This U.S. Government propaganda photo showing Polish refugee families awaiting evacuation was taken by the Office of War Information (OWI) photographer in Iran in 1943. To protect Stalin and the anti-Germany military alliance with Moscow, pro-Soviet propagandists in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration did not publish photos of Polish children who were starved, ill and near death when they were evacuated from Soviet Russia to Iran in 1942. Likewise, OWI’s Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts did not mention mistreatment of Polish deportees, including women and children, in the Soviet Gulag camps and collective farms, to which they had been sent as slave laborers. VOA’s radio programs for foreign audiences and a broadcast by OWI Director Elmer Davis targeting Americans spread instead Soviet propaganda lies that mass executions of Polish prisoners in Soviet Russia in 1940 at the hands of the NKVD secret police, known collectively as the Katyń Forest massacre, were carried out by the Germans after they had occupied the area in 1941. Americans and foreigners alike were misled by Roosevelt administration’s propaganda about Stalin and the Soviet regime — a point highlighted in bipartisan criticism after the war.
The bipartisan Madden Committee of the House of Representatives blamed it in 1952 on “a strange psychosis that military necessity required the sacrifice of loyal allies and our own principles in order to keep Soviet Russia from making a separate peace with the Nazis.” The committee pointed out that “this psychosis continued even after the conclusion of the war.” In a warning about a corrupting effect of foreign and domestic propaganda combined with censorship, the Madden Committee noted that “most of the witnesses testified that had they known then what they now know about Soviet Russia, they probably would not have pursued the course they did.”
The 1948 Smith-Mundt Act passed by the U.S. Congress significantly restricted use of tax dollars to target Americans with news and political commentary produced by the U.S. government. Some of these restrictions were later lifted. The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, which was contained within the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (section 1078 (a)) and signed by President Obama, amended the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act and subsequent legislation, allowing for materials produced by the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which included the Voice America, to be made available within the United States.
U.S. Government Propaganda Photo
- Title: Teheran, Iran. Polish refugee families awaiting evacuation
- Creator(s): Parrino, Nick, photographer
- Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540
Photos by Lt. Col. Henry I. Szymanski, U.S. Army
- Twelve-year-old boy, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942
- Six-year-old boy, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942
- Three sisters, ages 7, 8, and 9, Polish evacuees from Russia, August 1942
- Photos by: Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, U.S. Army
- Source: The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre; Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia; Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.); March 13 and 14, 1952 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), pp. 459-461.