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