In April of 1943 the Nazis had announced that they had found mass graves in former Soviet territory. They claimed that they contained the bodies of Polish officers who had been taken prisoner by the Soviet Army, in the 1939 invasion of eastern Poland. All the bodies showed signs of the distinctive NKVD method of execution – a bullet in the back of the neck.
Now the the Germans produced their final report following the exhumation of the bodies, and accompanying photographs. The evidence they presented was compelling. The problem was it was produced by the Nazis, and they pointed the finger at the Soviet regime.
For the moment the western Allies were in a difficult position. They knew where the truth lay and they knew from other examples that they were in alliance with a ruthless regime, led by Stalin. Yet they could hardly endorse the statements made by the Nazis. The controversy was to continue for years:
Final Report of the German Police
June 10, 1943
The work of exhuming, examining and identifying the bodies of Polish officers came to an end on June 7, 1943. In the first place it must be stressed that the Kosogory forest was used as a place of execution of those sentenced to death by the NKVD or the Committee of ‘The Three,’ as early as 1925.
Preliminary excavations undertaken in various parts of the wooded area invariably led to the discovery of mass-graves (‘fraternal graves’) in which the bodies of Russians of both sexes were found. Some of these bodies were carefully examined and it was proved that, without exception, death was caused by a shot in the back of the neck. From the documents found, it appeared that they were prisoners from the NKVD jail in Smolensk, the majority being political prisoners.
The seven mass-graves of murdered Polish officers which have been cleared cover a relatively small area.
Of 4,143 exhumed bodies, 2,815 have been definitely identified. Identification was based on identity cards, birth certificates, and award certificates found in their pockets together with their personal correspondence.
In many cases identity cards, documents and considerable sums in zloty banknotes were sewn into the legs of their boots. Their clothes left no doubt as to their being Polish officers, for instance, the long cavalry boots of a shape normally worn by Polish officers.
A large number of hitherto unidentified bodies will undoubtedly be identified by the Polish Red Cross.
The number of officers of various ranks is given below:
2nd Lieutenants 930
Warrant Officers 8
Other NCOs 2
Identified as officers 101
Identified as ‘in uniform” 1,440
Medical Officers 146
Names only identified 21
Bodies identified as ‘being in uniform” must also he regarded as officers, for corresponding epaulettes were often found in their pockets.
After the identification (during which each body was given a serial number) and after the forensic medical examination, the bodies were buried in the newly-dug graves with the assistance of members of the Polish Red Cross. The new graves are numbered from 1 to 6 and the numbers can be found on the reverse side of the crosses. The two single graves of the generals were marked in a similar way.
A name roll of all identified persons was made in order to facilitate meeting further enquiries from the families.
From the translation of diaries, of memoirs and other notes found with the bodies, it was proved that the officers who had been taken prisoner by the Soviet Army in 1939, were sent to various camps: Kozielsk, Starobielsk, Ostashkov, Putiviel, Bolotov, Pavlishehev Bor, Shepyctovka, Gorodok. The majority of those killed in Katyn Forest had been in the Kozielsk camp (250 kilometres south-east of Smolensk on the railway-line Smolensk-Tambov). A few are known to have been brought from Starobielsk to Katyn through kozielsk.
From the end of March, until the first day of May, 1940. the prisoners from Kozielsk arrived by rail. The exact dates cannot be established A few short intervals apart, a batch left almost every day; the number of prisoners varied between 100 and 300 persons.
All trains were sent to Gniezdovo near Smolensk. Thence, in the early morning, the prisoners proceeded in special lorries (trucks) to the Katyn Forest, situated three kilometres west of Gniezdovo. There the officers were immediately shot, thrown into the waiting graves and buried, as may be seen from the evidence of witness Kisselev. who had seen the ditches being prepared.
Voss, Secretary of the Field Police
The full report and the official Soviet statement can be read at Allworldwars
ALSO ON THIS DAY, 10 June 1943 …
“Tally ho,” I called. “Bullet Red Section. Bandits dead ahead. A little below.” We were at 31,000 feet. They were perhaps four miles away and already losing height in a wide sweeping turn to starboard over Grand Harbour. Now they straightened out on a northerly course with their noses down, and I knew they would be exceeding 400 mph. They would be across the seventy miles to Sicily in ten minutes. Unless we could do something about it, that is.