Sunday, April 14, 2013


On this date, Goebbels noted in his diary - we will manage to live off these images for several weeks – but it is clear that the Reich Propaganda Ministers political goals differed from the future and immediate goals of the Polish Red Cross.

Lt. JG. Zbigniew Rowiński, who was part of the Polish POW group which was brought to Katyn, confirmed that the Polish POWs had heard of the Katyn announcement in their Oflag by April 14 from the German press, while Colonel John H. Van Vliet, Jr. also referred to having learned of it in Oflag IX A/Z.

 As the April 22, 1943 690/KMS Wanda cable to London, reporting on the visit of the first Polish group read

The German experts were not familiar with the Polish language nor with Polish organization (sic – presumably military structure). This fact suggests that quite a lot of identifying data may have been overlooked. They did not know, for instance, that an officers' camp had been run in Kozielsk. Not until the Polish delegates arrived, were invoiced addresses of consignments linked with this camp.

A succeeding cable 692/ZZK of the same date confirms that a second Polish group is en route to Smolensk and that one of the Underground’s confidants is ensconced as a member of the group. That same cable confirms that foreign and German correspondents are arriving at the site.

On April 14th, a second Polish delegation was sent to Katyn, and in this case the Polish Red Cross and the Underground was able to select a number of the representatives.  General Komorowski testified

A second delegation was sent from Cracow and Warsaw: Father S. Jasinski, Dr. A. Schebesta (sic – Szabesta, head of the Kraków division of the Red Cross), Dr. T. Susz Praglowski (Prągłowski), S. Klapert, M. Martens—all from Cracow—

The flight then landed in Warsaw, where the following boarded

and K. Skarzynski (Kazimierz Skarzyński), L. Rojkiewicz, J. Wodzinowski, Dr. H. Bartoszewski, S. Kolodziejski (Kołodziejski), Z. Dmochowski, arid Boyan Banach, from Warsaw.

Upon their return, General Komorowski noted

We also received reports from some members of the second delegation, sent by the Germans to Katyn. General Rowecki, commander in chief of the home army, sent, on May 7 and 13, 1943, a collective report to London: 692/i, 692/2, 755/1^ 755/2, and 755/3.

Clearly, the initial Polish delegation’s concerns about the personal information errors and lack of detail being compiled by the German Volksdeutsch, who were typing the name lists, based presumably on names being read off by the forensic specialists to the secretaries (with one of the translators on site being a woman, identified as Irina Erhardt) from documents and other materials found in the pockets of the victims.  It was the forensic specialists who were handling the documents.

In such a delicate matter, where there needed to be absolute certainty as to the identity of the dead, the Polish Underground understood that no error was permissible. To be frank, the Volsdeutsch and the Germans might not be as concerned about the specific identity as they were in the total number and methods of execution, and there were inaccuracies – was this Jan Kowalski of this village or was this Jan Kowalski son of Michael, was less important to them than it would be to the Poles. 

Ultimately, one cannot discount the extreme conditions of the gravesite, whose fetid odor spread out almost to the edge of the former NKVD compound and where the victims, whose bodies lay on the lower portion of the graves, were congealed in an oozing mass

These two visits and the knowledge gained, led to the formation of the Technical Committee of the Polish Red Cross, which operated on the site until it closed down in early June. The Polish Underground not only understood the importance of having accurate information, it also understood that any group which worked there had to work as independently as possible of the Wehrmacht Medical Committee and therefore, in order to keep it separate and distinct the only option available was the Polish Red Cross.

 It is thanks to the initiative steps taken by the Warsaw Red Cross that the identification of and information about the victims was able to be as complete and accurate as possible.  

©Krystyna Piórkowska