R.

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

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

Olga Tokarczuk – Nobel Lecture

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

Literature Laureate Olga Tokarczuk
Photo: Clément Morin

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

Photo by Dušan Tatomirović

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

News and literature in the age of the Internet

By Ted Lipien

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olga Tokarczuk – Nobel Lecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olga Tokarczuk Nobel Lecture: The Tender Narrator

H.

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

By TED LIPIEN

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

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

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

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

A Latin Lover and Broadway Actor

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

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

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

Read more

Notes:

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

Stefan Korboński with Tadeusz Lipień in 1976

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

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

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

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

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

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

READ in Wikipedia

References

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

Vice President George H.W. Bush interviewed for Voice of America by Ted Lipien and Wayne Corey in 1987

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum
 

Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service director Ted Lipien and VOA English Service correspondent Wayne Corey interviewed the then Vice President George H.W. Bush on September 24, 1987 in his office in Washington shortly before his trip to Italy to see Pope John Paul II and to Poland to confer with government and opposition leaders. The faltering government of General Jaruzelski agreed to a visit by the U.S. Vice President, during which he urged Jaruzelski to come to terms with Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa. Subsequent negotiations between the regime and the opposition resulted in a peaceful transition to democracy in Poland.

Vice President Bush also met with Polish Catholic bishops and visited the grave of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko who had been murdered by officers of the communist secret police because of his support for the Solidarity independent trade union and pro-democracy opposition movement in Poland. The Vice President met at the gravesite with the parents of the slain priest.
 
 

 
 
Ted Lipien traveled with Vice President Bush to Poland and filed reports in English and in Polish for the Voice of America.
 
 

 
 

Avoiding being monitored by the secret police, Lipien went by train to Gdańsk to conduct an interview with Lech Wałesa.
 
 

 
 
Vice President Bush’s visit to Poland in 1987 on behalf of President Ronald Reagan came shortly before the fall of communism and the end of Soviet domination.

Both the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe contributed to supporting democratic opposition in Poland with uncensored information and, primarily in the case of Radio Free Europe, commentary on human rights violations and other problems of communism. In later years, especially during the Reagan administration, the Voice of America also started to report extensively on domestic developments in Poland and regularly broadcast telephone interviews with Polish opposition leaders.

Former President George H.W. Bush died in Houston, Texas on November 30, 2018 at age 94.
 
 

Highlights of Vice President George H.W. Bush 1987 Interview with Voice of America

Vice President George H.W. Bush: I’m very much looking forward to this visit. It gives me the opportunity to do two things: consult with the Western European leaders the alliance, NATO, discuss the recent developments in arms control, take a look at the future as well, in secondly to go to Poland.

There’s great affection from the American people for the people of Poland.

And this visit, the highest level visit some 10 years, will give the United States that America through me an opportunity to express our feelings about the Polish people, the heroism of the Polish people, to deal openly with the government and hopefully to move forward the relationship that has great potential in the future.

Wayne Corey, VOA: Poland will be the main focus of your trip. Why are you going to Poland now and is there anything specific you hope to accomplish in terms of agreements?

Vice President George H.W. Bush: Well, there are one or two specific things that frankly I am not at liberty to speak about here that I do want to talk to General Jaruzelski about. It is a forward step in our policy and differentiation.

There is an affection in the United States for the people of Poland. It’s important that that affection be expressed through high-level visits from time to time. We have differences on the system but we want to narrow those differences as best we can.

I’ll be meeting with the leaders of Solidarność and our country stands for free unions and human rights. And I’ll have of opportunity to discuss these along the way that both the government and other others, Church people. So, it’ s visit of showing our belief and affection for the people.

Ted Lipien, VOA Polish Service: What specific steps can the United States government take to help Poland economically and would such help depend on the human rights situation and economic reform?

Vice President George H.W. Bush: Well again, I won’t go into the details on the specific steps, but clearly our policy is looking for changes in human rights, changes in respect for institutions and individuals. Some progress has been made, but we, the American people, believe firmly that more changes must take place, and that of course is the position of the (U.S.) government.

We have been helpful, things have improved, but I’ll be talking about some specifics, may be things we can do to make the lot of the Polish people better, but it needs, it will need cooperation from the government.

Ted Lipien, VOA Polish Service:Is there a consensus between the Administration and the Congress on U.S. policy toward Poland and generally toward Eastern Europe?

Vice President George H.W. Bush: Generally, there is. As I mentioned, there’s a policy of differentiation. We recognize realities, but we want to encourage people to to come forward on human rights. We want to encourage more trade. We want to encourage more flexibility. These are sovereign countries. They should be as flexible as possible, move at their own pace as much as possible. So, the policy that’s referred to as a policy of differentiation does have the support, I think, of the Congress and of our government.

Lastly, I think we’re together with Congress on the approaches we should be taking to Poland, and part of that is because there are so many Polish Americans, so many people in our country who have this love and affection for the homeland. Poland has almost a unique standing in the government, with our government, and with the Congress itself. So, I think we’re together on the policy. There are some difference. Some people are harder-line on one point, softer-line on another, but basically our policy of trying to help with the economy, our policy on human rights has broad support.

Ted Lipien, VOA Polish Service:If I may go back to Poland. President Reagan has shown great personal interest in the situation in Poland. Did you have a chance to discuss this trip with him?

Vice President George H.W. Bush: Yes. As a matter of fact, I’ve just finished lunch with him, just discussed it. You know, it’s my fervent hope that President Reagan could go to Poland some day because, I tell you, he would get a very warm reception from the Polish people. Whether that’s possible or not, I don’t know, but I’m very glad to be going myself as the second highest official in the U.S. government.

Ted Lipien, VOA Polish Service: Do you often have an opportunity to discuss the policy toward Poland with the Polish American leaders?

Vice President George H.W. Bush: I had some opportunity to do that. I visited the Polish-American national Congress out there. We had a visit from its President Al Mazewski here just the other day. I’ve stayed in touch with Polish sentiments through various people, including one of our top people at the State Department, former colleague in Congress Ed Derwinski. I’ve talked to Danny Rostenkowski, the Democratic leader in the Congress about his trip to Poland, to the (Poznan) Fair. So, I’ve tried to stay in touch with the heartbeat of Polish-Americans because we should be responsive to their concerns as we formulate our policy with Poland.

And I think it sums up that most Polish Americans want to help the Polish people but have some concerns about the regime and hope that a visit like this might give us an opportunity to forcefully present to the regime in Poland the concerns of the American Polish community. And I plan to do that and to be frank about it. And I think I’ll have an opportunity to do just that.

Also, the Church. As you deal with Polish Americans you realize over and over again the importance of faith, of the Church itself in Poland. And I go to Poland looking forward to seeing Cardinal Glemp and hopefully other leaders in the Church.

Ted Lipien, VOA Polish Service:Will you also meet with Lech Walesa?

Vice President George H.W. Bush:I think it’s scheduled to do that. And I think it is very important that I do that. And it’s more than symbolism. We respect him as an individual for his courage. That’s been stated over again. But we also want to see Poland lighten up, if they can, on the on the trade union movement. And I think it’s important that Polish leaders know from high-level in this Administration how strongly we feel about individual rights, human rights, the opportunity for individuals to get ahead. And when they are able to make some movement in terms of whether it’s more privatization on farming or whatever it is, and we say hey, that’s good, we like to see more of that.

And they don’t have to do it our way, but to get the kind of support from the United States that many Americans would like to see go to the Polish people, there has to be some forward movement. And, that’s all I’ll say. They can do what they want, but we’re the United States and here are our standards and here is where we would like to see progress.

END OF INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

 
 

In 1987, the U.S. Department of State upgraded the status of the Consulate in Krakow, designating it as a Consulate General. On September 29, 1987, visiting U.S. Vice President George H.W. Bush led a designation ceremony and spoke about the strength of U.S.-Polish ties, especially ties with Southern Poland. He also spoke about his visit earlier that day to the Nazi Concentration Camp at Auschwitz. Vice President Bush’s visit to Auschwitz, his visit to Krakow, designation of the Consulate General, and visit to the Polish-American Children’s Hospital in Krakow were major public diplomacy events while Poland still had a communist government.

Vice President George H.W. Bush: “It is my great pleasure to be in this beautiful city today, to participate in this ceremony, which raises our mission here to the Consulate General level.
 
This mission symbolizes American presence, not just in Krakow, but in all southern Poland which is the ancestral home of many millions of Americans of Polish descent.
 
This city has long played a central role in the history of Poland and the Polish people. And when one sees the magnificent architecture with which the Polish kings embellished the city, it’s easy to recall that Krakow was once the capital of Poland. In her monuments and art, she remains a royal city.
 
But the contrast — these achievements and culture, civilization — stand in stark contrast to the barbarism evidenced by the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz which we visited this morning.
 
The brutal and tragic horrors of Auschwitz serve as grim reminder of man’s capacity for evil.
 
The denial of human rights, the denial of human dignity leads ultimately to this: the attempted extermination of an entire people.
 
As Eli Wiesel said to me last week just before I left on my trip, not all the victims were Jews, but all the Jews were victims.
 
At the end of this Nazi slaughter, six million Jews were dead. Thank God it didn’t succeed completely.
 
Thank God courageous Poles, risking the lives of themselves and their families, sheltered tens of thousands of Jews from their Nazi enemies. Many of them paid the ultimate price for their courage and humanity.
 
Hundreds of thousands of Christians met their ends in the awful death camps we paid solemn witness to this morning.
 
Today we saw the cell of Father Maximilian Kolbe who sacrificed his life for that of a fellow prisoner and was canonized by the Catholic Church.
 
Let’s all pledge today our eternal vigilance that crimes of this magnitude will happen never again, for it’s been written that in remembrance lies the secret of redemption.
 
On this trip to your country, Mr. President (Krakow’s mayor) we’ve sought to strengthen the long and cordial ties between the Polish and American people, ties that date to the very birth of the United States.
 
At the time of the American Revolution, Polish patriots crossed the dangerous ocean to offer their assistance to a people struggling to free themselves from foreign domination.”

In 1987, Poland’s communist regime organized a referendum on political and economic reforms. The referendum was held on November 29, 1987. Around a third of eligible voters did not participate, defying the regime. It was the first time that Communist authorities in Eastern Europe had lost a vote.

Ted Lipien covered the referendum for the Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service. After the vote, he took a train from Warsaw to Gdańsk and interviewed Wałęsa who by then had been already freed by the communist authorities from martial law detention but was still under strict police surveillance. The interview was recorded at the parish house of Wałęsa’s church in Gdańsk. The recording was sent by phone to Washington and broadcast the next day to Poland.

Link to audio.

In the 1987 interview, Wałęsa did not attach much importance to the just concluded referendum, which — as he pointed out — was not organized according to basic democratic principles. For one thing, as he pointed out, Solidarity and other oppositions groups in Poland were not consulted on the referendum and had no access to domestic media prior to the vote.

In the interview, Wałęsa said that Solidarity and the government have no choice but to reach an agreement.

He strongly objected, however, to the regime’s reluctance to enter into a real dialogue. In answering a question under what conditions Solidarity would participate in talks with the Communist regime, Wałęsa answered:

“If the authorities invent terms such as ‘socialist pluralism’, ‘socialist economy’, ‘socialist law’ ‘socialist safety net’, then there is nothing to talk about. We can say that the law is good or bad, the economy works well or not, but not to invent absurdities.”

“We propose to the authorities political pluralism, so that we would not find out after 40 years what we are learning today: that Stalin was a murderer, that Khrushchev was an ignorant man who did not use the opportunity to really show himself, that Brezhnev destroyed chances and opportunities and cut the legs under socialism. We need political pluralism so that such things would not happen and we would not be ruled by murderers and others.”

“The condition is to say that there is only one pluralism and that there is no [such thing as] socialist pluralism. If we will talk in these terms, then there are no conditions. We are ready to talk.”

Asked about an upcoming meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Wałęsa expressed hope that during these talks a point would be made that without real reforms, Poland and the rest of the Soviet block would continue to represent a danger to the rest of the world due to instability and risk of unpredictable events and potential violence.

Asked about the visit to Poland by Vice President George H.W. Bush a few weeks earlier, Wałęsa said:

“I’m personally very pleased that I had a chance to get to know such an outstanding representative of the American people, and now I know that the United States is in such an excellent position because it has such outstanding leaders. I hope that he will lead after the next elections.”

Wałęsa in effect endorsed George H.W. Bush for his planned presidential run in 1988. Asked whether he would like to travel to the United States, Wałęsa said that like everybody else he would like to see America but that current political conditions in Poland prevent him from making a trip.

Wałęsa made it to the United States in 1989. He was the first recipient of the Liberty Medal, on 4 July 1989 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and that same year received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is the only Pole to have addressed a joint meeting of the United States Congress (15 November 1989).

“There’s great affection from the American people for the people of Poland.” – Vice President George H.W. Bush, September 24, 1987

 

 
 

V.

Voice of America Polish Service Broadcaster Irene Broni Resisted Nazis and Communists

By Ted Lipien

Voice of America Polish Service Program “All About America” (Ameryka w Przekroju), July 9, 1983

Irena Radwańska Broni: Returning to the U.S. citizenship oath ceremony at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson would certainly approve of using his home for this purpose. … Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Born in other countries, yet believing you could be happy in this, our laws acknowledge, as they should do, your right to join us in our society, ….” 1

Irene Broni (Irena Radwańska), who died two years ago on July 22, 2016, was one of the most versatile and talented former Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service radio broadcasters. She helped to transform the Voice of America from being a colluding voice for Stalin’s propaganda during World War II to a genuine and trusted voice for freedom during the Cold War. As a teenager, she fought and was wounded in the first days of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis, which the then Voice of America in the United States Office of War Information (OWI), dominated by pro-Soviet sympathizers, almost completely ignored to comply with Stalin’s wishes who wanted to see the uprising fail and the Polish anti-communist underground army destroyed. Czesław Straszewicz, a Polish journalist based in London during the war, wrote in the 1950s about the harsh negative impact of VOA’s pro-Kremlin wartime broadcasts on the audience in Nazi-occupied Poland and among the free Poles abroad.

“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.” 2

After being sent to a forced labor camp in Nazi Germany following the collapse of the uprising, Irena later found her way to the Polish Army of General Władysław Anders which was fighting alongside American, British and other allied troops against the Germans in Italy. Since she was still a minor, the Polish Army sent her to a school in the British Palestine.

After the war, like many Poles in the West who saw their country betrayed by U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at wartime conferences with Stalin at Tehran and Yalta, Irena did not return to communist-ruled, Soviet-dominated Poland. She finished her education at a music conservatory in London and later worked as a pianist with Polish emigre artists. Later during the Cold War, she spent eight years as a host of various music and history programs at the American-funded Radio Free Europe (RFE) in Munich, West Germany.

After emigrating to the United States and working several years as a pianist, Irene Broni, whose radio name at VOA was Irena Radwańska, joined in 1977 the Voice of America Polish Service team which was working to establish VOA’s reputation in Poland as a pro-freedom American radio broadcaster. This was achieved thanks to such great journalists as Zofia Korbońska, another hero of the Warsaw Uprising, Irena Radwańska and many others who had joined the VOA Polish Service after the war and replaced its former pro-Soviet staff.

During World War II, the Voice of America was a major conduit for Soviet propaganda. Its first director, John Houseman, was forced to resign in 1943 after high-level officials in the State Department secretly accused him to the FDR White House of hiring Communists. But some of Houseman’s successors at VOA and some of the early Polish Service broadcasters continued to follow the Soviet line for the rest of the war by minimizing reporting on the Polish Government in Exile in London, its armed forces fighting the Germans, and the Warsaw Uprising. As hearings before a bipartisan committee of the House of Representatives revealed in 1952, some of these early VOA Polish Service broadcasters returned to Poland after the war to work as anti-American propagandists for the communist regime.

The anti-Nazi Polish armed revolt in August 1944 was launched by the underground resistance movement Armia Krajowa (Home Army), which Irena joined despite her young age. During that time, VOA largely ignored anti-Nazi Poles like her because they refused to support Soviet rule in Poland. But in later years, thanks to Irena and her older VOA colleagues, some of whom also had fought the Nazis, survived the Warsaw Uprising and worked earlier at Radio Free Europe, the Voice of America Polish Service was slowly transforming itself into an uncensored voice of freedom from Washington. This change took decades to complete and required VOA Polish Service to protest from time to time against the upper management’s attempts to censor the truth about the Katyn massacre of thousands of Polish officers by the Soviet NKVD secret police and to resist occasional management directives to downplay human rights reporting. The Voice of America eventually became during President Ronald Reagan’s administration nearly as popular in communist-ruled Poland as the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe, which remained the most listened to and the most influential Western radio station broadcasting in Polish.

In 1982, Irene Broni was one of the Polish Service’s recipients of the Superior Honor Award “For exceptional service, professionalism, and devotion to duty in the preparation of Voice of America broadcasts to the people of Poland” during the martial which was imposed on December 13, 1981 by General Wojciech Jaruzelski and his pro-Soviet communist regime against the Solidarity labor union movement lead by Lech Wałęsa, future Nobel Peace Prize winner and future President of independent Poland. The award ceremony coincided with the visit to the Voice of America by President Ronald Reagan on February 24, 1982 to mark the 40th anniversary of VOA’s founding in 1942. A Superior Honor Award was also given in 1982 to VOA English News Vienna correspondent David Lent for “covering the events in Poland in 1981, culminating in the imposition of martial law in December.”

Irene Broni later received two VOA Excellence in Programming Awards for her popular Saturday radio show about life in the United States, Ameryka w Przekroju, and her special report from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, on the Polish-American observances of the Warsaw Uprising’s 45th anniversary. During that time, VOA broadcasters like Irene Broni who reported on all aspects of life in America adhered strictly to the VOA Charter. They produced programs that were informative, in her case also highly entertaining, and presenting a variety of different opinions on controversial issues. Partisanship in reporting on American politics was meticulously avoided by most foreign language service VOA broadcasters.

With their rich life and professional experience, these Central European journalists also could not be fooled by Soviet propaganda. When faced with inaccuracies in some VOA English reports on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, they were not afraid to make their views known to VOA and United States Information Agency (USIA) officials. The majority of the upper agency management was strongly supportive of VOA’s Polish Service, especially during the Solidarity’s struggle for democracy. Many USIA and VOA managers during the time Irene Broni worked in the Polish Service had spent years abroad as diplomats or journalists, spoke foreign languages and were not permitted along with their immediate family members to do private business in countries ruled by oppressive regimes. Hiring personal acquittances was also not as easy as it has become in later years.

Irene Broni was able to use her outstanding broadcasting talents. History was one of her passions. In 1985 she interviewed several current and former VOA Polish Service journalists who, like her, had led incredibly eventful lives in one of the most difficult periods of the 20th century. Former VOA Polish Service deputy director Zdzisław Dziekoński participated in the Warsaw Uprising for which he was recognized by President Reagan in a White House ceremony. Irene Broni also interviewed anti-Nazi resistance hero Zofia Korbońska who risked her life daily to send coded radio messages from Nazi-occupied Poland to a Polish radio station in Britain. Irene interviewed another Polish Service broadcaster Ryszard Mossin, one of hundreds of thousands of Polish prisoners in Stalin’s Siberian camps who was later a radio reporter with General Anders’ Polish Army in Iraq and Italy, worked for the BBC and Radio Free Europe and ended up with VOA. She also recorded a radio interview with her former husband Feliks Broniecki who was a Polish soldier in the West during World War II, worked at the BBC and Radio Free Europe, and later joined the Voice of America, where he retired as Polish Service director in 1982. Another one of Irene’s interviewees was a pre-World War II Polish journalist Tadeusz Strzetelski. My outstanding deputy Marek Walicki, a Warsaw Uprising survivor and former Radio Free Europe correspondent, recognized and encouraged Irene Broni’s radio hosting and interviewing talents. She was a dynamic radio personality who easily connected with her audience and listeners of various ages. She corresponded by letter with many of them in Poland and even invited one to stay at her home on a visit to the United States. She was a friendly and generous person.

Marek Walicki’s photo (above) from KARTA website shows Irene Broni first on the left in a red and black dress. 1990, Waszyngton, USA. Nowy Rok w redakcji Sekcji Polskiej Głosu Ameryki. [1990, Washington, DC, Voice of America Polish Service New Year party.] Irena Radwańska, Helena Skotowska, Jerzy Rudzki, Marek Krzyżański-Parker, Tadeusz Walendowski, Marek Święcicki (trzeci z prawej) [third from the right], Wojciech Żórniak (z ręką w górze) [with his arm raised], Waldemar Chlebowski (drugi z prawej) [second from the right], Manuela Pinto Da Silva, originally from Portugal, who worked as a producer in the Polish Service. Fot. Marek Walicki, kolekcja Marka Walickiego, zbiory Ośrodka KARTA. Link. 

After her retirement from VOA in 1996, Irene Broni was active in various Polish-American organizations in the Washington, DC area, published a community newsletter, and helped to stage several plays by Polish writers in local theaters and a Polish opera at the Kennedy Center. In 2003, she helped to organize a campaign to send Christmas packages to soldiers from Poland serving in Iraq alongside American troops.

In commenting on the role of the Voice of America during the time when Irene Broni Radwańska was a Radio Free Europe and later Voice of America broadcaster, Lech Wałęsa said in 2002: “It is difficult to imagine what would have happened if it were not for the Voice of America and other sources with the help of which the true information squeezed through, which showed us a different point of view, which said that we are not alone, and that something is happening in our country — because our mass media did not do that.” – Lech Wałęsa, 2002

Link to Lech Wałęsa video interview: Part One and Part Two.

To this day some of the current and former Voice of America officials continue to ignore the most outstanding anti-communist VOA foreign language broadcasters while still praising pro-Soviet sympathizers such as John Houseman who had turned the early VOA into a propaganda mouthpiece for Stalin and tried to help Soviet Russia establish communist regimes in Eastern Europe.

Irene Broni Radwańska was a proud Pole, a proud American and a great Radio Free Europe and Voice of America broadcaster in the noble fight against totalitarian ideologies and their propaganda.

Some of the biographical information about Irene Broni (Irena Radwańska) came from the manuscript on the history of the Voice of America Polish Service written in Poland by Jarosław Jędrzejczak, a former longtime listener to VOA Polish broadcasts.

The photo of the VOA Polish Service staffers showing Marek Walicki, Roma Starczewska Murray, Krystyna Wojtasik, Mirek Kondracki and Jarosław Anders was originally published in the Voice of America promotional calendar for 1990. The image to the left shows a cover of the VOA Polish Service brochure from the early 1990s.

Ted Lipien is a former director of VOA Polish Service and former VOA acting associate director.

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Notes:

  1. Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Hugh White, Esq., May 2, 1801. Irene Broni misspoke saying that Jefferson wrote these words 55 years after the Declaration of Independence; it was 25 years.
  2. 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.
M.

MSZANA DOLNA NA 150-TĄ ROCZNICĘ NIEPODLEGŁOŚCI STANÓW ZJEDNOCZONYCH

Tadeusz Lipień

4-go lipca Ameryka obchodziła Dzień Niepodległości.  Ten szkic ma na celu przypomnienie jak mieszkańcy międzywojennej Rzeczypospolitej obchodzili w 1926 r. w wyjątkowy sposób 150-tą rocznicę podpisania amerykańskiej Deklaracji Niepodległości. Włączyłem do niego także osobiste wspomnienia o moich krewnych i innych mieszkańcach mojej rodzinnej miejscowości Mszany Dolnej, którzy w 1926 r. przesłali specjalne życzenia narodowi amerykańskiemu.

Wojewodztwo Lubelskie (Lublin Province); Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States: Representatives of palatinates and districts, provincial organizations, military institutions, social organizations, and faculty and students of academic institutions; Volume 2
Wojewodztwo Lubelskie (Lublin Province); Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States: Representatives of palatinates and districts, provincial organizations, military institutions, social organizations, and faculty and students of academic institutions; Volume 2; The Library of Congress Collection; 1926

Województwo Lubelskie; Polskie deklaracje szacunku i przyjaźni dla Stanów Zjednoczonych: przedstawiciele województw i okręgów, organizacje prowincjonalne, instytucje wojskowe, organizacje społeczne, wydziały i studenci instytucji akademickich; Tom 2; Kolekcja Biblioteki Kongresowej; 1926 r.

Read in English: “History’s Greatest Fourth of July Birthday Card: A Personal Story of Polish-American Friendship

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H.

History’s Greatest Fourth of July Birthday Card: A Personal Story of Polish-American Friendship

By Ted Lipien

Today, July 4, 2017, America celebrates its Independence Day.  This article is about a unique way in which the citizens of the interwar Polish Republic marked in 1926 the 150th anniversary of the signing of the American Declaration of Independence. I combined it with a personal story about my relatives and other inhabitants of my former hometown of Mszana Dolna who participated in the 1926 4th of July celebrations.

Wojewodztwo Lubelskie (Lublin Province); Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States: Representatives of palatinates and districts, provincial organizations, military institutions, social organizations, and faculty and students of academic institutions; Volume 2
Wojewodztwo Lubelskie (Lublin Province); Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States: Representatives of palatinates and districts, provincial organizations, military institutions, social organizations, and faculty and students of academic institutions; Volume 2; The Library of Congress Collection; 1926

Read in Polish: “MSZANA DOLNA NA 150-TĄ ROCZNICĘ NIEPODLEGŁOŚCI STANÓW ZJEDNOCZONYCH

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W.

Warsaw Uprising Betrayed by Pro-Stalin WWII Voice of America

Warsaw during August 1944  anti-Nazi uprising.
Warsaw during August 1944 anti-Nazi uprising.

August 1, 2019 is the 75 anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Uprising, a 63-day unsuccessful operation by the Polish resistance Home Army (Polish: Armia Krajowa) to liberate Warsaw from Nazi German occupation. About 16,000 Polish fighters were killed and between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish civilians died, mostly from mass executions. After the Home Army capitulation in Warsaw, the Germans expelled from the city the entire civilian population. Thousands of the evacuees were sent to Nazi concentration or labor camps. The city was almost completely destroyed during the fighting and after the uprising in a deliberate German action of blowing up buildings.

But in line with Stalin’s negative view of  of Polish anti-Nazi fighters who were not pro-Soviet Communists, World War II U.S. Voice of America radio broadcasts largely ignored the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, while most Americans and even President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who caved in to nearly all of Stalin’s demands, expressed support for  the Poles’ fight for freedom. VOA’s early news writers, including future Stalin Peace prize winner, American Communist Howard Fast, did not practice journalism in the style of CBS wartime radio reporter Edward R. Murrow. They followed in the footsteps of Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty who, because of his pro-Soviet and pro-communist bias, shamelessly lied about the starvation and death of millions of people in Ukraine and in other parts of the Soviet Union under Stalin’s rule.

Some of Soviet sympathizers and Communists were hired by VOA’s first director John Houseman, a future Hollywood Oscar-winning actor. The U.S. State Department and the U.S. Military Intelligence quietly forced him to resign in 1943 with the approval from the FDR White House, but many of his Communist hires remained until at least 1945. Some stayed on for a few years longer. Some went back to Eastern Europe to work as propagandists and diplomats for Soviet-dominated communist regimes.  

But a different view of early Voice of America radio broadcasts was presented by current VOA director Amanda Bennett in a recent Washington Post op-ed:  “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.’” Bennett insisted that Edward R. Murrow helped to create VOA. Based in London and working for CBS, he had absolutely no role and no influence over wartime VOA dominated by admirers of Stalin and the Soviet Union. Unlike early VOA officials and broadcasters, Murrow was not a journalist to be easily fooled by Soviet propaganda. 1

It took Zofia Korbońska, Irene Broni (Irena Radwańska), Zdzisław Dziekoński, Jan Grużewski, Wacław Bniński and other VOA Polish Service Cold War era broadcasters and journalists who were former Warsaw Uprising fighters many years to undo the damage done by Soviet agents and sympathizers who had taken control of U.S. international broadcasting during World War II. Another VOA Polish Service broadcaster, my deputy Marek Walicki, witnessed the Warsaw Uprising as a young boy. Eventually, with the help of these journalists, VOA was perceived in Poland as a symbol of America’s commitment to freedom and democracy, but it required a change of staff, a change of management and a new vision for the organization that previously had betrayed American values.

The 1944 Warsaw Uprising was doomed because Stalin halted the Red Army offensive to allow the Germans to kill and crush anti-Communist Poles. As a result of concessions made by Roosevelt to Stalin  and the presence on the ground of Red Army troops Poland fell under Soviet domination and communist oppression for nearly five more decades. The early Voice of America did not only betray Warsaw Uprising fighters and Poland, it betrayed more than 80 million people in all the nations which fell under Soviet rule.

During the Cold War, the Voice America eventually redeemed itself and broadcast truthful news behind the Iron Curtain. President Ronald Reagan paid tribute to former anti-Nazi Warsaw Uprising fighters, including those who later worked in the VOA Polish Service. During World War II, however, VOA Polish radio broadcasts prepared by admirers of Stalin and Communism, were filled with Soviet propaganda and hostile toward those who did not want to accept Stalin’s rule. They even largely ignored the Holocaust because Soviet propaganda, which they promoted, focused on the suffering and sacrifices of Soviet soldiers and civilians rather than the plight of  Jews or other groups and nationalities. Some of the early OWI journalists, including Stefan Arski,  a.k.a. Artur Salman, and Adolf Hofmeister, went to work for communist regimes in East-Central Europe. Before they left, these Soviet sympathizers and agents of influence made the life of a few honest VOA journalists extremely difficult. A VOA Polish Service broadcaster Konstanty Broel Plater resigned in 1944 rather than be forced to read Stalin’s propaganda lies to German-occupied Poland. Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, who was one of the most liberal members of President Roosevelt’s cabinet, in 1943 sent a secret memo to the White House with a warning that pro-Soviet fellow travelers and Communists employed in the Office of War Information have shown “bitter hostility” even toward “a considerable number of officials in the United States Government who are deemed inconvenient.” 2

This article, originally written in 2015, was updated for the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.

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Notes:

  1. Amanda Bennett, Voice of America Director,  “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.
  2. 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. State – Welles, Sumner, 1943-1944, From Collection: FDR-FDRPSF Departmental Correspondence, Series: Departmental Correspondence, 1933 – 1945 Collection: President’s Secretary’s File (Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration), 1933 – 1945, National Archives Identifier: 16619284.
W.

WWII Voice of America aired Stalin propaganda to cover up his role in Katyn massacre

WWII Voice of America aired Stalin propaganda to cover up his role in Katyn massacre

From deliberate pro-Stalin WWII propaganda to careless “pro-Puntin bias” — Avoiding propaganda pitfalls at Voice of America

By Ted Lipien

Official documents declassified and released by the National Archives since 2012 show that during World War II and for years afterwards, the U.S. Government-run Voice of America external radio station broadcast Soviet propaganda and disinformation to Poland and to other countries throughout the world with the intention of covering up Stalin’s crimes. This was done primarily in the interest of supporting immediate U.S. military and foreign policy wartime goals set by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and other high-ranking U.S. officials. It was a far cry from the promise enunciated in what was later presented as VOA’s first broadcast on February 25, 1942 or about that time. The Voice of America did not adopt its full official name until a few years later but it was the same broadcasting organization, first within the Office of War Information (OWI) and after 1945 within the U.S. State Department (VOA staff was reduced in 1945, but many former OWI broadcasters continued to be employed by the State Department. Sometime in early 1942, a broadcaster announced in the first German U.S. shortwave radio broadcast to Germany: “The news may be good. The news may be bad. But we shall tell you the truth.”

WWII diplomatic dispatches and other accounts prove beyond any doubt that following the wishes of the Roosevelt White House, its own parent agency, the Office of War Information–but largely on their own initiative and through the work of some of its staffers who later joined communist regimes in Eastern Europe–the Voice of America, although it was not yet its official name at the time, was guilty of hiding, censoring, distorting and minimizing news about Stalin’s order to kill Polish military officers and other POWs, estimated to number over 20,000, in in what became known as the 1940 Katyń Forest Massacre near Smolensk and at other locations in the Soviet Union.

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Jerzy Popiełuszko – Vice President George H.W. Bush Visits Slain Priest’s Grave, Poland 1987

During his visit to Poland in September 1987, U.S. Vice President George H.W. Bush took part in a wreath-laying ceremony for Father Jerzy Popieluszko at the St. Stanislaw Kostka Church in Warsaw (September 28, 1987). The visit was covered by the Polish Service of the Voice of America (VOA). Its radio broadcasts were heard by over 70% of the population in Poland. VOA Polish Service director Tadeusz (Ted) Lipien reported on the visit from Warsaw. His recordings and photos were used for this video.

Recordings also included interviews with Zbigniew Bujak, Bronislaw Geremek and Jacek Kuron (not in this video) who later became members of Parliament and government in post-communist Poland. They discussed their earlier meeting with Vice President Bush. Ted Lipien also recorded separate interviews with George H.W. Bush and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, as well as some Polish communist regime officials and a number of Polish civil society leaders, Catholic priests and ordinary Poles. Some reports from Poland, including interviews with Lech Walesa and Vice President Bush, were used by VOA worldwide English service.