U.S. Government propaganda photo: Polish refugee boy

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo, 1943

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This U.S. Government propaganda photo showing a Polish refugee 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. Such photos taken earlier by a U.S. Army officer, Lt. Col. Henry I. Szymanski, remained classified until 1952 and still cannot be easily found online. Likewise, OWI’s early Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts did not mention the Soviet mass murder of Polish prisoners of war and intellectual leaders in 1940. VOA did not report on inhuman 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 and where thousands had died from back-breaking work, malnutrition, illnesses and other forms of abuse.

VOA’s radio broadcasts for foreign audiences and a broadcast by OWI Director Elmer Davis targeting Americans spread instead Soviet propaganda lies about the mass executions of Polish prisoners in Soviet Russia known collectively as the Katyń Forest massacre by blaming it falsely on the Germans. Americans and foreigners alike were misled by Roosevelt administration’s propaganda about Stalin and the Soviet regime–a point highlighted in congressional criticism after the war.

There are thousands of public domain photographs online showing the victims from Nazi extermination and concentration camps and scenes of other German atrocities, but finding even a single photo of a former Polish adult male prisoner in the Soviet Gulag or a Polish mother and child as they really looked shortly after coming out of Russia during World War II is nearly impossible. In an incredible affront to historical truth. The no longer intentional but still real legacy of silence and disinformation about these Polish children refugees, many of them orphans, their mothers and fathers, and most other victims of Soviet communism–the deception which the Roosevelt administration propaganda agency had initiated during the war in support of Soviet disinformation, continues largely unchallenged to this day. It is a worrisome testimony to the lasting effects of even decades-long attempts to manipulate public opinion, in this case in U.S. government’s collusion with a foreign power ruled by a totalitarian regime.

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, strongly implied that Roosevelt administration officials hid, suppressed and censored information about Soviet atrocities. The committee 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.”1

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.

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Photo Credits

U.S. Government Propaganda Photo

US Government Propaganda Photo, OWI. Teheran, Iran, 1943.
  • Title: Teheran, Iran. Teheran, Iran. Polish youngster carrying an armload of loaves of bread made from Red Cross flour at an evacuation camp
  • Creator(s): Parrino, Nick, photographer
    Date Created/Published: 1943.
  • 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

  1. 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 after its chairman, Ray Madden (D-IN), 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.
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