Lt.-Col. John H. Van Vliet Jr. (US Army)
dictated his original report about his May 13, 1943 visit to Katyn in
Maj.-Gen. Clayton L. Bissell's (Assistant Chief of Staff for
Intelligence, G-2) Pentagon office on May 22, 1945. Gen. Bissell
classified the Report as "Top Secret" and made it disappear -
instantly, permanently and without a trace.
Conveniently too, as its
disclosure to the World would irritate the Soviets quite unnecessarily
at the time, when their friendship and cooperation were crucial for the
United States (unfinished struggle with Japan, San Francisco
Although President Roosevelt was finally dead,
his spirit of pro-sovietism and appeasement was still omnipotent in the
highest circles of the Administration.
In the end of the 1940s,
however, not only Roosevelt and his Soviet-manipulated Administration
were long gone - so was the American-Soviet friendship. The issue of
the Katyn Massacre, for several years so carefully and sometimes quite
ruthlessly suppressed by the authorities in the United States,
resurfaced. Not as an expression of remorse for the original handling
of the Katyn Massacre during and shortly after the war - convenience,
again, played to the interests of the United States of America.
war in Korea did not go well - apart from casualties, the American POWs
began to appear in the Soviet Gulag, and a possibility that thousands
of them could end up in unmarked pits - like Polish officers in the
Katyn Forest - hung over the Administration’s heads, like the sword of
THE SELECT COMMITTEE TO CONDUCT AN
INVESTIGATION OF THE FACTS, EVIDENCE, AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE KATYN
FOREST MASSACRE (United States Congress) spared no effort or expense to
establish the fact, known to the rest of the World already - the
Soviets did it !
Equipped with broad legal powers and
composed of congressmen, who were not only knowledgeable, but also
represented professional backgrounds required for this specific task,
within a relatively short period of time the Committee has done an
enormous and impressive work. The documentation, consisting of
witnesses’ testimonials, reports, documents, photographs, diplomatic
notes, publications etc., gathered on 2362 pages of evidence and
published for the use of the Committee members, is a gold mine of
information extending far beyond the scope of the Katyn Massacre.
Among the witnesses, called to testify
before the Committee, were LT.-Col. John H. Van Vliet Jr., US Army and
Mjr.-Gen. Clayton L. Bissell, US Air Force (retired). Col. Van Vliet
was ordered to reconstruct his original, "lost" Report and testified
before the Committee. In 1945, his Report and testimony would bear
significant political weight. In 1950, the Report (whether original or
reconstructed) and the results of his February, 1952 hearing before the
Committee, were worthless.
The performance of Gen. Bissell - the
leading figure in the "disappearance" of Van Vliet's Report scheme -
before the Committee was not impressive. He lied brazenly, while
testifying under oath, and played a village idiot, when confronted with
Was the "disappearance" of Van Vliet's Report Gen.
Bissell's own, unauthorized and politically motivated decision... Was
he covering somebody else’s decision made in the highest circles of the
Administration... Is it possible that Clayton L. Bissell, a
major-general of the United States Air Force, was on the Soviet
One thing is certain - although United
States Air Force Mjr.-Gen. Clayton L. Bissell's military career
crash-landed even before he made his "memorable" appearance before the
Committee and the Committee expressed its opinion on his actions in no
uncertain terms, the scoundrel was never charged, tried and convicted.
And, strange to say - on May 18, 1945, the Polish Government in Exile
honoured him with the Polish highest civilian decoration - the Order of
POLONIA RESTITUTA. Bissell not only accepted the award - in 1952, he
submitted it to the Select Committee as a proof of his innocence.
* * *
Following his liberation from the POW camp
Col. Van Vliet, an otherwise honest man, succeeded in his effort to
report the Katyn Crime to the US authorities expeditiously and
effectively. Then, for decades, he defended the "disappearance" of his
Report, which made him an ideal example of an ideal mercenary - great
sense of duty with no care for purpose. By defending the
"disappearance" of this document, he has also proven to be a devoted
American patriot, immune to moral, or ethical dilemmas - fifteen
thousand murdered Polish officers may serve, but may not harm the
interests of the United States of America.
VAN VLIET REPORT (II)
Ft. Lewis, Washington
11 May, 1950
Subject: THE KATYN CASE
To: F. L. Parks, Maj.-Gen., USA, Chief of Information
1. Pursuant to your letter of 26 April 1950 I am
personally typing this report of my recollections concerning the Katyn
Case. I am retaining one copy for my personal file.
2. Since five years have elapsed since I made the
first report to Maj.-Gen. Bissell, this report will have to omit some
details, such as names which I have forgotten. In order to assist in
locating my original report, here are the circumstances under which it
On 22 May 1945, Gen. Bissell discussed the case with
me alone in his private office in the Pentagon for about twenty
minutes. He decided that it was important and directed his civilian
female assistant (secretary? stenographer?) to go with me to the closed
room across the hall and take dictation. I dictated my report, she
typed it up and we added the photographs as inclosures. The General
read the finished report, directed that it be marked "Top Secret" and
filed. He then dictated the letter directing me to silence, and had me
sign a copy of it in his presence. He explained the importance of my
remaining silent, gave me my copy of the letter and thanked me.
I was a prisoner of war at Oflag IX-A/Z in Rotenburg,
Germany in April, 1943. It was primarily a British officers prison
camp, headed by Brigadier Nicholson (who had been the defender of
Calais). I was the senior of the 125 (approximately) American officers
in the camp. At this time the German press began a big splurge on the
KATYN case. So also did the German radio (note: mention of this radio
violates the certificate I had to sign upon being processed as a
"Hauptmann" Heyl, the German camp commander, told
Brig. Nicholson and me that he had orders to send two American officers
and one British officer to the railroad station at Kassel, Germany,
where they would be met by British Maj.-Gen. Fortune from another
nearby POW camp (he had commanded the British 1st Division in France).
"Hauptmann" Heyl stated that I would be one of the
two US officers; that I would select the other one; that together with
other Allied prisoners we would be a "Board of Inquiry" to investigate
the Katyn Massacre. I flatly refused to have any part of it. Brig.
Nicholson backed me up on this and together we wrote a letter to the
Swiss Protecting Power which stated that no officers from the camp
would make any visit to Katyn, or make any investigation, or express
any opinion. That, if we were forced to go, it would be only as
individual prisoners under guard and against our protest. That we could
not be considered as representatives of the prison camp, our army, or
our nation, and that we protested violently this apparent attempt to
use us for German propaganda purposes.
Our protest did no good. Using armed guards, the
Germans took me and Capt. Donald Stewart, Field Artillery (regular
army) to the Kassel railroad station, where they expected to meet
Maj.-Gen. Fortune. He did not arrive, to the surprise of the German
guards. We were then taken to Berlin and jailed in an "Arbeits
Kommando" - a building overlooking the Spree River, housing POWs of
several nationalities, who were performing labor in Berlin.
In this jail we met several US soldiers, who had
been brought from a nearby POW camp for the same reason that we had.
One of these was Cpl. Taussig, who had been in the same regiment with
me for the invasion of Algiers by the 168th Infantry Regiment. There
were also several British soldiers and a British civilian (internee) as
well as Lt.-Col. Stevenson (British, South African, Signal Corps) and a
British captain, Medical Corps, whose name I cannot now remember. In my
opinion, these men were actually what they appeared to be, and did not
include any "plants". We, prisoners of war, were very careful in our
efforts to make certain identification.
Soon we were taken, one by one, to the jail
office, where we were interviewed by several German staff officers and
some civilian officials, who appeared to be from both, the Foreign
Office and the Propaganda Ministry. The procedure appeared about the
same for all of us: "Since you have volunteered to investigate this
terrible Katyn atrocity, we are taking you to the scene. You will, of
course sign a parole not to escape".
"The hell we did volunteer.
We don't want to go. Send us back to our camps". Great surprise and much
chatter among the Germans. Then the same thing over again.
Finally, they announced that since we wouldn't
give our paroles, they would have to place guards on the airplane with
us. This meant that some prisoners would not make the trip, to make
room for the guards. The American soldiers were left back.
Lt.-Col. Stevenson was the senior in the group. We
cautioned the entire group to do no talking, to give no indications of
opinion, and not to cooperate in any way with the Germans. All agreed.
It was evident to all of us that we were involved in an international
mess with terrific political implications.
An English-speaking German captain was placed in
charge of the group together with an English-speaking "Sonderfuhrer",
who gave the name of von Johnson, spoke idiomatic American, and said he
had attended school at Rice in the USA.
We were flown from Tempelhof to Smolensk about the
6th of May, 1943. At that time Smolensk was about sixty miles from the
front and appeared to contain only garrison troops. We were billeted in
some of the remaining intact buildings, of which there were only a few.
Some sort of a German service unit maintained an officers mess, where
we all ate. While in Smolensk, we were taken on a sight-seeing tour by
the local service unit commander and a major, who appeared to be an
agricultural expert and enthusiast, who was trying to rehabilitate the
land with the remnants of the Russian peasant population. His efforts
included a model village. In my opinion, this "hospitality" was
spontaneous and was prompted partly by his own enthusiasm for his work
and partly because he hadn't had many visitors. It did not appear to be
organized on orders from Berlin.
A German lieutenant (spoke no English) appeared
from the group that was in charge of operations at the scene of the
mass graves in Katyn Forest. He acted as our guide. We were driven to
the site, where there was a gate, guarded by young soldiers in Polish
uniforms. A sickly-sweet odor of decaying bodies was everywhere. At the
graves it was nearly overpowering. There were several graves.
Professor, "Herr Doktor" Buhtz, a German expert in forensic medicine,
was present together with other technicians. Several Polish Red Cross
workers were present. Civilian labor was being used to remove bodies
from the graves. Each body was searched very carefully, examined,
identified, and reburied in a nearby mass grave which was to become a
national shrine with suitable monuments. The articles removed from each
body were placed in a large manila envelope for safekeeping. The search
of the bodies was very thorough, including removal of shoes or boots,
where it was possible (sometimes the whole leg from the knee down came
off with the boot). The examiners wore rubber aprons and rubber gloves.
A typist was present, recording the findings on each body.
We followed our guide right into each of the
graves - stepping on bodies that were piled like cord wood, face down
usually, to a depth of about five to seven bodies covered with about
five feet of earth. About three hundred bodies were laid out beside one
of the graves. These all had their hands tied behind them with cord.
The rest appeared not to have been tied. All bodies had a bullet hole
in the back of head, near the neck, with the exit wound of the bullet
being in the forehead or front upper part of the skull.
The graves on the downhill part of the slope were
more moist than the others. One end of one grave had standing water in
it. German photographers were present and took both still and motion
pictures of our party while we inspected the graves. Copies of the
still pictures were later given to us. We never saw, or heard anything
of the movies.
After we inspected the graves, we were shown
several other test holes which had been dug in the vicinity, together
with very old human bones, i.e. no meat left on them, which were said
to have been dug up there. I am inclined to believe the story, although
there was no proof. The Germans made much of the fact that this wooded
knoll was a long-standing burial site, used by the Russian secret
police. I forgot, whether they called them the OGPU, NKVD, or MVD.
There was a rustic lodge on the low bluff overlooking the small landing
on the river (Dnieper River, I believe). This lodge was allegedly the
scene of frequent tortures, drinking parties, and various other orgies,
held by the Russian police as matters of amusement and recreation, as
well as routine business. The Germans produced an old peasant, Russian,
who claimed that this forest of Katyn had an evil reputation - it was
forbidden ground; that he had seen big, closed vans go from the
railroad siding (some miles distant) into the forest, and that there
were stories of shots being heard very often in the woods. This was
supposed to confirm that the Russians had brought the victims to the
mass graves by rail and truck some time before the Germans occupied the
The British medical captain in the group
understood German very well and a little Russian which he had learned
while taking care of Russian prisoners.
About a mile down the road, the Germans had taken
over a house as a field museum and office. The porch and front rooms
were filled with glass showcases containing items removed from bodies
in the graves. There were sample uniform insignia ranging from general
to lieutenant, there were several Geneva arm bands, many letters,
photographs, diaries, news clippings, personal souvenirs, etc. These
items were just the better samples. In the back rooms of the house,
there were the individual envelopes containing the items removed from
the corpses. This building was also permeated with the smell of the
graves, coming from the showcases and the envelopes.
At this point, the Germans produced two small drinks for everyone,
and then we returned to our billets in Smolensk.
were flown back to the same jail in Berlin and stayed there about ten
days. During this time, the Germans were apparently trying to decide,
what to do with us. The British soldiers and the civilian internee were
returned to their respective camps before the end of this ten day
period - or so we were told - leaving us, four officers, to wonder what
it was all about. An English-speaking German soldier, or "Sonderfuhrer"
von Johnson, would take us for a walk through the Tiergarten every day,
along with guards. It was during this walk period that we had a chance
to talk without fear of microphones. Our discussion, while in the jail,
always avoided any mention of what we thought about who had committed
the murders at Katyn.
During these walks, Lt.-Col. Stevenson did a lot
of talking with the Germans. He told them that he had once published a
book and that as soon as he returned home, he was going to get
permission from his superiors to write a book about this experience. We
couldn't get him to shut up about any subject at any time except the
big question of Whodunit?. He was a windbag. He claimed to be a
member of a group of amateur investigators of the supernatural. He even
carried a feather in his wallet which he said was from the headdress of
the American Indian Chief (spirit), whom he had contacted through a
medium in S. Africa.
We gathered from the Germans that the front
office didn’t know, what to do with us. There was some hopeful
implication that we might be released, possibly through Spain.
One afternoon, Lt.-Col. Stevenson was bundled off
by the Germans on about ten minute notice. He seemed very surprised and
quite uneasy as he left the jail. We never saw, or heard of him again.
That night, Capt. Stewart and I were returned to our original prison
camp, where we were met by Captain Heyl. We asked him, what kind of a
story he had told us about going to meet Maj.-Gen. Fortune. He replied
that Fortune had been seriously ill with bronchitis. I later met
Maj.-Gen. Fortune and he had not been sick at all.
Prior to leaving Berlin, we were told that Germany
had not and would not make any propaganda use of our visit to the
graves, or the pictures taken of the visit. I have never heard of their
Throughout the rest of our time in prison camps, Capt.
Stewart and I refused to discuss our experiences concerning Katyn, and
never stated what opinion we had formed.
I reached the American lines in the sector of the
104th Inf. Div. near Duben, Germany, at the Mulde River line on 5 May
1945, still carrying the photographs given to me at Katyn.
I showed the photographs to G-2 of the 104th
Division. I had previously showed these to only one other person, apart
from the German prison camp security personnel, who conducted periodic
searches, but always allowed me to keep the photographs because they
had been stamped "Gepruft". This other person was Col. Thomas D. Drake,
senior officer in Oflag 64, who was repatriated for stomach ulcers.
Before he left the prison camp, to be repatriated, Capt. Stewart and I
talked with him, showed him the pictures and asked that he report the
matter to the War Department. He laughed at me and said that I had been
taken in completely by the German propaganda experts. I don't know, if
he ever mentioned the matter, when he reached the States.
G-2 of the 104th Division recognized that my
report was one of interest to both, the State and War Departments, and
provided transportation to HQ., VII Corps in Leipzig. General J. Lawton
Collins then commanded the VII Corps.
Gen. Collins, who has known me since I was a
child, discussed the matter with me and set the necessary wheels in
motion to get me back to the Pentagon with all haste.
In Paris, I stayed with Gen. Barker and at his
suggestion discussed the matter with a full colonel (whose name I have
forgotten), connected with war crimes investigations. He decided it was
a matter for the War Department and the State Department, and took no
Col. Drake, Gen. Collins, Gen. Bissell and Gen.
Bissell's stenographer are the only persons I have ever told of my
conclusions concerning who murdered the Polish officers at Katyn
(except, of course, the other members of the party, who visited the
site with me).
I believe that the Russians did it. The rest of the
group that visited the site stated to me that they believed that the
Russians did it (Capt., now Major, Donald Stewart, Field Artillery, can
be asked to verify this. I don't know his present address. He is
At the beginning of the newspaper publicity,
concerning KATYN, I believed the whole thing to be one huge, well
managed, disparate lie by the Germans to split the Western Allies from
I hated the Germans. I didn't want to believe
them. At that time, like many others, I more or less believed that
Russia could get along with us.
When I became involved in the visit
to Katyn I realized that the Germans would do their best to convince me
that Russia was guilty. I made up my mind not to be convinced by what
must be a propaganda effort.
The apparent weak spot in the German
story was the fact that Germany had occupied the ground around Smolensk
for a long time before announcing the discovery of the graves. The
exact dates are a matter of record. I don't have the facilities to look
them up for entry in this report.
I wanted to believe that whole thing was a
frame-up. Could these be bodies from an extermination camp, dressed as
Polish officers and "planted"? Could the letters, diaries,
identification tags, news clippings - all be forgeries? What about the
state of decomposition of the bodies? Did it appear to agree with the
German story of when they must have been buried? After all, I’m no
expert in body-decomposition. What about the temperature, moisture,
soil bacteria? What about the German statements that Polish families
had been trying to locate their relatives, known to have been
imprisoned, when Russia occupied part of Poland? Was it true that these
Polish relatives ceased to get answers from their imprisoned relatives
- that a cloak of mystery descended all at once? Where is PROOF of who
killed these men? Who saw it done?
And so on, and so on - I tried every way I knew
how to avoid believing that Russia had done it. I tried every way to
convince myself that the Germans had done it. I wanted to believe that
the Germans had done it.
Since the graves were already opened, when
we were there, it was not possible to see for ourselves what sort of
growth had existed on top of the graves, in order to see how long the
graves had existed. And, if we had been present, how could we know that
the Germans hadn't cleverly transplanted older bushes to give the
appearance of age to the graves?
So, you see that we pursued every line of attack
to weaken the German story and avoid the conclusion that the Russians
had done the killing. It was only with great reluctance that I decided
finally that it must be true, that for once the Germans weren't lying,
that the facts were as claimed by the Germans. I have thought about
this a lot in the past seven years, and freely admit that there never
was presented to me any single piece of evidence that could be taken as
an absolute proof. But the sum of circumstantial evidence, impressions
formed at the time of looking at the graves, what I saw in peoples
faces - all forces the conclusion that Russia did it.
The uniforms on the bodies were obviously of the
best material and tailor-made. The footwear appeared to be of the best
and included many pairs that were obviously made to order. The uniforms
and footwear all were obviously well-fitted. This convinced me that the
bodies were truly those of Polish officers. The degree of wear on the
clothing and particularly the wear on the shoes led me to believe that
these officers had been dead a long time, otherwise the shoes and
clothing would show much more wear. This was the point that was not
called to our attention by the Germans. It is one of the strongest
arguments by which to fix the date of the killing.
(signed) John H. Van Vliet Jr.
Lt.-Col., 23 Infantry Regiment