P.

Polish children refugees – Time and OWI/VOA propaganda

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo

By Ted Lipien

Support Silenced Refugees

Time Magazine Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nowy Świat Editorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voice of America Communists

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

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

Support Silenced Refugees


Photo Credits

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo

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

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

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

Notes

1.

1953 CIA Source: People Died in Czechoslovakia Because of Pro-Communist Propaganda from Voice of America

OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum

By Ted Lipien

Note: The article has been updated to include information that Heda Margolius Kovály had worked in the 1970s as a freelance reporter for the Voice of America Czechoslovak Service under a radio name Kaca Kralova.

A declassified CIA report from 1953 featured a claim by a still unidentified Slovak source asserting that some Slovaks lost their lives and freedom because the U.S. government-run Voice of America (VOA) was broadcasting pro-communist propaganda and continued to downplay Stalinist crimes in radio programs to Czechoslovakia even into the early 1950s despite the drastic change of U.S. policy toward Moscow at the start of the Cold War. Another CIA source said in 1952 that “The greater the number of people listening to VOA, the greater the responsibility of those making these broadcasts.”

“A great deal of harm can be done by irresponsible broadcasting,” the CIA source warned.

Other sources said that Western broadcasts, particularly those by Radio Free Europe (RFE) and the BBC, had enough warnings of the regime’s atrocities being perpetrated even against Communist Party members, but they observed that at least in the early phases of the Cold War, committed Communists in Czechoslovakia were not regular listeners to these American and British radio programs.

According to accounts from two persons, one of them, an unidentified CIA source, and another, the wife of a communist regime technocrat who became a victim of the Stalinist trials, in the period shortly after World War II a small group of dedicated communists in government positions in Czechoslovakia had refused to believe in Stalin’s crimes and initially dismissed Western radio reports about communist terror, regarding such broadcasts as subversive work of imperialist propaganda. Later, some of them paid with their lives for their outright rejection of outside sources of information, but confirmation bias among those blinded by ideology, partisanship and propaganda was just as strong then, if not stronger, than it is today.

There is also the question of whether more non-Communists and Communists could have received a better warning and perhaps been able to save their lives if the U.S. government-run Voice of America prior to the creation in 1950 of also U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe, instead of supporting the consolidation of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, adequately presented all available evidence of Stalinist crimes in the Soviet Union and elsewhere and had done it without triggering popular uprisings, which at that time would have been both bloody and pointless because of the massive presence of Soviet troops in East Central Europe and Moscow’s willingness to use them.

Getting answers to these questions is not easy. One source who was presumably a well-informed Slovak told the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1953 that as a result of U.S. policies and VOA broadcasts shortly after World War II, “many Slovaks paid with their lives or freedom” because of the Yalta Agreement and because they did not receive accurate information from VOA about the danger of returning from the West to communist-ruled Czechoslovakia. The same source also said that even when the U.S. government drastically changed its policy toward Moscow and the Soviet Block a few years after the war, “this new policy has not been reflected in VOA broadcasts to Czechoslovakia.” 1 Some of the early VOA broadcasters set an example by returning after the war to Czechoslovakia, where they joined or supported the Communist Party. They were, however, far from the only ones to have been deceived by Soviet propaganda which had presented anyone opposed to Stalin as a right-wing, pro-Nazi, imperialist reactionary and enemy of the working class. It was a failure on the part of many intellectuals and journalists on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

In the later years of the Cold War, the reformed Voice of America played a major role in breaking down the communist monopoly on information, but the organization’s early history presented on VOA’s official website is full of inaccuracies and misleading information. VOA still maintains that “The Voice of America began broadcasting in 1942 to combat Nazi propaganda with accurate and unbiased news and information” and that “Ever since then, VOA has served the world with a consistent message of truth, hope and inspiration.” 2 For most of VOA’s existence, the statement is true, but at times, especially during the early years, some VOA officials and broadcasters were stretching the truth and even lying because of their ideological bias and unwillingness to accept facts which contradicted their worldview. At various times, VOA censored reports about Stalin’s orders to murder thousands of WWII Polish military officers in the so-called Katyn Massacre and, as late as the 1970s, limited readings about Stalinist crimes from Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago.

Getting a more accurate picture of the role of U.S. government-run radio broadcasting during World War II and for a few years after the war requires analyzing primary sources, including contemporary accounts by early listeners to VOA programs, formerly classified State Department and CIA memoranda, and remarks by members of the U.S. Congress reprinted in the Congressional Record, some of which were used for this article. As early as 1943, slightly over a year after Voice of America programs went on the air, President Roosevelt’s White House received a warning from a high-level State Department official, supported by the U.S. Army Intelligence, that VOA’s first pro-Soviet director, a theatre producer and later Hollywood actor John Houseman, was hiring his communist friends to work on U.S. radio broadcasts to Europe. The memorandum written by FDR’s personal friend and advisor, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, remained classified for several decades.

Blinded by Communist Propaganda

The April 1973 photo shows Heda Margolius Kovály signing copies of “The Victors and The Vanquished,” the first edition published by Horizon Press. The book was published in two sections, the first by Margolius Kovály, the second by Erazim Kohak. Following this edition, her memoir was published on its own several times, finally with the title “Under A Cruel Star.” Photo: Courtesy Margolius Family Archive.

[wiki]Heda Margolius Kovály[/wiki] (1919 – 2010), who recounted in books and interviews how a dismissal of even most obvious facts by committed Communists happened nearly 50 years ago without initially an effective challenge from Western journalism, was a low-ranking member of the Communist Party in post-World War II Czechoslovakia. She was the wife and later widow of [wiki]Rudolf Margolius[/wiki] (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 [wiki]Slánský trial[/wiki] and lost his life. She would eventually become a freelance contributor to Voice of America radio programs to Czechoslovakia after emigrating to the United States. Her VOA radio name in the 1970s was Kaca Kralova.

While able to notice some of the early troubling signs of the failures of the communist economy in the late 1940s, Margolius Kovály freely admitted, after her escape from Czechoslovakia following the Soviet-led invasion of the country in 1968, to being generally blinded by communist propaganda along with her husband and other Communists in the years immediately after the end of World War II. In her memoir, Under a Cruel Star Publisher: Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., 3 published in the West, Heda Margolius Kovály made several comments about Western radio broadcasting during the early years of the Cold War.

According to her, Communist Party members like her first husband and their spouses were not among regular listeners to such broadcasts because they thought, at least initially, that Western radios spread nothing but lies about communism.

“It seems beyond belief that in Czechoslovakia after the Communist coup in 1948, people were once again beaten and tortured by the police, that prison camps existed and we did not know, and that if anyone had told us the truth we would have refused to believe it.” 4

At some point, the couple may have seen the writing on the wall, but according to Margolius Kovály‘s memoir, at first they did not believe in what Western broadcasters were reporting about human rights abuses being committed by the regime they supported.

“When these facts were discussed on foreign broadcasts, over Radio Free Europe or the BBC,” she wrote years later, “we thought it only more proof of the way the ‘imperialists’ lied about us.” 5

She admitted that it was not until the 1950s that she started to comprehend the true nature of Stalinism. Margolius Kovály wrote in her book that the final awakening to the grim reality of life under Soviet-imposed communism came only several years after the war after she had experienced communist repression in her own life.

“It took the full impact of the Stalinist terror of the 1950s to open our eyes.” 6

An Anti-Semitic Party Purge

Despite his relatively low-level government position, her husband, Rudolf Margolius, was arrested in 1952 and tortured to force him into making a preposterously false confession to preposterously false charges leveled against him at his political trial. Accused of participating in a “Trotskyite-Titoite-Zionist” conspiracy against the communist state, he received a death sentence on November 27, 1952 and was hanged by the Czechoslovak communist regime on December 3, 1952 along with ten other more senior party members. A former inmate in Nazi concentration camps who barely survived the Holocaust, married to another Holocaust survivor, he was only 39 years old at the time of his execution. Three of the defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment. Of the fourteen Czechoslovak communists sentenced in the Slánský trial for alleged anti-state crimes, eleven were Jews. Heda Margolius Kovály recalled that announcers of the regime-controlled Radio Prague were playing up the fact that most of the defendants were, as they put it, “of Jewish origin” even though earlier the communist doctrine only emphasized and promoted class, religious, ideological and, in some cases, ethnic hatred.

Heda Margolius was not arrested with her husband, which was the usual fate of spouses of Soviet leaders killed during Stalin’s reign of terror in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. In this respect, Czechoslovakia after the war was slightly different from Russia under Stalin. She herself never held any government positions and worked as a graphic artist for a state company. Following her husband’s execution, she became a freelance translator. After she had been abruptly fired from her regular job, she could only get menial paid work in Czechoslovakia, and even that with much difficulty. While falling seriously ill and being unable to move on her own during her husband’s trial, she was forcefully discharged from a hospital in Prague on the orders of the communist party and later suffered many other indignities as a single working mother in a communist state.

She and her husband were not communists before the war. As survivors of the Holocaust, they only joined the party after the war’s end, as she explained, in a mistaken belief that communism could help to eliminate ethnic hate and create a tolerant society. Over time, even without the benefit of Western broadcasts, to which she, by her own account, had not listened regularly, she developed doubts about the Stalinist system based on her own observation of everyday life of ordinary people and tried to persuade her husband to resign from his government job, although not from the Communist Party. He also apparently started to have his own doubts, but for him they turned out to be too late. In 1952, he became one of the victims of the Stalin-inspired anti-Semitic party purge in Czechoslovakia, not because he did anything to betray the party or the communist regime but largely because he was Jewish and happened to be responsible for negotiating a trade deal with Great Britain. Stalin did not want satellite countries to become more independent like Tito’s Yugoslavia and to develop economic relations with the West. In a fascist-like fashion, Stalin and his communist supporters in Czechoslovakia had used anti-Semitism to instill fear among party members and the population while at the same time trying to benefit from widely-held anti-Semitic prejudices. The Soviets found many local communist collaborators willing to carry out their plans.

The Slánský trial, while orchestrated in Moscow by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, was executed with the help of some of the top Czechoslovak communist leaders and the local secret police. [wiki]Rudolf Slánský[/wiki] was in many ways different from Rudolf Margolius. Slánský was a Czechoslovak communist long before the war and became a senior member of the ruling establishment in post-war Czechoslovakia. He was a hardliner whom Rudolf Margolius, according to his wife, intensely disliked and avoided. He was also a propagandist. While living in exile in the Soviet Union during World War II, Slánský prepared broadcasts to Czechoslovakia over Radio Moscow. After the war he became the Czechoslovak Communist Party’s General Secretary, a position second only to the party chairman [wiki]Klement Gottwald[/wiki], and had a leading role in organizing communist rule though the illegal [wiki]1948 Czechoslovak coup d’état[/wiki]. Both Slánský and Margolius were, however, among those arrested in 1951 and 1952 on trumped-up charges of being supporters of anti-Stalin Yugoslav communist leader [wiki]Josip Broz Tito[/wiki], Western spies, and Zionists. Slánský was the chief defendant. He and most of the other executed Czechoslovak Communist Party officials convicted on the basis of fabricated evidence and false confessions extracted under torture were Jewish, as were Rudolf Margolius and his wife. The Slánský trial had very strong anti-Semitic overtones.

While Rudolf Slánský was a senior communist leader, himself responsible for some of the earlier atrocities against non-communists, Rudolf Margolius was not a member of the top leadership and had nothing to do with the earlier repressive measures. He was a deputy minister, an economist and a technocrat. Being Jewish and linked with foreign trade with the West made him, however, an easy target for Stalinist hardliners in the Czechoslovak regime and their Soviet patrons who were calling the shots. He may have been able to save himself if he had somehow managed to resign from his government position sufficiently early even if he could not withdraw from the party without reprisals, but apparently he did not have enough information and did not know that his life was endangered.

After her husband was arrested, Heda Margolius quickly realized that what Western radios had been saying were not lies. It was, however, too late to save her husband. She lost her privileged position as a wife of a communist official. Soon after her husband’s arrest, she was expelled from the communist party, lost her job, was forced to move out of their comfortable state-assigned apartment in Prague, and reduced to living in squalor. For years, she was unable to find steady employment using her professional skills and could only do freelance and menial work, which was often not enough to support herself and her young son. She lost her husband, her health and an opportunity for a decent life in communist-ruled Czechoslovakia.

Isolation from the West

The trauma of World War II, Nazism and the Holocaust, the Yalta Agreement, the overbearing presence of the Soviet Army, the willingness of some democratic Czechoslovak politicians to try to reach an accommodation and appease Moscow and local Communists, repression, propaganda and censorship by the communist regime, the initial failure of Western journalism, and the early pro-Soviet propaganda from the Voice of America before the station changed its course may have all contributed to the general confusion over Communism and Stalin’s political aims. Even if VOA broadcasts had not tried initially to hide Stalin’s crimes in the Soviet Union, it seems that both by circumstances beyond their control and in some cases also by choice, senior communist officials in Czechoslovakia and in other Soviet-dominated countries were for the most part isolated from the West and from Western sources of information until at least the early 1950s.

The son of Rudolf and Heda Margolius, Ivan Margolius, an architect and writer who since the 1960s has lived in Great Britain, told Prague Radio in a 2017 interview that his parents and other Czechs who had found themselves after the war in a similar situation as theirs, were cut off from the outside world. As Jews, they were also profoundly affected by the Holocaust, which, as he pointed out, may explain their initial support for Communism.

So, after the war, the impact of all of those horrors made him realize that he should do something to make the world better, and obviously the people who were incarcerated in the camps and in ghettos had lost contact with what was happening in the world. They had no information on what was happening politically elsewhere, so when they came out after the war, they didn’t have time to absorb the past six years of the war, in turn resulting in them being blinded by their experience and gave them this vision that they have to make the world better so that wars would never return and so that injustice towards minorities in the camps and the ghettos by the Nazis would never develop again, so that’s why he got involved with the government at the time, although it was a minor role; in the end being a deputy minister of foreign trade. [Read and listen to Radio Praha interview with Ivan Margolius, “‘Hitler, Stalin and I’ — An Oral History Based on Heda Margolius Kovály‘s Interviews with Czech Filmaker Helena Treštíková — Published in English.”]

As deputy minister for foreign trade, Rudolf Margolius made two official trips to Great Britain to negotiate a trade deal and was therefore not completely cut off from the Western world and alternative sources of information. It was, however, apparently not enough for him to break loose. Communist officials traveling abroad were closely watched. If he had defected in Britain, he would have been separated from his wife and she would be most likely arrested. There was no evidence that he had contemplated asking for political asylum. In the end, his official trip to the West, although approved by his superiors, may have become a major factor in his later arrest by the communist regime.

Holocaust and Communist Genocide

Both Heda Margolius Kovály and her first husband were among the few Czech-Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. The horrific experience of seeing your closest family members being marched to the gas chambers was how she explained their initial decision to join the Communist Party after the war despite some reservations. As an economist, her husband initially thought that socialism and communism would guarantee prosperity for Czechoslovakia and any other communist-ruled nation. They also naively thought that the triumph of socialism and communism would put a final end to anti-Semitism, racism and poverty. Both of her parents were murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz while she herself was selected to be worked to death or killed later. Her husband was also a former Nazi concentration camp prisoner.

They seemed unaware that, like Hitler, Stalin also had been responsible for the murder by execution or starvation of millions of innocent people in the Soviet Union. Other Czech communists who had spent the war in the USSR and saw the crimes of the Soviet regime refused to share this knowledge after they returned to Czechoslovakia. If they did share such information and were denounced, they would have been promptly jailed and convicted of being traitors and enemies of the state.

Margolius Kovály wrote in her book that both she and her first husband eventually became disillusioned with communist rule, but they remained party members until their expulsion shortly after Rudolf Margolius’ arrest in 1952. Despite earlier doubts and warnings from friends, her husband refused to resign from his high-level position in the Ministry for Foreign Trade. In response to her pleas, he once had asked to be transferred from his government job, but the party rejected his request. He apparently did not seriously contemplate giving up his party membership. If he had, that in itself could have become a basis for being disgraced, losing his privileged status and possibly being arrested.

After the show trials in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, it should have been obvious to communists who had gained power in Eastern Europe with the help of the Red Army that none of them was safe, but many still refused to accept such facts and chose to believe instead, as Heda Margolius Kovály pointed out, that those accused by the party had been in fact guilty of their alleged crimes.

Such ignorance is difficult to understand. However, most Western and Czechoslovak journalists failed to report with sufficient detail on the enormity of the earlier genocidal crimes in the Soviet Union under Stalin. During World War II and for a few years afterwards, the Voice of America protected Stalin by covering up the truth about his crimes. The later excuse of VOA officials and journalists was that they did not know and could not have discovered the truth, but quite a few Roosevelt administration officials did know the facts and hid them from Americans and foreign audiences to protect the military alliance with the Soviet Union during the war, or did it out of their ideological sympathies, or both. Not all Americans, however, were deceived by propaganda. Both before and during World War II, some independent journalists and several members of the U.S. Congress were trying to expose Stalin’s genocidal crimes and questioned the necessity and value of concessions being made to appease the Soviet dictator.

Jamming of Radio Free Europe and Voice of America in Czechoslovakia

While it is not safe to make general observations on the basis of one personal account, Margolius Kovály and her husband were probably typical examples of idealistic and dedicated communists who initially refused to accept the evidence of the regime’s human rights abuses and made little effort to listen to Western broadcasts. Such a dismissive attitude may not have been true, however, of the rest of the population in Czechoslovakia, especially not for the regime’s early democratic opponents and non-communist victims of the regime who had relied on Radio Free Europe, the BBC and later the reformed and more assertive Voice of America for uncensored information and moral support.

Margolius Kovály was not completely unfamiliar with Western broadcasting. In her memoir she notes that she had listened earlier to the BBC programs in Czech during the war after her escape from a Nazi labor camp transport and her return to Prague, at that time still under German occupation. Presumably, she found the earlier BBC broadcasts during the war sufficiently credible and useful. She also recounted how most of her old friends among Czechs, who feared being shot by the Germans for helping an escaped Jew, had refused to give her shelter. 7

In another passage in her book, Heda Margolius Kovály suggests that after the communist coup in Czechoslovakia in 1948, listening to Radio Free Europe and other Western radio stations may have been nearly impossible due to the intentional jamming of their radio signals by the regime’s jamming transmitters. Other contemporary accounts also discuss intentional jamming, but most writers indicate that despite difficulties they were able to listen to such broadcasts, especially outside of the big cities. As the wife of a busy communist government official who worked long hours at the ministry, she apparently spent most of her time in Prague.

Very few people listened to foreign broadcasts such as Radio Free Europe or the BBC, partly out of fear, but mainly because the broadcasts were so effectively jammed that it was almost impossible to understand what was being said. 8

Committed Communists Refused to Believe

The first Radio Free Europe radio broadcast on July 4, 1950 was to Czechoslovakia under the name “the Voice of Free Czechoslovakia.” At that time, the Voice of America was still both unwilling and unable to counter Soviet propaganda with regular and effective programs specifically designed to expose communist crimes. Heda Margolius Kovály was probably right that in the beginning of communist rule over Eastern Europe, getting accurate information, even for those who sought it out, was not easy. It was, however, not completely impossible.

While ordinary people found valuable information and moral support in Western broadcasts, this is not how Heda Margolius Kovály described attitudes toward RFE and the BBC among communists in Czechoslovakia shortly after the war. While listening to Western radio stations in private homes among family members was fairly safe, many people were still afraid of being caught and imprisoned for either listening or repeating of what they had heard. This may have been especially true among Czechoslovak communists who were blinded by ideology and propaganda from their own party propagandists, journalists and broadcasters. All of them also had much more to lose as members of the privileged elite. Margolius Kovály initially seems to had underestimated the opposition to communism among ordinary Czechs and Slovaks, but in her book she honestly describes her own and her first husband’s wrong beliefs and mistakes. She may have also underestimated the ability of ordinary Czechs and Slovaks to tune in to Western shortwave radio broadcasts in spite of jamming.

It was true, however, that opponents of the regime would have been too fearful to share their real opinions with a party member and the wife of a high-level communist official. Getting accurate information, particularly during the early years of the Cold War, was not an easy task behind the Iron Curtain.

“Occasionally someone would catch a few words out of context, surmise the rest, and pass it on. That first bit became further distorted by repetition until people dismissed it with a wave of the hand, ‘Now you see how they lie!’” 9

A CIA View

American-funded Radio Free Europe ([wiki]Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty[/wiki]) was explaining much better than VOA in various languages what was actually happening in communist-ruled nations, but the early transmitters used in West Germany to broadcast such programs were weak and subject to intentional jamming of radio signals by communist regimes.

A report prepared in 1952 by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which then under a veil of secrecy was managing Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, stated that “VOA’s one competitor is Radio Free Europe, which is regarded by the Czechs almost as their own station; RFE seems to understand the difficult life in the CSR and the desperation and hopes of the people. If RFE could overcome some technical difficulties, it would lead VOA by a wide margin…” 10 The same source in the now declassified CIA report said in 1952 that “Listening to Voice of America broadcasts in Czechoslovakia today is truly nation-wide; about 70-80 per cent of the adult population listens regularly to at least two programs a week.” 11

At that time, the Voice of America, the official radio station of the U.S. government, still largely refrained for various reasons from directly criticizing communism and consistently exposing Stalin’s crimes. However, personal observations, the word of mouth stories and improved power of U.S. broadcasts combined with the BBC’s broadcasting to Czechoslovakia should have provided over time a sufficient warning about communist atrocities to anyone willing to open their eyes. The 1952 CIA report said that “The quality of VOA reception on the whole can be described as good.” 12

According to Margolius Kovály, however, many communist bureaucrats in the early years of communist-ruled Czechoslovakia apparently refused to listen to Western radios out of a combination of loyalty to the party, ideological blindness, isolation and fear. This changed later in the Cold War when such listenership in the entire Soviet Block became nearly universal, but if one is to accept her observations as accurate, the ideological enthusiasm of early Czechoslovak communists combined with fear prevented some communist functionaries from seeking out alternative sources of information.

The 1952 CIA report tends to confirm her observations while making a distinction between listening habits of hardline communists as opposed to those of the rest of the population.

Generally, the great majority of the Czech people like most of the VOA programs quite well. They look eagerly to VOA as a source of information on the free world, a ready reporter of world news, defender and promoter of American interests and the American way of life, and the interpreter of American opinion on the activities of the Communists in that part of the world behind the Iron Curtain. There are only two small groups in Czechoslovakia that do not listen to foreign broadcasts; the “hard core” Communist Party members, and the small group of over-intellectualized individuals, who hate Communism but have no faith in Western democracy. The latter group is very dangerous; checking its growth depends on the effectiveness of VOA and other foreign broadcasts. 13

Otherwise, a CIA source presented a picture of widespread listening to Western radio broadcasts while pointing out some of the deficiencies in Voice of America programs in Western attitudes toward Czechoslovakia.

The programs beamed to Czechoslovakia prove that VOA has much good, factual material about the CSR. But one gets the impression that VOA does not have up-to-date information concerning the people, ie, their state of mind after three years of communist propaganda and mental pressure. This lack of understanding seems to me to be the major cause of difference in the reaction of listeners to RFE and VOA. This lack of understanding on the part of VOA might be caused by isolation or by insufficient contact. In this respect, RFE, has a tremendous advantage in having its headquarters close to the Czech border; it is able to establish direct contact with refugees, can “eavesdrop at the Iron Curtain.” It appears to me that VOA, located on a distant continent, either does not get enough intelligence reports about the people of Czechoslovakia, or such reports reach VOA through such complicated channels that they arrive too late to give an up-to-date picture. 14

Polish Communist Defector Reveals Regime’s Brutality in RFE and VOA Broadcasts

As late as 1951, the Voice of America, which was at that time located in New York but managed from Washington by the State Department, while usually less jammed than RFE, was under heavily criticism in the United States, particularly from Republicans in the U.S. Congress, for failing to counter Soviet propaganda. Voice of America listeners in communist ruled Poland, in letters smuggled to the United States described VOA programs as “uninteresting, drab, bureaucratic in tone, unconvincing.”

“They give the impression that they are prepared and spoken by clerks who do their job perfunctorily without any intelligent understanding of the human element or of Polish susceptibilities,” was one of many critical comments. Congressman Richard B. Wigglesworth (R-MA) read to the House of Representatives on July 24, 1951 highly critical comments on Voice of America broadcasts to Poland which, he said, had been “collected from letters and other messages by Polish writers and newspapermen” and brought to the United States by recent refugees. Management reforms carried out at VOA after such criticism resulted in making VOA programs to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union more focused on events behind the Iron Curtain, more hard-hitting and ultimately more effective, but not nearly as effective as Radio Free Europe which continued to expose in much greater detail the corruption, crimes and failures of communist regimes.

There is ample evidence that after the Slánský show trial, many more Communist Party members started to tune in to Western radio broadcasts. As Radio Free Europe named communist informers and secret police officials who tortured political prisoners, communist apparatchiks and secret police members had additional reasons for paying attention to what their friends and neighbors may have been learning about them even while the regime tried to jam these radio transmissions to make listening difficult. Details of communist secret policy brutality, including accounts about disgraced and imprisoned communist leaders being tortured, were exposed in Radio Free Europe and Voice of America broadcasts by Polish defector [wiki]Józef Światło[/wiki], a former high-level member of the secret police. Interviews with Światło were used in RFE, Radio Liberty, and VOA programs to other countries, including Czechoslovakia, opening the eyes of many communist apparatchiks and making them realize that even they were not safe from the whims of their communist comrades and the feared secret police.

High-level Czechoslovak officials and party leaders in other Warsaw Pact countries were later provided in some cases with regime-prepared transcripts of Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, BBC, and other Western media broadcasts and newspaper articles about them and the situation in the Soviet Block nations. All evidence seems to indicate that Western radio broadcasting in local languages had a powerful impact not only on the general population but eventually also on the regime elites although Margolius Kovály seems to suggest that at least in the early years of communism in Czechoslovakia, Western radios’ influence among higher-level officials was small because they refused to listen and to believe in the veracity of what Western broadcasters were saying. They were blinded by their own propaganda. In the end, it were the non-communists who over time had forced a peaceful regime change in Czechoslovakia and in other Warsaw Pact countries in East Central Europe although some former disenchanted communists had joined the ranks of the opposition in later years of the Cold War.

Primary Victims of Communism were Non-Communists

Ironically, industrial workers were the first to rebel openly against communism in large numbers in some of the other Warsaw Pact countries, particularly in Poland in 1956, 1970, 1976, and 1980. They were avid listeners to Western radios. It is important to note in this context that communists represented only a tiny portion of the victims of post-war political terror in Czechoslovakia and in other countries, the point also made by Heda Margolius Kovály in her memoir. The Czechoslovak regime imprisoned and tortured thousands of its democratic opponents, ethnic Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, Hungarians, Poles, Jews and anybody else suspected correctly or incorrectly of being an enemy. Ordinary citizens also experienced much earlier than the communist elite what it meant to live under communist lawlessness and communist economy. In her book, Margolius Kovály described her own early observations of how the Czechs had to suffer due to shortages of food and consumer goods under communist rule. At that time, she and her husband had been largely protected from experiencing such economic difficulties, but that changed drastically for her and her son after her husband was arrested.

[wiki]Miroslav Lehký[/wiki], a scholar who has conducted research for the Prague-based Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes on communist repressions in Czechoslovakia, found documentary evidence about hundreds of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks who were victims of communism.

The fabricated political trials that the communist regime used to eliminate the opponents of the regime, which were based on investigations carried out by the State Security Service (“StB”) using torture and gross physical and psychological violence, resulted in the conviction of more than 257,000 people between 1948 and 1989, and if we include the people convicted by martial courts, the number exceeds 267,000 people. The very archival documents of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (“UV KSČ”) dating back to the 1950s list almost 27,000 people convicted for “anti-state crimes” between 1948 and 1952. The people were sentenced to severe imprisonment (15 or 25 years, or for life) and their personal property was forfeited and their civic and political rights taken away from them. A total of 248 people (including one woman) were executed for political reasons. 15

Miroslav Lehký also made observations similar to those made in her books by Heda Margolius Kovály by about the isolation of the people in Czechoslovakia forced on them by the communist regime, although in the case of certain communist officials and activists, the intellectual isolation was also self-imposed.

The totalitarian regime in Czechoslovakia could not exist without isolating its citizens from each other (using terror, violence, and an atmosphere of fear, distrust, and suspicion) and isolating its citizens from the free world around them. The communist ideology was based on a fictitious vision of the world, world order, and the human being. Thus, any confrontation of the ideology with reality posed a lethal threat to the regime. 16

A Slovak View

There were not only differences in how various Western broadcasters were perceived by “hard line” and ordinary Communist Party members versus the rest of the population, but also differences between how Czechs and Slovaks in Stalinist Czechoslovakia saw these broadcasts, with Slovaks being more critical toward the Voice of America, according to a CIA report dated June 17, 1953. By that time, the Voice of America was already partially reformed and Radio Free Europe was transmitting massive amounts of uncensored information about the situation in Czechoslovakia since the station started broadcasting in 1950.

It appears, however, from the two CIA reports, that VOA programming was still substandard for some listeners. The CIA’s source was particularly critical of VOA broadcasting in Slovak.

In Slovakia, there is open criticism of VOA’s Czechoslovak programs because they offer no hope of Slovakia ever becoming an independent state. Slovaks do not recognize any so-called Czechoslovak nation; they consider themselves a different nationality. VOA broadcasts to Czechoslovakia, in nu opinion, dwell on an ideology with which the majority of Slovaks do not agree. Although the broadcasts are in both Czech and Slovak, the Slovak is so poor that the people make jokes about it.

Many of the programs are very unpopular in Slovakia and result in bitter criticism of VOA. The Slovaks are not interested in hearing praise of Czech Sokol activities, Czech cultural activities, Dr. Eduard Benes, or the other things which are completely Czech. VOA broadcasts to Czechoslovakia may be compared with Radio Prague broadcasts prior to 1939 and between 1945 to 1948. As far as Prague is concerned, Slovakia has always been a peripheral area, and the Slovaks are completely fed up with this attitude.

It should be remembered that, in 1946, the Czechs voted for the Communists; Slovakia voted anti-communist, thanks mostly to the efforts of the Catholic clergy. If VOA wants any support in Slovakia, it must not forget these facts. If VOA had taken these facts into account some time ago, resistance to the Communist regime would be much more stubborn than it is today. Furthermore, more Slovaks would have defected to the West. Many of those Slovaks who fled before the Soviets to Austria after World War II, would have never returned to Slovakia if the US had had a better grasp of the political situation. As the result of US policies, many Slovaks paid with their lives or freedom.

The US is now following an entirely different policy from that of the years immediately following World War II, but this new policy has not been reflected in VOA broadcasts to Czechoslovakia.

17

Communist Propaganda in Early Voice of America

In her book, Margolius Kovály does not specifically mention the Voice of America, making direct references instead to RFE and the BBC, but the source quoted in the 1953 CIA report alluded to a little known historical fact that during World War II VOA had been dominated by pro-Soviet officials and pro-communist broadcasters who promoted Soviet propaganda and Russia’s influence over Eastern Europe.

The head of VOA’s Czechoslovak Desk during World War II, Dr. Adolf Hoffmeister, left the United States after the war, joined the Czechoslovak Communist Party and worked as a diplomat. He eventually had a falling out with the Czechoslovak regime. A member of VOA’s Polish Desk during the war, Stefan Arski, became later for many years a key anti-U.S. propagandist for the communist regime in Warsaw. Arski never broke with the Polish party and received many state awards for his work as a communist journalist.

The source quoted in the CIA report asserted that some individuals who supported the communist takeover in Czechoslovakia in 1948 were still preparing VOA programs in the early 1950s.

It is the opinion of the Slovaks that members of the so-called Czechoslovak National Council in the US control most VOA broadcasts to Czechoslovakia. These are people who were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for the assumption of power by the Communists in 1948. The reasoning in Slovakia runs something like this: “Are these the people we are supposed to listen to? Are these the people who want to run the country again? With the support of the US, these people will again give the orders on how to run the country”. The members of the Czechoslovak National Council in the US represent a very small minority; they never cared about the welfare of the Slovak people, and now are interested only in enriching themselves. Eighty-five percent of the Slovak population is Roman Catholic. About 700,000 Slovaks, mostly Roman Catholics, are living in the United States, and those people in Slovakia want to know why they never hear on VOA about these people, their organizations, such as the Catholic Union, Slovak League, Brotherhood of Slovak Catholics, and their various publications in the, US. I would suggest that this group of Slovaks develop a separate program of broadcasts to Slovakia. 18

In the initial years of the Cold War, the Voice of America was not of much help in countering Soviet propaganda, having been earlier a conduit for Soviet propaganda during World War II. This VOA’s initial failure was exposed by many critics, including the new acting chief of VOA’s Romanian Service, Dr. John Cocutz, who had testified in Congress in 1953 that many VOA managers and broadcasters “didn’t know what it was all about, what communism was.” 19

In his congressional testimony, Dr. Cocutz quoted his supervisor telling him that he [Cocutz] was under the mistaken impression that the Voice of America existed to fight communism, “while we are not,” the VOA official in charge of broadcasts to the region reportedly said. 20 As he testified later in Congress, Dr. Cocutz told his boss that he was surprised to learn that VOA was not in the business of fighting communism.

Well, I am surprised, because I left my job at the University of Georgia purposely to fight against communism. There is no business for me to be here then. I can go back to the university, if I can’t fight communism here. 21

Naivety about communism was not limited to idealistic party members behind the Iron Curtain. Soviet propaganda managed to confuse a lot of people in the West, including a number of left-leaning intellectuals and journalists. One of the many was Pulitzer Prize New York Times reporter [wiki]Walter Duranty[/wiki] who had lied in his reports about the show trials in Moscow and the regime-created famine in Ukraine in the 1930s.

Some of those deceived by Soviet propaganda included from 1942 to 1945 early Voice of America officials and broadcasters and later some U.S. State Department diplomats who from 1945 to 1953 were responsible for directing VOA programs. According to Dr. Cocutz’s testimony, the VOA official in charge of radio programs to Eastern Europe explained to him in the early 1950s the need to refrain from criticizing communism using arguments very similar to how idealistic communists justified their work for the Czechoslovak regime and their initial refusal to believe what Radio Free Europe was saying about communism.

Then he added another remark, saying that he was informed by some people that communism helped some poor people in some parts of the world… 22

Fortunately, other prominent Americans, aware of the power of Soviet propaganda, pushed hard to create Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty and advocated for reforming the Voice of America. Personnel and programming reforms at VOA took several years and their progress varied from service to service.

Czechs and Slovaks interviewed by the CIA in the early 1950s offered various advice for the Voice of America. Some of the advice was more appropriate for Radio Free Europe which already successfully produced such programs.

…a weekly program be directed at Communist Party members, during which the Party would be attacked relentlessly. Purges of long standing Party members their offenses and threatened punishments should not only be reported but also made the subject or commentaries. The life and deeds, promises and lies of communist leaders should be publicized. By the same token, rank and file CP members should be warned, but it should be pointed out that they will be judged by their deeds and not just by Party membership. Such a program would cause chaos and disorganization in Czechoslovakia, and increase passive resistance on the part or the Czechs. 23

The Czech source quoted in the CIA report emphasized the need for bold but also responsible journalism.

In conclusion, the Voice of America is a part of the daily life or the millions in Czechoslovakia; indeed the whole nation tries to tune in VOA every day. The greater the number of people listening to VOA, the greater the responsibility of those making these broadcasts. A great deal of harm can be done by irresponsible broadcasting.

In this connection

(a) A greater sense or responsibility should be adopted and more care should be devoted to factual reporting.

(b) More emphasis should be placed on the survival of people behind the Iron Curtain and less to the American way or life; ie, more attention should be devoted to events and problems in Czechoslovakia.

(c) More of the human touch and more optimism should be included in programs.

(d) The Communist Party should be more severely attacked; government leaders should be assailed, but not to such an extent that the plain people would be forced to stick with the CP out of desperation.

(e) The people of the CSR should be convinced of the growing strength of the West; VOA should keep harping on the backwardness of the Soviet orbit in all fields of science.

(f) All programs should be prepared with the thought that the Voice of America is playing a major role in shaping the future course or history during this crucial struggle. 24

The Slovak source in the CIA report offered additional advice for VOA from a perspective of a Slovak listener to Western broadcasts.

I would like to make the following suggestions with regard to VOA broadcasts:

a. Broadcasts should support the most effective battle against Communism.

b. Further, they ‘should emphasize cooperation among the European nations.

c. They should not try to force the idea of national union upon a people such as the Slovaks.

d. A more responsible group should be put in charge of the programs. 25

Early Non-Communist Opponents and Escapees from Czechoslovakia

By the early 1950s, many people in Czechoslovakia who suffered daily shortages of food and other basic consumer goods were eager to get uncensored news from Western sources. By that time, VOA was already beginning to include more information on communist repressions behind the Iron Curtain. Its initial pro-communist bias slowly diminished and was eventually eliminated as a result of strong criticism from the U.S. Congress, which prompted internal personnel changes and other reforms. Most of the information on human rights abuses, however, continued to come from Radio Free Europe which specialized in providing local news and hard-hitting commentary.

Among faithful listeners to Western broadcasts were thousands of Czechs and Slovaks who tried to make daring escapes to the West thorough the well-guarded Iron Curtain. Some succeeded, but many more were shot by communist border guards or arrested, tried and sentenced to prison terms. The stories of those who succeeded to escape were presented in RFE and VOA programs. One archival United Press Photo dated March 22, 1954, showed four members of a Czech escapee family of ten being interviewed by the Voice of America. They can be seen smiling but with their eyes masked “to prevent identification by their Red enemies,” as the photo’s caption said. The photo also included this description:

[They] make no attempt to cover their glad smiles, as they tell their compatriots behind the Iron Curtain via Voice of America just how good it feels to be free.

Early Opponents of Communism: Milada Horáková

While communist officials initially may have not seen the need to listen to such Western broadcasts or were too afraid to listen or afraid to admit to anyone that they listened, regular listeners included opposition figures and millions of Czechs and Slovaks. One of the few brave individuals who showed courage and dignity in opposition to communism was [wiki]Milada Horáková[/wiki], a human rights lawyer who was tried and executed by the regime in 1950, two years before Rudolf Margolius’ trial and execution. [See: [wiki]Milada (film)[/wiki] and read and listen to Radio Praha program, “Milada Horáková: Dignity in the Face of Fanaticism.”] A survey conducted by Radio Free Europe among visitors from Czechoslovakia in the West in 1963 showed that weekly listenership to Radio Free Europe at about 30% of adult population, VOA at about 15% and BBC slightly less than 10%. Surveys were conducted among travelers from Eastern Europe by independent research firms in Western Europe. 26

The New York-based Committee for a Free Europe, the organization composed of prominent private Americans working with U.S. government officials who created Radio Free Europe and placed it initially under the secret watch of the Central Intelligence Agency, produced in 1951 a comic book commemorating Milada Horáková‘s life. [Read and listen to Radio Praha program “National Archive Analysing New Milada Horakova Documents.”]

An ad placed in American magazines by the Radio Free Europe Fund in 1966 described a young listener to RFE broadcasts in Czechoslovakia.

The truth can become a very
precious thing to a young mind
in a closed country:

“Dear Friends,

I began listening to your broadcasts when I was a small child.

Today I am 22.

And for most of what I know about the world, I have to thank Radio Free Europe.”

The young woman who wrote that letter lived in Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia.

Ten years ago, she though the world ended with that ugly barbed wire fence.

Today she knows different. And what’s more important, she knows who built it.

There are 82 million people like her living in the Iron Curtain countries of Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary. And more of them listen to Radio Free Europe than ever before.

The news, not only of their own country, but of the outside world, is broadcast without bias or distortion and in their own language.

Radio Free Europe is on the air up to 19 hours every day.

The one-time Communist monopoly of information in Eastern Europe has been broken.

The truth is getting through, helping millions work toward their freedom.

And with that as a goal, a great many people have a great many more reasons to go on living.

Give to Radio Free Europe, Box 1966, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

Some Communists Returned to Power After Imprisonment

Some high-ranking members of the Communist Party, even those who had been imprisoned during the Stalinist period and survived, including Czechoslovak President [wiki]Ludvík Svoboda[/wiki], returned to high-level party and government posts upon their release from prison following the death of Stalin in 1953 and the limited liberalization in the Soviet Union initiated by Nikita Khrushchev. Svoboda opposed the Soviet invasion but later cooperated with the Soviets and supported crackdowns on the remains of free press and anti-communist dissidents. Soviet Russia was the ultimate arbiter of keeping East European communist leaders in power and they usually justified and excused their cooperation with Moscow by claims that any effective opposition would lead to a bloody Soviet invasion. One of such imprisoned communist leaders in Poland was [wiki]Władysław Gomułka[/wiki] who after his return to power in 1956 and a brief period of relative liberalization also presided over a crackdown on dissidents. Gomułka survived Stalin because, despite pressures from Moscow, the Polish Communist Party procrastinated and did not stage a show trial for its imprisoned leaders. Thousands of Polish non-communists, however, were tried and executed. Even though his wife, [wiki]Zofia Gomułkowa[/wiki], was Jewish, several years after his return to power Gomułka helped to initiate an anti-Semitic campaign to purge Polish Jews from party, army and government positions in Poland in 1968 in a campaign similar to the anti-Semitic purges conducted earlier in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. Polish Jews were not arrested in 1968, but they lost their jobs and were forced to leave Poland. Gomułka and his wife supported the anti-Semitic campaign. The pattern of anti-Semitism among Soviet and East European communist parties put a lie to Soviet communist claims of the movement’s opposition to fascism and other racist ideologies.

Gomułka also strongly supported the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia to squash reforms of the 1968 [wiki]Prague Spring[/wiki] initiated by the Czechoslovak Communist Party under pressure from the population. Ultimately, it was almost all about power and privilege to which communist elites held on for as long as the Soviet Union was willing to support them with the threat of a military invasion in case a popular anti-communist uprising would be allowed to get out of control.

Aftermath

Rudolf Slánský, Rudolf Margolius and the others convicted in the 1952 Slánský show trial were quietly rehabilitated by the Supreme Court in communist-ruled Czechoslovakia in 1963. The rehabilitation came much later than for some communists in the Soviet Union and in Poland and was done without much publicity. Communist Czechoslovak President Ludvík Svoboda awarded the Order of the Republic posthumously to Rudolf Margolius.

An early opponent of communism in Czechoslovakia, dissident writer [wiki]Pavel Tigrid[/wiki] saw Margolius as both a communist idealist and a victim of communism.

Margolius… survived the Nazi concentration camps and after the war enrolled into the Communist Party from the real conviction: that never again would be repeated what had happened in the past, that no one would be persecuted for his or hers racial, national or social origins, in order for all people to be equal, in order to establish an era of real freedom. A couple of years later the comrades succeeded in what the Nazis had not managed: they killed him. 27

After her escape form Czechoslovakia 1968 as the country was being invaded by the Soviet Union with the help of some of the other Warsaw Pact armies, Heda Margolius Kovály lived in the United States and worked at the Harvard Law School Library. For several years in the 1970s, he worked as a freelance reporter for the Voice of America Czechoslovak Service under a pseudonym Kaca Kralova. It was a common practice for at least some VOA broadcasters and freelancers to use pseudonyms during the Cold War in order to protect family members and friends still in countries behind the Iron Curtain from possible reprisals. She worked mainly with Vojtech Nevlud in the Czechoslovak Service, sending scripts to him for approval and then reading them over the phone to be recorded in a VOA studio in Washington. Her reports, mostly on cultural topics, would have been used by the Czechoslovak Service in the second half of each broadcast, mostly about 17 minutes into the early half hour shows and about 25 minutes into the one hour shows. During the 1970s, Voice of America foreign language services were again largely restricted in their ability to originate their own political reports and commentaries. Most of the service-originated reporting was on American topics dealing with culture and non-political issues, such as the reports written by Margolius Kovály, although some original political reporting, carefully monitored by the management, was allowed from in the 1970s time to time in VOA’s East and Central European language services. It was a period of détente in Washington’s relations with the Soviet Union. Both political and budgetary restrictions were placed on VOA by the Nixon and Ford administrations. Heda Margolius Kovály produced for VOA several dozen scripts in Czech between 1973 and 1976. She most likely used the pseudonym to appear as an ordinary member of public rather than as an intellectual speaking to others from an “elevated” platform, and also mainly to protect any friends of hers still in Czechoslovakia.

Page from a report for Voice of America Czechoslovak Service by Kaca Kralova, radio name of Heda Margolius Kovaly. Photo: Courtesy of Margolius Family Archive.

Heda Margolius Kovály returned to Prague with her second husband in 1996 and died in 2010. [wiki]Ivan Margolius[/wiki], her son from her marriage to Rudolf Margolius, left Czechoslovakia in 1966, knowing that political repression would prevent him from going to a university and getting more than a menial job. He settled in the United Kingdom where he became a successful architect, author, and propagator of Czech culture and technology.

Jana Horakova Kansky, the daughter of Milada Horáková, was for many years not allowed to leave Czechoslovakia to join her father who had escaped to the West. She was also not allowed to study at a university. She did not emigrate to the United States until 1968. [Read and listen to Radio Praha program, “Jana Horakova-Kansky – Still Proud of Mother’s ‘Enormous Courage’.”]

While most of the surviving major Nazi mass murderers were tried and punished after the war, most of the communist officials, torturers who extracted false confessions, and judges who sent Milada Horáková, Rudolf Margolius and other innocent people to their deaths, avoided punishment or received only minimal sentences after the end of the Cold War.

Later in the Cold War, the reformed Voice of America Czechoslovak Service played a major role in bringing uncensored news to Czechoslovakia. It included journalists Vojtech Nevlud and Frantisek Lysy.

Pavel Pecháček, a Czech journalist who was director of VOA’s Czechoslovak Service and later served as director of RFE/RL’s Czechoslovak Service called the creation of RFE/RL and VOA “one of the greatest gifts the United States has bestowed on oppressed people living under totalitarian regimes.”

Zdenek F. Sedivy, who also served for many years as one of VOA’s employee union stewards, and Miro Dobrovodsky, profiled in a 2004 VOA English report, were some of the best known radio personalities in Slovakia.

“There were signatories for freedom. At that time, that was the kind of journalism… Under normal circumstances, it is not news if you are reading 25 names. But behind the Iron Curtain, if you read twenty-five names of people who had signed something against the regime, it was hot stuff, and a major story.”

To illustrate the importance of VOA’s news to the Slovak and Czech audiences, Mr. Dobrovodsky quotes a friend who returned from a visit to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, when it was still under the communist regime. His friend recalled that as he walked through the city night, a familiar tune – VOA’s old “Yankee Doodle” station I.D. – caught his ear:

“He said that he was walking in a new quarter of town, high-rises, you know, and at 9 PM he heard Yankee Doodle in stereo. And I said to him that we aren’t broadcasting in stereo. And he says, ‘No, no, no, but it’s August, every window is open, and when you hear it from a thousand windows, even quietly, it sounds like Yankee Doodle in stereo.’” 28

Ivan Medek “became a vital link to the outside world” after he started to report in the late 1970s as the VOA Czechoslovak Service correspondent in Vienna. [Read and listen to Radio Praha report, “Legendary Czech Broadcaster Ivan Medek Remembered.”]

Some of the on-the-ground reporting in the period shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall and during the Velvet Revolution came from VOA’s English roving East European correspondent Jolyon Naegele. [Read and listen to Radio Praha program, “Jolyon Naegele – A Voice of the West for Many Czechs in the 1980s.”]

We will never know what exact impact Western radio broadcasts had on members and leaders of the Communist Party and government officials in Czechoslovakia in the early years of communist rule, but the contribution of both RFE and VOA to the peaceful fall of communism is unquestionable. In the end, communism fell in Czechoslovakia and in other countries not because of anything communist leaders did to reform the system but because the centralized socialist economy failed, the Soviet Union started to disintegrate and the population lost its fear of the authoritarian regimes.

Ivan Medek and other journalists established close contacts with the Czechoslovak dissident movement Charter 77 and reported on it for VOA. Radio Prague reported, “As former president Václav Havel told Czech Television, that role was crucial.”

Without his work at Voice of America, the Charter and the whole movement would, by a long way, not have had the same weight, influence and reach. 29

Photo of former anti-communist dissident [wiki]Václav Havel[/wiki] visiting Voice of America in February 1990 as the last President of Czechoslovakia. The photo is from the archive of Marek Walicki, former RFE Polish Service broadcaster and former deputy director of Voice of America Polish Service. Havel served as the first President of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003. He often praised RFE and VOA broadcasts and invited RFE/RL to move from Munich, Germany to Prague. The move was completed in 1995.

Heda Margolius Kovály died in Prague in 2010. A book published in 2018 in English by her son, Hitler, Stalin and I: An Oral History, based on interviews with Heda Margolius Kovály by award-winning Czech film documentarian Helena Třeštíková, includes Margolius Kovály‘s assessment of the impact of Nazism and Communism on the 20th Century, the two totalitarian ideologies she managed to survive and outlive.

People ask me frequently what was worse, Nazism or Communism. It is difficult to decide. Nazism was clearly a gangster ideology that encouraged people to the worst behavior, plotting toward wars, calling one race superior to others and simply killing people and stealing; whereas, the Communists abused people’s altruism and kindness. They allured them with talk of humanity’s highest ideals, so it is difficult to say which was worse. I think Communism was worse because it lasted longer, so they could actually do more evil and harm than the Nazis. The statistics say that Stalin murdered more people than the ones who perished in both of the world wars. 30

Unfortunately, the newest book has no references to Western radio broadcasts during the Cold War, but Margolius Kovály confirms once again that in the early, post-World War II years of communist-rule in Czechoslovakia, party members like herself and her husband initially rejected reports of the regime’s atrocities as fabrications and imperialist propaganda.

People were being arrested from the very beginning of the Communist regime, and when we found out we used to say: “Good God, how is it possible –such good people, and they’re traitors. They’re saboteurs. They wouldn’t have been arrested if they were innocent.” And we weren’t concerned any further. Or we got terribly angry: “How was it possible?” 31

Heda Margolius and her first husband Rudolf Margolius were not unique in being blinded by communist ideology and by its propagandists. Many people, both in Czechoslovakia and the in the West, were deceived by both Nazi and Soviet propaganda, including many people who called themselves “journalists.” Hitler had his European supporters outside of Germany. He had supporters in the United States before World War II.

The Communist Party USA consistently toed the Moscow line during the Hitler-Stalin Pact and while Stalin was planning to take over Eastern Europe with the help from naive President Franklin D. Roosevelt. American communists were doing everything possible to help Stalin succeed.

During the war, even the U.S. government-run Voice of America, a broadcasting unit within the Overseas Branch of the Office of War Information (OWI), became a pro-Soviet propaganda platform thanks to Stalin sympathizers among its key officials and actual communists among some its broadcasters.

Many other Western journalists in Europe and in the United States at first refused to believe in reports of Soviet atrocities and later tried to avoid reporting on them and their own failure to spot them.

During the war, VOA tried to cover up Stalin’s crimes and was reluctant to expose them even for a few years after 1945. In the 1970s, VOA censored Alexandr Solzhenitsyn for a few years in response to pressure from Moscow and Soviet propaganda.

Only Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty managed to avoid being tainted with repeating Soviet propaganda and resorting to censorship to make communism and the Soviet empire look better than they were. RFE and RL were one of the few Western institutions that were not corrupted by Soviet influence and disinformation.

Propaganda from Russia ruled by President Vladimir Putin continues to confuse a lot of people today. In this context, the initial political blindness of idealistic Czechoslovak communists who had experienced Nazism and the Holocaust is perhaps more understandable than the blindness of Roosevelt administration officials and quite a few pro-Soviet Western journalists. Propaganda is a powerful and dangerous weapon because it is often used to promote hatred, often with the help of journalists blinded by left-wing or right-wing ideologies and partisan bias.

Intellectual enablers of Fascism were roundly and justly condemned and the most brutal Nazi criminals were punished. Most Communists who had committed criminal acts avoided punishment and their intellectual enablers continue to be praised. In 2017, the Voice of America broadcast a program in which American Communist Angela Davis was hailed as a fighter for workers and women’s rights and not a word was said about her earlier support for the Soviet Union and her refusal to defend political prisoners in communist-ruled Czechoslovakia and independent trade trade union leaders jailed in communist-ruled Poland.

Genocidal crimes committed by Communists are still not widely known. Miroslav Lehký and others have called for an international debate to classify them as crimes against humanity.

A thorough settlement of such crimes and a clear declaration thereof is not only required in terms of justice – it is also of utter importance for our present and future.

The history is not over and we can see attempts at establishing other totalitarian regimes that may be much more refined and sophisticated than the previous ones. They test us – the extent to which we will make concessions.

Our unwillingness or inability to deal with our past thoroughly may endanger our freedom and democracy and serve such regimes in the future. 32

There is also the need to avoid demonizing groups and political opponents as both Nazis and Communists did. Margolius Kovály’s advice was: people should try to be tolerant toward each other and avoid being consumed by hate. It is an especially good advice for intellectuals and journalists.

I wish for the world to come to its senses, for people to finally agree and stop hating each other. The whole of my life, I have tried not to hate, to overcome those terrible events that happened to me without hating anyone. When people stop hating their fellowmen just because they are a bit different, or richer, or poorer, or less intelligent, when they have a bit of understanding for each other and wish each other all the best, then the world will be a sensible place. However, if people want to settle their debts and find pleasure in vindictiveness and the suffering of their fellowmen, then all is lost; that will be the end. Now we have the available machinery; we could explode it all. 33


Colorized Photo of Milada Horáková at her trial by Cassius Chaerea is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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

SUPPORT THE WORK OF COLD WAR RADIO MUSEUM

IF YOU APPRECIATE SEEING THESE ARTICLES AND COLD WAR RADIO MEMORABILIA

ANY CONTRIBUTION HELPS US IN BUYING, PRESERVING AND DISPLAYING THESE HISTORICAL EXHIBIT ITEMS

CONTRIBUTE AS LITTLE AS $1, $5, $10, OR ANY AMOUNT

CLICK TO DONATE NOW

Notes:

  1. Central Intelligence Agency, “Slovak Reaction to VOA Broadcasts,” June 17, 1953. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80-00810A001400310007-5.pdf.
  2. Voice of America, “VOA History.” Last accessed January 3, 2019, https://www.insidevoa.com/p/5829.html.
  3. Margolius Kovály, Heda. Under A Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1989.
  4. Heda Margolius Kovály, Under A Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968 (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1989), p. 11.
  5. Margolius Kovály, Under A Cruel Star, p. 11.
  6. Margolius Kovály, Under A Cruel Star, p. 11.
  7. Margolius Kovály, Under A Cruel Star, p. 40.
  8. Margolius Kovály, Under A Cruel Star, p. 94.
  9. Margolius Kovály, Under A Cruel Star, p. 94.
  10. Central Intelligence Agency, “Voice of America Broadcasts to Czechoslovakia,” May 20, 1952. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/0002653697.
  11. Central Intelligence Agency, “Voice of America Broadcasts to Czechoslovakia,” May 20, 1952. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/0002653697.
  12. Central Intelligence Agency, “Voice of America Broadcasts to Czechoslovakia,” May 20, 1952. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/0002653697.
  13. Central Intelligence Agency, “Voice of America Broadcasts to Czechoslovakia,” May 20, 1952. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/0002653697.
  14. Central Intelligence Agency, “Voice of America Broadcasts to Czechoslovakia,” May 20, 1952. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/0002653697.
  15. Miroslav Lehký, “Classification of crimes committed between 1948 and 1989 and the prosecution of these crimes after 1990.” Last accessed January 3, 2019, http://old.ustrcr.cz/data/pdf/publikace/sborniky/crime/lehky-miroslav.pdf
  16. Miroslav Lehký, “Classification of crimes committed between 1948 and 1989 and the prosecution of these crimes after 1990.” Last accessed January 3, 2019, http://old.ustrcr.cz/data/pdf/publikace/sborniky/crime/lehky-miroslav.pdf
  17. Central Intelligence Agency, “Slovak Reaction to VOA Broadcasts,” June 17, 1953. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80-00810A001400310007-5.pdf.
  18. Central Intelligence Agency, “Slovak Reaction to VOA Broadcasts,” June 17, 1953. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80-00810A001400310007-5.pdf.
  19. Voice of America: Report on the Government Operations Made by Its Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1954), p. 3.
  20. Voice of America: Report on the Government Operations Made by Its Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1954), p. 4.
  21. Voice of America: Report on the Government Operations Made by Its Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1954), p. 3.
  22. Voice of America: Report on the Government Operations Made by Its Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1954), p. 3.
  23. Central Intelligence Agency, “Voice of America Broadcasts to Czechoslovakia,” May 20, 1952. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/0002653697.
  24. Central Intelligence Agency, “Voice of America Broadcasts to Czechoslovakia,” May 20, 1952. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/0002653697.
  25. Central Intelligence Agency, “Slovak Reaction to VOA Broadcasts,” June 17, 1953. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80-00810A001400310007-5.pdf
  26. R. Eugene Parta, “Listening to Western Radio Stations in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria: 1962-1988.” “Longitudinal Listening Trend Charts.” Prepared for the Conference on Cold War Broadcasting Impact, Stanford, California, October 13-15, 2004.
  27. Pavel Tigrid, Kapesní průvodce inteligentní ženy po vlastním osudu (Toronto: 68 Publishers, 1988), p. 97.
  28. Voice of America, “A VOA Journalist Looks Back – 2004-04-09.” Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.voanews.com/a/a-13-a-2004-04-09-32-1-66344307/545153.html.
  29. See Radio Praha report, “Legendary Czech Broadcaster Ivan Medek Remembered.”
  30. Heda Margolius Kovály (Author), Helena Treštíková (Editor), Ivan Margolius (Translator), Hitler, Stalin and I: An Oral History (Los Angeles: Doppel House Press, 2018), p. 153.
  31. Margolius Kovály (Author), Treštíková (Editor), Ivan Margolius (Translator), Hitler, Stalin and I: An Oral History, p. 153.
  32. Miroslav Lehký, “Classification of crimes committed between 1948 and 1989 and the prosecution of these crimes after 1990.” Last accessed January 3, 2019, http://old.ustrcr.cz/data/pdf/publikace/sborniky/crime/lehky-miroslav.pdf
  33. Margolius Kovály (Author), Helena Treštíková (Editor), Ivan Margolius (Translator), Hitler, Stalin and I: An Oral History (Los Angeles: Doppel House Press, 2018), p. 152
T.

The Year 1968 in the History of Samizdat

 

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum
 

The recent death of Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva brings into focus not only her contributions to improving the lives of millions of people but also the historic role played by the American-supported Radio Liberty (RL), which together with its sister station, Radio Free Europe, contributed to breaking up the monopoly of communist states on news and public discourse in the Soviet Union and East-Central Europe. For several decades, with the exception of a brief period in 2012-2013, Lyudmila Alexeyeva participated in Radio Liberty programs. In 2012-2013, she boycotted Radio Liberty in protest against the firing of a few dozen Russian journalists working for RL in Russia. She was joined in her protest by many Russian opposition figures, including Boris Nemtsov and former President Mikhail Gorbachev. Also coming to the defense of the fired journalists was former head of Radio Liberty Russian Service, Italian journalist and Russia expert Mario Corti. He himself played a historic role by publishing Russian samizdat books, articles and documents while living in Italy in the 1970s. In 1979, Corti joined Radio Liberty in Munich, where Peter Dornan created in 1968 a special unit to collect and broadcast samizdat text coming out of the Soviet Union. Corti later became the head of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service and worked there until 2005.

Some Western journalists and writers, including Soviet experts, embraced the official Soviet verdict that the information disseminated by samizdat was fabricated or at best unreliable. Dornan was able to persuade the Radio Liberty management that the documents were genuine. At that time, the other American-supported radio station broadcasting in Russian, the Washington-based Voice of America (VOA), would not air Soviet samizdat and during the Nixon-Ford administrations’ détente with the Kremlin submitted to official pressure not to broadcast longer excerpts from Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, which Radio Liberty and various services of Radio Free Europe presented on the air without any restrictions.

Writing in 1999 about the death of Peter Dornan, Mario Corti noted that “thanks to Dornan, samizdat documents played a key role in Radio Liberty broadcasts. Indeed, it was thanks to samizdat and the efforts of Peter Dornan that Radio Liberty’s broadcasts became a real ‘domestic’ service, broadcasting to the Soviet Union documents about and authored by people living inside the country.”

Thanks to Peter Dornan, Mario Corti and Radio Liberty’s Russian broadcasts, more people in the USSR listened to samizdat than read it. As noted by Corti, “‘Materialy Samizdata,’ originally created for internal use only, were soon made available to external subscribers. It became the main source of information for scholars and journalists interested in the subject of human rights violations in the USSR. It was also a key resource in the struggle of Soviet dissidents for their individual, political, social, national, and cultural rights.”

At a recent conference organized in Levico Terme in Italy by the Center for the Study of East European History (CSSEO), Mario Corti presented a paper on this topic titled “The Year 1968 in the History of Samizdat.”

 

The Year 1968 in the History of Samizdat

In memoriam Peter Dornan

Paper presented at the Conference organized by CSSEO (Center for the Study of East European History): “The other ’68. The Year 1968 in the Communist Bloc.” (L’altro Sessantotto. Il ’68 nel blocco comunista). 

Levico Terme, Italy, November 23-24, 2018

By Mario Corti

Summary: The year 1968 was crucial in the history of Soviet dissent. The first five numbers of “Chronicle of Current Events” as well as Sakharov’s Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom appeared in samizdat. In Moscow, as well as elsewhere in the USSR, there were protests against the invasion of Czechoslovakia. In the same year at Radio Liberty in Munich a special unit was created with the purpose of maintaining and developing a samizdat collection and processing samizdat texts for broadcasting; also, a program entirely devoted to readings of complete samizdat documents was launched.  Other radio features devoted to Samizdat would be added in the following years. Thus, the impact of dissent and samizdat on Soviet society was dramatically amplified as a result.

Samizdat in the West

In July 1968 the world discovered the name of Andrei Sakharov. The New York Times had published his “Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom.”1 It wasn’t a scoop. Sakharov’s essay had already appeared in Dutch in Het Parool,2 an Amsterdam newspaper, although very few people had paid any attention to it. The Moscow correspondent of Het Parool, Karel van het Reve, had managed to send his newspaper a typescript of Sakharov’s text which had been given to him by the young dissident historian Andrei Amal’rik. A copy of the same essay had been offered earlier to one of the New York Times Moscow correspondents who had refused to accept it, thinking that it was a forgery and a provocation.

Sakharov’s essay which, incidentally, circulated in samizdat, was later published in various other languages including Russian in the New York emigre newspaper “Novoe Russkoe Slovo,”3 but several other Russian language editions followed.

The Western communist parties were somehow taken aback. After the case of the writers Siniavsky and Daniel and in the presence of an ever-growing conflict between the masterminds of the “Prague Spring” and the Kremlin, this was another shock for them, because the beliefs of their followers could be undermined. The Soviet world seemed to be increasingly less monolithic: its cracks were widening.

Both in the West and in the Soviet Union only a few insiders had heard of Sakharov, and they had only a vague idea about his contribution to the development of Soviet thermonuclear weapons. Journalists and researchers alike got down to work to find out more about him. But the first author to give an exhaustive picture of the Soviet physicist’s personality and work was, a few years later, Peter Dornan, the head of Radio Liberty’s Samizdat Section.4

Soviet dissidents’ writings had reached the West earlier, of course, and would reach the West in greater numbers thereafter, and nowadays, when the danger is over, samizdat has become the object of regular academic studies. Important collections are held and developed by dedicated research centers and institutes5 such as, in addition to the older Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the Forschungsstelle Osteuropa at Bremen University, the Moscow Memorial Association, the Open Society Archives (OSA) at the Central European University. In Italy since 1999 the Center for the Study of East European History (CSSEO) organizes conferences, exhibits and meetings on Soviet dissent and samizdat. No one doubts any longer that samizdat documents are an important source for the study of at least some aspects of Soviet history.

But it was not always like that. Some Western authors, including Soviet experts, embraced the official Soviet verdict that the information disseminated by samizdat was fabricated or at best unreliable. Others were very careful about including references to samizdat documents in their published works. Giving credence to unofficial sources of information could involve the risk of being refused an entry visa, of losing contact with Soviet colleagues and eventually of compromising one’s own career.

On the other hand, samizdat was the best source on dissent and repression by the KGB and the Procuracy, on what was really going on in trials behind closed doors, on conditions in labor camps, religious persecution, the Jewish question, national movements, and labor conflicts.

Obviously, emigre circles in the West and their publishing organs had a vested interest in disseminating information, non-fiction and literary works circulating in Samizdat. I will here list some of the most important publishing houses, journals and newspapers: the YMCA’s publishing house, Nikita Struve’s journal “Vestnik RKhD” and the weekly “Russkaia Mysl’” in France; the journals “Grani” and “Posev”, produced by the Narodno-Trudovoi Soiuz (NTS) in Frankfurt-on-Main, Germany; the newspaper “Novoe Russkoe Slovo” and the journal “Novyi Zhurnal” in the USA.

There were not many Western scholars who already at that time treated samizdat seriously as a source of knowledge about the USSR. Consequently, their names are particularly worthy of being mentioned here. Among them, true pioneers were Peter Reddaway, then a young lecturer at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who translated into English and annotated the first eleven issues of “Khronika tekushchikh sobytii” (“Chronicle of Current Events”),6 Michael Scammel, the founder of “Index on Censorship” in 1972,7 and Cornelia Gerstenmeier in Germany.8 In the Netherlands we can find Ferdinand Feldbrugge,9 a professor of East European law at Leiden University, and Karel van het Reve who established The Herzen Foundation in Amsterdam in 1969 and in 1971 became the editor of the series “Biblioteka samizdata” (Samizdat Library”), followed in 1974 by the “Al’manakh Samizdata: nepodtsenzurnaia mysl’ v SSSR” (Annals of Samizdat: uncensored Thought in the USSR).

In the United States in 1968, Edward Kline, the owner of Kline Brothers, a chain of Department Stores, together with an expert on Russian literature, Max Hayward, established the Chekhov Press – reviving the “Izdatel’stvo imeni Chekhova”, an older trade mark that had dried up in 1958 – dedicated to publications in Russian of banned Soviet authors. Uncensored literary works in Russian would also be published by Ardis, a publishing house founded in 1971 by Carl e Ellendea Proffer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1973 Ed Kline, together with Valery Chalidze (one of the founders of the Moscow Committee for Human Rights along with Andrei Sakharov and Andrei Tverdokhlebov), established the “Khronika Press” publishing house in New York. In 1972 Chalidze had been invited to deliver a lecture on human rights at Georgetown University. Once in Washington, he was deprived of his Soviet citizenship by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and prevented from returning to the Soviet Union.

Going back to the United Kingdom, in 1969 Michael Bourdeaux, an Anglican cleric, established the Centre for the Study of Religion and Communism, later renamed Keston College, and in 1973 launched the journal “Religion in Communist Lands”. As co-initiator of both the Centre for the Study of Religion and Communism and the Herzen Foundation we find the ubiquitous Peter Reddaway.

The Revd. Canon Michael Bourdeaux, by his own admission, had been inspired by the Milan-based center Russia Cristiana, created in 1957. Unlike Keston College, however, whose activity was mainly focused on religious questions, Russia Cristiana at that time was also interested in other aspects of Soviet society. The journal “Russia Cristiana,” edited by Father Romano Scalfi, regularly published Samizdat writings covering a broader span of issues. Also, in cooperation with Milan-based publishing house Jaca book, “Russia Cristiana” produced several collections of samizdat documents.10 The number of readers was quite limited, although both Soviet samizdat and Soviet dissent gained a reasonable level of acceptance in Italian society after three important events in 1977: the Venetian Biennale on Dissent, including an exhibition of original samizdat documents (repeated in Turin in 1978),11 a seminar on Soviet dissent organized by ultra-left newspaper Il Manifesto, also in Venice, and the Rome Sakharov Hearings.12

1968: An important stage in the history of samizdat and Soviet dissent

The year 1968, proclaimed by the UN as the International Year for Human Rights, was crammed with events related to the history of Soviet samizdat and dissent. Between April and December, the first five issues of “Khronika tekushchikh sobytii” (“Chronicle of Current Events”) were released, all of them edited anonymously by the poet Natalia Gorbanevskaia. It was the first Samizdat periodical to report on human rights violations. All the issues carried on their title page the heading “The Year for Human Rights in the Soviet Union”.

The first issue was almost entirely devoted to the so-called “Trial of Four”, namely Aleksandr Ginzburg, Jurii Galanskov, Aleksei Dobrovol’sky, and Vera Lashkova. They had been charged with “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda” (art. 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code). Aleksandr Ginzburg, the main defendant, had compiled and disseminated a “White book”, documenting the trial of writers Andrei Sinivasky and Iulii Daniel’. 13 Galanskov had been accused of editing and distributing “Phoenix 1966”,14 a political-philosophical-literary almanac, Dobrovol’skii for authoring an article published in “Phoenix 1966”, and Lashkova for assisting with the typing of both publications. All four were sentenced to various prison camp terms.15

The trial set off an unprecedented petition campaign in defense of the four defendants. For many people it was a more relevant event and danger than the 1966 campaign in defense of writers Andrei Siniavsky and Iulii Daniel’. Petitions and appeals, many of them circulated in samizdat, were signed mostly by intellectuals including some members of the Communist Party. At least seven hundred signatories were estimated.

As a result, many signatories lost their jobs, students were expelled from their Universities and party members from the Communist Party, as documented in a long list published in the second issue of “Chronicle”, notably in its first section under the title “Extra-judicial political repressions in 1968”.

The third issue of “Chronicle” was dated August 30, and it focused on the reactions of Soviet citizens to the events in Czechoslovakia. In particular, it reported that a group of Party members, including General Petr Grigorenko and the writer Aleksei Kosterin, had visited the Czechoslovak Embassy in Moscow to hand in a letter of solidarity with the reforms in that country. But the main focus was on a demonstration against the invasion of Czechoslovakia which had taken place five days earlier on Red Square. The trial of the seven demonstrators, which took place in October, was reported in the following issue. 

On August 25, a small group of dissidents had gathered at the Lobnoe mesto (the Place of the Cross), a stone platform in front of Saint Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square. As soon as linguists Konstantin Babitsky and Larisa Bogoraz, the poet Vadim Delone, electrician Vladimir Dremliuga, poetess Natalia Gorbanevskaia, physicist Pavel Litvinov and philologist Viktor Fainberg had unfolded a few banners with various slogans such as “Long live free and independent Czechoslovakia,” “Shame to the occupiers,” “Hands off the CSR,” “For your freedom and ours,” within a few minutes the protesters had been brutally assaulted by KGB guards on duty near the Kremlin Spassky gates and detained.

There had been another participant at the Red square demonstration, 21-year-old Tatiana Baeva, but she was convinced by the other demonstrators to claim that she had been there by accident, so she was released soon after being arrested.

The trial was held in October. Dremliuga was sentenced to three years in a labor camp, Delone to two years and ten months, Pavel Litvinov was sentenced to five years of exile, Larisa Bogoraz to four, and Babitsky to three years. Viktor Fainberg, who had his teeth knocked out during the arrest, did not appear in court and was sent to a psychiatric prison hospital. Natalia Gorbanevskaia, mother of two children, had been released after the arrest. She wrote a book about the demonstration and the trial which circulated in samizdat in 1969 and was published abroad the following year.16 In December 1969 Gorbanevskaia was again arrested and charged with article 190/1 of the RSFSR Criminal Code” (“dissemination of knowingly false fabrications defaming the Soviet State and social system”). She was declared mentally incompetent to stand trial and spent one year in the Kazan psychiatric prison hospital and the Serbsky institute.

Although the most striking, the Red square demonstration was not the only protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Several citizens, for example, refused to endorse the invasion at meetings organized ad hoc by the authorities, and some of them lost their jobs.

As we have already seen, in 1968 the world discovered Andrei Sakharov. “Chronicle” № 5, dated December 31, could not fail to provide a short summary of Sakharov’s “Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom” under its new subtitle “Survey of samizdat in 1968.”

In the following years the “Chronicle” grew richer with new subheadings and sections such as “Political prisoners,” “News in brief,” “Samizdat update,” “News from the camps,” “Trials of recent years,” “Religious persecution,” “Political prisoners in psychiatric hospitals,” “The Jewish movement to leave for Israel,” “The Crimean Tatar movement,” “Repressions in Ukraine,” and others.17

Radio Liberty’s Samizdat section

As things turned up, the year 1968 was crucial for Samizdat also at Radio Liberty in Munich, Germany: Samizdat texts which were randomly procured by staff members of various language services were brought together in a single repository within the Research department then headed by Albert Boiter.18 Obviously, because the raison d’etre of Radio Liberty was the production and transmission of radio programs in the main languages of the USSR, the primary task of the staff in charge of the collection was to select and reproduce the documents to be broadcast on air. By the end of 1971 the Samizdat writings selected and reproduced for that purpose had reached a total of 3 000. Each selected item was assigned a progressive number preceded by the acronym AS (Arkhiv Samizdata – Samizdat Archive).

However, as of 1971, at the request of a group of scholars who had met in London on April 23 of that year, the texts were made available by subscription for the use of academic and research institutions as well as by the media. The one-day London conference sponsored by Radio Liberty was attended by Albert Boiter, Michael Bourdeaux, Abraham Brumberg, editor of “Problems of Communism”, Martin Dewhirst, a Russian literature lecturer at the University of Glasgow, David Floyd of  “The Daily Telegraph”, Max Hayward of St Antony’s College, Oxford, Leopold Labedz, editor of “Survey”, Peter Reddaway and Leonard Schapiro of the  London School of Economics and Political Science.19 As it became known only very recently, David Floyd turned to have been, by his own admission, a Soviet agent.20 Martin Dewhirst was to become a valued assistant from time to time at the Samizdat Unit of Radio Liberty.

Some 3 000 documents were collected in a series of 30 volumes under the title of “Sobranie Dokumentov Samizdata” and published between 1972 and 1978. Materials which arrived in Munich after 1970 were included in a more or less regular weekly publication called “Materialy Samizdata,” which was distributed externally on subscription beginning in 1971. A clear idea of which AS numbers were included in the “Sobranie” and which ones in “Materialy Samizdata” can be obtained by consulting the Memorial Society website “Katalog Samizdata”.21 Between 1968 and the closure of the RFE-RL Samizdat Section in 1992 more than 6 500 documents were issued.

It should be noted that Radio Liberty was not much interested in the inclusion of literary works in its samizdat collection, as they were mostly available in Russian emigre journals or publishing houses. The focus was rather on reproducing samizdat accounts of trials, reports of searches, minutes of interrogations, appeals by political prisoners, documents of various dissident groups, political programs and essays on political and social topics.

The history of the establishment of the RL Samizdat Section is still somewhat confused and controversial. There were internal conflicts concerning the maintenance and management of the documents. According to Peter Dornan, who was in charge of this small unit, just reproducing and editing the documents selected for broadcasting (and later also for the benefit of external users) was not enough: they must be carefully selected, thoroughly verified for authenticity, entirely retyped, annotated, whenever possible name indexed, cross referenced, etc. Facts, names, background, quotations had to be checked.22

This could be done thanks to the resources at the disposal of Radio Liberty, which, in addition to the main Western media, received the output of all the Soviet news agencies and all the relevant periodical and newspaper publications available for subscription in the West. Radio Liberty may have possessed the largest collection of Soviet periodicals and newspapers outside the USSR, not to speak of its transcripts of radio and TV programs provided by the staff of the Monitoring Section and the data on Soviet officials, based on Soviet media collected by the staff of the Research Department’s “Krasnyi arkhiv” or “Red Archive”, guided by Dr. Herwig Kraus. 

Eventually the rigorous approach suggested by Peter Dornan prevailed, at least from the launch of “Materialy Samizdata.” Furthermore, Dornan’s small unit was detached from the Research Department to occupy an equal level in the organizational chart as well as an equal level with the Broadcasting Services. Dornan reported directly to the highest authority of RL (later RFE-RL), and his unit was insulated from the conflicting interests of broadcasters and researchers. Indeed, Peter Dornan was the pioneer par excellence of samizdat in the West.23 His 1975 essay on Sakharov, at the time the most exhaustive study of Sakharov’s work, is an example of Peter Dornan’s scrupulousness.24

At one point a conflict emerged between Radio Liberty and Valery Chalidze, who claimed exclusive rights for the publication of the “Chronicle of Current Events” in the West.25 Although this claim was not indisputable, the two parties came to an agreement: Radio Liberty would continue to produce an annotated edition of each issue of the “Chronicle”, but only for internal use. Chalidze’s desire for monopoly rights, however, did not prevent other publishers from disseminating their own editions.

Friederike Kind-Kovács, a historian of samizdat and tamizdat,  maintains that Radio Liberty prepared “a system of illegal circulation with agents on both sides of the Iron Curtain,” and that “accessing samizdat materials, smuggling them across the Iron Curtain, editing them and then broadcasting them back into the Soviet bloc were part of a complex system of cross-Iron Curtain activities initiated by the radios.” 26 This notion does not reflect reality and must be totally rejected. The Samizdat Section never undertook any action intended to obtain samizdat texts directly from the Soviet Union. The documents were delivered to the Unit, mostly in photocopies, by individuals or institutions, for example by Russian emigres interested in promoting the publication or broadcasting of samizdat writings. One of them was Valery Chalidze, who, notwithstanding his previous conflict with Radio Liberty, sent copies in particular of those texts that he, for one or another reason, could not publish himself. Also Amnesty International, Helsinki Watch, Peter Reddaway and other organizations and individuals contributed to the expansion of the collection.

Indeed, strange as it may sound, the collection contained relatively very few original documents (manuscripts, typescripts, carbon copies, mimeographed or printed materials). Among the originals were secret audio recordings of court proceedings against dissidents as well as manuscripts which were very difficult to read (for example, manuscripts written in very tiny handwriting on cigarette paper). These materials were sent in their original form because their initial recipients did not have the time, resources or competence to transcribe them themselves.

Another important resource developed by the Unit was the massive collection, updated on a daily basis, of subject and biographical files on Soviet dissent, containing clippings from Soviet and international periodicals and newspapers, agency news items, transcripts of radio and TV programs as well as from Samizdat documents. In other words, the staff selected and collected all possible data on dissent in the USSR, the various religious groups and confessions, national movements, the Jewish movement for emigration, human rights, labor camps and prisons, psychiatric hospitals, Soviet judicial bodies, procuracy, KGB and MVD, etc.  The Unit also managed a small specialized multilingual library and various retrieval card systems, one of which, personally maintained by Peter Dornan, contained cross-referenced data on “persecutors” (procuracy or KGB investigators, prosecutors, judges, labor camp and prison guards, etc.) and their “victims.”

Among the other tasks, the Samizdat staff made their expertise and the Section resources available to RL-RFE editors and researchers as well as to the numerous visiting external scholars and journalists.

At present all the issues of “Materialy Samizdata,” the collection of unpublished Samizdat documents, the subject and biographic files and the retrieval card systems are preserved at the Open Society Archives (OSA) of the Central European University in Budapest.

Samizdat on the air

As indicated above, Radio Liberty strategists understood quite quickly that the systematic broadcasting of Samizdat texts would have a dramatic impact on Soviet society.  Samizdat on paper circulated almost only exclusively in intelligentsia circles in Moscow and other large cities of the USSR. If launched back through the ether, samizdat writings would reach much broader layers of the population including individuals in remote locations.27 It would be broadcasting in the true sense of the term. Listening to foreign radios in the Soviet Union was somewhat risky, it was done behind closed doors and windows, but it was less risky than possessing, producing or disseminating samizdat materials on paper. Thus, in addition to world news, programs on various subjects, analyses of and commentaries on international politics and the internal politics of the USSR, on Russian and Soviet history and the emigration, most of which were produced by exiles, the radio would now broadcast full and verbatim Samizdat texts, thus functioning as an amplifier of the free voices coming directly from within Soviet society.

In the fall of 1968 the first regular samizdat-based program was launched under the title “Pis’ma i dokumenty” (Letters and Documents). Other programs ad hoc followed in subsequent years, such as, “Dokumenty nashego vremeni” (Documents of Our Time), “Obzor samizdata” (Survey of Samizdat), “Dokumenty i liudi” (Documents and people), “Prava cheloveka” (Human Rights). Full readings of literary works prohibited in the Soviet Union and published in tamizdat, i.e., by Russian emigre publishing houses, were already broadcast in other feature programs, one of which was called, significantly, “S drugogo berega” (From the Other Shore). These broadcasts would become a distinctive brand of Radio Liberty. No other Western radio broadcasting in the various languages of the Soviet Union would devote as much airtime, resources and care to samizdat materials.

It was precisely thanks to samizdat that Radio Liberty could fulfill an important part of its mission. Besides providing exhaustive information on world events, different from that inflicted by the Soviet official media to their readers and listeners, Radio Liberty was in a position to impart information on events occurring inside the Soviet Union ignored or intentionally distorted by the official media. The Soviet people were kept up to date on Solzhenitsin and Sakharov as well as on the vicissitudes of other authors whose works were prohibited in the USSR, they could listen to the songs of Alexander Galich and other bards, they got to know the names of human rights activists, discovered the existence of political dissent in their country and of an unofficial art produced outside the canons of socialist realism. 

Thus, by echoing the dissidents’ and human rights activists’ concerns, the radio consigned to their texts most of the criticism of the Soviet regime and its representatives which could not be represented any longer as here “slander” coming from some emigre “renegade” on the payroll of a foreign power and at the service of anti-Soviet propaganda — as the media in the USSR used to blame Radio Liberty’s broadcasts and the emigre intellectuals who worked for the Radio. It stemmed from within the country and belonged to Soviet citizens, most of whom were identified by name and were ready to pay a high prize for their beliefs and activities.

Samizdat re-entered its home territory expanded through the ether. Over time and thanks to the writings of samizdat authors Radio Liberty began to be perceived as a familiar voice, a home service rather than a broadcaster representing foreign interests.

As Alexander Suetnov, an expert on Soviet independent publications, would write many years later: “In the seventies we learnt about the existence of samizdat either from the foreign radio stations or from court proceedings.”28 

The Soviet regime seemed to feel the blow and went on the counterattack. The official media began to argue that some of the samizdat writings had been manufactured at the radio’s headquarters in Munich.

In 1973, for example, an article on “Ogonek” fathered on Radio Liberty a samizdat political document entitled “Program of the Democratic Movement of the Soviet Union.”29 The document was authentic, of course. It had been obtained and published in 1970 by the Herzen Foundation in Amsterdam, and Radio Liberty never disputed that. At the Radio a photocopy of the printed brochure had been assigned an AS progressive number, as it was usually done for all the documents intended for broadcasting, and it was included in “Sobranie dokumentov samizdata”.30 Some of the authors’ names, who at the bottom of the document identified themselves only as “Democrats of Russia, Ukraine, and the Baltic Countries,” are known today and at the time they were all residing in the Soviet Union.

As stated in a book published by the official agency “Novosti:” “’Samizdat’ is one of RL’s creations and is used for preparing so-called ‘scientific studies’ which are sent to 570 subscribers, including bodies of the press, government institutions and various Sovietology centers in the West. Some of the ‘samizdat’ materials have been written by so-called dissidents. But much of this material can be safely stamped ‘Made in RL’…”31

These allegations got more credit in Western pro-Soviet circles than among Soviet citizens, less inclined to place much trust in the media of their own country.

In conclusion, thanks to Radio Liberty’s broadcasts, more people in the USSR listened to samizdat than read it. As the above-mentioned samizdat historian Friederike Kind-Kovács wrote: “Some circles inside the Soviet bloc used the radios as a replacement for the far riskier and more restricted access to and use of samizdat literature. On 27 April 1976, Mikhail Delone, a 23-year old teacher from Moscow. ‘a September 1975 emigrant’, reported that he was ‘especially interested in listening to Western broadcasts because, for some reason, samizdat materials never seemed to get through to [him]’. So, the orally transmitted samizdat replaced or enriched the physical access to the materials… The broadcasts, orally transmitted through the exiles, reached therefore far wider audiences than the written alternatives of the dissident colleagues inside the Soviet bloc ever did.”32

The Polish events in Soviet samizdat

Far reaching developments for the political and geopolitical assets in Eastern Europe were to follow in the coming years. Such revolutionary events as the emergence of KOR and of Solidarność in Poland would exert a notable influence on Soviet society and find an echo in samizdat (although, even before those events there had been workers protests in the Soviet Union as well as timid attempts to form independent trade unions).33

The events in Poland were regularly reported – for example, in the “Information Bulletin of SMOT” (Svobodnoe mezhprofessional’noe ob-edinenie trudjashchikhsia – Free Inter-Professional Association of Workers), an independent union born in 1978.34 An Open Letter to Soviet Workers on the Polish events authored by Moscow mathematician Vadim Iankov was circulated in 1982.35 Charged with article 70 of the RSFSR (“anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation”), on January 1 of the next year Iankov was sentenced to four years of strict regime corrective labor colony plus three years of exile.36 Another Samizdat document telling of strikes in 1981 and 1982 at a bus factory in the city of  Pavlovo, Gorky oblast, described how at secret meetings workers circulated the highly significant slogan “if the [production] norms are raised, we’ll do the same as in Poland.”37. The same slogan, in different versions, some even hilarious, circulated everywhere in the USSR.

I would like to focus briefly on an interesting essay entitled “Pol’skaia revoliuciia” (The Polish Revolution) circulated anonymously in Samizdat beginning in 1982.

A historical introduction covering the period from the German invasion of Poland in 1939 to the beginning of the workers’ disturbances in the Polish Littoral in 1980 was followed by a chronological survey of the subsequent events, concluding with the declaration of martial law by general Wojciech Jaruzelski on December 13, 1981. While empathizing with the Polish opposition, the author, although en passant, harshly criticized Soviet dissident movement for their pretended “apoliticity”, their “legalistic squabbling” and their appeals to the Soviet authorities to respect their own laws. “Wherever laws are not applied,” according to the then unknown author, “and even promulgated with no intention of applying them, legalistic squabbling simply substitutes for more productive forms of thinking, for which the dissidents have no aptitude.”38 As it seemed to him, a more fruitful form of opposition would have been a combination of both legal and illegal forms of struggle and of both open and underground activity.

That point of view was not new, and it was expressed more explicitly by the editors of the samizdat Eurocommunist journal “Varianty” – which circulated in Samizdat in the early Eighties – in their responses to a questionnaire compiled by the French journal “L’Alternative.” In addition, the editors of “Varianty” suggested that a way out of what they called “the dissident’s crisis” would have been “the formation of political organizations of different tendencies and a turning to ‘the lower strata’ with concrete social programs.” They also stressed the necessity of a “switch to illegal channels (while using all available legal possibilities)… the creation of illegal structures, both organizational and technical,” as taught by the experience of Poland.39

While editing “The Polish Revolution” for publication in “Materialy Samizdata,” 40 I realized that one of the sources used by the author must have been the Italian Communist Party organ “L’Unità,” one of the few Western newspapers available in the USSR.41 The essay, which Russian historian Michel Heller defined as “the first fundamental research on the 1980-1982 Polish events,”42 was subsequently published in London with my introduction.43

Years later the author was identified with Abram Il’ich Fet, a Novosibirsk mathematician who died in 2007, known also for some of his incursions into the field of theoretical physics. He was a prolific author, under various synonyms, of essays on social and political topics circulated in samizdat, some of which were published in the Russian tamizdat journal “Sintaksis”, co-founded in Paris by Andrei Siniavsky and his wife Maria Rozanova.

Fet’s biography has been recounted in various articles and it’s now fairly well known.44 Suffice it to say here that his struggle against the Soviet regime had officially started in 1968, when he had been expelled from the Institute of Mathematics and banned from teaching at the University of Novosibirsk for having signed, together with other 45 Novosibirsk intellectuals, the so called “Letter of 46”45 to the Supreme Court of the USSR in defense of the four dissidents (Aleksander Ginzburg, Jurii Galanskov, Aleksei Dobrovol’sky e Vera Lashkova) sentenced  in January of that year.

 
 

Footnotes

 

1 Text of Essay by Russian Nuclear Physicist Urging Soviet-American Cooperation [Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom], in NYT, 22.7.1968.

2 A. Sacharow, Hartekreet van enn Russisch geleerde, in “Het Parool,” 6, 13.7.1968.

3 Razmyshleniia o progresse, mirnom sosushchestvovanii i intellektual’noi svobode, in “Novoe Russkoe Slovo”, 24-27.7, 29-31.7, 1-2.8.1968.

4 Peter Dornan, Andrei Sakharov: The Conscience of a Liberal Scientist, in Rudolf Tökés (ed.), Dissent in the Ussr: Politics, Ideology, and People, Johns Hopkins University Press 1975, pp. 354-417. 

5 See on this subject, for the USA, Ksenya Kiebuzinski, Samizdat and Dissident Archives: Trends in Their Acquisition, Preservation, and Access in North American Repositories, in Slavic & East European Information Resources”, vol. 13 (2012), № 1: 3-25.

6 Peter Reddaway (ed.), Uncensored Russia – protest and dissent in the Soviet Union. The unofficial Moscow journal, A Chronicle of Current Events, New York: American Heritage Press, 1972.

7 Michael Scammel, How Index on Censorship Started, in George Theiner (ed.), They Shoot Writers, Don’t They? London: Faber and Faber, 1984, pp. 19-28.

8 Cornelia Gerstenmaier, Die Stimme der Stummen: Die demokratische Bewegung in der Sowjetunion, Stuttgart: Seewald, 1972.

9 See, e.g., his Samizdat and Political Dissent in the Soviet Union, Leiden: Sijthoff, 1975.

10 See, e.g., URSS: Dibattito nella comunità cristiana, Milan: Jaca Book, 1968; Terra nuova sotto la stella rossa. Documenti del samizdat religioso, Milan: Jaca Book, 1971; Massimo Gori [pseudonym of Mario Corti] (ed.), La lunga strada di un’alternativa nell’URSS, 1968-1972: Sei documenti del samizdat politico, Milan: Jaca Book, 1972; Felix I. Milani (ed.), La repressione culturale in Lituania, Milan: Jaca Book, 1972; Russia Cristiana also published on its own an interesting volume on Samizdat with facsimile reproductions of original documents: Samizdat. Cronaca di una vita nuova nell’URSS, Milan: Edizioni Russia Cristiana, 1975; another volume was edited with the cooperation of Russia Cristiana by Robi Ronza: Robi Ronza (ed.), Dissenso e contestazione in Unione Sovietica. Самиздат, Milan: Istituto di propaganda libraria, 1970.

11 See the catalog of the exhibits, coordinated by Sergio Rapetti with the consultancy of Mario Corti and Jurii Maltsev, Il dissenso culturale nell’URSS. Documenti letterari e del samizdat. Manifestazione organizzata dalla Gazzetta del Popolo con la collaborazione della Biennale di Venezia [Turin]: Gazzetta del popolo [1977-1978].

12 See also, for France, Samizdat I. La Voix de l’opposition communiste en URSS, in “La vérité”,  Nov. 1969, № 646; for the USA, George Saunders (ed.), Samizdat. Voices of the Soviet Opposition, New York: Monad Press, 1974.

13 Aleksandr Ginzburg (ed.), Belaia kniga po delu Siniavskogo i Daniel’ia, Frankfurt/Main: Posev, 1967.

14 Some of “Feniks 1966” materials were published in Frankfurt am Main in the issue № 63 of the NTS journal “Grani. Zhurnal literatury, iskusstva, nauki i obshchestvenno-politicheskoi mysli,” 1967, Year XXII, № 63; followed by Poety iz zhurnala “Feniks 1966”, ibid., 1967, Year XXII, № 64: 112-115; G. Pomerants, Kvadril’on, ibid, pp. 151-166; Iu. Galanskov, Organizatsionnye problemy dvizhenija za polnoe i vseobshchee razoruzhenie i mir vo vsem mire. Redaktsionnyi kommentarii zhurnala “Feniks 1966”, ibid., pp. 167-174; A. Dobrovol’sky, Vzaimootnoshenie znaniia i very. Apologeticheskii opyt Alekseia Dobrovol’skogo, ibid., pp. 194-201; Obsuzhdenie maketa 3’go toma Istorii KPSS v Institute marksizma-leninizma pri TsK KPSS s uchastiem starykh bol’shevikov. Konspekt, ibid, № 65: 129-156; G. Pomerants, O roli nravstvennogo oblika lichnosti v zhizni istoricheskogo kollektiva, ibid., 1968, Year XXIII, № 67: 134-165; Iu. Galanskov, Otkrytoe pis’mo delegatu XXIII s-ezda KPSS M. Sholokhovu, ibid., pp.115-133; id., Spravedlivosti okrovavlennye usta, ibid. 1968, № 68: 101-104; E. Varga, Rossiskii put’ perekhoda k socializmu i ego rezul’taty (Konspekt), ibid., pp. 137-156; № 69: 135-153; the almanac was also published in Italian: Feniks-66: Rivista sovietica non ufficiale, Milan: Jaca Book, 1968. The translator, who signed with the pseudonym Nicola Sorin, was affiliated with “Russia Cristiana”.

15 P. Litvinov (ed.), Protsess chetyrekh. Sbornik materialov po delu Galanskova, Ginzburga, Dobrovol’skogo, Lashkovoi, Amsterdam: The Alexander Herzen Foundation, 1971.

16 Natal’ia Gorbanevskaia, Polden’: Delo o demonstratsii 25 avgusta 1968 goda na Krasnoi ploshchadi, Frankfurt/Main: Posev, 1970.

 17 See also on “Chronicle”, e.g., Mark Hopkins, Russia’s Underground Press. The Chronicle of Current Events, New York: Praeger, 1983; Jillian Forsyth, The Chronicle of Current Events and the Soviet Human Rights Movement, Dalhousie University Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2017; in particular on the structure of “Chronicle” and on other Samizdat journals see Iu. A. Rusina, Zhurnaly samizdata 1960-1970-ch gg., in “Dokument. Arkhiv. Istoriia. Sovremennost’”, 2001, Vyp. 1: 279-295. In general, on the history of Samizdat and its authors see, for ex., Ead., Samizdat v SSSR: Teksty i sud’by, Ekaterinburg, 2015.

18 See, e.g., Albert Boiter, Samizdat: Primary Source Material in the Study of Current Soviet Affairs, in “The Russian Review” (Jul., 1972), vol. 31, № 3: 282-285.

19 Ibid.; also, Gene Sosin, Sparks of Liberty. An Insiders’ Memoir of Radio Liberty, The Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 151-154.

20 Adam Lusher, Former Daily Telegraph Journalist “spied for communist Russia”, in “Independent”, 25 February 2018.

21 http://samizdat.memo.ru/samizdat/introrus.

22 On the history of the Samizdat section of Radio Liberty see also, e.g., Olga Zaslavskaya, From Dispersed to Distributed Archives: The Past and the Present of Samizdat Material, in “Poetics Today”, 2008, 29 (4): 669-712, with a reference to Mario Corti. 1996 Interview, HU OSA 206, Administrative History Files, Samizdat Archives, OSA Archivium. 

23 On Dornan see, e.g., Felix Corley, Obituary: Peter Dornan, in “The Independent”, 17.11.1999; Mario Corti, Radio Liberty’s Peter Dornan, in RFE-RL Newsline, Vol. 3, № 216, 5.11.1999; Id., Pamjati Petera Dornana, 4.11.1999, on RFE-RL’s website: https://www.svoboda.org/a/24198395.html; on Dornan and his personal collection donated to Drew University:  Dornan Collection/Russian Samizdat Archive on the website of Drew University: https://www.drew.edu/library/special-collections-archives/special-collections/dornan-collection-russian-samizdat-archive/

24 See fn 4. 

25 See., e.g., Friederike Kind-Kovács, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty as the “Echo Chamber” of Tamizdat, in Friederike Kind-Kovács, Jessie Labov (ed.) Samizdat, Tamizdat, and Beyond. Transnational Media during and After Socialism, New York-Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2013, pp. 70-91, 80.

26 Friederike Kind-Kovács, Voices, letters, and literature through the Iron Curtain: exiles and the (trans)mission of radio in the Cold War, in Linda Risso (ed.), Radio Wars. Broadcasting during the Cold War, London and New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, p. 69, 71-72.

27 Cf. F.G.M. Feldbrugge, Samizdat and Political Dissent in the Soviet Union, Leiden: A.W. Sijthoff, 1975, pp. 15-16, with a reference to AS 1086.

28 “Piatnitsa. Organ Oktiabr’skogo raionnogo Soveta Moskvy”, Moskva, 1990, № 2: 10.

29 Arkadii Sakhnin, Podkhodiashchaia kandidatura, in “Ogoniok”, № 51 (2424), 15.12.1973, p. 28.

30 Programma Demokraticheskogo dvizheniia Sovetskogo Soiuza, Amsterdam: The Alexander Herzen Foundation, 1970; reproduced in “Sobranie dokumentov samizdata”, Vol. 5, AS № 340.

31 Gennadii Alov, Vassilii Viktorov, Aggressive Broadcasting: Evidence, Facts, Documents. Psychological Warfare, Moscow: Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, 1985, p. 100.

32 Kind-Kovács, op.cit., p. 71.

33 See, e.g., Karl Schlögel, Der Renitente Held. Arbeiterprotest in der Sowjetunion 1953-1983, Hamburg: Junius, 1984, one of the first books on the subject; also, Mario Corti, Aleksei Nikitin and the Movement for Worker’s Rights in the USSR, in “Radio Liberty Research Bulletin,” 25th Year, №19 (3120), May 13, 1981.

34 See, e.g., AS №№ 4760: 3-7 (IB SMOT, № 15/1981); 4622: 2 (IB SMOT, № 19/1981); 4728-4729 (IB SMOT, №№ 26/1981, 27/1981), 4752: 5-8 (IB SMOT, № 29/1981-1982), 4806: 8-16 (IB SMOT, № 30/1982). 

35 AS №4615 – V. Iankov, Pis’mo russkim rabochim po povodu pol’skikh sobytii, statia podmoskovnogo matematika ob istorii sozdaniia i tseliakh profsoiuza Solidarnost’, m.b. Moskovskaia oblast’, g. Dolgoprudnyi, Noiabr’ 1981 – Ianvar’ 1982.

36 “Vesti iz SSSR/USSR News Brief,” № 2, 1983.

37 AS 4985 – Soobshchenie o zabastovkakh rabochikh g. Pavlovo Gor’kovskoi oblasti v 1981-82, veroiatno, leto 1982.

38 On the nature of Soviet “dissent” and some distinctions between its different components see, e.g., Mario Corti, O nekotorykh aspektakh dissidentskogo dvizheniia, in “Karta. Rossiiskii nezavisimyi istoricheskii i pravozashchitnyi zhurnal”, 1994, № 6: 42-46.

39 AS № 4619: 18-19, 23.

40  AS № 4904 (1983).

41 On “Polish Revolution” see also Mario Corti, A Samizdat Work on the Events in Poland, in “Radio Liberty Research Bulletin,” 319/83.

42 M. Geller, Mashina i vintiki: istoriia formirovaniia sovetskogo cheloveka, M., 1994, p. 124.

43 Pol’skaia revoliutsiia, London: Overseas Interchange Ltd., 1985; today also online: http://modernproblems.org.ru/hisrory/188-polish-revolution.html?showall=1.

44 E.g., E.N. Savenko, Avtor prepochel ostat’sia neizvestnym, in “Gumanitarnye nauki v Sibiri. 2011, №3: 89-92.

45 “Sobranie dokumentov samizdata,” vol. 1, AS № 21.

 
 

LINK TO PDF

 
 

About Mario Corti

 

mariocorti100Mario Corti was born in Italy but his parents took him to Argentina, where he developed a lifelong interest in Russia. Later on he became a fluent Russian speaker and writer. Living in Italy in the 1970s, he was active in defense of human rights in the Soviet Union and published Russian samizdat books, articles and documents.

From 1979 until 2005, he worked at the U.S.-funded international broadcaster Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). He became the head of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service but after several years left the station together with other veteran journalists over a programming dispute with the American management appointed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). He is author of numerous books and articles, many of them published in Russian.

Dreif, a book written in Russian about philosophy and culture, was published in Russia and Ukraine in 2002. His book, Salieri i Mozart, on the relationship between the two composers, was published in Russian in 2005. His articles on human rights and Soviet dissent have appeared in several languages in many countries. He speaks Italian, Rusian, English, German, Spanish, and French and has a working knowledge of several other European languages. He lives in Italy and devotes his time to research and writing.

 

Photo. From the left, Martin Dewhirst, Peter Dornan and Mario Corti.
 

P.

Polish Diplomat Who Exposed Pro-Stalin U.S. Propagandists

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum
 

Jan Ciechanowski, Polish Ambassador in Washington during World War II, helped to expose Soviet propaganda and U.S. government propagandists who in domestic media and in “Voice of America” shortwave radio broadcasts for foreign audiences spread disinformation originating in Soviet Russia.

Photo: Jan Ciechanowski, Polish Minister, 11/30/25, LC-DIG-npcc-15231 (digital file from original), Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

 
 

Americans concerned about Russian propaganda and Russian interference with U.S. elections are strangely not being told about similar and far more massive Soviet propaganda and disinformation campaigns in the United States during World War II, which were both openly and secretly assisted by Roosevelt administration officials in charge of American war information. In secret meetings, U.S. propagandists coordinated their news and information strategy with Soviet propagandists and tried to deceive Americans about the Soviet Union and Josef Stalin. They also misled foreign listeners to “Voice of America” radio broadcasts with a heavy dose of disinformation and propaganda on anything related to Russia.

Americans also don’t know that one of the most relentless and formidable challengers of pro-Soviet U.S. government propaganda was a wartime Polish diplomat in Washington Ambassador Jan Ciechanowski.

Ciechanowski started his diplomatic career in Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1918 as the country regained its independence at the end of World War I. He served as secretary to Polish Prime Minister Ignacy Jan Paderewski who in addition to being a statesman and a politician was also a world-famous pianist and composer with strong ties to the United States and a friend of President Woodrow Wilson. Ciechanowski attended the Paris Peace Conference with Paderewski. Later in the interwar period, he served at Polish embassies in Great Britain and in the United States. He returned to Washington in 1941 as the ambassador of the Polish Government-in-Exile based in London and remained in his post until 1945 when the Truman administration along with most countries recognized the Soviet-dominated government in Warsaw. He could not return to Poland because of the threat of imprisonment by the communist regime and spent the rest of his life living in exile in the United States.

In a book published in 1947, Jan Ciechanowski described in some detail his mostly behind-the-scenes efforts in Washington to curb pro-Soviet propaganda of some of the Roosevelt administration officials. As the Russian government of Vladimir Putin is again using some of the same disinformation tactics against the United States, Ambassador Ciechanowski’s warnings about Russian propaganda and the wartime collusion between American and Soviet propagandists have been, unfortunately, largely forgotten even though they could offer a valuable lesson on the dangers of allowing enemies of democracy to influence and corrupt national discourse and even the U.S. government itself.

Very few people today know about this remarkable Polish diplomat and his attempts expose Soviet propaganda. Americans also don’t know about the still largely unpublicized efforts by many American government officials in the Roosevelt administration who were trying to cover up Stalin’s crimes. Among his many attempts to draw attention of Americans to the true aggressive and cruel nature of the Stalinist regime, Ambassador Chiechanowski tried to get President Roosevelt to give political asylum to about 10,000 Polish children, many of them orphans, who had been prisoners along with their parents in the Soviet Gulag and had escaped from Russia in 1942. If successful, this could show the President, his administration and American people what Stalin was capable of doing, but Ciechanowski only succeeded in getting FDR’s approval to transport a small group of these refugee children on a U.S. ship and to resettle some of them in Mexico. Administration officials would not allow them to be adopted by Polish American families and to remain in the United States. To protect Stalin from any bad publicity, U.S. authorities kept the Polish refugee children under military guard to prevent contacts with American public and media.

Very few Americans know that during World War II, the U.S. government’s overseas broadcasts, which later became known as “the Voice of America” and “VOA,” were under the control of pro-Soviet government bureaucrats and strongly Left-leaning broadcasters in the Office of War Information (OWI) which was created in 1942 to counter Japanese and Nazi propaganda, but not Soviet propaganda. The Voice of America did not start broadcasting in Russian until 1947 because early OWI officials were afraid of offending Stalin. Their enthusiasm for the Soviet dictator and Moscow-controlled communist movements was so pronounced in VOA radio broadcasts and in other forms of wartime propaganda that it became intolerable at one point even to President Roosevelt. He himself was more than willing to appease the Soviet Union on his own in order to keep Russia in the war with Hitler, and he also naively believed that Stalin could be persuaded to support peace and democracy in the post-war world. But Roosevelt drew the line when the lives of American soldiers were at immediate risk because of Voice of America commentaries reflecting the Kremlin’s point of view and supporting communist causes.

According to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the World War II Supreme Commander, communist-inspired excesses of by early VOA broadcasters threatened the safety of U.S. troops when Voice of America programs ridiculed tactical agreements reached by him with some of the Vichy France and Italian leaders to lure them out of their former cooperation with Nazi Germany. President Eisenhower noted in his memoir published in 1965 that President Roosevelt put a stop to VOA’s “insubordination.” 1 Of all the post-war U.S. presidents he was least enthusiastic about the Voice of America and was involved in the creation of more hard-hitting Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

Even after President Roosevelt’s brief intervention and the forced resignation in 1943 of John Houseman, who was later described as the first Voice of America director, pro-Soviet and pro-communist propaganda in wartime VOA broadcasts continued for the rest of the war with regard to Poland and other countries in East Central Europe. President Roosevelt had agreed secretly that they should fall under Russia’s influence in response to Stalin’s aggressive demands at their wartime summit conferences in Tehran and Yalta.

Jan Ciechanowski, who from 1941 until July 5, 1945 served in Washington as the Ambassador of the Polish Government-in-Exile based in London, wrote in his 1947 book Defeat in Victory about his struggles with pro-Soviet propagandists in the Roosevelt administration. During the war, Ciechanowski tried to warn administration officials, members of Congress, and journalists about Soviet influence within the Office of War Information, including the Voice of America radio broadcasting section. He and other critics of the Office of War Information succeeded in persuading enough members of Congress to limit OWI’s funding for domestic propaganda in the United States. OWI’s budget for overseas broadcasts was saved only by a few votes. Republicans in Congress were particularly upset by what they saw as OWI’s and VOA’s partisan electoral messages designed to benefit President Roosevelt. Even the State Department secretly intervened with the White House to get some of the most pro-Soviet Voice of America officials and broadcasters removed, including VOA Director John Houseman who later became a successful Hollywood actor.

Ambassador Ciechanowski’s efforts were, however, ultimately unsuccessful in changing President Roosevelt’s general policy toward Russia. Only several years after the war, his warnings about Russian propaganda were publicized in bipartisan hearings conducted by the U.S. House of Representatives which prompted programming reforms at the Voice of America. Along with Radio Free Europe, VOA played a significant role later in the Cold War in helping to undermine the communist monopoly on news and contributed to the eventual peaceful collapse of the Soviet empire.

Jan Ciechanowski, Polish Minister, 11/30/25, LC-DIG-npcc-15231 (digital file from original), Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

 

Jan Maria Włodzimierz Ciechanowski (1897-1973)
 
Defeat in Victory (Doubleday, 1947)

 

“Of all the United States Government agencies, the Office of War Information [where Voice of America radio broadcasts in English and many other languages originated], under its new director, Mr. Elmer Davis, had very definitely adopted a line of unqualified praise of Soviet Russia and appeared to support its shrewd and increasingly aggressive propaganda in the United States. The OWI broadcasts to European countries had become characteristic of this trend.” 2

“But, curiously enough, while some [U.S.] government departments realized the danger of unduly encouraging Soviet-Russian appetite, some of the new war agencies actively conducted what could only be termed pro-Soviet propaganda.” 3

“So-called American propaganda broadcasts [Voice of America, originally called “America Calling Europe”] to occupied Poland were outstanding proofs of this tendency. Notorious pro-Soviet propagandists and obscure foreign communists and fellow travelers were entrusted with these broadcasts.” 4

“I protested repeatedly against the pro-Soviet character of such propaganda. I explained to those responsible for it in the OWI that the Polish nation, suffering untold oppression from Hitler’s hordes, was thirsting for plain news about America and especially about her war effort, her postwar plans, and her moral leadership, that Soviet propaganda was being continuously broadcast anyway to Poland directly from Moscow, and there seemed no reason additionally to broadcast it from the United States.” 5

“When I finally appealed to the Secretary of State and to divisional heads of the State Department, protesting against the character of the OWI broadcasts to Poland, I was told that the State Department was aware of these facts but could not control this agency, which boasted that it received its directives straight from the White House.” 6

Ambassador Ciechanowski’s account of his conversation with U.S. Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles after Stalin broke diplomatic relations with the Polish Government-in-Exile on April 26, 1943. Stalin objected to Poland’s request to the International Red Cross for an independent investigation of the Katyn massacre.

“On my part, I drew Mr. Welles’s special attention to the necessity of curbing the exaggerated pro-Soviet tendency of OWI propaganda at this delicate moment.” 7

“He promised he would try to do so.” 8

“Contrary to OWI and fellow-traveler propaganda, American public opinion was becoming apprehensive that the Soviets were not turning out to be an ideal of ‘radical democracy’ and beginning to wonder if it was not more judicious to seek reinsurance in world affairs in a more natural association between the two English-speaking democracies.” 9

“In the atmosphere of silence inspired by the OWI on all Soviet-Polish matters, the publication of excerpts from the Polish and Soviet declarations suddenly revealed to public opinion the existence of an acute Soviet-Polish problem.” 10

“This revelation coincided with the rising anxiety that, contrary to officially inspired enthusiasm, the Teheran meeting had not been the unqualified success it was made out to be. I frequently heard expressions of criticism of the President for his ‘secret diplomacy,’ and suspicious that, behind the curtain drawn around Teheran, secret agreements had been concluded. The approach of the election campaign was making public opinion noticeably more alert and critical.” 11

Ambassador Ciechanowski’s account of his 1944 conversation with Louis Fischer, an American writer and expert on Soviet affairs.

“In his opinion, the President and American official circles had become so personally engaged in pro-Soviet propaganda that it was difficult to imagine how they could ‘go into reverse’ at this time, when internal political considerations were playing such a big part.” 12

 
 

For additional information see one of the earlier Cold War Radio Museum articles updated and reposted below.

 
 

Polish Ambassador’s Fight With Pro-Stalin Voice of America and Soviet Propaganda in the U.S.

 

By Ted Lipien

 

Polish envoy Jan Ciechanowski with family in front of the Polish Embassy in Washington in 1925. LC-DIG-npcc-15230 (digital file from original), Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 2054

Anybody looking for evidence of widespread and effective Russian interference in American politics and considerable influence within the U.S. government needs to look no further than what was the World War II era Voice of America (VOA). The U.S. wartime mega propaganda agency, the Office of War Information (OWI) included since 1942 a radio broadcasting division which only later became known as the Voice of America. From the very beginning, both the OWI and its Voice of America radio broadcasts were generating plenty of controversy in Washington, much of it now forgotten and omitted from many historical accounts. But during the war and into the early 1950s, pro-Soviet propaganda and Soviet influence among VOA staffers was the subject of many congressional speeches and newspaper articles, most of them highly critical of the Voice of America and its federal parent agency.

Voice of America reporting during the war was in fact closely coordinated with Soviet propaganda by one of VOA’s founders, Hollywood playwright and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s speech writer Robert E. Sherwood, and the coordination was conducted for the most part with full approval from FDR. It was no secret that VOA engaged in pro-Soviet propaganda, which one critic, a former VOA journalist Julius Epstein, later described as “Love for Stalin.”

Officials and VOA writers deceived international public opinion and at that time also many Americans since their programs were distributed in the United States, by covering up Stalinist crimes and Moscow’s true intentions with regard to Eastern and Central Europe. At one point during the war, even the AFL and CIO, a U.S. labor federation that could hardly be called reactionary, severed its cooperation with the Voice of America and accused its leadership of being dominated by communists and communist sympathizers.

Perhaps only a few of OWI’s employees were members of the Communist Party, but many of them, and especially their bosses, pushed the Soviet line, often to the detriment of U.S. interests. By 1942, both Poland, represented by the Polish Government in Exile based in London, and the Soviet Union, were America’s allies in the war against Nazi Germany. By that time, the Soviets who earlier in the spring of 1940 had secretly murdered over 20,000 Polish military officers, Polish government leaders and intellectuals, were already hard at work trying to discredit the democratic Polish government, as well as democratic governments in exile of other Nazi-occupied European nations, including Greece and Yugoslavia. Stalin broke diplomatic relations with the Polish government when the mass graves of murdered Polish officers were discovered by the Germans in the spring of 1943 in Katyn near Smolensk in western Russia. The Voice of America under its strongly pro-Soviet director, Hollywood actor John Houseman, immediately adopted and promoted the Soviet lie that the Germans were responsible for the murders. Even the U.S. State Department urged VOA to be cautious in accepting the Soviet version, but the warning was ignored by those in charge of VOA. At the same time, VOA’s parent agency, the Office of War Information, intensified its illegal efforts to censor American media outlets, mostly of Polish-American and other ethnic origin, which were reporting that Stalin had ordered the mass murder of Polish prisoners of war and was planning to turn Poland into a Soviet satellite state. They were right on both accounts, but their honest reporting was viewed by the OWI censors as detrimental to the war effort.

The Polish Ambassador to Washington Jan Ciechanowski who represented the Polish Government-in-Exile during the war was responsible for exposing the Soviet influence within the Office of War Information and the Voice of America to members of Congress and mainstream American media. As a traditional diplomat, he worked mostly behind the scenes, and his activities in fighting Soviet propaganda never became well known, even after the war. But thanks to his efforts, the Office of War Information nearly lost all of its funding from Congress in 1943 over management scandals and domestic media censorship that he helped to expose through actions. Eventually, only part of the OWI budget was cut for its domestic propaganda service, but Congress sent a strong message of displeasure with the agency over the pro-Soviet activities of its officials.

Ambassador Ciechanowski’s then secret diplomatic cables to his government in London, which are now archived at the Hoover Institution, describe in detail the extent of pro-Soviet WWII Voice of America propaganda (VOA was not yet then widely known by its current name; the diplomatic cables refer to OWI’s overseas and domestic media activities) and the staffing of the OWI Polish desk by pro-Soviet activists and writers. The cables also reveal Ciechanowski’s protests to the State Department and his lobbying among members of Congress to stop OWI’s pro-Stalin propaganda and illegal censorship of U.S. media.

This is the first time information from Ambassador Ciechanowski’s secret diplomatic cables about the pro-Soviet activities of the U.S. propaganda agency during World War II is being reported in significant detail in English. Jan Ciechanowski (1887-1973) was an economist and a distinguished Polish diplomat in London and in the United States before the war. He served in Washington during the war. One of his last diplomatic acts before the United States Government withdrew its recognition from the democratic Polish government in London and recognized the Communist-dominated government in Poland was to point out to State Department officials that their initial decision to make the formal announcement on the 4th of July 1945 was less than appropriate to make on America’s Independence Day. The United States made the announcement on July 5th.

In 1947, Jan Ciechanowski published his diplomatic memoirs, “Defeat in Victory,” in which he describes his battle with the Office of War Information and its Voice of America officials and staffers to counter Soviet propaganda and censorship. After the war, he continued to live in exile in the United States until his death in 1973.

Ambassador Ciechanowski’s actions described much more frankly and in much greater detail in his WWII cables had only a temporary and rather minimal effect on VOA’s pro-Soviet propaganda at the time, but they prompted Congress in 1943 to cut the OWI’s budget for domestic propaganda activities, which included censorship of U.S. domestic media. After the war, the bipartisan Madden Committee (named after Democratic lawmaker from Indiana Ray Madden and charged with investigating the Katyn massacre) condemned these U.S. government media censorship activities as illegal. (OWI was also responsible for producing films in support of the internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry.) OWI’s key functionary responsible for domestic U.S. media censorship, including silencing of Polish American radio programs in Detroit and Buffalo which broadcast the truth about Katyn, was future U.S. Senator from California Alan Cranston. In a secret diplomatic cable, Ambassador Chiechanowski described Cranston as a man of definite pro-communist convictions.

As a result of Ambassador Ciechanowski’s relentless behind-the-scenes actions, members of Congress and U.S. media started to ask publicly questions about OWI activities and VOA programs. The management, staffing and activities of these propaganda organizations become very controversial and eventually led to the abolishment of the Office of War Information in 1945, placing of the much reduced Voice of America under the State Department, and the passage of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 which imposed restrictions on U.S. government’s domestic propaganda and established strict hiring procedures and security checks to avoid employment of foreign agents.

Contrary to the legend of the U.S. government-funded and run Voice of America as the purveyor of nothing but the truth, no matter how bad the news was for the United States, WWII VOA was a powerful propaganda tool of the White House, but mostly for its own officials and staffers. VOA broadcast Soviet disinformation and covered up Stalin’s crimes, not just the brutal killing of over 22,000 Polish officers, other POWs and political and intellectual leaders, but also executions and deportations of hundreds of thousands of Polish civilians from the Polish territory occupied by the Soviet Union in 1939 in accordance with the Secret Protocol of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. OWI and VOA deceived Americans and foreign audiences about Polish refugees fleeing Russia, including many children who had lost their parents in the Soviet Gulag. While other European countries, including Greece and Yugoslavia, were also targets of pro-Soviet VOA propaganda, Ambassador Ciechanowski’s focus was understandably on Poland, but he also cooperated with diplomats of these countries in Washington in exposing Soviet influence over the Voice of America.

Ambassador Ciechanowski was right to issue his warnings. The head of wartime VOA Czechoslovak Service, Dr. Adolf Hofmeister, after the war went back to Czechoslovakia and joined the communist government as its ambassador to Paris. The wartime VOA Polish Service also had its famous defector to the communist side, Stefan Arski. Former OWI editor Julius Epstein wrote after the war about Soviet sympathizers in the German Service and among the top leadership of the Voice of America.

In his July 13, 1943 cable to Edward Raczyński Foreign Minister of the Polish Government-in-Exile in London, Ambassador Ciechanowski wrote:

“I would like to inform the Minister of an action I am undertaking to call attention of the American public opinion, Congressional circles and some American government circles which have an objective view of Soviet affairs, to the biased attitude of the [U.S.] government propaganda bureau, the Office of War Information (OWI), toward Polish-Soviet issues.”

“Initially, when American propaganda offices were headed by Colonel Donovan (Coordinator of Information) and Archibald MacLeish (Office of Facts and Figures), the Embassy had very close relations with these two offices and their friendly view of Poland’s cause could not be questioned,” Ambassador Ciechanowski reported to his government.

“The situation worsened from the moment when the C.O.I. and O.F.F. offices were combined under the leadership of Elmer Davis, a journalist little familiar with European issues, crude, completely committed to the idea of using commercial advertising methods — in the American style — in political propaganda,” Ciechanowski’s cable continued.

According to Ciechanowski, Elmer Davis’ shortcomings and advertising methods scared away from OWI some of the best American journalists to be replaced by mediocre reporters “completely subservient to Davis’ politicized assistants.” Ciechanowski described Davis’ closest assistants as “pronounced sympathizers of Russia and communism.” He listed Robert E. Sherwood, James Cowles, James P. Warburg and Joseph Barnes.

“Polish affairs were placed in the hands of a group of Polish citizens manifesting their pro-Soviet stand,” Ciechanowski wrote. He said that he had personally protested to Elmer Davis, but that his his protest had no effect. He also reported that Ambassadors from Greece, Holland and Yugoslavia made similar protests about communist influence at the OWI reflected in Voice of America broadcasts abroad, also to no avail.

Ciechanowski pointed out later in the July 13, 1943 cable that as a result of his complaints Elmer Davis hired Dr. Ludwik Krzyżanowski, a Pole friendly to the Polish Government in Exile, to work at the OWI headquarters in Washington (Voice of America programs to Poland were done mostly by the pro-Soviet team in New York). Ambassador Ciechanowski noted, however, that Dr. Krzyżanowski by himself may not have had enough influence to stop pro-Soviet propaganda. Dr. Krzyżanowski indeed could not make much of a difference in the bureaucratic government agency committed by its senior leadership and through the work of many of its staffers to promote appeasement of Joseph Stalin, which was in any case the official U.S. policy set by President Roosevelt and his closest advisors, including Elmer Davis. Dr. Ludwik Krzyżanowski (1906-1986), who had come to the United States in 1938 to be cultural attache of the Government of Poland, was later professor in the Department of Slavic Studies in Columbia University of New York, New York University, and Editor-in-Chief of “The Polish Review” – a scholarly Quarterly of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America.

As relations of the Polish Government-in-Exile with Russia worsened over the Katyn Massacre, “the OWI’s attitude toward us started to worsen more and more,” the Polish Ambassador reported. He wrote that OWI officials refused help with arranging a special U.S. nationwide broadcast to commemorate the May 3rd Polish Constitution Day in 1943 even though the Embassy arranged for Congressional leaders of both parties to speak. These observances came a few weeks after the Germans announced the discovery of the Katyn graves of thousands of executed Polish officers and the OWI and VOA started to push the Soviet propaganda line that the murders were committed by the Nazis. Acting on its own, however, the Embassy managed to get the Columbia Broadcasting System to give airtime for the special program on all stations on its network. Ambassador Ciechanowski then explained how the OWI censored in overseas Voice of America broadcasts Polish Government’s statements about the Katyn Massacre while airing Soviet statements.

“…our relations with the press were not damaged by OWI’s hostile attitude. On the contrary — adjusting efforts by directly contacting the media while avoiding the O.W.I. produced better results than going through an intermediary. But in spite of this, the OWI made our life difficult, especially during the period of the “Katyn Affair,” by withholding through censorship all of our major statements while letting the Soviet ones go through.”

President Roosevelt was convinced that pro-Soviet propaganda activities and censorship of Stalin’s political and war crimes were necessary to keep Russia as America’s ally against Germany and later Japan. The Office of War Information was a huge federal bureaucracy accountable to no one except its director Elmer Davis and through him to President Roosevelt. VOA became so unabashedly pro-Soviet that it eventually drew the wrath of many members of Congress, U.S. press, and even the State Department and, in one case, the White House.

In 1943 OWI officials planned and partially conducted among Polish Americans what was presented as a public opinion survey, but which included leading pro-Soviet questions. Some of them implied that Poland, which was then a military ally of the United States with her troops fighting alongside the Western allies, should consider agreeing to Stalin’s territorial demands. Other questions seemed to cast doubts on the legitimacy of the Polish Government-in-Exile in London with which Washington still maintained full diplomatic relations. At that time, Ambassador Ciechanowski continued to meet regularly with State Department officials, including Secretary of State Cordell Hull, and had meetings with President Roosevelt, as did visiting Polish Government-in-Exile prime ministers Władysław Sikorski and later Stanisław Mikołajczyk until Washington broke relations with the London-based Polish Government in July 1945. U.S. media commentators critical of OWI’s activities declared the poll to be intentionally biased in favor of Russia.

In a column published on August 20, 1943 in Washington’s Times-Herald, newspaperman John O’Donnell wrote:

“The misnamed Office of War Information has apparently decided to end its career by suicide and this may be all for the best.
 
Few honest newspaper tears are going to be shed over the demise of an outfit which from birth was a New Deal Roosevelt propaganda body (as discovered by the last Congress which amputated its domestic claws) and throughout its career gave off the distinctly unpleasant stench of being a parking place for pay-roll patriots, political stumble bums and the incompetent sweepings of editorial rooms.”
 
(…)
 
“Freedom might well shriek if some of the descendants of that original liberty Pole [General Tadeusz Kosciuszko] were faced with these latest OWI questions to Americans with Polish names. … the questions are framed with a strictly pro-Russian slant, in our opinion.”

As a result of public criticism and pressure, including a protest from the U.S. State Department and members of Congress, the OWI was forced to stop its polling of Polish Americans. But Elmer Davis and VOA broadcasters continued to ignore advice from high-level State Department officials, including Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle who warned them not to place the blame of the Katyn massacre on the Germans and to avoid the entire controversy as much as possible. President Roosevelt’s friend and foreign policy advisor, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, secretly warned the White House that the Office of War Information, including its Voice of America division, was heavily under influence of a foreign power.

Even before the controversial poll was launched in 1943 among Polish Americans, the U.S. Congress drastically reduced the OWI domestic division’s budget as criticism of the mega propaganda agency grew nationwide and legislators expressed their strong disapproval of the agency’s foreign and domestic activities. Detailed information about the OWI poll was given to U.S. press and members of Congress by Ambassador Ciechanowski and Polish diplomats in Washington and in other major U.S. cities.

Overseas audiences were not the only ones being mislead by the U.S. Government with pro-Soviet propaganda. During World War II, the Office of War Information engaged in censoring private commercial Polish American broadcasters who were accurately accusing Stalin of ordering the 1940 massacre of thousands of Polish officers and other POWs at the Katyn Forest near Smolensk and at other locations in the Soviet Union.

Sometime in April 1943, OWI director Elmer Davis wrote a special radio commentary in which he blamed the Katyn Massacre on the Nazis. The State Department was at the time advising the OWI to avoid reporting on the Katyn story altogether “if at all possible” because the evidence was inconclusive.

This kind of news censorship would have been also bad, but Elmer Davis and the Voice of America made it even worse and gave full support to the Soviet lie. Davis later claimed he was convinced the Germans were responsible for the murders. He, however, almost certainly had access to information that the evidence pointed strongly to the Soviet responsibility for the crime. As a journalist, he could have easily asked questions of the right sources, including State Department officials, Ambassador Ciechanowski, and some American reporters who covered the Soviet Union from Washington, New York or Chicago. “Mr. Davis, therefore, bears the responsibility for accepting the Soviet propaganda version of the Katyn massacre without full investigation,” the bipartisan Select Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, which investigated the Katyn Massacre, concluded in its final report in 1952,

Not satisfied with censoring VOA news, another OWI official, Alan Cranston who later became U.S. Senator from California, used illegal tactics to pressure commercial U.S. broadcasters to drop Polish American radio programs in which the truth about Katyn was being told. These activities were also investigated by the Select Committee after the war and declared to be illegal.

But even during the war, OWI’s pro-Soviet bias, its handling of the Katyn story in overseas Voice of America broadcasts, Elmer Davis’s commentary, censorship of Polish American radio stations and finally OWI’s public opinion poll became known, largely though the efforts of the Polish Embassy. They outraged the Polish American community and their representatives in Congress. Speaking on the floor of the House in 1943, members of Congress revealed that some OWI managers lacked any experience in foreign affairs and some of OWI journalists were open Soviet sympathizers if not actual members of the Communist Party. A few of WWII Voice of America broadcasters and contributors later joined Communist governments in Eastern Europe. Only two or three were later identified through the Venona counter-intelligence program initiated by the United States Army Signal Intelligence Service (a forerunner of the National Security Agency) as actual Soviet agents or Soviet agents of influence.

Voice of America Polish desk commentator, Artur Salman, who also wrote under the pen name Stefan Arski, left VOA and the United States after the war and went back to Poland. He became a chief anti-American propagandist in Warsaw writing articles virulently attacking the U.S. Congress for its investigation of the Katyn Massacre. Voice of America’s censorship of the Katyn story in one form or another continued into the late 1970s. That was not the case with U.S.-funded surrogate broadcasters Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. They were able to broadcast the whole truth about Katyn in newscasts, interviews and historical programs. They were created after the OWI was broken up and the Voice of America, then under the State Department, initially ineffective in responding to Soviet propaganda.

Jan Ciechanowski with his wife and children. No date. LC-DIG-ggbain-38809 (digital file from original negative), Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540, USA.

1943

 

 


Copy of the first page of Ambassador Jan Ciechanowski’s cable from the Polish Embassy in Washington to the Polish Government in Exile in London, dated August 27, 1943.
 
SECRET
 
POLISH EMBASSY
 
WASHINGTON
 
July 13, 1943
 
To Minister of Foreign Affairs in London
 
I would like to inform the Minister of an action I am undertaking to call attention of the American public opinion, Congressional circles and some American government circles which have an objective view of Soviet affairs, to the biased attitude of the government propaganda bureau, the Office of War Information (OWI), toward Polish-Soviet issues.
 
This above topic has already some history behind it. Initially, when American propaganda offices were headed by Colonel Donovan (Coordinator of Information) and Archibald MacLeish (Office of Facts and Figures), the Embassy had very close relations with these two offices and their friendly view of Poland’s cause could not be questioned. Polish affairs were in the hands of such Americans as: Edgar A. Mowrer, Betty Carter, A. Oldes, Lee House and several others. With their help, the Embassy was able to organize several propaganda campaigns of first-rate significance of which the Minister is aware, such as: the 3rd of May [Poland’s Constitution Day] observances last year throughout the entire United States, publication of the booklet “Tale of a City,” excellent press coverage of the visits by Prime Minister General Sikorski, etc. The Embassy also relied on the friendly attitude of the leadership and officials of the propaganda offices in its daily, very frequent interventions, suggestions, and delivery of materials to the press and radio commentators, etc.
 
The situation worsened from the moment when the C.O.I. and O.F.F. offices were combined under the leadership of Elmer Davis, a journalist little familiar with European issues, crude, completely committed to the idea of using commercial advertising methods — in the American style — in political propaganda. Davis, aware of his ignorance, left political affairs in the hands of its assistants, such individuals as: Robert E. Sherwood, James Cowles, James P. Warburg, Joseph Barnes — all, without exception, pronounced sympathizers of Russia and communism, and — in the case of Cowles and Barnes — Willkie’s traveling companions on his trip to Russia and top promoters of the policy of “appeasement” toward Stalin.
 
Davis’ ignorance and advertising methods scared away from O.W.I. many of some of the most serious journalists who had been recruited before by Colonel Donovan and MacLeish, for example Henry F. Pringle, a well-known writer for the “Saturday Evening Post”; Ph. Hamburger, a commentator for the famous “New Yorker” and the author of our booklet “Tale of a City; Edgar A. Mowrer, I. Visson and fifteen others who had left the O.W.I. under some scandal. The chief of the O.W.I. press section, outstanding former editor of the “San Francisco Chronicle,” Paul Clifford Smith, our sincere friend, also resigned.
 
The O.W.I. started to attract mediocre journalists completely subservient to Davis’ politicized assistants mentioned above. Polish affairs were placed in the hands of a group of Polish citizens manifesting their pro-Soviet stand, such as T.N. Hudes, Al. Hertz, Art. Salman, M. Zlotowska and politically disoriented because of her long-term absence from Poland Mrs. Irena Balinska. She reports to Joseph Barnes, a declared communist, preparing flyers and propaganda publications designed for distribution in Poland.
 
As soon as this situation developed, I personally called Mr. Davis’ attention during a special visit to the inappropriate selection of Polish personnel. Despite his promises, my intervention produced no results. Similar interventions by Ambassadors from Greece, Holland and Yugoslavia– countries whose O.W.I. desks are staffed by communists and army and navy deserters, etc.–also met the same fate.
 
As our relations with Russia worsened, O.W.I. attitude toward us started to worsen more and more. For example, we were refused help in organizing this year’s 3rd of May radio program to be broadcast in the United States nationwide despite willingness by Congressional Majority and Minority leaders, McCormack and Martin, to record speeches. This, however, did not prevent us from moving forward with the program. Thanks to our personal contacts, the Columbia Broadcasting System gave us airtime needed on all stations on its network within two days. As the Minister knows from my report on the 3rd of May observances (No. 337a/SZ-114 from June 10, [19]43) the program was excellent. Similarly, our relations with the press were not damaged by O.W.I.’s hostile attitude. On the contrary — adjusting efforts by directly contacting the media while avoiding the O.W.I. produced better results than going through an intermediary. But in spite of this, the O.W.I. made our life difficult, especially during the period of the “Katyn Affair,” by withholding through censorship all of our major statements while letting the Soviet ones go through.
 
I have been exerting pressure on the O.W.I and will continue to exert it through several avenues. First of all, I inform the State Department about each confirmed O.W.I.’s biased report. However, the State Department is powerless. Secondly, I maintain very friendly relations with Mr. George Creel, currently the editor of the “Collier’s” weekly, the chief of American propaganda during the previous war and President Wilson’s close associate. Thanks to his position and his previous activity, Creel who is a very courageous man and, unlike Davis, very informed, in his direct talks with Davis points out mistakes and is not shy with sharp criticism. Additionally, Creel has access to leading members of the Senate, such senators as Bridges, Tydings, Byrd, and presents them with all of our complaints against the O.W.I. without revealing their source.
 
Thirdly, and finally — I am conducting my action through members of Congress who are of Polish descent. The Minister can be informed in detail by reading the attached “Congressional Record” (from June 17, 1943).
 
Our intensified pressure on the O.W.I., especially in regard to the disastrous selection of the Polish staff, convinced Elmer Davis to look for a Polish citizen whose views are close to our official propaganda in the United States. The person selected was Dr. Ludwik Krzyzanowski, a former P.I.C. employee, editor of “New Europe.” Presently, Dr. Krzyzanowski works in Washington at the O.W.I. headquarters and maintains a close contact with us. In his view, the attack on the O.W.I. in Congress, led in large part by us and by Creel and which resulted in a significant cut in the institution’s budget, sobered some O.W.I. elements and convinced them to slow down the tempo of official pro-Soviet American propaganda. He does not believe, however, that this will last long. The O.W.I.’s staffing is too one-sided to expect changes in its political stand without major removals which are unlikely at the present time.
 
Our cooperation with Dr. Krzyzanowski is developing satisfactorily, but it remains to be seen whether he will have sufficient influence to neutralize, at least partially, the very strong anti-Polish trends within the O.W.I., especially in light of the pro-Soviet attitudes of the group of Polish citizens employed there whom I have described above.
 
Our pressure warned O.W.I.’s pro-Soviet elements that they cannot continue their bias with impunity. Our careful monitoring of O.W.I’s actions will determine our future actions.
 
Signed
 
J. Ciechanowski
Ambassador of Poland

1943

 
 

Capitol Stuff

By John O’Donnell

Times-Herald, Washington, D.C., August 20, 1943

 
“The misnamed Office of War Information has apparently decided to end its career by suicide and this may be all for the best.
 
Few honest newspaper tears are going to be shed over the demise of an outfit which from birth was a New Deal Roosevelt propaganda body (as discovered by the last Congress which amputated its domestic claws) and throughout its career gave off the distinctly unpleasant stench of being a parking place for pay-roll patriots, political stumble bums and the incompetent sweepings of editorial rooms.”
 
(…)
 
“Freedom might well shriek if some of the descendants of that original liberty Pole [General Tadeusz Kosciuszko] were faced with these latest OWI questions to Americans with Polish names. … the questions are framed with a strictly pro-Russian slant, in our opinion.”

1943

 
 

NOWY ŚWIAT

 

New York, NY August 21, 1943

 

O.W.I OR F.B.I

 

AN EDITORIAL

 
American public opinion was shocked by an article by John O’Donnell in the Daily News about the mysterious investigation conducted by the OWI through the Denver University.
 
(…)
 
Americans of Polish extraction give expression to their thoughts on politics by the way of casting their votes on election day; they give expression to their feelings with their blood in Africa, Alaska, Guadalcanal, etc. They know more about Hitler and Stalin than the O.W.I. can or cares to tell them. To the theorists and propagandists of the O.W.I., Russia, the Russians, communism and Stalin’s designs are merely clay with which they are playing. To the Poles these are realities. Tragic realities indeed — not theories, not politics.
 
We have been watching O.W.I.’s disturbing meddling and mysterious activities among the foreign born groups and have repeatedly expressed our resentment and our worry over the reaction. We must bear in mind that the O.W.I. is a part of our Government; that the O.W.I. speaks in the name of America and acts in the name of our Government not only when addressing nations enslaved by Hitler, but also when meddling here at home.”

 

1943

 
 

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.

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?”

 
 

NOWY ŚWIAT

 
 

 

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?”

 
 

1942

 
 


 
 

Notes:

  1. Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years: Waging Peace 1956-1961 (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1965) 279.
  2. Jan Ciechanowski, Defeat in Victory (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1947), pp.115-116.
  3. Ibid., p. 130
  4. Ibid., p. 130
  5. Ibid., pp. 130-131.
  6. Ibid., p. 131.
  7. Ibid., p. 161
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid., p. 201.
  10. Ibid., p. 264.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid., p. 267.
A.

Advertising for Radio Free Europe During the Cold War

 
 

 
 

This ad for Radio Free Europe was placed in American magazines in 1969 toward the end of the CIA’s involvement with Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Such advertising by Radio Free Europe in American media would also soon end.

This particular ad, as opposed to previous Crusade for Freedom and Radio Free Europe Fund ads, appears to be representing directly Radio Free Europe. It does not appeal to Americans for financial donations to support Radio Free Europe as the Crusade for Freedom and Radio Free Europe Fund ads did earlier. As it was confirmed later, these advertising and fundraising campaigns provided only a tiny fraction of money needed to run the station. Until 1971, almost all of Radio Free Europe’s budget came from funds secretly channeled by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) which also secretly managed the station.

The 1969 magazine ad shows two attractive but serious looking young people, a man and a woman, dressed in what could pass for Kalvin Kline clothes. They appear to listen intently to a small transistor radio which the woman is holding in her hand. Their faces express sadness and concern. The ad seems to suggest that Radio Free Europe is changing with the times as its audience is becoming younger. It seems designed to target young Americans in an attempt to convince them to become interested in Radio Free Europe and supportive of its mission.

 

 

Radio Free Europe

 

The In Sound from Outside

 
More than half the people in East Europe are under thirty. When they want to know what’s happening–they switch to Radio Free Europe. For the facts about East Europe and RFE, write Radio Free Europe, Box 1969, Mt. Vernon, New York 10551
 

ADVERTISING COUNCIL

 

advertising contributed for the public good

 

 
 

In his book, Radio Free Europe’s “Crusade for Freedom”: Rallying Americans Behind Cold War Broadcasting, 1950-1960, Richard H. Cummings, Director of Security for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) for 15 years beginning in 1980, describes in great detail Radio Free Europe’s “Crusade for Freedom” and its various public relations activities. It was the decades-long advertising and fund-raising campaign for Radio Free Europe, conducted mostly in the United States by the organization known as Crusade for Freedom Inc. In 1960, it was renamed as Radio Free Europe Fund and used it as its official name since December 1962.

The creation of Radio Free Europe was presented to the public as a private initiative launched in 1949 by a group of prominent Americans called the National Committee for a Free Europe. The creation of RFE was in fact a secret U.S. government initiative funded directly by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The purpose of the Crusade for Freedom advertising campaign started by the National Committee for a Free Europe was to win the support of ordinary Americans for RFE’s mission of broadcasting uncensored news and commentary by shortwave and medium wave radio to the communist-ruled nations behind the Iron Curtain.

Robert T. Holt, an author of an early history of Radio Free Europe, does not mention the CIA connection in his book, radio free Europe, published in 1958, but he noted that U.S. government provided financial support. 1

 

 
Some people might object to referring to RFE as a “private” or “unofficial” undertaking because it is commonly believed that it has received funds from the United States government. Obviously any financial relationship that might exist between Washington and RFE cannot be discussed in this volume. The important point is that the United States government emphasizes the private status of RFE.
 

 

Radio Free Europe broadcasts started on July 4, 1950 with a program beamed to Czechoslovakia. Radio broadcasts to other Soviet Block countries were soon added and quickly became highly popular among listeners in East Central Europe.

When in the early 1950s, the Crusade for Freedom organized an operation of sending millions of anti-communist leaflets in balloons across the Iron Curtain, the U.S. State Department responded to protests from communist regimes in Czechoslovakia and Hungary that both the radio and balloon-leaflet operations were undertaken by a private organization and that neither the U.S. government nor the U.S. authorities in West Germany were involved. 2

The U.S. diplomatic response was mostly untrue, but the times were different. In terms of the severity of government repression and media censorship, communist atrocities in the Soviet Block were not in any way comparable to today’s repressions and censorship in most countries, including Putin’s Russia. There were also no direct means of communications between individuals and groups, such as the Internet. Governments controlled most trans-national radio transmissions. They were too expensive and commercially unprofitable to be undertaken by the private sector. The need behind the Iron Curtain for government-funded surrogate (in place of local communist media) radio broadcasts, such as those by Radio Free Europe, was overwhelming and could not be met by anybody else, including the Voice of America. A 1951 Crusade for Freedom Fact Sheet said that “RFE is not restricted by the ethics of diplomacy which effect (sic) Voice of America.”

In the early years of the Cold War, some individuals in Eastern Europe caught listening or sending letters to RFE and VOA were sent to prison. Thousands of opponents of communist regimes were still being arrested and executed. RFE and later Radio Liberty, which broadcast to the Soviet Union, played a critical role in helping to undermine the communist monopoly on information. Over four decades, their radio broadcasts, as well as VOA broadcasts in the later years of the Cold War, contributed to the final collapse of the Soviet empire in the last decade of the 20th century.

By most accounts, the creation of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty was a noble effort funded by the U.S. government and supported by the vast majority of American people–probably the best investment ever made in defeating an oppressive, murderous and dangerous strategic enemy using peaceful, non-lethal means. U.S.-supported broadcasting behind the Iron Curtain was opposed only by the radical Left—American Communists such as Angela Davis—and a few Democrats in the U.S. Congress, most notably Senator J. William Fulbright (D-AR). Most other Democratic and Republican leaders and both Democratic and Republican administrations were highly supportive of the two radios. (In 2017, the Voice of America presented Angela Davis as a defender of workers’ and women’s rights.)

As some knew and many suspected, most of the funding for Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty did not come from direct contributions to the Crusade for Freedom and Radio Free Europe Fund made over the years by individual American citizens and some West Europeans. The operating funds came secretly from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The intelligence agency’s involvement with Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty ended in 1972 after its managing role and funding were exposed in many media reports. Since that time, the radios have been paid for openly through appropriations from the U.S. Congress.

Even under CIA’s management, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty journalists enjoyed far greater independence than Voice of America (VOA) broadcasters. Started in 1942, VOA broadcast during the war promoted Soviet propaganda and repeated Soviet lies about the Katyn massacre of thousands of Polish militarny oficers while also suppressing other news that could shed light on Stalin’s crimes. Following World War II, VOA then under the State Department, engaged in limited censorship of news to which the Soviet government might object the most in diplomatic exchanges and its own propaganda, including the Katyn massacre, which was either ignored or minimized even in VOA’s Polish broadcasts in the later 1940s and as late as 1950-1951.

Most of such censorship by VOA’s management and some broadcasters stopped by 1952 as a result of criticism and pressure from members of both parties in the U.S. Congress. But during the Nixon-Ford administrations, VOA again engaged in limited censorship of some news related to Katyn.

In the 1970s, VOA’s senior management in response to directives from the United States Information Agency (USIA) and the White House banned reading long excerpts from books by Russian dissident writer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, with headquarters in Munich, West Germany, never censored reporting on Katyn or readings from Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. Their “unofficial” status protected them from most censorship pressure coming from the White House or the State Department, but the journalists working for the radios never actively opposed any long-term U.S. foreign policy objectives.

Before the CIA connection was revealed, many Americans were deceived by the Crusade for Freedom and Free Europe Fund advertising campaign into believing that the stations depended solely or mostly on private donations. American officials who proposed these campaigns were, however, convinced that their ultimately false claim of Radio Free Europe’s and Radio Liberty’s independence from U.S. government control and funding allowed the stations to be more hard-hitting on communism, reject criticism from communist regimes, and be more effective in countering Soviet propaganda. This strategy worked for a while, but in restrospect it was a mistake which was later corrected.

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were in fact able to broadcast during the Cold War much more detailed local news and commentary about the countries in the Soviet Block than the openly U.S.-funded and U.S. government-controlled Voice of America. Whether it was necessary to keep the U.S. government’s funding support secret for many years to achieve this goal can be debatable, but the end result was positive, at least initially in the United States, and behind the Iron Curtain. Radio Free Europe was able to break the communist monopoly on local news, which was something that VOA was not able to do from New York and later from Washington under the control of the State Department and, in the later period of the Cold War, the United States Information Agency (USIA).

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, actor Ronald Reagan, television personality Ed Sullivan, CBS television news anchor Walter Cronkite, and entertainers Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were among many well-known Americans who appeared in various Crusade for Freedom commercials, radio programs and television films for American audiences.

Edward R. Murrow, a highly respected American journalist who during the Kennedy administration became the director of the United States Information Agency, narrated broadcasts in support of Radio Free Europe.

The Advertising Council, commonly known as the Ad Council, an American nonprofit organization that produces, distributes, and promotes public service announcements, helped to place various Radio Free Europe ads and commercials, including the “Freedom-Gram.” Americans were asked to sign “Freedom-Grams” to communicate their individual messages of support to persons behind the Iron Curtain.

Americans also signed earlier the campaign’s “Freedom Scroll” and donated money to Radio Free Europe. In return for their contributions, they were given Crusade for Freedom’s buttons with an image of the Freedom Bell.

A newspaper advertisement with a photograph of Dwight D. Eisenhower published in 1950 had this message from the former World War II Supreme Commander and future U.S. President 3

 
“THE Crusade for Freedom is a roll-call for all Americans who love freedom. Millions of signatures on the Freedom Scroll will give warning to aggressors and encouragement to the oppressed
 
“Your name on the Freedom Scroll will be enshrined with the Freedom Bell behind the Iron Curtain in Berlin, proclaiming your faith in God and your devotion to the cause of liberty everywhere.
 
“Your contribution to the Crusade for Freedom will help Radio Free Europe pierce the Iron Curtain…give hope and courage to 80 million people now living in Eastern Europe, who keep alive in their hearts the hope of freedom and self-government.
 
“I urge every American to join with the leader of the Crusade for Freedom, General Lucius D. Clay. By doing so, you will strengthen your country’s cause and comfort your country’s friends on both sides of the Iron Curtain.”
 
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
 

In 1951, Hollywood actor and future U.S. President Ronald Reagan recorded a television commercial for the Second Annual Crusade for Freedom Campaign. 4The commercial opened with:

 

 
My name is Ronald Reagan. Last year the contributions of 16 million Americans to the Crusade for Freedom made possible the World Freedom Bell–symbol of hope and freedom to the communist-dominated peoples of Eastern Europe. And built this powerful 135,000 Watt Radio Free Europe transmitter in Western Germany.
 

 

 

 

President Eisenhower repeated his support for the Crusade for Freedom and Radio Free Europe in a letter to Americans released in November 1954. He had a generally low opinion of the Voice of America and pointed out in his memoirs that early pro-Soviet and pro-communist VOA officials and broadcasters were insubordinate even toward already pro-Soviet President Roosevelt. In his book he condemned biased VOA officials and some reporters.

The CIA supported the Crusade for Freedom and later the Radio Free Europe Fund until 1968 and continued supporting Radio Free Europe until June 30, 1971. Its total support was slightly over $300 million.

Richard H. Cummings explained the initial secrecy surrounding the Crusade for Freedom and the Radio Free Europe Fund and their historical legacy. 5

 

 
The dynamic early Cold War combination of Radio Free Europe and the Crusade for Freedom was a powerful change management tool of the U.S. government. This mobilization tool should not, in my opinion, be seen as an evil “deus ex machina” in the government’s Cold War activities but a successful evolutionary process involving the government, private industry, mass media, academia, religious leaders, and, lastly, “your average Joe.” The Crusade for Freedom could be termed a “fraud” on Americans, but it was, in my opinion a benign fraud: it probably gave most Americans what they wanted anyway: pageantry, a feeling of belonging and contributing to a justified cause–a Cold War consensus. I found no evidence that any individual or group financially profited from the contributions paid out in good faith for a good cause.
 

 

In Cummings’ view and in the view of listeners who benefitted from Radio Free Europe programs, including Ted Lipien, future director of the Voice of America Polish Service during Solidarity’s struggle for democracy in the 1980s and later VOA acting associate director, it was a benign and most likely also a necessary deception.

Sig Mickelson, former president of the Free Europe and the Radio Liberty Committees and later president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Inc. reported in his book, America’s Other Voice: the Story of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty that “from 1951 through 1976, [Crusade for Freedom/Radio Free Europe Fund] receipts totaled about $50 million and campaign costs about $20 million, for a net of approximately $30 million, only a tiny fraction of the total sum required to operate Free Europe.” 6

One of the goals of the Crusade for Freedom and the Free Europe Fund advertising and fund-raising campaign, as described in Mickelson’s book was “to acquaint citizens of the United States with efforts to preach the virtues of freedom to peoples behind the Iron Curtain.” 7

The most important goal, however, according to Mickelson was “to provide cover so it would appear the funding was derived from the general public and not from any governmental source, particularly not from the CIA.” 8

The United States maintained diplomatic relations with countries in the Soviet Block. When communist officials complained to American diplomats about Radio Free Europe broadcasts, they would respond that the U.S. government had no control over these broadcasts. They knew it was not true, but it helped to win the Cold War.

Millions of East Europeans and Soviet citizens were grateful for Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty programs and did not care much how they were financed. Most assumed correctly that the U.S. government was firmly behind the broadcasting effort. It was not a well-kept secret.

Media reports in the West and some members of the United States Congress started to reveal in the 1960s the CIA’s involvement with the two radios. U.S. officials and members of Congress eventually concluded that open funding of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty and discontinuing the CIA’s role were a better option.

 


 
 

Notes:

  1. Robert T. Holt, radio free Europe (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958), p. 7.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Richard H. Cummings, Radio Free Europe “Crusade for Freedom”: Rallying Americans Behind Cold War Broadcasting, 1950-1960 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2010), p. 31.
  4. Ibid., p. 53.
  5. Ibid., p. 3.
  6. Sig Mickelson, America’s Other Voice: The Story of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (New York: Praeger, 1983), p. 58.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
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.

 
 

S.

Support from George H.W. Bush convinced Lech Walesa ‘there was a real chance to get rid of communism’

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum
 

Former Polish President Lech Wałęsa said last year that in 1987 the then Vice President George H.W. Bush showed “he was a friend of Poland” and convinced him that Poland can get rid of communism.

Former Polish Solidarity leader made that remark in reference to George H.W. Bush’s visit to Poland in 1987 at the request of the then President Ronald Reagan as the communist regime headed by General Wojciech Jaruzelski was beginning to falter.

George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States from 1989 to 1993, died November 30, 2018 in Houston, Texas at the age of 94.

Thousands honored him at the state funeral service in Washington Wednesday attended by his son, former President George W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter, and President Donald Trump. Lech Walesa and Poland’s current head of state President Andrzej Duda were among foreign leaders attending the funeral.

A smaller, private funeral service will take place on Thursday.

“The fact that Vice President Bush was on our side firmed up my belief that there was a real chance to get rid of communism,” Lech Walesa said in an e-mail response to questions submitted to him last year by former Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service director Ted Lipien who had covered Bush’s trip to Poland in 1987. The questions were for a book about George H.W. Bush’s contribution to the fall of communism being written by his former aides Gary E. Fendler and John G. Keller.

Lech Wałęsa w 2017 r.: Czuło się, że Pan vice-prezydent [George H.W. Bush] zna dokładnie wszystkie problemy świata, że jest przyjacielem Polski i chce coś dla nas zrobić. Widać było również, że ma określony stosunek do ZSSR.
 
Lech Walesa in 2017: “One sensed that Vice President Bush was thoroughly familiar with all global problems, that he was a friend of Poland and wanted to do something for us. It was also obvious that he had a clear-cut stance on the Soviet Union.

During his 1987 visit to Poland, George H.W. Bush urged General Wojciech Jaruzelski to come to terms with Lech Wałęsa. Subsequent negotiations between the regime and the opposition resulted in a peaceful transition to democracy in Poland beginning in 1989.

Vice President Bush and Lech Walesa standing next to the kneeling parents of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, Władysław and Marianna Popiełuszko, and other family members at the slain priest’s grave in Warsaw. Photo (1987) by Ted Lipien.

In September 1987 Vice President Bush also met with Polish Catholic bishops and visited with Lech Walesa the grave of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko whom officers of the communist secret police had murdered in 1984 because of his support for the Solidarity-led pro-democracy opposition movement in Poland. The Vice President met at the gravesite with Władysław and Marianna Popiełuszko, the parents of the slain priest.

To show their displeasure with Bush’s visit to the grave of Father Popiełuszko, the state security agents removed the Polish flag from the vice-presidential car. 1

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

Photos by Ted Lipien

 
 
 

Notes:

  1. President George H. W. Bush, “President Bush and Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki of Poland Trade Toasts,” Making the History of 1989, Item #48, http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/48 (accessed December 05 2018, 10:03 pm).
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.
V.

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

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum
 

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END OF INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

 
 

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

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

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

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

Link to audio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 
 

V.

Voice of America 1980-1981 Program Schedule with Pat Gates and Breakfast Show

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum
 

Patricia Gates Lynch Ewell, U.S. ambassador and broadcaster at the Voice of America (VOA), a tax-funded U.S. government media outlet for foreign audiences where she was known as Pat Gates, was a remarkable radio personality. She may have had more listeners to her English-language programs than Willis Conover’s VOA jazz programs in English, although various foreign language versions of Conover’s broadcasts probably made him the most listened to broadcaster at VOA. Pat Gates’ interviews with American cultural and political figures were also translated for use by multiple VOA language services.

Pat Gates’ famous sign-off at the end of each VOA Breakfast Show was: “If you meet someone without a smile, give him one of yours.” In 1969, she took a leave from her VOA job and served as a press aide to First Lady Pat Nixon. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated her to serve as U.S. ambassador to Madagascar and the Comoros Islands, a post she held until 1989. After her diplomatic career, she worked as Director of Corporate Affairs for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Pat Gates died in 2011. See her obituary in The Washington Post.

A photo from the Voice of America 1980-1981 Program Guide shows Pat Gates with her VOA Breakfast Show co-hosts, Phil Irwin and Alan Silverman.

The Voice Of America takes pleasure in announcing the NEW Breakfast Show! A new sound, a new feel, a new immediacy, BUT WITH THE SAME OLD FRIENDS! Changing with the times, the Breakfast Show has adopted a format to enable us to bring our growing and increasingly important morning audience even closer to the latest developments. Interviews by Phil, Pat and Alan will be about TODAY’S issues with TODAY’S people, about significant trends in American life. Then, on the alternate hour, catch the Breakfast Show’s new companion. It’s called Daybreak and it is a full hour of in-depth coverage of the news, sports and cultural events. Check your schedule for time and frequency for the New Breakfast Show, TODAY’S BREAKFAST SHOW, and for its new companion, DAYBREAK.

 

In 1980, the Voice of America was known for quickly updating its radio newscasts and observing the VOA Charter.

 

A deadline every half-hour—in one or more of VOA’s thirty-nine language broadcasts. The senior editor keeps watch on a news operation that never sleeps, seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Correspondents stationed around the world bring eyewitness accounts, while the VOA news staff, supported by the largest array of wire services and news agencies avail- able, checks and double-checks to make sure that VOA news is “accurate, objective, and comprehensive.”*
 
*Mandated by Public Law 94-350,1976.

In 1980, VOA’s parent federal agency was briefly called the United States International Communication Agency (USICA). The name was changed from the United States Information Agency (USIA), but later the USIA name was restored. After USIA was dissolved in 1999, VOA was placed under the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) which changed its name this year to the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM).

Each year approximately 12,000 visitors tour the headquarters of the Voice of America in Washington. They come from all continents to see and hear live broadcasts in 39 languages from the VOA’s 25 studios, to see the VOA Newsroom and the “Bubble,” and to view an exhibit about the other activities of the United States International Communication Agency, of which VOA is a part.

EVERY SATURDAY NIGHT
 
The pace of life in the United States changes on the weekend, and so does the pace on the Voice of America. Only on Saturday, VOA broadcasts a 60-minute program designed to keep listeners in touch with many of the events occurring on the weekend. The WEEKEND program is an opportunity to participate in the fun, and keep up with the news, with contemporary American music and the reports of Voice of America correspondents around the world.
At the heart of each WEEKEND is a team of VOA specialists. Critic-at-large Walter Guthrie comments each Saturday on some aspect of American life. He may lament the status of the American hamburger, praise the passing of a by-gone decade or aim his sharpened pen at the foibles of a neglected institution. He can be outrageous. News Editor Elaine Johansen spends her week in conversation with correspondents around the world and on Saturday night may discuss prime issues with correspondents in Asia, or Europe or the Americas.
 
NEW PRODUCTS USA — Reports on new American consumer and industrial products appearing on international markets — Sundays.

 

CONCERT HALL — Concert music of all periods presented by leading American musical artists and orchestras of today along with interviews of the artists, conductors and composers—Sundays.
 
The MAGAZINE SHOW heard five evenings a week, offers many things to many listeners about science, the arts, education, religion, agriculture, medicine and folkways. Running the gamut from topical reports to interviews, from retrospective views to personality profiles, the Magazine Show brings to its listeners a picture of the ever changing fabric of American society. And to keep you the listener in closer touch, and we hope better informed about our country, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday we answer a question that one of you has sent to our program.
 
Special English news brings you major world happenings spo- ken at a reduced speed, in words that help make our English language presentation on short-wave radio easier to receive. The science and technology report gives you an explanation of new developments in agriculture, chemistry, medicine, nutrition, etc., things that affect our everyday lives and work.
 
The feature following the news varies with the day of the week and includes “People in America,” “The Making of a Nation,” “Space and Man,” “The Living Earth” and “American Short Stories.”

 

 

SUPPORT THE WORK OF COLD WAR RADIO MUSEUM

 

IF YOU APPRECIATE SEEING THESE ARTICLES AND COLD WAR RADIO MEMORABILIA

ANY CONTRIBUTION HELPS US IN BUYING, PRESERVING AND DISPLAYING THESE HISTORICAL EXHIBIT ITEMS

CONTRIBUTE AS LITTLE AS $1, $5, $10, OR ANY AMOUNT

CLICK TO DONATE NOW