Thursday, May 23, 2013



As my readers may begin to wonder – why all this detail – why this meticulous attempt to reconstruct the jigsaw puzzle that should be best entitled “Multiple Machinations Surrounding the Facts of the Katyn Massacre” – and as they wonder about the specifics of the coded letters, it behooves me to clarify why I write in detail.

It is true that the English-speaking POW witnesses to the 1943 German investigation of the Katyn Massacre appear to be but a miniscule footnote to the entire history of the bloody murders (and bloody they were, with one of the non-Katyn site Soviet executioners wearing a floor-length leather apron and gloves, while other executioners pleaded that they could not kill at such a rate as they had been held to during the first days), yet it is necessary to study the details.

In her generous critique of my book, Professor Cienciala wrote that there is an assumption that these witnesses do not add anything to our knowledge of the history.  Yet I would dare to attempt to amplify the Professor’s words.  It is only by studying these detailed facts, even those seemingly totally unrelated to the English-speaking witnesses, that our knowledge of how quickly and what information was held by the Western Allies can be documented and placed in a clear timeline.  Too often, reference is made to the fact that these Allies did not have hard proof of the facts about Katyn, as it was clear that the Soviets would not allow for an open investigation by the Western Allies, or perhaps more precisely, as a result that the Western Allies did not have proof from their own men, from sources that they could consider to be unpolluted and untainted. 

Yet research over the period of over three years has not only moved the date for US and British possession of “hard and untainted data” from the general United States (if not world) perception of Colonel Van Vliet’s May 1945 report, as being the first, if not only, report, to the discovery of Lt. Colonel Stevenson’s report of February 1945 in the South African Military Archives as preceding that report.  Since Stevenson had served as the Senior Officer of the group, his report should have either served as the major documenter of facts and as such, should have been shared with the US, yet there is no reference in any currently known US documents, of the existence of this report.   Similarly, the British National Archives deny possession of such a report.

Yet two things are clear from the report,

  • firstly that Stevenson had undergone questioning by senior British officers and presumably been oriented to avoid a clear statement of Soviet guilt, and
  • Secondly, that despite having been the SO – he constantly referred to making decisions in conjunction with Van Vliet.

Both the Van Vliet and Stevenson reports were preceded by Captain Gilder’s report of November 1944.  It should be here noted that Captain Gilder’s report was shared by the British with their US counterparts, which leads one of two unpleasant suspicions. Since officially the US and Britain had agreed to share all relevant intelligence detail, and the US had officers imbedded in the military intelligence offices in Britain, that

  • either Van Vliet’s and Stewarts’ summer of 1943 correspondence had been shared with the British, and that they also, have never released information on this matter,
  • Or that the US did not, in fact, share all the information it possessed with the British.  

Further to this, confirmation of the fact that all the officers submitted letters of protest not only to the German Oflag Commandant, but also to the Swiss Protecting Powers, and that both the British and the United States received and thereby were aware of the fact that their soldiers were sent to Katyn moves the date of initial knowledge of the officer’s presence to the summer of 1943.

However, once research made it clear that the US Army officers were Registered Code Users, contacting their superiors on a regular and quite rapid basis, even planning a mass escape from Oflag 64, more questions developed.  This is how a supposition arose that letters concerning the Katyn truth would have been sent by the officers – and that is what led to the discovery of one of the Coded Letters in last days of August, 2012 in the US National Archives.

These letters were initially sent by the two US POWs as early as June and July of 1943, most probably from Oflag 64, where the US Army officers had been transferred by mid-June.  They were sent as late as April of 1944, after the Soviet-orchestrated Burdenko Commission had presented its report in January of 1944, and stateside MIS-X officers had written to the US POWs asking them to confirm their opinions on the matter.  (US citizens’ participation in the Burdenko scenario will be discussed later.)

It is this aerogramme (POWs were allowed to send correspondence in specifically proscribed formats – postcards or aerogrammes, which were a lined sheet of lightweight paper which folded in upon itself to form an envelope) from April of 1944 with its coded but unequivocal statement that the Russians were responsible, as well Captain Stewart’s response to written queries in 1950, when the search for the ‘missing Van Vliet report” was on, that confirms that the US knew from its own officers in the summer of 1943, that the Soviets committed the slaughter.

© Krystyna Piórkowska