Wednesday, May 7, 2014



In late April of 2014, I located a history honors thesis posted by Vanderbilt University, the subject of which was Katyn and included grievously erroneous information about the English-speaking Witnesses to Katyn.  I therefore wrote to the three professors who had signed off on the thesis.  What follows is my letter, their response, and quotes from the Vanderbilt History Honors webpage.

I have had occasion to read the thesis submitted by xxxx xxxxxx and find myself in a most difficult position.  To wit - I need to point out that this student has made various erroneous statements concerning the English-speaking witnesses to Katyn, which have now been posted on the internet and received approbation from three Professors at Vanderbilt.  This clearly, will lead to a situation in which readers of this thesis will accept as historical fact, the errors that have been presented and will possibly quote them in other papers. 

It is for this reason that I have made the difficult decision to approach you and to ask if we could discuss these errors in detail.  I will not discuss the student’s  positions as to what occurred at Teheran, or whether in fact Roosevelt may have made his decisions earlier... that is a point for discussion.  I also would not agree that the currently declassified materials (although even that is a misnomer as various items were declassified as far back as 1974 - and a more proper term might be disclosed materials) "show how the Roosevelt administration manipulated, concealed and managed the truth about Soviet guilt...." as until we document whether the materials submitted to MIS-X and G-2 made it to the administration - we will not have shown this - it is inferred but not yet shown.

I do, of course with the position that Roosevelt and his cohorts, did what they did to suppress knowledge of the truth about Katyn because of the need to retain Polish, Slavic and Catholic voters.  There are any number of additional facts, in addition to the silence on Katyn which will not only confirm Roosevelt’s actions, but also Stalin’s actions to help support or engage these groups into voting for Roosevelt.
It is my hope that you will read my comments, most specifically those about Lt. Colonel John H. Van Vliet, Jr. (his family is particularly desirous that his name is presented correctly) and then Captain (not Major) Donald B. Stewart and their coded letters - be read in detail. 

I would hope that you are as concerned that the facts be presented accurately

In reply to my email I received the response cited below – which includes (in the order they listed them) 

·         Profs. William P.  Caferro (Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of History, Director of Undergraduate Studies),

·         Thomas A. Schwartz (Professor of History, Professor of Political Science; Professor of European Studies),  

·         Francis W. Wcislo (Associate Professor of History, Dean of The Ingram Commons),

·          James A. Epstein (Distinguished Professor of History, Chair, Department of History, 2013-14), as well as

·         Matthew Ramsey (Associate Professor of History, Associate Professor of Medicine, Health and Society)


Thank you for your message and your comments on the undergraduate thesis by XXXX XXXXXXX  (I am currently not including the student’s name).
We are not able to verify every statement made in student work, and our approval of the thesis was simply an acknowledgment that the author had met the basic requirements of the program, not an endorsement of its accuracy or point of view.  (bolding mine)

I think it highly unlikely that scholars would cite an undergraduate thesis as an authoritative source.  If you have serious concerns, however, you might consider posting your comments on an appropriate on-line discussion list.

Compare this with the description on the Vanderbilt website:

History Honors is a selective, three-semester program of individual undergraduate research, guided by faculty advisers. Honors students propose, research, and write a baccalaureate thesis on an original topic. … 

Course of Study

Each student will be assigned a faculty adviser with appropriate expertise. All students take a three-semester sequence of courses in which they get feedback on their work from fellow students as well as the course instructor and faculty adviser….  History 298a-b, the senior honors seminar, is led by the director of history honors. Here students exchange, read, critique, and rethink drafts of one another’s manuscripts. … 

The Thesis

Each student produces three drafts of the thesis during the senior year: a first draft in late November; a second draft in mid-March; and a final draft in April. After the thesis is submitted, the student takes an oral examination, known as the thesis defense. The defense takes place during the spring examination period before a three-person faculty committee consisting of the faculty adviser, the director of history honors, and a third reader, who may come from outside the History Department. 

All this language about expertise, feedback, faculty advisor’s and a defense of the thesis – while errors, such as a total misdating of when a crucial meeting between then General Anders and Stalin took place – so outrageous an error that either Operation Barbarossa started in 1940 or else the thesis author misdated this meeting by a year pass into the thesis which is awarded honors.  Yet Vanderbilt’s faculty committee did not pick up this and other errors.

Please note that I never used the words scholars citing – I wrote that readers might quote.  But since Vanderbilt suggests posting my comments – so be it. 

My comments do not include all the salient points – nor do I counter with my proposition that the timeline of when FDR made specific decisions, these latter items are a point for discussion and counter presentation.  I only deal with the gross errors concerning the general issue of Katyn and the specific – but clearly announced and defined points concerning the English-speaking Witnesses to Katyn and their history – specifically as concerns the coded letters.   Although I make reference to page numbers in the thesis – I believe that my description of the sentences is clear enough for the reader to work with my commentary only.