The Germans clearly wanted to also ensure that among the POWs being taken to Katyn, medical personnel would be present.
By including English-speaking medical personnel in the group, who could professionally appraise the exhumations conducted by Dr. Buhtz and the doctors of the Polish Red Cross, who were working in Katyn, they would ensure credibility. They therefore sent orders to the Lazarette in Rottenmunster (Oflag VB) that the POWs working in that hospital should designate two of the prisoners working there to travel. However, in this case – similarly to that of Frank Stroobant, the civilian, they had to utilize a certain amount of coercion.
Capt. Dr. Stanley Gilder, who was the Senior British Officer (SBO) in the Lazarette, and who ultimately was designated as a member of the group of witnesses, described the circumstances in the following manner:
…I was sent for by Dr. Essig of the German Stabsartz. On arriving in his office, I found him at the telephone and he informed that he had just received an OKW [Oberkommando der Wehrmacht] order (…) to send two British prisoners to
Berlin, whence they would be flown to to see the mass graves at Katyn. His orders were that one prisoner from the Dominions and one ‘Inselbriten’ i.e. one from the Russia British Isles should go. I protested that this was unwarranted involvement of prisoners in political affairs, and he [Essig] repeated that it was an order. Two men would be sent, but we would be allowed to choose them. He required an answer as soon as possible. After discussion with my two colleagues, Captain W. Lumsden R.A.M.C. and Captain G. Gorrie R.A.M.C., it was agreed that one of us should go, especially as Captain Gorrie was in a position to transmit short messages home. During the discussion, Dr. Essig came in and asked our decision. On hearing that we had decided on a doctor, he told me that I would go. ... My colleagues thought that it would be an advantage if I went since I speak German and Russian.
Surprisingly, although the Germans had ordered two men to go – they acceded to having only Dr. Gilder go to Katyn.
But who was Captain Stanley S.B. Gilder? Stanley Stuart Browne Gilder was actually a Scotsman born on July 14, 1909 in
. Gilder finished his medical studies in Edinburgh Cardiff and started working in Eastbourne, near the English Channel. At the start of the war, Gilder volunteered for duty with the Territorial Army and was assigned to the 21st General Hospital; he served in France, where he was taken prisoner in May, 1940, after the battle of . Boulogne
Captain Gilder was sent to Oflag VB in Rottenmunster/Rottweil, where the former mental hospital of St. Vincent de Paul had been converted into a hospital for prisoners of various nationalities. Two other POWs, working as nurses in the hospital, played a role in the Katyn trip and in our knowledge about it. The first was a New Zealander, Sergeant David Suttie – a medic taken prisoner on
Crete, and most probably one of the rank and file witnesses to Katyn, who will be discussed in a later chapter. The second was Richard Early, who also volunteered at the very start of the war and served in an ambulance unit formed by the Quakers. It is Early, who writing his memoirs (published in 1984) not only wrote at length about Gilder, but who also asked him for his recollections about the Katyn trip. For researchers, Early’s memoirs are significant not only for the fact that they describe Gilder in the Oflag, but also because they confirm that he returned to in the spring of 1944. England
Richard Early presents Gilder as a sympathetic, caring individual, who always was concerned about his patients, he described how Gilder expended all efforts in caring for the ill and wounded of various nations who were admitted to his hospital. In light of the fact that Gilder had regular contact with the Germans, who served as guards in the hospital, as well as with the nuns whose buildings these were, he managed to learn German from them. Additionally, there were among his POW patients a number of Russians, and from them he managed to learn some Russian. This knowledge of languages – no less than his medical profession – formed a tripartite influence on his future wartime experiences.
The first occurrence was the fact that he was designated to go to Katyn. As previously mentioned, the Germans certainly must have considered it advisable to have among the group of English-speaking POWs an individual with medical knowledge, and that was the basis for the order which was sent to the Lazarette in Rottenmunster. Since Captain Gilder, was the only doctor who spoke some German, the final choice fell upon him (as an aside, it should be noted that these language abilities as well as the fact that he came from another camp, and not from Oflag IX A/Z, initially created a lack of trust on the part of the remaining officers.
The second occurrence – was the fact that his language abilities were finally not only accepted but in fact utilized by the remaining officers, including Colonel Frank Stevenson who recalled the matter in his report:
..was later to be of valuable assistance to the party by virtue of his sound knowledge of the Russian and German languages.
This then, is the reason, why Gilder appears front and center on many of the Katyn photographs, either in discussion with the Germans, or speaking with a Russian witness, with Stevenson in the background. It is interesting to note that the Germans in Katyn must not have been aware of Gilder’s linguistic abilities, since even General von Gersdorff, in his testimony to the Committee, stated under oath that the witnesses did not speak any foreign languages:
© Krystyna Piórkowska