“The group I left the camp with was one of the last,” we can read in Stanisław Swianiewicz’s account.* We were loaded into prison carriages, where we found the inscriptions of more or less this content on the walls ‘going back home is a lie, they take us to new camps’.
In the morning of 30 IV 1940 we passed Smolensk. Several kilometers after Smolensk our carriages were stopped. There was a rumour that we would be disembarking here. Soon a higher NKVD officer entered the carriage in which I was staying, called me and declared that I would be separated from the general transport, then I was moved to another carriage and placed in a separate prison compartment.
From this compartment, through the prison window under the ceiling, I was able to observe that the square in front of the railway track is quite densely covered with NKVD guards; my colleagues were disembarking and put on buses with painted over windows. The bus after transporting a batch returned approximately half an hour later for another one. From this I deduced that my colleagues were being transported to some camp located relatively close to the railway station […]
* Copy of account in the collections of the Katyn Institute in Poland.
They didn’t spend much time in the cells Testimony of Mitrofan Wasilievich Syromiatnikov, NKVD functionary
“They were brought to Kharkiv by rail in special carriages,” mentions Mitrofan Wasilievich Syromiatnikov. – From the NKVD Board, the cars used to transport Poles to the NKVD Board building were leaving. At that time I was a senior caretaker in an internal prison and sometimes I took Poles in and placed them in cells. As a rule, they stayed in cells for a short period of time, day – two or even a few hours, after which they were taken to the NKVD cellar and shot. Whether they were shot on the basis of sentences or on the basis of other court decisions – I don’t know that…
In the cellar there was a prosecutor, who exactly I don’t remember, and a commander Kuprij, other data about him I do not remember either (at that time he was a commander of the NKVD Board) and several people from the military command. Who personally shot Poles – I do not know. After shooting, the corpses of Poles were thrown into trucks and taken to the Forest Park […] The execution of Poles was carried out in the course of their inflow to the NKVD Board. How many of them were brought in – I don’t know and I can’t even say approximately, because I was ill for two months. Several times I loaded corpses of Poles and drove them to the burial place [ which] was about 200 meters from the Biełogorodzka road. The corpses of Poles were placed in large holes, of which there were two or three…”*
Bożena Łojek, ‘Zeznania Syromiatnikowa w sprawie wymordowania jeńców polskich’ (Syromiatnikov’s testimonies about murdering Polish prisoners of war) (in ) II PÓŁWIECZE ZBRODNI, Zeszyty Katyńskie Nr 5, Wyd. Niezależny Komitet Historyczny Badania Zbrodni Katyńskiej, Polska Fundacja Katyńska, Warsaw 1995.
KATYŃ. Zagłada. Dokumenty zbrodni (Katyn. Extermination. Documents of a crime). Warsaw 1998.
Musielak Leon Spod Czestochowy do Kozielska (From Częstochowa to Kozelsk), Kraków 1991.
Swianiewicz Stanisław, W cieniu Katynia (The Shadow of Katyn), Warsaw 1990.
Tucholski Jędrzej, Mord w Katyniu (Murder in Katyn), Warsaw 1990.
Wołągiewicz Ryszard, Katyń w albumach rodzinnych (Katyn in family albums), Szczecin 1991.
Zawodny Janusz, Katyń, Paryż l989.
‘Zbrodnia katyńska w świetle dokumentów’ (‘The Katyn Crime in the Light of Documents’). With foreword by Władysław Anders. Wyd. Londyn 1948.
On April 1, 1940, the camp commandant in Ostashkov, Mayor of State Security, Pavel Fyodorovich Borisovets, was ordered to send the first groups of Polish prisoners of war to the disposal of the head of the USSR UNKVD in the Kaliningrad oblast. Under ‘the most secret’ lists of Polish names, delivered to the addressee only ‘to his own hands’, there is a signature of the Head of the NKVD USSR Main Administration for Affairs of Prisoners of War, captain of state security Piotr Karpovich Soprunenko. Asked years later for his signature in plain pencil and a handwritten date on this document, retired general Soprunenko will declare that from the end of March to the end of May 1940 he was in Vyborg, and after returning from there to Moscow no one from the management of the NKVD USSR told him where the Polish prisoners of war had gone, but ‘in those times it was impossible to ask…’
Dmitry Stepanovich Tokarev is more talkative, in 1940 he was the head of the NKVD board of the Kaliningrad oblast. In March 1991, for two days, he answered questions put to him by the prosecutors of the Main Military Prosecutor’s Office, including Lieutenant Colonel Anatoly Yablokov of the Judiciary.
Retired Major Tokarev remembers April 1940, when three senior NKVD officers appeared in his office to manage the execution of Polish prisoners of war. „Who was shot? – He wonders on the second day of his testimony. – As I later found out, all the police officers, regardless of their rank, starting from younger ranks [ were also shot ] all the prison guards, all the border guards, the fire brigade commanders…”
After this Tokarev’s monologue-statement the hearing moves to the action of ‘unloading’ – as in many Soviet documents at that time – the transports of prisoners were called in 1940. Also transports from the Ostashkov camp to Kalinin…
Yablokov: How many carriages were sent?
Tokarev: For the first time, 300 people were brought from Ostashkov. It turned out to be too much. The night was short and we had to end at dawn. Then they started to bring 250 people each. Let’s count how many carriages it takes to fill the prisoners to the brim?
Yablokov: Two carriages […] Previously you had testified that, at Blokhin’s request, you were present at the examination of Polish prisoners of war before their execution?
Tokarev: I said not on request, but the three of them came to me: Sinegubov, Blokhin and Krivenko. I was sitting in the office. Well, shall we go? We will go!
Yablokov: Was it the first day?
Tokarev: On the first day. So we went. And then I saw all this horror. We came there. After a few minutes, Blokhin put on his special clothing: a brown leather cap, a long leather brown apron, leather brown gloves with cuffs above the elbows. It made a great impression on me – I saw the executioner […]
Fragment of the testimony of Dmitry Stiepanovich Tokarev. (in) ‘KATYŃ. DOKUMENTY ZBRODNI’ (‘KATYN. THE DOCUMENTS OF THE CRIME’) t.2, Wyd. Naczelna Dyrekcja Archiwów Państwowych, Wydawnictwo „Trio”, Warsaw 1998.
Out of the unknown – so far – number of direct executors of the order of 5 March 1940, it was possible to obtain a photograph of only one executioner. The photograph brought from Moscow in 1996 was published in the 42nd issue of the ‘Katyn Bulletin’. The team of executioners who came to Kalinin was directed by Major of National Security, dressed in leather apron – Vasily Mikhailovich Blokhin.
Vasily Blokhin, post-war photography.
Very little is known about him. He was born in December 1895 into a poor peasant family living in the village of Gavrilovskoye in the Vladimir Governorate. At first he worked as a shepherd in the village of Turowo in the Jaroslav Governorate, and after 1910 he was a stonemason in Moscow. He joined the Russian army in 1915 and the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army (RKKA) in November 1918. From May 1921 he was one of 40,000 ‘Chekists’ in the VchK Military Corps, separated from the RKKA and subordinated to the All-Union Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage. He served, among others, in 62 battalion of VchK troops and units of OSNAZ (from OSobowogo NAZnaczeniija – ‘special purpose’). In the years 1922 – 26 in positions of responsibility in the OSNAZ division, and from 1926 to 1934 the commander of the OGPU (Joint State Political Directorate) (United GPU) of the USSR. After 1934, in the NKVD, among others, in the years 1938-1943, he was the head of the Headquarters of the Administrative and Economic Department of the NKVD USSR. Within the structure of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the commanding officer’s unit carried out death sentences, and such units existed at each NKVD post.
The head of these troops (which in the USSR had several hundred ‘Chekists’) major of state security Vasily Blokhin did not have to execute sentences personally. Was he ordered to go to Kalinin and take part in the murder of further transports of Polish prisoners of war? Probably so, because nothing could happen in the NKVD without the consent and decisions of the superiors…
After the changes in the special services of the USSR, Major, from 1946 a Colonel of the State Security, later a Commissioner of the State Security. W.M. Blokhin even earned the rank of general major in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In April 1953, he was dismissed on health grounds. He was repressed shortly after arrest, trial and execution of Lavrentiy Beria (December 1953). At that time it was considered that one of his closest associates, Vasily Blokhin, was ‘compromised during his work at the VchK – NKVD’ and in November of 1954 he was deprived of his rank of general major.
As a ‘Chekist’ he has been awarded many times. On 26 April 1940, still during the murder of Polish prisoners of war in Kalinin, he received the first of two orders of the Red Banner owned by him. Blokhin’s name can also be read among several hundred others in an order from 1940 ‘About the awards for NKVD employees for effective fulfillment of special tasks’. In 1940 ‘effective fulfillment of special tasks’ means participation in the execution of 22,000 Poles. Major Blokhin was awarded an additional monthly salary. At that time he earned more than two thousand rubles a month…
Copy of the order about awards for NKVD employees for ‘special tasks’ with the name of major W. Blokhin ( sixth among above-mentioned ).
If one is to believe the ‘leak’ obtained in 1996 from the Military Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation, the investigation files of the Katyn Massacre contain information about the death of Vasily Mikhailovich Blokhin on February 3, 1955. He committed suicide by shooting himself with a gun…