Colonel John H. Van Vliet is one of the first witnesses to testify before the House of Representatives’ Committee on the Katyn Massacre. Testifying on 4 February 1952 in Washington, D.C., he recalls that in 1943 he was a prisoner of Oflag 9AZ near Rotenburg, Germany, and from there he was sent to the Katyn Forest. He wrote about what he saw and what his opinion about the perpetrators of the crime is in a report submitted to his superiors immediately after the end of the warfare on 22 May 1945.
“ This most secret report, which I delivered to General Bissel in the Pentagon in 1945, has disappeared,” he will say to Janusz K. Zawodny on December 5, 1988. But despite losing the report, Colonel John H. Van Vliet – even after 45 years – will remember his several-hour stay in the Katyn Forest:
[…] In one tomb, the water was solid, filling the lower part of the excavation. Most of those we saw were not very wet. The liquids of decomposing bodies that we could see were flowing down from one layer to another with the force of gravity. I don’t remember whether they were arranged in seven or twelve layers, but apparently the sum of the body weights was enough for the bodies lying on the bottom to be crushed and the uniforms glued to each other.
Colonel John H. Van Vliet (first on the right) looks at the items found in the Katyn forest with the corpses of Polish officers.
It took a long time to remove the uniforms from the bodies lying below. Shovels were used to lift them up and separate them from each other. There was one body with an exposed breast, on which you could see a wound full of liquid pus, at the sight of which, combined with a terrible odor, I almost threw up the minimum amount of food I had eaten before. These terrible fumes soaked through our clothes to such an extent that it was difficult for us to swallow food during the next meals in the German canteen […]
John H. Van Vliet
Quoted from ‘Katyń’ by Janusz K. Zawodny, Wyd. Paryż 1989
“The Katyn Committee of the House of Representatives started its activity much faster and more efficiently than expected – the first sentence of the telegram from Washington launched by the correspondent of London ‘Dziennik Polski’ and ‘Dziennik Żołnierza’ in 17 October 1951.
Immediately after organising itself and assigning the premises to the offices, the Committee interviewed the first witness, Lieutenant Colonel Donald B. Stewart, an officer of the permanent American army, one of the three allied officers whom the Germans sent to Katyn shortly after the opening of the graves, in 1943.
Lieutenant Colonel Stewart’s testimony lasted well over two hours and was characterized by extremely precise and careful formulation of impressions that he had and conclusions that he came to, they were not only fully recorded, but also recorded on a radio tape, so that they can be reproduced at any moment. Considering what happened to the ‘lost’ report of Lieutenant Colonel Stewart’s travel companion to Katyn – Lieutenant Colonel Van Vliet, the technical preparations to record the testimonies made before the Commission seem to be perfectly understandable….”
The correspondent of ‘Dziennik Polski’ and ‘Dziennik Żołnierza’ does not mention the unfortunate and mocking interrogation of the hooded ‘John Doe’ anymore. The Committee is increasingly well prepared to ask questions and has had its first successes. For example, it established that in the American army’s interview there was a group of pro-Soviet civilian and military workers, who found an explanation for almost everything the Soviet Union did, knew about the lack of use of available information about the Katyn Massacre and censorship of the ‘Voice of America’ programme, and did not fall for the testimony that the consequence of the availability of information about the crime in Katyn in 1943 would be to weaken the involvement of Americans of Polish descent in the Allies’ fight…
After a hearing of 15 witnesses in Washington and Chicago, the Committee appears in the United Kingdom, where, as agreed earlier, a very large group of Poles await a hearing.
“The Congress Committee,” informs the ‘Dziennik Polski and Dziennik Żołnierza’ on 17 April 1952, “is working in London with almost all the members, except for two members who could not come from America. The hearing of witnesses takes place in one of London’s hotels but with closed doors because, despite all efforts, the committee was unable to obtain permission for the hearing to take place as in the United States and as it will next week in Frankfurt in public, with the participation of the press […]
Witnesses who testified on the first day of the London hearings gave the rapporteur of ‘Dziennik’ a picture of the way of the work. The committee is sitting in a small room. Opposite the table with five members of the Congress: Machrowicz, Madden, Flood, Dondero and O’Konski, there is a table for witnesses at which the investigator acting as interpreter sits, Mr. Pucinski.
Stenographers brought in from the US record the testimonies and then witnesses sign them at the US consulate in the evening.
Witnesses take an oath at the beginning, and when they finish their testimony, Chairman Madden asks them whether they have been promised any compensation for their testimony. Priorly, the Chairman asks the witness whether, on the basis of all his experience, he could form an opinion as to who is the perpetrator of the crime. It is not difficult to guess what the answer to this question is. During the testimony, the members of the committee ask many questions.
The members of the committee very scrupulously observe the principle of not mentioning surnames or even personal data that could help communists to identify witnesses if, for family reasons, they wish to remain anonymous..”
Goetel Ferdynand, Czasy wojny (The time of war) , Gdańsk 1990.
Jażborowska Inessa, Jabłokow Anatolij, Zoria Jurij, Katyń. Zbrodnia chroniona tajemnicą państwową (Crime protected by national secrecy), Warsaw 1998.
Krzyżanowski Jerzy, Katyń w literaturze. Międzynarodowa antologia poezji, dramatu i prozy (Katyn in literature. International anthology of poetry, drama and prose), Lublin 1995.
Łojek Bożena, Mikke Stanisław, Sawicki Zdzisław, Trznadel Jacek, Muzeum Katyńskie w Warszawie (Katyn museum in Warsaw), Warsaw 2001.
Pieńkowski Tadeusz, Droga polskich żołnierzy do Katynia, Miednoje Piaichatek i… (The road of Polish soldiers to Katyn, Mednoye Paichatek and…), Warsaw 2000.
Zawodny Janusz K., Katyń, Paris 1989.
Churchill doesn't want to testify The former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom avoids taking position on Katyn
After four days of hearings in London, the Committee has recorded and transcribed the testimony of 32 witnesses. Apart from Ferdynand Goetel, Home Army officers were heard, among them General Tadeusz ‘Bór’ Komorowski, Commander-in-Chief of the Home Army, and the testimony of Lieutenant Lewszecki, who, having met Stalin’s son Jakov Dzhugashvili in the prisoner camp, learned from him that the prisoners “had to be killed as Polish intellectuals, but it happened humanely, without tortures…”. The Committee leaves the British capital with important material evidence: a piece of rope with which the executioners tied victims’ hands and who were led to death in Katyn. He had this rope in Great Britain, Lieutenant R., pulled out of the Oflag during the war and taken to the Katyn forest in a group of allied officers..
Among the documents there is no testimony of Winston Churchill, who consistently refuses to speak about the Katyn Massacre. There was an attempt to persuade the former British Prime Minister for an interview or a statement already in February 1952. He received a letter from a well-known American journalist J. Epstein, former secretary of the committee for the investigation of the Katyn Massacre. Churchill did not even want to answer the question.
“We were ordered,” replied the Secretary of the British Embassy in Washington, “to confirm receipt of your letter of 22 January to the Prime Minister on the Katyn Massacre. Mr Churchill does not wish to make a statement on this subject, but he did instruct us to thank you for your letter.”
To emphasise that Churchill could have been an important witness Epstein quotes an extract from a secret memorandum in which, as Prime Minister of the British government, he wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Anthony Eden:
“I think that Sir Owen O’Maley (then Ambassador to the Polish Government in London) should be given a very confidential order to express his opinion on the Katyn investigation. How does the argument about growing birches on graves agree with this new story? Has anyone seen these birches?”
Epstein explains that in Katyn the graves of the victims were planted not with birches, but with pine trees and the experts from the international medical commission tried to determine their age.
On 13 March 1952, Dr. Edward Lucas Miloslavić, who was a professor of forensic medicine and criminology at the University of Zagreb (Croatia) during the war, came before the Katyn Committee that was questioning witnesses that day in Chicago. In April 1943, he agreed to participate in the research conducted by the International Medical Commission in Katyn. His signature – alongside the names of the other 11 experts – can be found on the last page of the protocol, signed after the completion of the work and the establishment of a common position on the date of death of exhumed Polish prisoners of war. Professor Miloslavić is the first of the experts to answer questions from the American Committee of Katyn.
The last page of the protocol, signed by all the professors from the International Medical Commission who were in Katyn in April 1943.
“The bodies laid on top of each other, faces down,” says Professor Miloslavić. – They were close to each other, not separated by anything. All the corpses were in the uniforms of Polish officers – it was winter clothing: underwear and uniforms, some also in coats. Heads were leaning down. One body [ arranged] like this, another one like this, and another like this [ showing ]. This was the width of the grave. Then 12 layers down, and then [ you have to] multiply it by the length. I don’t remember how many bodies fit the length. Anyway, during the tests and measurements nobody directed me or advised me, I knew what to do
I counted about 2870, approximately, a little less than 3,000 officers. They were sticked together by rotting body fluids, decomposing fluids, which started to penetrate and seep through every dead body lying there. It was a dense mass; you could only see the skulls that could be recognized, and the fact that they were human beings […]
The corpses of Polish prisoners of war in the ‘pits of death’. A photograph from April 1943.
Then I walked into the graves and checked which of the bodies provided us with the best information the corpses could give. With the help of two Russian peasants I was choosing the body that they slowly and carefully – which was taking them almost an hour – separated and extracted from the grave. I studied them very carefully in order to find out some of the most important things. First of all, what was the cause of death. Secondly, how long was the person buried. Thirdly, who was it ?”
While examining the body, I discovered a gunshot wound on the line between the neck and the head. Most bodies had only one gunshot wound, coming in this way [ pointing finger and coming out this way, at the base of the nose, which means that the head was bent down. The shooting was so precise that the spinal cord was completely destroyed […]*
Edward Lucas Miloslavić
Quoted from ‘Katyń w dokumentach kongresu USA’ (‘Katyn in the documents of the U.S. Congress’) Pelplin-Warszawa – Londyn 2003.
Dr. Ferenc Orsos, Professor of Forensic Medicine in 1943, Dean of the Faculty of Forensic Medicine at the University of Budapest and Director of the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Budapest, is another expert whose name was included in the protocol of the International Medical Commission. He was asked to participate in the research in Katyn by the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
On 25 April 1952 the Katyn Commission heard him in Frankfurt am Main.
“Everything that we saw at Katyn we entered in our protocol after a very careful and thorough discussion among ourselves. We were aware of the fact that if we were to talk about the things that we had seen we would destroy the scientific value of our protocol and would probably be a party to propaganda.
Mr. Flood : Doctor, did you observe the bodies in the graves?
Dr. Orsos: Yes, I did. Certainly I did.
Flood: Did you yourself perform any autopsies or post mortems on any of the bodies?
Orsos : Yes, I did.
Flood: Did you reach any conclusion as to the cause of death?
Orsos: Yes, I did, and you will find that in the protocol.
Flood: Was the cause of death in any of the bodies, or anybody out of the group that you examined, a gunshot wound in the head?
Orsos: That is stated in detail in the protocol.
Flood: Did you have occasion to observe whether or not the gunshot wounds – if they were the cause of death, as described in the protocol – [ caused by shots ] were fired proximate to the skull?
Orsos: The protocol even states the distance in inches or centimeters.
Flood: Did you observe, Doctor, that the bodies that were discovered in the graves were dressed in the uniforms of Polish officers?
Orsos: This is also stated in detail in the protocol.
Flood: And did you, Doctor, as indicated by pictures now in evidence and as indicated in the protocol, talk to certain Russian inhabitants of the area?
Orsos: Yes, I did.
Flood: And did you observe, Doctor, on certain of the bodies, that the hands were tied behind the back in a certain way?
Orsos: This was also laid down in the protocol.
Flood: Did you observe, Doctor, that certain of the bodies were wearing overcoats or greatcoats, or what could be described as winter clothing ?
Professor Ferenc Orsos (wearing a hat) during the exhumation in 1943 in Katyn.
Orsos: We investigated all these matters in full detail and put all these details into the protocol.
Flood: Did you observe, Doctor, on the bodies of some of the corpses taken from the grave and in the area, documents and personal belongings of the dead officers?
Flood: Did you, Doctor, in the presence of your fellow scientists, expound to them, using as an exhibit a skull opened by you, a certain theory of calcification of brain pulp?
Orsos: Those were no theories, those were experiences of a period of more than 50 years of […] I would like to add something. We discussed all the matters whole afternoon in every detail after we had finished with the post mortems. I wrote down every remark made by all the members of the commission. Then I dictated the medical part of the protocol. We finished up at 3 o’clock in the morning. Then we went to the mess hall. Some of my colleagues had already gone to bed.
Flood: Doctor, did you read the protocol and did you sign it?
Orsos: Yes, I read and signed it.
Flood: Do you subscribe today to your signature and to the protocol?
Orsos: Yes, I do.
Extracts from the protocol from Louis Fitzgibbon’s „Unpitied and Unknown. Katyn….Bologoye…, Dergachi”. In translation, the words „Mr.” and „Dr.” were not repeated before the names of the witness and interrogator.
The 6th day of February 1952 is the next day of the investigation, conducted by the „Special Committee appointed to investigate and examine the facts, evidence and circumstances of the massacre in the Katyn Forest”. Even today, 57 years after this sitting, we do not know the answer to the question of who invented that masked witness in Washington at the time, in a hooded hood, who was immediately exposed to the lenses of cameras and film cameras. Presented as “Mister Doe”, the Pole answered questions of: Ray J. Madden, Thaddeus M. Machrowicz, Foster Furcolo, George A. Dondero, Daniel J. Flood and the advisors who cooperate with them and know Polish language: Roman C. Puciński and John J. Mitchell for several hours.
‘Mister Doe’ presented himself to the Committee as a soldier of the Polish Army, taken captive by the Soviet Army on September 17, 1939 and then together with 35,000 – 40,000 prisoners he was imprisoned in Pavlishtchev Bor. He claimed that he managed to get out of this camp, together with his two colleagues, around 20 October 1940. Among the escapers was a Catholic priest, earlier informed by one of the NKVD officers that the Polish prisoners taken captive ‘will not walk on the ground for long…’ He is from NKVD – according to the witness ‘Doe’ suggested to the priest to escape. One day the escapees found themselves in a forest in a ‘place called KATYN’ and climbed on a tree there, after being informed by an accidentally encountered shepherd that ‘Polish officers are being murdered somewhere here…’
‘Szpilki’ made fun of the American Congress Commission. Szymon Kobyliński added to the witness a Nazi ‘cross’,
but it was the Soviet Union, not Germany that wanted to compromise the hooded ‘John Doe’.
From the transcript of the interrogation of the first of the hooded witnesses, which has never been published before in Polish, because later there were three of them, it is worth choosing a few fragments:
Machrowicz: Mr. Mitchell, would you mind asking the witness what kind of forest it was?
Doe (by the translator) This was a mixed forest. There were evergreens and birch and oaks and various trees, and there were some young trees.
Dondero: Why not let the witness from there on just tell what he did.
Doe: I didn’t have a watch, but the priest had a watch and at about 10 o’clock at night a path became considerably illuminated.
Mitchell: Where were you then?
Doe: We were up in a tree.
Mitchell: How did you come to be in a tree?
Doe: We had seen the open pit there, and we thought that that might be a grave and this might be the area we were looking for. So we decided to climb up into a tree and wait.
Dondero: How large a pit?
Doe: I cannot estimate exactly. It could have been as large as this room.
Machrowicz: Were there any ground that was excavated, on the sides, piled up?
Doe: Yes, we saw ground around the pit.
Machrowicz: Does the witness remember how far you were from that place?
Doe: About 120 metres.
Machrowicz: Why didn’t you come a little closer?
Doe: We couldn’t. We feared that we might be seen and there was a clearing. The hole was in a clearing and we feared detection.
Chairman Madden: What kind of a tree?
Doe: It was dark and I cannot tell exactly what kind of tree it was. It had a very thick and heavy bark, that you could rest your hands into the cracks.
Mitchell: Were you all on the same tree?
Doe: Yes, we were all on that one tree. One was on one branch a little lower, a little below the other.
Dondero: Who was the third person? We know the priest was with him, but who was the third person?
Machrowicz: Mr. Chairman, I do not believe we should divulge any names here. This could be dangerous for these people.
Mitchell: Proceed to tell us in general what you saw that night.
Doe: We saw lights go on this path and the lights illuminated the people up to about their necks, from their necks down. About 10 minutes after this lights we that they were leading two Polish officers in our direction. They were tied to each other’s hands.
Mitchell: How many Russian officers?
Doe: There were four of them, but they weren’t officers, they were Russian soldiers. When the first two approached the ditch, momentarily the two Russian soldiers took one of the Polish officers, and the other two took the other Polish officer, and placed their hands in the back.
Mitchell: Will the witness demonstrate how it was done?
Pucinski: The witness is saying that that two of them seized the prisoner by the hands, seized their hands and held them in the back, and one of the Russian soldiers lifted his chin up, opened his mouth, and shoved a handful of sawdust into his mouth.
Mitchell: What were they using for binding?
Mitchell: How does a witness know that they were using wire?
Doe: Because I know that they would tie their hands differently if they were using rope, and differently if they were using wire.
Mitchell: Let the witness demonstrate to the committee what it looked like, so that it would be clear what the claim that it was a wire was based on.
Doe: Using a rope, you would tie the hands differently, and using wire, you would tie them differently. With a rope you would have to bind the hands at least twice around, but with a wire I could see them twisting the wire in this way [demonstrating].
Mitchell: Could a witness show how the prisoners were being shot?
Chairman Madden: Did the witness see any prisoners shot?
Doe: Yes, I did.
Flood: Just a minute. Mr. Mitchell, we had two Polish officers and four soldiers. At that point you interrupted for this demonstration. What happened to those two officers and then what happened next?
Doe: One was shot, and the other, who made no resistance, was just pushed into the grave.[…]
Mitchell: Could the witness share with the committee [ information], how did you know that these people were Russians?
Doe: Because I could tell a Russian soldier. You can tell a Russian soldier very easily. And during the past few days I had occasion to get to know them fairly well.
Machrowicz: You mean during the few days before this incident?
Doe: As soon as I was taken captive, and all the way to the camp.
Machrowicz In the camp where the witness was captive, you also saw many Russians?
Flood: I think a Pole knows a Russian when he sees one.
Furcolo: Before you get too far away from the matter, I would like to ask the witness a few questions: You have testified that they put some sawdust in the mouths of these two Polish men. I would like to know first of all whether you are certain it was sawdust, or something that looked like sawdust, and to how sure you are of what the substance was, and where it came from. Were they carrying anything?
Doe: It was not sand or ashes. It was sawdust.
Furcolo: What makes you so certain it was sawdust?
Doe: Because had occasion to work frequently to work with lumber, and I know sawdust when I see it, and the area was very well illuminated.[…]
Machrowicz: May I ask a question? Were there any bodies in the grave before you got there?
Doe: We didn’t see anything. The only thing we saw was the ground around the ditch.[…]
Dondero: Mr. Chairman, I think the counsel should tell the committee what caliber of gun that is. The testimony has already shown that these men were all shot by a small caliber revolver or rifle or some other instrument.
Mitchell: Mr. Dondero, the purpose of this gun at this particular time, at this moment, is only for purposes of demonstrating. I am not a ballistics expert. I doubt if there are any ballistics experts here in this room. I am putting this in here only for the purpose of demonstrating the method of shooting, at this moment.
President Madden: Please proceed with the demonstration.
Doe: As I was showing before, the head was tilted back by the other guard. The guard took the hands in this manner (demonstrating), and here he twisted the wire in a circular manner. First, they tied his hands together, and then they tilted the head back, and they packed the sawdust into the victim’s mouth. If he showed signs of collapsing while in their hands, then they just kicked him into the ditch. And those who showed signs of resistance, or resisted this procedure-then a guard would put a gun to his head, in this manner (demonstrating), and he shot him. Then he would spin him around and throw him in the ditch.
Mitchell: How many people were shot like this?
Doe: More or less, the bigger half of those present were shot. Those who appeared to be weaker or in a weakened condition-those who appeared to be weaker immediately became gagged with the sawdust, and they were immediately thrown into the grave.
Machrowicz: While these two first officers were being escorted to the pit or grave and subsequently either pushed in or shot, where were the others? Where were the remaining?
Doe: About 5 meters behind.
Machrowicz: And could you see how many there were altogether?
Doe: There were 200 people there, we counted them.
Machrowicz: Was there light on all 200 of them?
Machrowicz: How, then, could you count that it was 200?
Doe: As they approached the ditch, and as we saw them dumped into the ditch, we were counting them.
Machrowicz: All three of you?
Machrowicz: And did the three of you reach approximately the same estimate?
Machrowicz: While these remaining officers were standing behind, when the two were shot, were the others gagged, or anything?
Doe: They were gagged only as they approached the ditch.
Machrowicz: Did not any of the others make any outcries?
Doe: They were not permitted to make any sounds. They had a guard on either side of them with machine guns.
Machrowicz: Did you not hear any outcries of any of them, despite the orders?
Doe: You could hear them virtually crying and moaning.
Machrowicz: Now, I asked a question to you which occurred to me. If these two officers were being killed, and the others stood a few meters behind, there naturally would be some outcries. And I understood you to say you heard some. Is that correct?
Doe: Yes, it’s true.
Machrowicz: What did these Russians do to these officers if they made any outcries?
Doe: The Russian soldier would then come up to the prisoner and poke his gun at him and subdue him.
Machrowicz: Did they do anything else?
Doe: The prisoners did then calm down.
Machrowicz: Now I want to get the story about these trees again. This was in November. Is that right?
Doe: The beginning of November.
Machrowicz: Any snow on the ground?
Doe: No. Only it was very cold and damp.
Machrowicz: It was cold. What kind of a tree was this you were on?
Doe: I cannot tell definitely. It was night, and the only thing that I remember is that the bark was very heavy, and we could put our fingers into the cracks.
Machrowicz: Were there any leaves on the tree?
Doe: As we reached the branches of the tree, it was not a dead tree. You could see that it was a live tree.
Machrowicz: Well, was it or was it not of the evergreen family?
Doe: I cannot be certain. I repeat that it was at night, and as I grabbed the bark of the tree, it was of the coarse type of bark.
Machrowicz Of course, you know, as a farmer, do you not, Witness, that most trees are pretty bare in winter?
Doe: That’s right.
Machrowicz: What about this tree?
Pucinski: In November, how could you find leaves on a tree?
Machrowicz: Did this one have leaves?
Doe: We didn’t see any leaves.
Machrowicz: Well, what protection did you have from these lights that were shining?
Doe: On an oak tree, the leaves would be yellow at this time of the year.
Machrowicz: Were there any leaves on this tree?
Doe: There were no leaves on that tree.
Machrowicz: What protection did you have from the lights?
Doe: There were other trees in front of us, which shaded us from the lights, They were lower trees. The tips of the trees in front of us were just about our level.
Machrowicz: Was this a sandy soil?
Doe: It looked more like clay than sand.
Machrowicz: Will you give us for the record the name of the prison camp from which you escaped?
Doe:: The Smolensk area, Pavlishchev Bor.
Mitchell: I would now like to proceed for a few minutes now by asking the witness what happened after all of the victims had been shot.
Doe: At daybreak, we climbed down from the tree and began running away from the woods, running out of the woods.
* House of Representatives. Select Committee on the Katyn Forest Massacre: The Katyn Forest Massacre. Hearings before the Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation of the Fact, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, 82nd Cong. 1st and 2nd Sess., U.S Government Printing Office, Washington 1953. Polish tranlation by Mateusz Zemla.
The printed excerpts from the protocol did not repeat the word „Mr.” in front of each name and did not mention that the witness answered in Polish and that each word was translated into Polish for the questioners of the Select Committee.
In the excerpts from the protocol, Ferdynand Goetel does not intend to be an anonymous witness, although he could fear the revenge of the communist authorities on his wife and two children left behind in Poland. He wrote about the crime in the underground magazine ‘Nurt’, published during the occupation, and even in a report, in the form of an open letter in April 1943, delivered to the authorities of the Polish Underground State, the management of the Polish Red Cross, with an official copy for the German administration of the Warsaw district of the General Government. He believes that it is his duty as a writer to inform honestly and objectively about everything he remembers from his trip to the exhumation site in the Katyn Forest. He immediately came forward when the list of witnesses was being established that decided to testify when American congressmen will appear in the capital of Great Britain.
Ferdynand Goetel in the Katyn Forest (third on the left). April 1943.
Congressmen from the Katyn Committee are interviewing the writer on 17 April, on the first day of the hearings in London. First, George A. Dondero asks questions, followed by Thaddeus M. Machrowicz.
Machrowicz: Is there anything that you found in the graves themselves that you want to tell this committee as having special significance?
Goetel: In the graves, special significance? Perhaps the newspapers?
Machrowicz: What can you tell us about newspapers found?
Goetel: They were dispersed – several newspapers.
Machrowicz: Where were they?
Goetel: On the ground there you found at this time Polish money, zloties lying there and papers.
Machrowicz: What about these newspapers?
Goetel: They were Russian newspapers mostly…
Machrowicz: What date?
Goetel: Only dates before April 1940.
Machrowicz: Of what year?
Goetel: Before 1940, April 1940.
Machrowicz: All the newspapers that you saw there were dated no later than April 1940 ?
Goetel: Yes. […]
Machrowicz: Did you recognise the bodies of people?
Goetel: Of one.
Machrowicz: That is General Bohaterewicz ?
Goetel: Yes, General Bohaterewicz.
Machrowicz: You recognised him?
Goetel: Yes, because he has a mustache and sides and then the form of his face. It was him.
Machrowicz: And what about the body of General Smorawinski? Did you find his body?
Goetel: Yes, I have seen it, but I could not recognize it.
Machrowicz: How did you know it was General Smorawinski’s body?
Goetel: Because they told that there was a register of the body, that documents have been found on him.
Machrowicz: And the uniform?
Machrowicz: And the insignia?
Machrowicz: Based on what you found, did you come to any conclusion as to when the executions took place?
Goetel: Several years ago.
Machrowicz: And who in your opinion was responsible for the executions?
Goetel: The Russians.”
* Quoted from ‘Katyń w dokumentach Kongresu USA’ (‘Katyń in the documents of the U.S. Congress’), Pelplin – Warszawa – Londyn 2003.
[…] Throughout the period after World War II, Father lives in the conviction that he must repay his debt to his comrades murdered in Katyn. He does not miss any opportunity to testify to this, but he constantly feels that he has not fulfilled this mission. After a failed attempt to appear as a witness in the Nuremberg trial, a new opportunity arises. In 1951 the United States Congress set up a committee to investigate the Katyn Massacre. After hearing 81 witnesses, including my Father, the committee issued a unanimous ruling that the Soviets were responsible for the crime. The US, however, lacked the courage to present the matter to the United Nations General Assembly. After 1951 there were no news in the case of Katyn for more than 20 years.
In 1974-75, a Committee was set up to expose human rights violations in the Soviet Union. The Committee is formed as a result of reports of the arrest of the prominent physicist Andrei Sakharov, a Nobel Prize winner and a well-known activist. An international commission was set up to question witnesses. Father was invited to this committee and the Sakharov Congress took place in Copenhagen in October 1975.
In mid-September 1975, a month before the congress, Father was attacked in London. When leaving the restaurant where he ate his dinner, father is hit hard on the head; the trace of the hit remains for the rest of his life. The small old man loses consciousness as a result of the impact.
After regaining consciousness, the first words he said “Thank God, I have already deposited my book with Giedroyc, I can die”. The English and Polish press [in Great Britain] noted this event, commenting unequivocally as a political assassination attempt. The doctors did not want to let Father out of the hospital, but he knew very well that in this situation he had to be in Copenhagen. This event gave Swianiewicz a certain publicity…
Professor Stanisław Swianiewicz. Krakow, September 1990.
After the assassination, a press conference was called, which was dominated by the case of Katyn. Father was there without a mask and other security measures. There were almost 300 journalists in the room. The conferences were broadcast by television stations in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Holland, and widely publicized in the press and radio in Western Europe, the United States, and even Canada.
Writing about this in the Parisian ‘Kultura’, Father formulated two conclusions:
- the establishing of an international tribunal which, having examined all the material on the record, would give a ruling on the case, which was left in abeyance by the Nuremberg Tribunal
(2) It may happen that the Soviet government, in the face of receiving new materials, will at some point, on its own initiative, at its own initiative, undertake a review of the ruling of the commission appointed by Stalin and announce the whole truth.
My father was right, but you had to wait 50 years for the Soviet Union to admit to it. […]
Fragment of the entry of Bernadetta Szeglowska nee Swianiewicz (in) “Katyn Bulletin” No. 43/ 1998.
The evil plan to conquer the world The Madden Committee's conclusions and the accusation of the USSR
After hearing witnesses in Frankfurt, Berlin, Naples and Washington, in mid-June 1952 the Committee had 81 transcribed and recorded testimonies and received more than 100 statements from witnesses who were unable to appear in person. More than 200 people’s testimonies, assessed as supporting material, have been entered in the file, so that, overall, it is a huge amount of material, which makes it possible to bring a complaint before the International Court of Justice, a complaint against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, for committing a crime which was a violation of the rights recognized by all civilized nations”.
“Soviets proved by their highly organized propaganda machine, that they are afraid, that people behind the Iron Curtain will learn the truth about Katyn – can be read in the final report. – This is evidenced by their reaction to the actions of our Committee and the huge space in newspapers and radio time devoted to condemning the work of the Committee […] Also, the Soviet-led global campaign of slander against the Committee is conceived as another attempt to block the investigation. Among the final conclusions there is the proposal to establish an international tribunal to investigate premeditated crimes, wherever they are committed. And the postulate, addressed to the UN, with the comment that “until the United Nations reveals that ‘Katynism’ is a precise, evil plan for the totalitarian conquest of the world, it will not fulfil its responsibilities towards the world” *
* Quoted from ‘Katyń w dokumentach Kongresu USA’ (‘Katyn in the documents of the U.S. Congress’), Pelplin – Warszawa – Londyn 2003.