The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)
Nuremberg, war crimes, crimes against humanity

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
14th February to 26th February, 1946

Fifty-Ninth Day: Thursday, 14th February 1946
(Part 7 of 15)


[Page 16]

I would now like to turn to the brutalities committed by the Hitlerites towards members of the Czechoslovakian, Polish, and Yugoslav Armies. We find, in the Indictment, that one of the most important criminal acts for which the major war criminals are responsible was the mass execution of Polish prisoners of war, shot in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk by the German fascist invaders.

[Transcription note: For an overview of the Soviet failure to attribute the Katyn massacre to the Nazis, see]

I submit to the Tribunal, as a proof of this crime, official documents of the special commission for the establishment and the investigation of the circumstances which attended the executions. The commission acted in accordance with a directive of the Extraordinary State Commission. In addition to members of the Extraordinary State Commission this commission was composed of Acamedicians Burdenko, Alexis Tolstoy and the Metropolitan, Nicolas; the President of the Pan-Slavonia Committee, Lieutenant-General Gundorov; the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Union of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Kolesnikov; of the People's Commissar for Education in the RSSFR, Academician Potemkin; the Supreme Chief of the Medical Department of the Red Army, General Smirnov; and the Chairman of the District Executive Committee of Smolensk, Melnikov. The commission also included several of the best known medico-forensic experts.

It would take too long to read into the record that precise and detailed document which I now submit to you as Exhibit USSR 54, and which is a result of the investigation. I will read into the record only a few comparatively short excerpts. On Page 2 of the document, which is Page 228 - I beg your pardon, 223 - in your document book, we read (this passage is marked in your file):-

"According to the estimates of medico-forensic experts, the total number of bodies amounts to over 11,000. The medico-forensic experts carried out a thorough examination of the bodies exhumed, and of the documents and material evidence found on the bodies in the graves. During the exhumation and examination of the corpses, the commission questioned many witnesses among the local inhabitants. Their testimony permitted the determination of the exact time and circumstances of the crimes committed by the German invaders."
I believe that I need not quote everything that the Extraordinary Commission ascertained during its investigation. I only read into the record the general conclusions, which summarise the work of the Commission. You will find the lines read into the record on Page 43 of Exhibit USSR 54 if you turn to the original document, or on Page 264 of your document book:
"General conclusions:

On perusal of all the material at the disposal of the Special Commission, that is, the depositions of over 100 witnesses questioned, the data of the medico-forensic experts, the documents and the material evidence and belongings taken from the graves in Katyn Forest, we can arrive at the following definite conclusions:-

1. The Polish prisoners of war imprisoned in the three camps west of Smolensk and engaged in railway construction before the war, remained there after the occupation of Smolensk by the Germans, right up to September, 1941.

[Page 17]

2. In the autumn of 1941, in Katyn Forest, the German Occupational Authorities carried out mass shootings of the Polish prisoners of war from the above-mentioned camps.

3. Mass shootings of Polish prisoners of war in Katyn Forest were carried out by German military organisations disguised under the specific name, "Staff 537, Engineer Construction Battalion," commanded by Oberleutnant Arnes and his colleagues, Oberleutnant Rex and Leutnant Hott.

4. In connection with the deterioration, for Germany, of the general military and political machinery at the beginning of 1943, the German occupational authorities, with a view to provoking incidents, undertook a whole series of measures to ascribe their own misdeeds to organisations of the Soviet authorities, in order to make mischief between the Russians and the Poles.

5. For this purpose:

(a) The German fascist invaders, either by persuasion, attempts at bribery or threats, and barbarous tortures, endeavored to find witnesses among the Soviet citizens from whom they obtained false testimony, alleging that the Polish prisoners of war had been shot by organisations of the Soviet authorities in the spring of 1940.

(b) The German occupational authorities, in the spring of 1943, brought from other places the bodies of Polish prisoners of war whom they had shot, and laid them in the turned up graves of Katyn Forest with the dual purpose of covering up the traces of their own atrocities and of increasing the numbers of 'victims of Bolshevist atrocities in Katyn Forest.'

(c) While preparing their provocative measures, the German occupational authorities employed up to 500 Russian prisoners of war for the task of digging up the graves in Katyn Forest, according to the proof and material evidence on the matter. Once the graves had been dug, the Russian prisoners of war were shot by the Germans.

6. The date of the legal and medical examination determined, without any shadow of doubt,

(a) That the time of shooting was autumn, 1941.

(b) The application by the German executioners, when shooting Polish prisoners of war, of the identical method, that is, a pistol shot in the nape of the neck, as used by them in the mass murders of the Soviet citizens in other towns, especially in Orel, Voronetz, Krasnodar and in Smolensk itself."

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal will now recess.

[A recess was taken until 1400 hours.]

COLONEL POKROVSKY: Point 7 of the general conclusions of the Extraordinary State Commission of the Soviet Union, on which I reported in the preceding session, states:-

"The conclusions reached, after studying the affidavits and medico-forensic examinations concerning the shooting of Polish military prisoners of war by Germans in the autumn of 1941, fully confirmed the material evidence and documents discovered in the Katyn graves.

8. By shooting the Polish prisoners of war in Katyn Forest, the German invaders consistently realised their policy for the physical extermination of the Slav peoples."

Here follow the signatures of all the members of the Commission.

The Katyn massacres did not exhaust the Nazi crimes against the soldiers of the Polish Army. In the report of the Polish Government, submitted by me to the Tribunal as Exhibit USSR 93, we find a series of proofs confirming the breach by the Hitlerite conspirators of the elementary rules of International Law governing the customs and laws of war. On Page 36 of this report by the Polish Government - it is on Page 285 of your document book - we find, as an out-

[Page 18]

standing part of the material collected, proof of the ill- treatment of prisoners of war and their extermination. The report says that:-
"As and when the Polish officers and other ranks returned from German captivity, we learn further details concerning conditions prevailing in the German camps. All these details undeniably prove the existence of a line of policy, instructions and orders concerning the Polish prisoners of war. Ill-treatment, hardship and inhuman conditions were of common occurrence. Murders and grievous bodily injuries were frequently encountered. I submit herewith a few examples confirmed by witnesses under oath."
I take the liberty of reading into the record some of the examples quoted in the Polish report. As a first example, I shall quote the description of an incident which occurred in a temporary prisoner of war camp in the city of Belsk. This material figures on Page 285 of your document book:-
"On the 10th October, 1939, the camp commandant assembled all the prisoners and ordered those who had joined the Polish Army as volunteers to raise their hands. Three prisoners obeyed his order. They were immediately led out of the rank and placed at a distance of 25 meters from a detachment of German soldiers armed with machine guns. The commandant gave the order to open fire. He then spoke to the remaining prisoners and told them that the three volunteers had been shot as an example to the others."
In this case we are not faced with the simple murder of three unarmed soldiers of the Polish Army...

THE PRESIDENT: Colonel, you forgive my interrupting you, but you remember that I have interrupted all the other prosecutors to point out to them that one opening speech had been made on behalf of their delegation, and that really their function was to present the documents.

Now, you have just presented a document which states that three volunteers were shot. I think that any comment upon that is really unnecessary.

COLONEL POKROVSKY: I now proceed to the quotation of the second excerpt on Page 37, Subparagraph "D" (Page 226 of your document book):-

"In the autumn of 1939 camp (Camp) VIII-S was established in Kouna, near Sagan on the River Bober, a tributary of the Oder. Depositions from this camp read as follows:- The camp in Kouna was an open space surrounded by barbed wire, with large tents, each holding 180 or 200 persons. In spite of very cold weather (the temperature was below 25 degrees Centigrade) there was, in December, 1939, no heating appliance whatsoever in the camp. Consequently, some of the internees suffered from frozen hands, feet and ears. Since the prisoners had no blankets and since their uniforms were too worn out to protect them from the cold, diseases broke out, while malnutrition resulted in extreme debility. Moreover, the guards constantly ill-treated the prisoners. They were beaten on the slightest pretext. Two men were especially noted for their brutality: Lt. Schpihke and Sergeant-major Grau. They hit the prisoners in the face and beat them, broke their ribs and arms, and gouged out their eyes. Such inhuman treatment resulted in several cases of suicide and insanity."

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