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'What is true of the parts is true of the whole' fallacy in journalism and propaganda

Today’s Voice of America (VOA) reporters might benefit from seeing a historical example of how a former VOA journalist who during the Cold War became an anti-American propagandist for the communist regime in Poland wrote one-sided narratives using a few news facts and some true information about the United States and Canada to create an almost entirely false picture of a democratic society and a market economy. Stefan Arski, the Polish communist propagandist who as a former VOA editor had lived and worked in the U.S. and knew something about the realities of life in America, built his anti-American narrative around examples of unemployment, suicide, racial attacks and murders in Western societies.

FORMER VOA EDITOR WRITIG PROPAGANDA FOR COMMUNIST REGIME IN POLAND IN 1952

Arski, Stefan (Artur Salman), Targowica leży nad Atlantykiem (“Transatlantic Traitors”), Warsaw: Książka i Wiedza, 1952, pp. 101-102.

“It can be even worse [a previous example Arski provided was about a Polish immigrant in Canada contemplating suicide because he could not find a job.] ‘Polish Voice’ in Toronto (July 19, 1951) reports in a news item titled: ‘Killed — for Speaking Polish.’

Hit on the head because he did not speak English, Stanislaw Deren, about 40-years-old, died in a Vancouver hospital. Police confirmed that Deren was standing at a street crossing and was speaking in Polish with a female acquaintance when he was approached suddenly by an unidentified man who asked: ‘Why don’t you speak English?’ When Deren responded ‘It’s a free country?,’ the stranger hit him on the head. Deren fell and died seven hours later…

This is what a real ‘free country’ is. They kill you if you speak Polish. But you can starve to death and no one will prevent it. …That’s all about Canada. And the United States? This ‘promised land’ of so many wonders spoken about to refugees by the Voice of America. If one could only eat words, one would die from overeating. Meanwhile, they die from hunger there, just as in Canada.”

What is true of the parts is true of the whole logical fallacy is often used by American journalists motivated by ideology or partisanship. This technique is also employed by more sophisticated foreign propagandists. VOA editors and reporters might find it useful to read anti-U.S. propaganda texts produced in Poland in the 1950s to discover how their former VOA colleague reported news to create an image of America and Canada as countries where immigrants are despised, discriminated against, exploited, physically attacked and even murdered. 

Stefan Arski was one of many communists and fellow travelers who were hired during World War II by the first VOA Director, John Houseman, to produce anti-Nazi propaganda but also generated pro-Soviet propaganda for VOA radio broadcasts beamed abroad and for the Office of War Information (OWI) domestic propaganda activities. The U.S. Congress quickly eliminated funding for domestic government propaganda.

Before the war, Stefan Arski (his real name was Artur Salman) was a Polish Socialist Party activist and a journalist. During the war, he was a refugee in the United States and worked as a translator, writer and editor for the U.S. Office of War Information, the U.S. State Department and the Voice of America from August 2, 1943 until February 15, 1947.  After the war, he joined the Polish Communist Party and was a journalist, writer and propagandist for the Soviet-dominated regime in Poland.

From what I have discovered by reading his OWI personnel file, Arski might have stayed in the United States and might have continued his journalistic career at the Voice of America if the U.S. Congress had not decided to put pressure on the State Department to give priority in VOA employment to U.S. citizens over legal aliens. When he was laid off by the State Department in 1947 from his VOA editor’s job, he did not appear to be a victim of any anti-communist purge. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Soviet campaign came several years later and, contrary to various claims, there was hardly anybody at the Voice of America who was fired as a result of his largely baseless investigations. Almost all actual Communist Party members working in the Office of War Information and for the Voice of America were quietly fired during the war by the Roosevelt administration. Arski was not yet at that time a declared communist and a party member. He was a radical socialist, but he was already writing pro-Soviet propaganda and remained in contact with communists in the United States, including at least one actual KGB agent. On of his jobs was to get the Voice of America to promote Soviet propaganda narratives in support of Stalin’s plans for Poland.

About ten years after Arski was hired by the U.S. government and several years after he was laid off, Senator McCarthy started to criticize VOA for employing communists and being soft on communism. However, many other members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, were warning about Soviet agents of influence working at the Voice of America long before Senator McCarthy’s started his deplorable witch-hunt. It was the earlier actions by Democratic administrations under bipartisan pressure from Congress that produced limited reforms, which led to the departure of some pro-Soviet propagandists, including Stalin Peace Prize winner, American Communist Howard Fast. Other VOA officials and journalists like Stefan Arski who were Stalin supporters continued working for the U.S. government in their international broadcasting positions for several more years.

Howard Fast’s boss, John Houseman, who hired communists but himself was probably not a Communist Party member, was quietly forced to resign in mid-1943 under pressure from President Roosevelt’s State Department. U.S. diplomats and General Dwight Eisenhower became gravely alarmed by VOA’s pro-communist propaganda, which put U.S. diplomatic efforts to and American troops at risk in North Africa and Italy. 

The FDR White House did not object to Houseman’s forced resignation but did not put a stop to all pro-Soviet propaganda in VOA broadcasts since Russia was an important war ally against Nazi Germany and President Roosevelt wanted to trust Stalin to keep his promises. VOA journalists like Arski continued to support establishment of pro-Soviet socialist governments in East-Central Europe.

Stefan Arski’s State Department personnel file contains documents showing that he received several promotions and wanted to continue working for VOA after the war, but in 1947 he was replaced by an American citizen, probably in anticipation of the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act reforms. It is possible that he was targeted by the State Department’s management for being a Soviet sympathizer, but I found proof of it. In any case, this would have been long before Senator McCarthy appeared on the scene. Arski was laid off during the Truman Administration. To be absolutely precise, Arski resigned after being told that he might be laid off and replaced by a U.S. citizen.

“Reactionary Polish emigrants are the enemy who are at the same time both ridiculous and disgusting. It is the enemy who would have been long ago shattered into nothing if it were not backed by, financed by, inspired by, and directed by imperialists and warmongers. Let us remember that this is the enemy who has no limits, no scruples, for whom no villainy is unfamiliar. These people were born on the Polish soil. They once spoke Polish and considered themselves citizens of this country. They later rejected their fatherland and denied their Polishness… There are no greater knaves and villains than the renegades, the apostates and the deniers. No other enemy wheezes with such hatred toward Poland and Polishness than those who have separated themselves from their nation.” 

The same former Voice of America editor who wrote this propaganda screed in 1952 in Poland, co-wrote this promotional material about VOA in 1943 while he was working for the Office of War Information in New York.

“this is the Voice of America —
calling the People of Poland
It is a crime to listen to foreign broadcasts in Poland, punishable by 2-10 years in prison. It means death to be caught spreading foreign news.
However, that does not deter Poles from coming together, every night, in cellars and attics, to listen to a radio, to the Voice of America and the BBC.
The radio is the chief source of news for editors of underground papers. Thus, the British Eighth Army’s victory at El Alamein was known in Warsaw only 24 hours later than in New York. When American troops landed in North Africa, Poles in Poland knew it only a few hours after it was known in New York.
The Voice of America receives full acknowledgement from the Polish underground press. It prints speeches of President Roosevelt and Vice-President Wallace, runs long editorials on American war aims, analyzes the South Pacific war front.
But there is a trick to listening to the Voice of America—reception must be reduced to a whisper, one’s ear must be glued to the loudspeaker. There is constant German jamming, the threat of the Gestapo agents patrolling the streets outside one’s house, and the Volksdeutsche who is one’s neighbor.
Still, you listen and tell your friends the next day. They tell their friends, and so on, till all know the truth. Listening to the Voice of America is another form of resistance.”

In an additional twist of historic irony, while working for the Office of War Information, Arski co-authored in 1943 a socialist, pro-Soviet anti-Nazi propaganda pamphlet about Poland under German occupation which included a segment about the Voice of America. His collaborators were another VOA writer and editor Mira Złotowska, who later married a high-level Polish communist ambassador and under a pseudonym Mira Michal wrote soft pro-regime propaganda for American news magazines, and the head of the VOA Czech desk Adolf Hoffmeister who resigned in 1945 to join the Czechoslovak Communist Party and become the regime’s ambassador to France. 

Their 1943 PR description of Voice of America broadcasts is interesting from a historical point of view because it is one of the earliest examples of using the “Voice of America” name which was not yet the official name of OWI radio broadcasting during the war. It is also interesting because it includes a number of false or completely exaggerated claims.

VOA wartime broadcasts with their pro-Soviet propaganda had minimal impact in an anti-communist Catholic country like Poland. They had some news value on topics not related to Russia, but patriotic Poles found most of VOA broadcasts useless and their pro-Soviet tone offensive. This is how one Polish refugee radio journalist, Czesław Straszewicz, who worked in London during the war and listened to VOA broadcasts, described them in an article published in France in 1953:

“With genuine horror we listened to what the Polish language programs of the Voice of America (or whatever name they had then), in which in line with what [the Soviet news agency] TASS was communicating, the Warsaw Uprising was being completely ignored.”

“I remember as if it were today when the (Warsaw) Old Town fell [to the Nazis] and our spirits sank, the Voice of America was broadcasting to the allied nations describing for listeners in Poland in a happy tone how a woman named Magda from the village Ptysie made a fool of a Gestapo man named Mueller.”

During the war, those Poles who could listen to radio — Poles caught listening to radio would be shot by the Germans or sent to concentration camps — listened to the BBC or Radio Świt. Radio Świt was a Polish-language radio station located in Britain but pretending to broadcast from inside of Poland.

Future VOA Polish Service broadcaster Zofia Korbońska, a member of the underground anti-Nazi resistance, provided news from Poland to Radio Świt and to the BBC. She sent coded messages to London by radio at a great risk to her life. Many of her assistants were caught by the Gestapo, tortured and executed. After the war, she and her husband had to flee from Poland to avoid arrest by the communist regime.

During and after the war, pro-Soviet communists and socialists had very little support in Poland, but Arski and Złotowska tried to make it appear in their propaganda pamphlet and in VOA broadcasts that they did.

I should add that while most of my research has been on the Voice of America broadcasts to Poland, I also found plenty of materials on Soviet propaganda influence in VOA’s English, Czech, French, German, Greek, Italian, Yugoslav and other services. Some of this influence at some of the services lasted for a few years after the war.

By the way, as incredible as it may seem, the Voice of America did not broadcast during the war in Russian, Ukrainian or in most other languages spoken in the Soviet Union. While I have not yet found documents offering a definite proof, the only reasonable assumption is that pro-Soviet officials in charge of VOA wartime broadcasts were afraid of offending Joseph Stalin.

There are many declassified U.S. government documents which show that a senior OWI official and FDR’s speech writer, Robert E. Sherwood, coordinated OWI and VOA propaganda with Soviet Embassy officials in London under general approval from the Roosevelt White House. VOA’s chief news writer and editor, Howard Fast, admitted in his 1990 book Being Red that he communicated with Soviet Embassy officials in Washington and censored any news which he deemed to be anti-Soviet.

While Stefan Arski was not born or educated in the United States, Howard Fast lived in America his entire life. Using some facts, rejecting others, and ignoring information that did not conform to their worldview, they were both creating propaganda narratives in support of Stalin and the Soviet Union having convinced themselves that America was a profoundly unjust and racist society. They were not bothered by the fact that millions of immigrants wanted to live in America despite its faults. To his credit, Arski left to live and work in Poland where he immediately became a member of the communist elite. Anti-communist Polish refugees did not have the option of going back to their home country without risking arrest or other forms of repression. They chose to remain in America and in other Western democracies. Contrary to Arski’s dire warnings, the vast majority of them had successful lives. Even if they did experience some discrimination from time to time for being immigrants, it was nothing they could not confront and overcome. Compared to what their life would have been somewhere else under communism and a socialist economy, it is good that they were not deceived by propaganda from early VOA journalists. Stefan Arski’s American friend and former VOA colleague, Howard Fast, wrote years later how American communists like himself cried when they heard Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev reveal in 1956 some of Stalin’s crimes. They were too blinded earlier to be convinced by facts and were always able to find information that confirmed their bias. Confirmation bias and the old logical fallacy “what is true of the parts is true of the whole” seem even more common among journalists today.

A.

American Friends of Poland

Amerykanie w Polsce – Americans in Poland, 1919-1947 is a visually stunning bilingual catalogue for the exhibition which was held last summer in Warsaw at the History Meeting House (Dom Spotkań z Historią) in partnership with the US Embassy and American Center Warsaw. The catalogue can now be purchased online (follow instructions listed below) to help cover the expenses involved in preparing the second edition of this exhibition being planned in the US for 2021. The text is bilingual, English and Polish, making the book a perfect gift for Polish and Polish-American and Polish-Canadian friends and relatives, as well as for non-Polish Americans and non-Polish Canadians who would be interested in learning more about Poland’s history and Polish-American relations in the 20th century. By buying this book, you can help bring the exhibition to the United States.

The exhibition catalogue highlights a generation of Americans, none of whom had Polish ancestry, who devoted their talent, influence and energy to help Poland recover and defend its independence between 1919 and 1939. During WWII and immediately after, they fought against impossible odds, never giving up on their conviction that Poland would eventually rise up again. 

Among them were three diplomats: Hugh Gibson, Anthony Drexel-Biddle, Arthur Bliss Lane; military pilots including Merian Cooper; journalists including Pulitzer Prize war reporter Larry Allen; humanitarian workers including a Nobel Peace Prize winner Maurice Pate; and Herbert Hoover before and after his US presidency.

The authors of the catalogue are Jan-Roman Potocki and Vivian H. Reed. Jan-Roman Potocki graduated from the Institute d’Études Politiques in Paris and Cambridge University. His own family history motivated him to illustrate Poland’s place in the world through stories of Americans and Poles cooperating for a common cause. His uncle, Jerzy Potocki, was the Polish Ambassador in Washington (1936-1940).

Vivian H. Reed is an American historian who together with M.B.B Biskupski, Jochen Böhler and Jan-Roman Potocki wrote and edited An American in Warsaw: Selected Writings of Hugh S. Gibson, US Minister to Poland, 1919-1924.

A superb bi-lingual catalogue (EN/PL) for Amerykanie w Polsce – Americans in Poland, 1919-1947 is now available for purchase online, 120 pages, in color , with 100+ rare archive photos, soft cover.

Unfortunately, the catalogue is not listed on Amazon, but it can be purchased through a PayPal platform from Potocki Spirits Ltd (Jan-Roman Potocki is also a successful entrepreneur in charge of his family’s spirits production. If you are buying the catalogue for a library, a club, an organization or a business, you may want to alert your management that this is a book purchase in support of an educational cause.)

Order the bilingual catalogue to help bring the Americans in Poland exhibition to the United States in 2021.

https://www.paypal.me/battleforthetruth

If you follow these instructions listed here, the company promises that the book will be mailed promptly from Poland.

I ordered several copies for delivery in Poland and in the US. It is possible to leave shipping instructions on the PayPal platform. All books were shipped and delivered within the promised time period. It was possible to enter different shipping addresses in the PayPal comments section. All of my instructions were honored. For delivery in Poland, I used the regular mail price.

  • On the PayPal platform click on GBP, go down the list of currencies and choose USD currency.
  • Calculate your price for delivery to US or Canada (regular mail – 3 weeks, or airmail – 1 week).

1 catalogue: US$ 20.00 Regular Mail / US$ 25.00 Airmail
2 catalogues: US$ 40.00 Regular Mail / US$ 50.00 Airmail
3 catalogues: US$ 50.00 Regular Mail / US$ 60.00 Airmail

DO NOT CLICK on the box “goods and services” on the PayPal platform. (Clicking on it will not affect the delivery, but I was informed that not clicking “goods and services” makes it a purchase in support of an educational initiative.)

  • Provide address for delivery and any additional instructions.

I am certain that you will enjoy reading Americans in Poland as I did. In addition to being visually stunning, the book is also superbly written by Jan-Roman Potocki and Vivian H. Reed. It has one of the best concise descriptions of Polish-American relations in the 20th century.

As noted by Piotr Jakubowski, Director of the History Meeting House, the United States was one of the first countries to officially establish diplomatic relations with Poland after the end of World War I.

Without President Woodrow Wilson’s strong political support and President Herbert Hoover’s relief effort, Poland’s transition to independence would have been a much more difficult process.

It is a book not only about Americans in Poland but about American friends of Poland. I believe that most Americans, had they known all the facts before the 1944 Yalta conference, would have not tolerated President Franklin D. Roosevelt giving Stalin essentially a free hand in post-war East-Central Europe, even if not much could have been done by the United States to change the situation on the ground at the end of World War II. Anyone with any knowledge of history would have known that Stalin would not keep his promise to FDR of holding free and democratic elections. While the book only covers the period until 1947, some of the Americans whom it presents, including Ambassador Arthur Bliss Lane, were already working on trying to reverse the tragic consequences of Poland’s post-Yalta fate. The authors point out that the collective reporting by US journalists who were in Poland between 1945 and 1947 “yielded important evidence of Soviet methods, but also illustrated the Poles’ efforts to rebuild their country and lives at all costs.” Ambassador Bliss Lane was urging that the Voice of America (VOA), which during the war broadcast pro-Soviet propaganda, be reformed through a change of programming and hiring of non-communist Polish refugee journalists. A few years later, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ambassador Bliss Lane and a young Ronald Reagan contributed to the setting up of Radio Free Europe.

The “battle for the truth” continued during the Cold War on the basis of contributions made by the American friends of Poland highlighted in the book. They laid the ground for President Carter’s policy of advocating for human rights and peaceful engagement advised by Zbigniew Brzeziński. The culmination of this policy was President Reagan’s decisive support of Solidarity in the 1980s, the fall of communism and the restoration of Poland’s sovereignty. As US Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher pointed out in her introduction to the catalogue, Poland is now “one of the strongest European allies of the United States, being part of both NATO and the European Union.” I highly recommend this book to all of my American and Canadian friends.

Please help to bring the Americans in Poland exhibition to the United States in 2021 by ordering the bilingual catalogue.

R.

Russian propaganda at WWII Voice of America

Russian propaganda influence in the United States is not new.

“I established contact at the Soviet embassy with people who spoke English and were willing to feed me important bits and pieces from their side of the wire”*

*Howard Fast. Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 18.

Howard Fast was Voice of America (VOA) chief radio news writer and editor in the U.S. Office of War Information (early 1943-January 1944), Communist Party USA member and news reporter (approx. 1944-1957), Stalin International Peace Prize winner (1953), and best-selling American author. He was one of many pro-Soviet communist activists and journalists recruited by the first VOA Director John Houseman. Easily deceived, they helped to spread the Kremlin’s propaganda abroad in Voice of America wartime broadcasts and domestically to Americans through OWI press releases, radio programs, mass mailings, posters and exhibits. Stalin was America’s important war partner against Hitler in 1943, but he was earlier Nazi Germany’s ally in launching World War II and in annexing neighboring states. Howard Fast’s trusted Soviet news sources used in VOA broadcasts represented the regime responsible for the genocide of millions of people.

Russian propaganda influence in the United States is not new.


“I established contact at the Soviet embassy with people who spoke English and were willing to feed me important bits and pieces from their side of the wire”*

*Howard Fast. Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 18.

Howard Fast was Voice of America (VOA) chief radio news writer and editor in the U.S. Office of War Information (early 1943-January 1944), Communist Party USA member and news reporter (approx. 1944-1957), Stalin International Peace Prize winner (1953), and best-selling American author. He was one of many pro-Soviet communist activists and journalists recruited by the first VOA Director John Houseman. Easily deceived, they helped to spread the Kremlin’s propaganda abroad in Voice of America wartime broadcasts and domestically to Americans through OWI press releases, radio programs, mass mailings, posters and exhibits. Stalin was America’s important war partner against Hitler in 1943, but he was earlier Nazi Germany’s ally in launching World War II and in annexing neighboring states. Howard Fast’s trusted Soviet news sources used in VOA broadcasts represented the regime responsible for the genocide of millions of people.

T.

The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II by Victor Suvorov

By Ted Lipien

I would like to thank Bill Coe for bringing Victor Suvorov’s book to my attention.

Journalists reporting on Vladimir Putin’s latest attempt to re-write history with his propaganda and disinformation blaming the start of World War II on Poland–the first victim of the war and the first country to resist militarily Hitler’s Nazi Germany–should read The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II by Victor Suvorov. He is a former Soviet military intelligence officer who had defected in 1978 to the United Kingdom and wrote about a dozen books on the Soviet Union and the history of World War II.

Suvorov’s main thesis is that after the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) and the division of Poland by Germany and Soviet Russia, Stalin was secretly preparing a massive military attack on Germany. This theory is disputed by most historians who believe that Stalin was not planning an immediate attack on Hitler’s armies and in fact provided Germany with industrial and military aid, although Stalin undoubtedly had hoped that eventually he would be able to launch an attack and occupy Eastern Europe, including Germany, if Germany exhausted itself fighting the Western allies.

On one point, however, Suvorov is right. Stalin enabled Hitler to start World War II on September 1, 1939 and joined the war against Poland on September 17, 1939. Most Western historians agree with this assessment.

Suvorov is also right that some Western historians treat the Soviet Union as “a regular country, just like any other” and still repeat some of Soviet propaganda claims without questioning and further analysis. 1 The same could be said about some Western journalists–those who had reported about the Soviet Union in the past and those who now cover Vladimir Putin.

Victor Suvorov described in his book the Soviet Union as “a criminal conglomerate” headed by Stalin. The same approach is useful in reporting on Putin and his pronouncements. Most journalists do not treat seriously arguments by Holocaust deniers. They should treat Putin the same way since he is the prime denier of Stalin’s genocidal crimes. His denial of Stalin’s co-responsibility for launching World War II falls into this category.

Many journalists simply cannot understand Putin’s motives. They get hung up on reporting in depth what he says and trying to analyze it as disputes between nations over history and international politics. Even Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which during the Cold War was known and valued for not being fooled by Soviet and communist propaganda, now occasionally uses the “on-the-one hand, on-on-the-other hand” style of reporting, as in its recent report, “Poland, Russia Again In War Of Words Over World War II.”

When reporting on Putin’s statements, this opening paragraph of the RFE/RL report is not particularly helpful in signaling that Putin is engaged in denying genocidal actions by one of his predecessors in the Kremlin.

RFE/RL: A war of words has intensified between Poland and Russia over who is to blame for starting World War II, with each accusing the other of distorting history. 2

While the RFE/RL report includes balancing material, it lacks sufficient context and analysis. It treats Putin’s obvious lies as an alternative view of history. Such reporting helps to advance the Kremlin’s current propaganda and disinformation narrative, although most of RFE/RL online content thankfully does not. RFE/RL has been in fact improving its reporting on Russia in recent months under a new management. The Voice of America (VOA) English News Service, however, simply failed to report at all initially on Putin’s latest series of historical lies, while the VOA Russian Service waited several days and then translated and posted on its website the very inadequate RFE/RL news report.

Victor Suvorov, the former Soviet spy, defector and amateur historian, studied the history of the Soviet Union using what he describes as “methods of intelligence.” His advice is: “do not believe what is officiously demonstrated to you; seek what is hidden.” 3 An extensive knowledge of Soviet propaganda techniques and how they were used in the past to dupe many Western journalists, intellectuals and political leaders is absolutely necessary for objective reporting on Putin and any of his statements.

Vladimir Putin is an ex-KGB officer and a master of manipulating journalists and public opinion. One of Suvorov’s observations in his book, although not about Putin but about Stalin, describes exactly what Putin is doing to confuse and divide foreign public opinion: “one who wins the war is the one who prepares for war by dividing his enemies and making them fight each other, not the one who makes loud pronouncements.” 4

While Putin relies on his propagandists to do most of the disinformation work, and makes loud pronouncements only from time to time, his statements also cannot be taken at face value and reported simply as news, even with the usual balancing responses from those whom he attacks. Many Western journalists initially made the mistake in reporting on Hitler and Stalin by focusing on what they said rather than on what was not being said or widely reported.

One of the hushed up episodes of propaganda history is how easily Stalin working through his ideological agents of influence, both the so-called fellow travelers and a few actual agents of Soviet intelligence services, manipulated various U.S. government departments during World War II. A large number of Soviet sympathizers who were employed by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration during the war at the Voice of America, helped to cover up Stalin’s atrocities and spread his propaganda. The early VOA chief news writer was Howard Fast, an American Communist, best-selling author and later the winner of the 1953 Stalin Peace Prize. A few of his colleagues employed by VOA’s foreign language desks left the United States after the war and worked for communist regimes in East-Central Europe.One of them was his Polish translator Mira Złotowska, later known as Mira Michałowska or Mira Michal. Another one was Stefan Arski, aka Artur Salman, who after leaving VOA was a chief anti-U.S.propagandist in Poland. 5

After World War II, the Voice of America was reformed and security background checks for its officials and journalists were considerably strengthened. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were created to counter Soviet propaganda more effectively through in-depth analysis and commentary by competent experts and news reporters.

This kind of journalism is again necessary when dealing with master propagandists like Putin, but unfortunately it is still currently largely missing in U.S.-funded media outreach by the Voice of America and to some degree by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Until very recently, the Voice of America Russian Service employed as a freelancer a TV journalist who prior to his work for the U.S. government media agency produced for Russian television anti-American propaganda videos filled with conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic themes.

In the past, RFE and RL were much better by being different from the more official and federal Voice of America. This managerial and journalistic advantage has largely disappeared when both organizations were placed in the same federal agency, although RFE/RL technically still maintains its non-profit NGO status. The officials in U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), who now manage both VOA and RFE/RL, are mainly responsible for America’s current inability to stand up to Putin. They lack an in-depth knowledge of the history of Soviet and Russian propaganda and disinformation.

After I alerted the USAGM Board of Governors, VOA posted a few new news agency reports on some of the international responses to Putin’s latest propaganda offensive against Poland, but it was too late and too little. VOA did not even bother to do its own original reporting in English on this topic to offer an alternative to reporting by RT and other Kremlin media.

Perhaps of all the responses, the best rebuke to Putin’s propaganda came from the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. In a relatively short document, he presented how World War II was started by Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Russia.

Statement by the Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki

Unfortunately, the more time passes since these tragic events, the less our children and grandchildren know about them. That is why it is so important that we continue to speak out loud, telling the truth about World War II, its perpetrators and victims – and object to any attempts at distorting history.

The memory about this evil is particularly important for Poland – the war’s first victim. Our country was the first to experience the armed aggression of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Poland was the first country that fought to defend free Europe.

However, resistance to these evil powers is not only the memory of Polish heroism – it is something much more important. This resistance is the legacy of the entire now free and democratic Europe that fought against two totalitarian regimes. Today, when some want to trample the memory of these events in the name of their political goals, Poland must stand up for the truth. Not for its own interest, but for the sake of what Europe means.

Signed on 23 August 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was not a “non-aggression pact.” It was a political and military alliance, dividing Europe into two spheres of influence – along the line formed by three Polish rivers: the Narew, Vistula, and San. A month later it was moved to the line of the Bug river, as a result of the “German-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty” of 28 September 1939. It was a prologue to unspeakable crimes that over the next years were committed on both sides of the line.

The pact between Hitler and Stalin was immediately put into effect: on 1 September 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland from the west, south and north, and on 17 September 1939 the USSR joined in, attacking Poland from the east.

On 22 September 1939 a great military parade was held in Brest-Litovsk – a celebration of Nazi Germany’s and Soviet Russia’s joint defeat of independent Poland. Such parades are not organised by parties to non-aggression pacts – they are organised by allies and friends.

This is exactly what Hitler and Stalin were – for a long time they were not only allies but in fact friends. Their friendship flourished so much that, when a group of 150 German communists fled the Third Reich to the USSR before World War II broke out, in November 1939 Stalin handed them over to Hitler as “a gift” – thus condemning them to a certain death.

The USSR and the Third Reich cooperated closely all the time. At a conference in Brest on 27 November 1939, representatives of both countries’ security services discussed the methods and principles of cooperation to fight Polish independence organisations on the occupied territories. Other conferences of the NKVD and SS officers on their cooperation were held inter alia in Zakopane and Krakow (in March 1940). These were not talks on non-aggression – but on liquidating (that is murdering) people, Polish citizens, and on joint, allied actions to bring about a total destruction of Poland.

Without Stalin’s complicity in the partition of Poland, and without the natural resources that Stalin supplied to Hitler, the Nazi German crime machine would not have taken control of Europe. The last trains with supplies left the USSR and headed for Germany on 21 June 1941 – just one day before Nazi Germany attacked its ally. Thanks to Stalin, Hitler could conquer new countries with impunity, lock Jews from all over the continent in ghettos, and prepare Holocaust – one of the worst crimes in the history of humankind.

Stalin engaged in criminal activities in the east, subduing one country after another, and developing a network of camps that the Russian Alexander Solzhenitsyn called “the Gulag Archipelago.” These were camps in which a slave, murderous torture was inflicted on millions of opponents of the communist authorities.

The crimes of the communist regime started even before the outbreak of World War II –the starvation of millions of Russians at the beginning of the1920s, the Great Famine which led to the death of many millions of inhabitants of Ukraine and Kazakhstan, the Great Purge during which nearly 700 thousand political opponents and ordinary citizens of the USSR, mostly Russians, were murdered, and the so-called “Polish Operation” of the NKVD in which mainly the USSR citizens of Polish descent were shot to death. Children, women and men were destined to die. In the “Polish Operation” alone, according to the NKVD data, over 111 thousand people were shot to death deliberately by Soviet communists. Being a Pole in the USSR at that time meant a death sentence or many years of exile.

This policy was continued with crimes committed after the Soviet Union invaded Poland on 17 September 1939 – the crime of  murdering over 22 thousand Polish officers and representatives of elites in places such as Katyn, Kharkiv, Tver, Kyiv, and Minsk, the crimes committed in the NKVD torture cells and in forced labour-camps in the most remote parts of the Soviet empire.

The greatest victims of communism were Russian citizens. Historians estimate that between 20 and 30 million people were killed in the USSR alone. Death and forced labour-camps awaited even those that every civilised country provides care for – prisoners of war that returned to their homeland. The USSR did not treat them as war heroes but as traitors. That was the Soviet Russia’s “gratitude” for prisoners of war – soldiers of the Red Army: death, forced-labour camps, concentration camps. 

Communist leaders, Joseph Stalin in the first place, are responsible for all these crimes. Eighty years after World War II started, attempts are made to rehabilitate Stalin for political goals of today’s President of Russia. These attempts must be met with strong opposition from every person who has at least basic knowledge about the history of the 20th century.

President Putin has lied about Poland on numerous occasions, and he has always done it deliberately. This usually happens when Russian authorities feel international pressure related to their activities – and the pressure is exerted not on historical but contemporary geopolitical scene. In recent weeks Russia has suffered several significant defeats – it failed in its attempt to take complete control over Belarus, the EU once again prolonged sanctions imposed on it for illegal annexation of Crimea, the so-called “Normandy Format” talks did not result in lifting these sanctions and simultaneously further restrictions were introduced – this time by the US, significantly hindering the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 project. At the same time Russian athletes have just been suspended for four years for using doping.

I consider President Putin’s words as an attempt to cover up these problems. The Russian leader is well aware that his accusations have nothing to do with reality – and that in Poland there are no monuments of Hitler or Stalin. Such monuments stood here only when they were erected by the aggressors and perpetrators – the Third Reich and the Soviet Russia.

The Russian people – the greatest victim of Stalin, one of the cruellest criminals in the history of the world – deserve the truth. I believe that Russians are a nation of free people – and that they reject Stalinism, even when President Putin’s government is trying to rehabilitate it.

There can be no consent to turning perpetrators into victims, those responsible for cruel crimes into innocent people and attacked countries. Together we must preserve the truth – in the name of the memory about the victims and for the good of our common future.

Notes:

  1. Victor Suvorov, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008), xxi.
  2. RFE/RL, “Poland, Russia Again In War Of Words Over World War II,” December 23, 2019, https://www.rferl.org/a/poland-russia-world-war-molotov-ribbentrop-soviet-nazi-pact/30339545.html.
  3. Victor Suvorov, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008), xxii.
  4. Victor Suvorov, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008),113.
  5. Ted Lipien, “Mira Złotowska – Michałowska — a VOA friend of Stalin Peace Prize winner,” Cold War Radio Museum, December 10, 2019, https://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/mira-zlotowska—michalowska—-a-voa-friend-of-stalin-peace-prize-winner/.
R.

Radio was a ‘childhood companion’ of Polish Nobel Prize author Olga Tokarczuk

I learned something today by reading on the Internet the Nobel Prize in Literature Lecture delivered on December 7, 2019 at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm by Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk. As a young girl growing up in Poland in the 1960s and the 1970s, a country at that time still under communist rule until 1989, she was often listening to the radio. As she described it, radio was her “great childhood companion.” In her Nobel speech, Tokarczuk mentioned hearing programs from all kinds of different stations—Warsaw, London, Luxembourg and Paris.

Olga Tokarczuk – Nobel Lecture

Only literature is capable of letting us go deep into the life of another being, understand their reasons, share their emotions and experience their fate.

Literature Laureate Olga Tokarczuk
Photo: Clément Morin

The first photograph I ever experienced consciously is a picture of my mother from before she gave birth to me. Unfortunately, it’s a black-and-white photograph, which means that many of the details have been lost, turning into nothing but gray shapes. The light is soft, and rainy, likely a springtime light, and definitely the kind of light that seeps in through a window, holding the room in a barely perceptible glow. My mom is sitting beside our old radio, and it’s the kind with a green eye and two dials—one to regulate the volume, the other for finding a station.

Photo by Dušan Tatomirović

This radio later became my great childhood companion; from it I learned of the existence of the cosmos. Turning an ebony knob shifted the delicate feelers of the antennae, and into their purview fell all kinds of different stations—Warsaw, London, Luxembourg and Paris. Sometimes, however, the sound would falter, as though between Prague and New York, or Moscow and Madrid, the antennae’s feelers stumbled onto black holes. Whenever that happened, it sent shivers down my spine. I believed that through this radio different solar systems and galaxies were speaking to me, crackling and warbling and sending me important information, and yet I was unable to decipher it.

News and literature in the age of the Internet

By Ted Lipien

Only literature is capable of letting us go deep into the life of another being, understand their reasons, share their emotions and experience their fate.

I have never met Olga Tokarczuk and never had a chance to interview her, but in 1984, when I was working for the Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service broadcasting from Washington D.C., I interviewed for the radio the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Czesław Miłosz, a Polish poet of the World War II generation who had spent a good portion of his life living in exile in the United States before his death in 2004. His and Tokarczuk’s political outlook based on liberal ideas guiding their creative writing is similar, but the books they wrote express their interest in people and human events by looking at them from different angles and using different literary forms. One common theme uniting them is that Miłosz like Tokarczuk wanted to be a witness to history and was committed to preserving historical truth.

Now that I know about Olga Tokarczuk’s early fascination with radio, if I had had a chance to interview her, I would have wanted to ask her whether in her teenage years she had listened to Polish programs of Radio Free Europe, the BBC and the Voice of America as they had a great impact on me when I was growing up in Poland in the 1960s. Born in 1962, she could have heard these broadcasts if her mother had listened to them, as millions of Poles did at that time, or she may have started listening to them a few years later on her own, but she did not mention these stations by name in her Nobel Lecture. I wonder what she thought about life in Poland before the fall of communism. Did it bother her to be lied to about history by Communist Party officials and regime journalists? Did she at any time want to leave Poland and live in the West? Could she have become a great Polish writer if she had emigrated? Czesław Miłosz went into exile in the early 1950s, but he was already at that time a well-known poet in Poland.

By joining the Voice of America staff in 1973 as a young trainee-broadcaster after emigrating to the United States from Poland three years earlier, I tried to repay my debt of gratitude to the Western radio stations for giving me an honest portrayal of history. Radio was then the most powerful medium for instant international communication with nations whose rulers did not want theirs populations to receive outside news. Communist regimes resorted to jamming radio signals of these stations but without much success. Radio was the only way for journalists in the West to reach large numbers of people living in Poland under communism and is was largely the only way for the Poles to get uncensored news and information although some of them lived through World War II and experienced post-war communist repressions or they could learn about history from their parents and some of the more school teachers who were willing to take risks and teach true history to students. I had two such teachers in my youth.

In her lecture, Tokarczuk made some interesting observations how the media world has changed since the arrival of the Internet.

The world is a fabric we weave daily on the great looms of information, discussions, films, books, gossip, little anecdotes. Today the purview of these looms is enormous—thanks to the internet, almost everyone can take place in the process, taking responsibility and not, lovingly and hatefully, for better and for worse. When this story changes, so does the world. In this sense, the world is made of words.

The flood of stupidity, cruelty, hate speech and images of violence are desperately counterbalanced by all sorts of “good news,” but it hasn’t the capacity to rein in the painful impression, which I find hard to verbalize, that there is something wrong with the world. Nowadays this feeling, once the sole preserve of neurotic poets, is like an epidemic of lack of definition, a form of anxiety oozing from all directions.

There are now millions of sources of what is described as “news.“ Practically everyone with access to the world wide web can be a provider of either true knowledge or fake news, sometimes to hundreds of thousands or millions of people at practically no cost. During World War II and the Cold War, usually only governments could afford the high price of high-power transnational shortwave radio transmissions of news programs. Now, almost anyone can play the role of a journalist or a commentator. For the money totalitarian and authoritarian regimes spent before on radio transmissions, they can now hire at much less expense an army of anonymous trolls to manipulate public opinion at home and abroad.

Journalism is only as good and as honest as the people who deliver the news. Had Tokarczuk been alive during World War II and listened to wartime Voice of America broadcasts, she would have heard pro-Soviet and pro-Stalin propaganda delivered from the United States in Polish by such journalists as Mira Złotowska and Stefan Arski who later went back to Poland to work for the communist state media, or she would have heard English news written by the Stalin Peace Prize future winner, American communist author Howard Fast. However, if she had listened to the Voice of America during her youth from the 1960s until the 1980s, she would have heard the programs of the famous World War II anti-Nazi Polish underground army fighter and anti-Communist VOA broadcaster Zofia Korbońska. Had she listened to Radio Free Europe in the 1960s and the 1970s, she would have heard not only political news, but also the RFE music program, “Rendez-vous at 6:10,” hosted by Janusz Hewel. I had tuned to his program regularly in my youth and later worked with him when he was hired by the Voice of America moved to Washington, DC. She mentioned listening to Radio Luxembourg. The station was famous among teenagers in Poland for its music programs.

When it came to political news and information, the message was then, as it is now, only as good as the messenger. Tokarczuk believes that in the current informational chaos filled with hate speech, feel-good stories and fake news, literature can help readers find a deeper understanding of the world by providing a broader context in which humans look at themselves and interact which each other. In remembrance of her mother, she titled her lecture “The Tender Narrator,” hoping perhaps that she may encourage more people to communicate with love rather than hatred. Her advice may be much more difficult to apply to short-form journalism and to social media posts on the web, but journalists should pay attention to her words. Tokarczuk has received anonymous death threats on social media from fringe anti-Semitic Polish extremists. I also saw respected Voice of America journalists in the United States publicly posting a video with the VOA logo condoning violence against an American politician. The Polish extremists are almost certainly not journalists, and some of them may be Vladimir Putin’s trolls, but both in the United States and in Poland, social media outlets have contributed to destroying among journalists and other Internet users many previously observed limits of personal and journalistic decency, not to mention journalistic accuracy and objectivity.

To my disappointment, I did not find last week on the Voice of America English news website any coverage of Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel Lecture. When international news radio broadcasting was still popular, it may seem now that it was a much better medium for practicing good and comprehensive journalism, allowing for a more nuanced presentation of facts and opinions than the Internet has done so far. That may be true to some degree. VOA’s radio journalists were focused not only on delivering news censored behind the Iron Curtain but also on presenting and explaining ideas behind the news. The Internet, however, has far more information that can be instantly accessed in much less time than the radio was able to provide during the Cold War. The problem is not the amount of information but people’s ability to find accurate news and, more importantly, find an objective analysis. During the Cold War, radio listeners learned to trust some of the individual broadcasters and reject those they disagreed with, just as they do now, but now their sources of information are almost limitless, confusing, and often anonymous or operating under false flags.

For better or for worse, the era of international radio broadcasting is largely gone, as it has been replaced now in most countries by Internet-based platforms of trans-border communication. Such trans-border communication in itself is also becoming less relevant in most countries for many news consumers interested in domestic issues, unless it is managed by journalists living in diaspora who are in touch with their audience and have in-country news contacts on a daily basis. In general, people prefer the ease of using domestic media and domestic information sources for both domestic and foreign news over media outlets run by foreign governments or other foreign entities. This was also the case for practical rand technical reasons during the Cold War, but people behind the Iron Curtain knew then that not all news from domestic sources was accurate and that much of it was disinformation and propaganda. They had to rely on stations such as Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, the BBC or the Voice of America to be fully informed.

Thanks to the Internet, dissident journalists can now reach their audience in most countries and still remain independent from any inside or outside government support. They can be working in their own countries or abroad. There are still, however, states such as China, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Vietnam, Iran and Russia, where many dissident journalists are in prison. Many journalists have been victims of assassinations. Hundreds of millions of poor people still have no Internet or mobile phones. If had a chance to interview Olga Tokarczuk, I would have asked her how she would propose to bring more decency to journalism and how she would want to communicate her message to help journalists in countries without a free media in their struggle for universal human rights. Would her message be different for countries such as the United States and Poland which have a free media and free speech? Olga Tokarczuk’s idea of relying on literature to expand understanding of other people’s emotions and actions is a correct one, but what would be her advice for journalists in the era of the Internet?

Olga Tokarczuk – Nobel Lecture

How we think about the world and—perhaps even more importantly—how we narrate it have a massive significance, therefore. A thing that happens and is not told ceases to exist and perishes. This is a fact well known to not only historians, but also (and perhaps above all) to every stripe of politician and tyrant. He who has and weaves the story is in charge.

Today our problem lies—it seems—in the fact that we do not yet have ready narratives not only for the future, but even for a concrete now, for the ultra-rapid transformations of today’s world. We lack the language, we lack the points of view, the metaphors, the myths and new fables. Yet we do see frequent attempts to harness rusty, anachronistic narratives that cannot fit the future to imaginaries of the future, no doubt on the assumption that an old something is better than a new nothing, or trying in this way to deal with the limitations of our own horizons. In a word, we lack new ways of telling the story of the world.

John Amos Comenius, the great seventeenth-century pedagogue, coined the term “pansophism,” by which he meant the idea of potential omniscience, universal knowledge that would contain within it all possible cognition. This was also, and above all, a dream of information available to everyone. Would not access to facts about the world transform an illiterate peasant into a reflective individual conscious of himself and the world? Will not knowledge within easy reach mean that people will become sensible, that they will direct the progress of their lives with equanimity and wisdom?

When the Internet first came about, it seemed that this notion would finally be realized in a total way. Wikipedia, which I admire and support, might have seemed to Comenius, like many like-minded philosophers, the fulfillment of the dream of humanity—now we can create and receive an enormous store of facts being ceaselessly supplemented and updated that is democratically accessible to just about every place on Earth.

A dream fulfilled is often disappointing. It has turned out that we are not capable of bearing this enormity of information, which instead of uniting, generalizing and freeing, has differentiated, divided, enclosed in individual little bubbles, creating a multitude of stories that are incompatible with one another or even openly hostile toward each other, mutually antagonizing.

Furthermore, the Internet, completely and unreflectively subject to market processes and dedicated to monopolists, controls gigantic quantities of data used not at all pansophically, for the broader access to information, but on the contrary, serving above all to program the behavior of users, as we learned after the Cambridge Analytica affair. Instead of hearing the harmony of the world, we have heard a cacophony of sounds, an unbearable static in which we try, in despair, to pick up on some quieter melody, even the weakest beat. The famous Shakespeare quote has never been a better fit than it is for this cacophonous new reality: more and more often, the Internet is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.

Research by political scientists unfortunately also contradicts John Amos Comenius’ intuitions, which were based on the conviction that the more universally available was information about the world, the more politicians would avail themselves of reason and make considered decisions. But it would appear that the matter is not at all so simple as that. Information can be overwhelming, and its complexity and ambiguity give rise to all sorts of defense mechanisms—from denial to repression, even to escape into the simple principles of simplifying, ideological, party-line thinking.

The category of fake news raises new questions about what fiction is. Readers who have been repeatedly deceived, misinformed or misled have begun to slowly acquire a specific neurotic idiosyncrasy. The reaction to such exhaustion with fiction could be the enormous success of non-fiction, which in this great informational chaos screams over our heads: “I will tell you the truth, nothing but the truth,” and “My story is based on facts!”

Fiction has lost the readers’ trust since lying has become a dangerous weapon of mass destruction, even if it is still a primitive tool. I am often asked this incredulous question: “Is this thing you wrote really true?” And every time I feel this question bodes the end of literature.

In this ardent division into truth and falsehood, the tales of our experience that literature creates have their own dimension.

I have never been particularly excited about any straight distinction between fiction and non-fiction, unless we understand such a distinction to be declarative and discretionary. In a sea of many definitions of fiction, the one I like the best is also the oldest, and it comes from Aristotle. Fiction is always a kind of truth.

I am also convinced by the distinction between true story and plot made by the writer and essayist E.M. Forster. He said that when we say, “The king died and then the queen died,” it’s a story. But when we say, “The king died, and then the queen died of grief,” that is a plot. Every fictionalization involves a transition from the question “What happened next?” to an attempt at understanding it based on our human experience: “Why did it happen that way?”

Literature begins with that “why,” even if we were to answer that question over and over with an ordinary “I don’t know.”

Thus literature poses questions that cannot be answered with the help of Wikipedia, since it goes beyond just information and events, referring directly to our experience.

But it is possible that the novel and literature in general are becoming before our very eyes something actually quite marginal in comparison with other forms of narration. That the weight of the image and of new forms of directly transmitting experience—film, photography, virtual reality—will constitute a viable alternative to traditional reading. Reading is quite a complicated psychological and perceptual process. To put it simply: first the most elusive content is conceptualized and verbalized, transforming into signs and symbols, and then it is “decoded” back from language into experience. That requires a certain intellectual competence. And above all it demands attention and focus, abilities ever rarer in today’s extremely distracting world.

Humanity has come a long way in its ways of communicating and sharing personal experience, from orality, relying on the living word and human memory, through the Gutenberg Revolution, when stories began to be widely mediated by writing and in this way fixed and codified as well as possible to reproduce without alteration. The major attainment of this change was that we came to identify thinking with language, with writing. Today we are facing a revolution on a similar scale, when experience can be transmitted directly, without recourse to the printed word.

There is no longer any need to keep a travel diary when you can simply take pictures and send those pictures via social networking sites straight into the world, at once and to all. There is no need to write letters, since it is easier to call. Why write fat novels, when you can just get into a television series instead? Instead of going out on the town with friends, it would be better to play a game. Reach for an autobiography? There’s no point, since I am following the lives of celebrities on Instagram and know everything about them.

It is not even the image that is the greatest opponent of text today, as we thought back in the twentieth century, worrying about the influence of television and film. It is instead a completely different dimension of the world—acting directly on our senses.

I don’t want to sketch an overall vision of crisis in telling stories about the world. But I’m often troubled by the feeling that there is something missing in the world―that by experiencing it through glass screens, and through apps, somehow it becomes unreal, distant, two-dimensional, and strangely non-descript, even though finding any particular piece of information is astoundingly easy. These days the worrying words “someone, “something,” “somewhere,” “some time” can seem riskier than very specific, definite ideas uttered with complete certainty―such as that “the earth is flat,” “vaccinations kill,” “climate change is nonsense,” or “democracy is not under threat anywhere in the world.” “Somewhere” some people are drowning as they try to cross the sea. “Somewhere,” for “some” time, “some sort of” a war has been going on. In the deluge of information individual messages lose their contours, dissipate in our memory, become unreal and vanish.

Literature is one of the few spheres that try to keep us close to the hard facts of the world, because by its very nature it is always psychological, because it focuses on the internal reasoning and motives of the characters, reveals their otherwise inaccessible experience to another person, or simply provokes the reader into a psychological interpretation of their conduct. Only literature is capable of letting us go deep into the life of another being, understand their reasons, share their emotions and experience their fate.

For full text of Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel Lecture, see:

Olga Tokarczuk Nobel Lecture: The Tender Narrator

H.

Hollywood’s Polish Latin lover who terrorized Voice of America broadcasters

By TED LIPIEN

The name of the handsome man with a tanned Latin complexion in the 1942 publicity photo was Edward Raquello. He was a Hollywood actor, but he soon became known as a “very talented terror” at the Voice of America (VOA), the U.S. government radio station broadcasting abroad, where he was hired that year as a producer and put in charge of training radio announcers during World War II and later in the early years of the Cold War. Before his Voice of America career, he played Latin lovers in a number of Hollywood films. Radio Daily, the national newspaper of commercial radio and television, referred to him in a report on July 7, 1943 as being “once known as the ‘Polish Valentino’ at the time the late Carl Laemmle brought that European film star to to Hollywood.” The paper praised his role as the “Polish immigrant” in a radio play titled America the Beautiful. Had we known earlier that Edward Raquello was the voice of the Polish immigrant, the paper wrote “the thrill to our ears wouldn’t have been so unexpected” “[His]splendid performance” Radio Daily added, “will be remembered (at least by this reporter) for many years,” 1

His American friends called him Eddie. Raquello was his American name. His name in Poland, where he was born on May 14, 1900 to a middle class Jewish-Polish family in Warsaw, then still within the Russian Empire, was Edward Zylberberg (Silberberg). His father died when he was a child. He was raised by his uncle, Beniamin Rykwert, the head of the Nożyk Synagogue who supervised his religious education. His mother, who died in 1932, ran a successful bakery and patisserie shop in Warsaw.

While still in Poland, Wowek, as he was affectionately called by his family, changed his last name to a more Polish-sounding name, Kucharski. In 1917, he began studies at the technical university in Warsaw, but his higher education was interrupted by the 1919-1920 war with the Soviet Union. Edward must have been a highly capable young man because he was chosen as a personal driver for Polish general Józef Haller despite the fact that some of Haller’s volunteers were strongly anti-Semitic, falsely accusing Polish Jews of siding with the Bolsheviks. With the exception of a few Polish and Polish-Jewish communists who took orders from Moscow, Edward and many other Jewish students saw themselves as Polish patriots and fought alongside ethnic Poles in the 1920 Battle of Warsaw which stopped and reversed the advance of the Soviet Red Army.

After the Polish-Soviet war, Edward started his acting career in Polish films. He also performed in theaters in Warsaw, Gdańsk, Kraków, Berlin, London, and Paris. An excellent, comprehensive and well-sourced article in Polish by young journalist Marek Teler, titled “Edward Raquello – zawrotna kariera polsko-żydowskiego Latynosa” (“Edward Raquello — A Meteoric Career of A Polish-Jewish Latino”), describes how Edward found his way to Hollywood. Rosabelle Laemmle, the daughter of the Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle reportedly hired Edward as her dancing partner in Paris when he fell on hard times. She immediately noticed his resemblance to Rudolf Valentino. The party-loving young woman was believed to have persuaded her father to offer Edward a contract with Universal Pictures. He arrived in New York on March 26, 1926.

A Latin Lover and Broadway Actor

Edward’s first Hollywood name was Edward Regino before he changed it to Raquello, possibly to honor his beloved sister Rachel who remained in Poland. Rachel survived the Holocaust, but his other sister, Jentel, was murdered in a German concentration camp together with her husband and their two children.

Edward Raquello’s first notable American role was that of a dancer Raoul in the silent movie The Girl from Rio. Afterwards, his movie career had stalled for a few years, during which he appeared in several Broadway plays, often playing handsome and aristocratic foreigners, mostly of Latin origins. In 1937 he signed a contract with 20th Century Fox and resumed his movie career, appearing in several films, including Charlie Chen at Monte Carlo and Idiot’s Delight with Clark Gable and Norma Shearer in the main roles. In 1938 he became an American citizen. Some of his other film roles were in  Missing Daughters (1939), The Girl from Mexico (1939), and  Calling Philo Vance (1940). He never became a major Hollywood movie star but had a reasonably successful American career as a film and theatre actor. Marek Teler reported that Raquello promoted Polish culture in the United States and assisted visiting Polish journalists in arranging interviews with film celebrities in Hollywood. In 1940 he played the role of a Polish officer Major Rutkowski in a Broadway production of Robert E. Sherwood‘s play There Shall Be No Night about the 1939-1940 Soviet attack on Finland. The play was directed by Alfred Lunt who admired Raquello’s acting talent and once fired another actor who publicly insulted Edward on stage during a rehearsal. Edward Goldberger, a veteran VOA broadcaster who had worked with Raquello said later in an interview that Raquello had to have provoked the actor to such an unprofessional outburst as he was later known to provoke many VOA broadcasters with his own erratic behavior. One explanation for it might have been that he suffered from an undiagnosed Addison’s disease, but according to Goldberger, Raquello was a unique, talented but difficult person.

But the thing that came into my mind was, he must have been like that then, too. What provoked this guy to do something so unprofessional? It must have been that Raquello was Raquello. 2

Read more

Notes:

  1. Radio Daily, “Main Street Old Scoops Daly,” July 7, 1943, page 4. https://www.americanradiohistory.com/Archive-Radio-Daily/RD-1943/RA-1943-07.pdf.
  2. The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project Information Series,”EUGENE KERN AND EDWARD GOLDBERGER.” Interviewed by: Claude ‘Cliff’ Groce. Initial interview date: December 12, 1986. Copyright 2000 ADST. https://www.adst.org/OH%20TOCs/Kern,%20Eugene.toc.pdf
G.

George Soros’ building in NYC saw Voice of America’s early love affair with Stalin

By Ted Lipien for Cold War Radio Museum

The Argonaut Building in New York City at 224 West 57 and Broadway, where first Voice of America (VOA) radio programs were produced in 1942, is now the headquarters of Open Society Foundations (OSF), formerly the Open Society Institute, originally created and funded by billionaire investor and philanthropist  George Soros to help countries move away from communism. According to online sources, OSF signed a 30-year lease for office space in the building in 2011. When the Voice of America used the building as its headquarters from 1942 until 1953, there were both communists and anti-communists among its early journalists and officials. From 1942 until the end of World War II, VOA was under the firm control of Soviet sympathizers and employed a fair number of communists. In a later period, a large number of anti-communist VOA broadcasters worked at the same location in New York.

Alan L. Heil, Jr., former VOA deputy director of programs, noted in his book, Voice of America: A History, that Voice of America had its start in 1942 in the Argonaut Building in Midtown Manhattan:

There was a huge buildup of the Voice staff in the summer of 1942 after it became part of the Office of War Information, with the acquisition of many floors in the old Argonaut Building on West Fifty-seveth Street, in Manhattan, and expansion to sixteen studios, several score program lines, and forty transmitters in distant locations. 1

As stated on the OSF website, Soros began his philanthropic work in 1979 by funding scholarships for black university students in South Africa during apartheid and for dissidents in communist Eastern Europe to study in the West. During the Cold War, his foundations paid for distribution of photocopiers to independent groups “to break the Communist Party’s grip on information.”

Today, George Soros’ foundations give money to groups and individuals in more than 120 countries. A post on the OSF website says that since 1984 Soros has given away $32 billion of his personal fortune made in the financial markets. As reported by the New York Times in October 2017, “George Soros, the billionaire hedge fund manager and a major Democratic donor, has given $18 billion to his Open Society Foundations, one of the largest transfers of wealth ever made by a private donor to a single foundation.”

A New York Times article by David Gelles pointed out in 2017 that some of Soros’ philanthropic activities have become controversial: “His [Soros’] political focus — including large donations to Hillary Clinton and other Democratic politicians — has made Mr. Soros a target of criticism from both the Republican establishment and fringe elements of the far right.”

During the Cold War, George Soros used his fortune to support establishment of open societies and democracy in East-Central Europe, in the Soviet Union and in China. The focus of his philanthropic activities in the communist world was then on supporting basic human rights.

Ironically, during World War II, many American and foreign communists working for the Voice of America in the Argonaut Building in New York and spread propaganda in support of pro-Soviet communist regimes in East-Central Europe, including Hungary, where George Soros was born in 1930. It took the Voice of America several years after World War II to reform the management of its programs and to replace pro-Soviet journalists with anti-communist refugee journalists from Europe and Asia, such as Polish anti-Nazi fighter Zofia Korbońska who was hired in 1948 after escaping from communist-ruled Poland. These new journalists eventually changed VOA into a radio station that opposed communism and advanced freedom and democracy.

One of the contributors to Cold War VOA Hungarian programs was former United Press reporter in Hungary Ilona Marton. She was imprisoned by the communist regime and after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution became a political refugee in the United States together with her journalist husband, Associated Press reporter Endre Marton. Their daughter, Kati Marton, is a best-selling author and former NPR and ABC News correspondent.Through her daughter Kati, Dr. Iliona Marton was the mother-in-law of broadcaster Peter Jennings and U.S. diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke. 2

Another refugee from communism, Heda Margolius Kovály, was a freelance reporter for VOA Czechoslovak Service in the 1970s when Voice of America headquarters were already in Washington, D.C. She was the wife and later widow of Rudolf Margolius (1913 – 1952), Czechoslovak Deputy Minister for Foreign Trade (1949–1952) in the Soviet-dominated regime. Her husband later became the youngest communist co-defendant in the infamous 1952 Rudolf Slánský trial. He was condemned to death on trumped-up espionage charges and executed. Her VOA radio name was Kaca Kralova.

But Voice of America personnel and broadcasts produced during World War II were completely different from what they became several years after the war. One of the pro-Soviet communists working for VOA at 224 West 57 Street in New York during World War II was American author and journalist Howard Fast—future [1953] Stalin International Peace Prize (worth about $235,000 in 2019 dollars) winner, future Communist Party USA member and future reporter for the Daily Worker Communist Party newspaper. He was recruited in 1942 by first VOA director, future Hollywood actor John Houseman, to become the chief news writer and news director—a position he held until he resigned in early 1944. His patron, John Houseman, who hired many of VOA’s early communist broadcasters, resigned earlier due to behind-the-scenes complaints from President Roosevelt’s foreign policy advisor, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, and from General Dwight D. Eisenhower. At that time, Voice of America studios were in New York City while VOA’s original federal agency, the Office of War Information (OWI), was in Washington, DC. VOA used the Argonaut Building studios in New York until 1953 when most of VOA’s broadcasting operations were moved to Washington. During World War II, VOA served as both anti-Nazi and pro-Soviet propaganda outlet. It covered up and censored news about Stalin’s crimes.

Howard Fast’s recruitment to become VOA’s first chief news writer and news director is described in his biography by Gerald Sorin,  Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane (Indiana University Press, 2012). Fast also wrote about his work for VOA in his autobiography, Being Red. 3 Fast left the Communist Party in the mid-1950s after Stalin’s crimes were disclosed by new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Former Voice of America journalist and news director Howard Fast, who got his World War II Russia news from the Soviet Embassy and rejected information unfavorable to Russia as anti-Soviet propaganda, later claimed that he had no idea Stalin was a mass murderer.

In his book about Howard Fast, Gerald Sorin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of American and Jewish Studies at the State University of New York at New Paltz, made several references to Fast’s work for the Voice of America during World War II.  Sorin’s book, Irving Howe: A Life of Passionate Dissent, received the 2003 National Jewish Book Award in History. His other books include The Prophetic Minority: American Jewish Immigrant Radicals, 1880–1920 (Indiana University Press, 1985).

From Gerald Sorin’s biography of Howard Fast:

[Louis]Untermeyer, a former editor of the Marxist journal The Masses, who was writing propaganda pamphlets for the Office of War Information (OWI), suggested that Howard [Fast], instead of aimlessly wandering the streets, apply for the same sort of position. Fast was reluctant, never having done that kind of work before. But during his visit to the OWI building on Broadway and 57th Street, he was impressed with the people he met, especially Elmer Davis, the well-known writer and news reporter who directed the OWI; Joseph Barnes, veteran editor and foreign correspondent for the Herald Tribune, who (along with Walter Duranty of the New York Times), did much to put a veil of ignorance over the worst of Stalin’s crimes; and John Houseman, the [future] Academy Award–winning actor and filmmaker, who worked at the OWI for the Voice of America (VOA). 4

Sorin’s description of early VOA journalists as followers of Walter Duranty is confirmed by declassified U.S. government records of the Office of War Information where VOA broadcasts originated. Duranty who was the New York Times correspondent in the Soviet Union during the 1930s consistently lied about Stalin’s crimes. He received the Pulitzer Prize and was the model of an activist journalist for many pro-communist early Voice of America radio broadcasters and officials who were U.S. federal government employees. Among them were Howard Fast, Joseph Barnes,  John Houseman,  and Robert E. Sherwood. Described as one of the founding fathers of the Voice of America, Sherwood was FDR’s speech writer and playwright who coordinated U.S. propaganda with Soviet propaganda at the OWI and in his weekly propaganda directives made sure that VOA followed the Kremlin’s line.

While the Roosevelt White House was strongly pro-Soviet, many of VOA officials and broadcasters were far more radical in their admiration for the Soviet Union and their naïveté in accepting Stalin’s propaganda lies as truthful news. In 1950, Howard Fast was compelled to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities but refused to disclose the names of contributors to a fund for a home for orphans of American veterans of the Spanish Civil War (one of the contributors was Eleanor Roosevelt), which became a communist front organization. He was given a three-month prison sentence for contempt of Congress. While he was at Mill Point Federal Prison, Fast began writing his most famous book, Spartacus.

This part of VOA’s history has been hidden from the American public and taxpayers, making oversight and preventing current journalistic abuses at the Voice of America more difficult. I was saddened to see that since about 2016, some VOA reporters and editors have started to present American and foreign Communists, Angela Davis and Che Guevara, as fighters for human rights and revolutionary heroes. The U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) which now manages the Voice of America, has also became embroiled in a controversy over a TV Marti report about George Soros, produced in the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB). Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and other critics charged that the report was anti-Semitic. This led to the dismissal of several TV Marti reporters, but higher-level OCB and USAGM managers, some of them appointed during the Obama administration, were not held accountable.

Notes:

  1. Alan L. Heil, Jr., Voice of America: A History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 41.
  2. Kati Marton, Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009), 225.
  3. Howard Fast, Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), 18-19.
  4. Gerald Sorin, Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane (Indiana University Press, 2012), 60.
S.

Stefan Korboński with Tadeusz Lipień in 1976

My photo with the great Polish patriot, anti-Nazi fighter, and political leader Stefan Korboński was taken on June 20, 1976 in front of the White House on the day of my daughter’s baptism. Stefan and his wife, Zofia Korbońska, my colleague in the Polish Service of the Voice of America (VOA), were Leokadia W. Lipien’s (Lodi Rohrer) godparents.

Stefan Korboński (2 March 1901 in Praszka – 23 April 1989 in Washington, D.C., USA) was a Polish agrarian politician, lawyer, journalist and a notable member of the wartime authorities of the Polish Secret State. Among others, he was the last person to hold the post of Government Delegate for Poland. Arrested by the NKVD in 1945, he was released soon afterwards only to be forced into exile. He settled in the United States, where he remained active among the local Polish diaspora. An active journalist, he was among the few people whose names were completely banned by the communist censorship in Poland. READ MORE in Wikipedia

Zofia Korbońska and Tadeusz Lipień in the Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service in 1974.
Zofia Korbońska and Tadeusz Lipień in the Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service in 1974.

Zofia Korbońska, née Ristau (10 May 1915 in Warsaw – 16 August 2010 in Washington, D.C.) was a Polish resistance fighter and journalist.

She was born in Warsaw and graduated from the Maria Konopnicka High School and School of Political Sciences there. In 1938 she married a lawyer and Polish People’s Party politician Stefan Korboński. During World War II, in 1941, she helped to organize the underground radio station, which sent the coded radio transmissions to the Polish government in exile. Her dispatches spread the news about German atrocities committed in Poland.[1] As a member of Armia Krajowa, Korbońska eventually took part in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. In June 1945, she was arrested by NKVD together with her husband.[1] They were released after the creation of the Provisional Government of National Unity. In 1947, when her husband was in danger of another arrest, they fled together to Sweden hiding in a ship transporting coal.[1] Since November 1947, they lived in the United States, where she worked in the Voice of America and Polish American Congress.

In 2006 she was given the title of honorary citizen of the Capital City of WarsawPresident of Poland Lech Kaczyński awarded her the Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.[2] She struggled with illness for a few years before her death on 16 August 2010. She was buried at the Polish Cemetery in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

READ in Wikipedia

References

  1. Ted Lipien: Remembering a Polish-American patriot at the Washington Times, 1 September 2010.
  2.  Nie żyje Zofia Korbońska at tvn24.pl, 16 August 2010.