Re: The Katyn testimony of Victor Il'ich Prosorovski
David Thompson wrote:
On 2 Jul 1946, Victor Il'ich Prosorovski 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: Yes, Mr. President. I beg you to allow me to call as a witness, Professor of Medical Jurisprudence Prosorovski.
[The witness Prosorovski took the stand.]
THE PRESIDENT: Will you state your full name, please.
VICTOR IL'ICH PROSOROVSKI (Witness): Prosorovski, Victor Il'ich.
THE PRESIDENT: Will you repeat this oath after me: I, citizen of the U.S.S.R.-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 and withhold nothing.
[The witness repeated the oath.]
THE PRESIDENT: You may sit down.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Witness, just before questioning you, I beg you to adhere to the following order. After my question, please pause in order to allow the interpreters to make the translation, and speak as slowly as possible.
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Will you give the Tribunal very briefly some information about your scientific activity, and your past work as a medico-judicial doctor.
PROSOROVSKI: I am a doctor by profession; professor of medical jurisprudence and a doctor of medical science. I am the Chief Medical Expert of the Ministry of
Public Health of the Soviet Union. I am the Director of the Scientific Research Institute for Medical Jurisprudence at the Ministry of Public Health of the U.S.S.R.; my business is mainly of a scientific nature; I am President of the Medico-Judicial Commission of the Scientific Medical Council of the Ministry of Public Health of the U.S.S.R.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: How long did you practice as a medico-judicial expert?
PROSOROVSKI: I practiced for 17 years in that sphere.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: What kind of participation was yours in the investigation of the mass crimes of the Hitlerites against the Polish officers in Katyn?
PROSOROVSKI: The President of the Special Commission for investigation and ascertaining of the circumstances of the shootings by the German Fascist aggressors of Polish officers, Academician Nicolai Ilych Burdenko, offered me in the beginning of January 1944 the chairmanship of the Medico-Judicial Commission of experts. Apart from this organizational activity, I participated personally in the exhumations and examination of these corpses.
THE PRESIDENT: Colonel Smirnov, perhaps that would be a good time to break off.
[The Tribunal recessed until 1400 hours.]
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THE MARSHAL: May it please the Tribunal, the Defendants Hess, Fritzsche, and Von Ribbentrop are absent.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: May I continue the examination of this witness, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Please tell me, how far from the town of Smolensk were the burial grounds where the corpses were discovered?
PROSOROVSKI: A commission of medico-legal experts, together with members of the special commission, Academician Burdenko, Academician Potemkin, Academician Tolstoy, and other members of this commission, betook themselves on 14 January 1944 to the burial grounds of the Polish officers in the so-called Katyn wood. This spot is located about 15 kilometers from the town of Smolensk. These burial grounds were situated on a slope at a distance of about 200 meters from the Vitebsk high road. One of these graves was about 60 meters long and 60 meters wide; the other one, situated a small distance from this first grave, was about 7 meters long and 6 meters wide.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: How many corpses were exhumed by the commission you headed?
PROSOROVSKI: In the Katyn wood the commission of medical experts exhumed and examined, from various graves and from various depths, altogether 925 corpses.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: How was the work of exhumation done and how many assistants were employed by you on this work?
PROSOROVSKI: Specialists and medico-legal experts participated in the work of this commission. In September and October 1943 they had exhumed and examined the corpses of the victims shot by the Germans...
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Where was the examination of the corpses performed?
PROSOROVSKI: They examined them in the town and the neighborhood of Smolensk. Among the members of this commission were Professor Prosorovski; Professor Smolianinov; the eldest and most learned collaborator of the Medico-Legal Research Institute, Dr. Semenovski; Professor of Pathological Anatomy Voropaev; Professor of Legal Chemistry Schwaikova, who was invited for consultations on chemico-legal subjects. To assist this commission, they
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called also medico-legal experts from the forces. Among them were the medical student Nikolski, Dr. Soubbotin . . .
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: I doubt whether the Tribunal is interested in all these names. I ask you to answer the following question: What method of examination was chosen by you? What I mean is, did you strip the corpses of their clothes and were you satisfied with the customary post mortem examination or was every single one of these 925 corpses thoroughly examined?
PROSOROVSKI: After exhumation of the corpses, they were thoroughly searched, particularly their clothing. Then an exterior examination was carried out and then they were subjected to a complete medico-legal dissection of all three parts of the body; that is to say, the skull, the chest, and the abdomen, as well as all the inner organs of these corpses.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Please tell me whether the corpses exhumed from these burial grounds bore traces of a previous medical examination?
PROSOROVSKI: Out of the 925 corpses which we examined, only three had already been dissected; and that was a partial examination of the skulls only. On all the others no traces of previous medical examination could be ascertained. They were clothed; and the jackets, trousers, and shirts were buttoned, the belts were strapped, and the knots of ties had not been undone. Neither on the head nor on the body were there any traces of cuts or other traces of medico-legal examination. Therefore this excludes the possibility of their having been subjected to any previous medico-legal examination.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: During the medico-legal examination which was carried out by your commission, did you open the skulls?
PROSOROVSKI: Of course. At the examination of quite a number of corpses the skull was opened and the contents of the skull were examined.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Are you acquainted with the expression "pseudocallus?"
PROSOROVSKI: I heard of it when I received a book in 1945 in the Institute of Medico-Legal Science. Before that not a single medical legal expert observed any similar phenomena in the Soviet Union.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Among the 925 skulls which you examined, were there many cases of pseudocallus?
PROSOROVSKI: Not one of the medico-legal experts who were examining these 925 corpses observed lime deposits on the inner side of the cranium or on any other part of the skull.
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MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Therefore, there was no sign of pseudocallus on any of the skulls.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Was the clothing also examined?
PROSOROVSKI: As already stated, the clothing was thoroughly examined. Upon the request of the Special Commission, and in the presence of its members and of the Metropolitan Nikolai, Academician Burdenko, and others, the medico-legal experts examined the clothing, the pockets of the trousers, of the coats, and of the overcoats. As a rule, the pockets were either turned, torn open, or cut open, and this testified to the fact that they had already been searched. The clothing itself, the overcoats, the jackets, and the trousers as well as the shirts, were moist with corpse liquids. This clothing could not be torn asunder, in spite of violent effort.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Therefore, the tissue of the clothing was solid?
PROSOROVSKI: Yes, the tissue was very solid, and of course, it was besmeared with earth.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: During the examination, did you look into the pockets of the clothing and did you find any documents in them?
PROSOROVSKI: As I said, most of the pockets were turned out or cut; but some of them remained intact. In these pockets, and also under the lining of the overcoats and of the trousers we discovered, for instance, notes, pamphlets, papers, closed and open letters and postcards, cigarette paper, cigarette holders, pipes, and so forth, and even valuables were found, such as ingots of gold and gold coins.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: These details are not very relevant, and therefore I beg you to refrain from giving them. I would like you to answer the following question: Did you discover in the clothing documents dated the end of 1940 and also dated 1941?
PROSOROVSKI: Yes. I discovered such documents, and my colleagues also found some. Professor Smolianinov, for instance, discovered on one of the corpses a letter written in Russian, and it was sent by Sophie Zigon, addressed to the Red Cross in Moscow, with the request to communicate to her the address of her husband, Thomas Zigon. The date of this letter was 12 September 1940. Besides the envelope bore the stamp of a post office in Warsaw of September 1940, and also the stamp of the Moscow post office, dated 28 September 1940.
Another document of the same sort was discovered. It was a postcard sent from Tarnopol, with the post office cancellation: "Tarnopol, 12 September 1940."
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Then we discovered receipts with dates, one in particular with the name-if I am not mistaken-of Orashkevitch, certifying to the receipt of money with the date of 6 April 1941, and another receipt in his name, also referring to a money deposit, was dated 5 May 1941.
Then, I myself discovered a letter with the date 20 June 1941, with the name of Irene Tutchinski, as well as other documents of the same sort.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: During the medico-legal examination of the corpses, were any bullets or cartridge cases discovered? Please tell us what was the mark on these cartridge cases? Were they of Soviet make or of foreign make; and if they were foreign make, which one, and what was the caliber?
PROSOROVSKI: The cause of death of the Polish officers was bullet wounds in the nape of the neck. In the tissue of the brain or in the bone of the skull we discovered bullets which were more or less deformed. As to cartridge cases, we did indeed discover, during the exhumation, cartridge cases of German origin, for on their bases we found the mark G-e-c-o, Geco.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: One minute, Witness.
I will now read an original German document and I beg the permission of the Tribunal to submit a series of documents which have been offered us by our American colleagues, Document Number 402-PS, Exhibit USSR-507. It concerns German correspondence and telegrams on Katyn, and these telegrams are sent by an official of the Government General, Heinrich, to the Government of the Government General.
I submit the original document to the Court. I am only going to read one document, a very short one, in connection with the cartridge cases discovered in the mass graves. The telegram is addressed to the Government of the Government General, care of First Administrative Counsellor Weirauch in Krakow. It is marked:
"Urgent, to be delivered at once, secret.
"Part of the Polish Red Cross returned yesterday from Katyn. The employees of the Polish Red Cross have brought with them the cartridge cases which were used in shooting the victims of Katyn. It appears that these are German munitions. The caliber is 7.65. They are from the firm Geco. Letter follows."
[Turning to the witness.] Were the cartridge cases and cartridges which were discovered by you of the same caliber and did they bear the mark of the same firm?
PROSOROVSKI: As I have already stated, the bullets discovered in the bullet wounds were 7.65 caliber. The cases discovered during the exhumation did indeed bear the trademark of the firm Geco.
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MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: I now ask you to describe in detail the condition of the body tissues and of the inner organs of the corpses exhumed from the graves of Katyn.
PROSOROVSKI: The skin and the inner organs of the corpses were well preserved. The muscles of the body and of the limbs had kept their structure. The muscles of the heart had also kept their characteristic structure. The substance of the brain was, in some cases, petrified; but in most cases, it had kept its structural characteristics quite definitely, showing a clear distinction between the gray and white matters. Changes in the inner organs were mainly a sagging and shrinking. The hair from the head could be easily pulled out.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: From the examination of the corpses, to what conclusion did you come as to the date of death and date of burial?
PROSOROVSKI: On the basis of the experience I have gained and on the experiences of Smolianinov, Semenovski, and other members of the commission...
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: One moment, Witness. I would like you to tell the Tribunal briefly what these experiences were and how many corpses were exhumed. Did you personally exhume them or were they exhumed in your presence?
PROSOROVSKI: In the course of the great War, I was often medico-legal expert during the exhumation and the examination of corpses of victims who were shot by the Germans. These executions occurred in the town of Krasnodar and its neighborhood, in the town of Kharkov and its neighborhood, in the town of Smolensk and its neighborhood, in the so-called extermination camp of Maidanek, near Lublin, so that all told more than 5,000 corpses were exhumed and examined with my personal co-operation.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Considering your experience and your objective observations, to what conclusions did you arrive as to the date of the death and the burial of the victims of Katyn?
PROSOROVSKI: What I have just said applies to me as well as to many of my colleagues who participated in this work. The commission came to the unanimous conclusion that the burial of the Polish officers in the Katyn graves was carried out about 2 years before, if you count from January, the month of January 1944-that is to say that the date was autumn 1941.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Did the condition of the corpses allow the conclusion that they were buried in 1940, objectively speaking?
PROSOROVSKI: The medico-legal examination of the corpses buried in the Katyn wood, when compared with the modifications
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and changes which were noticed by us during former exhumations on many occasions and also material evidence, allowed us to come to the conclusion that the time of the burial could not have been previous to the autumn of 1941.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Therefore, the year 1940 is out of question?
PROSOROVSKI: Yes, it is completely excluded.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: If I understood you rightly you were also medico-legal expert in the case of other shootings in the district of Smolensk?,
PROSOROVSKI: In the district of Smolensk and its environs I have exhumed and examined together with my assistants another 1,173 corpses, besides those of Katyn. They were exhumed from 87 graves.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: How did the Germans camouflage the common graves of the victims which they had shot?
PROSOROVSKI: In the district of Smolensk, in Gadeonovka, the following method was used:
The top layer of earth on these graves was covered with turf, and in some cases, as in Gadeonovka, young trees were planted as well as bushes; all this with a view to camouflaging. Besides, in the so-called Engineers' Garden of the town of Smolensk, the graves were covered with bricks and paths were laid out.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: So you exhumed more than 5,000 corpses in various parts of the Soviet Union.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: What were the causes of death of the victims in most cases?
PROSOROVSKI: In most cases the cause of death was a bullet wound in the head, or
in the nape of the neck.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Were the causes of death at Katyn similar to those met with in other parts of the Soviet Union? I am speaking of mass-shootings.
PROSOROVSKI: All shootings were carried out by one and the same method, namely, a shot in the nape of the neck, at point-blank range. The exit hole was usually on the forehead or in the face.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: I will read the last paragraph of your account on Katyn, mentioned in the report of the Extra-Ordinary Soviet State Commission:
"The commission of the experts emphasizes the absolute uniformity of the method of shooting the Polish prisoners of
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war with that used for the shootings of Soviet prisoners of war and Soviet civilians. Such shootings were carried out on a vast scale by the German Fascist authorities during the temporary occupation of territories of the U.S.S.R., for instance, in the towns of Smolensk, Orel, Kharkov, Krasnodar and Voroneszh."
Do you corroborate this conclusion?
PROSOROVSKI: Yes, this is the typical method used by the Germans to exterminate peace-loving citizens.
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: I have no further questions to put to this witness, Mr. President.
DR. STAHMER: Where is your permanent residence, Witness?
PROSOROVSKI: I was born in Moscow and have my domicile there.
DR. STAHMER: How long have you been in the Commissariat for Health?
PROSOROVSKI: I have been working in institutions for public health since 1931 and am at present in the Ministry of Public Health. Before that I was a candidate for the chair of forensic medicine at Moscow University.
DR. STAHMER: In this commission were there also foreign scientists?
PROSOROVSKI: In this commission there were no foreign medico-legal experts, but the exhumation and examination of these corpses could be attended by anybody who was interested. Foreign journalists, I believe 12 in number, came to the burial grounds and I showed them the corpses, the graves, the clothing, and so on-in short everything they were interested in.
DR. STAHMER: Were there any foreign scientists present?
PROSOROVSKI: I repeat again that no one was present apart from Soviet experts of the medico-legal commission.
DR. STAHMER: Can you give the names of the members of the press?
THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Stahmer, he was giving a long list of names before and he was stopped by his counsel.
Why do you shake your head?
DR. STAHMER: I did not understand, Mr. President, the one list of names. He gave a list of names of the members of the commission. My question is that: The witness has just said that members of the foreign press were present and that the results of the investigation were presented to them. I am now asking for the names of these members of the foreign press.
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THE PRESIDENT: Well, go on.
DR. STAHMER: Will you please give me the names of the members of the press, or at least the names of those who were present and to whom you presented the results of the examination?
PROSOROVSKI: Unhappily I cannot give you those names now here; but I believe that if it is necessary, I would be able to find them. I shall ascertain the names of all those foreign correspondents who were present at the exhumation of the corpses.
DR. STAHMER: The statement about the number of corpses exhumed and examined by you seems to have changed somewhat according to my notes, but I may have misunderstood. Once you mentioned 5,000 and another time 925. Which figure is the correct one?
PROSOROVSKI: You did not hear properly. I said that 925 corpses had been exhumed in the Katyn wood, but in general I personally exhumed or was present at the exhumation of over 5,000 in many towns of the Soviet Union after the liberation of the territories from the Germans.
DR. STAHMER: Were you actually present at the exhumation?
DR. STAHMER: How long did you work at these exhumations?
PROSOROVSKI: As I told you, on 14 January a group of medico-legal experts left for the site of the burial grounds together with the members of a special commission.
THE PRESIDENT: Can you not just say how long it took-the whole exhumation? In other words, to shorten it, can you not say how long it took?
PROSOROVSKI: Very well. The exhumation and part of the examination of the corpses lasted from 16 to 23 January 1944.
DR. STAHMER: Did you find only Polish officers?
PROSOROVSKI: All the corpses, with the exception of two which were found in civilian clothing, were in Polish uniforms and were therefore members of the Polish Army.
DR. STAHMER: Did you try to determine from what camp these Polish officers came originally?
PROSOROVSKI: That was not one of my duties. I was concerned only with the medico-legal examination of the corpses.
DR. STAHMER: You did not learn in any other way from what camp they came?
PROSOROVSKI: In the receipts which were found, dated 1941, it was stated that the money was received in camp 10-N. It can
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therefore be assumed that the camp number was obviously of particular importance.
DR. STAHMER: Did you know of the Kosielsk Camp?
PROSOROVSKI: Only from hearsay. I have not been there.
DR: STAHMER: Do you know that Polish officers were kept prisoners there?
PROSOROVSKI: I can say only what I heard. I heard that Polish officers were there, but I have not seen them myself nor have I been anywhere near there.
DR. STAHMER: Did you learn anything about the fate of these officers?
PROSOROVSKI: Since I did not make the investigations, I cannot say anything about the fate of these officers. About the fate of the officers, whose corpses were discovered in the graves of Katyn, I have already spoken.
DR. STAHMER: How many officers did you find altogether in the burial grounds at Katyn?
PROSOROVSKI: We did not separate the corpses according to their rank; but, in all, there were 925 corpses exhumed and examined.
DR. STAHMER: Was that the majority?
PROSOROVSKI: The coats and tunics of many corpses bore shoulder straps with insignia indicating officers' rank. But even to-day I could not distinguish the insignia of rank of the Polish officers.
DR. STAHMER: What happened to the documents which were found on the Polish prisoners?
PROSOROVSKI: By order of the special commission-the searching of the clothing was done by the medico-legal experts. When these experts discovered documents they looked them through, examined them, and handed them over to the members of the special commission, either to Academician Burdenko or Academician Tolstoy, Potemkin, or any other members of the commission. Obviously these documents are in the archives of the Extraordinary State Commission.
DR. STAHMER: Are you of the opinion that from the medical findings regarding the corpses the time when they were killed can be determined with certainty?
PROSOROVSKI: In determining the date on which these corpses had presumably been buried, we were guided by the experience which we had gathered in numerous previous exhumations and also found support by material evidence discovered by the medico-legal
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experts. Thus we were able to establish beyond doubt that the Polish officers were buried in the fall of 1941.
DR. STAHMER: I asked whether from the medical findings you could determine this definitely and whether you did so.
PROSOROVSKI: I can again confirm what I have already said. Since we had great experience in mass exhumations, we came to that conclusion, in corroboration of which we also had much material evidence, which enabled us to determine the autumn of 1941 as the time of the burial of the Polish officers.
DR. STAHMER: I have no more questions to put to this witness. Mr. President, an explanation regarding the document which was just submitted; I have here only a copy signed by Heinrich; I have not seen the original.
THE PRESIDENT: I imagine the original is there.
DR. STAHMER: Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, Colonel Smirnov, do you want to reexamine?
MR. COUNSELLOR SMIRNOV: Mr. President, I have no further questions to put to this witness; but with the permission of the Tribunal, I would like to make a brief statement.
We were allowed to choose from among the 120 witnesses whom we interrogated in the case of Katyn, only three. If the Tribunal is interested in hearing any other witnesses named in the reports of the Extraordinary State Commission, we have, in the majority of cases, adequate affidavits which we can submit at the Tribunal's request. Moreover, any one of these persons can be called to this Court if the Tribunal so desires.
That is all I have to say upon this matter.
THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Stahmer?
DR. STAHMER: I have no objection to the further presentation of evidence as long as it is on an equal basis; that is, if I, too, have the opportunity to offer further evidence. I am also in a position to call further witnesses and experts for the Court.
THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal has already made its order; it does not propose to hear further evidence.
DR. STAHMER: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: The witness can retire.