TESTIMONY OP HANS BLESS, STEINHEIM, GERMANY, WESTPHALIA
(THKOUGH INTERPEETEK VON HAHN)
Mr, Flood. Were you on the Russian, or eastern front ?
Mr. Bless. I was also on the eastern front.
Mr. Flood. With what unit ?
Mr. Bless. Reconnaissance unit.
Mr. Flood. Wlien did you move into the Smolensk area ?
Mr. Bless. I will have to elaborate a little bit on that.
On the 1st of March of 1943, the Rzew bridgehead was abandoned.
At that time, during all that retreat, I was the leader of the covering
rear unit. It was in the vicinity of Dorogubush when the front line
again became consolidated. Inasmuch as during all of that retreat I
was covering the rear, subsequently I was sent to a resting place.
This happened sometime during the middle of March of 1943.
During that retreat, rumors were rife that somewhere at the
Smolensk area, mass graves of Polish prisoners had been discovered.
I no longer accurately recall whether or not I was oflScially ordered
to proceed to Katyn ; however, I still do know that I eventually traveled
to Katyn in an automobile. However, I do definitely remember
that the division at that time prepared special gToups, which subsequently
had been dispatched to Katyn.
Mr, Flood. Did you see the location of the graves?
Mr. Bless. Yes, I did,
Mr. Flood. When were you there?
Mr. Bless. I estimate I was there around the end of March; it
might perhaps have been around the 20th or 25th of March.
Mr. Flood. The exhumations were already going on when you got
there, were they?
Mr. Bless. Yes, they were.
Mr. Flood. Did you talk to any Russian civilians in the area at
Mr. Bless. Yes.
Mr. Flood. What was the nature of those conversations?
Mr. Bless. It was during a survey of the graves. There was a
small group of us standing together.
And when I say "us" I am referring to a group of German soldiers
and a serviceman.
I don't know who said, "Well, there is a Russian civilian standing
out there in front." It was an old Russian of about—well, in my estimation,
70 years of age.
This Russian is also in a position to tell something. It would,
however, be practical to offer him a cigarette right at the outset.
The Russian civilian testified approximately as follows: "Several
years ago—it was in the spring—a transport of prisoners of war arrived
on a train at the nearest railroad station," that subsequently,
the entire area where the graves were located had been cordoned on,
as well as—as he expressed himself—a cottage where Kommissars were
purportedly residing; that Polish prisoners of war had subsequently
been taken to that area on trucks. The shooting reportedly took place
every day in the early hours of the morning.
And I believe that is all.
Mr. Flood. Was that the only Russian civilian to whom you spoke ?
Mr. Bless. Yes, that was the only one I spoke to. However, I
happened to see some more Russian civilians around. They were busy,
they were working.
Mr. Flood. At what stage was the exhumation when you were there
what degree of exhumation ?
Mr. Bless. I was there when the exhumation of the second grave
was just begun.
Mr. Flood. Did you see the bodies closely enough to observe how
they may have been killed ?
Mr. Bless. Yes.
Mr. Flood. Did you pay any attention as to whether or not the
hands were tied ?
Mr. Bless. Yes ; I did.
Mr. Flood. Did you observe anything with reference to documents
or what may be described as the personal effects of any of the dead
Mr. Bless. Yes. There was a series of—as I should put it—personal
property of no practical value at all, such as handkerchiefs,
papers, letters. But on the chest of either a colonel or a lieutenant
colonel, there was a diary lying on his chest. It might perhaps be of
interest to note that the pockets of all of the uniform coats had been
cut by scissors in order to gain easier access to the pockets of the
_ With respect to the tyino^ of the hands, I wish to indicate that partially
the hands were tied by wire. In one instance, I recall he must
have been tied by his own belt. In various other instances, the hands
were tied by pieces of string or rope.
Mr. Flood. Were you close enough to actually observe that yourself ?
Mr. Bless. Well, in one instance, for example, of a body that had
been lying on its back, I actually investigated how his hands were
Mr. Flood. You mentioned a diary. Did you have a chance to look
at or see the diary ?
Mr. Bless. Yes, I did. I said, "Well, it is too bad nobody around
here speaks Polish." Subsequently, however, we found a German
noncommissioned officer who spoke Polish; whose name, however, I
Then we picked up the diary, which had been lying on the chest of
this colonel or lieutenant colonel, as I indicated before, and the noncommissioned
officer subsequently translated practically all of the
diary to us.
Mr. Flood. Can you give us the gist of what it said, the meat of
what it said?
Mr. Bless. Yes.
He set forth in writing, first, the circumstances of his capture ; that
subsequently all of them were herded into a large camp ; later, part of
the inmates of the camp were taken away somewhere, so that eventually
nothing but officers remained in the camp.
Mr. Flood, Do you happen to remember, or did you notice ; and if
you did notice, do you remember the last date of entry on the diary ?
Mr. Bless. Yes. As a matter of fact, I recall it precisely.
Mr. Flood. What was it?
Mr. Bless. Adolph Hitler's birthday was on the 20th of April.
Mr. Flood. What was the date recorded ?
Mr. Bless. The last entry in the diary-was the 20th of April, because
I recall I made a remark. In a jocular mood, I said, "Well, as a
reward from the Russians to Adolph Hitler for having given them a
portion of Poland, the Russians killed those officers."
Mr. Flood, What was the date of the diary ?
Mr. Bless. The last date was the 20th of April.
Mr. Flood. What year?
Mr. Bless. 1940.