Cold War Radio Museum Support Cold War Radio Museum By Buying Our Books on Amazon VOA’s 15th director from March 1980 to January 1981 during President Jimmy Carter administration, Mary Bitterman presided over VOA in a period of turmoil in Afghanistan, Liberia, and Poland – which brought a resurgence of jamming against VOA and other international broadcasters.…
Cold War Radio Museum
October 16, 2016
A radio interview with future Pope John Paul II, recorded and first broadcast by the Voice of America (VOA) in 1976, was rebroadcast by VOA’s Polish Service on October 16, 1978, shortly after the news of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła’s election as new Roman Catholic pope had been announced at the Vatican.
On the anniversary of the election of Kraków’s Archbishop as Pope John Paul II, Cold War Radio Museum is posting the audio of the VOA interview. The conversation is in Polish. An English transcript of the opening segment is included below the audio player.
Former VOA Polish Service announcer, producer and artist Roma Starczewska Murray is credited with saving the 1976 recording and putting it on the air in VOA Polish Service evening broadcasts on October 16, 1978, the day of John Paul II’s election.
VOA broadcaster and future VOA Polish Service director Tadeusz Lipień (Ted Lipien) had conducted the interview with Cardinal Karol Wojtyła in the summer of 1976 in Washington D.C. at the American University campus where Krakow’s archbishop was staying at a guest house. Wojtyła’s long-time personal secretary and future Archbishop of Kraków Stanisław Dziwisz had traveled with him to the United States and was present during the interview. Cardinal Wojtyła visited Washington after attending the 1976 Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia where he met Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski who later became President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor from 1977 to 1981. 1
The Polish archbishop took some political risk in agreeing to talk to the Voice of America during his 1976 U.S. visit. The communist regime in Poland objected to VOA Polish broadcasts, but not as much as it objected to Polish broadcasts by Munich-based, U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe – RFE (Radio Wolna Europa – RWE).
The VOA interview was not overly political, but Cardinal Wojtyła spoke about the universal human need for liberty and truth. While it was a powerful statement for anyone listening in Poland, that was as much as Cardinal Wojtyła could say publicly to VOA without getting in trouble with the communist authorities after his return to his native country. For the same reason, there was no meeting during his visit to Washington with U.S. President Gerald Ford.
An interview with the Voice of America was a risk he was willing to accept to show his support for free speech and democracy. During the Cold War, Cardinal Wojtyła was communicating secretly with Radio Free Europe and provided RFE Polish Service director Jan Nowak Jeziorański with information about the Catholic Church in Poland. RFE had more airtime, more hard-hitting programs and a much larger audience in Poland in the 1970s than the Voice of America.
John Paul II made his first visit to Poland as pope in 1979. It was covered extensively but remotely by RFE and VOA thanks to radio feeds provided by Vatican Radio. Neither VOA nor RFE was allowed by the Polish communist regime to send a correspondent to Poland. Both stations, however, had live coverage from some of the major events of the pope’s 1979 visit to the United States.
In 1980, after a series of workers’ strikes, the Solidarity (Solidarność) labor union movement was formed under the leadership of Lech Wałęsa. In December 1981, the communist regime of General Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to crush Solidarity and its peaceful human rights movement.
Throughout the 1980s, Solidarity activists and the general population relied heavily for uncensored news, information and opinions on Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, BBC and other Western media sources, in addition to maintaining their own extensive underground information network.
In slightly more than ten years after Karol Wojtyła’s election as pope, Poland shook off Soviet domination and the country regained its independence.
Photo: Pope John Paul II speaks after he was honored with the Medal of Freedom in June 2004, presented during his audience for President George W. Bush and Laura Bush. Papież Jan Paweł II przemawia podczas uhoronowania go Medalem Wolności w czerwcu 2004, wydarzenie ma miejsce podczas audiencji prezydenta USA Georga Busha i Laury Bush. Author: Eric Draper.
- Gati, Charles, ed. Zbig: The Strategy and Statecraft of Zbigniew Brzezinski. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.
In Chapter 10, “Brzezinski, the Pope and the ‘Plot’ to Free Poland,” Patrick Vaughan wrote (p. 126): “Brzezinski considered RFE very useful. In the White House, he had pushed for a vast increase in the transmitter strength of the five-station network broadcasting to the countries of the Eastern Block in their native languages. Brzezinski advised Carter that the radios were an invaluable weapon in the cold war that was as much about ideas as ballistic missiles and fighter jets. He did so despite the fact that in the early 1970s American senators, among others, had dismissed RFE as a ‘cold war relic.’
Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, then archbishop of Krakow, was one of the million of Poles who listened to RFE each morning. When, at an event in West Germany many years later, an announcer from the radio’s Polish desk introduced himself to Wojtyla, the cardinal replied ‘There is no need. I recognize your voice. I listen to you every morning as I shave.'” ↩
Cold War Radio Museum September 10, 2016 Ronald Reagan kicked off his presidential campaign with a Labor Day speech at Liberty State Park, Jersey City, New Jersey on 1 September 1980. In his speech, Reagan talked about the United States as a nation of immigrants, mentioned the Solidarity independent trade union strike in Gdańsk, Poland, and stressed the importance of…
August 1, 2019 is the 75 anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Uprising, a 63-day unsuccessful operation by the Polish resistance Home Army (Polish: Armia Krajowa) to liberate Warsaw from Nazi German occupation. About 16,000 Polish fighters were killed and between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish civilians died, mostly from mass executions. After the Home Army capitulation in Warsaw, the Germans expelled from the city the entire civilian population. Thousands of the evacuees were sent to Nazi concentration or labor camps. The city was almost completely destroyed during the fighting and after the uprising in a deliberate German action of blowing up buildings.
But in line with Stalin’s negative view of of Polish anti-Nazi fighters who were not pro-Soviet Communists, World War II U.S. Voice of America radio broadcasts largely ignored the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, while most Americans and even President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who caved in to nearly all of Stalin’s demands, expressed support for the Poles’ fight for freedom. VOA’s early news writers, including future Stalin Peace prize winner, American Communist Howard Fast, did not practice journalism in the style of CBS wartime radio reporter Edward R. Murrow. They followed in the footsteps of Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty who, because of his pro-Soviet and pro-communist bias, shamelessly lied about the starvation and death of millions of people in Ukraine and in other parts of the Soviet Union under Stalin’s rule.
Some of Soviet sympathizers and Communists were hired by VOA’s first director John Houseman, a future Hollywood Oscar-winning actor. The U.S. State Department and the U.S. Military Intelligence quietly forced him to resign in 1943 with the approval from the FDR White House, but many of his Communist hires remained until at least 1945. Some stayed on for a few years longer. Some went back to Eastern Europe to work as propagandists and diplomats for Soviet-dominated communist regimes.
But a different view of early Voice of America radio broadcasts was presented by current VOA director Amanda Bennett in a recent Washington Post op-ed: “Those broadcasts were lifelines to millions. Even more important, however, was the promise made right from the start: ‘The news may be good for us. The news may be bad,’ said announcer William Harlan Hale. ‘But we shall tell you the truth.’” Bennett insisted that Edward R. Murrow helped to create VOA. Based in London and working for CBS, he had absolutely no role and no influence over wartime VOA dominated by admirers of Stalin and the Soviet Union. Unlike early VOA officials and broadcasters, Murrow was not a journalist to be easily fooled by Soviet propaganda. 1
It took Zofia Korbońska, Irene Broni (Irena Radwańska), Zdzisław Dziekoński, Jan Grużewski, Wacław Bniński and other VOA Polish Service Cold War era broadcasters and journalists who were former Warsaw Uprising fighters many years to undo the damage done by Soviet agents and sympathizers who had taken control of U.S. international broadcasting during World War II. Another VOA Polish Service broadcaster, my deputy Marek Walicki, witnessed the Warsaw Uprising as a young boy. Eventually, with the help of these journalists, VOA was perceived in Poland as a symbol of America’s commitment to freedom and democracy, but it required a change of staff, a change of management and a new vision for the organization that previously had betrayed American values.
The 1944 Warsaw Uprising was doomed because Stalin halted the Red Army offensive to allow the Germans to kill and crush anti-Communist Poles. As a result of concessions made by Roosevelt to Stalin and the presence on the ground of Red Army troops Poland fell under Soviet domination and communist oppression for nearly five more decades. The early Voice of America did not only betray Warsaw Uprising fighters and Poland, it betrayed more than 80 million people in all the nations which fell under Soviet rule.
During the Cold War, the Voice America eventually redeemed itself and broadcast truthful news behind the Iron Curtain. President Ronald Reagan paid tribute to former anti-Nazi Warsaw Uprising fighters, including those who later worked in the VOA Polish Service. During World War II, however, VOA Polish radio broadcasts prepared by admirers of Stalin and Communism, were filled with Soviet propaganda and hostile toward those who did not want to accept Stalin’s rule. They even largely ignored the Holocaust because Soviet propaganda, which they promoted, focused on the suffering and sacrifices of Soviet soldiers and civilians rather than the plight of Jews or other groups and nationalities. Some of the early OWI journalists, including Stefan Arski, a.k.a. Artur Salman, and Adolf Hofmeister, went to work for communist regimes in East-Central Europe. Before they left, these Soviet sympathizers and agents of influence made the life of a few honest VOA journalists extremely difficult. A VOA Polish Service broadcaster Konstanty Broel Plater resigned in 1944 rather than be forced to read Stalin’s propaganda lies to German-occupied Poland. Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, who was one of the most liberal members of President Roosevelt’s cabinet, in 1943 sent a secret memo to the White House with a warning that pro-Soviet fellow travelers and Communists employed in the Office of War Information have shown “bitter hostility” even toward “a considerable number of officials in the United States Government who are deemed inconvenient.” 2
This article, originally written in 2015, was updated for the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.
- Amanda Bennett, Voice of America Director, “Trump’s ‘worldwide network’ is a great idea. But it already exists.” The Washington Post, November 27, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-worldwide-network-is-a-great-idea-but-it-already-exists/2018/11/27/79b320bc-f269-11e8-bc79-68604ed88993_story.html. ↩
- 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. State – Welles, Sumner, 1943-1944, From Collection: FDR-FDRPSF Departmental Correspondence, Series: Departmental Correspondence, 1933 – 1945 Collection: President’s Secretary’s File (Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration), 1933 – 1945, National Archives Identifier: 16619284. ↩
Former Voice of America (VOA) director and former Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Chairman Ken Tomlinson, who died recently, told Voice of America two years ago that his most memorable moment at VOA was to visit the Polish Service and help arrange extensive news coverage of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Poland when the country was still under communist rule during the Cold War. The Pope’s visit to Poland helped the suppressed Solidarity trade union to intensify its peaceful struggle for democracy and eventually resulted in the fall of communism. Father Stefan Filipowicz, a Chicago-based Jesuit priest and former director of the Polish Service at Vatican Radio, provided religious commentary from a VOA studio in Washington during the coverage of the papal visit. Live audio transmission from Poland was provided to VOA by Vatican Radio.
Ken Tomlinson and his wife Rebecca later traveled to Rome with VOA Polish Service director Ted Lipien to meet Pope John Paul II who thanked the Voice of America for broadcasting news to his countrymen in Poland under communism.
Thanks to Ken Tomlinson’s support, funding from the Reagan administration and full bipartisan backing in the U.S. Congress, the Polish Service became one of the most successful language services in the history of VOA, with over 70% weekly audience reach in Poland in the late 1980s.
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