A.

An unhappy looking band of Polish refugee children in Santa Rosa, Mexico

Polish refugee children with several caregivers at Santa Rosa, Mexico. Julian Plowy Family Album.

Before being transported to Mexico in 1943, these Polish children were for close to two years prisoners in Soviet Russia along with their parents and families. Some of them lost their mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents and other close family members. They witnessed unspeakable atrocities committed by Soviet communists. 

After they were evacuated from Russia, first to Iran and later to Mexico, most of them recovered and prospered under the care of representatives of the Polish government-in-exile, Catholic nuns and priests, and workers of American relief organizations. Many of the children, however, died in Russia from illness and starvation, and some, too starved and weakened, died in Iran.

Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski was a U.S. Army Liaison Officer to the Polish Army created under the command of General Władysław Anders during the Second World War II which fought the Germans alongside American and British troops in North Africa and Italy. On November 22, 1942, Lt. Col. Szymanski sent a report on Polish-Russian relations to the Military Intelligence Division, War Department General Staff (G-2), in Washington, DC. 

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

10. The children had no chance. It is estimated that 50% have already died from malnutrition. The other 50% will die unless evacuated to a land where American help can reach them. A visit to any of the hospitals in Teheran will testify to this statement. They are filled with children and adults who would be better off not to have survived the ordeal.

  • 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. 455.
  • Link

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

  • Photo by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Szymanski, U.S. Army. Six-year-old boy, Polish refugee evacuated from Soviet Russia, August 1942.
  • 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
P.

Polish women slave laborers in Soviet Russia

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo, 1943

By Ted Lipien

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A U.S. Government propaganda photo showing an unidentified Polish woman and other Polish women making their own clothing at a Red Cross refugee camp in Iran was taken by the Office of War Information (OWI) photographer in 1943. A few months earlier, the women were prisoners and slave laborers in the Soviet Union. By the time the photo was taken, the woman behind the sewing machine was safe, looked healthy and was no longer starving. With thousands of other Polish refugees she was in Iran being assisted by Polish, American and British authorities and private relief organizations, providing food and medical care. But before that, hundreds of thousands of Polish women, children and men had spent hellish two years in Soviet Russia as Stalin’s prisoners after being forcefully deported to Siberia and Soviet Central Asia.

We don’t know whether the healthy-looking Polish woman shown in the U.S. government propaganda photo was married, and, if she had a husband, whether he might have been executed or died in the Soviet Union. We don’t know if she had any children and whether any of them had lived. We also don’t know what she had to do in Russia to survive.

Very few Americans and other Westerners knew this story then, and very few know about it even today. To protect Stalin and the anti-Germany military alliance with Moscow, pro-Soviet propagandists in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration did not publish photos of Polish men, women and children who were starved, ill and near death when they were evacuated from Soviet Russia to Iran in 1942. They did not tell the real stories of these refugees. On the contrary, they did everything possible to prevent Americans and the rest of the world, including listeners to U.S. government Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts, from getting true and complete information about Polish refugees evacuated from Russia.

The evacuees were even told by the Polish government-in-exile not to discuss what had happened to them in the Soviet Union. Stalin was still holding hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens as hostages, and the Polish government-in-exile was still trying to reach an accommodation with Moscow and to get them released. The Poles were also under strong pressure from Washington and London to appease Stalin who, however, had completely different plans for Poland and the rest of East Central Europe. The efforts to bring the remaining Poles from Russia to Iran failed. In April 1943, the Soviet government broke diplomatic relations with the Polish government in exile and forced Polish citizens in the Soviet Union to accept Soviet citizenship. Polish mothers were told that if they refused Soviet passports, their children would be sent to orphanages and they would be arrested and sent to the Gulag .

Naive U.S. propagandists said nothing about what might have happened to Polish women in Soviet captivity. Many had lost their husbands, children and close family members in Russia. Whole families, both the youngest and oldest members, were deported under brutal conditions from their homes in eastern Poland which had been occupied in 1939 by the Red Army under the secret terms of the Hitler-Stalin Pact. After Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, poorly-informed U.S. propagandists started to promote Stalin as a radical democrat and a guarantor of peace and security. They were poorly-informed because they dismissed any criticism of the Soviet Union as the work of reactionaries and fascists. Some of them remained in that state of mind for many years. Their excuse later was that they had no idea that Stalin could be a mass murderer.

Ten-year-old girl, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942.

A photo of an emanciated ten-year-old girl, a Polish evacuee from Russia, was taken in Iran in August 1942 by Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, U.S. Army. Roosevelt administration officials classified it as secret. It was not published until 1952 after the bipartisan Select Committee of the Eighty-Second Congress to Conduct an Investigation of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, also known as the Madden Committee after its chairman, Rep. Ray Madden (D-IN), managed to get it declassified. Unlike numerous photographs of Nazi concentration camp victims, a few existing photos of Gulag prisoners were never widely distributed by Western media, not even during the Cold War, and are still rarely seen by Internet users.

During World War II, OWI’s Voice of America radio broadcasts did not mention Soviet executions of Polish prisoners of war and mistreatment of Polish deportees, including women and children, in the Soviet Gulag camps and collective farms, to which they had been sent as slave laborers. VOA’s radio broadcasts for foreign audiences and a broadcast by OWI Director Elmer Davis targeting Americans also spread Soviet propaganda lies about the mass executions of Polish prisoners in Soviet Russia known collectively as the Katyń Forest massacre. Soviet and American propagandists falsely blamed the mass murder on the Germans. Americans and foreigners alike were misled by Roosevelt administration’s propaganda about the true nature of Stalin and the Soviet regime — a point highlighted in bipartisan criticism after the war.

Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski was a U.S. Army Liaison Officer to the Polish Army created under the command of General Władysław Anders during the Second World War II which fought the Germans alongside American and British troops in North Africa and Italy. On November 22, 1942, Lt. he sent a report on Polish-Russian relations to the Military Intelligence Division, War Department General Staff (G-2), in Washington, DC. 

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by Lt. Col. 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. 455.
  • Twelve-year-old boy, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942
  • Six-year-old boy, Polish evacuee from Russia, August 1942
  • Three sisters, ages 7, 8, and 9, Polish evacuees from Russia, August 1942
  • Photos by: Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, U.S. Army
  • Source: The Katyn Forest Massacre: Hearings Before The Select Committee to Conduct An Investigation on The Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre; Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session On Investigation of The Murder of Thousands of Polish Officers in The Katyn Forest Near Smolensk, Russia; Part 3 (Chicago, Ill.); March 13 and 14, 1952 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), pp. 459-461.
  • Link

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U.S. Government Propaganda Photo

US Government Propaganda Photo, Iran, 1943.
  • Title: Teheran, Iran. Women making their own clothing at a Polish evacuee camp operated by the Red Cross
  • Creator(s): Parrino, Nick, photographer, U.S. Office of War Information (OWI)
  • Date Created/Published: 1943.
  • Link

Notes

P.

Polish refugee children with two caregivers, Santa Rosa, Mexico

Polish refugee children with two adults, Santa Rosa Colony, Mexico. Julian Plowy Family Album.

Before being transported to Mexico from India in 1943 on a U.S. Navy ship, these Polish children were for close to two years prisoners in Soviet Russia along with their parents and families. Some of them lost their mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents and other close family members. They witnessed unspeakable atrocities committed by Soviet communists. 

After they were evacuated from Russia, first to Iran and later to Mexico, most of them recovered and prospered under the care of representatives of the Polish government-in-exile, Catholic nuns and priests, and workers of American relief organizations. Many of the children, however, died in Russia from illness and starvation, and some, too starved and weakened, died in Iran.

Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski was a U.S. Army Liaison Officer to the Polish Army created under the command of General Władysław Anders during the Second World War II which fought the Germans alongside American and British troops in North Africa and Italy. On November 22, 1942, Lt. Col. Szymanski sent a report on Polish-Russian relations to the Military Intelligence Division, War Department General Staff (G-2), in Washington, DC. 

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

10. The children had no chance. It is estimated that 50% have already died from malnutrition. The other 50% will die unless evacuated to a land where American help can reach them. A visit to any of the hospitals in Teheran will testify to this statement. They are filled with children and adults who would be better off not to have survived the ordeal.

  • 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. 455.
  • Link

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

  • Photo by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Szymanski, U.S. Army. Six-year-old boy, Polish refugee evacuated from Soviet Russia, August 1942.
  • 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
Y.

Young Polish girls and boys at Santa Rosa, Mexico

Polish refugee children, most of them girls, at the Santa Rosa camp in Mexico. Julian Plowy Family Album.

Before being transported to Mexico from India in 1943 on a U.S. Navy ship, these Polish children were for close to two years prisoners in Soviet Russia. Many had lost their parents, siblings and other family members. They had witnessed unspeakable atrocities committed by Soviet communists.

After they were evacuated from Russia, first to Iran and later to Mexico, most of them recovered and prospered under the care of representatives of the Polish government-in-exile, Catholic nuns, and workers of American relief organizations. Many, however, did not make it. Thousands died in Russia from illness and starvation, and hundreds, too starved and weakened, died in Iran.

Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski was a U.S. Army Liaison Officer to the Polish Army created under the command of General Władysław Anders during the Second World War II which fought the Germans alongside American and British troops in North Africa and Italy. On November 22, 1942, Lt. Col. Szymanski sent a report on Polish-Russian relations to the Military Intelligence Division, War Department General Staff (G-2), in Washington, DC. , in which he included testimonies from several refugees, including women.

In August 1942, he saw and took photos starved and dying Polish children who had been evacuated with the Anders Army from Soviet Russia to Iran. In his lengthy report, which was classified as secret by the U.S. government and not published until 1952, he described the deplorable condition of former Polish prisoners and slave laborers who had managed to escape from the Soviet Union.

10. The children had no chance. It is estimated that 50% have already died from malnutrition. The other 50% will die unless evacuated to a land where American help can reach them. A visit to any of the hospitals in Teheran will testify to this statement. They are filled with children and adults who would be better off not to have survived the ordeal.

  • 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. 455.
    Link

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

  • Photo by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Szymanski, U.S. Army. Six-year-old boy, Polish refugee evacuated from Soviet Russia, August 1942.
  • 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
J.

Józef Czapski on Katyn

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Polish military officer, writer and artist Józef Czapski, who had made a futile search for thousands of missing Polish officers in Soviet Russia during World War II killed on the orders of Stalin in 1940, was censored by the Voice of America (VOA) during his visit to the United States in 1950. Later, under tremendous pressure from the U.S. Congress, VOA stopped its censorship of the Katyn story but resumed it partially later in the Cold War until the Reagan administration put a stop to all VOA censorship about Soviet crimes.

During World War II, overseas radio broadcasts of the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI), which only later became known as the Voice of America, repeated and promoted Soviet propaganda lies under VOA’s first so-called director but in reality the radio program production chief John Houseman. Houseman’s extreme pro-Soviet line resulted in him being forced to resign in 1943.[1] But the real directors of these early “Voice of America” wartime broadcast and Soviet sympathizers hired by John Houseman continued their collusion with Soviet propagandists and covered up Stalin’s crimes well into the mid-1940s.

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

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

With so many high-level U.S. government officials and the Voice of America tainted by the Soviet lie, it is no surprise that VOA’s early history has been covered up, distorted, re-written and falsely presented by friendly historians with links to the agency, now called the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) and previously known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). They have ignored and most likely purposely obscured the early collusion between the Roosevelt administration and Soviet propagandists. They never mentioned VOA’s participation in the Katyn lie and the later cover-up of Soviet crimes, including mass deportations to the Gulag. Eventually, the Voice of America and State Department officials in charge of it were forced by Congress to change their programming policy in the early 1950s.The bipartisan Madden Committee of the House of Representatives blamed in 1952 the earlier pro-Soviet U.S. government propaganda on “a strange psychosis that military necessity required the sacrifice of loyal allies and out own principles in order to keep Soviet Russia from making a separate peace with the Nazis.” The committee pointed out that “this psychosis continued even after the conclusion of the war. In a warning about a corrupting effect of foreign and domestic propaganda combined with censorship, the Madden Committee noted that “most of the witnesses testified that had they known then what they now know about Soviet Russia, they probably would not have pursued the course they did.”

John Houseman is still presented in VOA promotional materials (2018) not as an apologist for Stalin, but as a defender of truthful journalism. His biography posted online by the VOA Public Relations Office says nothing about the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Military Intelligence preventing Houseman from traveling abroad during World War II and his hiring of communists and pro-Soviet sympathizers to work on the early VOA Broadcasts.

One will not learn from many of the books, online articles and promotional brochures about Kathleen Harriman as one of the early contributors to the Voice of America programs and about her defense of the Katyn lie. Even in the late 1940s and in 1950, the Voice of America was censoring witnesses of Stalin’s crimes, including statements by Józef Czapski. In the 1970s, VOA limited extensive readings from books by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in response to pressure from Moscow and directives from the Nixon and Ford administrations eager to promote the policy of detente with the Kremlin.

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B.

British propaganda film: Polish refugees in Persia

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo, 1943

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The cinema newsreel British Pathé film shot in in 1943 a propaganda film about Polish refugees who had come from the Soviet Union to Iran. The film is remarkable for the scarcity and vagueness of information about why these Poles were evacuated to Iran and what had happened to them earlier in the Soviet Union. The British film shows generally healthy looking refugees even though many had arrived in Iran from Soviet Russia in 1942 starved and near death. This was documented earlier by a U.S. Army officer, Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, whose photographs and photos, however, were promptly classified as secret by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s military officials and not released until 1952.

In the meantime, Western public opinion was deceived by British and American government propaganda. The same was true for foreign audiences to Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts which promoted Soviet propaganda lies about Stalin’s massacre of 15,000 Polish military officers, which Moscow blamed on the Germans, and put out deceptive information about Polish refugees leaving slave labor camps in Russia by presenting them as fleeing from Nazi occupation. The British Pathé film is less deceptive than Voice of America and other U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) wartime propaganda about Polish refugees, but it is still far short of painting an objective picture of the suffering and death the Poles experienced in Soviet captivity. The film offers only a few vague tips as to their fate in Russia. Such propaganda was then justified by the need to maintain a strong alliance with Stalin to fight Germany and to maintain the morale of the Polish Army of General Władysław Anders, composed of former Polish prisoners of the Soviet Gulags. These Polish soldiers later fought alongside American and British forces in North Africa and Italy.

The film shows that Polish refugees were well treated and received help in Iran from representatives Polish, British and American governments and relief organizations, which was true. They were also warmly welcomed by the Iranians who were horrified by the condition of the former prisoners and slave laborers in Soviet Russia.

The photo shows an intact Polish family, when in reality many families lost fathers and husbands who had been executed or worked to death by the Soviets. Many Polish women had also died in Soviet captivity. The death rate among the children was especially high. By ignoring these facts, the film can only be described as propaganda to cover up Stalin’s crimes and to confuse Western public opinion about what could be his real post-war plans.


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

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

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

…Families were broken up and in many cases the husband shot.

11. Women not accustomed to hard manual labor and consequently not able to earn enough for their daily bread had a choice of starving to death or submitting to the Bolshevik or Mongol supervisor. In one sense their condition was bettered–they had something to eat. When asked by me whether they worked hard, a reluctant answer of, “I wanted to live,” would be given [to] me. The Polish military medical authorities are taking blood tests to determine the number of generals among women. The tests were not completed prior to my departure, but the results will be handed [to] me.

10. The children had no chance. It is estimated that 50% have already died from malnutrition. The other 50% will die unless evacuated to a land where American help can reach them. A visit to any of the hospitals in Teheran will testify to this statement. They are filled with children and adults who would be better off not to have survived the ordeal.

  • 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. 455.

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U.S. Government Propaganda Photo

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo
  • Title: Teheran, Iran. Polish woman decorating her front yard with design of Polish eagle at an evacuation camp operated by the Red Cross
  • Creator(s): Parrino, Nick, photographer, Office of War Information (OWI)
  • Date Created/Published: 1943.
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA 
  • Link
A.

A little Poland for refugees in India

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo, 1943

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Some of the Polish prisoners and slave laborers in Soviet Russia during World War II who had survived, were evacuated first to Iran and became refugees, were temporarily resettled in India. Their story was described in “A Little Poland in India,” a 2015 Indo-Polish co-production documentary by Any Radha and Sumit Osmand Shaw.

Unlike American and British propaganda films of the 1940s which went into great lengths to obscure Soviet atrocities and not to offend Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, the film presents an accurate account of historical events.

The cover photo showing the camp for Polish refugees in Iran is not from the video. The propaganda photograph was taken in Iran in 1943 by the U.S. Office of War Information photographer before the Polish refugees were transported to be resettled in India, Africa, New Zealand and Mexico.

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U.S. Government Propaganda Photo

Polish Refugee Children, US Government Propaganda Photo, 1943, Iran
  • Title: Teheran, Iran. Polish evacuee children playing in the dormitory courtyard at a camp operated by the Red Cross
  • Creator(s): Parrino, Nick, photographer, U.S. Office of War Information (OWI)
  • Date Created/Published: 1943.
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
  • Link

S.

Santa Rosa: Odyssey in the Rhythm of Mariachi

The cover image, which is not taken from the Santa “Rosa: Odyssey in the Rhythm of Mariachi” video, is from the family album of Julian Plowy, a former Santa Rosa Polish refugee child.

“Santa Rosa” documentary reveals an unknown chapter in the history of World War II – the fate of Polish deportees into the Soviet Union who found unlikely refuge on Mexican soil. Joanna sets out on a personal journey through her family’s unique past, discovering numerous stories of those whose memories of Santa Rosa remain vivid 70 years later, in Poland, in the U.S., and in Mexico.

C.

Cold War Lessons for Voice of America in China

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum

During the Cold War, it would have been unthinkable for the United States government to put in charge of U.S. international broadcasting through the Voice of America (VOA) an American businessman like Armand Hammer who had made millions for his company in various business deals with Soviet Russia. U.S. international broadcasting and business activities behind the Iron Curtain, even if perfectly legal under U.S. laws, were simply not compatible.

This prudent practice was abandoned under the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), now called the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM), giving rise to management scandals and questions about impartiality and credibility of the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN). Some past and current BBG and USAGM officials have had corporate business interests in China, Russia, and the Middle East. At the Hudson Institute panel on China-Vatican relations, Cold War Radio Museum founder Ted Lipien talked about the current VOA China problem while discussing briefly U.S. broadcasting to East Central-Europe during the Cold War.

He noted how the Polish Catholic Church dealt with communist propaganda during the Cold War and the different roles played in 1956 by the Hungarian and Polish services of Radio Free Europe.

 

Some of the favorite and still used regime tactics against their own populations and foreign public opinion are: deceptive and misleading propaganda, disinformation, creating divisions, divide et impera, infiltrating and controlling churches, and using religion to gain legitimacy and to triumph in the area of foreign policy and domestic and foreign public opinion.
 
Churches, therefore, must be forever vigilant. They must avoid making unnecessary far-reaching concessions and must have a clear and convincing public message in explaining their dealings with any repressive governments;they must engage in effective public diplomacy. They must at all times retain the respect and support of their members.
 

 
Thanks to Poland’s Roman Catholic Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, and by the way, the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe under its director Jan Nowak, Poland avoided the 1956 Hungarian experience, while the Hungarian Service Radio Free Europe broadcasts were far less restrained and implied the possibility of active Western support for the Hungarian freedom fighters that was simply not feasible and not even contemplated by the United States or the West.
 
The vast difference between China and Poland is that in 1950 the Catholic Church in Poland was truly powerful, both in numbers and cultural influence even when it faced a tremendous threat from the Soviet-imposed communist regime. It also had a powerful and wise single statesman-like leader in Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski.
 
Even without him, the Polish Church still had a lot of leverage. It could call on the population to take or not to take certain actions. The Polish Church had no media access, but every Sunday the bishops could reach and address millions of Catholic Poles. In the radio age it had no radio, but it had a powerful pulpit to speak directly to millions of people, at least one day a week, while Radio Free Europe and to a much lesser extent the Voice of America provided another channel for free, uncensored information.
 
Both Wyszynski and Wojtyla secretly communicated through intermediaries with the head of the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe, and I was able to interview Cardinal Wojtyla during his visit to Washington in 1976, two years before he became Pope.
 

 
In re-reading some of the documents while preparing this presentation, I was struck by how often Cardinal Wyszynski mentions Communist propaganda, its dangers and the need to counter propaganda lies with the truth.
 

 

Full video from the panel discussion, “China-Vatican Relations and Religious Freedom in China October 11, 2018 Event” can be seen HERE.

This Cold War Radio Museum video podcast summarizes the issues of Chinese government pressure on the Voice of America Mandarin Service broadcasters.

In my presentation last week at the Hudson Institute on the State-Church Relations in Poland Under Communism, the Vatican’s Ostpolitik, and the lessons of these historical events for today’s China-Vatican relations, (I must add that I’m not a China expert) I mentioned the plight of Voice of America Mandarin Service journalists who believed they were resisting pressure from Beijing to censor VOA reporting and and got punished by their own senior management in the Federal agency of the U.S. Government for wanting to air live a lengthy interview with a whistleblower. Senior management ordered them to cut short the interview and to limit the scope of questions. I wish more people would come to their defense or at least demand a full and transparent investigation.
 
I’m disappointed that outside media and press freedom organizations have not paid sufficient attention to how these VOA journalists are being treated, as well as to business interests in China and in Russia of a few among past and current officials in charge of VOA in its parent Federal entity, the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), formerly called the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which on its own has has tried to interfere with and restrict domestic US watchdog reporting about its management failures—not to the same degree as the governments of China and Russia, of course, but disturbing enough, since this is a US government media outreach operation funded by taxpayers to promote press freedom abroad.
 
I’m Ted Lipien, independent journalist and writer, former acting associate director of the Voice of America, and co-founder of the online Cold War Radio Museum and pro-media freedom watchdog website BBGWatch.com.
 

 
 
 

U.

U.S. Government propaganda photo: Young Polish refugee

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo (1943)

By Ted Lipien

This U.S. Government propaganda photo showing a healthy-looking Polish boy was taken by the Office of War Information (OWI) photographer in Iran in 1943. To protect Stalin and the anti-Germany military alliance with Moscow, pro-Soviet propagandists in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration did not publish photos of Polish children who were starved, ill and near death when they were evacuated from Soviet Russia to Iran in 1942. Likewise, OWI’s Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts did not mention mistreatment of Polish deportees, including women and children, in the Soviet Gulag camps and collective farms, to which they had been sent as slave laborers. VOA’s radio broadcasts for foreign audiences and a broadcast by OWI Director Elmer Davis targeting Americans spread instead Soviet propaganda lies that mass executions of Polish prisoners in Soviet Russia carried out by the NKVD secret police in 1940, known collectively as the Katyń Forest massacre, were carried out by the Germans after they had occupied the area in 1941. Americans and foreigners alike were misled by Roosevelt administration’s propaganda about Stalin and the Soviet regime — a point highlighted in bipartisan criticism after the war.

The bipartisan Madden Committee of the House of Representatives blamed it in 1952 on “a strange psychosis that military necessity required the sacrifice of loyal allies and our own principles in order to keep Soviet Russia from making a separate peace with the Nazis.” The committee pointed out that “this psychosis continued even after the conclusion of the war.” In a warning about a corrupting effect of foreign and domestic propaganda combined with censorship, the Madden Committee noted that “most of the witnesses testified that had they known then what they now know about Soviet Russia, they probably would not have pursued the course they did.”[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. Also U.S. funded Radio Free Europe (RFE), 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]

The congressional committee blamed OWI director Elmer Davis for bearing “the responsibility for accepting the Soviet propaganda version of the Katyn massacre without full investigation.” His broadcast reinforcing Soviet propaganda claims was aired repeatedly by the Voice of America. The committee also said that “the Voice of America—successor to the Office of War Information—had failed to utilize available information concerning the Katyn massacre until the creation of this committee.”[efn_note]Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, The Katyn Forest Massacre: Final Report , 9-10.[/efn_note]

Some Roosevelt administration officials tried to justify their silencing of the accounts of Polish refugees about their treatment in Soviet Russia with arguments that telling the whole truth to Americans could undermine the support of the Polish-American community for the war effort. Some of the same officials and others in the Truman administration also argued that releasing such information by the United States government after the war could have provoked a bloody uprising in Poland against the communist regime and the Soviet occupiers. The Madden Committee rejected such arguments. The bipartisan committee said in its final report that it “was not impressed with statements that publication of facts concerning this crime, prior to 1951, would lead to an ill-fated uprising in Poland.” “Neither was it convinced” the committee added, “by the statements of OWI officials that for the Polish-Americans to hear or read about the Katyn massacre in 1943 would have resulted in a lessening of their cooperation in the Allied war effort.”[efn_note]Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, The Katyn Forest Massacre: Final Report , 10.[/efn_note]

To prevent abuses similar to deceptive Office of War Information press releases and the Voice of America broadcasts about Stalin, war prisoners in Russia and Polish war refugees, the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act passed by the U.S. Congress significantly restricted use of tax dollars to target Americans with news and political commentary produced by the U.S. government. Some of these restrictions were later lifted. The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, which was contained within the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (section 1078 (a)) and signed by President Obama, amended the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act and subsequent legislation, allowing for materials produced by the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which included the Voice America, to be made available within the United States.


Photo Credits

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo

U.S. Government propaganda photo. OWI, Tehran, Iran, 1943.
  • Title: Teheran, Iran. Young Polish refugee at an evacuation camp operated by the Red Cross
  • Creator(s): Parrino, Nick, photographer, U.S. Office of War Information (OWI)
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540
  • Link 

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

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

Notes