Throughout World War II, the arrests and forced deportations of Polish families to labor camps by Soviet Russia received practically no mainstream media coverage in the United States. After the Soviet Union became an important military ally against Nazi Germany with the sudden collapse of Stalin’s alliance with Hitler and his attack on Russia in June 1941, the propaganda agency of the Roosevelt administration–the Office of War Information (OWI)–deliberately covered up Stalin’s crimes, both the deportations of millions of people to Siberia and the mass executions of Polish prisoners of war.
A statement made on the floor of the U.S. Senate on February 8, 1940 by Senator John A. Danaher (R-Connecticut) may have been the first major public reference in the United States to the 1940 deportations of Poles and other nationalities to Gulag forced labor camps in the Soviet Union. Senator Danaher inserted in the Congressional Record the text of a resolution adopted by of the Star of Liberty Society, Group 803, of the Polish National Alliance in Stamford, Conn. It mentions in one sentence “the deportation of large numbers of Poles to Siberia.” The Polish-American organization in Connecticut adopted the resolution on January 14, 1940. By then the news of the first deportations of Poles from Soviet-occupied eastern Poland to Siberia and other parts of the Soviet Union had already reached some Polish-Americans but was not known to most Americans.
Following the August 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact and the joint German-Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939, which started World War II, the Soviets began the first mass deportation of Poles on February 10, 1940 from the occupied eastern part of Poland. Whole families were arrested, usually early in the morning, and sent in overcrowded cattle train wagons to forced labor camps in the depths of Siberia and in other parts of the Soviet Union. Many elderly and infants died during the transport–bodies of some of the children tossed by guards into the snow; others left behind at various stops during the journey lasting many days with little food or water. Many more prisoners would die later in the Gulag camps, work settlements and collective farms from slave labor, harsh weather conditions, starvation, and lack of medial treatment.
There was almost a complete media silence in the West about the deportations. Western journalists either did not know or were afraid or unwilling to report on what was happening to millions of Stalin’s prisoners. In addition to Polish citizens, the Soviets also imprisoned and deported Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Tatars, Jews and members of many other ethnic and religious groups. Even after the war, the story of the deportees was rarely told. Many of those who had survived the Gulag camps, became refugees in the West unable to return to their homes.