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