Re: The Katyn testimony of Boris Bazilevsky
David Thompson wrote:
On 1 Jul 1946, Boris Bazilevsky testified at the IMT proceedings in regard to Soviet allegations that the Germans had committed the massacre of Polish POWs at Katyn Forest. His testimony can be found in volume 17 of the IMT proceedings, available on-line at the Avalon Project of the Yale University School of Law, at:
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Mr. President, I ask permission to call as witness the former deputy mayor of the city of Smolensk during the German occupation, Professor of Astronomy, Boris Bazilevsky.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, let him come in then.
[The witness Bazilevsky took the stand.]
Will you state your full name, please.
BORIS BAZILEVSKY (Witness): Boris Bazilevsky.
THE PRESIDENT: Will you make this form of oath: I, a citizen of the USSR-called as a witness in this case-solemnly promise and swear before the High Tribunal-to say all that I know about this case-and to add or to withhold nothing.
[The witness repeated the oath.]
THE PRESIDENT: You may sit down.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: With the permission of the Tribunal, I should like to
start with my interrogation, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Certainly.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Please tell us, Witness, what your activity was before the German occupation of the city and district of Smolensk and where you were living in Smolensk.
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BAZILEVSKY: Before the occupation of Smolensk and the surrounding region...
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Please speak slowly.
BAZILEVSKY: I lived in the city of Smolensk and was professor first at the Smolensk University and then of the Smolensk Pedagogical Institute, and at the same time I was director of the Smolensk Astronomical Observatory. For 10 years I was the dean of the physics and mathematics faculty, and in the last years I was deputy to the director of the scientific department of the Institute.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: How many years did you live in Smolensk previous to the German occupation?
BAZILEVSKY: From 1919.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Do you know what the so-called Katyn wood was?
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Please speak slowly.
BAZILEVSKY: Actually, it was a grove. It was the favorite resort of the inhabitants of Smolensk who spent their holidays and vacations there.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Was this wood before the war a special reservation which was fenced or guarded by armed patrols, by watch dogs?
BAZILEVSKY: During the many years that I lived in Smolensk, this place was never fenced; and no restrictions were ever placed on access to it. I personally used to go there very frequently. The last time I was there was in 1940 and in the spring of 1941. In this wood there was also a camp for engineers. Thus, there was free access to this place for everybody.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Please tell me in what year there was an engineer camp?
BAZILEVSKY: As far as I know, it was there for many years.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Please speak slowly.
THE PRESIDENT: Wait a minute. Professor, will you wait a minute, please? When you see that yellow light go on, it means that you are going too fast; and when you are asked a question, will you pause before you answer it? Do you understand?
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Will you please repeat your answer, and very slowly, if you please.
BAZILEVSKY: The last time I know that the engineer camp was in the area of the Katyn wood was in 1941.
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MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Consequently, if I understand you correctly, in 1940 and
1941 before the beginning of the war at any rate-and you speak of the spring of
1941-the Katyn wood was not a special reservation and was accessible to everybody?
BAZILEVSKY: Yes. I say that that was the situation.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Do you say this as an eyewitness or from hearsay?
BAZILEVSKY: No, I say it as an eyewitness who used to go there frequently.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Please tell the Tribunal under what circumstances you became the first deputy mayor of Smolensk during the period of the German occupation. Please speak slowly.
BAZILEVSKY: I was an administration official; and I did not have an opportunity of leaving the place in time, because I was busy in saving the particularly precious library of the Institute and the very valuable equipment. In the circumstances I could not try to escape before the evening of the 15th, but then
I did not succeed in catching the train. I therefore decided to leave the city on 16 July in the morning, but during the night of 15 to 16 the city was unexpectedly occupied by German troops. All the bridges across the Dnieper were blown up, and I found myself in captivity.
After some time, on 20 July, a group of German soldiers came to the observatory of which I was the director. They took down that I was the director and that I was living there and that there was also a professor of physics, Efimov, living in the same building.
In the evening of 20 July two German officers came to me and brought me to the headquarters of the unit which had occupied Smolensk. After checking my personalia and after a short conversation, they suggested that I become mayor of the city. I refused, basing my refusal on the fact that I was a professor of astronomy and that, as I had no experience in such matters, I could not undertake this post. They then declared categorically and with threats, "We are going to force the Russian intelligentsia to work."
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Thus, if I understand you correctly, the Germans forced
you by threats to become the deputy mayor of Smolensk?
BAZILEVSKY: That is not all. They told me also that in a few days I would be summoned to the Kommandantur.
On 25 July a man in civilian clothes appeared at my apartment, accompanied by a German policeman, and represented himself as a lawyer, Menschagin. He declared that he came by order of the military headquarters and that I should accompany him immediately to headquarters.
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THE PRESIDENT: You are spending a lot of time on how he came to be mayor of Smolensk.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Will you please allow me to pass to other questions, Mr. President? Thank you for your observations.
[Turning to the witness.] Who was your immediate superior? Who was the mayor of Smolensk?
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: What were the relations between this man and the German administration and particularly with the German Kommandantur?
BAZILEVSKY: These relations were very good and became closer and closer every day.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Is it correct to say that Menschagin was the trustee of the German administration and that they even gave him secret information?
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Do you know that in the vicinity of Smolensk there were Polish prisoners of war?
BAZILEVSKY: Yes, I do very well.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Do you know what they were doing?
THE PRESIDENT: I do not know what this is going to prove. You presumably do, but can you not come nearer to the point?
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: He said that he knew there were Polish prisoners of war in Smolensk; and, with the permission of the Tribunal, I would like to ask the witness what these prisoners of war were doing.
THE PRESIDENT: Very well; go on.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Please answer. What were the Polish prisoners of war doing in the vicinity of Smolensk, and at what time?
BAZILEVSKY: In the spring of 1941 and at the beginning of the summer they were working on the restoration of the roads, Moscow-Minsk and Smolensk-Vitebsk.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: What do you know about the further fate of the Polish prisoners of war?
BAZILEVSKY: Thanks to the position that I occupied, I learned very early about the fate of the Polish prisoners of war.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Please tell the Tribunal what you know about it.
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BAZILEVSKY: In the camp for Russian prisoners of war known as "Dulag 126" there prevailed such a severe regime that prisoners of war were dying by the hundreds every day; for this reason I tried to free all those from this camp for whose release a reason could be given. I learned that in this camp there was also a very well-known pedagogue named Zhiglinski. I asked Menschagin to make representations to the German Kommandantur of Smolensk, and in particular to Von Schwetz, and to plead for the release of Zhiglinski from this camp.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Please do not go into detail and do not waste time, but tell the Tribunal about your conversation with Menschagin. What did he tell you?
BAZILEVSKY: Menschagin answered my request with, "What is the use? We can save one, but hundreds will die." However, I insisted; and Menschagin after some hesitation, agreed to put this request to the German Kommandantur.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Please be short and tell us what Menschagin told you when he came back from the German Kommandantur.
BAZILEVSKY: Two days later he told me that he was in a very difficult situation on account of my demand. Von Schwetz had refused the request by referring to an instruction from Berlin saying that a very severe regime should prevail with respect to prisoners of war.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: What did he tell you about Polish prisoners of war?
BAZILEVSKY: As to Polish prisoners of war, he told me that Russians would at least be allowed to die in the camps while there were proposals to exterminate the Poles.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: What else was said?
BAZILEVSKY: I replied, "What do you mean? What do you want to say? How do you understand this?" And Menschagin answered, "You should understand this in the very literal sense of these words." He asked me not to tell anybody about it, since it was a great secret.
MR. COUNSELOR SMIRNOV: When did this conversation of yours take place with Menschagin? In what month, and on what day?
BAZILEVSKY: This conversation took place at the beginning of September. I cannot remember the exact date.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: But you remember it was the beginning of September?
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MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Did you ever come back again to the fate of Polish prisoners of war in your further conversations with Menschagin?
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Can you tell us when?
BAZILEVSKY: Two weeks later-that is to say, at the end of September-I could not help asking him, "What was the fate of the Polish prisoners of war?" At first Menschagin hesitated, and then he told me haltingly, "They have already died. It is all over for them."
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Did he tell you where they were killed?
BAZILEVSKY: He told me that they had been shot in the vicinity of Smolensk, as Von Schwetz told him.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Did he mention the exact place?
BAZILEVSKY: No, he did not mention the exact place.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Tell me this. Did you, in turn, tell anybody about the extermination, by Hitlerites, of the Polish prisoners of war near Smolensk?
BAZILEVSKY: I talked about this to Professor Efimov, who was living in the same house with me. Besides him, a few days later I had a conversation about it with Dr. Nikolski, who was the medical officer of the city. However, I found out that Nikolski knew about this crime already from some other source.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Did Menschagin tell you why these shootings took place?
BAZILEVSKY: Yes. When he told me that the prisoners of war had been killed, he emphasized once more the necessity of keeping it strictly secret in order to avoid disagreeable consequences. He started to explain to me the reasons for the German behavior with respect to the Polish prisoners of war. He pointed out that this was only one measure of the general system of treating Polish prisoners of war.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Did you hear anything about the extermination of the Poles from the employees of the German Kommandantur?
BAZILEVSKY: Yes, 2 or 3 days later.
THE PRESIDENT: You are both going too fast, and you are not pausing enough. You are putting your questions whilst the answers are coming through. You must have longer pauses, and go slower.
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MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Thank you, Mr. President.
[Turning to the witness.] Please continue, but slowly.
BAZILEVSKY: I do not know where I was.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: I asked you whether any of the employees of the German Kommandantur told you anything about the extermination of the Poles.
BAZILEVSKY: Two or three days later, when I visited the of lice of Menschagin, I met there an interpreter, the Sonderfuehrer of the 7th Division of the German Kommandantur who was in charge of the Russian administration and who had a conversation with Menschagin concerning the Poles. He came from the Baltic region.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Perhaps you can tell us briefly what he said.
BAZILEVSKY: When I entered the room he was saying, "The Poles are a useless people, and exterminated they may serve as fertilizer and for the enlargement of living space for the German nation."
THE PRESIDENT: You are doing exactly what I said just now. You are asking the questions before the translation comes through.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Excuse me, Mr. President, I will try to speak more slowly.
[Turning to the witness.] Did you learn from Menschagin anything definite about the shooting of Polish prisoners of war?
BAZILEVSKY: When I entered the room I heard the conversation with Hirschfeld. I missed the beginning, but from the context of the conversation it was clear that they spoke about this event.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Did Menschagin, when telling you about the shooting of Polish prisoners of war, refer to Von Schwetz?
BAZILEVSKY: Yes; I had the impression that he referred to Von Schwetz. But evidently - and this is my firm belief - he also spoke about it with private persons in the Kommandantur.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: When did Menschagin tell you that Polish prisoners of war were killed near Smolensk?
BAZILEVSKY: It was at the end of September.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: I have no further questions to put to this witness, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal will adjourn.
[A recess was taken.]
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MARSHAL: If it please the Tribunal, the Defendant Hess is absent.
THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Stahmer.
DR. STAHMER: Witness, in your testimony, just before recess, you read out your testimony, if I observed correctly. Will you tell me whether that was so or not?
BAZILEVSKY: I was not reading anything. I have only a plan of the courtroom in my hand.
DR. STAHMER: It looked to me as though you were reading out your answers. How can you explain the fact that the interpreter already had your answer in his hands?
BAZILEVSKY: I do not know how the interpreters could have had my answers beforehand. The testimony which I am giving was, however, known to the Commission beforehand-that is, my testimony during the preliminary examination.
DR. STAHMER: Do you know the little castle on the Dnieper, the little villa? Did you not understand me or hear me? Do you know the little castle on the Dnieper, the little villa on the Dnieper?
BAZILEVSKY: I do not know which villa you mean. There were quite a number of villas on the Dnieper.
DR. STAHMER: The house which was near the Katyn wood on the steep bank of the Dnieper River.
BAZILEVSKY: I still do not quite understand which house you mean. The banks of the Dnieper are long, and therefore your question is quite incomprehensible to me.
DR. STAHMER: Do you know where the graves of Katyn were found, in which 11,000 Polish officers were buried?
BAZILEVSKY: I was not there. I did not see the Katyn burial grounds.
DR. STAHMER: Had you never been in the Katyn wood?
BAZILEVSKY: As I already said, I was there not once but many times.
DR. STAHMER: Do you know where this mass burial site was located?
BAZILEVSKY: How can I know where the burial grounds were situated when I could not go there since the occupation?
DR. STAHMER: How do you know that the little wood was not fenced in?
BAZILEVSKY: Before the occupation of the Smolensk district by the German troops, the entire area, -as I already stated, was not surrounded by any barrier; but according to hearsay I knew that
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after the occupation access to this wood was prohibited by the German local command.
DR. STAHMER: Therefore you have no knowledge of the fact that here in the Katyn wood a sanitarium or a convalescent home of the GPU was located?
BAZILEVSKY: I know very well; that was known to all the citizens of Smolensk.
DR. STAHMER: Then, of course, you also know exactly which house I referred to in my question?
BAZILEVSKY: I, myself, had never been in that house. In general, access to that house was only allowed to the families of the employees of the Ministry of the Interior. As to other persons, there was no need and no facility for them to go there.
DR. STAHMER: The house, therefore, was closed off?
BAZILEVSKY: No, the house was not forbidden to strangers; but why should people go there if they had no business there or were not in the sanitarium? The garden, of course, was open to the public.
DR. STAHMER: Were there not guards stationed there?
BAZILEVSKY: I have never seen any.
DR. STAHMER: Is this Russian witness who reported to you about the matter concerning the Polish officers, is this witness still alive?
BAZILEVSKY: Mr. Counsel, you probably mean Mayor Menschagin, if I understand you rightly?
DR. STAHMER: When you read your testimony off, it was not easy for me to follow. What was the mayor's name? Menschagin? Is he still alive?
BAZILEVSKY: Menschagin went away together with the German troops during their retreat, and I remained, and Menschagin's fate is unknown to me.
THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Stahmer, you are not entitled to say to the witness, 'when you read your testimony off," just now, because he denied that he read his testimony off and there is no evidence that he has read it off.
DR. STAHMER: Did this Russian witness tell you that the Polish officers had come from the camp at Kosielsk?
BAZILEVSKY: Do you mean the camp at Kosielsk? Yes?
DR. STAHMER: Yes.
BAZILEVSKY: The witness did not say that.
DR. STAHMER: Do you know that place and locality?
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BAZILEVSKY: Do you mean Kosielsk? I do, yes. In 1940, in the month of August - at the end of August - I spent my leave there with my wife.
DR. STAHMER: Do you know whether there were Polish officers at that place in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp?
BAZILEVSKY: Yes, I know that.
DR. STAHMER: Until what time did these prisoners of war remain there?
BAZILEVSKY: I do not know that for sure but at the end of August 1940 they were there. I am quite sure about that.
DR. STAHMER: Do you know whether this camp, together with its inmates, fell into German hands?
BAZILEVSKY: Personally, that is, from my own observation, I do not know it; but according to rumors, it appears to have been the case. That is, of course, not my own testimony; I myself did not see it, but I heard about it only.
DR. STAHMER: Did you hear what happened to these prisoners?
BAZILEVSKY: Yes, I heard, of course, that they remained there and could not be evacuated.
DR. STAHMER: Did you hear what became of them?
BAZILEVSKY: I have already testified in my answers to the prosecutor that they were shot on the order of the German Command.
DR. STAHMER: And where did these shootings take place?
BAZILEVSKY: Mr. Defense Counsel, you have apparently not heard my answers. I already testified that Mayor Menschagin said that they were shot in the neighborhood of Smolensk, but where he did not tell me.
DR. STAHMER: How many prisoners were involved?
BAZILEVSKY: Do you mean to say, how many were mentioned in the conversation with Menschagin? I do not understand your question. Do you mean to say according to the reports of Menschagin?
DR. STAHMER: What was the figure given to you by Menschagin?
BAZILEVSKY: Menschagin did not tell me any number. I repeat that this conversation took place on the last days of September 1941.
DR. STAHMER: Can you give us the name of an eyewitness who was present at this shooting or anyone who saw this shooting?
BAZILEVSKY: I believe that these executions were carried out under such circumstances that I think it scarcely possible that any Russian witnesses could be present.
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THE PRESIDENT: Witness, you should answer the question directly. You were asked, "Can you give the names of anybody who was there?" You can answer that "yes" or "no" and then you can add any explanations necessary.
BAZILEVSKY: I will follow your instructions, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Can you give the name of anybody who saw the executions?
BAZILEVSKY: No, I cannot name any eyewitness.
DR. STAHMER: What German unit is supposed to have carried out the shootings?
BAZILEVSKY: I cannot answer that exactly. It is logical to assume that it was the construction battalion which was stationed there; but of course I could not know the exact organization of the German troops.
DR. STAHMER: Did the Poles involved here come from the camp at Kosielsk?
BAZILEVSKY: In general, this was not mentioned in the conversations of that time, but I certainly do not know that; besides these might have been any other Polish prisoners of war who had not been at Kosielsk previously.
DR. STAHMER: Did you yourself see Polish officers?
BAZILEVSKY: I did not see them myself, but my students saw them, and they told me that they had seen them in 1941.
DR. STAHMER: And where did they see them?
BAZILEVSKY: On the road where they were doing repair work at the beginning of summer, 1941.
DR. STAHMER: In what general area or location?
BAZILEVSKY: In the district of the Moscow-Minsk highway, somewhat to the west of Smolensk.
DR. STAHMER: Can you testify whether the Russian Army Command had a report to the effect that Polish prisoners at the camp at Kosielsk had fallen into the hands of the Germans?
BAZILEVSKY: No, I have no knowledge of that.
DR. STAHMER: What is the name of the German official or employee with whom you talked at the Kommandantur?
BAZILEVSKY: Not in the Kommandantur, but in Menschagin's office. His name was Hirschfeld.
DR. STAHMER: What was his position?
BAZILEVSKY: He was Sonderfuehrer of the 7th Detachment of the German Kommandantur in the town of Smolensk.
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DR. STAHMER: I have no further questions, Mr. President just another question or two, Mr. President.
[Turning to the witness.] Were you punished by the Russian Government on account of your collaboration with the German authorities?
BAZILEVSKY: No, I was not.
DR. STAHMER: Are you at liberty?
BAZILEVSKY: Not only am I at liberty; but, as I have already stated, I am still professor at two universities.
DR. STAHMER: Therefore, you are back in of lice.
THE PRESIDENT: Colonel Smirnov, do you wish to re-examine?
MR. COUNSELL0R SMIRNOV: No, Mr. President, I have no further questions to put to the witness.
THE PRESIDENT: Witness, do you know whether the man, whose name I understand to be Menschagin, was told about these matters or whether he himself had any direct knowledge of them?
BAZILEVSKY: From Menschagin's own words, I understood quite definitely that he had heard those things himself at the Kommandantur, particularly from Von Schwetz, who was the commander from the beginning of the occupation.
THE PRESIDENT: The witness can retire.