Deportations of Poles to Siberia noted in 1940 Congressional Record

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.

Mainstream U.S. media was generally silent on the Soviet deportations of Poles and other ethnic groups during World War II. This was true even while Russia was still in alliance with Nazi Germany from August 1939 until June 1941 and was still considered in the United States as a major threat to world peace, except among American communists and Soviet sympathizers. The fact that Senator Danaher noted the Soviet deportations already on February 8, 1940 is intriguing since the first wave of massive wartime deportations of the Polish civilian population started two days later on February 10, 1940. The placement of the resolution in the Congressional Record shows that while most of America was oblivious to such Soviet crimes, Polish-Americans and their ethnic media knew about the earlier deportations of Polish citizens under Soviet occupation and were able to alert their elected representatives. These interventions by U.S. lawmakers, however, had very little effect on pro-Soviet officials in the Roosevelt administration, especially in the Office of War Information (OWI), which was created in 1942, and among its communist-leaning Voice of America (VOA) broadcasters.1

Other ethnic groups in the United States–Lithuanian-Americans, Latvian-Americans, Estonian-Americans, Ukrainian-Americans–also knew about the deportations to Siberia from the countries of their origins. Their efforts to publicize them in the United States likewise met with limited effect in the face of massive Soviet propaganda being reinforced by U.S. government propaganda. Senator Danaher was among several members of the U.S. Congress from both parties who later in the war tried to curb pro-Soviet propaganda directed at Americans and foreign audiences by the U.S. Office of War Information and tried to warn the Roosevelt administration about communist sympathizers being in charge of Voice of America broadcasts.

The resolution printed in the Congressional Record in February 1940 referred to the deportations undertaken shortly after the Soviet invasion and occupation of eastern Poland in September 1939. The secret provisions of the August 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact allowed Hitler to launch World War II with the German attack on Poland on September 1. The Soviet attack on Poland followed on September 17. After they occupied eastern Poland, the Soviets immediately began to arrest members of the Polish intelligentsia and later expanded their arrests and deportations to the general population. While the estimates vary, over a million Polish citizens are believed to have been deported between 1939 and 1941. Over a period of close to two years of captivity, hundreds of thousands of Poles, mainly children and the elderly, died during the transport and later from executions, slave labor, malnutrition, harsh weather, lack of proper housing and clothing, and lack of medical treatment. Only some of the survivors were evacuated from Russia to Iran in 1942 and became refugees and also victims of propaganda and disinformation by both the Soviet Union and the Roosevelt administration, both trying to hide what happened to the Poles who had been Stalin’s prisoners.


RESOLUTION OF THE STAR OF LIBERTY SOCIETY, POLISH NATIONAL ALLIANCE
 
Mr. DANAHER. Mr. President. I present for appropriate reference a resolution addressed to the Congress, and adopted by 300 members of the Star of Liberty Society, Group 803, Polish National Alliance of the United States, of Stamford, Conn., which I ask may be printed in the RECORD.
 
There being no objection, the resolution was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations and ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
 
We, the 300 members of the Star of Liberty Society of Stamford. Conn., Group 803, of the Polish National Alliance of the United States, gathered at a meeting in Stamford, Conn., this 14th day of January 1940, unanimously adopt the following resolution, which our secretary is directed to submit to the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States, in Congress assembled, with our fervent prayer that same be kindly accepted and considered:
 
“Whereas we Americans of Polish extraction recognize that Poland, the land of our forefathers, has been brutally and mercilessly attacked and divided by Germany and Russia, clandestinely working in unison with their ultimate goal being the destruction of the Polish nation and people;

“Whereas the mass murder and executions of men, women, and children, the arrest and imprisonment of Polish scholars and professors at the Jagiellonian University of Krakow as well as at other Polish institutions of learning and culture [by the Germans], as well as the commandeering and requisitioning of all the requisites of life such as food, shelter, and clothing, the interference with Red Cross and other relief organizations, the deportation [by the Soviets] of large numbers of Poles to Siberia, further substantiate our belief that the ultimate goal of the barbaric invaders is the destruction of Poland;
  “Whereas in furtherance of their aims, as outlined above, the German Government is expropriating and evicting the Poles from their lands and settling thereon Germans brought from all corners of Europe and especially from the Baltic States and the Balkans:
 
“Therefore we, as Americans of Polish descent, having behind us a heritage of a people who for centuries were the bulwark of Christianity, civilization, and democracy, appeal to your honorable body and to our fellow Americans to take cognizance of the unhappy fate of the Polish people during this the darkest period In its history of the cruelty perpetrated upon the Polish nation, a country whose ideas of liberty, democracy, and freedom of opportunity were and are so much in common with those of these United States of America.
 
“Therefore we protest against the occupation and temporary partition of Poland by the two dictatorial powers of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia who have neither legal right nor pretext to the military and political occupation of a land whose people through the centuries have shown their ability to maintain a democratic form of government.
 
“Therefore we appeal to all men of good will and understanding to stop the attempted extermination of innocent people whose only guilt was their desire to preserve their Identity, culture, and freedom as well as their pledge to respect and honor their treaty obligations; be it also
 
“Resolved, That we express our deepest gratitude and thanks to the Government of the United States of America for granting recognition to the present Polish Government, located in France, thus proving to the world that it does not approve of the partition of Poland by the invading powers. In conclusion be it
 
Resolved, That we all, present here, swear and affirm our whole- hearted loyalty and allegiance to the United States of America and as loyal citizens hope that this resolution be accepted in the sa>me spirit of sympathy and Justice in which it was drawn.”
 
W.S. JOSIENSKI, President.2
 


 

 

Photo Credits

  • Title: Washington, D.C., Feb. 17. A new informal picture of Senator John A. Danaher, Republican of Connecticut, 2-17-39
  • Creator(s): Harris & Ewing, photographer
  • Date Created/Published: 1939 February 17.
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
  • Link

  • Title: Connecticut Senator. Washington, D.C., May 31. A new informal photograph of Senator Francis T. Maloney, Democrat of Connecticut
  • Creator(s): Harris & Ewing, photographer
  • Date Created/Published: [19]39 May 31.
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
  • Link


 

 

Notes

  1. Not all high-level officials in the Roosevelt administration were in favor of appeasing Stalin. A few progressive New Deal Democrats, including Roosevelt’s close friend and advisor Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, warned the White House about Soviet influence in the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) and its overseas radio division which produced what would later be called Voice of America (VOA) programs. Welles told the White House in April 1943 in a secret memo that the first VOA director John Houseman was hiring communists. The State Department, supported by the U.S. Army Intelligence, refused to issue a U.S. passport to Houseman for government travel abroad. Houseman was forced to resign. Welles’ compliant was not publicized. Welles’ memo to the White House remained classified for several decades. Sumner Welles also played a key role in arranging for getting Mexico to accept a group of Polish children refugees and for U.S. assistance for Polish refugees. See: Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles April 6, 1943 memorandum to Marvin H. McIntyre, Secretary to the President with enclosures, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum Website, Box 77, State – Welles, Sumner, 1943-1944; version date 2013, http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/_resources/images/psf/psfb000259.pdf.
  2. 86 Cong. Rec. (Bound) – Senate: February 8, 1940, 1206, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GPO-CRECB-1940-pt2-v86/pdf/GPO-CRECB-1940-pt2-v86.pdf .
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