The few odd shillings I had left in Guernsey I bequeathed to my wife, in a properly attested will, and handed the document for safe keeping to Len Collins, my best friend, and secretary to the Camp Senior. As usual ribald suggestions were made about how I should dispose of my spare underpants and other personal belongings, and it was agreed that they should be left untouched for four weeks, after which lots should be drawn.

Stroobant returned to Laufen, only to discover that during his weeklong absence, a new Camp Senior had been elected.  This was Ambrose Sherwill, who had held various government posts in Guernsey both prior to and after the war, and had earlier been held in Paris.  Shortly after that, Stroobant became involved with a group which had used stolen materials to construct the ‘Forbidden Whisper’ a radio receiver.  Each night Stroobant listened to the BBC for some 4-5 hours, taking notes by the ‘light’ of a 3 watt bulb, which information was then copied and circulated through the camp, serving as their main source of news.  The ‘Forbidden Whisper’ became Stroobant’s closest companion, which he guarded at all costs, so close, that when he was returning to the British Isles, he could not imagine leaving it behind in Laufen, and took it with him.  One wonders if perhaps the Forbidden Whisper had actually been constructed prior to mid-April of 1943 and whether, like the military men, this civilian had first learned about Katyn through that radio.

After the war, the former internees were not allowed to return directly to their homes; instead they remained in England, from whence they left after several months.  The question naturally arises, were the internees debriefed upon their return from Germany. 

© Krystyna Piórkowska

Thursday, May 16, 2013


There are two issues which the reader may not comprehend in reading the generally available material about Katyn.  The contemporary image of a forensic scientist working in optimal conditions is absolutely incorrect. The first fact is that the conditions were absolutely extreme, that any image of a sterile laboratory with forensic scientists working over the corpses cannot transmit the reality of what occurred on site. The second is that none of the reports and none of the public testimony of any of the witnesses describe the intensity of the experience, even for battle-hardened soldiers who had witnessed both immediate and slow death on the battlefield.

The Madden Committee testimony of the various witnesses – the members of the International Medical Commission, the members of the Technical Commission, and the testimony of the two US Army officers is almost totally bereft of any emotional content and it is only through a close reading of a number of lesser known documents that we get any perception of how difficult the conditions were.

Interestingly, the photographer Joe Heydecker’s autobiography, a member of the PK stationed in Smolensk, never mentions Katyn in his memoirs.  Yet, he was a close friend of George Alfred Schmidt von Johnson, the field interpreter who accompanied the POWs, and he photographed von Johnson a multitude of times.  It seems highly improbable that neither von Johnson, nor the two other “Americans” in that PropagandaKompanie never mentioned their work in Katyn, either escorting various groups or broadcasting on the subject.  Yet Heydecker took a numerous photographs of the group in front of a microphone. For Heydecker not to mention Katyn was a clear choice – in the postwar period it was avoidance of a difficult subject.  

That however, is a sin of omission.  A sin of commission was committed by Harrison Salisbury, who visited Katyn some eight months later as part of a Soviet organized group of journalists.  Salisbury’s hostility to Poland, which had been first expressed in April of 1943, expressed itself overtly during his January 1944 visit to Katyn and continued onward for the next 40 years.

Returning to the POWs, it is through audio and visual material as well as their recollections in written format, that we can get the best understanding of how deeply this event imprinted itself on the memories of these POWs.

As we progress through the following days the reader will return to the massacre site and will garner a better understanding of what the prisoners did, how they conducted themselves, and most importantly what they did after their return to Berlin, and ultimately, upon their return to their Oflags, Soldags and Ilag and then upon their liberation and in the postwar years.

© Krystyna Piórkowska

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


The POW group had visited Katyn and had also been taken to visit the city of Smolensk as well as a model farm which the Germans had created as a showpiece.  The fears of the group that they might be photographed or filmed while at the site were confirmed – since they later received photographs that included their images.  Additionally, Dr. Wodziński noted in his commentary on their visit that a recording truck had been installed among the trees near the gravesite.

These concerns of the entire group made it be very careful not to exhibit any emotion on their faces or in their bodies.  Additionally, the testimony to the Madden Committee, as well as the various reports submitted by both the IMC, the members of the Technical Committee of the Polish Red Cross all minimize the intensity of the experience of being at the site.

The images of the officers at Katyn, which are the photographs which are the generally known images, were those submitted to the Madden Committee.  What is not generally known are the following facts:
  • There were a number of photographs taken outside of Katyn, some included views of a farm while others included images of the city of Smolensk.
  • All of these images were actually given to Colonel Frank Stevenson, nominally Senior Officer of the group, once they returned to Berlin
  • A further point of interest is that Stevenson wrote in his report, that he gave copies of the Katyn photos only to the officers, as though there were no other images, while Stewart presented seven images to the Madden Committee, including one of a local village and another photo of the city wall of Smolensk, which photo does not appear in the Stevenson file. Stevenson also noted precisely in his report that
The photographs were not distributed to the Other Ranks. The Officers were given a set.
·         How surprising then to find that in Frank Stroobant’s materials in the Guernsey Occupation Museum Collection, that there is a photo of the Smolensk Cathedral of the Dormition of Our Lady, which image, with a handwritten note identifies it as
Smolensk May 1943
This is the only Katyn/Smolensk photograph in the Stroobant files, and if one had doubted Stroobant, it might not serve to confirm his presence at Katyn.
·         Yet, this photograph is almost identical to two images of this Cathedral in the Stevenson file. Who gave this image to Stroobant is not stated, and seems to be contradicted by Stevenson’s official report which went not only to South Africa House, but also to the British officials.  However, it is apparent that Stroobant received at least this one image and possibly others.  The questions about the Stroobant photographs will never be resolved until the British National Archives review their records and open their files concerning the post war questioning of Frank Stroobant.

A further set of questions arises concerning the images which were received by Lt. Colonel Van Vliet and Captain Donald B. Stewart and relate to Colonel Van Vleit’s “missing 1945 report”, yet this is an issue which is not noted anywhere.  As noted, Captain Stewart submitted seven images to the Madden Committee.  Van Vliet noted in his testimony that
Colonel Van Vliet It was my statement, sir, to the stenographer, and affixed to it were the photographs, copies of which, Mr. Mitchell now has…
Mr. Flood And affixed thereto where the exhibits, the pictures you had brought with you?
Colonel Van Vliet Yes…
Mr. Flood There was one document with the exhibits as far as you know?…

Given the fact that the 1945 Van Vliet photos and report went AWOL; and given that the British never released the images attached to the Gilder and the Stevenson reports, and as it appears the German originals were not preserved; it is clear that had Captain Stewart not preserved his copies of the Katyn photographs, we would not have any images of the officers visit to Katyn.   This is confirmed by the fact that the set of five images of the POW group appear only in the Stewart Testimony to the Madden Committee.

© Krystyna Piórkowska

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


The group returned to Berlin, flying back on a similar route to their inbound trip.  They were brought back to the ArbeitsKommando, where the sole civilian and the British Other Ranks were returned to their camps, the Ilag and the Soldag(s).  The remaining group, consisting of the four officers, was questioned about their willingness to make public comments on what they had seen in Katyn.  During the period when they were held in Berlin, during their walks in Tiergarten, did they find the possibility to for circumspect conversations. Both of the officers emphasized during their Madden Committee testimony that prior to and during the flight to Katyn, they nurtured an intense dislike of the Germans, that they were convinced that whatever they might see in Katyn, was in fact a German act.  Yet clearly, their visit convinced them otherwise.

Van Vliet must have been troubled by Stevenson’s earlier declarations, since in his 1950 report, we read:  
During these walks Lt. Col. Stevenson did a lot of talking with the Germans. Told them that he had once published a book, and that as soon as he returned home he was going to get permission from his superiors to write a book about the experience.

The fact is that Stevenson had published two volumes of poetry in South Africa, the first entitled Thoughts of a Wayfarer (Verses) in 1936, and the secondYesterday, Today and Tomorrow: a volume of poems in 1941, thus his statements had a basis in reality.
Stevenson’s declaration is also noted by Dr. Wodziński in his report to the Polish Underground:
I also heard that Lt. Slovenczyk proposed that the Colonel from South Africa say a few words about Katyn into a microphone, to which he responded that he had not yet developed an opinion on the matter and therefore cannot speak. As Lt. Slovenczyk told about a week after group’s visit, the South African Colonel intended to note his recollections of the visit to Katyn, and therefore the Germans were to take him to another camp, where they would create a more appropriate environment to work in.  Whether this tale of Slovenczyk’s approximated the truth, I do not know.

Something certainly was afoot, since immediately after their return to the Arbeits-Kommando in Berlin, Colonel Stevenson was separated from his colleagues with whom he had travelled.  Testifying before the Madden Committee, Van Vliet could only say that:
Colonel Stevenson the South African was bundled off on short notice.

Once the US officers had departed from the Arbeits-Kommando, the last remaining officer, Captain Gilder – accidentally became privy to certain information about Stevenson’s fate:
My guard who, although only a corporal and Berlin businessman, told me that they had lied to Colonel Stevenson. He was not going back to camp, but was to be retained. (He subsequently arrived at a Prison Camp in Italy).

It has not been determined where Stevenson was held for over two months (from the third week of May until August 1943) after he was taken from the Arbeits-Kommando. Based on his military service records, it is clear that as of August 1943, Stevenson was being held in Camp 19 near Bologna, Italy, and that afterwards, when Italy surrendered, he and the other POWs who had been held in Italy, were transported back to Germany and was sent to Oflag XII B.  

© Krystyna Piórkowska

Monday, May 13, 2013


In face of the unequivocal refusal to cooperate, the Germans concluded that additional guards would be required on the flight to Smolensk, which meant that the group had to be reduced in size – the current twelve person group simply would not fit on the plane allocated to trip – a Junkers, it held no more than 18 persons.  Therefore, the sub-group consisting of four US Army enlisted men, was sent back to their Stalag, finally, there remained eight men.  Thus it was in Berlin that the final group of witnesses was decided on. 

This group, consisting of four officers, three enlisted men and one civilian flew out of Berlin’s Tempelhof airport, most probably on May 12, 1943.  The reality is that there are minimal discrepancies in the date given by individual witnesses, but this is the date that seems most probable.  We know that the POWs left the camps in the early morning hours (Stroobant writes that it was at 4AM).  The officers in Oflag IX A/Z probably left on May 10th or the morning of the 11th. By the 11th they were in Berlin and were questioned (the interrogations were hurried, and took only one afternoon), the 11th.  The 12th was when they flew to Smolensk and visited the city. The following day they went to Katyn. This chronology can be determined based on Van Vliet’s statement that he heard about the German defeat in Tunis while he was in Katyn.
I remember the date, because after we visited the grave at Katyn, and before our departure from Smolensk, the German press carried the announcement about the final fall of Tunis… about the 13th of May

As Stewart described the scene in the plane
In addition to that there were the German enlisted guards, German civilians from the Propaganda Ministry and some German interpreters plus a German officer or two. The total crew in the plane was about twenty men.

The plane first landed in Breslau (Wrocław), where they took on fuel, and where they were joined by Władysław Kawecki, which fact was not mentioned in any of the officer’s reports or testimonies, however, his presence is confirmed in Dr. Wodziński’s report as well as Kawecki’s testimony, and after departing Wrocław, they flew quite low over Poland, and as noted by Stewart bypassed Warsaw:
We flew by Warsaw, from some miles distant so that we could not identify any particular building, but we could see the built up section of the town and see smoke rising from the chimneys.

In reality, Stewart, probably unaware of the situation in Warsaw, was describing the burning Ghetto.  This corresponds in its entirety with the earlier notation made by Dr. Tramsen, member of the IMC, who flew over Warsaw some two weeks earlier, and noted a similar view in his diary:

Kawecki, who had previously been in Katyn on April 10 with the first Polish group, was thus probably the only Polish citizen to travel to Katyn twice in the time period while the Germans were exhuming the graves.
The lists being sent to us by the commission in Katyn were being telephoned in and had to go through Minsk, Wilno, Koenigsberg, Danzig, and finally Krakow.
Mr. Machrowicz. And, in the process, did the names frequently end up in a different form than they should be?
Mr. Kawecki. Yes, the names were misspelled and incorrect by the time we received them.
Mr. Machrowicz. And, as a result, did Dr. Szebesta ask the Germany authorities for permission to send some one to Katyn who would get the spelling of the names?
Mr. Kawecki. That is correct.
Mr. Machrowicz. Were you delegated to do that ?
Mr. Kawecki. Originally, Dr. Moliszewski was assigned to thismission, but because he had broken a leg prior to his departure, I was substituted for him.
Mr. Machrowicz. With whom did you go to Katvn?...
Mr. Kawecki. On the plane trip from Breslau to Smolensk I was accompanied by a group of Allied prisoners of war who were being taken from Berlin to Smolensk.
Mr. Machrowicz. The question that I asked you is what date did you arrive at Smolensk ?
Mr. Kawecki. I do not recall the exact date, but I do know that it was in the middle of May.
Mr. Machrowicz. Of 1943 ?
Mr. Kawecki. Yes ; that is correct…

Shortly, the plane landed in Biała Podlaska, where it retanked, while the passengers had a meal, whereupon the plane took off for Smolensk.  Upon arrival, they were brought to a Soviet era building which served as a hotel, after which all (with the exception of Kawecki) – including the enlisted men were taken to the officer’s mess, where efforts were made to make their time pleasurable. Gilder described that they were assigned a waiter, who had been born in Brixton.
An English speaking mess waiter (Brixton borne) made himself agreeable to our Other Ranks, who however kept him at a distance

The hosts even ensured that there was a pianist and a pianist/accordionist, who sang Broadway and London show tunes, in an attempt to ensure that the group felt at home.

© Krystyna Piórkowska