John H. Van Vliet, Jr. stated that the officers were taken under guard, for walks in the Tiergarten, and that it was only there, once they were able to distance themselves from their “guardians” that they felt comfortable in discussing what they had seen. It is difficult for a non-internee to imagine how these POWs must have felt walking through a park in the middle of Berlin, which although the capital of a country at war, still had a semblance of normal life. Clearly, there was no possibility of escape, which was the one extreme, yet on the other hand, this was not a POW camp with fences and guards. This was a park in the middle of Berlin, where one could promenade, despite the news from the Eastern Front, yet there is no mention of these aspects, of seeing children and women, not solely men. The Tiergarten walks gave them a respite from not only the POW camps but an extreme contrast to what they had seen and smelled in the forest of Kozie Gory.
It is Colonel Stevenson’s February 1945 report, which verbalizes a number of questions that logically, may have arisen and as we read his statement, certain questions are answered, while new ones arise:
During the return journey from Katyn, certain photographs were handed to me by the German Officer in Charge, Captain Bentham (?) who instructed me to distribute them to the men and officers. I accepted the photographs, realising they were safer in my care than distributed surreptitiously by the Germans. On arrival in Berlin we were placed again in the same Arbeit Lager. The lager contained French and Russian prisoners. We, the officers were confined to our room, N.C.O.s and Other Ranks occupying a room on a lower floor of the building. We were forbidden contact with all other prisoners.
If Stevenson is correct, then the Germans changed the room allocation upon their return, since Stroobant noted that the Other Ranks and he were held at the top of the building upon their initial arrival to Berlin. This section of Stevenson’s report differs, to a certain extent, with what the others reported, since they emphasize that the Other Ranks and Stroobant were immediately returned to the Lagers they had come from. Of course, Stevenson may have consolidated facts, and so what is consistent, is that the group was, once again, individually questioned upon their return.
Here we were kept for eight days. During this period a number of attempts were made to get us to express an opinion of all we had seen, but I had issued definite instructions in conjunction with Lt. Col. Van Vliet, both to officers and men, that they were to refrain from all discussion relative to Katyn – the matter was full of deep and dangerous political significance and had no bearing on our position, future or present.
It would appear possible that what occurred was that the entire group was individually questioned, and that once it was clear that no individual was willing to speak out publicly, the Germans decided that the propaganda value of the Other Ranks, even if they did finally accede and speak out, would be worthless. That perhaps, is why they, together with Frank Stroobant, were shortly returned to their Lagers. The questioners apparently included Lord Haw Haw. Readers of World War II history, familiar with the name of Lord Haw Haw, may not be aware that this pseudonym was used by a number of British citizens who broadcast to the English-speaking world and presented the Nazi viewpoint, including P.G. Wodehouse. Generally, however, the individual most closely related to this identity, is a US-born son of Irish and British parents, who left Ireland, lived in Britain and then went to Germany -William Joyce, and it is presumably he who was one of the questioners.
© Krystyna Piórkowska