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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

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Polish children refugees from Russia – silenced by Soviet and U.S. propaganda

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo (1943)

By Ted Lipien

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U.S. government propaganda pictures taken in 1943 by the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) photographer in Iran showed Polish children and women several months after they had come out of Soviet Russia in a mass exodus of former Gulag prisoners and their families.[efn_note]Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/related/?&pk=2017854318&st=gallery&sb=call_number#focus.[/efn_note] The OWI photographs were carefully staged and their descriptions skillfully written to obscure any signs pointing to Soviet responsibility for the plight of the refugees or to any wrongdoing on the part of the Kremlin.

The women and children in U.S. government’s propaganda photos looked relatively healthy and adequately nourished. A U.S. Army report that 50% of Polish children in Soviet captivity may have died from hunger, cold, illnesses and lack of medical care were classified as secret by the Roosevelt administration and was not made public for the next ten years. [efn_note]Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, U.S. Army, who was the liaison officer to the Polish Army under the command of General Władysław Anders reported in November 1942: “The children had no chance. It is estimated that 50% have already died from malnutrition. The other 50% will die unless evacuated to a land where American help can reach them. A visit to any of the hospitals in Teheran will testify to this statement. They are filled with children and adults who would be better off not to have survived the ordeal.” See: Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia; Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.), March 13 and 14, 1952, The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), 455, https://archive.org/details/katynforestmassa03unit/page/454[/efn_note]

It was the beginning of a coverup, distortion of the refugees’ true story and eventual silence. It started out with Soviet and American government propagandists attempting to hide Stalin’s genocidal crimes or to blame them on others or even their victims. It was a brazen act of manipulation of historical facts and public opinion about which Americans have already forgotten. Even though these World War II events were investigated and exposed by the U.S. Congress in the 1950s, they are not being mentioned in connection with the current controversy over Russian propaganda interference in the 2016 presidential election. [efn_note]In an ironic twist of history, the American left seem now more concerned about Russian propaganda than the the American right, in contrast to what took place during World War II, throughout the entire Cold War and for most of the post-Cold War period until very recently. The awakening of the American left to the skillfulness and dangers of Russian propaganda is a positive development assuming it will last.[/efn_note]

In addition to managing Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts beamed abroad, the U.S. Office of War Information was a powerful government propaganda agency. It was in charge of all U.S. government media outreach programs, both domestic and foreign. As such, it had control over which of its  photographs would be shared with American press and how they would be described.

There were other U.S. government photos of Polish refugees which showed starving, ill and dying children. These photographs were taken in Iran by a U.S. Army officer shortly after the children had been evacuated from Russia in 1942. Roosevelt administration officials promptly classified them as secret because they would have uncovered to Americans and the world the real face of Soviet communism. It would have interfered with President Roosevelt’s then still secret plans to allow Stalin establish a Soviet sphere of influence in East Central Europe and to agree to his demands for permanently annexing eastern Poland already occupied once in 1939 under the secret provisions of the Hitler-Stalin Pact. The families of these children became Stalin’s prisoners as a result of the previous German-Soviet alliance.[efn_note]Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia, Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.),The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, 459-461, https://archive.org/details/katynforestmassa03unit/page/460.[/efn_note]

Toward the end of the war, the U.S. Army released films and photographs of dead bodies of inmates in Nazi concentration camps and of their near-death survivors,  but U.S. military photographs of starved, ill and dying Polish refugee children who came out of Russia in 1942 were not made public until ten years later. Even then, the photos’ release happened only due to persistent requests and strong pressure from the U.S. Congress.

Human life was cheap under Soviet communism. As children of the “reactionary Polish class” (many were peasants), they were left starving. Their mothers were forced to work or sell their bodies to Soviet overseers for food, but it was not enough for an adequate diet for themselves, their children and any older adults who could not do heavy labor. Husbands and fathers of these families may have already been executed or were being worked to death under even worse conditions in Gulag camps scattered throughout some of the most cold and habitable regions of  the Soviet Union.

Women of all nationalies and religions, especially those regarded as class enemies, were raped by communist guards, regime functionaries and other men. It was a precursor of what would be the fate of many women in East-Central Europe and millions of German women in the Soviet-occupied part of Germany.[efn_note]Marek Walicki who had escaped from Poland 1949 and later worked as a journalist for Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America, was a young boy when the Red Army moved into the area near Warsaw. He wrote in his memoir, Z Polski Ludowej do Wolnej Europy (“From Peoples’ Poland to Radio Free Europe”) published in 2018 in Poland: “The Soviets finally came. On the first day of ‘liberation’ they raped in our area several women. Some were raped until they died.” See: Marek Walicki, Z Polski Ludowej do Wolnej Europy  (Warsaw: Bellona, 2018), 55.[/efn_note] It was not something that pro-Soviet leftist OWI propagandists would have found even remotely believable during the war and would want to publicize. They bought into Soviet propaganda lies that all Poles loyal to the Polish government in exile were reactionaries, anti-Semites and fascists.[efn_note]While there were anti-Semites among Poles as among any other nationalities, the Polish government in exile issued death sentences through its underground state in Nazi-occupied Poland against Poles who were denouncing Jews to the Germans. No Polish government was ever formed that would collaborate with the Germans in sending Jews to death camps, as was the case in some of the other European countries. The Polish government sent emissaries from Poland to warn Western leaders about the mass extermination of Jews. One of them was Jan Karski who met with President Roosevelt. His reports about the Holocaust were greeted then with some skepticism in Great Britain and in the United States. The Polish government in exile democratically represented all anti-Nazi and anti-Communist political parties in Poland, including Socialists. Jewish refugees were often denied U.S. visas and their requests for political asylum were often rejected because State Department officials insisted on strict interpretation of U.S. immigration laws while implementing the Roosevelt administration’s policy of limiting the flow of refugees to the United States.[/efn_note]

Even after the U.S. Army photographs were declassified and could have replaced the propaganda photos distributed by the OWI, images of emaciated Polish refugees children who had escaped death in Russia have been rarely reproduced in articles, books or online. Even today Internet users are still likely to see World War II Roosevelt administration’s propaganda material on Polish refugees without knowing about its deceptive purpose. It is also many times more likely that a young American will view an online video, see a film or read a book about prisoners in Nazi concentration camps than about prisoners in the Soviet Gulag, even though in each case millions of innocent victims had met their brutal deaths because of their ethnicity or social class.

The Soviets did not use gas chambers, but they still managed to carry out acts of genocide against the so called undesirable elements, which also included Polish women and children. If Hitler had not attacked his former Soviet ally and Stalin was not forced to release Polish prisoners, most of them would have been dead in a few years. A similar genocide happened earlier during the Soviet man-made Holodomor famine in Ukraine in 1932 and 1933 that killed millions of Ukrainians. Only the collapse of the Hitler-Stalin alliance saved the surviving Polish men, women and children from death. They became instead refugees and an annoying symbol of Stalin’s duplicity and cruelty that President Roosevelt and his propagandists wanted to keep out of the public eye.

Silenced and Ignored

The initial deception created by the Roosevelt administration propagandists around the question of Polish and other deportees, prisoners and slave laborers in Russia, although exposed and condemned by members of Congress of both parties in hearings and reports in the early 1950s, continued in other forms for many more decades through a lack of effort or unwillingness to correct the initial disinformation.[efn_note]See: Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, The Katyn Forest Massacre: Final Report (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), 10-12. The report is posted on the National Archives website: https://archive.org/details/KatynForestMassacreFinalReport.[/efn_note] Its effects can be seen even today in the still silenced story of the Polish refugee children rescued from Russia during World War II.

For years, many of the children themselves remained silent for various reasons, including psychological trauma of Soviet captivity, the loss of their parents and the need to build their life anew in exile, starting out as penniless immigrants. When a few of them wrote their gripping Gulag memoirs years later, they did not become instant bestsellers. There was no overwhelming public interest in their stories and no desire to turn them into blockbuster Hollywood movies.[efn_note]The Way Back, a 2010 film directed by Peter Weir, starring Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, was inspired by The Long Walk (1956), the memoir by former Polish prisoner of war Sławomir Rawicz, who claimed to have escaped from a Soviet labor camp and walked 4,000 miles through the Gobi Desert, Tibet and the Himalayas to freedom in India.[/efn_note] 

During most of the Cold War, American and West European publics, especially those on the left, were not receptive to hearing stories of East European refugees who had decided not to return to their communist-ruled homelands. Some left-leaning Westerners saw them, in line with Soviet propaganda, as right-wing reactionaries and enemies of better relations with the peace-loving Soviet Union. They refused to believe in the 1950s and in some cases even later that Stalin and Soviet communism could have been responsible for crimes against humanity.

Others no longer saw Soviet Russia as perfect but were still willing to make allowances for the homeland of socialism, convinced, again in line with Soviet propaganda, that America and its NATO allies were a threat to a noble experiment in social justice being carried out in the Soviet Union and in other communist states. Charges made by Polish refugees in the West against Russia were met by many on the left with skepticism and suspicion.

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Photo Credits

U.S. Government propaganda photo, OWI, Iran, 1943.

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo

  • Teheran, Iran. Polish woman and her grandchildren shown in an American Red Cross evacuation camp as they await evacuation to new homes
  • Creator(s): Parrino, Nick, photographer, Office of War Information, OWI
  • Date Created/Published: 1943.
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Photos by Lt. Col. Szymanski, U.S. Army

  • Ten-year-old girl, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942
  • Twelve-year-old boy, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942
  • Six-year-old boy, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942
  • Three sisters, ages 7, 8, and 9, Polish evacuees from Russia, August 1942
  • Photos by: Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, U.S. Army
  • Source: The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre; Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia; Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.); March 13 and 14, 1952 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), pp. 459-461.
  • Link

Notes

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Polish refugee woman from Russia as seen in American propaganda

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo

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By Ted Lipien

Almost no one knows today that one of the targets of misleading Soviet and American propaganda during World War II were Polish refugees fleeing from Russia. Before they were refugees, they were Stalin’s prisoners. The Red Army and the NKVD Soviet secret police occupied their cities, towns and villages in pre-war eastern Poland under the secret provisions of the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact. Poland was attacked by Germany from the West on September 1, 1939 and by Russia in the East on September 17. It was the start of World War II launched by the two greatest mass murderers of the 20th century, Hitler and Stalin.

September 1939, the arrests and deportations to the Soviet Gulag was only the beginning of the story of Polish refugees who at the end of the war had no homes to return to and no immediate hope for freedom in their own country even though Poland and many of them fought against Nazi Germany on the side of the winning powers. Their story, particularly the plight of Polish women and children who had survived the Soviet imprisonment and those who had not, deserves retelling, if only to understand better how propaganda was and is still being used today. When the tragic fate of Polish refugees from Russia was mentioned during the war in official communications, it was falsely presented and callously exploited by U.S. government propagandists, partly for the benefit of the refugees’ Soviet oppressors. It was excused then and later by some Roosevelt administration officials as made necessary by a total war with Nazi Germany and Japan. It was also met with criticism from many Americans even during the war.

U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) World War II propaganda booklet in Polish promoting Soviet Russia as a force for progress, social justice and new democratic world order. The 1 and 3/4 in. by 2 and 1/4 in. small booklet was apparently designed for distribution to Polish soldiers and refugees who were former prisoners in Stalin’s Gulag.

Events that happened in the middle of the last century may now seem distant, but some of the history behind them is being repeated today with remarkable similarities. Very few Americans know that long before the current controversy over Russia’s propaganda interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Russian propagandists scored a major victory against the United States of unprecedented historical impact in a different technological age. They turned Soviet crimes against humanity into proofs of struggle for peace and democracy against the forces of fascism–a reoccurring theme of Russian disinformation. They did it with active help from U.S. government officials and a few agents of influence in the progressive wartime administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, mostly in the Office of War Information (OWI) which was responsible during the war for both domestic and foreign propaganda.[efn_note]Not all high-level officials in the Roosevelt administration were in favor of appeasing Stalin. A few progressive New Deal Democrats, including Roosevelt’s close friend and advisor Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, warned the White House about Soviet influence in the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) and its overseas radio division which produced what would later be called Voice of America (VOA) programs. Welles told the White House in April 1943 in a secret memo that the first VOA director John Houseman was hiring communists. The State Department, supported by the U.S. Army Intelligence, refused to issue a U.S. passport to Houseman for government travel abroad. Houseman was forced to resign. Welles’ compliant was not publicized. Welles’ memo to the White House remained classified for several decades. Sumner Welles also played a key role in arranging for getting Mexico to accept a group of Polish children refugees and for U.S. assistance for Polish refugees. See: Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles April 6, 1943 memorandum to Marvin H. McIntyre, Secretary to the President with enclosures, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum Website, Box 77, State – Welles, Sumner, 1943-1944; version date 2013, http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/_resources/images/psf/psfb000259.pdf.[/efn_note] In the process, as a bipartisan congressional investigative committee concluded after the war, U.S. propagandists betrayed America’s principles and allies. Some of those betrayed were refugees from communism, including women and children who had lost their husbands and fathers in prisons and forced labor camps in Soviet Russia.[efn_note]The bipartisan Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, also known as the Madden Committee, said in its final report issued in December 1952: “In submitting this final report to the House of Representatives, this committee has come to the conclusion that in those fateful days nearing the end of the Second World War there unfortunately existed in high governmental and military circles a strange psychosis that military necessity required the sacrifice of loyal allies and our own principles in order to keep Soviet Russia from making a separate peace with the Nazis.” The committee added: “For reasons less clear to this committee, this psychosis continued even after the conclusion of the war. Most of the witnesses testified that had they known then what they now know about Soviet Russia, they probably would not have pursued the course they did. It is undoubtedly true that hindsight is much easier to follow than foresight, but it is equally true that much of the material which this committee unearthed was or could have been available to those responsible for our foreign policy as early as 1942.” The Madden Committee also said in its final report in 1952: “This committee believes that if the Voice of America is to justify its existence, it must utilize material made available more forcefully and effectively.” A major change in VOA programs occurred, with much more reporting being done on the investigation into the Katyń massacre and other Soviet atrocities, but later some of the censorship returned. Radio Free Europe (RFE), also funded and indirectly managed by the U.S., never resorted to such censorship, and provided full coverage of all communist human rights abuses. See: Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, The Katyn Forest Massacre: Final Report (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), 10-12. The report is posted on the National Archives website: https://archive.org/details/KatynForestMassacreFinalReport.[/efn_note]

Thousands of Polish children refugees, many of them orphans and some half-orphans in care of their mothers, presented a potentially big problem for the administration’s effort designed to sell Russia to Americans as a valuable war ally, which Russia clearly was at that time from a strictly military point of view. After over 100, 000 refugees were evacuated from Russia to Iran in 1942, their presence was a potential embarrassment for both Soviet and American officials. They were the first witnesses from the Gulag who found their way to freedom and could tell their story.

The Polish refugees could damage the propaganda narrative created by the Roosevelt administration. Not satisfied with only military cooperation between the United States and Russia, American manipulators of public opinion were also trying to present the Soviet Union as a force for peace and democracy, and its demands for control of East-Central Europe as driven by legitimate security concerns. The story of the Polish children’s ordeal and a large number of orphans among them threatened to cast a shadow on Russia’s geopolitical demands and the idolized image of the Soviet dictator. Russian and U.S. government propagandists joined forces to censor, silence and, if all else failed, to distort the voices of Polish refugees. Even today, very few people know about Polish orphans miraculously saved and evacuated from Russia in the middle of the war. Theirs was not the story that left-leaning Roosevelt administration propagandists wanted Americans to know about. They did not think twice about locking the children up in a former detention camp for Japanese-Americans or transporting them in sealed trains guarded by U.S. Army soldiers to minimize any chance independent American reporters might get hold of the refugees and publish anything more than what they would get from using an OWI press release, which many of the reporters ended up doing.

Manipulative aims of the Russian disinformation effort assisted by U. S. government employees at American taxpayers’ expense did not remain entirely unnoticed during the war, but not specifically in the case of refugees fleeing Russia. There were public and behind-the-scenes protests from both Democrats and Republicans concerned about communist and Soviet influence over OWI radio programs which became known as the Voice of America (VOA), but the Polish orphans were not mentioned in connection with any such criticism. Both the Russians and the Roosevelt administration succeeded in keeping Polish refugees from attracting wider media attention. What was sometimes mentioned in public already during the war, especially in the U.S. Congress, was the larger concern over growing Russian influence within the executive branch of the U.S. federal government. These concerns were vigorously challenged by the administration and its supporters even as some of the most active communists were being quietly removed from their government jobs in response to pressure from Congress. At one point during the war, angry and suspicious U.S. lawmakers substantially cut the funding for OWI’s domestic propaganda. After additional evidence of government propaganda abuses came to light later, the U.S. Congress passed the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act to severely restrict domestic distribution of news and information by the executive branch.[efn_note]The 1948 Smith-Mundt Act passed by the U.S. Congress significantly restricted use of tax dollars to target Americans with news and political commentary produced by the U.S. government. Some of these restrictions were later lifted. The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, which was contained within the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (section 1078 (a)) and signed by President Obama, amended the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act and subsequent legislation, allowing for materials produced by the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which included the Voice America, to be made more easily available within the United States.[/efn_note]

Already during the war, key U.S. military leaders and diplomats, including Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles who was responsible for arranging U.S. government help in resettling some of the Polish refugee children, were secretly warning the Roosevelt White House about pro-Soviet propagandists employed in the Office of War Information. General Eisenhower accused them of “insubordination” and endangering the lives of American soldiers.[efn_note]“During World War II the Office of War Information had, on two occasions in foreign broadcasts, opposed actions of President Roosevelt; it ridiculed the temporary arrangement with Admiral Darlan in North Africa and that with Marshal Badoglio in Italy. President Roosevelt took prompt action to stop such insubordination.” See: Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years: Waging Peace 1956-1961 (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1965) 279. Also see: Ted Lipien, “President Eisenhower condemned biased Voice of America officials and reporters,” Cold War Radio Museum, December 5, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/president-eisenhower-condemned-biased-voice-of-america-reporters/.[/efn_note] There were articles critical of the Office of War Information in the New York Times and in more conservative newspapers, warning of U.S. government journalists becoming too cosy with the communist movement and the Soviets. A protest by American labor unions against pro-communist Voice of America broadcasts became public and was reported on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in November 1943.[efn_note] In 1943, American labor federations, the AFL and CIO, dominated by members of the Democratic Party, broke their collaboration with the Voice of America in producing programs about American labor because VOA broadcasters were communists and the mainstream American labor organizations were opposed to communism. The controversy became public and was described on the floor of the House of Representatives on November 4, 1943 by Rep. Richard B. Wigglesworth (R-Massachusetts) who was later U.S. Ambassador to Canada. “MR.  WIGGLESWORTH. I call as witness in this connection the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. I refer specifically to an article appearing recently in the World-Telegram. The gentleman from New York [Mr FISH] put the article in the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, and you will find it in the RECORD of Tuesday, October 12, 1943, I shall not reinsert it, but here is the original of that article. You will notice the headlines. The leading headline is ‘Unions label O. W. I. radio program communism.’ That article very briefly asserts that the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations made a joint protest over 10 months ago to Elmer Davis to the effect that the O. W. I. overseas branch had been regularly broadcasting Communist propaganda in its daily short-wave radio programs. It states further that after months of futile negotiation the A. F. of L. and C. I. O. liquidated their labor short-wave bureau set up to collect nonfactual news to be turned over to O. W. I. as broadcast material.” Also see: Ted Lipien, “First VOA Director was a pro-Soviet Communist sympathizer, State Dept. warned FDR White House,” Cold War Radio Museum, May 5, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/state-department-warned-fdr-white-house-first-voice-of-america-director-was-hiring-communists/ and “President Eisenhower condemned biased Voice of America officials and reporters,” Cold War Radio Museum, December 5, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/president-eisenhower-condemned-biased-voice-of-america-reporters/.[/efn_note]

It took the United States several decades, billions of dollars and the losses of American lives in the wars in Korea and Vietnam to undo the damage of by far the most successful Soviet disinformation offensive carried out in collusion with a number of American officials and U.S. government employees who were in charge American shortwave radio broadcasts and used them to spread Soviet disinformation abroad while at the same time targeting Americans at home with the same uncritical and dishonest pro-Soviet messages. This shameful example of journalists working for the U.S. government being deceived into spreading Russian disinformation and using censorship and other illegal means to mislead independent media has been now almost completely forgotten. It is not mentioned in reports about current political events and Russia’s information war against the United States although it should be viewed as highly relevant, offering lessons to be learned.

To this day Americans are still being given by government officials a different history of the Voice of America. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Amanda Bennett who is VOA’s current director appointed in 2016 during President Obama administration wrote in a November 27, 2018 Washington Post op-ed that “The radio broadcast that eventually became Voice of America was created to give people trapped behind Nazi lines accurate, truthful news about the war, in contrast with Nazi propaganda.” She added:

Those broadcasts were lifelines to millions. Even more important, however, was the promise made right from the start: “The news may be good for us. The news may be bad,” said announcer William Harlan Hale. “But we shall tell you the truth.”[efn_note]Amanda Bennett, “Trump’s ‘worldwide network’ is a great idea. But it already exists.” The Washington Post, November 27, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-worldwide-network-is-a-great-idea-but-it-already-exists/2018/11/27/79b320bc-f269-11e8-bc79-68604ed88993_story.html.[/efn_note]

That was not what non-communist listeners discovered in American government radio broadcasts during World War II, although it became true somewhat later. Czesław Straszewicz, a Polish journalist based in London described the discouraging impact of VOA’s pro-Kremlin wartime messaging on the audience in Nazi-occupied Poland and among the free Poles abroad. When Stalin let the 1944 anti-Nazi Warsaw Uprising bleed to death, by refusing to provide assistance and not allowing American planes carrying supplies to land on the liberated territory just outside of the Polish capital, the Voice of America obliged him by ignoring the fighting Poles. Soviet propaganda dismissed the Warsaw Uprising as “foolish and futile” while VOA dismissed it with silence.[efn_note]W. Averell Harriman, Office of War Information Official Dispatch, Number 3146, September 5, 1944, U.S. National Archives.[/efn_note]

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.[efn_note]Czesław Straszewicz, “O Świcie,” Kultura, October, 1953, 61-62. I am indebted to Polish historian of the Voice of America’s Polish Service Jarosław Jędrzejczak for finding this reference to VOA’s wartime role.[/efn_note]

The promise to tell the truth did not apply during the war to Soviet Russia, refugees from communism, millions of Stalin’s victims and almost any news pro-Soviet VOA officials and broadcasters thought would reflect poorly on the Soviet regime.

In fact, a secret OWI “Manual of Information” stated that while lies should be avoided, the whole truth does not always have to be told: “…information is not disseminated abroad merely because it is true–it must be useful in the psychological warfare program of the OWI, which is designed to shorten the war and thus save lives. The whole story may not always be told, but the story which is told will always be true.”[efn_note]Office of War Information, Overseas Branch, News and Features Bureau, “Manual of Information.” Restricted. Prepared by Training Desk. February 1, 1944[/efn_note] As many found out, including refugees fleeing from the Soviet Union and the wives, mothers and other relatives of the Katyń victims, even such a limited promise was also not always true.

President Roosevelt and some of his advisors chose to ignore history. After the Soviet Union attacked eastern Poland on September 17, 1939 to fulfill its part of the bargain with Hitler, entire families were arrested, evicted from their homes and sent to prisons, forced labor camps or collective farms throughout the Soviet Union but mostly in Siberia and Central Asia. Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Tatars and other nationalities were also deported en mass on Stalin’s orders. The only reason the Polish prisoners were released by Stalin after less then two years was because Hitler betrayed him and launched an attack on Russia in June 1941. Being unsure at that point whether he would survive the German attack, Stalin was forced to make a temporary accommodation with the Polish government in exile to get help from the United States and Great Britain. As soon as the German threat receded, he reneged on his promises to the Western allies and to the Polish government in exile.

In 1942, about 120,000 Poles, only a small number of those who had been arrested and deported by the Soviets from eastern Poland in 1939 and 1940, were evacuated from Soviet Russia to Iran. The possibility of them talking to the media about their captivity became a sensitive issue for Soviet and American policy makers. Both governments took actions to obscure, minimize and counter any negative impact the plight of Polish refugees might have had on American public opinion. It was critical that Americans would not find out that in the spring of 1940 Stalin had ordered thousands of Polish military officers who were in Soviet captivity to be shot in a series of secret executions known as the Katyń Forest massacre. Roosevelt administration officials knew about it from U.S. military intelligence reports but kept them classified to protect Stalin, ostensibly in order to keep Russia fighting Hitler and not to upset the U.S.-Soviet military alliance. In their ideological zeal, they also could not fanthom that Stalin could be a brutal dictator, but a report sent to Washington from Iran by a U.S. Army officer at the end 1942 and many other classified cables described various aspects Stalin’s plans to exterminate Polish elites in eastern Poland through executions and deportations.

…it appears that the plan was very carefully worked out, and its purpose was the extermination of the so-called intelligentsia of Eastern Poland.

 

…Families were broken up and in many cases the husband shot.[efn_note] Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia; Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.), March 13 and 14, 1952, The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), 455.[/efn_note]

It is hard to tell who within the Roosevelt administration saw classified reports about Stalin’s atrocities, but both American and Russian propagandists tried to hide the news of crimes against humanity being committed by the Soviet communists from being discovered. OWI officials and VOA journalists quickly dismissed evidence of such Soviet crimes as false Nazi propaganda. Later on Soviet propagandists went much further and accused non-communist Poles of being right-wing reactionaries, anti-Semites, and fascists–not unlike some of the labels applied by the Kremlin’s propaganda outlets today to Ukrainians and others who oppose current Russian acts of aggression and intimidation. American propagandists were satisfied with merely censoring out information potentially damaging to the Soviet Union.

The Polish government in exile was also for a period of time contributing to the silencing of the story of Polish refugees. The Poles in charge of the government based in London were not eager at first to publicize widely what had happened to the former Polish prisoners in Russia although privately they were keeping U.S. and British government officials fully informed. Stalin was still holding thousands of other Polish citizens as hostages and was refusing requests to allow them to be evacuated to Iran. Some within the Polish government feared that too much publicity could endanger diplomatic efforts to get more of the former prisoners evacuated from Russia and to improve Polish-Soviet relations. In the end these efforts failed because Stalin had other plans for Poland after the war.

For propagandists in the Roosevelt administration, Polish refugees who fled from Russia in 1942 had to be presented as something else from what they were. Not as fascists, which became the Soviet propaganda theme, but as refugees fleeing Nazi aggression—a deceptive claim because they were not from the part of Poland occupied by Germany and were forcibly removed by the Soviets from their homes long before the Germans occupied the area in 1941. Their tragic fate was falsely presented and used by OWI and VOA to score propaganda points in favor of the Soviet Union in press releases and radio broadcasts. The Roosevelt administration would not allow the refugees to provide evidence of Stalin’s communist brutality, but extreme left-wing U.S. propagandists were in any case not inclined to believe in any charges of communist repression or eager to report them. They happily accepted and promoted Soviet propaganda in press releases and photographs sent out to the media, public exhibits, publications mailed out to millions of Americans, domestic radio talks by OWI director Elmer Davis, and Voice of America radio broadcasts beamed abroad.[efn_note]Ted Lipien, “OWI head Elmer Davis spreads Soviet Katyn propaganda lie in Voice of America broadcasts,” Cold War Radio Museum, May 11, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/owi-head-elmer-davis-promotes-soviet-katyn-propaganda-lie-in-the-u.s.-and-in-voice-of-america-radio-broadcasts/. Elmer Davis broadcast in support of the Soviet Katyń lie can also be heard at http://www.wnyc.org/story/tunisia-poland/.[/efn_note] They also produced propaganda films justifying the illegal internment of Japanese-Americans loosely modeled, without the brutality and death, on Stalin’s deportations of various nationalities—the Poles being just one many such groups.[efn_note]Office of War Information (OWI), January 31, 1943, “Japanese Relocation,” C-SPAN, https://www.c-span.org/video/?323978-1/japanese-relocation[/efn_note]

Evidence of communist atrocities were available to journalists willing to ask questions and report on them. By visiting the hospitals in Teheran where some of the Polish refugees from Russia were still dying from the effects of their captivity, the Office of War Information could have used photographs to document the horrors of the Soviet Gulag, and the Voice of America could have reported on it. Instead, OWI took photographs which showed healthy refugees and U.S. government press releases carefully avoided mentioning what drove them to leave the Soviet Union.

A U.S. government propaganda photo taken in 1943 by the Office of War Information (OWI) photographer showed a healthy-looking Polish woman at a refugee camp in Iran. Other OWI photos showed smiling and well-nourished children. A few months earlier along with hundreds of thousands of other Poles, they were Stalin’s prisoners deprived of liberty, adequate food and medical care. Women had been forced to do hard labor to receive food rations for themselves and their children. Food was barely sufficient to survive. They lived a miserable existence in most primitive conditions. Women were raped or were driven into prostitution to feed themselves and their families. A classified U.S. military intelligence report described the dire situation of women prisoners in Stalin’s Russia.

The deportees were assigned work in coal and iron mines, on the laying of roads and railroads, on irrigation projects, in forests, on construction of building, on farms. No discrimination was shown between men and women. A woman had to cut and pile as much wood as a man, she had to carry 15 lbs. of bricks or mortar, she had to excavate 9 1/2 cubic meters twice-shifted despite the fact that the normal excavation was 6 cubic meters. … if anyone fell below the quota, he or she, was docked and consequently could not buy enough bread.[efn_note]Eighty-Second Congress,  The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, 455.[/efn_note]

Thousands of Poles, some of whom could have been relatives or friends of the woman in the OWI photograph, had already died from hunger and illnesses. Some of the fathers and husbands of the women had been executed by the NKVD secret police in what amounted to ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Polish intelligentsia from the eastern part of Poland.

Roosevelt administration officials in Washington were getting reports from their diplomats and military sources who knew what was done to Polish prisoners in Russia, but such reports were immediately classified as secret and some were later destroyed.

In 1942, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt received translations of several letters written by Polish refugee women begging for help in finding their husbands still missing in the Soviet Union. The letters were sent to her by Helena Sikorska, the wife of Polish Prime Minister Władysław Sikorski, with an urgent plea for her intervention. This correspondence was also classified as secret. Even Helena Sikorska asked for it to be kept confidential in order not to embarrass the Russians or harm the anti-German alliance. There was no record of Eleanor Roosevelt taking any action other than passing the letters to the State Department which already knew about them. In any case, the missing Polish officers were already dead. More than 15,000 (over 20,000 if other members of the Polish intelligentsia are included) were executed two years earlier by the NKVD secret police on the orders of Stalin and the Politburo. They were bound, blindfolded and shot in the back of their heads in Katyń and at several other locations.[efn_note]July 8, 1942 confidential letter from Helena Sikorska to Eleanor Roosevelt with attached letters from wives of missing Polish prisoners in the Soviet Union.[/efn_note]Helena Sikorska, whose husband died in a mysterious plane crash in 1943, published in 1946 accounts of many Polish men and women, former prisoners in the Soviet Gulag, in a book titled The Dark Side of the Moon with a preface by T. S. Eliot.[efn_note]Sikorska, Helena. The Dark Side of the Moon, preface by T. S. Eliot. London: Farber and Farber, 1946.[/efn_note]

Stalin had an army of willing communist executioners, but one significant finding in various classified U.S. government reports was that not all Russians were brutal and corrupted by the communist regime. A Polish woman told a U.S. Army officer that relations between Polish and Russian prisoners were good. Russians were also victimized by Stalin’s NKVD. A few years later great Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn became himself one of the millions of Russians who were arrested, convicted of anti-Soviet activities and forced to work in the Gulag. In his poem, “Prussian Nights,” the Nobel Prize-winning author described the gang-rape of a Polish woman whom the Red Army soldiers mistakenly thought to be a German. It was a common fate of millions of German women, but also Polish, Jewish and women of other nationalities who came in contact with soldiers of the Red Army at the end of World War II. It was another news that the Voice of America and most other journalists failed to report.[efn_note]Marek Walicki who had escaped from Poland 1949 and later worked as a journalist for Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America, where he was deputy director of VOA’s Polish Service, described the first days of the so-called “liberation” of Poland at the end of World War II. He was a young boy when the Red Army moved into the area near Warsaw. He wrote in his memoir, Z Polski Ludowej do Wolnej Europy (“From Peoples’ Poland to Radio Free Europe”) published in 2018 in Poland: “The Soviets finally came. On the first day of ‘liberation’ they raped in our area several women. Some were raped until they died.” See: Marek Walicki, Z Polski Ludowej do Wolnej Europy  (Warsaw: Bellona, 2018), 55.[/efn_note] Soviet propagandists, with some help from quite a few Western journalists, would later portray Solzhenitsyn as a nationalist and a Nazi sympathizer. He was neither, and neither were the Poles in Iran who had escaped from the Soviet Union and remained loyal to their legal and democratic government in London.

The U.S. Army colonel who wrote a report with accounts about life in Soviet captivity shared with him by Polish women was Henry I. Szymanski, who served as an American liaison officer to the Polish Army. He worked closely with Polish Army officer Captain Józef Czapski who himself barely escaped the Katyń Forest executions. Both Czapski and Solzhenitsyn were targets of temporary censorship by Voice of America at different times even during the Cold War when some reporting on Stalinist atrocities was already allowed but most graphic accounts were still censored. While not ideologically driven and as complete and as deceptive as during the Roosevelt administration, the later partial censorship of the Katyń story at the Voice of America happened under the Republican administrations of President Nixon and President Ford. It was roundly condemned by both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty successfully resisted such censorship.

During the wartime military alliance between the United States and Russia, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty did not yet exist. At that time, witnesses of Soviet genocide had absolutely no chance of having their interviews broadcast by the Voice of America or be mentioned in any of the Office of War Information publications. A near total silence about them was enforced. In contrast, at the end of the war, U.S. government photographers and filmmakers extensively documented Nazi crimes at the liberated concentration camps in Germany. While far from being the only reason, unwillingness to collect evidence and prosecute communist war and post-war criminals meant that Americans and the world know now much more about Nazi-perpetrated genocide than about crimes against humanity committed by the Soviets and the communist regimes in East-Central Europe.

In a further insult to Stalin’s victims, the Voice of America’s management kept censoring some Gulag-related news reports even long after the end of the war. Czapski’s interview was censored in 1950 and readings from Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago were curtailed in VOA’s Russian Service programs for several years in the 1970s. This was not full censorship as during World War II and it ended when Ronald Reagan became U.S. president and called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” Fortunately, even before the Reagan presidency, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty broadcasts were never censored to protect the Soviet Union from criticism. Despite some temporary setbacks, many Americans within and outside of the U.S. government, including VOA, RFE and RL emigre journalists and their American managers, worked diligently during the Cold War to undo the results of the Yalta betrayal and helped to bring about the fall of the Soviet Union and communist dictatorships in East Central Europe.[efn_note] See: Ted Lipien, “SOLZHENITSYN Target of KGB Propaganda and Censorship by Voice of America,” Cold War Radio Museum, November 7, 2017, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/solzhenitsyn-target-of-kgb-propaganda-and-censorship-by-voice-of-america/[/efn_note]

The real story of the Polish woman in the OWI photograph, however, could not be told by OWI and VOA journalists during World War II. Even if they could, many of them would not want to tell her story because they unquestionably accepted Soviet lies. The Polish woman in the photograph was not the same woman who spoke with the U.S. Army officer. Lt. Col. Szymanski described his informant for “Case Studies–Polish Evacuees in Tehran” as a mother of five children. She was obviously older than the woman in the OWI propaganda photo which was taken the following year. The secret report on Polish-Russian relations dated November 22, 1942 presented testimonies of several Polish refugees in addition to the mother of five children whose husband was arrested.

THIRD INFORMANT


After her husband was arrested she was deported from Pinsk on 20.4.41. Was deported from hospital with 5 children. She was in hospital after the birth of her youngest child. The other children 17, 14, 8, 3, and 2 months [sic.] old. The whole family was transported to Semipalatynsk in cattle train. They were deported to the Camp of Semipalatynskaja Oblast, Bialagaczewskij Rejon, Bek-Kazjer, and there had to work in a quarry. Was released from work there as unfit, but her sons aged 17 and 14 were forced to work. The work consisted of carrying and loading blocks of stones from 7 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon. The salary was 11 kopek for one cubic meter of stones and both the boys could hardly load one cubic meter during one day. The loading of stones was often carried out during the night. They used to earn 11 kopek daily but the daily expenses for bread were of 5 roubles 25 kopek. We had separate lodging consisting of one room with a floor, a kitchen stove, one window 2 and half mtr. x 2 and a half mtr. The children were ill, malaria and scarlet fever. The local authorities of the quarry and the guards were severe but did not ill-treat the workers. Relations between Polish and Russian prisoners were good. After long efforts made by the deported they were released by the Soviet authorities on 27 October 1941 and received amnesty certificates. She left immediately afterwards for Farabu, where she stayed 2 weeks, afterwards left for Dzambul, Teren Uziuk. There her youngest child died, her daughter was seriously ill and became deaf.[efn_note]Eighty-Second Congress,  The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, 462. https://archive.org/details/katynforestmassa03unit/page/462.[/efn_note]

Women not accustomed to hard manual labor and consequently not able to earn enough for their daily bread had a choice of starving to death or submitting to the Bolshevik or Mongol supervisor. In one sense their condition was bettered–they had something to eat. When asked by me whether they worked hard, a reluctant answer of, “I wanted to live,” would be given [to] me. The Polish military medical authorities are taking blood tests to determine the number of venereals among women. The tests were not completed prior to my departure, but the results will be handed [to] me.[efn_note]Eighty-Second Congress,  The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, 455.https://archive.org/details/katynforestmassa03unit/page/454.[/efn_note]

Lt. Col. Szymanski took his own photos of starved, ill and dying Polish children as they came out of the Soviet Union in 1942. Both his reports and his photographs were also classified as secret and were not seen until 1952. Had they been made public earlier, they could have helped U.S. policy makers and other Americans make up their minds about Stalin without the corruptive effect of Soviet propaganda reinforced by their own government’s censorship and disinformation. Americans and foreign audiences were deprived of critical information about Russia.

The children had no chance. It is estimated that 50% have already died from malnutrition. The other 50% will die unless evacuated to a land where American help can reach them. A visit to any of the hospitals in Teheran will testify to this statement. They are filled with children and adults who would be better off not to have survived the ordeal.[efn_note] Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia; Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.), March 13 and 14, 1952, The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), 455.[/efn_note]

Lt. Col. Szymanski’s photographs should have been shown together with OWI photographs which were taken a year later after the refugees have recovered somewhat from their earlier ordeal. Hundreds still died in Iranian hospitals. News stories should have been written about how Polish refugees in Iran were transforming their lives while still coping with the effects and psychological trauma of their former imprisonment. At that time many refugees still did not know what happened to their husbands, fathers, mothers, children and other family members from whom they were separated during arrests by the Soviet secret police, while being transported in cattle trains to the labor camps, or afterwards. Their missing family members and friends were either already dead or languishing somewhere in Russia. OWI censors and propagandists tried to make sure that such stories would not be written and Americans and foreign public opinion would remain unaware of the key facts. In some cases, they used deliberate deception to mislead Americans and radio listeners abroad.

When the OWI photographs were taken in 1943, Polish women in Iran had a good reason to be happy about at least a partial reversal of their misfortune, even if some still did not know what had happened to their husbands, fathers, children, relatives and friends. They were the lucky survivors of the Soviet Gulag. The young woman seen smiling for the U.S. government photographer was finally free and under the care of Polish, British, and American authorities, as well as being warmly welcomed by the Iranians who were wondering why there were so many orphans among the Polish refugees. There were also many widows.

What the OWI photographs did not convey was the woman’s dark past in the absence of appropriate explanations, which the Office of War Information and its Voice of America radio broadcasts in English and foreign languages failed to provide in connection with the Polish refugees’ story. (VOA did not broadcast in Russian or Ukrainian during the war in order not to offend Stalin.)

The photograph’s official description, as preserved in the Library of Congress, did not mention that the woman came to Iran after being imprisoned in Russia. There was no reference to the Soviet Union in the caption. She could have been easily confused by Americans for being a lucky Polish refugee who had escaped from under the Nazi occupation thanks to generous assistance from the Soviet Union. That is what OWI officials and journalists wanted Americans to believe and that is how these Polish refugees were also presented in Soviet propaganda, which before and after condemned them for being ungrateful for the “help” they had received from Russia.

When some of the refugees tried to correct such disinformation, the Soviets immediately accused them of being anti-Soviet and fascist. In fact, Polish soldiers who had been Stalin’s prisoners joined the Polish Army of General Władysław Anders and fought the Germans alongside American, British and other allied troops in North Africa and Italy. After the war, they could not return to communist-ruled Poland where a few of those who had returned faced reprisals from the Soviet-dominated regime. Besides, they had no homes to return to. Their cities, towns and villages were in eastern Poland which was given to Russia with President Roosevelt’s acquiesce and without the knowledge and approval of the Polish government in exile. While the Red Army had occupied the region and could not be forced to leave short of war, President Roosevelt could have tried to extract concessions from Stalin which would have been more than empty promises. He could have also avoided damaging America’s reputation by betraying allies behind their backs.

U.S. propaganda made FDR’s betrayal of Poland even more obvious and more painful. When taken out of the context of the Polish refugees’ previous Soviet captivity, some of the U.S. Office of War Information photographs were indeed stunning and deserving of attention. They showed proud and resilient people. They also documented positive results of the assistance the refugees had received from the U.S. government, the American Red Cross and Polish-American institutions. Some of the refugees were wearing clothes sent to them by Polish-Americans.

The OWI photographs of Polish refugees in Iran were, however, in the purpose for which they were used, ultimately dishonest and deceptive. The OWI was a powerful U.S. government agency which carried out domestic propaganda as well as propaganda abroad through its Voice of America radio broadcasts. The man now known as the first VOA director, future Hollywood actor John Houseman, hired his communist friends and became unacceptable even to the Roosevelt administration.[efn_note]Ted Lipien, “First VOA Director was a pro-Soviet Communist sympathizer, State Dept. warned FDR White House,” Cold War Radio Museum, May 5, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/state-department-warned-fdr-white-house-first-voice-of-america-director-was-hiring-communists/.[/efn_note] He was forced to resign, but many other Soviet sympathizers remained in their positions for the duration of the war.

A Polish-American newspaper Nowy Świat (“New World”), a target of an illegal and ultimately unsuccessful Office of War Information attempt to shut it down, published an editorial on January 4, 1944 which was discussed in a previously classified OWI memorandum. Nowy Świat commented on how the Office of War Information presented the story of Polish refugees in a press release sent out to U.S. media. The Polish-American newspaper pointed out that “the OWI purposely omitted the explanation and has not added that these tragic children came from Russia, that they forgot to smile there, that they learned there of hunger and want, that they there learned of fear.” In an earlier editorial, the paper had dismissed the OWI’s acceptance and promotion of the Soviet Katyń propaganda lie as “the sweat pills from the OWI pharmacy.” The paper wrote that it refused to accept the OWI’s news item on the Katyń Massacre because “we do not trust some of the alchemists employed by the OWI.”[efn_note]Paul Sturman, “Nowy Swiat,” Executive Office of the President, Office for Emergency Management Office Memorandum to Alan Cranston, July 3, 1943, Declassified. OWI-208-NC-148-E222-Box1077, U.S. National Archives.[/efn_note] Some members of Congress often quoted from Polish-American media to expose Soviet atrocities and misleading pro-Soviet propaganda from the Roosevelt administration.

We are submitting this OWI article to our Polish readers as an example of the service Polish press receives from the Office of War Information. The observations of the American soldier on duty at Santa Anita, where Polish refugees en route to Mexico were housed, excited all. That is true. But the OWI purposely omitted the explanation and has not added that these tragic children came from Russia, that they forgot to smile there, that they learned there of hunger and want, that they there learned of fear. Freedom of fear… Polish children did not know of that freedom upon their arrival to America. But it also appears that neither does the OWI know of this freedom. It is afraid to admit that these children reached America from Russia. It speaks of a four-year journey, which they completed fleeing Hitler.[efn_note]Paul Sturman, “Nowy Swiat and OWI releases,” Executive Office of the President, Office for Emergency Management Office Memorandum, January 4, 1944. Declassified. U.S. National Archives.[/efn_note]

A careless reader may gain the impression that with the beginning of the war, some group of Poles started on their journey to America, and after four years, had reached this continent. Not a word about the fact that together with millions of Polish citizens this group of refugees which has now reached Mexico was deported from Poland by the Soviets and was kept by Russia under the most miserable conditions. But seeing the obvious is not a virtue with the OWI. That Office is not evidently free from fear. (Fear) before whom?[efn_note]Paul Sturman, “Nowy Swiat and OWI releases.”[/efn_note]

Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles had a more sober view of Russia than President Roosevelt, some of his other advisors, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Welles was instrumental in arranging for bringing a group of nearly 1,500 Polish children from India to be housed for the duration of the war in a refugee camp in Mexico called Colonia Santa Rosa.

Welles was also one of several prominent liberal Americans who had become concerned about Soviet influence at the U.S. propaganda agency. At the same time, he did not want the Polish children to be resettled in the United States. He probably knew that President Roosevelt would not agree to anything that could risk bad publicity for Stalin. He told the President that U.S. sea transport for a large group of refugees would be impossible to arrange. [efn_note]President’s Personal File 7543 – Sikorski, General Wladslaw, 1941-1942, Selected Digitized Documents Related to Refugees, Franklin D. Roosevelt Museum, http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/_resources/images/hol/hol00117.pdf.[/efn_note] As it turned out, it was not impossible to use a U.S. Navy ship in 1943 to make two voyages from India to California with Polish children on board, but even bringing the children to Mexico with a brief stopover in California carried some public relations risks, which administration officials tried to minimize with the help from OWI.

While Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles was genuinely trying to help the Polish government in exile with the refugee crisis and in other matters within the constraints imposed on him by President Roosevelt, knowing how FDR felt about his ability to handle the Soviet leader, whom he endearingly called “Uncle Joe,” there was no desire within the administration to use greater pressure on Stalin, certainly not by making the Polish refugee story public.

At the same time Welles quietly tried to reduce Soviet influence within the administration, particularly in the Office of War Information. In exposing John Houseman and several other Soviet sympathizers to the White House in a secret 1943 memo, Roosevelt’s personal friend and foreign policy advisor pointed out that Americans could be liberal without becoming communists and serving the interests of the Soviet Union.[efn_note]Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles April 6, 1943 memorandum to Marvin H. McIntyre, Secretary to the President with enclosures, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum Website, Box 77, State – Welles, Sumner, 1943-1944; version date 2013,http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/_resources/images/psf/psfb000259.pdf.[/efn_note]

Despite the behind-the-scenes attempt by Welles and others to reduce Soviet influence and to bring U.S. propaganda more in line with U.S. interests, many communist and Soviet sympathizers kept their jobs in the Office of War Information.[efn_note]See: Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles April 6, 1943 memorandum to Marvin H. McIntyre, Secretary to the President with enclosures, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum Website, Box 77, State – Welles, Sumner, 1943-1944; version date 2013, http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/_resources/images/psf/psfb000259.pdf.[/efn_note] One of them, President Roosevelt’s speechwriter, Hollywood playwright Robert E. Sherwood, who became director of OWI’s Overseas Branch within which the Voice of America operated, was one of the most enthusiastic promoters of blending American and Soviet propaganda. According to one of Sherwood’s “propaganda directives” to the Voice of America staff, dated May 1, 1943, which instructed VOA broadcasters to accept what became the Katyń lie, the Poles who refused to treat as true Soviet propaganda on the mass murder of thousands of their prisoners of war in Russia were guilty of “consciously or unconsciously cooperating with Hitler.”[efn_note]Robert E. Sherwood, Director, Overseas Branch, Office of War Information; RG208, Director of Oversees Operations, Record Set of Policy Directives for Overseas Programs-1942-1945 (Entry363); Regional Directives, January 1943-October 1943; Box820; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.[/efn_note]

Robert E. Sherwood’s propaganda directive callously dismissed the Polish government’s attempts to establish who was behind the murder of thousands of its military officers as typical of European nations emphasizing their “periods of martyrdom.” According to Sherwood, VOA broadcasters were to “Try to make America seem such a mighty world force that it will replace in the mind of the Poles Russia as an object of fear.”

In other propaganda materials, OWI was encouraging Poles to develop a friendly attitude toward Stalin and to trust in his good intentions. U.S. propaganda experts printed a small booklet with texts of two speeches by Vice President Henry A. Wallace translated into Polish. A copy of the booklet was found among the papers of a graphic artist who during the war was stationed at the OWI field office in Cairo, Egypt, which would suggest that it might have been produced for the soldiers of the Polish Army fighting the Germans in North Africa and for Polish civilians, some of whom were at refugee camps in the Middle East. Showing a remarkable naivety about the attitudes of the Poles who recently had gone through the hell of the Soviet Gulag, American government propagandists chose to translate a speech delivered by Vice President Wallace in New York on the 25th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, in which he said that “Today both Russia and the United States are seeking similar goals: both states are striving for the education, the productivity, and the enduring happiness of the common man.”[efn_note]Office of War Information propaganda booklet with texts of two speeches by U.S. Vice President Henry A. Wallace translated into Polish. The booklet is in possession of the author and can be seen upon request.[/efn_note]The idea that Stalin’s former prisoners could be persuaded that Stalin and communist Russia were changing their course and moving toward some type of popular democracy showed supreme ignorance on the part of OWI propagandists.

It was hardly surprising that ideologically blinded OWI and VOA propaganda specialists would try to hide and distort the Katyń Massacre story, the Polish children refugees story, and in the process undermine the allied Polish government of Prime Minister Władysław Sikorski while professing support for the London Poles. According to Sumner Welles, the Soviet regime and its supporters abroad also worked against General Mikhailovich in Yugoslavia, the British government in India, which incidentally hosted a group of Polish children refugees, General Franco government in Spain and against the possible survival of the Baltic Republics.[efn_note]Sumner Welles April 6, 1943 memorandum to Marvin H. McIntyre with enclosures, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/_resources/images/psf/psfb000259.pdf.[/efn_note] The New York Times correspondent Arthur Krock wrote in a report published July 31, 1943 that view of OWI writers have been “closer to the Moscow than the Washington-London line.”[efn_note]Arthur Krock, “Congress Reaction Likely,” The New York Times, July 31, 1943.[/efn_note]

The labor federations AFL and CIO and members of Congress of both parties were still warning the Roosevelt administration at the end of 1943 about the subversive influence of communists within the Office of War Information and its radio broadcasting division. Several such warnings were made on the floor of the House of Representatives on November 4, 1943. Congressman Wigglesworth said that “material broadcast overseas by the O.W.I. at taxpayer’s expense has been sheer communism.” He revealed that some of the OWI employees already investigated and removed as a result of congressional inquires included “a former Vienna communist,…a former contributor to the Daily Worker and other communist front organizations, a Hungarian Communist, a German Communist.” He added that “a notorious Polish Communist” working for the OWI and “a Soviet agent who worked for the Soviet[s] in the Baltic’s, said to have forged press credentials,” have not yet been investigated.[efn_note]89 Cong. Rec. (Bound) – House of Representatives: November 4, 1943, 9136, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GPO-CRECB-1943-pt7/pdf/GPO-CRECB-1943-pt7-10-2.pdf[/efn_note]

Stefan Arski, aka Artur Salman, one of the key individuals in charge of what became OWI’s future VOA Polish broadcasts, was a Communist who later became an anti-American propagandists and a denier of Stalin’s crimes for the Soviet-dominated regime in Warsaw.[efn_note]Ted Lipien, “Stefan Arski: Agent of Communist Collusion at VOA,” Cold War Radio Museum, April 14, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/stefan-arski-agent-of-communist-collusion-at-wwii-voice-of-america/.[/efn_note] He vigorously denied for many years Soviet responsibility for the Katyń Forest massacre. Even in the early 1950s, a communist agent Zbigniew Brydlak had managed to infiltrate the Polish section of VOA’s European Bureau in Munich. Former VOA Polish Service deputy director Marek Walicki wrote in his memoir that after being uncovered and fired by American officials in charge of security, Brydlak escaped back to Poland and wrote articles attacking VOA and Radio Free Europe. This was at the time when the Voice of America already stopped covering up the Katyń Massacre and started to counter in earnest communist propaganda. Brydlak’s mission was to derail such reforms.[efn_note]Marek Walicki, Z Polski Ludowej do Wolnej Europy (Warsaw: Bellona, 2018), 170-182.[/efn_note]

The American delusion about Stalin lasted several years, but it did not become a permanent U.S. policy course. It was never shared by all Americans. Eventually, the voices of some of the refugees started to be heard along with news reports of new communist atrocities being committed behind the Iron Curtain. Some of the refugees who were journalists, broadcasters and writers were hired to work for VOA and replaced the former pro-Soviet staff. To reverse the propaganda damage of the pro-Soviet policies of the Roosevelt administration and the early Voice of America broadcasts, the U.S. government created in the early 1950s Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Only then, the whole truth about the Katyń Forest massacre, in which husbands and fathers of many of the Polish refugees were brutally executed by the Soviets and for which early VOA broadcasters blamed the Germans in line with Soviet propaganda lies, could finally be told to audiences in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union. But in the West, the story of Polish refugees from Soviet Russia never truly emerged in mainstream media. It was largely forgotten later in the Cold War as newer human rights violations were being reported. The first refugees from Soviet communism and the first witnesses from the Gulag were effectively silenced for many decades.

Truth is the first casualty in war, a journalist and Catholic relief worker Eileen Egan observed about how the U.S government treated the news of Stalinist atrocities the Polish refugees brought with them from the Soviet Union and tried to keep them away from independent reporters. She had worked with Polish children refugees who were sent to Mexico in 1943. She reported that “At the border crossing between the United States and Mexico, soldiers with bayonets had been placed on guard duty so that the refugees could not leave the carriages to mingle with American citizens.” These were American soldiers. On the Mexican side, the refugees received a warm welcome.[efn_note]American journalist Eileen Egan, who was then a Catholic Relief Services (CRS) worker helping the Polish children, wrote, “As a sealed train had been in the beginning of the trek of agony that carried simple people across three, four and, in the end, all five continents, of the world, so also the train that brought them into León and Colonia Santa Rosa was, in effect, also a sealed train.” See: Eileen Egan, For Whom There Is No Room: Scenes from the Refugee World (New York: Paulist Press, 1995), 19.[/efn_note]

During World War II, left-leaning and pro-Soviet officials in the Roosevelt administration saw friendship with communist Russia as an all important U.S. military, foreign policy and propaganda goal. Preserving a positive image of the Soviet Union was about protecting Stalin. It was also about making sure he would not reach a separate peace agreement with Germany and become again Hitler’s ally, even though chances of it happening in 1943 were practically non-existent.

In her human resources, Russia was definitely the strongest ally against Hitler, but Stalin was not doing America any favors out of the goodness of his heart or support for democracy. He was fighting for his own life and the survival of his communist dictatorship. He succeeded using weaponry supplied by the United States, without which the Soviet Union would have been most likely defeated by Nazi Germany in World War II.

A German victory over Russia would be an unimaginable tragedy and a major setback for the United States and Great Britain, but by 1943 in the face of German defeats there was no compelling reason for President Roosevelt to betray Poland and other smaller allies and to make decisions about the fate of millions of their citizens behind their backs. Roosevelt abandoned them in favor of Russia under the influence of his advisors in a naive belief that Stalin would help America secure peace and democracy after the war. Russian propaganda and agents of influence, including those working for his administration, made sure that Stalin’s interests were protected and advanced. They cared much less about Polish children and other refugees, including Jewish refugees, whose plight, according to American historian Holly Cowan Shulman, was also largely ignored by the Voice of America.[efn_note]Holly Cowan Shullman, “The Voice of America, US Propaganda and the Holocaust: ‘I Would Have Remembered’,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio & Television 17, no. 1 (March 1997): 91-103. Also see: Ted Lipien, “Soviet Propaganda Overshadowed the Holocaust on Voice of America,” Cold War Radio Museum, March 27, 2017, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/why-wwii-voice-of-america-ignored-the-holocaust/.[/efn_note] Criticism from other Americans was not enough to stop President Roosevelt’s appeasement of Stalin, but it is important to remember that not all Americans shared FDR’s optimism and his rosy view of the Soviet Union.

The OWI photographs of Polish refugees in Iran were part of a larger disinformation effort by pro-Soviet Roosevelt administration propagandists in favor of Stalin’s Russia. In press releases to U.S. media, OWI tried to mislead Americans into believing that these Polish refugees were fleeing from Hitler, even though they came from the part of Poland occupied in 1939 by the Red Army under the secret provisions of the Hitler-Stalin Pact and were deported from their homes by the Soviet regime. That in itself should have been a sufficient warning for President Roosevelt and his propaganda team dominated by pro-Soviet, radically left-wing officials, but instead they censored news unfavorable to Russia from U.S. government press releases for domestic consumption and from OWI’s Voice of America shortwave broadcasts for radio audiences abroad. U.S. propagandists wanted to protect Stalin from bad publicity without regard for the truth and America’s long-term international reputation.

Piotr Piwowarczyk, a journalist and film producer who lives in Mexico, described the brief journey of Polish refugee children through California during World War II as “surreal.” 

“Having gained their freedom, the refugees arrived in America, a place that in their minds was freedom itself. But to their utter amazement, as they got off the ship, they were immediately put on military trucks and taken to a nearby internment camp holding Japanese Americans. [By that time Japanese Americans were most likely no longer there having been been placed earlier in permanent internment camps.] The Poles noted with misgivings that their own section of ‘Santa Anita’ was enclosed by barbed wire. They felt like prisoners again. Better conditions than in the Soviet Union but certainly not the America of their dreams. After four days, they were loaded onto military trucks again and taken to a train under military guard that remained posted at every door throughout their journey of some seven hours. The windows remained sealed, and no one was permitted to leave their coaches.”[efn_note]Piotr Piwowarczyk, Hacienda Santa Rosa: A Polish Refuge in Mexico, Cosmopolitan Review, January 15, 2012, http://cosmopolitanreview.com/hacienda-santa-rosa/.[/efn_note]

Even the Polish government in exile, eager to mend its relations with Moscow, discouraged the refugees from speaking about their experiences in Russia. There was pressure on them from all sides to remain silent. One of the children-refugees, Teresa Sokołowska, said many years later that they were condemned to be forgotten.

“Nobody spoke or wrote about our fate. After the end of the Second World War, we were a group lost in history.”[efn_note]Teresa Sokołowska quoted in “Santa Rosa: A Polish Odyssey in the Rhythm of Mariachi,” CULTURE.PL, July 22, 2013, https://culture.pl/en/article/santa-rosa-a-polish-odyssey-in-the-rhythm-of-mariachi.[/efn_note]

When unable to completely ignore Polish refugees fleeing Russia , OWI propagandists tried to present them falsely as escaping from being under Nazi terror. Roosevelt administration officials even resorted to briefly keeping Polish children refugees, some of them orphans, under military guard in a former detention facility for Japanese-Americans and transported them to Mexico in sealed trains to prevent the real story of their captivity in Russia from reaching the American media. These were comfortable passenger trains and American soldiers were friendly, but some of the young children were traumatized because it remained them of being prisoners and their forced journey in crowded cattle trains to Siberia.

Time magazine and other American news publications were easily duped by Office of War Information propaganda. Their reporting was vague but strongly implied that the Polish children were fleeing from Hitler. Not a word was said in these media reports about their captivity in the Soviet Union and the circumstances under which they had become orphans. When it came to discussing Soviet communist terror, there was deafening silence among OWI and VOA propagandists and many extreme left-wing American journalists.[efn_note]”Happiness in California,” Time, November 15, 1943, 23.[/efn_note]

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Photo Credits

U.S. Government Propaganda Photos

U.S. Government propaganda photo, 1943.
  • Title: Teheran, Iran. Young Polish girl
  • Creator(s): Parrino, Nick, photographer, Office of War Information (OWI)
  • Date Created/Published: 1943.
  • Link
U.S. Government Propaganda Photo, 1943.
  • Title: Teheran, Iran. Women making their own clothing at a Polish evacuee camp operated by the Red Cross
  • Creator(s): Parrino, Nick, photographer, Office of War Information (OWI)
  • Date Created/Published: 1943.
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
  • Link
U.S. Government Propaganda Photo, 1943.
  • Title: Teheran, Iran. Polish faces
  • Creator(s): Parrino, Nick, photographer, Office of War Information, OWI
  • Date Created/Published: 1943.
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
  • Link
U.S. Government Propaganda Photo, 1943.
  • Title: Teheran, Iran. Women doing their laundry in a Polish evacuee camp operated by the Red Cross
  • Creator(s): Parrino, Nick, photographer
  • Date Created/Published: 1943.
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
  • Link
U.S. Government propaganda photo, 1943.
  • Title: Teheran, Iran. Polish woman and her grandchildren shown in an American Red Cross evacuation camp as they await evacuation to new homes
  • Creator(s): Parrino, Nick, photographer
  • Date Created/Published: 1943.
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
  • Link

Photos by Lt. Col. Henry Szymanski, U.S. Army

Photo by Lt. Col. Szymanski, U.S. Army.
  • Twelve-year-old boy, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942
  • Photos by: Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, U.S. Army
  • Source: The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre; Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia; Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.); March 13 and 14, 1952 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), pp. 459-461.
    Link
Photo by Lt. Col. Szymanski, U.S. Army.
  • Six-year-old boy, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942
  • Photos by: Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, U.S. Army
  • Source: The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre; Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia; Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.); March 13 and 14, 1952 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), pp. 459-461.
  • Link
Photo by Lt. Col. Szymanski, U.S. Army.
  • Three sisters, ages 7, 8, and 9, Polish evacuees from Russia, August 1942
  • Photos by: Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, U.S. Army
  • Source: The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre; Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia; Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.); March 13 and 14, 1952 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), pp. 459-461.
  • Link
Photo by Lt. Col. Szymanski, U.S. Army.
  • Ten-year-old girl, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942
  • Photos by: Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, U.S. Army
  • Source: The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre; Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia; Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.); March 13 and 14, 1952 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), pp. 459-461.
  • Link

Sumner Welles and Jan Ciechanowski Memoranda, May 19, 1942

Sumner Welles Memoranda, April 5 and 6, 1943

Congressional Record–House, November 4, 1943


Notes

P.

Polish children in camps for Japanese-Americans

By Ted Lipien

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America had its own shameful episode of war crimes, not nearly as brutal as Soviet deportations to the Gulag forced labor camps of many groups and nationalities, but still inexcusable detention of American citizens of Japanese origin and forcing them into internment camps during the Second World War. It is entirely possible that Roosevelt administration officials may have gotten the idea of interning the Japanese-Americans from Stalin’s mass removals of undesirable ethnic groups viewed as potential enemies.

The same U.S. government Office of War Information (OWI), which lauded Stalin and covered up his crimes in press releases for domestic distribution and Voice of America (VOA) shortwave radio broadcasts abroad[efn_note]See: Cold War Radio Museum, “April 20, 1943 — Congressman Woodruff warns of Soviet propaganda in Voice of America broadcasts,” http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/april-20-1943-congressman-woodruff-warns-of-soviet-propaganda-in-voice-of-america/ ; “Senator Taft’s early warning of Soviet propaganda in WWII Voice of America,” April 2, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/senator-tafts-early-warning-of-soviet-propaganda-in-wwii-voa/ and “U.S. Congressman on Katyn Massacre Coverup at Voice of America,” September 17, 2017, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/u-s-congressman-on-katyn-massacre-coverup-at-voice-of-america/.[/efn_note], produced propaganda films to justify the internment of American citizens.[efn_note]Office of War Information (OWI), January 31, 1943, “Japanese Relocation,” C-SPAN, https://www.c-span.org/video/?323978-1/japanese-relocation.[/efn_note]

When two groups of Polish refugee children–former victims of forced deportations by the Soviets from eastern Poland–had arrived in the United States in 1943 for a brief stopover before being transported to a resettlement camp in Mexico, they were kept under isolation and military guard in former detention centers for Japanese-Americans in southern California. The Roosevelt administration had refused requests to give Polish refugees from Russia political asylum in the U.S. although it helped to transport them and provided a grant (some sources describe it as a loan to the Polish government in exile based in London) to pay for their care.

The U.S. Office of War Information took photos of Polish refugees in Iran in 1943 after they had been brought back to health following their evacuation from the Soviet Union a year earlier. They no longer looked malnourished and ill. OWI lied in a press release on Polish refugee children traveling to Mexico by presenting them as fleeing from Nazi occupation.

The Roosevelt administration hid evidence of executions of Polish war prisoners in Soviet captivity and other atrocities in Stalin’s Russia. Photographs of Polish refugees taken in Iran in August 1942 by Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, a U.S. Army liaison officer to the Polish Army, were classified as secret. One of them showed three sisters, ages 7, 8, and 9, Polish evacuees from Russia, in a state of severe emaciation.

Lt. Col. Szymanski’s photographs remained classified for ten years. They were published for the first time in 1952 by the bipartisan Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, Eighty-Second Congress, also known as the Madden Committee after its chairman, Rep. Ray Madden (D-IN). In his report, which the Roosevelt administration also classified, Lt. Col. Szymanski described the fate of Polish children in Soviet Russia kept secret from Americans.

The purpose of isolating the Polish refugee children at the U.S. Army camps in southern California was to prevent them and their caregivers–also evacuees from Russia who had survived (many had not)–from talking to American media and revealing the extent of Soviet brutality. Roosevelt administration officials and propagandists wanted to protect Stalin from bad publicity in a mistaken belief that it could undermine the military alliance with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. Instead, Americans, including policy makers, were mislead about Stalin’s intentions by Soviet and U.S. government propaganda as it was being spread in government circles in Washington and through American media.

While there were some disclosures of pro-Soviet U.S. government propaganda during the war (the Roosevelt administration made illegal attempts to censor or shut down media critical of Russia), strong bipartisan criticism and actions to put a stop to such manipulation of domestic public opinion on behalf of a foreign power did not emerge until after the war.[efn_note]The bipartisan Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, also known as the Madden Committee, said in its final report issued in December 1952: “In submitting this final report to the House of Representatives, this committee has come to the conclusion that in those fateful days nearing the end of the Second World War there unfortunately existed in high governmental and military circles a strange psychosis that military necessity required the sacrifice of loyal allies and our own principles in order to keep Soviet Russia from making a separate peace with the Nazis.” The committee added: “For reasons less clear to this committee, this psychosis continued even after the conclusion of the war. Most of the witnesses testified that had they known then what they now know about Soviet Russia, they probably would not have pursued the course they did. It is undoubtedly true that hindsight is much easier to follow than foresight, but it is equally true that much of the material which this committee unearthed was or could have been available to those responsible for our foreign policy as early as 1942.” The Madden Committee also said in its final report in 1952: “This committee believes that if the Voice of America is to justify its existence, it must utilize material made available more forcefully and effectively.” A major change in VOA programs occurred, with much more reporting being done on the investigation into the Katyń massacre and other Soviet atrocities, but later some of the censorship returned. Radio Free Europe (RFE), also funded and indirectly managed by the U.S., never resorted to such censorship, and provided full coverage of all communist human rights abuses. See: Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, The Katyn Forest Massacre: Final Report (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), 10-12. The report is posted on the National Archives website: https://archive.org/details/KatynForestMassacreFinalReport.[/efn_note]

One of the camps in which Polish refugee children were briefly housed was Santa Anita facility, sometimes euphemistically referred to in U.S. government documents as Santa Anita (Calif.) Assembly Center.[efn_note]Densho Encyclopedia, “Santa Anita (detention facility),” https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Santa_Anita_(detention_facility)/ and  United States. Army. Signal Corps., “Santa Anita (Calif.) Assembly Center – A panorama of Santa Anita Center showing finished construction,”  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2001695914/.[/efn_note] When the Polish children arrived, the Santa Anita camp no longer had any Japanese-American prisoners. By then, they had been moved to permanent internment camps.

Some of the children were reportedly traumatized when they saw a barbed wire fence and a camp guarded by soldiers with rifles. They were further traumatized, according to some accounts, by being transported on sealed trains with blacked out windows. While these were comfortable American passenger trains and American soldiers were friendly, locked doors and windows reminded them of their previous journeys in dark and inhumanly overcrowded Soviet cattle trains with no sanitary facilities which had taken them over a period of weeks to labor settlements in Siberia and Central Asia, with many deaths along the way.

The Polish refugee children were treated with great kindness by the few Americans who were allowed contact with them, but as reported by journalist and a Catholic Relief Services worker Eileen Egan, while being transported from the United States to Mexico, they “could not leave the carriages to mingle with American citizens.”[efn_note]American journalist Eileen Egan, who was then a Catholic Relief Services (CRS) worker helping the Polish children, wrote, “As a sealed train had been in the beginning of the trek of agony that carried simple people across three, four and, in the end, all five continents, of the world, so also the train that brought them into León and Colonia Santa Rosa was, in effect, also a sealed train.” See: Eileen Egan, For Whom There Is No Room: Scenes from the Refugee World (New York: Paulist Press, 1995), 19.[/efn_note]

Julian Plowy, who was three-years-old, when he arrived in Mexico with his mother and older sister, recalled that the help the Polish children received in Mexico from the Mexican people, Polish-American nuns and American workers of Catholic Relief Services helped them to rebuilt their faith in God and humanity. Plowy wrote that love for Poland and religious faith instilled in them by their parents and teachers strengthened their drive to never give up. He and members of his family who had survived the Soviet captivity came to the United States after the war. One of the photos in the Plowy family album shows a group of young Polish refugee children at their camp called Colonia Santa Rosa near the city of León in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato. (Photo: Courtesy of Julian Plowy.)

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Photo Credits

Polish refugee children in Mexico. Plowy family album.
  • Polish refugee children at Colonia Santa Rosa near the city of León in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato. Photo: Courtesy of Julian Plowy.

Photo by Lt. Col. Szymanski, U.S. Army.
  • Three sisters, ages 7, 8, and 9, Polish evacuees from Russia, August 1942
    Photos by: Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, U.S. Army
    Source: The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre; Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia; Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.); March 13 and 14, 1952 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), pp. 459-461.
    Link

U.S. Government Photo. Santa Anita Detention Center for Japanese-Americans.
  • Title: Santa Anita (Calif.) Assembly Center – A panorama of Santa Anita Center showing finished construction
  • Creator(s): United States. Army. Signal Corps. 
  • Date Created/Published: [1942]
  • LINK

Notes

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Polish refugee children – Deception in the Library of Congress

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo (1943)

By Ted Lipien

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The extent of the damage the initial propaganda from the Roosevelt administration had on the handling of the Polish World War II refugees story is not always easy to document, but some of the false information has kept reappearing in new forms for many years. After the arrival of the Internet, the Library of Congress posted online more than a dozen of the Office of War Information’s (OWI) propaganda photos of Polish refugees taken in 1943 in Iran without labeling them as part of a deceptive U.S. government propaganda effort to obscure the truth about the Soviet Union, which was carried out by OWI domestically and in its Voice of America (VOA) shortwave radio broadcasts abroad.[efn_note] Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/related/?&pk=2017854318&st=gallery&sb=call_number#focus. OWI’s radio broadcasts were not generally known during World War II as “Voice of America.” They acquired that name later. OWI was also in charge of domestic propaganda which was later severely defunded by the U.S. Congress due to widespread public criticism. The Truman administration eliminated the OWI agency in 1942 and transferred the Voice of America to the State Department. The 1948 Smith-Mundt Act restricted domestic distribution of VOA programs. Some of these restrictions were lifted in legislation signed by President Obama.[/efn_note]

While some of the photographs of children and women are indeed stunning, regrettably they convey an entirely false image of what they had been through in the Soviet Gulag. Those looking at the photos cannot tell from their inadequate online descriptions that the women had been imprisoned in the Soviet Union and had worked there as slave laborers before being evacuated to Iran. Some of the older children were also doing slave labor to keep themselves and their families from starving.

The Library of Congress online catalogue shows only one low-resolution photograph of three emanciated Polish girls of the World War II period. This photograph has an inadequate and confusing caption with no reference to Soviet Russia.[efn_note]Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, “This is how Polish children look when they arrive in Iran.” Attributed to Polish American Council, ca. 1942, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003678080/.[/efn_note]

The small image in the online Library of Congress collection, titled “This is how Polish children look when they arrive in Iran,” is attributed to the Polish American Council and its online record does not say from where these children came to Iran during the war. The mystery photo was probably taken in Iran in August 1942, most likely by a U.S. Army officer, Lt. Col. Henry I. Szymanski who reported to Washington in November 1942 that 50% of Polish children in Soviet captivity many have died from malnutrition and that “[Polish] Women not accustomed to hard manual labor and consequently not able to earn enough for their daily bread had a choice of starving to death or submitting to the Bolshevik or Mongol supervisor.”

His report was promptly classified as secret by Roosevelt administration officials and and was not made public until ten years later.[efn_note]Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia; Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.), March 13 and 14, 1952, The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), 455, https://archive.org/details/katynforestmassa03unit/page/454.[/efn_note]

Women of all nationalities were victim of repeated rapes by Soviet guards. Very few women refugees were willing to talk about it after the war. They were silenced by their trauma and shame. It was a precursor of what would be the fate of many women in East-Central Europe and millions of German women in the Soviet-occupied part of Germany.[efn_note]Marek Walicki who had escaped from Poland 1949 and later worked as a journalist for Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America, was a young boy when the Red Army moved into the area near Warsaw. He wrote in his memoir, Z Polski Ludowej do Wolnej Europy (“From Peoples’ Poland to Radio Free Europe”) published in 2018 in Poland: “The Soviets finally came. On the first day of ‘liberation’ they raped in our area several women. Some were raped until they died.” See: Marek Walicki, Z Polski Ludowej do Wolnej Europy  (Warsaw: Bellona, 2018), 55.[/efn_note] It was also not something that pro-Soviet leftist OWI propagandists would have found even remotely believable during the war and would want to publicize. They bought into Soviet propaganda lies that all Poles loyal to the Polish government in exile were reactionaries, anti-Semites and fascists.[efn_note]While there were anti-Semites among Poles as among any other nationalities, the Polish government in exile issued death sentences through its underground state in Nazi-occupied Poland against Poles who were denouncing Jews to the Germans. No Polish government was ever formed that would collaborate with the Germans in sending Jews to death camps, as was the case in some of the other European countries. The Polish government dispatched emissaries from Poland to warn Western leaders about the mass extermination of Jews. One of them was Jan Karski who met with President Roosevelt. His reports about the Holocaust were greeted then with some skepticism in Great Britain and in the United States. The Polish government in exile democratically represented all anti-Nazi and anti-Communist political parties in Poland, including Socialists. Jewish refugees were often denied U.S. visas and their requests for political asylum were often rejected because State Department officials insisted on strict interpretation of U.S. immigration laws while implementing the Roosevelt administration’s policy of limiting the flow of refugees to the United States.[/efn_note] Supporting Stalin and propagandizing for the Soviet Union was, in their view, absolutely the right thing to do in the fight against fascism.

Lasting Effects of Propaganda

Photo by Lt. Col. Szymanski, U.S. Army.

U.S. government officials in the Roosevelt administration had access to Szymanski’s photos of starved Polish children coming out of Russia and to other U.S. military and diplomatic reports on Soviet atrocities but classified them as secret to prevent their use by media outlets in the United States and abroad. Pro-Soviet OWI propagandists produced instead their own photographs, press releases and Voice of America radio broadcasts designed to mislead and confuse Americans and foreign audiences about the condition of wartime refugees who had been Stalin’s prisoners, without mentioning that they had been arrested, deported and cruelly mistreated by the Soviet communist regime.

The disinformation they produced not only had confused many independent journalists as it was being released; for many decades it has affected future media reporting by poorly-informed journalists. Propaganda can have a very long shelf life, as it has had in the case of Polish refugees.

It is, however, important to remember that not all Americans were deceived by Soviet and Roosevelt administration narratives about Stalin’s intentions. There were many, including members of Congress and some journalists outside of the OWI and VOA who were not afraid to point out fraud and deception in how Stalin and Soviet Russia were being sold to Americans by their own government in collusion with Russian propagandists.

While the active coordination of U.S. and Soviet propaganda lasted only a few years, some of its effects and impact continued much longer.[efn_note]Ted Lipien, “75th Anniversary of Voice of America – Propaganda Coordination with USSR,” Cold War Radio Museum, April 14, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/75th-anniversary-of-voice-of-america-propaganda-coordination-with-ussr/.[/efn_note] There are thousands of public domain photographs online showing the victims from Nazi extermination and concentration camps and scenes of other German atrocities, but finding even a single photo of a former Polish adult male prisoner in the Soviet Gulag or a Polish mother and child as they really looked shortly after coming out of Russia during World War II is nearly impossible.

As of January 2019, the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division online catalogue has only one entry for “Gulag.” In an incredible affront to historical truth, the no longer intentional but still real legacy of silence about the Polish children refugees and other Gulag victims continues. The deception which the Roosevelt administration propaganda agency had initiated during the war in support of Soviet disinformation has been largely unreported and unchallenged. It is a worrisome testimony to the lasting effects of even decades-old attempts to manipulate public opinion, in this case in U.S. government’s collusion with a foreign power ruled by a totalitarian regime.

While later U.S. administrations had made significant efforts to counter Soviet propaganda, including the creation of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty in the early 1950s, misconceptions and avoidance of some sensitive topics by most other Western media have remained a long lasting problem.

The Soviet government engaged on its own in a massive disinformation campaign to suppress the truth about the Gulag and create confusion about what really happened to millions of innocent victims. On the Polish refugees and Katyń stories, as well as many others, the Soviets received active help from the Office of War Information and its Voice of America radio broadcasts. For several years, these U.S. government, taxpayer-funded institutions put out misleading information about 120,000 Polish refugees, soldiers and civilians—all of them Stalin’s former prisoners—who in 1942 had entered the British-controlled zone in Iran from Russia with his permission. By that time, Stalin wanted to get rid of the non-communist Polish Army, composed of former Gulag prisoners loyal to the Polish government in exile based in London. He was getting ready to break relations with the London Poles and to create his own puppet communist regime to rule Poland after the war.

Most mainstream U.S. media easily bought into the U.S. government propaganda campaign that the Polish refugees who came to Iran were saved by Stalin from Nazi oppression, with no word in OWI press releases and VOA radio broadcasts about those non-communist Poles who were executed or perished in Soviet Gulag camps.

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Photo Credits

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo

U.S. Government propaganda photo.
  • Title: Teheran, Iran. Young Polish refugee at an evacuation camp operated by the Red Cross
  • Date Created/Published: 1943.
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Photos by Lt. Col. Szymanski, U.S. Army, 1942

Photo by Lt. Col. Szymanski, U.S. Army.
  • Three sisters, ages 7, 8, and 9, Polish evacuees from Russia, August 1942
  • Photos by: Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, U.S. Army
  • Source: The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre; Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia; Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.); March 13 and 14, 1952 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), pp. 459-461.
  • Link

Notes

P.

Polish children refugees – Time and OWI/VOA propaganda

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo

By Ted Lipien

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Time Magazine Story

In addition to misleading foreign audiences through Voice of America (VOA) shortwave radio broadcasts, domestic “news” outreach by the wartime Office of War Information (OWI) U.S. government propagandists had a definite impact on independent U.S. media. A short Time magazine entry on November 15, 1943 described a group of Polish refugee children who had arrived in Los Angeles on their way to their resettlement camp in Mexico as “fleeing horror since 1939” on their way “(via Russia, Persia, India) to a haven near Mexico City.” There was no mention in the Time magazine story about work settlements in Russia and Soviet Central Asia from which these children had came. There was no hint as to why these children, some of them orphans, could not have been adopted by Polish-American families. There was also no information as to why some became orphans. Their parents were not killed by German bombs. Their fathers had been executed on Stalin’s orders and their mothers worked to death doing forced labor after being deported by the Soviets from their homes in eastern Poland to Siberia and Central Asia. Time magazine did not mention any of this. During the war, U.S. media relied heavily on OWI press releases, many of which offered deceptive narratives in order to hide unfavorable news about communism and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Most American readers would have assumed reading the short Time magazine report that the Poles were fleeing from under Nazi occupation, when in fact this group of Poles, which also included a few Jews and Polish citizens of other nationalities, most likely had never seen any German planes or soldiers.

Their parents had been arrested and deported to Soviet prisons, labor camps and work settlements, a fact conveniently omitted from the U.S. news magazine report. The prisoners were released by Stalin after Hitler launched his attack on the Soviet Union, a former ally in their joint attack on Poland in 1939. The Soviet had already executed thousands of Poles and many more, including children, died in Soviet captivity.

Time noted that the Polish children were guests of the U.S. Army “in the barracks of Camp San Anita littered and marred by resentful Japanese,” as the camp had been used before as a detention center for Japanese Americans, but the magazine did not disclose, assuming its editors even knew, that the children were kept isolated by the U.S. government, not allowed to leave the camp, and were later transported in sealed trains to Mexico.[efn_note]”Happiness in California,” Time, November 15, 1943, 23.[/efn_note] The way it was presented in Time magazine is exactly how U.S. government propagandists eager to protect Stalin wanted the story to be reported, if it were to be reported at all.

During the war, OWI took and distributed thousands of propaganda photos to U.S. media. In 1943, An OWI photographer took photos in Iran of healthy-looking Polish refugee children, evacuees from Soviet Russia, before they were transported for resettlement in Mexico and in other countries, conveniently out of an easy reach by most American media.

Several months earlier, many of the children were starved and near death after their imprisonment in the Soviet Union. Their condition was documented in photographs taken in August 1942 by a U.S. Army officer, Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski. The Roosevelt administration classified his reports and photographs as secret. For ten years they remained inaccessible to American newspapers until pressure from the U.S. Congress forced the Truman administration to release them.[efn_note]Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia, Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.),The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, 459-461, https://archive.org/details/katynforestmassa03unit/page/460.[/efn_note]

Photo by Lt. Col. Szymanski, U.S. Army.

Nowy Świat Editorial

During World War II, some Polish-American newspapers and several members of Congress attempted to expose the Office of War Information’s deceptive foreign and domestic media outreach and to set the record straight.[efn_note]See: Cold War Radio Museum, “April 20, 1943 — Congressman Woodruff warns of Soviet propaganda in Voice of America broadcasts,” http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/april-20-1943-congressman-woodruff-warns-of-soviet-propaganda-in-voice-of-america/ ; “Senator Taft’s early warning of Soviet propaganda in WWII Voice of America,” April 2, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/senator-tafts-early-warning-of-soviet-propaganda-in-wwii-voa/ and “U.S. Congressman on Katyn Massacre Coverup at Voice of America,” September 17, 2017, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/u-s-congressman-on-katyn-massacre-coverup-at-voice-of-america/.[/efn_note]

One prominent American leader who secretly complained about pro-communist Voice of America radio broadcasts was Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and later U.S. President General Dwight D. Eisenhower. He accused World War II VOA of “insubordination.”[efn_note]“During World War II the Office of War Information had, on two occasions in foreign broadcasts, opposed actions of President Roosevelt; it ridiculed the temporary arrangement with Admiral Darlan in North Africa and that with Marshal Badoglio in Italy. President Roosevelt took prompt action to stop such insubordination.” See: Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years: Waging Peace 1956-1961 (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1965) 279. Also see: Ted Lipien, “President Eisenhower condemned biased Voice of America officials and reporters,” Cold War Radio Museum, December 5, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/president-eisenhower-condemned-biased-voice-of-america-reporters/.[/efn_note] Another establishment figure who secretly criticized to the White House OWI was President Roosevelt’s close friend and foreign policy advisor Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles.[efn_note]Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles April 6, 1943 memorandum to Marvin H. McIntyre, Secretary to the President with enclosures, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum Website, Box 77, State – Welles, Sumner, 1943-1944; version date 2013, http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/_resources/images/psf/psfb000259.pdf.[/efn_note]

High-level OWI officials, including OWI director Elmer Davis and future U.S. Senator from California Alan Cranston who was then in charge of OWI’s domestic propaganda, took secret and unlawful actions to shut down Polish American media outlets, both newspapers and radio stations which were critical of the Soviet Union and exposed VOA radio broadcasts for repeating disinformation. Some of these efforts at domestic media censorship were successful and others failed.[efn_note]The bipartisan Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, also known as the Madden Committee, said in its final report issued in December 1952: “In submitting this final report to the House of Representatives, this committee has come to the conclusion that in those fateful days nearing the end of the Second World War there unfortunately existed in high governmental and military circles a strange psychosis that military necessity required the sacrifice of loyal allies and our own principles in order to keep Soviet Russia from making a separate peace with the Nazis.” The committee added: “For reasons less clear to this committee, this psychosis continued even after the conclusion of the war. Most of the witnesses testified that had they known then what they now know about Soviet Russia, they probably would not have pursued the course they did. It is undoubtedly true that hindsight is much easier to follow than foresight, but it is equally true that much of the material which this committee unearthed was or could have been available to those responsible for our foreign policy as early as 1942.” The Madden Committee also said in its final report in 1952: “This committee believes that if the Voice of America is to justify its existence, it must utilize material made available more forcefully and effectively.” A major change in VOA programs occurred, with much more reporting being done on the investigation into the Katyń massacre and other Soviet atrocities, but later some of the censorship returned. Radio Free Europe (RFE), also funded and indirectly managed by the U.S., never resorted to such censorship, and provided full coverage of all communist human rights abuses. See: Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, The Katyn Forest Massacre: Final Report (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), 10-12. The report is posted on the National Archives website: https://archive.org/details/KatynForestMassacreFinalReport.[/efn_note]

A Polish-American newspaper Nowy Świat (“New World”), a target of an illegal and ultimately unsuccessful Office of War Information attempt to shut it down, published an editorial on January 4, 1944 which was discussed in a previously classified OWI memorandum. Some members of Congress often quoted from Polish-American media to expose Soviet atrocities and and misleading pro-Soviet propaganda from the Roosevelt administration.

We are submitting this OWI article to our Polish readers as an example of the service Polish press receives from the Office of War Information. The observations of the American soldier on duty at Santa Anita, where Polish refugees en route to Mexico were housed, excited all. That is true. But the OWI purposely omitted the explanation and has not added that these tragic children came from Russia, that they forgot to smile there, that they learned there of hunger and want, that they there learned of fear. Freedom of fear… Polish children did not know of that freedom upon their arrival to America. But it also appears that neither does the OWI know of this freedom. It is afraid to admit that these children reached America from Russia. It speaks of a four-year journey, which they completed fleeing Hitler.[efn_note]Paul Sturman, “Nowy Swiat and OWI releases,” Executive Office of the President, Office for Emergency Management Office Memorandum, January 4, 1944. Declassified. U.S. National Archives.[/efn_note]

A careless reader may gain the impression that with the beginning of the war, some group of Poles started on their journey to America, and after four years, had reached this continent. Not a word about the fact that together with millions of Polish citizens this group of refugees which has now reached Mexico was deported from Poland by the Soviets and was kept by Russia under the most miserable conditions. But seeing the obvious is not a virtue with the OWI. That Office is not evidently free from fear. (Fear) before whom?[efn_note]Paul Sturman, “Nowy Swiat and OWI releases.”[/efn_note]

Voice of America Communists

Polish political prisoners in the Soviet Union, slave laborers and women and children refugees had no chance of getting objective reporting about their plight from the U.S. office of War Information and Voice of America radio broadcasts. Some of the individuals put in charge in 1942 of OWI and VOA media programs were notorious foreign and American fellow travelers and communists, many of them hired by the man later described as the first VOA director. His name was John Houseman who later became an Oscar-winning actor. Among his staffers were a future member of Communist Party USA Howard Fast[efn_note]Fast, Howard. Being Red. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990.[/efn_note], Polish communist Stefan Arski, aka Artur Salman, and head of VOA Czechoslovak desk Adolf Hofmeister who later served as a diplomat for the communist regime in Prague. These VOA managers and journalists were even more committed to disinformation and censorship in support of Stalin than some of FDR’s U.S. State Department and War Department officials.[efn_note]Warnings about communist influence at VOA were given to the Roosevelt White House in 1943 by FDR’s personal friend and foreign policy advisor, Under Secretary of State Sumner Wells, who helped to arrange for the transport of a group of Polish children refugees to Mexico, and by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. See: Ted Lipien, “First VOA Director was a pro-Soviet Communist sympathizer, State Dept. warned FDR White House,” Cold War Radio Museum, May 5, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/state-department-warned-fdr-white-house-first-voice-of-america-director-was-hiring-communists/ and “President Eisenhower condemned biased Voice of America officials and reporters,” Cold War Radio Museum, December 5, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/president-eisenhower-condemned-biased-voice-of-america-reporters/.[/efn_note] At one time in 1943 even the Roosevelt White House intervened to curb the excessive pro-Soviet zeal of OWI broadcasters, but it was not nearly enough to allow the true story of Polish refugees to emerge. President Roosevelt and the State Department did not want it to be told. Honest journalism was not even remotely possible in a war emergency and in light of FDR’s almost unlimited willingness to appease Stalin as an indispensable war ally. The State Department merely warned OWI and VOA to be careful in accepting all Soviet propaganda on Katyń at face value. [efn_note]Ted Lipien, “First VOA Director was a pro-Soviet Communist sympathizer, State Dept. warned FDR White House,” (May 5, 2018), http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/state-department-warned-fdr-white-house-first-voice-of-america-director-was-hiring-communists/.[/efn_note]

In an effort to confuse Americans and foreign audiences, U.S. propagandists tried to present Polish refugees in Iran as fleeing from the German Nazis. There were indeed at that time many Jewish, Polish and other refugees trying to escape from the German Nazis and regimes collaborating with Hitler, but Polish refugees who came to Iran were escaping to safety not from the Nazis but from Germany’s former ally, the Soviet Union, after enduring unimaginable suffering under Soviet imprisonment. While estimates vary slightly, about 43,000 refugees who came to Iran from Russia in 1942 were civilians; 20,000 were children. The numbers of children vary in different documents depending on which age groups are included. The rest were soldiers who formed the Polish Army under the command of General Władysław Anders, himself a former POW in the Soviet Union, one of the few high-ranking Polish officers who were not secretly executed on Stalin’s orders in 1940.

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Photo Credits

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo

U.S. Government propaganda photo, 1943.
  • Title: Teheran, Iran. Little Polish girl in a big sheepskin coat who is at an evacuation camp operated by the Red Cross
  • Creator(s): Parrino, Nick, photographer, Office of War Information (OWI)
  • Date Created/Published: 1943.
  • LINK

Photo by Lt. Col. Henry I. Szymanski, U.S. Army

Photo by Lt. Col. Szymanski, U.S. Army.
  • Twelve-year-old boy, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942
  • Photos by: Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, U.S. Army
  • Source: The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre; Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia; Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.); March 13 and 14, 1952 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), pp. 459-461.
    Link

Notes

U.

U.S. Army officer on Polish children in Russian captivity

By Ted Lipien

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Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski was a U.S. Army Liaison Officer to the Polish Army created under the command of General Władysław Anders during the Second World War II which fought the Germans alongside American and British troops in North Africa and Italy. On November 22, 1942, Lt. Col. Szymanski sent a report on Polish-Russian relations to the Military Intelligence Division, War Department General Staff (G-2), in Washington, DC., in which he discussed Polish-Soviet relations. Henry Ignatius Szymanski was a non-graduating member of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Class of 1919. He came from a Polish American family and was a fluent Polish speaker. He retired as a U.S. Army Colonel. He was awarded the Legion of Merit for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States with the American Military Mission to Egypt from 1942 to 1943. He retired as a U.S. Army Colonel.[efn_note]The Hall of Valor Project, Henry Ignatius Szymanski, https://valor.militarytimes.com/hero/96891[/efn_note]

In August 1942, Lt. Col. Szymanski saw and took photos of many starved and dying Polish refugees, including children, who had been evacuated with the Anders Army from Soviet Russia to Iran. In his lengthy report, which was classified as secret and not published until 1952, he made several observations about the deplorable condition of former Polish prisoners and slave laborers who had managed to escape from the Soviet Union.

The children had no chance. It is estimated that 50% have already died from malnutrition. The other 50% will die unless evacuated to a land where American help can reach them. A visit to any of the hospitals in Teheran will testify to this statement. They are filled with children and adults who would be better off not to have survived the ordeal.[efn_note] Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia; Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.), March 13 and 14, 1952, The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), 455.[/efn_note]

To protect Stalin and the anti-Germany military alliance with Moscow, pro-Soviet propagandists in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration did not publish photos of Polish children who were starved, ill and near death when they were evacuated from Soviet Russia to Iran in 1942. Likewise, OWI’s Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts did not mention Soviet executions of Polish prisoners of war and mistreatment of Polish deportees, including women and children, in the Soviet Gulag camps and collective farms, to which they had been sent as slave laborers. VOA’s radio programs for foreign audiences and a broadcast by OWI Director Elmer Davis targeting Americans spread instead Soviet propaganda lies that mass executions of Polish prisoners in Soviet Russia carried out by the NKVD secret police in 1940, known collectively as the Katyń Forest massacre, were carried out by the Germans after they had occupied the area in 1941. Americans and foreigners alike were misled by Roosevelt administration’s propaganda about Stalin and the Soviet regime — a point highlighted in bipartisan criticism after the war. 

The bipartisan Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, also known as the Madden Committee, strongly implied that Roosevelt administration officials hid, suppressed and censored information about Soviet atrocities. The committee blamed it in 1952 on “a strange psychosis that military necessity required the sacrifice of loyal allies and our own principles in order to keep Soviet Russia from making a separate peace with the Nazis.” The committee pointed out that “this psychosis continued even after the conclusion of the war.”

In a warning about a corrupting effect of foreign and domestic propaganda combined with censorship, the Madden Committee noted that “most of the witnesses testified that had they known then what they now know about Soviet Russia, they probably would not have pursued the course they did.”[efn_note]The bipartisan Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, also known as the Madden Committee, said in its final report issued in December 1952: “In submitting this final report to the House of Representatives, this committee has come to the conclusion that in those fateful days nearing the end of the Second World War there unfortunately existed in high governmental and military circles a strange psychosis that military necessity required the sacrifice of loyal allies and our own principles in order to keep Soviet Russia from making a separate peace with the Nazis.” The committee added: “For reasons less clear to this committee, this psychosis continued even after the conclusion of the war. Most of the witnesses testified that had they known then what they now know about Soviet Russia, they probably would not have pursued the course they did. It is undoubtedly true that hindsight is much easier to follow than foresight, but it is equally true that much of the material which this committee unearthed was or could have been available to those responsible for our foreign policy as early as 1942.” ”See: Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, The Katyn Forest Massacre: Final Report (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), 10-11. The report is posted on the National Archives website: https://archive.org/details/KatynForestMassacreFinalReport.[/efn_note]

U.S. Government institutions responsible for false propaganda about Polish and other deportees in the Soviet Union, the Katyń lie, and misleading information about wartime refugees from Russia never admitted that they had done anything wrong and have insisted through even the most recent statements of their officials that the Voice of America was created during the Second World War to broadcast only truthful news. Radio Free Europe, also funded by U.S. tax dollars, however, never lied about Katyń or censored information about the plight of Polish and other prisoners in the Soviet Gulag. During most of the Cold War, especially in later years, VOA Polish Service broadcasters also played a positive role of bringing uncensored news and offering moral support to the victims of communism.

Americans had been lied to and were misled by Soviet propaganda being served to them by their own propaganda agency run by strongly pro-Soviet Roosevelt administration officials. But not all Americans were so devious or naive. Many, including members of Congress and some independent journalists, saw through the coordinated propaganda effort of Soviet and U.S. governments and tried to expose it.

The United States eventually took steps to oppose Soviet post-war expansion and to counter Soviet disinformation during the Cold War. It took several more decades before these efforts helped to restore freedom and democracy in East Central Europe.

Even in the later U.S.-led process of reversing the effects of wartime collusion to protect Stalin and to help him establish communist regimes in East-Central Europe, the story of the Polish wartime refugees who had fled from Russia and those who had already died in Soviet captivity has never truly emerged as a much needed warning about the evils of communism, the initial betrayal of faithful allies, and the insidious dangers of propaganda.[efn_note]The 1948 Smith-Mundt Act passed by the U.S. Congress significantly restricted use of tax dollars to target Americans with news and political commentary produced by the U.S. government. Some of these restrictions were later lifted. The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, which was contained within the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (section 1078 (a)) and signed by President Obama, amended the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act and subsequent legislation, allowing for materials produced by the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which included the Voice America, to be made more easily available within the United States. The Broadcasting Board of Governors is now called the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) In its media functions, it is a successor agency to the wartime Office of War Information.[/efn_note]

Photos by Lt. Col. Henry I. Szymanski, U.S. Army

  • Twelve-year-old boy, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942
  • Six-year-old boy, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942
  • Three sisters, ages 7, 8, and 9, Polish evacuees from Russia, August 1942
  • Ten-year-old-girl, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942
  • Photos by: Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, U.S. Army
  • Source: The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre; Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia; Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.); March 13 and 14, 1952 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), pp. 459-461.
  • Link

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Notes