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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
2nd July to 15th July 1946

One Hundred and Sixty-Ninth Day: Tuesday, 2nd July, 1946
(Part 5 of 8)

[COLONEL SMIRNOV continues his examination of Victor Ilich Prosorovski]

[Page 18]

Q. 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.

A. The skin tissues and the inner organs of the corpses were in a good state of preservation. 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, putrefied. In most cases, it had kept its structural characteristics quite definitely, showing a clear division between the grey and white matters. Changes in the inner organs were mainly limpness and shrinking. The hair from the head could be lifted from the skin with little effort.

Q. During the examination of the corpses, to what conclusion did you come as to the date of death and date of burial?

A. On the basis of the experience I have gained, and that of Smolianino, Semenovskov and other members of the Commission -

Q. One moment, witness. I would like you to tell the Tribunal briefly what exactly is that experience, and how many corpses were exhumed personally by you or in your presence on various occasions?

A. In the course of the great national war I had occasion to be medico-forensic expert during the exhumation and the examination of corpses of the victims shot by the Germans. These executions occurred in the town of Krasnodar and it; neighbourhood, in the town of Kharkov and its neighbourhood, in the town of Smolensk and its neighbourhood, and in the so- called death camp of Maidanek; near Lublin, so that in general, and with my personal co-operation, more than five thousand corpses were exhumed and examined.

Q. Therefore, basing yourself on your objective observations at what conclusion did you arrive as to the date of the death and the burial of the victims of Katyn?

A. What I have just said also applies to very 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 burial grounds was carried out

[Page 19]

about two years ago, if you count from January, the month of January, 1944 ... that is to say the time was in the autumn of 1941.

Q. Does the condition of the corpses give any grounds for saying that they were buried in 1940, objectively speaking?

A. Examination of the corpses buried in the forest of Katyn, when compared with the modifications 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.

Q. Therefore, the year 1940 is excluded?

A. Yes, it is completely excluded.

Q. As far as I understand you, you were also medico-forensic expert in the case of other shootings in the district of Smolensk?

A. In the district of Smolensk and its neighbourhood, I participated as medico-forensic expert in the exhumation and examination of 1,173 corpses, apart from those of Katyn. They were exhumed from 87 burial grounds.

Q. To what method of camouflaging did the authors of these shootings, the Germans, resort in the case of the other mass graves?

A. In the district of Smolensk, in Gedionovka, the following method was used:

The top layer of earth above these graves was covered with turf, and in some cases, as in Gedionovka, young trees were planted as well as bushes, all this with a view to camouflaging. Besides, in the so-called "Pioneer Garden" of the town of Smolensk, the graves were covered with bricks and paths were laid out.

Q. You yourself exhumed more than 5,000 corpses in various parts of the Soviet Union.

A. Yes.

Q. What were the causes of death of the victims in most cases?

A. In most cases the cause of death was a bullet wound in the head, or in the nape of the neck.

Q. And the picture of death at Katyn, was it similar to that which you saw in other parts of the Soviet Union? I am speaking of mass-shootings.

A. All shootings were carried out according to one single 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.

Q. I will read the last paragraph of your account on Katyn, mentioned in the report of the Soviet State Commission.

"Commission of experts. Conclusion:

"Notice the complete similarity of the method of shooting the Polish prisoners of war with that used for the shootings of Soviet prisoners of war and Soviet civilians, which were carried out on a vast scale by the German fascist authorities in the temporarily occupied territories of the USSR and including those which were carried out near the towns of Smolensk, Orel, Kharkov, Krasnodar and Voronesh."

Do you corroborate this conclusion?

A. Yes, this was a very typical method used for shooting the victims of German extermination, including peaceful citizens.

COLONEL SMIRNOV: I have no further questions to put to this witness, Mr. President.


BY DR. STAMMER (counsel for defendant Goering):

Q. Where is your permanent residence, witness?

A. I was born in Moscow, and live permanently in Moscow.

Q. How long have you been in the Commissariat for Health?

[Page 20]

A. I have been working in institutions for public health since 1937, 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.

Q. In this Commission were there also foreign scientists?

A. In this Commission there were no foreign medico-forensic experts, but the exhumation and examination of these corpses could be attended by anybody who wished to; and also foreign journalists, I believe twelve in number, came to the burial grounds. I myself showed them the corpses at the burial grounds, their clothing and so on, as they were very interested to see them.

Q. Were there any foreign scientists present?

A. Again I repeat that no one was present apart from Soviet experts of the medico-forensic Commission.

Q. 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, that he was giving a list of the names. He gave a list of names of the members of the Commission. My question is this: The witness said previously that members of the foreign Press were present there 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.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, go on.


Q. Will you please give me the names of the members of the Press, or at least some names of those who were present and to whom you presented the results of the examination?

A. Unfortunately I cannot give those names now here, but I believe that, if necessary, I would be able to find them - the names of all those foreign correspondents who were present at the exhumation of the corpses.

Q. 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?

A. You did not hear properly. I said that 925 corpses had been exhumed in the Katyn forest, but that altogether I had 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.

Q. Were you actually present at the exhumation?

A. Yes.

Q. How long did you work at it?

A. As I told you, on 14th January a group of medico-forensic experts left for the site of the burial grounds, 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?

THE WITNESS: Very well. The examination of the corpses lasted from 16th to 23rd January, 1944.


Q. Did you find only Polish officers?

A. All the corpses, with the exception of two which were found in civilian clothing, were in Polish uniforms and belonged to the Polish Army.

Q. Did you try to determine from what camp these Polish officers had come originally?

A. That was not one of my duties. I was concerned only with the medico-forensic examination of the corpses.

Q. You did not learn in any other way from what camp they had come?

[Page 21]

A. I can say that when receipts were found with the date of 1941, they stated that the money was received in camp 10 N. That appears to mean that the camp number may have had some significance.

Q. Did you know of the Kosielsk Camp?

A. Only from hearsay. I have not been there.

Q. Do you know that Polish officers were kept prisoners there?

A. I can only say what I heard. I heard that they were, but I myself do not know and have not been there.

Q. Did you learn anything about the fate of these officers?

A. I cannot say anything about them but I have already spoken of the fate of those officers who were discovered in the graves of Katyn.

Q. How many officers did you find altogether in the burial grounds at Katyn?

A. We did not separate the corpses according to their rank, but, in all, there were 925 corpses exhumed and examined.

Q. Were the majority officers?

A. Very many corpses bore on the shoulder straps of their coats and tunics various insignia apparently of officers' rank. I myself did not distinguish them, and up to the present day I would not be able to distinguish the ranks of the Polish officers.

Q. What happened to the documents which were found on the Polish prisoners?

A. The examination of the clothing was carried out upon request of the Special Commission, and when the medico- forensic experts discovered documents, they handed them over to the members of the Special Commission, either to Academician Burdenko or Academician Tolstoi or Potemkin or to the other members of the Commission. Apparently these documents are in the archives of the Extraordinary State Commission.

Q. Are you of the opinion that from the medical findings regarding the corpses, the time when they were killed can be determined with certainty?

A. We, the members of the Commission, in determining the probable time of burial of the corpses, based our conclusions on experience gained during numerous previous examinations and also on material evidence which was discovered by the medico-forensic experts, and this gave us the possibility of establishing beyond doubt that the Polish officers were buried in the autumn of 1941.

Q. I asked whether from the medical findings you could determine this definitely and whether you did so.

A. I can again confirm what I have already said - that being in possession of vast experience in the matter of mass exhumations, we came to that conclusion, in corroboration of which we also had much material evidence, and that is how we came to determine the time of the burial of the Polish officers - namely, the autumn of 1941.

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 re- examine?

COLONEL 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 had 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.

[Page 22]


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.

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal wishes to hear Dr. Bergold with reference to finishing the case of the defendant Bormann, and the Tribunal also understands that counsel for the defendant von Neurath has some documents which he wishes to present.

Dr. von Ludinghausen, have you got some documents for von Neurath?


THE PRESIDENT: Will you present them now?

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: Mr. President, I have here two types of documents.

One type includes the documents which I have already offered in presenting my evidence, and to which I have called the attention of the Tribunal. They are all in the document books which have been submitted to the Tribunal, and I believe it will be sufficient to hand these documents to the General Secretary.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Ludinghausen, you have already offered them in evidence and they all have numbers, have they not?



DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: Then I have a number of documents, probably twelve or fifteen, which have also been included in my document books, in translation. However, I have not yet mentioned these documents in my presentation recently, and have not yet asked the Tribunal to take judicial notice of them. If I may refer to them briefly, they are as follows:

A letter from von Neurath to Hitler of 19th June, 1933.

A copy of the minutes on the withdrawal of the Inter-Allied Military Commission in 1926.

A speech -

THE PRESIDENT: Will you kindly give them the exhibit numbers which they are to have as you offer them in evidence?


THE PRESIDENT: The first one is a letter to Hitler of 19th June, 1933. What number will that letter have?

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