By Herbert Romerstein
When the Nazis announced on April 12, 1943 that they had found the bodies of thousands of Polish officers who had been murdered by the Soviets in Katyn forest, most Americans did not believe them. The Nazis were known to commit mass murder and the extensive propaganda campaign in the United States in support of the Soviet Union had affected the thinking of most Americans.
But the Poles knew the truth. They had been asking the Soviets about the missing men for almost two years. And some Americans knew the truth because they understood the Soviet Union and its history. But, it took some time before these voices of truth could be heard.
The Soviets broke relations with the Polish Government in exile in London because the Poles had asked for an International Red Cross investigation. The Soviets claimed to have been insulted. And they used that as an excuse for recognizing a puppet Polish government that the Soviets set up in Lublin.
The American communists joined in the Soviet propaganda campaign. Corliss Lamont, a millionaire communist propagandist, wrote “Soviet Russia’s severance of relations with the Polish Government-in-Exile, over the Nazi-inspired charge that the Russians murdered 10,000 Polish army officers, shows clearly the danger to the United Nations of the splitting tactics engineered by Hitler and definitely helped along by the general campaign of anti-Soviet propaganda carried on during recent months in Britain and America. According to the London Bureau of the New York Herald Tribune, ‘It is a safe assumption that the Poles would not have taken so tough an attitude toward the Soviet Government if it had not been for the widespread support Americans have been giving them in the cases of Henry Ehrlich and Victor Alter.’”
The reference was to the widespread protests by Jewish and trade union organizations when the Soviets admitted that they had executed Ehrlich and Alter who were leaders of the “Bund”, the Jewish trade union organization. According to the communist Lamont, “The shameful anti-Soviet agitation around the Alter-Ehrlich case was followed by the collaboration with Goebbels’ propaganda around the German mass murders of Poles.” The Polish government had protested to the Soviets about Ehrlich and Alter.
Lamont also quoted from “Professor Lange at the University of Chicago” in support of the communist line. We now know that Oscar Lange had been recruited as an agent of the NKVD by Boleslaw Gebert.
Gebert himself wrote communist propaganda in support of the Soviet Union’s false story. In one of his pamphlets, he attacked the commander of the Polish forces fighting in Italy against the Nazis, General Marjan Kukiel. According to Gebert, who was sitting safely in the United States, General Kukiel, who was leading troops in combat against the Nazis, was “Siding with the Germans in their accusations that the Soviet Union was responsible for slaughtering Polish officers and soldiers in the forest of Katyn. The world knew that this unspeakable crime was the work of the Germans….” His pamphlet was published by the communist front “Polonia Society of the International Workers Order”. He was the head of that organization, which, of course, did not speak for the majority of Polish-Americans.
Not only did communists and NKVD agents carry out the propaganda campaign but, unfortunately, the United States government helped them. The Office of War Information (OWI) tried to intimidate the Polish-American radio stations and newspapers when they told the truth about the Soviet atrocity against the Poles.
Alan Cranston was head of the Foreign Language Division of the OWI and later a U.S. Senator from California. He called a meeting of OWI officials because the Polish-American radio stations “had taken a rather antagonistic attitude toward Russia” on the Katyn forest issue. Cranston felt that this “was inimical to the war effort and should be straightened out”. The radio stations and newspapers were contacted and threatened with being closed down if they continued to tell the truth about the Soviet Union.