BBG Watch History
August 1 marks the anniversary of the start of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising launched against the Nazi forces by the Polish underground army. BBG Watch is reposting today an article about the Voice of America’s (VOA) pro-Soviet broadcasts during World War II which describes how VOA ignored of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and continued its pro-Soviet line in its wartime Polish-language and other broadcasts. Arthur Krock who in 1944 was the Washington bureau chief for the New York Times wrote a few days before the Warsaw Uprising, commenting about another VOA scandal, a broadcast calling Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel “moronic little King” because Moscow and Italian communists disapproved of him, that the Office of War Information (OWI), which managed VOA, spoke with an “‘ideology’ that conforms much more closely to the Moscow than to the Washington-London line.” President Roosevelt and the State Department condemned VOA’s Italian broadcast because the U.S. wanted Italy on the allied side, but FDR never objected publicly to biased Voice of America WWII broadcasts to Poland that did not change their pro-Moscow and pro-communist line until the start of the Cold War. The State Department did on occasion express behind the scenes its disapproval of some of the more harmful pro-Soviet VOA wartime reports and commentaries, but such protests usually proved ineffective.
The article about the betrayal of the Warsaw Uprising by the Voice of America was written by former VOA Polish Service director Ted Lipien who later served as VOA Eurasia Division director and VOA acting associate director. Lipien is one of the founders and supporters of BBG Watch.
August 1, 2015 marked the 71 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 Germany. 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. Warsaw was almost completely destroyed during the fighting and after the uprising in a deliberate German action of blowing up buildings.
During the Warsaw Uprising, news of the outside world was eagerly collected and redistributed by the Home Army political warfare department. British historian Norman Davies wrote in his book “Rising ’44” that broadcasts from Radio Moscow were tested by the Poles with broadcasts from the BBC. 1 The Voice of America is not mentioned. Because of their pro-Moscow line, perceptions of VOA radio broadcasts during the 1944 uprising in Poland’s capital were highly negative among Poles who were not Communists. “With genuine horror we listened to what the Polish language programs of the Voice of America (or whatever name they had then), in which in line with what [the Soviet news agency] TASS was communicating, the Warsaw Uprising was being completely ignored,” wrote a Polish journalist based in London during the war.
Ambassador to the United States of the Polish Government-in-Exile Jan Ciechanowski wrote: “I explained to those responsible for it [Voice of America radio broadcasts] in the OWI [U.S. Government mega propaganda agency during the war which included VOA] 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.”
After the war, U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe made up for America’s muffled voice. The Voice of America improved slowly over time but could not completely overcome its Washington-centered bureaucratic limitations. Not until the Reagan Administration was VOA able to report on World War II history and Soviet atrocities without any restrictions. In August 1984, President Ronald Reagan showed America’s ability to reverse its political mistakes by inviting veterans of the Warsaw Uprising to the White House and praising RFE and VOA for bringing uncensored news to the Soviet block. It was a symbolic break with the treatment of Poland by the Roosevelt Administration, a break with the acceptance of the outcome of Tehran and Yalta conferences, and a break from Voice of America’s failures during World War II. Zdzisław Dziekoński, a Warsaw Uprising veteran and former deputy director of VOA Polish Service, accepted the Legion of Merit from President Reagan on behalf of General Leopold Okulicki, the last commander of the anti-German underground Home Army during World War II who after the uprising was lured into a trap by the Soviets and died under suspicious circumstances in a Moscow prison.
“Perhaps the most significant thing that we can do is let the Polish people and all the people of Eastern Europe know that they’re not forgotten. And that’s why we’re modernizing Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and the Voice of America. Our radio programming is becoming the mighty force for good that it was intended to be. As the Scriptures say, ‘Know the truth and the truth will make you free.’ Well, our broadcast will carry the truth to captive people throughout the world.” — President Ronald Reagan at the White House event marking the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, August 17, 1984 2
Stefan Korboński, one of the leaders of the Polish Underground State during the Nazi occupation presenting President Ronald Reagan with the Polish Underground Armia Krajowa (Home Army) cross at the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising observance at the White House in 1984. Stefan Korboński’s wife Zofia Korbońska was a distinguished Voice of America Polish Service broadcaster and editor for many years.
World War II Voice of America broadcasts not only gave Stalin a near hero status and covered up his crimes, but they also ignored or distorted news about activities of the massive non-Communist Polish underground resistance movement Armia Krajowa (AK) which launched the Warsaw Uprising on August 1, 1944.
During the Warsaw Uprising, the Poles turned for news to the BBC, to the Polish-language radio station Świt, a surrogate broadcaster based in Britain but targeting Poland, and to the Warsaw-based Polish underground radio station Błyskawica and other free Polish media published in Poland. In accounts about the Warsaw Uprising written by key Polish leaders and diplomats, including Polish Prime Minister Stanisław Mikołajczyk, Warsaw Uprising commander General Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, Polish Army commander in the West General Władysław Anders and Ambassador Jan Ciechanowski, the Voice of America is either not mentioned at all or condemned as having a highly negative impact on the Polish population.
In his book “Defeat in Victory” published in the United States in 1947 by Doubleday, Ambassador Jan Ciechanowski described Voice of America wartime broadcasts to Poland as “pro-Soviet propaganda.”
“But, curiously enough, while some government departments realized the danger of unduly encouraging Soviet-Russian appeasement, some of the new war agencies actively conducted what could only be termed pro-Soviet propaganda.”
“So-called American propaganda broadcasts 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.”
Major historians of the Warsaw Uprising, including British scholar Norman Davies, the author of “Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw,” do not mention VOA. There are, however, numerous references in these historical accounts to the BBC, Świt, Błyskawica and also German and Soviet propaganda radio stations. Both Prime Minister Mikołajczyk and Ambassador Ciechanowski wrote about VOA broadcasts but only to criticize them roundly for promoting Soviet propaganda and to underscore the damage they have done to America’s public image abroad. Prime Minister Mikołajczyk and Ambassador Ciechanowski were referring to the wartime Office of War Information (OWI) Polish radio broadcasts and other OWI activities since the name Voice of America was not yet then commonly used outside of the OWI offices.
The most damning assessment of the Voice of America came from a radio journalist who worked in London during the war for the Polish-language radio station Świt, a surrogate broadcaster based in Britain but targeting Poland. He reported in a 1953 article in the Polish intellectual journal Kultura published in Paris of being horrified and depressed by the lack of news from Warsaw in Voice of America Polish programs as AK fighters were rounded up by the Nazis and the city burned. At that time, the Red Army stopped its fast-moving offensive and allowed the uprising to fail. Stalin hoped that the Germans would finish off anti-Communist Poles who might resist his takeover of Poland after the war.
Czesław Straszewicz described his impressions of VOA’s dismal performance:
“During the Warsaw Uprising, Świt could broadcast anything we wanted under the disapproving glances of the Brits.
With genuine horror we listened to what the Polish language programs of the Voice of America (or whatever name they had then), in which in line with what [the Soviet news agency] TASS was communicating, the Warsaw Uprising was being completely ignored.
I remember as if it were today when the (Warsaw) Old Town fell [to the Nazis] and our spirits sank, the Voice of America was broadcasting to the allied nations describing for listeners in Poland in a happy tone how a woman named Magda from the village Ptysie made a fool of a Gestapo man named Mueller.
Unlike the Voice of America which was part of the mega propaganda agency in Washington, the Office of War Information (OWI), Świt and BBC had much more independence and and their British management showed much greater sophistication in dealing with sensitive news stories. According to Czesław Straszewicz, the British authorities gave Świt practically unlimited independence. 3
“There was relatively little reaction from our English bosses … . I remember that one time Mr. Lily sighed that ‘not only Mr. MacLaren, but also Mr. Anthony Eden, has doubts whether Świt flighting the Germans is not also fighting Russia.’
But as far as I remember, not a single most anti-Soviet text was killed by the bosses or edited; they never made categorical demands—-to our own great surprise, murderous texts, for example in connection with Soviet Professor Tarle or in connection with the London Observer [reporting on the Soviet Union] were never censored by the British, not even one word.”
As the 1944 AK-led Warsaw Uprising against the Germans began, non-communist Poles found Voice of America Polish radio broadcasts useless, if not outright discouraging and offensive. Voice of America either ignored the uprising, which would have been in line with the Soviet propaganda line that it was an insignificant action by an insignificant number of anti-Soviet Fascist forces, or broadcast other programs favorable only to the Soviet Union. Polish-American leaders were equally appalled. President of the Polish-American Congress Charles Rozmarek did not name the Roosevelt Administration, the Office of War Information or the Voice of America, but he voiced his complaint in a radio address on the fifth anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland, broadcast over the Columbia network on September 2, 1944. His address was placed in the Congressional Record by Rep. John Dingell Sr., a Democrat from Michigan.
“If we demand honest advertising from our American merchants, why shouldn’t we demand honest and truthful advertising from the merchants of foreign propaganda in this country.”
Charles Rozmarek may have also been referring to numerous pro-Soviet propaganda newspapers and information published in the United States in addition to any OWI government propaganda.
While it does not appear that the wartime Voice of America went nearly as far in its pro-Kremlin propaganda or was as crude as Radio Moscow (more research is required), VOA promoted the Soviet point of view and practiced censorship of various controversial news stories which could be unfavorable to Russia if reported accurately.
This is quite the opposite of the myth created by a few historians, some previously connected with VOA, that the Voice of America played an influential journalistic role in World War II as a provider of straight-arrow news according to its original promise:
“The news may be good for us. The news may be bad. But we shall tell you the truth.”
Stalin wanted to eliminate AK, which had the backing of the vast majority of Poles and operated under the authority of the Polish Government-in-Exile in London, then still recognized by the United States, Great Britain and other nations of the anti-Hitler alliance, but no longer by the Soviet Union. The Polish Army, Air Force and Navy fought on the allied side in the Middle East, in Italy and in Western Europe. Stalin, however, supported a small group of Polish Communists who were to rule Poland in his name after the war. Soviet propaganda described the Polish Government in London as dominated by fascists, which seems to be to this day a favorite Russian propaganda label for those who resist Moscow’s territorial and political ambitions.
When VOA did report on various pro-freedom and pro-democracy statements by President Roosevelt, such as the Atlantic Charter which promised no forced territorial changes and self-determination, it merely mislead foreign audiences by hiding the fact that the President was quite willing to sacrifice these high principles to appease Stalin. During World War II, Voice of America broadcast mostly what its overseers and the Roosevelt White House wanted and what was good for the U.S. wartime alliance with the Soviet Union and for Russia itself. These goals almost always coincided, although as it turned out, Roosevelt’s generous concessions to Stalin were not always necessary and not necessarily in America’s best long-term interests, as many contemporary and later American and other critics pointed out.
While the pro-Soviet tone of VOA’s broadcasts may have been what the Roosevelt Administration wanted, they were definitely not reflective of the American society as a whole. VOA failed to report on strong criticism of wartime U.S.-Russia policy expressed by both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress, where the Office of War Information, the parent agency of the Voice of America, and its Director Elmer Davis, were viewed largely with suspicion, and often with contempt as a dangerous for American democracy, incompetent, out-of-control and wasteful government bureaucracy filled with naive pro-Soviet idealists if not actual Communists.
More research into wartime VOA Polish radio programming is needed with a focus on the Warsaw Uprising, but prior to August 1, 1944, VOA’s executives and pro-Moscow broadcasters routinely censored news about Stalin’s crimes, such as the 1940 Katyń Forest Massacre of thousands of Polish POW military officers. Many of VOA’s program writers and announcers, including those in the Polish Service but also in Greek, Yougoslav, Czechoslovak, Italian, English and in other VOA radio broadcast services and OWI offices, were, according to various accounts, openly pro-Stalin. A few turned out to be Soviet intelligence agents or contacts, a fact confined by Soviet secret intelligence cables decoded by U.S. intelligence agencies after the war under the so-called Venona Project.
Ambassadors of various governments-in-exile protested to the State Department about OWI broadcasts, but these protests made little difference. Even the State Department was not able to prevent some of VOA’s poor reporting and questionable commentary. In general, however, the State Department was also strongly in favor of radio broadcasting friendly to the Soviet Union but not as enthusiastic about pro-Soviet propaganda as some of OWI broadcasters and executives.
The Office of War Information operated both overseas and domestically as a mega government propaganda agency. It was poorly managed by its super CEO-Director Elmer Davis. Davis was a radio broadcaster before joining OWI, but not a very good journalist or manager. In April 1943, he wrote a commentary emphatically blaming the Katyń Massacre on the Nazis even though he knew or should have known that the evidence pointed much more toward the Soviets. During World War II, OWI was largely unaccountable and did what the Director and key executives wanted, not unlike the current Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) which now overseas the Voice of America and apparently wants to recreate the OWI super information agency model. An admirer of Elmer Davis, Democratic congressman from Indiana, Rep. Louis L. Ludlow, on March 29, 1944 called the Director of War Information “America’s leading propagandist, the generalissimo of the propaganda forces of this great nation, that Mr. Davis is rendering a service of inestimable value to humanity.” It was meant as a compliment.
One of OWI’s top officials, future U.S. Senator from California, Alan Cranston, used illegal intimidating tactics to silence ethnic broadcasters in the United States who criticized the Soviet Union and blamed Stalin for murdering thousands of Polish officers in Katyń. OWI’s contributor to Voice of America broadcasts, Kathleen Harriman, a daughter of U.S. Ambassador to Moscow W. Averell Harriman, participated in a Soviet-arranged propaganda trip to Katyń for Western correspondents and wrote a report for the U.S. Government accepting the false Soviet claim that the mass murder was committed by the Nazis.
Reports of OWI’s mismanaged hiring practices and communist infiltration during the war were not exaggerated, unlike later accusations by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Some of VOA Polish Service wartime broadcasters left OWI and later worked for the Soviet-dominated communist regime in Warsaw. One VOA Polish commentator, Artur Salman who also used the pen name Stefan Arski, became after the war a chief anti-American propagandist in Poland, blasting the U.S. Congress for investigating the Soviet role in the Katyń Massacre. Before leaving the United States, Stefan Arski published a propaganda booklet for the Communist government’s Embassy in Washington The head of the VOA Czechoslovak desk, Dr. Adolf Hofmeister, became Czechoslovakia’s ambassador to France after the communist regime took power in Prague with Soviet help. Ironically, a delegation of Polish Communists, including Stefan Arski, was advising Czechoslovak Communists on how to consolidate their control of media.
America’s true attitude toward the Polish-Soviet political conflict during the war was definitely not what the Voice of America was reporting. Members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, were demanding fair treatment of Poland and American help for the Poles fighting in Warsaw. Thad Wasielewski, a Democratic U.S. Representative from Wisconsin’s 4th congressional district, in extended remarks on September 21, 1944 noted the halted Soviet offensive against the Germans and Stalin’s refusal to give assistance to the Polish underground.
“Yet, at the request of Soviet Russia both Great Britain and the United States ceased sending arms and supplies to the Polish underground in March of this year. Russia, however, sent no supplies. Nevertheless, they carry on. … Not far to the east of Warsaw stands a mighty Russian Army. For some unknown reason it has remained frozen in its tracks and has made no advance for more than 5 weeks… .” 4
Charles Wolverton, a Republican Party politician who represented New Jersey’s 1st congressional district in the United States House of Representatives, in his extended remarks placed in the Congressional Record on September 20, 1944 and titled “America’s Duty to Poland,” was even more emphatic about a betrayal of America’s wartime ally.
“The plight of the people of Poland, and, especially the heroic defenders of Warsaw, creates not only feeling of deep sympathy but, also a feeling that a great injustice has been done them by the Nations from whom they had a right to expect help even at this late date.” 5
There were many similar remarks about Poland made in Congress by both Democrats and Republicans already in 1943 and in 1944–none of which was reported by the Voice of America, according to my research so far, if they contained any criticism of the Soviet Union.
Reporting only on statements of support for Poland could have been equally misleading since they turned out to be completely unproductive, even though members of Congress may have thought that they could influence the Roosevelt White House. But many congressional statements contained objective and stunningly accurate analysis of Soviet intentions. In the extension of his remarks placed in the Congressional Record on December 4, 1944, Dewey Short, a Republican U.S. Representative from Missouri’s 7th congressional district, quoted from the editorial of The Washington Times-Herald:
“Poor old pre-war Poland, of course, about whose territorial integrity this war began, has gone down the drain. Stalin intends to take over Poland at least to the Curzon line, perhaps toss it a piece of East Prussia as a consolation prize, and then dominate whatever government this new Poland may have. Messrs. Churchill and Roosevelt have yet to be heard protesting loud agaist these Stalin plans, what though the Atlantic Charter emits a faint moan from its repository now and then.
In the midst of war, England and Russia are playing old-time power politics up and down many a small European nation. If some of the small nations’ citizens happen to get shot, starved, jailed, or otherwise hurt in their supposedly fundamental rights, that is just too bad.”
By the time the 1944 Warsaw Uprising started, President Roosevelt had already ignored congressional demands not to allow Stalin to dominate Poland after the war and agreed to nearly all of his territorial claims. He lied to Polish-American leaders about concessions he had made to Stalin at the expense of Poland at his meeting with him at Teheran. But FDR was also worried about his reelection in 1944. Under pressure from members of Congress and Polish-American organizations, he eventually agreed to get allied planes to drop supplies to the Polish fighters in Warsaw. This turned out to be a difficult task because of great distances the planes had to fly to reach Warsaw and because of Stalin’s resistance to make the flights safer and more effective even though they could not possibly make a major difference without the resumption of the Soviet offensive. FDR had to repeatedly ask Stalin to allow allied planes flying from Italy with supplies for the Warsaw fighters to land on the Soviet-controlled territory. Stalin referred to the Polish resistance as “a handful of criminals” and stated that the uprising was inspired by “enemies of the Soviet Union”. After a long delay, sufficient to allow the Germans to eliminate any chance of the Poles taking full control of Warsaw and achieving a victory, Stalin agreed to a limited number of such flights, knowing that any help would arrive too late and would make no difference to the final outcome of the uprising.
Unlike the U.S. Government, the British Government exercised less censorship over the BBC and even allowed a Polish surrogate radio station in Britain, Świt (a surrogate Polish station), to broadcast practically anything Polish journalists London wanted to tell listeners in Poland. Świt was in secret radio communication with the Underground in Poland and received frequent news updates which were then immediately broadcast back to Poland. With the exception of very few people who knew the secret, most Poles believed that Świt was actually broadcasting from inside Nazi-occupied Poland, which would have been impossible in the long run due to German electronic surveillance.
During World War II, there were no American supported surrogate broadcasts to Poland. The OWI’s Voice of America was the only U.S. radio station reaching Poland on shortwave with Polish-language programs. While VOA broadcasts were monitored by the anti-Nazi underground in Poland for their international news and U.S. government views, the BBC and the Polish surrogate radio station in Britain Świt were, according to many accounts, the primary source of important news from and about Poland.
In his book “The Secret Army,” General Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski who led the 1944 uprising in Warsaw against superior German forces, makes numerous mentions to BBC, Świt, Radio Moscow and underground radio based in Poland, but there is not a single reference in his detailed book to the Voice of America. VOA’s bias and lack of objective news from Poland may have been the reason. During the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the Voice of America news from Washington strictly toed the Soviet line.
Some of the information of VOA’s early pro-Stalin bias was made public in the late 1940s by Polish democratic leaders in London and the Ambassador to the United States of the wartime Polish Government in Exile. Polish wartime Prime Minister Stanisław Mikołajczyk wrote in his 1948 book “The Rape of Poland”:
“We finally protested to the United States State Department about the tone of OWI broadcasts to Poland. Such broadcasts, which we carefully monitored in London, might well have emanated from Moscow itself. The Polish underground wanted to hear what was going on in the United States, to whom it turned responsive ears and hopeful eyes. It was not interested in hearing pro-Soviet propaganda from the United States, since that duplicated the broadcasts sent from Moscow.” (p. 25)
Describing his June 1944 meeting in Washington with U.S. Undersecretary of State Edward Stettinius, Prime Minister Mikolajczyk recalled:
“I mentioned also the tone of OWI broadcasts to Poland. They had been following the Communist line consistently, which made our own job more difficult.”
“‘It’s unwise to adopt this approach to the Polish people,’ I told the Undersecretary (Stettinius). ‘If you continue to call Russia a ‘democracy,’ you may eventually regret that statement, and your people will condemn you.”
“Your government once called Poland ‘the inspiration of the nations,’ but now the OWI calls the Communist forces just that. Please don’t think we haven’t tried to make friends with Russia, for we have. Poland just does not want to become another Red satellite.” (pp. 58-59) 6
The Polish Ambassador to Washington Jan Ciechanowski wrote in his 1947 book “Defeat in Victory”:
“Of all the United States Government agencies, the Office of War Information [where Voice of America was placed], 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.” 7
One of the Polish anti-Nazi Underground operatives providing news to Świt from Poland was Mrs. Zofia Korbońska, who after the war defected to the West with her husband, Polish political leader Stefan Korboński. She later joined the Voice of America Polish Service with the help of former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Arthur Bliss Lane who after resigning from the State Department was highly critical of VOA programs to Poland and helped to launch Radio Free Europe.
Zofia Korbońska was a true war hero and an outstanding journalist and broadcaster. During WWII, she risked her life daily, gathering news and sending coded radio messages from Nazi-occupied Poland to London. Those messages were then transmitted back in news bulletins by shortwave radio from Britain by , Świt, the Polish word for “dawn,” which many Polish listeners wrongly assumed was based in Poland because it had the most up to date news. She worked on these broadcasts in Warsaw during the uprising. I wrote about her in my “Interweaving of Public Diplomacy and U.S. International Broadcasting” article in American Diplomacy, December 2011 and in “LIPIEN: Remembering a Polish-American patriot” in The Washington Times shortly after her death in 2010. If caught by the German Gestapo, who constantly searched for radio transmitters, Zofia Korbońska would have been tortured and executed – the fate of many of her colleagues in the Polish underground. Her courage was legendary. Her death in Washington at the age of 95 was noted neither by the Voice of America nor the Broadcasting Board of Governors. August 16, 2015 will mark the fifth anniversary of her death.
After the departure of pro-Soviet broadcasters and hiring of Zofia Korbońska and other journalists, VOA programs to Poland improved, but the Voice of America was not able to overcome all censorship and restrictions on news reporting while it remained within the State Department and even in later years. More accurate reporting on the Katyń Massacre started at VOA in the early 1950s only under considerable pressure from U.S. public opinion and members of Congress. Radio Free Europe broadcasts became the primary source of news and information for the Poles during the Cold War. RFE was not afraid to report on Katyń, but selective censorship of the story continued at VOA until the 1970s. VOA did, however, experience a revival during the Reagan Administration and played a significant role as a news and information source as the Solidarity trade union struggled for democracy in Poland in the 1980s.
- See Norman Davies, Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw (New York, 2004) p. 363. ↩
- As Poland prepares for next year’s 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Rising, I wanted to share Stefan Korboński‘s 1984 letter to The New York Times, in which the last chief of the Polish wartime underground State repeated President Ronald Reagan’s earlier statement that the United States rejects any interpretation of the Yalta agreement that suggests American consent for the division of Europe into spheres of influence.
This statement was a novel challenge to the Soviet Union. Even though Ronald Reagan and everybody else knew that the Yalta agreement helped Stalin to dominate Central and Eastern Europe, Reagan pointed out that in fact Stalin had agreed in Yalta to free and democratic elections in Poland, which the communists and their Soviet patrons never allowed.
In his remarks, President Reagan also mentioned that this was Ken Tomlinson’s last day as Director of the Voice of America and thanked him for his service. VOA reported to Poland and other countries on the White House ceremony.
Stefan and Zofia Korboński were my friends for many years while I lived in Washington and worked at the Voice of America, where I eventually became the director of the Polish Service during the Solidarity and martial law period in Poland.
President Ronald Reagan’s Remarks at a White House Luncheon Marking the 40th Anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising
August 17, 1984
The President. Your Eminence and members of the Polish Home Army, and members of the Polish American Congress, distinguished guests, dzien dobry (good day).
I’ll say welcome to the White House, but before I go further with my remarks, there is something — a little news note here that I think you might be interested in. This happens to be Ken Tomlinson’s last day as Director of the Voice of America. He’s done a terrific job and is with us today. And, Ken, thank you very much for a job well done.
Well, now I’d like to offer our apologies for having to postpone our program last month. I know that many of you’d made travel arrangements and that the changes in my schedule caused you some difficulties. I am, however, delighted that we’re all here today and together for this important commemoration.
It’s always an honor for me to be with individuals like yourselves who understand the value of freedom. I’m reminded of a story about a conversation between one of our citizens and a Soviet citizen. The American described the freedom of speech that we have here in the United States, and the citizen of the Soviet Union said, “Well, we’re free to speak in the Soviet Union just like you are in the United States.” He said, “The only difference is you’re free after you speak.” [Laughter]
But today we pay tribute to a nation which for two centuries has struggled for freedom and independence. From the uprisings in 1794, the November uprising in 1830, and then again in 1863, the people of Poland demonstrated courage and a commitment to human liberty that inspired free men and women everywhere.
And this 200-year record of perseverance and bravery coincided with the development of our own precious liberty here in the United States, and that is no mere coincidence. Our two peoples drank from the same well of freedom, held dear the same Judeo-Christian values, respected the simple virtues of honesty and hard work. And even today, it’s often noted that unlike many others, our two peoples take their religious convictions seriously. These heartfelt convictions have kept the spirit of freedom burning in our hearts, especially during times of great adversity.
Pope John Paul II has said, “Freedom is given to man by God as a measure of his dignity. . . .” And “as children of God,” he said, “we cannot be slaves.” Well, I know that you feel as I do; we’re truly blessed in this time of great need, to have a spiritual leader like Pope John Paul II.
The continuing suppression of the Polish national identity brought wave after wave of Polish immigrants to the United States. And for that, we can be grateful. We all know the list of contributions and the names of those who rose to great prominence. But just as important are the millions who came here and, with their hard work and with their moral strength, helped shape the American character.
During this century, Americans and Poles have stood side by side in those two conflagrations that swept the world. The First World War, unfortunately, did not end all wars, but it did result in the reestablishment of the Polish state.
This month, we commemorate a desperate battle of the Second World War, an heroic attempt by free Poles to liberate their country from the heel of Nazi occupation, and to protect it from postwar, foreign domination. For years they covertly resisted the occupation forces. And then in 1944, for 63 brutal and agonizing days, ill-equipped and overwhelmingly outnumbered, they — and I could say, many of you — held off the Nazi war machine. And it’s fitting that we and all free people take special care to remember this occasion.
Of those who fought for freedom, and those who put their lives on the line for human liberty, I can think of none who should be prouder than those who can say, “I fought in the Polish Home Army.”
And today we honor three individuals, heroes of the Polish Home Army, never given their due after the allied victory. And it’s my great honor to now present the Legion of Merit to the families or representatives of these men.
So, let us salute Stefan Rowecki, who led the Resistance until he was captured and executed by the Gestapo.
(At this point, the President presented the award to Jan Morelewski, president of the Polish Home Army Veterans Association.)
Next, his son will arise, the son of Bór-Komorowski, leader of the Warsaw uprising, who later died in near poverty in exile in London.
(The President presented the award to Adam Komorowski.)
And finally, General Leopold Okulicki, who was lured into a trap and died under suspicious circumstances in Moscow.
(The President presented the award to Zdzisław Dziekoński, chairman of the Warsaw Uprising Commemorative Executive Committee and director of the Polish American Congress.)
These brave men and the courageous individuals who fought under their command represent the best of the human spirit. They risked all for their ideals, for their God and country, at a time when the odds were so much against them. They’re now part of the inspiring legacy of the Polish people.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from the history books, it is that Poland may be beaten down, but it is never defeated. It may be forced into submission, but it will never give up. It may be pressured to acquiesce, but it will never accept foreign domination and the suppression of God-given freedom. After two decades of brutal foreign domination, we witnessed, just a short time ago, a resurrection of the indomitable spirit of the Polish people. And I assure you we have not forgotten and will never forget Solidarity and the freedom of the Polish people.
There are some, of course, who seem all too willing to turn a blind eye to Soviet transgressions, ostensibly to improve the dialog between East and West. But those who condemn firm support for freedom and democracy — who, in order to prove their sincerity, would project weakness — are no friends of peace, human liberty, or meaningful dialog.
Our policies toward Poland and other captive nations are based upon a set of well-established principles.
First, let me state emphatically that we reject any interpretation of the Yalta agreement that suggests American consent for the division of Europe into spheres of influence. On the contrary, we see that agreement as a pledge by the three great powers to restore full independence and to allow free and democratic elections in all countries liberated from the Nazis after World War II, and there is no reason to absolve the Soviet Union or ourselves from this commitment. We shall continue to press for full compliance with it and with the Charter of the United Nations, the Helsinki Final Act, and other international agreements guaranteeing fundamental human rights.
Passively accepting the permanent subjugation of the people of Eastern Europe is not an acceptable alternative. In 1981, when it appeared that Poland would suffer a similar fate to that of Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968, we raised our voices in support of the Polish people. And we did not remain passive when, under intense Soviet pressure, martial law was imposed on them.
Many credit, trade, and fishing privileges extended to Poland, due to its somewhat broader degree of freedom than other Eastern European countries, were suspended. At the same time, we have assisted voluntary organizations to provide humanitarian aid through the Polish church to avoid hurting the very people we want to help.
I would especially like to commend the work of Al Mazewski and the Polish American Congress. In cooperation with the church, they’ve provided over $40 million worth of food, clothing, and medical supplies to the people of Poland. And I know that I speak for Nancy — my wife is thrilled to have been selected honorary chairman for the Polish American Congress’ Infant Charity Drive. We both wish you the best on this worthwhile project.
I’ve pledged that our sanctions can be lifted, one by one, in response to meaningful improvement of the human rights situation in Poland. For example, a complete and reasonable implementation of the Polish Government’s amnesty decree would create a positive atmosphere that would allow reactivation of Poland’s application for membership in the International Monetary Fund.
In the meantime, we’ve agreed, along with our allies and private organizations, to help fund a Polish church program to assist individual farmers. I am pleased to announce today that I am seeking support for a $10 million American contribution to the pilot phase of the church’s program. And we will follow the progress of this program carefully to determine whether additional support should be forthcoming.
Perhaps the most significant thing that we can do is let the Polish people and all the people of Eastern Europe know that they’re not forgotten. And that’s why we’re modernizing Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and the Voice of America. Our radio programming is becoming the mighty force for good that it was intended to be. As the Scriptures say, “Know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Well, our broadcast will carry the truth to captive people throughout the world.
The free peoples of the world are in ideological competition with the followers of a doctrine that rejects the basic tenets of freedom and declares the worship of God to be a social evil. As important as this competition is, until recently the democracies, including the United States, seemed paralyzed by uncertainty and lacking the will to compete.
In the last 3 1/2 years, we’ve quit apologizing, and at long last we’re standing up and being counted. As our United Nations Ambassador, Jeane Kirkpatrick, said, we’ve taken off our “Kick Me” sign. We’re proud of our way of life; we’re confident that freedom will prevail, because it works and because it is right. We believe the free peoples of the world should support all those who share our democratic values.
The National Endowment for Democracy, which I first proposed in a speech before the Parliament in London 2 years ago, has been established to encourage the democratic forces and the development of free institutions throughout the world. Its concerns include nonviolent, democratic movements like that of Solidarity in Poland.
And the rise of Solidarity is a matter of historic significance. It continues to be an inspiration of all free people that the Marxist-Leninist myth of inevitability is crumbling. Communism has brought with it only deprivation and tyranny. What happened in Poland is one sign that the tide is turning. The Polish people, with their courage and perseverance, will lead the way to freedom and independence, not only for themselves but for all those who yearn to breathe free.
The battle cry of the Polish Home Army still rings true: “Poland is fighting. Poland will live. Poland will overcome.”
Thank you all for being here today, and God bless you.
Mr. Stefan Korboński. Mr. President, on behalf of former underground Home Army soldiers, who celebrate this month the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw uprising, in my native Poland and throughout the world, and who are presently here, I thank you very much for what you said about our history, about Warsaw uprising, about your understanding of the Yalta agreement, and about Solidarity, which, in my opinion, is also underground, but which fights for freedom and independence of Poland by other means than arms.
Your words broadcast to Poland by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe will bring a new inspiration, new hope, to our people in Poland. To what you said about the Warsaw uprising, I want only to add a few words.
First of all, that you, our American allies, contributed to this heroic struggle. On the 18th of September, American Air Force armada welcomed enthusiastically by the embattled population of Warsaw, parachuted very badly needed supplies.
Mr. President, 1984 is not a year for mourning. It is true that we have suffered tremendous human and material losses during the uprising. But they were well balanced by the immaterial, spiritual, moral gains. In these defeats, they were seeds of victory. Warsaw uprising demonstrated to the whole world the indomitable Polish spirit — our unshakable will to live free and independent.
From then, 36 years later, Solidarity was born. There would be no Solidarity in 1980 if there were no Warsaw uprising in 1944. Mr. President, such spirit, such will are not alien to you. You practice them daily in the pursuit of your foreign policy.
Mr. Stefan Korboński. Mr. President, I, as the last chief of the Polish wartime underground State, thank you very much for bestowing these high American military decorations on our dead national heroes — General Rowecki, Komorowski, and Okulicki, who were my close friends. And in order to express our gratitude for your unshakable support for the Polish cause, I have the great honor to decorate you with the Home Army Cross.
The President. Thank you very much.
Note: The President spoke at 1:09 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.
In his opening remarks, the President referred to His Eminence John Cardinal Krol, Archbishop of Philadelphia.
Stefan Stefan Korboński was honorary chairman of the Warsaw Uprising Commemorative Executive Committee and president of the Polish Council of Unity in the United States. ↩
- I am indebted to Polish historian of the Voice of America’s Polish Service Jarosław Jędrzejczak for finding this reference to VOA’s wartime role. ↩
- Address of Hon. Thad F. Wasielewski, of Wisconsin, at the Commemoration of the Attack on Poland
EXTENSION OP REMARKS
HON. THAD F. WASIELEWSKI OF WISCONSIN
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Thursday, September 21,1944
Mr. WASIELEWSKI. Mr. Speaker, under leave granted to extend my remarks in the RECORD, I include the following address delivered by me at the commemoration of the fifth anniversary or the attack on Poland, on September 10, at Pulaski Park, Milwaukee, Wis.:
Mr. Chairman, reverend father, distinguished guests, my fellow Americans, September 1 last marked the fifth anniversary of the dastardly attack of Nazi Germany upon peace-loving Poland and the beginning of the most barbaric and ruthless conflagration and slaughter experienced in the Christian era. We exercised every honorable means to keep out of the war but, ultimately, we were compelled to get into it to save not only ourselves but also the entire civilized world.
Though, according to press reports, Poland was conquered after about a month of heroic and stubborn fighting against overwhelming odd, her people and her soldiers still fight on various war theaters of the globe. Almost daily we read of the valiant and courageous fighting of the Poles in the thick of the battle through France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, and into the Reich. They have distinguished themselves also in north Africa. Poland’s Air Forces have played an important role in the early Battle of Britain that followed Dunkerque. It was the Polish air men who carried a substantial burden of this battle. At times, the Poles comprised almost one-half of the British air fighting force. Even today the Polish airmen play an important role in the daily attacks upon Berlin and other German cities. In the meantime, Hitler continues his butchery of women, children, and aged men. He has more than a hundred and fifty thousand of these unfortunate people in a concentration camp only a few miles outside of Warsaw, where they are subjected to the most diabolic and inhuman cruelty before they meet with merciful death. Not far to the east of Warsaw stands a mighty Russian Army. For some unknown reason it has remained frozen in its tracks and has made no advance for more than 5 weeks, except that only a couple of days ago it began a movement to encircle the city.
The Polish underground is said to be the best organized and most militarylike to be found in any of the occupied countries. Its members are not mere guerillas but are organized military fighting units. Three divisions of the Polish underground forces assisted and played an important role in the capture of the city of Wilno by the Russian forces. At least two divisions participated in the capture of Lwow. Many units played and play an important role in the Russian victories in Poland. Even long before the Russian Armies entered Poland the Polish underground sabotaged and impeded the progress of the German drive to the east and their subsequent retreat back west. To give a graphic picture of its fine work one need but cite that during the month of July 1944 more than 1,200 German locomotives were destroyed by the underground forces in occupied Europe. Of that total more than 900 were destroyed by the Poles. Yet, at the request of Soviet Russia both Great Britain and the United States ceased sending arms and supplies to the Polish underground in March of this year. Russia, however, sent no supplies. Nevertheless, they carry on. When late in July of this year Moscow requested that the Polish underground get out into the open and fight the Germans, the entire valiant fighting organization throughout Poland answered the call of its Government in London. However, because they haven’t received any equipment or supplies for several months, they soon found themselves without arms and ammunition. General Bór made repeated pleas for assistance to the underground in Warsaw. Russia, however, stood fast. In fact, her army stopped her fast-moving march at the very gates of Warsaw.
Token supplies were flown to the heroic fighters at Warsaw from Italy by the English and Polish fliers. But the losses suffered were so heavy and the supplies actually delivered so small that the American and British Governments requested that Soviet Russia make available suitable landing fields in order that shuttle system of supplies to the Polish underground might be established. Moscow refused. It is not my purpose to make any accusation, but it is reasonable, since both Russia and Poland are our allies, to raise the question: “Why?”
Let us pray that the great Russian Army will not continue its passive attitude until the remaining Poles in occupied Poland are annihilated. Let us hope that they will renew their march on Berlin at once. A brave, courageous, and liberty-loving people, who have suffered so much and continue to do so should not be sacrificed upon the altar of politics and intrigue. In order to assure
lasting peace in Europe, a strong and independent Poland is essential. A strong and independent Poland can be created only upon a foundation of justice and mutual respect. If our common enemy is to be allowed to strangle the living on Poland’s soil. Poland can never expect to be great or strong. In all decency, humanity, morality, and justice, Poland and the Polish people deserve a better fate.
As Americans of Polish ancestry, the cause of Poland is naturally close to our hearts. However, even if our ancestors did not come from that liberty-loving land, we should be interested in a free and independent Poland. We have pledged and promised ourselves repeatedly that when this war is won, we must establish a lasting peace. Poland has never been an aggressor nation. Wars have come to eastern Europe only when Poland was weak and consequently attacked by her neighbors. History definitely indicates that one of the surest guarantees of peace In eastern Europe is a strong and independent Poland. If we are to keep faith with our men and women in the services and assure a lasting peace after victory, then we must assure the world of a strong and independent Poland. ↩
- America’s Duty to Poland
EXTENSION OF REMARKS
HON. CHARLES A. WOLVERTON
OF NEW JERSEY
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Wednesday, September 20,1944
Mr WOLVERTON of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, the plight of the people of Poland, and, especially the heroic defenders of Warsaw, creates not only feeling of deep sympathy but, also a feeling that a great injustice has been done them by the Nations from whom they had a right to expect help even at this late date.
The whole situation, from the time that Poland was urged by Britain and France to defy Hitler in 1939 until the present time presents a situation that is hard to understand. It cannot be explained upon any reasonable basis, especially, the happenings since July 30 of this year, when Russia called to the underground forces of Poland to strike at their Nazi overlords.
For more than a year a Russian Government-operated radio station had been in contact with the Polish underground forces. Time and again it had broadcast orders and instructions in preparation for an uprising against the retreatng Nazi army.
On July 30 of this year this Moscow station ordered the Polish underground at Warsaw to come out in the open and protect bridges, telephone exchanges, power plants and other points of military importance. The Nazi’s were then in full retreat from eastern Poland, and, the Russians promised to keep them moving.
With this command ringing in their ears, like a clarion call to duty, the Polish underground arose with patriotic fervor on August 1, against the Nazi forces in Warsaw. Nearly 35,000 men under the command of Lt. Gen. Tadeusz Komorowski, now known to be the “General Bór” of whom we have read, arose, and, with valor and courage entered into action.
Although the Russian Army was within 8 miles of Warsaw at that time, for some unknown reason they did not advance. Consequently, the Polish forces fighting within Warsaw were left without the support they had a right to expect from an ally fighting a common enemy.
The situation facing the Poles soon became serious as their forces were being constantly lessened by death, and their need for ammunition and food daily increasing. They fought valiantly. Frantic appeals for help were broadcast first to Russia, then to Britain and to the United States. There was no response, although it is officially known that the appeals were received. Hopeful until the ￼last these men of Poland fought with the courage and heroism that is characteristic of the Polish soldier. But no help came even though it would have been an easy matter to have delivered guns, ammunition and food by airplanes based upon airfields in the hands of the Russians and located within 30 miles of Warsaw. Nor was there any advance of Russian armies to their relief. Nor was relief sent from any other Allied source.
Is it is not strange that finally, after weeks of valiant fighting, defeat came to this heroic band of Polish patriots. Men, though actuated by the highest order of patriotism, could not succeed aginst such odds as they were called upon to face.
Why has such treatment been accorded to the loyal people of Poland? There is no country in Europe whose people are more firmly attached to the principles of liberty and freedom than the Poles. They have fought and died for the perpetuation of these ideals through centuries of time. They have been tolerant to people of all races and creeds. They have been honest and just
in their dealings with all nations. They have cooperated in all efforts to establish world peace.
This Nation, as the leading exponent of liberty in all the world, must take up the cause of Poland. We have no right to stand by, and, with folded hands permit those with whom we are associated in this great war effort to deny to Poland the very rights for which this war is being fought.
America has made a great contribution to the winning of the war. We have given of our best blood. We have given lavishly of our wealth and resources. All of this has been done on the basis that right must triumph over might. Therefore, this Nation will fail in the fulfillment of its duty unless we see to it that the principles of right and justice are beneficially applied to Poland and the weaker nations who look to us as their protector. Their rights must be protected. The cause of Poland must be made the cause of America. To this I pledge my full cooperation and support.” ↩
- “Appeasement of Russia grew by the hour both in London and Washington. To the anxious Poles in London it seemed as if both the British and American people felt shameful about their inability to open the second front for which Stalin now clamored. Communist propaganda, which stressed the activities of the Red Army and neglected all Russian depredations, made its weight felt on the Allied free press.” (p. 25)
“The picture of Russia became distorted. Ambassador Jan Ciechanowski reported from Washington that pro-Soviet elements had moved into important places in some of the United States war agencies and that any American who attempted to bring up such distasteful matters, as for instance, the cold-blooded murders of the Polish, Jewish Socialist leaders—Henryk Ehrlich and Wiktor Alter—was pilloried as a ‘Fascist saboteur and German spy.’” (p. 25)
“In the end Roosevelt asked me to see Stalin. I agreed instantly, and he dispatched a message to the Marshal asking him to receive me. It was a flattering message, couched in informal terms. Before I left the White House for the last time, Roosevelt promised to help the Polish underground, indicated a willingness to aid in the enormous task of rehabilitating postwar Poland—he mentioned loans for a highway program and the extension of rural electrification—and assured me that the OWI broadcasts about which I had complained would be changed.” (p. 61) ↩
- “As a high light of this pro-Soviet psychosis, which was being actively instilled in the minds of American public opinion from official quarters, I should mention the refusal I got from the OWI when I asked this agency to help me in obtaining the rectification of maps of Poland which then appeared in the current issue of the Encyclopedia Britannica Atlas.”
“While agreeing with me that a rectification was desirable, considering that these maps showed a final incorporation into Russia of the territories given by Hitler to the Soviets during the Russo-German honeymoon in 1939 and 1940, the OWI officials contended that any rectification might annoy the Soviets and this they were not prepared to risk.” (pp. 115-116)
“But, curiously enough, while some government departments realized the danger of unduly encouraging Soviet-Russian appeasement, some of the new war agencies actively conducted what could only be termed pro-Soviet propaganda.”
So-called American propaganda broadcasts 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.”
“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.”
“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.” (pp. 130-131)
(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 Katyń 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.”
“He promised he would try to do so.” (p. 161)
“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.” (p. 201)
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.”
“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.” (p. 264)
(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.” (p. 267) ↩