R.

Russian propaganda at WWII Voice of America

Russian propaganda influence in the United States is not new.

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

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

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

Russian propaganda influence in the United States is not new.


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

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

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

G.

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

By Ted Lipien for Cold War Radio Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Gerald Sorin’s biography of Howard Fast:

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

Voice of America? – Why The Question Mark?

In 1948, Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate charged that Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts contained “baloney,” “lies,” “insults,” “drivel,” “nonsense and falsehoods,” amounting to “useless expenditures” and “a downright tragedy.”

In 1948, U.S. senators called VOA programs “ridiculous,” “unjustified” and “deplorable.” Liberal, moderate, and conservative lawmakers, some of whom even accused the Voice of America of “slander” and “libel” in how several U.S. states were described in radio programs acquired from NBC under a government contract, did not seek to de-fund and close down VOA but wanted to make it more effective in presenting America to the world and in countering propaganda from Soviet Russia. Their criticism eventually led to partial personnel and programming reforms in the early 1950s. In 2019, history seems to be repeating itself, with similar problems being reported at the Voice of America as the United States tries to respond to propaganda from Putin’s Russia, communist China, theocratic Iran and other nations under authoritarian rule. Today, there is little interest in the U.S. Congress and no obvious signs of management reforms, while some of the problems seem now more difficult to solve than those besetting the broadcaster in 1948.

Read more
B.

Broker for the first Western hotel in Moscow was a former U.S. propaganda agency employee

In July 1979 an American businessman and former journalist David Harold Karr who had arranged the building of the first Western hotel in Moscow was found dead under reportedly suspicious circumstances in Paris, France.

Karr’s new biography, The Millionaire Was a Soviet Mole: The Twisted Life of David Karr, by Harvey Klehr, expected to be published in July 2019, will likely provide many new details about his tumultuous life, including his work during World War II as a U.S. government censor and propagandist in the same agency that produced anti-Hitler and pro-Soviet Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts before it became an anti-Soviet station in the 1950s and continued in that role for the rest of the Cold War. During World War II, officials in the Office of War Information (OWI) who were in charge of Voice of America and many of VOA broadcasters were pro-Soviet radicals. Karr’s work at OWI was not directly linked with VOA. He appeared to have been working on censoring ethnic American newspapers and radio stations, some of which were exposing OWI’s Soviet propaganda lies which were repeated in VOA broadcasts.

Barely able to graduate from high school, Karr parlayed a freelance job in journalism into writing for the Daily Worker, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, in the 1930s. He worked for several Communist organizations investigating American fascists. He inveigled his way into FDR’s reelection campaign in 1940, and obtained a position at the Office of War Information regulating foreign-language newspapers, even though he neither spoke, read nor understood any language but English. 1

Throughout his controversial career as a journalist and business broker, Karr maintained secret contacts with Soviet officials and intelligence agencies. He was later publicly identified in declassified U.S. Venona Project signal intelligence files as an NKVD information source. As an investigative reporter, Karr earned a reputation for misrepresenting himself to sources. 2

At one time during the Cold War, Karr became a partner of American investor Armand Hammer who for decades arranged business deals in the Soviet Union. It was reported that thanks to his Soviet connections, Karr was granted North and South American trademark rights to Misha the Bear, the mascot of the 1980 Olympic Games which the U.S. later boycotted in protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Very few people remember that early in his life David Karr (born David Katz) was working for the foreign language division of the Office of War Information. OWI had the Overseas Branch, which produced shortwave radio broadcasts for foreign audiences, and the Domestic Branch, which distributed U.S. government information, including pro-Soviet propaganda, to domestic media outlets in the United States. Karr’s job was to control ethnic media outlets which questioned and countered pro-Soviet disinformation. OWI officials accused them of undermining the war effort and spreading pro-German propaganda.

The entire Office of War Information and its Voice of America division were dominated during the war by pro-Soviet left-wing anti-fascist propagandists. They shielded Stalin and the Soviet Union from criticism, supported the establishment of Moscow-dominated regimes in East Central Europe, and spread Soviet propaganda and disinformation to cover up communist human rights atrocities. One of the communist sympathizers who did work on VOA radio broadcasts was American journalist Howard Fast who later joined and then broke with the Communist Party. 3

Before his career of brokering business deals in the Soviet Union, Karr worked as an assistant to American newspaper columnist Drew Pearson and was suspected of providing him with KGB-supplied disinformation.

If not a member of the Communist Party USA, during his work for the Office of War Information David Karr was definitely a pro-Soviet communist ideologue, as were many foreign language broadcasters hired by VOA’s first director, future Hollywood actor John Houseman. Karr most likely worked for another OWI official, future U.S. Senator from California Alan Cranston who initiated illegal censorship of ethnic American newspapers and radio stations to prevent them from criticizing Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Cranston later tried to justify his actions as necessary for the war effort.

Some liberal members of the Roosevelt administration became concerned over Soviet influence in the agency responsible for Voice of America broadcasts which at that time were not yet commonly known under that name. They were referred to as OWI shortwave Radio broadcasts. John Houseman’s pro-Soviet sympathies were exposed in an attachment to a secret memo sent by Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles to the Roosevelt White House in April 1943. Houseman was forced to resign a few months later but was not publicly identified at the time as a communist sympathizer. Welles’ memo to the White House, which noted the State Department’s decision to deny Houseman a U.S. passport for official government travel abroad, remained classified for many years. 4 Like Houseman, Karr also lost his government job in the Office of War Information, but many communist sympathizers and actual communist agents continued to work on VOA programs until at least the end of the war. A few of them later went to work for communist regimes in East-Central Europe, including Polish communist propagandist Stefan Arski. 5

David Karr’s links with the Communist Party and his earlier work for the party newspaper, The Daily Worker, were exposed publicly on the floor of the House of Representatives by Congressman Harold Dies Jr. (D-TX), chairman of the House Special Committee on Un-American Activities, which investigated suspected communists, fascists, Ku Klux Klan members and other groups viewed as potentially subversive. Some of the accusations that came out of the committee turned out to be exaggerated and controversial, but many allegations, including those against Karr, were largely accurate. Karr denied being a member of the Communist Party, but he reportedly also made a number of false statements about himself. Some of the communists in the OWI’s radio division (Voice of America name was not yet widely used) were identified in 1943 by other members of the U.S. Congress.

Congressional Record—House, February 1, 1943

Here is the case of David Karr who is assistant chief of the foreign language division of the Office of War Information at a salary of $4,600. For 2 years, Karr was on the staff of the Communist Party’s official newspaper, the Daily Worker. There is not the slightest doubt that all members of the Daily Worker staff were required to be members of the Communist Party. Karr was a writer for the Communist front publication, Equality, whose editorial council was composed largely of well-known Communists and Communist fellow travelers. 6

Notes:

  1. Harvey Klehr, The Millionaire Was a Soviet Mole: The Twisted Life of David Karr. Expected publication July 2019.
  2.  Klehr, Harvey and Haynes, John E., Venona: decoding Soviet espionage in America, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07771-8 (1999), p. 245.
  3. Howard Fast, Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), 27. “I don’t want to leave the impression that I worked in innocence all those months at the Office of War Information without realizing that there were Communist Party members working with me.”
  4. 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. The Sumner Welles memorandum can be accessed online: http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/_resources/images/psf/psfb000259.pdf.
  5. 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.
  6. Harold Dies Jr., Congressional Record, February 1, 1943, 482, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GPO-CRECB-1943-pt1/pdf/GPO-CRECB-1943-pt1-16-2.pdf
H.

How U.S. Lied About Polish Refugee Children to Protect Stalin

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum
 

A State Secret

Polish children from World War II Santa Rosa refugee camp, Guanajuato, Mexico. Source: Embajada de Polonia en México, Wikipedia. Date and photographer are unknown. CC BY 3.0.
 

How the Roosevelt Administration Shipped Polish Refugee Orphans to Mexico In Locked Trains and Lied About It to Protect Stalin

The Untold Story of Polish Refugee Children from Soviet Russia: “A Group Lost in History”

 

By Ted Lipien

 

The current crisis at the U.S. southern border and the Trump administration’s efforts to keep migrants in Mexico, some of them children, while their asylum applications are reviewed by U.S. courts, is a reminder of a different and now almost completely forgotten episode of World War II history involving refugee children, the Roosevelt administration and U.S. government propaganda. It is a story of illegal secret censorship of domestic media by the U.S. government. It has Americans being deceived about Russia by their own government. It is about secret collusion with a foreign power. It describes Polish orphans who had escaped from Russia being kept behind a barbed wire fence of a former detention center for Japanese Americans and being transported under U.S. military guard to Mexico in locked trains. It is a story that was never honestly reported by the Voice of America (VOA), the U.S. government’s official radio station established in 1942 to broadcast news to the world.

 
 


A propaganda sticker produced by the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) which, in addition to its own foreign and domestic propaganda, also managed radio broadcasts for overseas audiences later known as the Voice of America.

 


Three sisters ages 7, 8, and 9, Polish evacuees from Russia, August 1942. Photo by Lieutenant Colonel Szymanski U.S. Army which remained classified until 1952. The Katyn Forest Massacre. Hearings Before the Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Foreign 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), 461.

 
 

VOA Director Amanda Bennett, who was appointed during the Obama administration, wrote recently in an opinion article in The Washington Post 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.” Her assertion was not entirely false, but it was also not entirely true. What the VOA Director may not know or forgot to mention is that U.S. government propaganda during World War II, including Voice of America broadcasts, was, in addition to providing a lot of true information about the course of the war and Nazi atrocities, also severely tainted with many half truths and deliberate lies designed to protect from domestic and foreign criticism an important U.S. military ally–Soviet Russia and its communist dictator Josef Stalin. One of those lies in early Voice of America broadcasts was about the Gulag prison labor camps and its millions of victims. If one listened to these VOA broadcasts from 1942 to 1945 and even for a few years more, such camps did not exist and no one was leaving Soviet Russia during the war because they might have been afraid of Stalin and communism.

A Brief Stay In A Former Detention Camp For Japanese Americans

In order to block media access to prevent publication of negative stories about life in the Soviet Union, American officials in charge of Polish refugee orphans who had arrived in the United States in 1943 after fleeing Russia put them in a former detention facility for Japanese Americans at the Santa Anita U.S. Army training camp near Los Angeles. After a few days of quarantine, they promptly dispatched the entire group to Mexico where they were placed in a refugee camp under an agreement reached earlier between Polish Prime Minister General Władysław Sikorski and the Mexican government. Sikorski had traveled to Mexico in December 1942 where he had met with Mexican President Manuel Avila Camacho. The Polish-Mexican agreement called for providing assistance to several thousand Polish refugees from Russia who were then held in temporary camps in Iran. Out of 37,272 civilians who were Polish citizens evacuated from Russia to Iran in 1942, 13,948 were children. 1,434, most of them children, eventually arrived in Mexico. To get to Mexico, the Polish children had to be transported from India on a U.S. Navy ship to a U.S. port. Their transport and support were negotiated between the Polish government in exile, represented in Washington by Ambassador Jan Ciechanowski, and the Roosevelt administration.

Many of the children were orphans. Some were accompanied only by their mothers. Their fathers had been either executed or died as prisoners in the Soviet Union. The children and their Polish adult caregivers, also former prisoners in Russia, had been told by Polish and American government representatives that they were going to Mexico with a brief stopover on the west coast of the United States, but their reception after their arrival in southern California was much different from what they had expected. As one of the surviving children said years later, finding themselves being put on U.S. Army trucks, transported to a detention center and being kept behind a barbed wire fence guarded by American soldiers with rifles compounded the trauma of their recent imprisonment in Soviet Russia. They barely managed to leave the country which had arrested their parents and deported them from their homes in eastern Poland. They were hoping to taste full freedom in America, which they idealized. They found that they were not allowed to walk free and visit or interact with the people in the country of their dreams with the exception of some camp personnel and a few representatives of relief organizations. Most of them did not see the United States again until a few years after the war.

Before their arrival in a port in California on U.S. Navy ship Hermitage, they endured unbelievable suffering and completed a long journey that took them from Russia to Iran, from there to India, and finally to Los Angeles. Compared to the horrific conditions they had endured in Russia, these Polish children were treated with compassion and kindness by U.S. Army officers, soldiers, doctors, nurses and other Americans with whom they came in contact. They were not completely abandoned and without help. The Polish Army under the command of General Anders, which later fought against German armies alongside American and British forces, took care of them in Russia after their release from the Gulag and evacuated them to Iran. The Anders Army and civilian representatives of the Polish government in exile in London, the British government, and the U.S. government arranged for humanitarian aid and medical care in Iran for the children, their mothers and other Polish refugees. Their ocean voyage from India was paid for and organized by the U.S. government. It should be also added for the sake of balance that it was much more than most World War II refugees could hope for from the Roosevelt administration. President Roosevelt refused the request from the Polish government in exile to resettle the children in the United States, but he did approve a $3 million U.S. assistance program to bring them to Mexico.

Transported In Sealed Trains To Mexico

After a few days spent in the detention center in California, the children were transported in a comfortable but locked train to Mexico. As they rode through southern United States, they still remained under military guard. U.S. soldiers locked all train doors and windows and had orders not to allow anyone to talk with the passengers. What American officials feared most was that the story of the Soviet Gulag labor camps would leak out and become widely known through media reports about what really happened to these children and their parents in Russia. Secondly, officials feared that any publicity might encourage others in Europe to seek refugee status in the United States. There was concern that some of the children or their Polish caregivers might try to escape and remain illegally in the United States. No such escape attempts were reported.

The Roosevelt administration rejected requests for American adoptions, which would have been the most obvious and most humane solution to the problem of parentless Polish children. Officials would not allow these very young refugees from the Gulag to be placed with Polish American families. The U.S. government wanted to keep them isolated and to get them out of the country as soon as possible in case their continued stay and any media publicity could result in turning American public opinion against Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Only when the American train they were on had reached the U.S.-Mexican border in Texas, the rifle-carrying U.S. guards disappeared. One of the children said later that at that moment they finally had experienced full freedom. Their lack of knowledge of Spanish prevented them from talking with the many Mexicans who came out to greet them, but they were finally free to speak to anyone they wanted. The warm welcome they had received in Mexico made a lasting impression. Those among them who are still alive continue to speak of their deep love and affection for Mexico. They continue to express their gratitude to the Mexican people for allowing them to stay in their country when they needed help and a safe place to live.

Victims Of Hitler Or Stalin?

Since the news of the children’s earlier arrival in the United States could not be completely hidden from the Polish American media, to confuse other Americans as well as foreign audiences listening to shortwave radio broadcasts of the Voice of America, propagandists in the FDR administration tried to portray these young refugees as fleeing from Nazi-occupied Poland rather than from the Soviet Union. Pro-Soviet officials in charge of U.S. propaganda did not want American and foreign radio listeners to learn about any communist atrocities. They feared that such negative publicity could undermine public support for the U.S.-Russia anti-Hitler alliance, or might even force Stalin to seek a truce and another pact with Hitler. While these fears were unfounded (a bipartisan congressional committee referred to them as “a strange psychosis that military necessity required the sacrifice of loyal allies and our own principles in order to keep Russia from making a separate peace with the Nazis.”), Hitler and Stalin were in fact war allies from August 1939 until June 1941. In 1939, Soviet Russia invaded and occupied the eastern part of Poland, annexed the Baltic States, and attacked Finland. In 1940 the Red Army occupied Romanian Bessarabia. The Soviets removed from their homes, imprisoned and forcefully deported in cattle train cars under most inhuman conditions millions of Poles and people of many other nationalities: Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Belorussians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews and many others. Many were arrested and executed. Others died during the deportations or later from harsh treatment, hard forced labor, starvation and illness. Only very few of the survivors managed to leave the Soviet Union during the war. They needed to be resettled in safe areas along with many other refugees who were fleeing countries occupied by Nazi Germany in east-central, southern and western Europe. Most of the Polish children who had escaped from Soviet Russia ended up in the British colonies in Africa, in India, and in New Zealand which accepted 700 children.

Soviet propaganda at times presented Polish refugees from Russia as being saved by Stalin, while American propaganda portrayed them as fleeing from the Nazis. There were many refugees fleeing the Nazi rule, but these Polish children were not chased out of their homes and imprisoned by the Nazis. They lived in the part of Poland occupied in 1939 by the Red Army and they were prisoners in the Soviet Union. Polish American newspapers and better informed mainstream press tried to make these distinctions clear, while Soviet and U.S. government propagandists did everything possible to mislead and confuse Americans and foreign audiences about the nature of the Stalinist regime, presenting it as pro-democratic and progressive.

During World War II, both refugee groups, those from Russia and those from Nazi-occupied or controlled Europe, received some limited help from American diplomats and employees of American relief organizations who tried to find nations willing to accept them, but even those U.S. efforts, especially those undertaken by the State Department, were usually kept secret. Most Jews fleeing the Nazis and facing certain death if they were to be caught by the Germans or their allies were not granted political asylum in the United States due to the many nearly impossible to meet legal conditions strictly enforced by U.S. consular officials.

Polish refugee children at the Colonia Santa Rosa camp in Guanajuato, Mexico stage an Eastern pageant. Photo from the U.S. National Archives.

Edward R. Murrow And VOA Followers Of Walter Duranty

At the time, the rest of America knew very little about these Polish children, not only because of the official news blackout about their trip and misleading information being put out by the U.S. government, but also because propagandists in the Roosevelt administration played the role of illegal censors targeting Polish-American media which had the most direct interest in their story. Despite some censorship and shutting down of a few radio programs due to illegal demands from U.S. officials, most Polish American radio stations and newspapers managed to report accurately about the arrival of Polish refugee children and their brief stay in the United States. Mainstream American media did not pay much attention to the Polish refugees from Russia, but some American journalists tried to expose the larger danger of Soviet communism and unnecessary appeasement of Stalin. CBS wartime correspondent Edward R. Murrow was among them. He reported from London in 1943 that the Soviets were responsible for the Katyn Forest massacre of 15,000 Polish military officers while the Voice of America was at the same time aggressively spreading the Kremlin’s propaganda lie that the mass murder had been carried out by the Germans. Murrow also reported on Stalin’s betrayal of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, while VOA, in line with what the Soviets wanted, mostly ignored the non-communist Poles and their underground army fighting the Germans in Poland. Soviet propaganda called these anti-Nazi Poles Fascists and reactionaries.

Effective propaganda usually relies less on outright lies than on true information skillfully manipulated and devoid of material facts and context. Such propaganda succeeds when, in response to pressure from the government engaging in disinformation, journalists repeat it or acquiesce with silence and their own censorship. To avoid offending “Uncle Joe,” as President Roosevelt sometimes playfully referred to Stalin, American officials had decided not to broadcast in Russian during the Second World War. They seemed convinced that Soviet propaganda, which many Soviet sympathizers among them and among VOA broadcasters inserted into American broadcasts, was good enough for the Russians or in any case should not be challenged. Russian was the only major world language missing from the VOA program lineup until 1947. Caving in to Soviet pressure, and also out of their own pro-Soviet sympathies, strongly Left-leaning progressives, socialists and a few communists working as U.S. government propagandists misled Americans and the world about refugees fleeing communist oppression in Russia. The voices of the former Gulag prisoners were ignored and silenced because of what was perceived as military necessity and because of ideological bias of Voice of America personnel. The Polish American press tried to report on the story, but it was not enough to get national attention. The Roosevelt administration resorted to lies, deception and censorship to keep the refugee story from being told.

These historical facts have now been forgotten. Current VOA Director Amanda Bennett inaccurately, in my view, suggested in her recent Washington Post op-ed that Edward R. Murrow “helped to create VOA.” This outstanding American reporter had no direct role in the creation of VOA. Voice of America’s early officials and broadcasters were definitely not followers of his model of truthful reporting on anything related to the Soviet Union and communism. They were followers of the type of pro-Soviet propaganda promoted in the United States by Anglo-American New York Times correspondent in Soviet Russia Walter Duranty who in 1932 received a Pulitzer Prize. Duranty was a denier of Bolshevik-caused widespread famine in the USSR with millions of victims, particularly in Ukraine. It would be more accurate to mention Walter Duranty as someone whose example inspired early VOA reporting on the Soviet Union, which was diametrically different from later, Cold War-era VOA reporting. VOA changed and started to expose and counter Soviet propaganda, but only after long-delayed reforms were carried out in the early 1950s.

A Group Lost In History

Although there are significant differences in their respective status and the treatment today’s migrants in Mexico and World War II refugees received from the American government and media, the previously untold plight of Polish orphans fleeing from communist Russia showed the corruptive nature of Soviet and American government propaganda, especially when the two worked in tandem during World War II. Propaganda strategies were in fact secretly coordinated between Washington and Moscow by Robert E. Sherwood, one of the “founding fathers” of what is known today as the Voice of America (VOA). He was a Hollywood playwright, President Roosevelt’s speech writer and the head of the Overseas Division in the wartime U.S. Office of War Information (OWI), which placed him in charge of VOA radio broadcasts.

Voice of America broadcasters almost certainly did not tell the story of Czesław (Chester) Sawko “whose grim memory included carrying his little brother’s body to a makeshift morgue at a [Russian] railway station,” or the story another child refugee, Stanisława Synowiec (Stella Tobis), who “saw her mother for the last time when her train in Russia left without warning after her mother had got off in search of food.” She never saw her mother again. Czesław Sawko and Stanisława Synowiec both made it to Hacienda Santa Rosa. Only after the war they were able to resettle in the United States. Eventually they learned that while the Roosevelt administration did not want them in the United States, it was not how most Americans would have reacted had they known all the facts and were not lied to by U.S. government propagandists.

A Polish lawyer Joanna Matias, whose father Bogdan Matias (Wierciński) was the first Polish child born during the war in the Santa Rosa camp, met with some of the former refugees who now live in Mexico and in the United States. Her grandfather, his health destroyed by imprisonment in Russia, died in Mexico shortly after the war at the age of 26. Ms. Matias tells their stories in her Santa Rosa blog and writes about her trip to Mexico to find her grandfather’s grave.

While the majority of the Polish inhabitants of Santa Rosa colony emigrated after the war to the United States thanks to the the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 strongly supported by President Truman and his administration, they still remember the incredible warmth and hospitality showed to them by the Mexican people and the Mexican government. They also received help from individual Americans, including workers of Polish American and Catholic relief organizations, but the difference in their initial reception in the United States and in Mexico was for many of them striking. 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.”

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.”

Only much later, some of the stories of the Polish children prisoners in the Soviet Union started to appear in print and on the Internet. In 2015 Piwowarczyk and director Sławomir Gruenberg released a documentary film about the Santa Rosa settlement and Joanna Matias’ meetings with some of its former inhabitants and her search in Mexico for her grandfather’s grave. The film is also partly a tribute to Mexico and its people for giving Polish refugees a welcoming safe haven after the horrors of imprisonment in Russia and a rather disheartening initial encounter with America.

Soviet And U.S. Propaganda Lies

U.S. government propagandists and Voice of America broadcasters were responding, often willingly and enthusiastically, to the relentless pressure from the Soviet government to present only communist-tainted version of news. Airing foreign propaganda lies was not something most Americans would have approved of had they known about it, but essential facts were being withheld from them during the war. They were lied to by their own government in the interest of keeping Russia as an ally to achieve a quick victory over Nazi Germany and Japan.

It would be unfair to say that all of America as a nation colluded with Russia or approved of selling Eastern Europe down the river to Stalin at wartime summit conferences in Tehran and Yalta; President Roosevelt and certain officials in his administration did that, and then even some of them, including FDR, did it out of idealism and ignorance rather than any ill-will toward Poland and other East European nations. They themselves were also uncritical recipients of Soviet lies and victims of Soviet pressure and disinformation.

Because of propaganda and censorship, most Americans had no clear idea what was going on behind the scenes in the U.S.-Russia relationship. Even the Polish American community was deceived by President Roosevelt and his propagandists by false promises. Most Polish Americans voted for FDR in U.S. elections. After the end of the war, it took several years before the Voice of America was reformed thanks to strong pressure from Congress and started broadcasting accurate and more detailed news to counter Soviet propaganda in later years of the Cold War. By then, however, the story of Polish children brought out of the Soviet Union and shipped to Mexico was too old and so well censored earlier that it failed to get attention from most of American media. It faded into obscurity.

Polish refugee children relaxing at Santa Rosa, Mexico. Photo from the U.S. National Archives.

In making historical comparisons about immigration, it should be pointed out that today’s migrants in Mexico are not Jews fleeing the World War II Holocaust in Europe or Poles escaping death from executions and forced labor in Soviet Russia. With the exception of Cuba and to some degree Venezuela, there are no totalitarian regimes in Latin America, so such comparisons would not be appropriate or useful. What is critically needed today is a look at how foreign and domestic propaganda was and is still being used to confuse and deceive American public opinion out of ideological or partisan motives about certain important domestic and international issues, or in some cases serves the interests of foreign powers and nations, such as Russia, China or Iran, through skillful manipulation of news and social media.

World War II U.S. government propaganda, while not nearly as crude as Soviet propaganda, was designed to protect Stalin and his aggressive aims, ultimately at the expense of long-term American interests and basic American values. Polish refugee children who had been Stalin’s prisoners became an annoying reminder for the Left-leaning Roosevelt administration officials in the Office of War Information and in the Voice of America that Stalin had been once a Hitler’s ally. They wanted to portray the Soviet Union as making great sacrifices in fighting German Nazis and other Fascists to establish freedom and democracy in Eastern Europe. Quite a few of them, especially radical Leftists, believed this to be true. Soviet soldiers were indeed making great sacrifices fighting the Nazis, but they were also used to bring East Central Europe into Stalin’s Soviet empire. There was no excuse for the incredibly naive belief in the non-existent Soviet support for democracy and freedom. Still, the radical American Left wanted to see democratic socialism prevail throughout Europe, both East and West, and expected Stalin and local communists to help make it happen.

A few of the most Left-leaning and dedicated lower-ranking World War II Voice of America broadcasters ended up working for the Soviet-imposed communist regimes in Eastern Europe after the war. Later this became an embarrassment for moderate supporters of FDR’s policies and for future Democratic administrations, as well as for the United States as a free and democratic nation which could not protect itself and the U.S. government from such individuals. Partly as a result of U.S. concessions made to Stalin at Teheran and Yalta, millions of East Europeans lost their freedom for several decades. Whether this could have been completely avoided with a firmer approach will remain unknown because, with or without Yalta, the Soviet Red Army had achieved control over East Central Europe and was not going to leave without a fight. Eventually, America changed its mind about Stalin and the Soviet Union, but the American embarrassment over the Yalta Agreement contributed in part to the story of the young Polish victims of Stalin’s crimes being forgotten. Talking about it publicly would not show the United States in the best light as Americans, including by then the Voice of America, were containing Soviet aggression and countering Soviet propaganda during the Cold War.

A Polish American Newspaper Takes On A U.S. Propaganda Agency

A U.S. government World War II document I discovered a few years ago in the National Archives offers a rare glimpse into how the wartime propaganda agency, the Office of War Information, which was in charge of both domestic and foreign U.S. government propaganda including Voice of America radio broadcasts to Germany, Japan, Poland and other countries, tried to deceive American and foreign audiences about the Polish refugee children from Russia in order to protect Stalin’s reputation and America’s alliance with the Soviet Union. By then, Russia was admittedly the most important U.S. military ally against Nazi Germany, but only after Hitler broke his previous pact with Stalin and attacked the Soviet Union in 1941. The children who came from the eastern part of Poland occupied by the Red Army in 1939 were not victims of Hitler’s Fascism; they were victims of Stalin’s totalitarian Communism. They never saw any Germans occupiers. As the Polish American newspaper Nowy Świat pointed out in January 1944, they were arrested with their parents by the Soviets and sent to the Soviet Gulag.

 

“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.”
 
“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?”

 

In its January 4, 1944 editorial,Nowy Świat (“New World”), correctly assessed U.S. government’s propaganda. The U.S. government press release included a kernel of truth, but it was otherwise designed to deceive.

The first transport of 706 Polish refugees, including 166 children, aboard the USS Hermitage reached the San Pedro naval dock near Los Angeles on June 25, 1943. The women and children under 14 years of age were placed in the Griffith Park Internment Camp in Burbank and the men in the Alien Camp in Tuna Canyon. The second group of 726 Polish refugees including 408 children, mostly orphans arrived on the USS Hermitage in the fall of 1943 and was placed in the Santa Anita former detention camp for Japanese Americans. It was the second group that was mentioned in the misleading press release from the Office of War Information.

Polish refugee women working in the fields of hacienda Santa Rosa which, according to a description provided by National Archives researcher Robin Waldman included a “39-room ranch house, a flour mill, ten wheat storage warehouses, a chapel and other buildings, as well as several acres for growing crops. By October 1943, almost 1,500 Poles were sheltered at Colonia Santa Rosa.” Photo from the U.S. National Archives.

OWI only published pictures of relatively healthy looking Polish refugee children and deceptively presented them to Americans as fleeing from the Nazis. Graphic photos taken earlier by a U.S. Army photographer showing starving and dying Polish children who had been rescued from Russia and brought to Iran with the Polish Army of General Władysław Anders were classified by the U.S. government as secret and prevented from being made public during the war and even for several years after the war. It took an intervention by members of the U.S. Congress to get some of the photos and documents declassified in the early 1950s.

The first photo was taken in Tehran, Iran by an OWI photographer. This and similar other OWI photos do not show any obvious signs of malnutrition or illness. The other three photos, taken by a U.S. Army intelligence officer, show Polish children arriving in Iran from Russia who look no different than inmates of Nazi concentration camps. These photos were immediately classified as secret by the U.S. government and were not made public until 1952.

 
 


Parrino, Nick, photographer. Teheran, Iran. Polish woman and her grandchildren shown in an American Red Cross evacuation camp as they await evacuation to new homes. Tehran, Iran, 1943. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2017854329/.

 
 


Six-year-old boy, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942. Photo by Lieutenant Colonel Szymanski, U.S. Army. The Katyn Forest Massacre. Hearings Before the Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Foreign 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), 459.

 
 


Twelve-year-old boy, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942. Ten-year-old girl, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942. Photos by Lieutenant Colonel Szymanski U.S. Army. The Katyn Forest Massacre. Hearings Before the Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Foreign 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), 460.

 
 

The Katyn Massacre

OWI photos and publications distributed to newspapers in the United States and abroad were not the only form of misleading government propaganda. In perhaps the greatest example of fake news of the 20th century, the Office of War Information and the Voice of America spread false Soviet claims about the Katyn Forest massacre of thousands of Polish military officers who had been taken by the Soviets as prisoners of war in 1939 and secretly executed by the NKVD secret police on the orders of Stalin and the Soviet Politburo in Katyn and in other locations in 1940. The Soviets tried to blame the massacre on the Germans. Moscow was immediately assisted in this disinformation effort by Voice of America propagandists, some of whom knew or should have known the truth. In April 1943, even the U.S. State Department warned officials in charge of VOA that they were on shaky grounds in promoting the Soviet version of the Katyn atrocity.

Earlier, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt ignored a secret request from Sikorski’s wife, Helena Sikorska, to use her influence with Stalin in locating and saving the lives of thousands of missing Polish military officers. Sikorska attached several letters from their wives begging for help in finding their husbands. When those letters were written in 1942, the men were already dead, murdered on Stalin’s orders two years earlier. Eleanor Roosevelt forwarded Sikorska’s letter to the State Department without taking any action.

With their parents dead (fathers of some of them were executed in Katyn), many Polish orphans, who had managed to leave the Soviet Union for Iran after the Polish Government in exile in London reached a brief agreement with Stalin in 1941, had to be taken care of and resettled. They were warmly received by the Iranians, but even with British and American help, such large numbers of refugees could not be cared for in Iran. Most of them had to be repatriated to other countries. In 1942, the Roosevelt administration refused a secret request from Prime Minister Sikorski addressed to President Roosevelt to bring 10,000 Polish children from Iran to the U.S. where Polish-American families would have been more than willing to take them under their care. The U.S. government suggested Mexico as an alternative no doubt in part to avoid true facts about the Katyn massacre to become known in America.

A Warm Welcome In Africa and India

The British government arranged for some of the Polish children to be taken to India and Africa, where–just as in Mexico–they were welcomed and well treated by the local authorities and local people. They would have been, of course, well treated by Americans had the Roosevelt administration allowed them to stay in the United States in 1943. Many of them eventually came to the United States from Africa, India, and Great Britain but only after the war. Some settled in Canada, New Zealand and Australia. A Canadian filmmaker, writer and director, Jonathan Kołodziej Durand, has produced an award-winning documentary about the Polish children who found a temporary refuge in Africa, “Memory Is Our Homeland.” His grandmother was one of the children sent to Africa.

 
 

 
 

Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhj, the Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar in India, accepted about 1,000 Polish children and constructed a camp for them near his palace. A video documentary, “A Little Poland in India,” offers, in addition to the story of Polish children who found refuge in India, a good historical background of what happened between 1939 and the end of World War II.

 
 

 
 

Censorship Of U.S. Media

During the war, pro-Soviet U.S. government propagandists in the Office of War Information and in the Voice of America might have succeeded in completely deceiving the American public about Polish refugees from Russia if it were not for some U.S. media reports, many of them originated by Polish-American newspapers and radio stations. These small independent ethnic media outlets told the truth about communist atrocities in Soviet Russia and Stalin’s plans to impose Soviet rule over Eastern Europe. Some members of Congress, mostly Republicans but also a few Democrats, placed transcripts of some of these news reports in the Congressional Record. World War II Voice of America radio broadcasts and OWI propagandists, on the other hand, presented Stalin as a defender of liberty and democracy against Fascism. The truth about communist crimes was suppressed within the U.S. government. Some of FDR’s most enthusiastic pro-Soviet propagandists simply refused to believe that Stalin could be a mass murderer. In violation of American laws, they declared a secret war on the anti-communist Polish-American newspapers and radio stations.

During the war, OWI officials were especially angered by Polish-American-newspaper Nowy Świat‘s reporting on the Soviet responsibility for the Katyn Massacre even before the mass graves of Polish military officers were discovered in 1943. Already in 1942, OWI officials tried to get the U.S. Department of Justice to close down the paper. In secret memos, government bureaucrats described Nowy Świat editors as anti-Soviet and pro-Fascist. Meanwhile, the Young Communist League in the United States, which was controlled from Moscow, referred to the Polish Government in exile as “the imperialist Polish government dominated by pro-Fascist elements” despite the fact that Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany and the armed forces of the exiled government were fighting the Germans alongside American and British armies.

The OWI’s secret attempt to shut down or effectively censor Nowy Świat was ultimately unsuccessful, but one of OWI’s key bureaucrats, Alan Cranston, succeeded in silencing a few Polish-American radio programs critical of Stalin and the Soviet Union. He later had a successful political career in the Democratic Party becoming a U.S. Senator from California.

During the war, Cranston was in charge of OWI’s domestic propaganda division. OWI’s overseas division, including the Voice of America, had several strongly pro-communist managers as well. One of them was the man declared later to be the first VOA director, theatre producer and Hollywood actor John Houseman. His hiring of communists to prepare U.S. government radio programs was too much even for some of the influential, progressive members of the Roosevelt administration, one of them Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles who was FDR’s close friend and advisor. The State Department and the War Department put pressure on the White House to get John Houseman and other radically pro-Soviet propagandists removed from the Office of War Information. He was quietly forced to resign in 1943, but pro-Soviet VOA propaganda broadcasts continued for the duration of the war under other pro-Soviet officials and broadcasters. Even toward the end of the war and afterwards, some of them tried to support with propaganda the consolidation of communist rule in East Central Europe. In 1952, a bipartisan committee of the U.S. House of Representatives condemned Alan Cranston’s wartime censorship activities as illegal and concluded that the Voice of America maintained its pro-Soviet bias even for several years after the war.

After The War

Very few Americans knew then or know now that Mexico, from where today’s immigrants often try to enter the United States legally and illegally, became during World War II a welcoming safe haven for a large group of Polish refugee children who had lost their parents in Russia. They remained in Mexico for several years and did not try to re-enter the United States illegally or to leave their camp, Colonia Santa Rosa in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. Leaving the camp would have been a violation of the 1942 Polish-Mexican agreement about their resettlement and its violators were punished. Mexican court records show that at least one Polish woman was sentenced to 30 days in jail for sleeping outside the camp. Polish refugees were also prohibited from seeking any work that might compete with Mexican labor. In many ways, however, their situation prior to their arrival in Mexico was quite different from that of today’s migrants from Latin America.

After the war’s end, the Mexican government offered the Polish refugees a chance to apply for political asylum in Mexico, but most of them, despite the shock of their initial treatment after the arrival in California in 1943, preferred to resettle in the United States with its large Polish-American community and better economic opportunities. Only very few chose to return to Poland, by then ruled by a Soviet-imposed communist regime. Most of the World War II Polish refugees waited in Mexico and in other countries for several years before they could get their U.S. immigration visas. Also by then, more Americans became aware of President Roosevelt’s sellout of Poland and other East European countries to Stalin at his wartime conferences with Stalin and Churchill in Teheran and Yalta. America began to rectify its mistakes.

However, one of the most tragic mistakes which could not be rectified, were frequent denials of political asylum and immigration visas to helpless Jewish men, women and children trying to flee Europe. Some of those whose requests for political asylum in the United States had been refused, were later murdered in German concentration camps.

 

DECLASSIFIED
Authority S – 78 – 11

EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT

OFFICE FOR EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT

OFFICE MEMORANDUM

 

 

TO: Mr. Alan Cranston

DATE: January 4, 1944

FROM: Paul Sturman

SUBJECT: Nowy Swiat and OWI releases
 

The Nowy Swiat of January 4, 1944 carries, on its editorial page the recent OWI release on “Polish Children refugees in America” and makes this editorial comment, freely translated:

 

“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.

 

“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?”

 
 

Correcting Mistakes

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin met at Yalta in February 1945 to discuss their joint occupation of Germany and plans for postwar Europe, including allowing Stalin, without the knowledge or agreement of the Polish government in exile, to incorporate into the Soviet Union the eastern part of Poland. Behind them stand, from the left, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Fleet Admiral Ernest King, Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, General of the Army George Marshall, Major General Laurence S. Kuter, General Aleksei Antonov, Vice Admiral Stepan Kucherov, and Admiral of the Fleet Nikolay Kuznetsov. February 1945. (Army) US government photographer. Exact Date Shot Unknown. NARA FILE #: 111-SC-260486. WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 750″

It took nearly a decade to move the VOA from being a propaganda outlet for the Soviet Union to become an important instrument in countering communist propaganda during the Cold War. The U.S. government also created Radio Free Europe, which for most of the Cold War had a larger audience and influence in Poland than the poorly-managed and underfunded VOA. RFE publicized the Katyn massacre story much more effectively than VOA, but the story of the Polish refugee children from Russia never received wider media attention in the U.S. The silencing of their voices continued for several decades.

Officials in charge of the Voice of America never acknowledged the role of many of its early leaders and broadcasters as eager pro-Soviet propagandists who covered up Stalin’s crimes and helped him consolidate communist rule over Eastern Europe. Most of the Polish refugees, including Polish soldiers who were prisoners in Soviet Russia and later fought against the Nazis with American and British forces in North Africa and Western Europe, remained in Great Britain. Many eventually resettled in the U.S. They had to wait several years for their U.S. immigration visas and some had to pay for their travel and resettlement.

In later years of the Cold War, the U.S. led the Western effort to reverse the effects of Yalta. Radio Free Europe and Voice of America broadcasts played an important role in that effort. The Polish refugee children sent to Mexico in 1943 who later came to the United States had successful careers and lives. They became U.S. citizens and patriotic Americans but never lost their love for Mexico and for Poland. Some of them were fortunate enough to see Poland becoming independent from Soviet domination, free and democratic in the last decade of the 20th century.

Soviet treatment of human beings was genocidal and Soviet propaganda was designed to hide this fact using every available means of disinformation, manipulation and deception. In many ways, Polish women–mothers, children, and grandmothers–suffered more than the Polish men in Soviet captivity. Many lost their sons and husbands and were put to work as slave laborers under the most inhuman conditions. Most of them, however, adjusted well to life in freedom in the West after the war. They were sustained by their patriotism and, for many, by their religious faith. They found support in their families and their communities, but they will always remember what happened to them in Russia. They still mourn their lost family members and friends.

U.S. government officials in the Roosevelt administration were for the most part extremely naive and unable to see through Soviet propaganda and to comprehend and acknowledge Stalin’s atrocities. Their idealism turned some of them into unwitting agents of the Soviet government, especially in the U.S. wartime federal agency producing Voice of America radio broadcasts.

American government propaganda was by comparison with Soviet propaganda much more moderate and driven from far less nefarious motives, but ultimately it was effective in deceiving American public opinion that Stalin was a progressive leader who believed in democracy in Eastern Europe and that the Soviet Union would remain America’s friend and ally after the war. Key U.S. officials seemed convinced that such assumptions were true and ignored and suppressed evidence undermining their views and convictions. A few officials in the Roosevelt administration took secret and illegal actions to silence some of the U.S. media criticism of the appeasement of Stalin.

Not all Americans, however, were deceived. There were many warnings from some members of Congress and from parts of American media. America’s ability to eventually see through Soviet propaganda and to admit the mistakes of its own government resulted in the West’s eventual victory over Soviet communism.

But sadly in the last few years, some Voice of America programs again began to show ignorance of the lessons of history. In one report in 2017, VOA presented Angela Davis, an American Communist, Lenin Peace Prize winner and ardent supporter of the Soviet Union, as a fighter for workers’ and women’s rights. Also in 2017, VOA posted a monologue video presenting Angela Davis as “representing the powerful forces of change [in] Women’s March.” Neither VOA report identified her as a Communist whom Russian dissident writer, former Gulag prisoner and Nobel Prize laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, condemned in 1975 for refusing to help political dissidents in communist prisons. (The Voice of America censored Solzhenitsyn for several years during the period of detente with the Soviet Union in the 1970s.) VOA broadcasts to Iran were recently exposed in an independent study for including pro-Iranian regime propaganda and ignoring American voices critical of the regime. There are also reports that VOA’s senior management, despite strong opposition from its journalists, has caved in to pressure from the communist government in China and is punishing VOA Chinese broadcasters who complain that they were victims of censorship.

Keeping in mind how the early Voice of America propagandists lied to protect Stalin, if we don’t remember history, if we forget genuine victims of repression, if we accept foreign and partisan propaganda as truth, the United States may again make serious mistakes it will later regret.

 
 

P.

President Eisenhower condemned biased Voice of America officials and reporters

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum

Voice of America Then and Now

 
Historically, partisanship at the Voice of America has been most often associated with Left-wing bias of some of its officials and central English newsroom reporters.

By Ted Lipien

After leaving the White House in 1961, former President Dwight D Eisenhower condemned a biased Voice of America (VOA) reporter who sought to create news to embarrass the administration rather than report objectively and with balance on any criticism of U.S. policy. General Eisenhower, who during World War II was the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, also alluded briefly in his 1965 memoirs Waging Peace to VOA’s wartime record of using Soviet propaganda at the expense of American interests. Eisenhower had a simple advice for VOA: “The Voice of America should … employ truth as a weapon in support of Free World.”

Eisenhower’s words are still a good advice for the Voice of America, which during the 2016 Presidential election campaign showed extreme partisanship in some of its political reporting. In multiple violations of the VOA Charter, pro-Hillary Clinton VOA journalists aired in broadcasts and posted on social media one-sided attacks on Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. The following year VOA was exposed for airing propaganda in favor of the Iranian regime, but this time, according to an independent study, in a one-sided support of President Obama’s policies while refusing to give sufficient airtime to critics. The World War II and 1956 incidents were of a different nature than Iranian reporting and partisan coverage of the 2016 elections, but they were all examples of biased Voice of America journalism.

As a former military leader and by then also a former president, General Eisenhower must have been still quite upset to have mentioned in his book more than twenty years later his World War II confrontation with extreme Left-leaning, pro-Soviet political activists at the Voice of America in the Office of War Information (OWI) who had tried to undermine his and President Roosevelt’s political strategy and military campaign in North Africa and Italy. Although the Roosevelt administration was already openly and secretly appeasing Stalin and acceding to almost all of his demands in return for false promises, ideologically-driven VOA propagandists were pushing the policy line favored by the Kremlin and local communists loyal to Moscow which was at times in conflict with specific U.S. political and military objectives in North Africa and in Europe. At the time Eisenhower was fully backed by Roosevelt who, despite his appeasement of Stalin, did not want extreme pro-communist elements within the Voice of America to interfere with U.S. policy or to embarrass him politically in the United States and undermine his broad domestic support.

While carrying out Roosevelt’s pro-Moscow policies, neither the State Department nor the Pentagon wanted communist sympathizers to be in charge of American radio broadcasts overseas. Some of these broadcasters suspected of being communists were fired already in 1943 and others left shortly after the war. A few of them went to work for communist regimes in Eastern Europe. They were gone or pushed out long before Senator Joseph McCarthy started to look for communists in the U.S. government, making false accusations even against General Eisenhower.

Eisenhower, who did not support and privately criticized Senator McCarthy, mentioned the World War II incident when VOA was already playing during the Cold War a much more useful although still less than fully effective role in countering Soviet propaganda. He had been actively engaged in earlier efforts to create Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Radio Liberty (RL) as more effective media outlets against Soviet Russia. They would remain outside of the direct control of the State Department and were initially secretly managed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His most critical comment about the Voice of America appeared in a footnote to a paragraph in which he expressed his own concerns with what he saw as VOA’s unethical journalism in support of partisan political advocacy.

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER: “In Washington I had been told that a representative of the Voice of America (our governmental radio overseas) had tried to obtain from a senator a statement opposing our landing of troops in Lebanon. In a state of some pique I informed Secretary Dulles that this was carrying the policy of ‘free broadcasting’ too far. The Voice of America should, I said, employ truth as a weapon in support of Free World, but it had no mandate or license to seek evidence of lack of domestic support of America’s foreign policies and actions.”
 
[Footnote in “Waging Peace” by Dwight D. Eisenhower]“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.” 1

President Eisenhower was right. In both cases during World War II, and to a much lesser extent even briefly during his administration, some biased VOA officials, editors and reporters sought to create and influence news and U.S. policy through their own commentary and trying to manipulate news to conform with their ideological bias rather than merely reporting on world events.

During World War II, General Eisenhower and the Army Intelligence had legitimate concerns that some VOA broadcasters following closely the communist and pro-Soviet line could endanger the lives of American soldiers. The State Department shared some of the same concerns. President Roosevelt’s close friend and advisor, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, wrote a secret memo to the White House recommending that some of the more extreme Soviet and communist sympathizers in the Office of War Information (OWI) be removed.

They included John Houseman, who was later described as the first director of the Voice of America (VOA) and falsely hailed by some as a defender of objective and truthful journalism. Some of the greatest Soviet propaganda lies were being promoted by the Voice of America under his watch and with his approval. Supported by the U.S. Army intelligence branch, the State Department refused to give Houseman a U.S. passport to travel aboard as a U.S. government representative. Accused of hiring Communists, he and a few other propaganda agency officials were forced to resign in 1943, but others stayed on and continued with pro-Soviet propaganda at the Voice of America for several more years.

By 1953, the Voice of America management, then still in the State Department, was changed and the station no longer had a distinct pro-Soviet bias. In response to public criticism and strong pressure from Congress, the Voice of America started to air more detailed reports about human rights abuses behind the Iron Curtain. This was evident in the 1953 VOA Polish Service lineup which included regular broadcasts on exposing Soviet propaganda lies about the United States and conditions within the Soviet Block. There were far more of such programs in the 1953 VOA Polish Service lineup compared to the 1951 program schedule.

Two years earlier, the Voice of America (VOA), which was at that time located in New York but managed from Washington by the State Department, was under heavily criticism, particularly from Republicans in the U.S. Congress, for failing to counter Soviet propaganda. In letters smuggled to the United States, radio listeners described VOA Polish programs as “uninteresting, drab, bureaucratic in tone, unconvincing.” By 1953, almost every VOA Polish program listed in the January-February schedule was designed to promote freedom of expression and expose communist failures. These were not American propaganda lies but polemical journalism although still not as comprehensive, well-informed and hard hitting as Radio Free Europe programs with which VOA tried to compete. In reality, the two American-funded stations complemented each other with somewhat different style of programming.

Some of the programs listed in the 1953 VOA Polish Service Program Schedule included:

Life of Polish Workers Under Communist Rule

Embarrassing Press Reports From A Few Years Ago From Communist Press

Responses to Lies of Radio Warsaw

Life of Polish Peasants Under Communist Oppression

Review of Free Polish Press

Satirical Songs and Political Satire

We Read What We Want

News About Poland and Countries Behind the Iron Curtain

Interviews With Recent Escapees from Poland

Outing of Informers of the Secret Police

Truth About Poland

Fighting Lies About America

When I joined the VOA Polish Service in 1973 in the period of détente in relations with the Soviet Union during the Nixon-Ford administrations, such polemical programs have almost completely disappeared. RFE was then well ahead of VOA in the number of radio listeners in Poland and remained in the lead for many years. VOA caught up with RFE only during the Reagan administration when restrictions on criticism of the Soviet Union and communism were lifted in the 1980s.

Many foreign language broadcasters at the Voice of America were strongly anti-communist and happy to see Eisenhower becoming president. However, some partisan VOA English Service reporters engaged in journalistic activism against the Republican administration. One VOA reporter allegedly tried to get a U.S. senator to criticize President Eisenhower’s decision to send U.S. troops to Lebanon. The senator refused the request and reported the incident.

READ MORE:General Eisenhower accused WWII VOA of ‘insubordination’

The cover for January-February 1953 The Voice of America World Program Schedules booklet featured a photograph of President-Elect Dwight D. Eisenhower.

WHEN THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION at Chicago elected Dwight D. Eisenhower (see Front Cover) as its Presidential candidate last July, THE VOICE OF AMERICA was on the spot to report the dramatic proceedings. Though the months which followed, VOA reporters covered the campaigns of both Presidential candidates extensively, bringing to listeners overseas the highlights pf this latest chapter in American political history, which culminated in Mr. Eisenhower’s election last November.

Partisanship has returned to the Voice of America to an unprecedented level under the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)–now called the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM)–especially during the last two years of the Obama administration. In 2017, some Voice of America journalists were openly mocking President-Elect Donald Trump and his supporters on the day of his inauguration. Such extreme partisan behavior among VOA reporters who are U.S. federal government employees would have been unthinkable during the strongly pro-Soviet Roosevelt administration, anti-communist but still moderate by the Cold War’s standards Eisenhower administration, or any administration prior to the time when the Obama administration-controlled BBG Board appointed its latest management team.

This does not imply that President Obama or his White House aides encouraged such behavior or paid much attention at all to the Voice of America, but VOA officials appointed during the last two years of his administration allowed it to happen for the first time in VOA’s history and failed to stop it in a timely manner. Contrary to some reports, usually appearing in more Left-leaning media, which suggest that President Trump may want to bring a Right-wing bias to the Voice of America, it is a Left-wing bias which still dominates Voice of America programming two years into his administration while Donald Trump already effectively communicates his views directly to Americans and the world via Twitter.

Every kind of political bias—Right, Left, Republican, Democrat, or inspired by propaganda of a foreign source—when included in Voice of America content is against the VOA Charter and therefore violates U.S. law. Only a non-partisan Voice of America can hope to have bipartisan support for continued funding from American taxpayers. Those who have heard about recent scandals at the United States Agency for Global Media are increasingly questioning why they should pay for any biased U.S. government media outlet although the need for the Voice of America to broadcast to some countries still exists if it can regain its right footing.

 
 

Notes:

  1. Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years: Waging Peace 1956-1961 (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1965) 279.
P.

Pro-Stalin Voice of America Propaganda Revealed in 1984 VOA Interview with Józef Czapski

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum

A recent (2017) independent study by the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) focusing on Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts to Iran has found that under Obama administration officials these broadcasts “perpetuated to audiences the appearance of pro-regime [Iran] propaganda, rather than objective reporting, on the part of both the VOA and Farda.” Radio Farda broadcasts to Iran are produced by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Both RFE/RL and VOA have been managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) federal agency which has been renamed in August 2018 as the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM). The AFPC study also found that “reportage on bilateral relations between the U.S. government and the Iranian regime conveyed an impression of equivalence between the parties, a position that is both surprising and improper for broadcasting that is funded by the U.S. government.” “It is also deeply misleading,” the study said, “insofar as it conflates the Iranian regime with the Iranian people, whereas the U.S. government opposes the former while supporting the latter.”

While the BBG denied that there was “systematic bias,” the independent study, which had been commissioned by the BBG, revealed a fundamental managerial and journalistic failure on the part of BBG officials as well as VOA and RFE/RL executives, editors and reporters. The study also hinted that opposing points of view on the Obama administration policy toward Iran were censored.

Such bias and censorship are not new to the Voice of America. VOA officials and journalists had embraced and promoted Soviet propaganda lies during World War II and covered up Stalin’s crimes during certain periods even after 1945. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty generally avoided such pro-Soviet bias and censorship during the Cold War.

At certain periods, especially during its early history, some VOA officials and reporters were easily deceived by Soviet propaganda. A few of the early VOA journalists later went to work for communist regimes in Eastern Europe.

Others tried to present the truth, but their voices were silenced by Voice of America managers. One of those censored by the Voice of America during his visit to the United States in 1950 when he attempted to talk at length about the Katyn Massacre was Polish military officer, writer and artist Józef Czapski. In 1941 and 1942, he had made a futile search for thousands of missing Polish officers in Soviet Russia. They were killed on the orders of Stalin in 1940. Some of the members of the U.S. Congress spoke publicly about VOA’s censorship of Józef Czapski. VOA officials claimed there was no censorship and that Czapski agreed to the shortening of his interview. Later, under tremendous pressure from the U.S. Congress, VOA stopped its censorship of the Katyn story but resumed it partially until the Reagan administration eliminated all VOA censorship about such Soviet crimes.

In an 1984 interview with VOA Polish Service correspondent Wacław Bniński, Józef Czapski described the Soviet propaganda lies about the Katyn Massacre and the initial acceptance and promotion of such lies by U.S. government officials and propagandists.

Promoting of Soviet propaganda lies in early Voice of America broadcasts and later coverup of Stalin’s crimes in the late 1940s and early 1950s did not go unnoticed in the U.S. Congress. Congressman Philip J. Philbin (D-MA) spoke about it in the House of representatives on May 16, 1952. He mentioned VOA’s censorship of Józef Czapski’s Katyn statement and efforts by former Office of War Information (OWI) journalist Julius Epstein to expose the pro-Soviet bias in Voice of America broadcasts. VOA officials tried to discredit Epstein and his claims. One VOA official suggested that Epstein, who was a refugee from Nazi Germany, was perhaps unworthy of being a naturalized U.S. citizen and should be investigated.

The SPEAKER. Under the previous order of the House, the gentleman from Massachusetts [Mr. PHILBIN] is recognized for 30 minutes.

POLAND AND HUMAN LIBERTY

Mr. PHILBIN. Mr. Speaker, it has been my custom since I have been a Member of this body on the anniversary of Poland’s Constitution Day to join other Members of the House in commemorating that great event in world history.

I think that Poland’s Constitution Day has new significance this year, because already there are signs that the indomitable Polish people and other people similarly oppressed in Western Europe and in other parts of the world are at last, after many years of persecution and suffering, prepared to move in order to throw off the shackles that so cruelly bind them.

There is another reason this year why those of us dedicated to democratic principles of self-determination and justice should make special efforts to keep the great issues of human freedom alive in diplomatic and political circles and that is the current investigation of the outrageous massacre at Katyn.

Since this frightful mass slaughter occurred the world was led to believe that the Germans were responsible for it. Even the publicity agencies of our own Government, such as OWI and the Voice of America, either by their silence or by implication, have given the impression that the Germans perpetrated this horrible and indescribable blood bath. It is interesting for me to note that even though the OWI and later the Voice of America had, or should have had, access to the facts of this cold-blooded slaughter of 15,000 loyal Polish officers, who were massacred on Soviet soil in the spring of 1940, the evidence unhappily shows that these agencies apparently accepted the Russian version of the horrible incident, namely, that it had been perpetrated by the Germans.

All the more distressing is that after the war, when a large number of undeniable facts became available indicating that it was not the Germans, but the Russians, who massacred the Poles, the Voice of America kept silent. This silence was all the more difficult to understand in the light of the fact that that agency had available to it complete evidence in the Katyn case as assembled by a well-known writer for the New York Herald Tribune. Not only did the Voice of America fail to publish or broadcast this evidence, but it failed to protect the efforts of public-spirited citizens and good American patriots, some of them former high officials of the Government, to try to bring out the facts. Despite the fact that there was intense interest in it all over Europe, where front-page feature stories appeared in the European press concerning the incident, our own foreign publicity and propaganda agencies were as silent as the tomb.

Are we to assume, according to the views of the writer mentioned above, that the Voice therefore decided to play down Katyn because it would create too much hatred against Stalin among the Poles. It is indeed appropriate to ask, as he has. whether anyone connected with this Government desires to create love for Stalin among the Poles at the American taxpayer’s expense.

Moreover, it should be noted that the Voice censored the speech of Count Joseph Czapski, one of the few survivors of Katyn, when he was permitted to ad- dress the Polish people through the facilities of the Voice. He was not permitted to mention the mere word of Katyn. I am at a complete loss to understand such a policy. Why was it pursued?

If we are interested in helping the Polish people to liberate themselves from oppression, why was the truth about Katyn suppressed for more than 8 years? Why did the officials of this Government consider it proper to tell the truth about Katyn in May 1951 when the same truth was unfit to be produced in 1949 and 1950, not to speak of the years before that?

Now that a House committee, under the leadership of our esteemed colleague from Indiana [Mr. MADDEN] is currently investigating all aspects of the Katyn massacre, we may at least expect to get the full truth as it is available from witnesses and documentary evidence.

In order to document the foregoing remarks that I have made in behalf of Poland and especially my references to Katyn, I desire to set forth in the RECORD a portion of an article entitled “The OWI and the Voice of America,” by Julius Epstein, experienced foreign correspondent, former language editor of the OWI and a well-known newspaperman.

It is very difficult for me to understand the tenderness found in many high places for the welfare of persons who are the known enemies of this Nation and its institutions.

We are engaged in a war, call it a police action if you will, but it is one of the bloodiest wars in American history. What is happening in Korea is only a Sunday School picnic compared to what can happen elsewhere if patent instigation from the Kremlin succeeds. … FULL TEXT IN 1952 CONGRESSIONAL RECORD

During World War II, overseas radio broadcasts of the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI), which only later became known as the Voice of America (VOA), repeated and promoted Soviet propaganda lies under VOA’s first so-called director but in reality the radio program production chief John Houseman. Houseman’s extreme pro-Soviet line resulted in him being forced to resign in 1943. 1 But the real directors of these early “Voice of America” wartime broadcast and Soviet sympathizers hired by John Houseman continued their collusion with Soviet propagandists and covered up Stalin’s crimes until the end of World War II. Partial censorship of the Katyn massacre story by the Voice of America continued with interruptions until the 1980s.

One of the early contributors to OWI information programs and later a volunteer in launching first VOA broadcasts in Russian in 1947 was Kathleen Harriman, daughter of President Roosevelt’s wartime ambassador to Moscow W. Averell Harriman. She had worked for OWI as a young reporter in London and later in Moscow, where she accompanied her father. It was Ambassador Harriman who in 1944 sent his 25-year-old daughter on a Soviet-organized propaganda trip to the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, the site of the mass murder of thousands of Polish military officers and members of the Polish intelligentsia. After her trip to Katyn, she produced a report for the State Department which supported the Soviet propaganda claim that the Germans were the perpetrators of the mass murder. The Polish prisoners of war in Soviet hands were in fact executed in the spring of 1940 by the NKVD secret police on the orders of Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Politburo. As Russia was then America’s military ally fighting Nazi Germany, President Roosevelt did not want to disclose Stalin’s genocidal crimes to Americans and foreign audiences.

When the Germans announced the discovery of the Katyn graves in April 1943, the Office of War Information immediately started to broadcast and promote the Soviet propaganda lie about Katyn, even though high-level State Department diplomats, who earlier had warned the FDR White House of Soviet and communist influence at the agency in charge of “Voice of America” broadcasts, advised against blindly accepting the Kremlin’s claims of innocence. Ambassador Harriman, his daughter, and OWI’s “Voice of America” propagandists helped to boost and spread the Kremlin’s false propaganda claims. It was one of the most blatant Russian propaganda lies, or what now would be called fake news, of the 20th century.

With so many high-level U.S. government officials and the Voice of America tainted by the Soviet lie, it is no surprise that VOA’s early history has been covered up, distorted, re-written and falsely presented by friendly writers with links to the agency, now called the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) and previously known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). They have ignored and most likely purposely obscured the early collusion between the Roosevelt administration and Soviet propagandists. They never mentioned VOA’s participation in the Katyn lie. They never addressed the later cover-up of Soviet crimes which lasted until the Voice of America and State Department officials in charge of VOA were forced by Congress to change the course on Katyn reports in the early 1950s.

John Houseman is presented in these books and VOA promotional materials (even in 2018 VOA public relations materials) not as an apologist for Stalin, but as a defender of truthful journalism. His biography posted online by the VOA Public Relations Office says nothing about the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Military Intelligence preventing Houseman from traveling abroad during World War II because of his suspected pro-Soviet activities.

VOA Public Relations (2018)

“John Houseman, a Romanian-born immigrant and successful actor, author, and film producer, served as Voice of America’s first director just as World War II was entangling the Western world. In spite of a steady stream of bad news related to wartime losses, Houseman determined that VOA would tell listeners the truth, whether it was good for the U.S., or bad for the U.S. ‘Only thus,’ he explained, ‘could we establish a reputation for honesty which we hoped would pay off on that distant but inevitable day when we would start reporting on our own invasions and victories.'” 2

One will not learn from these books, online articles and promotional brochures about Kathleen Harriman as one of the early contributors to the Voice of America programs and about her defense of the Katyn lie. Even in the late 1940s and in 1950, the Voice of America was censoring witnesses of Stalin’s crimes, including statements by Józef Czapski.

One of the early VOA directors, Charles W. Thayer, who himself was described by another Foreign Service officer Chester H. Opal as not being convinced that the Soviets had murdered the Polish officers at Katyn 3 disclosed in his memoirs published in 1959 that “unpaid volunteers including Averell Harriman’s daughter, Kathleen, were recruited to help in the studios, in violation of government regulations” 4 when in 1947 the Voice of America finally launched its Russian-language broadcasts. Thayer was VOA director from January 1948 to October 1949 but before that he was in charge of launching VOA Russian broadcasts. VOA did not broadcast in Russian before 1947, most likely because U.S. officials in change of the Office of War Information during World War II did not want to offend Stalin and may have assumed also that Soviet radio propaganda in Russian was sufficient for Russian-speking listeners.

Both Charles W. Thayer and Kathleen Harriman, who later went by her married name Kathleen Mortimer, at least initially believed in the Soviet Katyn lie. When questioned by a bipartisan committee of the House of Representative which investigated the Katyn massacre, Kathleen Harriman-Mortimer admitted that she was wrong in accepting the Soviet claims but insisted that in 1944 she was convinced that the Germans were responsible for the murders.

In line with the wishes of her father and President Roosevelt, who wanted at all cost to protect Stalin’s reputation as America’s main military ally against Hitler, Kathleen Harriman embraced the Soviet propaganda lie on Katyn. She wrote a special report for for her father and the State Department supporting the Soviet claims.

Testimony of Hon. William Averell Harriman, Director of Mutual Security in “The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings before the Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation of 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 7, 1952, page 2124.

Telegram From United States Embassy,
Moscow, January 25, 1944

(Telegram)

Moscow, January 25, 1944- Secretary of State, Washington. (For President and Secretary &” strictly confidential.)
Member of Embassy staff and my daughter have returned from trip Smolensk with British and American correspondents. While there they were shown evidence being collected by special commission to investigate German shooting of captured Polish officers in Katyn Forest close to Smolensk.

None of party was able to judge scientific evidence of autopsies which were performed in their presence. Moreover, they were not permitted to make independent investigations except for formal questioning of few witnesses made available. Correspondents filed reports telling what they saw without expressing opinions, but for some reason censor has held up these stories. The general evidence and testimony are inconclusive, but Kathleen and Embassy staff member believe probability massacre perpetrated by Germans. During Kathleen Mortimer’s testimony, her report on the trip to Katyn was also presented as an exhibit. It appears on page 2132.

Embassy of the United States of America,

Moscow, February 23, 1944. No. 207

Subject : Investigation by Soviet Authorities of the Massacre of Polish Soldiers in the Katyn Forest, near Smolensk. Secret The Honorable the Secretary of State,
Washington, D.C,

Sir: I have the honor to refer to luy secret telegram No. 247 of January 25, 7 p. in., concerning the activities of the Special Commission to Establish and Investigate the Circumstances of the Shooting by the German Fascist Invaders of Captive Polish Officers in the Katyn Woods. On January 21-23, 1944, the foreign correspondents in Moscow made a trip to Smolensk to witness the pro-ceedings of the Commission. The correspondents were accompanied by my daughter, Kathleen, and Mr. John F. Melby, Third Secretary of the Embassy. I am enclosing copies of their memoranda containing their observations on this trip. I am also enclosing a copy of the January 29, 1944, Moscow News which contains an abridged version of the formal report of the Commission.

Respectfully yours,

William Anerell Harriman.

File No. 711.6. Enclosures : 1-2-3-/ as stated.

Report Written by Mrs. Kathleen Harriman Mortimer After Visiting Katyn in January 1944

(Enclosure No. 2 to Despatch No. 207 dated February 23, 1944, from American Embassy, Moscow)

On January 23, 1944 members of the foreign press were taken to Smolensk to get first hand the evidence compiled by the Commission on the Katyn incident.
The party was shown the graves in the Katyn Rorest and witnessed post mortems of the corpses. As no member was in a position to evaluate the scientific evidence given, it had to be accepted at its face value.
The testimonial evidence provided by the Commission and witnesses was minute in detail and by American standards petty. We were expected to accept the statements of the high ranking Soviet officials as true, because they said it was true.

Despite this it is my opinion that the Poles were murdered by the Germans. The most convincing evidence to uphold this was the methodical manner in which the job was done, something the Commission thought not sufficiently important to stress. They were more interested in the medical evidence as conclusive proof and the minute circumstantial evidence surrounding the crime.

These Soviet declarations of innocence were the biggest propaganda lie of the 20th century, but they were eagerly promoted in the early Voice of America broadcasts under the influence of its pro-Soviet fellow traveler sympathizers. Among them was the person later declared to be VOA’s first director, Hollywood actor and theatre producer John Houseman.

Houseman was hiring his communist friends to work on producing Voice of America broadcasts. In 1943, the State Department and U.S. Army Intelligence secretly identified him to the FDR White House as being dangerously pro-Soviet. It was an unusual accusation made by some of President Roosevelt’s closest advisors because he and the administration pursued a policy of what could be called an extreme accommodation toward Stalin. The secret accusation against Houseman and a few other OWI officials, made by FDR’s friend and confidant Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, led to the forced resignation of the man later known as the “first Voice of America director” although Houseman was never publicly identified as a communist sympathizer. This allowed for spreading of the myth that he was a defender of truthful and honest VOA journalism. Under other officials who were even more responsible for the pro-Kremlin tone and content of early Voice of America broadcasts, VOA continued to air Soviet propaganda for the remainder of the war and even into the late 1940s, with the Katyn story still being occasionally censored as late as 1951.

In 1952, Kathleen Harriman Mortimer was called before a bipartisan investigative committee of the House of Representatives and admitted that she had been wrong in blaming the Katyn mass murder on Nazi Germany. After that she faded into relative obscurity and Voice of America officials never mentioned her as volunteer contributor to VOA programs.

Testimony of Kathleen Mortimer on November 12, 1952 before the Select Committee on the Katyn Forest Massacre:

Mr. Pucinski. I wonder if you would straighten out one point for us here.

There has been some speculation that you went to Katyn as a correspondent or adviser or observer for the OWI. Did you have any connections with the OWI at that time?

Mrs. Mortimer. I was a correspondent in London for Newsweek magazine, before I went to Moscow, and I resigned from that post when I went to Moscow with my father. I worked for the OWI in a purely unofficial capacity. Everybody there at the Embassy was very short-staffed and, in other words, pitched in and helped.

Mr. Pucinski. Did you file any reports for the OWI as a result of your visit to Katyn?

Mrs. Mortimer. No, this was the only thing I wrote.

Mr. Pucinski. I have one more question. You were quite admired in Moscow, were you not? You were 25 years old, and the Ambassador’s daughter, and people sort of looked to you with a great deal of respect, did they not?

Mrs. Mortimer. At the time I went to Moscow I was the only American woman there.

Mr. Pucinski. The reason why I asked that question is this. I was wondering, had your observations and had your conclusions been different, had you believed in all the reasoning through your report, which indicated so strongly that the Soviets committed this massacre, could you, or were you in a position to so state, or were you somewhat bound by your position in Moscow to say that it was the Germans who did this?

Mrs. Mortimer. I would not say that my position in Moscow would have any bearing on what I would write in a report. I have been a correspondent before, and writing up a news story was not something that

Mr. Pucinski. You were free of any pressures, to state your con- clusions as you saw them ?

Mrs. Mortimer. When I came home, my father asked me to write down what I had seen, and that is what I did.

Mr. PuciNSKi. And what is your conclusion today ?

Mrs. Mortimer. I have since had the opportunity to read your interim report and read what the New York press has said about your committee, and you had access to every side of the picture, and I think, undoubtedly

Mr. Pucinski. Aside from our report,

Mrs. Mortimer. Well, that is my information on it,

Mr. Pucinski. Aside from our report, can you think of anything that you observed there in 1944 at Katyn, which may strengthen the evidence that we have already compiled, to the conclusion that the Soviets murdered these men? In retrospect today, is there anything that you observed at that time that would strengthen that belief today?

Mrs. Mortimer. I would say that would be, off hand, hard to answer now, without going over your report here and mine here.

Mr. Pucinski. No further questions.

Chairman Madden. As a final question let me ask. You would testify today, would you, that the Russians committed the massacre at Katyn ?

Mrs. Mortimer. I would. 5

Notes:

  1. “First VOA Director was a pro-Soviet Communist sympathizer, State Dept. warned FDR White House,” Ted Lipien, 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/. Last accessed September 2, 2018.
  2. John Houseman (1942 – 1943), Past VOA Directors, VOA Public Relations. https://www.insidevoa.com/a/john-houseman-1942-1943/4485185.html. Last accessed September 2, 2018.
  3. “How a refugee journalist exposed Voice of America censorship of the Katyn Massacre,” Cold War Radio Museum, April 16, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/how-refugee-journalist-exposed-voice-of-america-katyn-censorship/. Last accessed September 1, 2018.
  4. Charles W. Thayer, Diplomat (London: Michael Joseph, 1959), 187.
  5. Ibid., 2148-2149.
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The “Divide and Conquer” pamphlet published by the U.S. Office of War Information (O.W.I.) in 1942 is a unique example of government attempts to warn Americans during World War II about the dangers of Nazi propaganda and to help them identify and guard against enemy disinformation. The instructional brochure, transcribed and republished by the Cold War Radio Museum for the first time in several decades with an extensive introduction by international journalist, broadcaster, writer and propaganda expert Ted Lipien, also offers interesting lessons for today’s propaganda wars with their clandestine and overt operations undertaken by authoritarian governments of countries such as Russia and China to influence and subvert U.S. political and electoral system.

“He knows that prejudice in any form plays his game,” the wartime guide to Nazi propaganda warned Americans about Hitler’s motives.

“Before Hitler attacks any country, his agents carefully sow seeds of hate and disunity, turning people against their own governments, governments against their allies, class against class.”

It could have been easily a comment on the current aims of the Kremlin’s propaganda or the behavior of some politicians, both foreign and domestic, who engage in fear mongering and subversion of democratic elections. Ted Lipien shows how this expose of Nazi propaganda is still highly relevant for today’s information wars.

In 1942 Americans received the warning that Hitler wanted “To destroy our national unity [and] create unrest in all groups of the population.”

The alert was undoubtedly timely and based on solid evidence although it was less obvious that such Nazi subversion was producing the desired effect of changing American minds as it did when used against some of the European nations. In America, Hitler’s propaganda was said to be “trying to set capital against labor, White against Negro, Catholic against Protestant, Christian against Jew.”

The warnings about Hitler’s intentions were true, but there was little evidence presented in the U.S. government pamphlet mailed out to American households that Nazi propaganda was achieving its ends among Americans. Similarities with some of today’s propaganda, however, are immediately apparent in the 1942 brochure and make for a very interesting and enlightening reading of this historical document reprinted for the first time in many years.

In the first months of the war with Japan and Nazi Germany, the Roosevelt Administration became concerned about Japanese and German propaganda attempting to to influence American public opinion. In articles reminiscent of some of the media reporting on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election campaign, Americans were told that German and Japanese propaganda radio broadcasts were interfering with the U.S. electoral process.

Even though the “Divide and Conquer” pamphlet was strictly about resisting the influence of Nazi ideology, it still offers valuable lessons for identifying attempts at interference from any ideological perspective and any government or media source. This includes the Russian State now headed by an ex-KGB officer President Vladimir Putin. He has shown himself to be an expert in the use of propaganda, disinformation and subversion. Many of the Nazi propaganda techniques described in this booklet have not changed and are now being used with the help of new digital technologies against the United States and other democratic nations. Ultimately, there was not much difference between the evils of Fascism and Communism and their respective propaganda. While “Divide and Conquer” presented and warned against only one type of propaganda, we can still draw today many valuable lessons from this 1942 U.S. government document.

 
 



E.

Early U.S. government press release on ‘voice’ of America

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum

New York, New York. 1943 “United Nations” exhibition of photographs presented by the United States Office of War Information (OWI) on Rockefeller Plaza. Listening to broadcasts of President Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek, heard every half-hour from a loudspeaker at one end of the frame containing the Atlantic Charter. This frame is surrounded by four statues of the four freedoms. The Office of War Information was the U.S. government wartime propaganda agency in charge of early shortwave radio broadcasts later known as the Voice of America (VOA). Voice of America was not the official name of U.S. overseas radio broadcasts during World War II which were presented under several different names. The agency produced propaganda in various media for both foreign and domestic consumption, including propaganda films justifying the internment of Japanese American U.S. citizens. Wartime U.S. shortwave broadcasts covered up Stalin’s crimes and lauded the Soviet Union as supporting freedom and democracy. Some agency officials also engaged in illegal attempts to censor domestic U.S. media to prevent them from reporting negative news about the Soviet Union. In 1952, a report issued by a bipartisan congressional committee criticized U.S. government’s wartime propaganda activities, including Voice of America broadcasts, as misleading foreigners and Americans and harming longterm U.S. interests.

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When the first U.S. government’s wartime direct radio broadcast in German had been transmitted to Europe from a studio in New York sometime in February 1942, these programs and the station in charge of their production were not yet known as the Voice of America (VOA). They would not be widely known under that name for several more years. We could find no official press release announcing the start of these broadcasts which later became part of a government-funded media outlet now called the Voice of America. VOA has been officially using this name and is recognized under this for many decades. Much of VOA’s early history, however, has never been well documented. It may have been deliberately distorted and partly erased from memory by U.S. government officials and friendly historians in an ultimately misguided effort to protect VOA’s image during the Cold War.

In the beginning, it was not at all clear what the U.S. government shortwave radio operations were officially called, but it was clear what they were to achieve — a propaganda advantage over Nazi Germany and Japan. Those in charge of early U.S. broadcasts were not worried about Soviet propaganda. Being strongly pro-Soviet, they considered it helpful to the U.S. war effort and allowed it to influence U.S. radio propaganda. They often incorporated Soviet propaganda, including its lies and disinformation, into U.S. broadcasts.

The early American programs for overseas audiences had various names, such as “Voices from America” and “America Calling Europe.” The “Voice of America” brand was not yet firmly established and early U.S. government propagandists strangely did not attempt to create a distinctive brand, most likely because they did not think that these programs would outlast the war. Some listeners to U.S. government shortwave radio broadcasts could not recall their exact name, but they remembered them for pushing Soviet propaganda.

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. 1

In the first months of the war with Japan and Nazi Germany, the Roosevelt Administration issued a number of public warnings about Japanese and German propaganda attempting to to influence American public opinion. In articles reminiscent of some of the reporting on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election campaign, there were warnings from the Roosevelt Administration that German and Japanese propaganda broadcasts were designed to interfere with the American electoral process. A short news item in the U.S. government news bulletin Victory issued by the Office of Facts and Figures (OFF), on April 7, 1942 included such a warning under the title: “Axis radiocasters try to put their hooks into U.S. primary elections”:

Axis radiocasters try to put their hooks into U.S. primary elections

Enemy propagandists jumped into American politics March 31, OFF revealed.
 
In the role of volunteer campaign orators, they took to the air in anticipation of the coming primary elections.
 
The Nazis beamed a new program at the United States from their so-called “American Freedom” station, with one Joe Scanlon, calming to be an American. he exhorted:
 
Join us in our endeavor to save our boys from foreign battle fields. You can compel the Government to act. The elections are coming again and our people will have a last opportunity to reassert themselves. Organize as free Americans to fight the dictatorship being set up in Washington. The only real enemies sit right within the ranks of our Government today.”
 
Tokyo’s “America First”
 
Tokyo named the new short-wave broadcast the “America First” program and the Japanese “America Firster” declared:
 
“The isolationists were right.”
 
From Tokyo too came the assurance that, “Japan would be a charming partner to any nation that would understand Japan’s ideals correctly,” and the promise that Japan would share with the United States its newly won rubber and tin if only Americans “will get rid of Roosevelt.” 2
 

 

While German and Japanese shortwave radio broadcasts had a very limited listenership in the United States, the fear of their impact was high. The Roosevelt Administration, however, was remarkably silent about its own efforts to counter such a threat or its plans to target Germany with American propaganda. It was also silent about Soviet and communist propaganda in the United States. The U.S. government launched radio broadcasts in many foreign languages during the war, but strangely and significantly there was no Russian-language radio program. VOA did not start broadcasting in Russian until 1947.

U.S. radio broadcasting during the war did not have an easily recognizable name or a separate director in charge of the combined news and radio operations. They were initially known as “Radio Program Bureau” in the Overseas Branch of the Office of War Information (OWI). Programs were written and recorded mostly in New York, where the overseas radio operation was based. The Radio Program Bureau had a chief, not a director, who reported to the Chief of the New York Regional Office and the Director of the Overseas Branch of the OWI. The Overseas Branch Director based in New York reported to the OWI Director in Washington.

The U.S. German radio program went on the air with the announcement Stimmen aus Amerika (“Voices from America”) sometime in February (various dates have been suggested), but the VOA name was not officially adopted for these overseas broadcasts until several years later. Initially managed by the U.S. government’s Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI) and distributed by its Foreign Information Service (FIS), these radio programs were managed after June 1942 by the newly-created Office of War Information, a central government propaganda agency targeting both domestic and foreign publics. They remained there until 1945 when the Office of War Information was abolished by an executive order signed by President Truman. Voice of America programs were then transferred to the State Department, but even then the State Department office in charge of the radio broadcasts did not have “Voice of America” in its official name although by then it was the name commonly used to describe them to radio listeners abroad and to American taxpayers who paid for them.

One of  the first, if not the first U.S. government press release about World War II U.S. shortwave radio programs to Europe and Asia was issued on December 7, 1942 on the first anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It took about ten months after the first German radio broadcast went on the air for the Roosevelt Administration to explain to Americans in a government press release how it was responding to Nazi and Japanese propaganda. In the press release, Robert E. Sherwood, Director of Overseas Operations in the Office of War Information, used the phrase “voice of America”  but not as the official name of these transmissions. “V” in “voice” is not capitalized, either in the press release or in the magazine article to which it referred. 3 Sherwood, a Hollywood playwright who also served as President Roosevelt’s speechwriter, described what everyone then agreed were propaganda and psychological warfare operations aimed against America’s enemies. They were also designed to support underground resistance in countries under Axis occupation, as Sherwood explained in more detail in his article titled “‘Send the Word, Send the Word–Over There’: The U. S. On the Psychological Warfare Front” published in The Army and Navy Journal.

 

 

###

 
 

Office of War Information Press Release – December 7, 1942

 
 

ADVANCE RELEASE

 
Advance Release: For MONDAY AFTERNOON Papers, December 7, 1942
 
McMillan-74415

OWI-875

OFFICE OF WAR INFORMATION

American shortwave broadcasts to Axis-occupied Europe and Asia are being heard by the peoples in those countries, according to Robert E. Sherwood, Director of Overseas Operations, Office of War Information.
 
In an article in the December 7 issue of the Army and Navy Journal, Sherwood says the question most frequently asked about America’s psychological warfare is whether we can be sure anyone hears the news broadcasts.
 
Although no polls of opinion can be taken in these countries, Sherwood says, “We get the answer from our enemies themselves, from their increasing admonitions to their own people to stop believing the lies that are told them by American and British and Russian and Chinese propagandists. Our enemies wouldn’t be denying these ‘lies’ if their peoples in ever increasing numbers had not heard or read them.”
 
Increased access to the vast facilities of the British Broadcasting Company has helped make possible the distribution of American news in Europe, the article states.
 
“Several times each day the people of Europe can hear the voice of America rebroadcast by the powerful battery of B. B. C. transmitters, long wave as well as short wave.”
 
In addition to communicating with the peoples of occupied countries by broadcast, the Director of Overseas Operations emphasizes that word is gotten into Axis-dominated countries by every other available means.
 
Sherwood cites the “friendly and valuable cooperation with the R. A. F. Within a month after Pearl Harbor, the R.A.F. was dropping millions of American leaflets which gave the text of President Roosevelt’s first war-time report on the state of the Nation.”
 
This means of communications also was used simultaneously with Presidont Roosevelt’s address to the French people, broadcast from more than 50 transmitters on both sides of the Atlantic, to herald arrival of an A.E.F. in North Africa.
 
“Words can bolster the morale of our friends overseas and thus increase their powers of resistance. Words can disrupt the morale of our enemies and thus decrease their powers of resistance,” Sherwood says.
 
According to Sherwood, the most remarkable achievement in psychological war­fare was that of the British in 1940-41. Their confidence in meeting the enemy, the words they hurled into Europe “confounded the all-conquering Nazis and sowed in their people the first seeds of doubt of their invincibility.
 
“The delivery of such great words to the peoples who must hear them has been the job of the various psychological warfare agencies of the United Nations.
 
“We have been sending the word over there by radio, by press services, by pamphlets, leaflets, posters, movies and even by word of mouth which travels with mysterious speed and effectiveness and penetrates the stoutest walls of censorship and suppression that the Nazis, the Fascists or the fanatical militarists of Tokyo can build about their own and conquered peoples.
 
“‘The Yanks are coming!’”
 
 

###

 
 

It it worth noting that when used with reference to World War II U.S. radio broadcasts, terms such as propaganda and psychological warfare did not yet have a strongly negative connotations that they do now. Many Americans, including some American journalists outside of the government, considered propaganda and psychological warfare broadcasts to be a normal and necessary part of fighting a total war. In his article, Sherwood explained the role of propaganda as assisting in the war effort but not a substitue for use of military force to defeat the enemy.
 

 
Words will not win this war. Words will not even win a little part of this war unless they are the convincing heralds of the overwhelming power of our armed forces and the unqualified good faith of our Government. But the right words delivered at the right place at the right time can save the lives of soldiers and sailors of the United Nations who have to do the real fighting and the real winning. 4
 

 
Early U.S. radio programs usually did not include outright lies, but they often intentionally did not offer the full truth and distorted it according to the wishes of the administration, and, even more often and more dangerously, according to strong ideological biases of their authors. This applied especially to news and commentary about the Soviet Union. Soviet Russia was then America’s major military ally against Nazi Germany. During the war, Russia was not criticized or exposed in U.S. government’s broadcasts for expansionist and repressive policies of its totalitarian communist regime. It was presented instead by the Roosevelt Administration, both to foreign audiences and to Americans, as a dynamic progressive nation and a valuable partner helping the United States to defeat Germany that would also help build a more peaceful world after the war. Those who knew better, including some members of Congress, were appalled by such pro-Soviet propaganda and warned that the United States government would come to regret it.

“The Manual of Information” for the News and Features Bureau in the Overseas Branch of the Office of War Information printed for internal use in February 1944 explained in some detail the purpose of OWI’s propaganda and psychological warfare programs.

It pointed out that President Roosevelt’s Executive Order “of June 13, 1942, and a later order of March 9, 1943, charged the Office of War Information with the responsibility of conveying information to the world at large and empowered it to conduct among foreign nations propaganda which would contribute to victory.”

The manual also noted that “the program for foreign propaganda in areas of actual or projected military operations was to be coordinated with military plans and subject to the approval of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

In the words of Elmer Davis, Director of the Office of War Information, at a hearing of the subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations of the U.S. House of Representatives May 18, 1943:

“…this is a war agency, which owes its existence solely to the war, and was established to serve as one of the instruments by which the war will be won…an auxiliary to the armed forces whose effectiveness has been recognized by military commanders all the way down from Julius Caesar to George C. Marshall.” 5

While the manual emphasized the need for truth in military news, it also provided a significant loophole for censoring information considered harmful to the war effort. 6

 
 

 
 

 
Truth in Propaganda
 
Truth is employed by the Overseas Branch in all its media because truth is on the side of the United Nations in this war and is our most effective propaganda weapon. Truth in military news creates confidence in all our output; truth about all phases of our democratic life (imperfect as it may be in some respects) proves the strength of democracy.
 
However, 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. 7
 

 

The U.S. government-hired staff preparing these early broadcasts included a number of communist and Soviet sympathizers. Some of them found government employment thanks to John Houseman, a theatre producer who was most directly in charge of radio production rather than in charge of editorial policy. His official title was not the Voice of America director. The 1943 Official Register of the United States listing persons occupying administrative and supervisory positions in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the Federal Government, and in the District of Columbia Government, as of May 1, 1943, shows Houseman’s official title as: “Chief, Radio Program Bureau, Overseas Branch, Office of War Information.” Officials who were later in charge of the Voice of America and friendly historians assigned the title of the first VOA director to him several years later usually without mentioning that the organization was not created under that name. They also glossed over the fact that the early radio operation was controlled by extreme left-wing idealists and pro-Soviet sympathizers, with John Houseman being one of them, but not necessarily in the most important executive position.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 
 

Another organizational list of the Office of War Information personnel was published on July 14, 1942 in Victory, the official weekly bulletin of the OWI. It shows Joseph Barnes as Chief, International Press and Radio Bureau (N.Y.). Barnes was John Houseman’s immediate boss. Houseman’s name does not appear on the personnel list in the Victory bulletin. One could only speculate that his was not one of the most important positions within the organization. 8

 
 

 
 

There was no specific information in the Office of Facts and Figures (OFF) and later OWI Victory weekly bulletins in 1942 about the start of U.S. government’s shortwave broadcasts to Europe. It went largely unnoticed.

In 1942, official U.S. government news bulletins had far more material on Nazi and Japanese propaganda broadcasts than about any American efforts to counter them abroad. A news item in the January 20, 1942 Victory bulletin published by the agencies in the Office for Emergency Management said that on January 16, Archibald MacLeish, director of the Office of Facts and Figures, announced designation of the radio division of the OFF, under William B. Lewis as coordinator, as the central clearing agency for governmental broadcasting. The announcement said that “The action was taken by direction of President Roosevelt in a letter from Stephen Early, Secretary to the President, to Mr. MacLeish, under whose supervision the letter directed that the work be done.”

The letter also mentioned that Mr. MacLeish, through Coordinator Lewis, was “to handle certain Government programs on the networks in the United States,” 9 thus setting the stage for distribution of U.S. government’s propaganda not only abroad but also domestically. Domestic U.S. government propaganda later became a major conflict point with many members of Congress and some of the ethnic communities in the United States which viewed Stalin and the Soviet Union with considerable suspicion.

References to U.S. shortwave broadcasting operations were also rare in later editions of OWI bulletins. A brief news item in Victory on November 10, 1942 mentioned leasing by the government of 10 short-wave stations from five American commercial companies for the duration of the war emergency.

Another news item on November 10, 1942 mentioned President Roosevelt’s November 7 “Vice La France Eternelle!” radio broadcast in French to the French people in connection with U.S. military operations in French North Africa but did not explain how it was broadcast and by by whom.

A December 8, 1942 report described a special shortwave radio program offering scholarship to Islandic students at eight universities in the United States, again without giving the name of the U.S. government broadcaster in the Office of War Information. The Voice of America as a separate entity was not yet named as such or widely recognized as a government-run news organization. Its main purpose was propaganda and psychological warfare in support of what was generally accepted as the right cause of resisting fascism and helping the war effort. Most Americans, with the exception of some members of Congress, did not know that some of these early U.S. government broadcasters were also working to help Stalin and the Soviet Union achieve post-war political goals and from time to time worked against the policies and the interests of the United States set by the Roosevelt Administration. Some would even risk the lives of American soldiers with propaganda broadcasts if they concluded that the White House, the State Department and the War Department failed to be sufficiently progressive and supportive of causes and factions favored by the Soviet Union.

In a transcript of hearings on the 1943 OWI budget held on September 28, 1942 before a subcommittee of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, John Houseman’s name appears with the tile Chief of Program Division 10

 
 

 
 

In the 1944 Official Register of the United States, Elmer Davis is listed as the OWI Director, Robert Sherwood as Overseas Branch Director, Louis G. Cowan as Chief of New York Regional Office, and Lawrence Blochman as Chief of Radio Program Bureau. 11 In 1945, Edward W. Barrett is listed as Director of the Overseas Branch. Cowan and Blochman still have the same titles. 12

In 1946, after it was moved to the State Department, the Voice of America name still does not appear in the Official Register. John W. G. Ogilvie is listed as Acting Chief of the International Broadcasting Division in the State Department’s Office of International Information and Cultural Affairs. 13

Later editions of the Official Register until its last edition in 1959 also do not list the Voice of America as a separate administrative entity by that name within the State Department and in the United States Information Agency (USIA). However, after 1945 the Voice of America name is starting to appear in the Congressional Record and in other U.S. government and non-government publications. The 1946 edition of Broadcasting Stations of the World published by the Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service of the U.S. War Department lists medium wave radio transmissions of “The Voice of America in North Africa” by U.S. Information Service. 14

In February 1946, Assistant Secretary of State William Bennett spoke at length about Voice of America broadcasts and used the name repeatedly while testifying before the House Appropriations Committee about the 1947 budget request for the State Department. 15

The 1948 Official Register of the United States shows U.S. international broadcasting as the State Department’s “Division of International Broadcasting, headed by Charles Thayer, a Foreign Service Officer. It is listed under the State Department’s “Office of International Information.”

 
 

1948

 

 
 

After the Voice of America was moved in 1953 from the State Department to the newly-created United States Information Agency (USIA), it was placed in the Office of “Assistant USIA Director for Radio and Soviet Orbit.”

1954-1955

 


 
 

While the State Department and United States Information Agency offices where the Voice of America was placed and administered did not have VOA as their official name, Voice of America broadcasts and promotional materials issued in the 1950s regularly used the VOA brand name.

 
 

VOA 1951 Program Schedule Brochure

 

JANUARY – FEBRUARY 1959
 
The VOICE OF AMERICA Program Schedule is published by the United States Department of State, New York 19, N.Y., U.S.A. Send communications to this address
 
This publication appears simultaneously in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Korean and Chinese. Except where indicated, the contents of this Schedule are not copyrighted and may be reproduced by newspapers or magazines.

 
 

VOA 1959 Program Schedule Brochure

 

Within 3 months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Voice of America went on the air for the first time to tell the truth about America’s participation in the second world war.
 
The first broadcast (on February 24, 1942) [Cold War Radio Museum: various dates in February 1942 have been mentioned for the airing of the first German-language broadcast] was in the German language, penetrating the censorship screen established by the Nazi leaders. At the height of the war, the Voice was broadcasting more than 3,200 live programs weekly in about 40 languages.
 
Today, the Voice of America, speaking for the U.S. Government as the radio service of the U.S. Information Agency, provides millions of listeners in many parts of the world with objective newscasts, up-to-the-minute facts about U.S. policies, and information concerning the life and culture of the American people. Its broadcasts are beamed around the clock and around the globe in 37 languages over a network of 76 transmitters.

 
 

VOA’s Erased History

 
The Voice of America was not initially designed to be primarily a news gathering and news reporting organization. Office of War Information Director Elmer Davis told House Appropriations Committee members in 1942 that the main focus of shortwave radio broadcasts was propaganda and psychological warfare operations in support of the war effort, but he added that there was both good and bad propaganda:

 
 

 
I repeat what I said about propaganda — that it is an instrument which may use truth or falsehood as its material, which may be directed toward worthy or unworthy ends. We are going to use the truth, and we are going to use it toward the end of winning the war; for we know what would happen to the American people if we lose it. “Propaganda” is a word in bad odor in this country, but there is no public hostility to the idea of education as such, and we regard this part of our job as education. If we do it wrong, there is an ever-present safe guard. We tell you the way it looks to us, and if it looks otherwise to somebody else, there is no law against his standing up and saying so — in Congress, or on the radio, or in the newspapers, or on a soapbox. 16
 

 
 

OWI Director Elmer Davis told members of Congress that “propaganda is an instrument.” He stressed that “to condemn the instrument, because the wrong people use it for the wrong purposes, is like condemning the automobile because criminals use it for a getaway.” 17

Davis would later promote in “Voice of America” and domestic U.S. government radio broadcasts the biggest Soviet propaganda fake news lie of the 20th century about the mass murder of thousands of Polish POW officers and intellectual leaders known collectively as the Katyn Forest Massacre. His agency also tried to censor independent U.S. media outlets which exposed Soviet crimes to Americans.

A bipartisan congressional committee concluded in 1952 that “Mr. Davis, therefore, bears the responsibility for accepting the Soviet propaganda version of the Katyn massacre without full in­vestigation.” The committee added: “Testimony before this committee likewise proves that the Voice of America—successor to the Office of War Information—had failed to fully utilize available information concerning the Katyn massacre until the creation of this committee in 1951.” 18

In general, wartime U.S. government propaganda broadcasts presented Stalin as a trusted ally of the United States and a supporter of democracy and social justice. They also covered up his genocidal crimes and any truly negative news about communism. Early VOA broadcasters later backed the establishment of pro-Soviet governments in East-Central Europe in line with Moscow’s and, to only some extent, with FDR’s wishes. Their support for various communist movements and for the propaganda line from Moscow, however, often went beyond what even the FDR White House was willing to tolerate and produced conflicts with U.S. military leaders, including General Dwight Eisenhower. He accused those in charge of wartime Voice of America of “insubordination” toward the President of the United States. 19 After the war, a few of the early VOA journalists went to work for communist regimes in Eastern Europe.

As these early U.S. broadcasts took shape, some high-level officials within the Roosevelt Administration became concerned about the staffing of the radio broadcasting operation. In April 1943, the State Department informed the White House in a secret memo sent by Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles that John Houseman was too dangerously pro-Soviet even for the generally pro-Soviet American foreign policy at that time. Welles held the second top job in the State Department and was one of FDR’s close friends and foreign policy advisors. The State Department with the support of the Army Intelligence refused to issue Houseman a U.S. passport for official travel abroad. Houseman and several other early U.S. officials in charge of the broadcasting effort were forced to resign.

However, U.S. radio broadcasts favoring the Soviet Union continued through the end of World War II at the direction of Houseman’s patron, Robert E. Sherwood, who coordinated U.S. and Russian propaganda, first in Washington and later in London with the approval of the White House and the State Department but apparently with more enthusiasm than even the administration would have wished. Another of President Roosevelt’s personal friends and advisors, Adolf A. Berle who during the war was Assistant Secretary of State, wrote in his memoirs published in 1973 that World War II OWI and VOA officials were “following an extreme left-wing line in New York, without bothering to integrate their views with the State Department.” 20

The Voice of America did not immediately change its programming policy after the war. Even as the Cold War with the Soviet Union intensified, the change in VOA broadcasts was slow. A member of Congress read to the House of Representatives letters from Voice of America listeners in Poland describing some VOA radio programs in 1951 as “drab” and “unconvincing.”

VOA started to report more fully on Soviet atrocities in the early 1950s, mostly as a result of strong pressure from Congress. During World War II, there were no U.S. radio broadcasts in Russian as government officials in charge of what became the Voice of America did not see a need for them and were also most likely afraid that such broadcasts might offend Stalin and damage U.S.-Soviet friendship. This is also part of the erased or rarely mentioned early history of the Voice of America which later played a commendable role in winning the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

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Notes:

  1. Straszewicz, Czesław. O Świcie. Kultura, October, 1953, 61-62.
  2. United States. Office of War Information, United States. Office for Emergency Management. Division of Information, and United States. Office for Emergency Management. Victory. Washington, D.C.: Division of Information, Office for Emergency Management, April 7, 1942, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uiug.30112088069015?urlappend=%3Bseq=493. Accessed 04 June 2018.
  3. United States. Office of War Information. [Press Release] OWI-875, December 7, 1942.
  4. Robert E. Sherwood, ‘Send the Word, Send the Word–Over There” The U.S. On the Psychological Warfare Front. Army and Navy Journal, December 7, 1941 – December 7, 1942, 104.
  5. United States. Office of War Information. News and Features Bureau. Training Desk. Manual of Information, News And Features Bureau, Office of War Information, Overseas Branch. [Washington?]: The Training Desk, 1944.
  6. United States. Office of War Information. News and Features Bureau. Training Desk. Manual of Information, News And Features Bureau, Office of War Information, Overseas Branch. [Washington?]: The Training Desk, 1944.
  7. United States. Office of War Information. News and Features Bureau. Training Desk. Manual of Information, News And Features Bureau, Office of War Information, Overseas Branch. [Washington?]: The Training Desk, 1944.
  8. United States. Office of War Information, United States. Office for Emergency Management. Division of Information, and United States. Office for Emergency Management. Victory. Washington, D.C.: Division of Information, Office for Emergency Management, July 14, 1942, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015051143553;view=1up;seq=48. Accessed O4 June 2018.
  9. United States. Office of War Information, United States. Office for Emergency Management. Division of Information, and United States. Office for Emergency Management. Victory. Washington, D.C.: Division of Information, Office for Emergency Management, January 10, 1942, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uiug.30112088069015?urlappend=%3Bseq=114. Accessed 04 June 2018.
  10. United States. Congress. House. Hearings. Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., Hearings Cong. 77 sess. 2 Appropriations v. 15 1942, 406.
  11. United States Civil Service Commission. Official Register of the United States, 1944. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off.
  12. United States Civil Service Commission. Official Register of the United States, 1945. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off.
  13. United States Civil Service Commission. Official Register of the United States, 1946. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off.
  14. United States. Foreign Broadcast Information Service. Broadcasting Stations of the World. Washington, D.C.: Foreign Broadcast Information Service, 1946.
  15. United States. Congress. House. Committee on Appropriations. Department of State Appropriation Bill for 1947: Hearings Before the Subcommittee of the Committee On Apropriations, House of Representatives, Seventy-ninth Congress, Second Session, On the Department of State Appropriation Bill for 1947. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1946.
  16. United States. Congress. House. Committee on Appropriations. Hearings: [National Defense] 1943 2nd supply. 387, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015035800377?urlappend=%3Bseq=389. Accessed 04 June 2018.
  17. Ibid. 385.
  18. The Katyn Forest Massacre. Final Report of the Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre pursuant to H. Res. 390 and H. Res. 539, Eighty-Second Congress, a resolution to authorize the investigation of the mass murder of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Russia, (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1952), https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=osu.32435078695582. Accessed 04 June 2018.
  19. [Footnote in “Waging Peace” by Dwight D. Eisenhower: “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.” Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years: Waging Peace 1956-1961 (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1965) 279.
  20. Adolf E. Berle, Navigating the Rapids: 1918-1971, ed. Beatrice Bishop Berle (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovic, Inc., 1973), 440.