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For Poland’s Freedom From Beyond The Green Border – The Story of Radio Free Europe and Voice of America Broadcaster Marek Walicki


Marek Walicki, Voice of America, circa 1990.

Marek Walicki, a journalist and former broadcaster of the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe (RFE) and the Polish Service of the Voice of America (VOA), is the author of a book,  Z Polski Ludowej do Wolnej Europy (From People’s Poland to Free Europe), a memoir of his life and radio career. First published in Polish in 2018 by the Bellona publishing house in Warsaw, his book has been expanded with new chapters and republished in 2023, also in Polish, by Wydawnictwo Ossolineum, part of the prestigious national cultural foundation, library, archives, and research center in Wrocław, Poland.

Walicki’s adventure with broadcasting started when he found employment in 1952 at the Voice of Free Poland (later renamed the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe), a radio station in Munich secretly organized and funded by the U.S. government and initially managed by the CIA. There, he worked as a monitor of radio broadcasts from communist-ruled Poland and later as an author of programs and news reports. After emigrating to the United States in 1955 and working in a series of blue-collar and white-collar jobs, he was rehired within a few years by RFE’s Polish Service Bureau in New York. After its liquidation, he worked since 1976 at the Voice of America in Washington, DC, becoming the chief of the VOA Polish Service in 1993 before his retirement in 1994. In 2000, the government of Poland awarded Marek Walicki the Gold Cross of Merit for exemplary public service. In 2010, he received the Commander’s Cross of Polonia Restituta for outstanding achievements. Marek Walicki lives now in the Washington, D.C. area. He is a collector of works by Polish artists and is recognized as a leading expert in the United States on Polish painters of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

I retired with a sense of a well-fulfilled duty, having lived to see a free and independent Poland.

Marek Walicki

This review was written by Ted (Tadeusz) Lipień, Marek Walicki’s former colleague at the Voice of America. Now an independent journalist, he was the VOA Polish Service chief in the 1980s and served as RFE/RL president in 2020-2021. Since Marek Walicki wrote his book for Polish readers, the review includes background information about Poland’s recent history and international radio broadcasting from World War II to the end of the Cold War.

For Poland’s Freedom From Beyond The Green Border – The Story of Radio Free Europe and Voice of America Broadcaster Marek Walicki

By Ted Lipien for Cold War Radio Museum

Crossing the Green Border for a Life in Exile

The term “green border” had acquired a special meaning in Poland during World War II and the Cold War. It meant crossing borders in search of freedom – leaving without permission from the political authorities when they would not grant it or when seeking it could result in imprisonment. The Poles fleeing from the Russian Empire or Prussia (today’s Germany) in the 19th century for political reasons also used this phrase. For Americans, a green border may conjure an image of a hike through a green forest or meadow, but after World War II, crossing the green borders, an always hazardous enterprise, became even more dangerous. The Soviet Union and its communist satellite states turned them into the Iron Curtain, closely watched by communist guards ready to shoot anyone who managed to breach barbed wires, minefields, and rugged terrain.

After the Soviet-imposed communist regime took control of Poland and established a totalitarian Stalinist dictatorship, Marek Walicki had to sneak through two heavily guarded borders to escape in 1949 to freedom in the American occupation zone in Germany. At the time of his escape, he had just turned 18. The Iron Curtain was already in place. Unlike some other escapees, he was not looking primarily for a better and safer life in the West. He thought he could return with the Americans as a Polish soldier to liberate his country from communism and foreign domination. When this plan proved entirely unrealistic, which Marek realized within a few days after crossing into Germany, he spent most of his adult life abroad in the service of his native country and the United States after the U.S. government employed him as a journalist to oppose Soviet propaganda and Moscow’s military conquests. His life’s new mission was to pierce and destroy information barriers separating Poland and the rest of East-Central Europe from the Free World, hoping that such work would eventually bring freedom and democracy to those he had left behind.

Marek’s book lets readers see his struggle with communist totalitarianism and its propaganda and, to a lesser degree, see what it took for him to overcome the difficulties of being a political refugee and an immigrant in America. He presents his story of a patriotic and idealistic Pole driven by a great sense of duty instilled in him by his family, teachers, and Catholic priests. As a journalist, he showed dedication in carrying out his professional responsibilities and devotion to the highest ethical standards. He saw his work for the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe (RFE) and the Voice of America (VOA) as protecting the truth, not only from the lies of communist totalitarians but also from those in the West who were duped by Soviet propaganda. Now living in retirement in his early 90s, Marek Walicki says with justifiable pride that he helped to secure freedom and independence for his country. His book records his life’s work, from crossing the “green borders” of the Iron Curtain to reporting on the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe.

I decided to escape to the so-called West – to choose the freedom I had longed for since the German occupation.

Marek Walicki

Childhood and War

Born on February 9, 1931, in Poland’s capital city of Warsaw, Marek Walicki grew up in a well-to-do Polish intelligentsia family between the two world wars. As a child, he only experienced life in independent Poland for a few years. Before 1918, Poland was ruled for 123 years by Prussia, Russia, and Austria. More than a century of existence under foreign domination and several failed uprisings against the occupying powers had a profound effect on how the Poles saw themselves and their duties as citizens of once again a free nation and how they responded later to the Nazi and Soviet occupation at the start of World War II and the imposition of communism in Poland with the help of the Red Army and the Soviet NKVD secret police after the war.

Polish children of Marek’s generation who grew up between the two world wars were raised in the tradition of love and sacrifice for their country to ensure that Poland would remain free. Today, these virtues might be dismissed as ugly nationalism by some in the West who never lost freedom or their national independence. But Marek and many other Poles who fought against Nazi Germany and resisted communism were hardly imperialists or oppressors like the German Nazis or Soviet Communists. They were idealists willing to sacrifice everything, even their lives, for freedom and free Poland. The worst they could be accused of was taking excessive risks to defend liberty. Marek and his young friends in pre-World War II Warsaw were brought up on the works of 19th-century Polish literature about the struggles against the occupying powers. In describing his early childhood, Marek writes about family gatherings, at which adults and children read excerpts from Pan Tadeusz, an epic poem by the Polish Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz, describing one of several unsuccessful insurrections against the Russian occupiers.

These patriotic traditions were especially powerful in the homes of the Polish intelligentsia, composed chiefly of upper-middle-class professionals, many derived from the families of the Polish gentry. Łada was the Walicki family’s coat of arms. Both of Marek’s parents were dentists. Before the war, the family lived in a spacious ten-room Warsaw apartment, where his father and mother, Leon and Lidia Walicki, also had offices where they received patients. Marek had a half-brother, Michał Walicki, from his father’s first marriage, a noted Polish art historian, and a younger brother, Ryszard.

While not nearly as rich as some of the aristocratic Polish families, the Walickis could afford to employ a housekeeper-nanny for their two young boys and to send them to spend summer vacations in the countryside, although they usually stayed at the homes of family members or homes of close friends. In his book, Marek writes about his parents’ friendship with the aristocratic Branicki family. These connections proved useful later, helping them survive the German occupation when the Branickis took them into their home during the war after they had lost their apartment in Warsaw due to bombing.

Marek was only eight years old when his and his younger brother’s childhood was interrupted by the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and communist Soviet Russia in September 1939. The unprovoked aggression against Poland by the two totalitarian powers started the Second World War. He and his brother, staying at the time in the countryside in the care of their nanny, were separated from their parents for several weeks, and, for the first time in his life, Marek experienced prolonged hunger. Still a child but already showing courage and initiative, he would leave the house and walk to a neighbor’s home to ask for milk for his hungry and crying brother or go to a nearby town to buy bread. They were later reunited with their mother, who came from Warsaw to fetch them, but his younger brother did not recognize her and started crying.

Illustration from the U.S. Office of War Information pamphlet Tale of a City published in 1942 when Poland was not yet seen by the OWI’s Roosevelt administration officials as a major obstacle to the appeasement of Joseph Stalin. The caption was: “Nazis dare not travel alone in the streets …”
Illustration from the 1942 U.S. Office of Information Tale of a City pamphlet. The caption was: “Carts went through the streets to pick up the dead left lying there …” It depicts the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw.
Illustration from the 1942 U.S. Office of Information Tale of a City pamphlet. The caption was: “Blasted from its pedestal, Chopin’s monument was melted down …”

Next came the five years of the German occupation of his homeland. Marek Walicki mentions the Nur für Deutsche (“Only for Germans”) sign at the entrance to the Łazienki Park (Park Łazienkowski), the largest park in Warsaw. The park, where he used to play before the war, was near their home in the city center. It has the famous Frédéric Chopin Monument, the first monument the Germans destroyed in Warsaw during their occupation of the city. The “Only for Germans” warnings to the Poles were not unlike the “For Whites Only” signs that could still be seen for many more years after the war in some parts of the United States. But the Germans inflicted on the Polish Jews and ethnic Poles crimes never seen before in modern history and hard to imagine by those living in the free West: street roundups and executions, deportations for forced labor in Germany, torture and death in Gestapo prisons and concentration camps, and the extermination of Poland’s three million Jews. The death toll of ethnic Poles under the German occupation is estimated at 2,770,000 and 150,000 due to repressions under the Soviet occupation.

Marek Walicki describes some of the horrors of World War II from the perspective of a young boy. Still not old enough to fight with weapons, he writes about painting patriotic signs on city walls and breaking windows in the city apartments taken over by the Germans. As a young teenager, he observed the deadly 1944 Warsaw Uprising from his refuge home on the periphery of the city, followed by the defeat of the Nazi occupiers by the Soviet Red Army in 1945. He also describes the brutal imposition of communist rule in Poland after the war, with the arrests and killings of “reactionary bandits,” as the Communists called former soldiers of the anti-Nazi Polish underground army. Earlier, the Germans simply called these Polish fighters “bandits,” and an American journalist who was a communist sympathizer described them to American readers as “Home Army terrorists,” using one of the Soviet propaganda terms for anyone who opposed communism.1

Polish Boy Scouts fighting in the Warsaw Uprising. Jerzy Tomaszewski, Epizody Powstania Warszawskiego, Warsaw: Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza, Anna Świrszczyńska “Swir” (1984) Budowałam Barykadę, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, pp. s.35. Warsaw Uprising: Soldiers from the “Radosław Regiment” after several hours marching through sewers from Krasiński Square to Warecka Street in the Śródmieście district, early morning on September 2, 1944. The boy in helmet is Tadeusz “Maszynka” Rajszczak, and the boy to to the right is Michał “Pestka” Lach from the Miotła Battalion.

As a twelve-year-old in 1943, Marek Walicki was still too young to be one of the Home Army soldiers, but true to his patriotic upbringing, he joined the Gray Ranks (Szare Szeregi), a codename for the anti-Nazi underground paramilitary unit of the Polish Scouting Association (Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego – ZHP). The Home Army (Polish: Armia Krajowa; abbreviated AK) was one of Europe’s largest anti-Nazi underground resistance movements during World War II. With about 400,000 members in 1944, its loyalty was to the Polish Government-in-Exile in London and the Polish Underground State. In contrast, the People’s Army (Polish: Armia Ludowa; abbreviated AL), which was loyal to Moscow, had only several thousand members in Nazi-occupied Poland. Soviet propaganda statements, repeated by pro-communist Western journalists, falsely claimed that Armia Ludowa was the largest and the most active underground resistance movement in Poland.

None of Marek’s young life’s tragic historical events and challenges broke his spirit. If anything, they made him more determined to fight against foreign and domestic oppressors by whatever means available and wherever he could, even if it meant leaving his home and country and not being able to return for the rest of his life. As he was planning to leave Poland for the free West, Marek still hoped that he would return soon to liberate his homeland.

Hitler-Stalin Pact

As for many Poles of his generation, the right-wing and left-wing totalitarians determined the course of Marek Walicki’s life. He was only eight years old when Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia became allies and started World War II in September 1939 by invading and dividing Poland. The Poles were the first nation to put up armed resistance against German aggression. They were the first to fight Hitler, just as they were the first to resist communism after the war and the first to cause its collapse in the Soviet Bloc. But in 1939, they needed outside help to defend their country, not just against one but two totalitarian powers. One of them was Stalinist Russia. Poland’s Western allies, France and Great Britain did not open a second front in September 1939, as the Polish government had expected based on their promises. The Poles were left to fight alone against a much better-equipped German Army attacking from the west and against a much more powerful Red Army in the east.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, also known as the Hitler-Stalin Pact or the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which helped to launch World War II, was signed in Moscow on August 23, 1939, by German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov. It included a secret protocol that partitioned Central and Eastern Europe between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.  Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered the Soviet invasion of Poland on September 17. Also, under the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the Soviet Union invaded Finland in November 1939 and annexed part of its territory after the Winter War. The League of Nations declared the annexation of Finnish territory illegal and expelled the Soviet Union. In June 1940, also under the terms of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Soviet Russia occupied and annexed Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

Katyn Massacre

Bodies of Polish officers murdered in 1940 by the Soviet NKWD secret police in Katyn.

Marek Walicki describes in his book the scandal at the Voice of America over the censoring of a news report dealing with the Katyn massacre sent from Poland in 1978 by a central English newsroom correspondent, Ron Pemstein. He points out that the VOA report was censored by removing pinning the responsibility for the murders on the Soviet Union, as well as removing 1940 as the year when the massacre occurred. Placing the crime in 1940 would show that the Soviet Union was behind it. The Katyn genocide war crime was one of the most significant events of the war. A conclusion and public announcement that Stalin and the Soviet Union were behind it could have ended the American-British-Soviet alliance against Nazi Germany and would benefit Hitler. Had it become known that Stalin ordered the Katyn massacre, President Roosevelt could not have counted on the support of the American people for his naive plan to build post-war peace by making a deal with the Soviet dictator. Had thousands of American or British military officers been found dead, and it became known that the murderer was the leader of an ally, the alliance might not have survived. Roosevelt hoped that the Polish Government in Exile would keep quiet, and Churchill urged the Polish leaders not to accuse the Soviets of committing the crime. Still, what might have been excused for military expediency during the war seemed inexcusable in planning post-war peace and making long-term deals with Stalin. It was even more inexcusable after the war with Germany and Japan had ended. Making deals with a mass murderer would seem profoundly unwise to the people in America and Great Britain. Yet, Roosevelt, with Churchill somewhat reluctantly going along, had decided to trust Stalin in arranging the post-war world order. Once this mistake was made, the U.S. government’s partial censorship of the Katyn crime, mainly by some of the most liberal leaders and members of President Roosevelt’s Democratic Party, although not all of them, continued for decades after the war, including from time to time at the Voice of America but, significantly, not at Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Some American journalists on the Left also refused to accuse Soviet Russia of committing this crime and presented it as still unresolved.

President Truman, also a Democrat, saw the pro-Soviet tendencies at the bureaucratic Voice of America, placed in the State Department at that time. He approved George Kennan‘s plans for creating a secretly funded U.S. surrogate broadcaster that later became Radio Free Europe to counter Soviet propaganda. However, contrary to Kennan’s suggestion, he put it outside the direct control of the U.S. government bureaucracy and made it a secret CIA operation. The CIA link was later exposed and finally severed in 1972. Since then, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty have been openly funded by the U.S. Congress. President Truman also stopped the censorship of the Katyn story by the Voice of America, but it returned after a few years.

Marek Walicki points out in his book that the American media reported widely on the Katyn censorship scandal when it erupted again at the Voice of America and referred to what Pulitzer Prize-winning American newspaper columnist Jack Anderson wrote about it in June 1978.

In a strange case of censorship, the Voice of America recently tailored a story about a grisly World War II massacre to fit the Soviet distortion of history. American authorities depleted precisely the facts that the Soviet censorship code prohibits the press from publishing behind the iron curtain. There is a poignant human story behind the incident. A bold Polish writer and poet, Andrzej Braun. dared to protest against the Soviet-imposed censorship before the Polish Writers Congress. It was a dangerous, defiant act. which was reported to the Voice of America.2

Marek Walicki wrote that when the attribution of the crime to the Soviet Union was removed from the Voice of America report, most of the VOA Polish Service staff signed a public protest against “this obvious act of censorship.” He also observed that thanks to this protest, Katyn stopped being a taboo topic at the U.S. government’s radio station. It had been a silent topic since the later period of the Truman administration and the first part of the Eisenhower administration, when, for a few years, the Voice of America did report accurately and extensively on the Katyn story. Before 1950, for a few years, VOA avoided reporting on the Katyn massacre or said very little and did not blame the Soviet Union for the crime. During World War II, the Voice of America, both senior officials and VOA journalists, actively embraced and promoted the Soviet Katyn lie.

Marek Walicki also noted that members of Congress joined in the protest against censorship at the Voice of America in favor of the Kremlin, as they often did during World War II and the Cold War. Without their bipartisan protests, VOA would most likely have remained under Moscow’s propaganda influence for much longer after the war, and the censorship during the period of détente would have been much more pervasive. Some of the strongest criticism of the Voice of America management in 1978 came from Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-CA), who inserted in the Congressional Record the text of Jack Anderson’s column and his own remarks under the title, “The VOA As Ministry of Truth.” Rep. Dornan made an interesting observation still applicable to right-wing Russian and extreme Western leftist propaganda today, “Western opponents of communism are often denounced by their critics as ‘fascists,’ a Soviet hate word, even though these men and women are sincere votaries of majority rule, popular sovereignty, political equality, a limited state, and the widest range of personal liberty – in other words everything that could possibly exclude them from embracing the statist doctrine of Fascism.”3 

When the Red Army invaded eastern Poland in September 1939, thousands of Polish officers who had surrendered or were captured became prisoners of war in Russia. Having decided to destroy Poland’s military and intellectual elites to limit future resistance to the expansion of Soviet borders and influence, Stalin secretly ordered the murder of about 22,000 Polish leaders in genocidal executions in the spring of 1940, which later became collectively known as the Katyn massacre. It was an ominous sign of what Poland and the rest of the world could expect from the Soviet dictator, but to get the American and British leaders and Western public opinion to accept Russian control of East-Central Europe, the Soviet government blamed the Germans for committing this atrocity. President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill went along with the Soviet Katyn lie to keep Stalin as an ally against Germany and Japan for the duration of the war.

However, Roosevelt also naively wanted to obtain cooperation from “Uncle Joe,” as FDR endearingly called him, in securing the post-war peace. U.S. government propagandists in the Office of War Information (OWI), which included the Voice of America, then known under various other names, were hard at work trying to sell to Americans and foreign audiences the myth of Stalin as a wise and benevolent leader and Soviet communism as a progressive political, social, and economic system with only minor correctable imperfections. One of several Communists who turned anti-communist and exposed Soviet influence at the Office of War Information, the parent U.S. government agency of the Voice of America, was Oliver Carlson, an American writer, journalist, founder of the Young Communist League of America in his youth, and lecturer at the University of Chicago. Carlson wrote that domestic OWI propaganda programs, which were essentially the same as VOA broadcasts, presented “the Bolshevik regime” just as “a Russian version of our own War for Independence, Lenin a Russian replica of George Washington, Stalin a compendium of Jefferson, Jackson and Lincoln.”4

Fellow Travelers

I thought my rather lengthy historical background was necessary because an English-language review of Marek Walicki’s book should be particularly interesting, even fascinating, to today’s American and other Western journalists. One of many prominent American newspaper reporters who pretended not to know who had committed the Katyn murders was United Press Moscow correspondent Harrison Salisbury, later a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent. He was at the site of the Katyn massacre in 1944 and saw the Soviet lies. Still reporting truthfully on it then or later would have meant he would never have been allowed to return to Soviet Russia for more reporting assignments. He could have also ended up in a Soviet prison. Vladimir Putin still uses the same visa and threat of imprisonment for spying blackmail against foreign correspondents.

Unlike most Americans and most people in Britain and in other Western countries, whom their governments and their journalists deceived about Stalin and Soviet Russia, most well-informed Poles were not fooled by Russian or American propaganda about Katyn during and after World War II. Since the spring of 1943, they knew who was behind the Katyn murders even though the wartime Voice of America, the BBC, and the vast majority of Western journalists eagerly embraced the Soviet hoax. Marek Walicki knew even though he was then a very young man.

In the United States, American communist Howard Fast – also a prolific writer and a later recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize (renamed later the International Lenin Peace Prize) – was in charge of writing and editing Voice of America news when the Germans announced the discovery of the Katyn graves in April 1943. The underground Polish authorities overseeing anti-Nazi military and civilian resistance had their concealed agents among the observers of the German exhumation of the Katyn graves. There was absolutely no doubt from medical and physical evidence that the murders were committed in 1940 when the Soviets were in charge of the Polish military officers and other Polish prisoners of war. To pin the murders on the Germans, Stalin and his propagandists, both Soviet and among Western journalists, insisted that the Polish officers died in 1941 when the area around Katyn was under the control of the German Army. 

The news of the Soviet responsibility for the massacre quickly spread in Poland through word of mouth. Even some of the Polish Communists, especially those who were survivors of Soviet prison camps, privately said that the Soviets carried out the Katyn murders but remained silent in public. Ironically, a former Voice of America Polish Service editor in New York, Stefan Arski (aka Artur Salman), a Socialist Party activist who had returned to Poland after the war and joined the Communist Party, whom Marek Walicki mentions in his book, became the chief anti-American propagandist and defender of the Soviet Katyn lie. Meanwhile, his former Voice of America colleague, Mira Michałowska (employed by VOA as Mira Złotowska), married a high-ranking Polish communist diplomat and published soft pro-regime propaganda in the United States. She informed American readers of Harper’s magazine in 1946 that Polish Communists were committed to observing the rule of law.5

In January 1944, the NKVD secret police arranged a trip to Katyn for Western reporters. All of them knew or suspected that the Soviet regime was lying in claiming that the Germans had been behind the Katyn murders. Still, they all repeated the Soviet lies without any real effort to challenge them and risk arrest or expulsion from the Soviet Union. The only reporter on the 1944 NKVD-arranged trip to Katyn who chose not to file a report and thus repeat the false Soviet claims about the mass murders was an African-American journalist and writer,  Homer Smith, Jr. (1909-1972).6 I wrote in an op-ed that he was a 20th-century fighter for freedom and human dignity, initially fooled by Soviet propaganda but later becoming a critic who deserves to be admired and remembered by more people.7 During World War II, almost all elite Western journalists, including those who were in charge of the Voice of America, repeated Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s lies. However, Homer Smith, who then lived in Russia, chose not to participate in the Kremlin’s propaganda charade. After escaping from the cradle of communism, he later wrote in his book, Black Man in Russia, about his trip to the site of the Katyn massacre.

Kathleen Harriman in U.S. Army uniform at the time she worked as a volunteer for the Office of War Information (OWI), the parent agency of the Voice of America (VOA).

The Soviet propaganda line that Katyn was a German atrocity had been accepted in April 1943 by President Roosevelt, the Office of War Information in Washington, and its Voice of America radio broadcasting division in New York. Propaganda strategies were secretly coordinated between Washington and Moscow by Robert E. Sherwood. He was a Hollywood playwright, President Roosevelt’s speechwriter, and the head of the Overseas Division in the Office of War Information, which placed him in charge of VOA radio broadcasts. He later coordinated American, Soviet, and British propaganda from the OWI office in London. While still in New York, he advised VOA broadcasters in his “Weekly Propaganda Directive,” dated May 1, 1943, that “some Poles” who did not accept the Soviet explanation may be cooperating with Hitler in causing division among the allies. Poland was an anti-Nazi ally of the United States and a Nazi-occupied country where such cooperation with Germany on the part of the underground state, its underground army, and the Polish armed forces fighting the Germans in Italy was beyond unthinkable. After Moscow broke diplomatic relations with the Polish Government-in-Exile over its request for an independent investigation of the Katyn massacre by the International Red Cross, Sherwood was pushing the Soviet propaganda line that the Poles who did not accept the Kremlin’s position on Katyn were supporters of Hitler and Fascism. “Some Poles are consciously or unconsciously cooperating with Hitler in his campaign to spiritually divide the United Nations, Sherwood wrote. 8 To him, Poland may have appeared as a small country in Eastern Europe, and the Poles were an obstacle to President Roosevelt’s plans to win the war and postwar peace with Stalin’s cooperation. Had 15 thousand or more American or British military officers been killed by a still unknown country, it is doubtful that Sherwood would call an American or British appeal to the International Red Cross for conducting an impartial investigation as a sign of support for Hitler.

Western journalists who were pro-Soviet or did not want to be thrown out of Russia, took a similar position and embraced the Soviet propaganda lie on Katyn. One of them who went on the NKVD-arranged expedition to Katyn in 1944 was Kathleen Harriman, an American journalist working during World War II in Great Britain and Russia as an occasional freelance news reporter for the U.S. government’s Office of War Information, which included the Voice of America. In London, she worked for Wallace Carroll, one of OWI’s and Voice of America’s strongest supporters of Soviet Russia and Stalin’s propaganda. She was also the daughter of the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union – young, attractive, rich, and made famous in the Soviet press. Toward the end of her stay in Russia, communist dictator Joseph Stalin gave her a gift – a horse who had served at the battle of Stalingrad – in an unusual gesture of gratitude to an American. He also gave a horse to her father, W. Averell Harriman, the fourth richest man in America in 1946, according to a British illustrated magazine article about Kathleen Harriman, as she prepared to be the embassy hostess at her father’s next ambassadorial post in London.9 In January 1944, as a journalist and her father’s representative when he was U.S. ambassador in Moscow, she helped to save Stalin’s reputation in a secret report she wrote for the State Department in Washington by misinterpreting the evidence of one of his most cruel atrocities. In a victory for Soviet propaganda, she exonerated him of the brutal murders of thousands of Polish military officers. Stalin was grateful to the Harrimans for literally helping him get away with murder.

According to U.S. Ambassador to Poland Arthur Bliss Lane, who served in Warsaw from 1945 until 1947, Kathleen Harriman’s report was the only one in the Katyn file at the State Department when he requested it before starting his ambassadorial assignment. All other reports that could have pointed to the Soviet responsibility for the Katyn massacre were presumably removed by unknown State Department employees. It could have been the work of the convicted perjurer and suspected Soviet spy, American diplomat Alger Hiss, or a Soviet spy, a daughter of affluent Russian immigrants and Barnard College graduate, Flora Don Wovschin (codename “Zora”). During World War II, she was employed at the Office of War Information and the Voice of America library and research unit in New York. She later worked at the State Department before defecting to the Soviet Union.10 When, after the war, the FBI started efforts to identify her and find her, Wovschin fled in 1946 or 1947 to the Soviet Union, where she renounced her American citizenship and married a Russian engineer. The FBI received information that Wovschin later had gone to North Korea to work as a nurse and had died there.11

Three years after she wrote the report about the Katyn massacre with her false conclusion that it was a German rather than a Russian war crime, Kathleen Harriman (Kathleen Mortimer after her marriage) was back in the United States, working as a volunteer for the U.S. government to help launch VOA Russian-language radio broadcasts. She was not responsible for the content of these programs, which went on air for the first time in February 1947. VOA did not broadcast in Russian earlier, even during World War II, apparently in order to avoid offending Stalin. A State Department diplomat, Charles W. Thayer, was in charge of launching the Russian Service and later became VOA director. It was Thayer who recruited Kathleen Harriman as a volunteer employee in violation of government regulations.

As a popular figure with Stalin and the Russians, Kathleen Harriman was a perfect choice to help the head of the newly established Voice of America Russian Service start broadcasts to Russia in 1947. Their purpose was not to point out Soviet human rights abuses or to criticize communist leaders. It was to show that the United States was a friendly country wanting better relations with the Soviet Union. As one of the early VOA Russian broadcasters, Helen Yakobson, recalled, in the first broadcasts to Russia, “No direct criticism or attacks on the Soviet system were permitted.” She further noted, “After all, they had only recently been our allies.”12 The Russian-American intellectual and music composer Nicolas Nabokov, a cousin of writer Vladimir Nabokov of Lolita‘s fame, who helped to launch VOA Russian-language broadcasts, described his brief employment with the Voice of America “as something hilariously funny, earnest in its aims, and as disappointing as sweet-sour pork in a third-class Chinese restaurant.”13 The content of VOA Russian broadcasts only became critical of the Soviet Union and Stalin’s human rights violations after President Truman intervened and announced his “Campaign of Truth” in a foreign policy speech on April 20, 1950, to members of the American Society of Newspaper Editors as the answer to harsh Soviet propaganda attacks on the United States and its allies.  

The Soviet manipulation of Western public opinion was a major and longlasting endeavor helped by many fellow travelers among the Kremlin’s witting or unwitting agents of influence. The role model for the Western journalists who had embraced Soviet propaganda was the New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty, who deliberately lied about the Soviet-engineered famine that took the lives of millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s. As revealed by American journalist and writer Eugene Lyons,  who had worked as a reporter in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, was initially a pro-communist fellow traveler and interviewed Joseph Stalin, but later became a strong critic of Communism and Soviet Russia, Duranty and other Western journalists based in Russia later attacked Welsh reporter Gareth Jones, who told the truth about this unimaginable crime against humanity.14 Yet, still too ashamed to face up to this historic failure of Western journalism, the Pulitzer Prize Board refused in 2003 to take away Duranty’s 1932 Pulitzer Prize. Walicki’s book is, therefore, a valuable resource since the influence of Soviet propaganda has never been eliminated in the United States. It is now experiencing reemergence under Russian President Vladimir Putin, helped this time not by the radically left-leaning but by some of the radically right-leaning American politicians and journalists. 

Some young Americans or even the older ones who watched a recent interview the right-wing American commentator Tucker Carlson conducted with Vladimir Putin and heard the Russian autocratic ruler’s revisionist history may not know that Red Russia also attacked Poland and occupied part of its territory at the start of the Second World War. When I was the Voice of America Polish Service chief in the 1980s, and Marek served as my deputy, Tucker Carlson‘s father, Richard Carlson, was the VOA director (1986 to 1991) and was very supportive of our broadcasts to Poland. He once brought Tucker, then a teenager, to tour VOA services and learn what we were doing. If his son had learned anything from his visit with anti-Soviet VOA broadcasters, it did not help him to challenge the Russian autocrat when, in a lengthy interview, Putin repeated Stalin’s old lies and tried to blame Poland for starting World War II.

The Gulag

The Gulag Museum in Magadan, Russia, 1994.

The truth omitted and distorted in the Carlson-Putin interview was that both Hitler and Stalin had started the war and that soon after annexing eastern Poland, Stalin ordered hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens – men, women, and children – deported in 1940-1941. Whole families, taken from their homes during the night, were packed into cattle trains and sent to Soviet slave labor camps and collective farms. Many, especially the youngest and the eldest, died already during the transport from cold, hunger, and lack of medical care; their dead bodies were sometimes thrown from the trains into the snow, and many more perished in unbearable conditions in Siberia and in other remote parts of the USSR. In one of his “Kolyma Tales,” Russian writer Varlam Shalamov (a Gulag survivor like his friend Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) described the slave labor camps there as “Auschwitz without the ovens.”15 According to estimates by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), roughly 320,000 Polish citizens were deported to the Soviet Union, of which nearly half, 150,000, died under the Soviet rule during World War II as a result of starvation, disease, hard labor, harsh weather, degrading treatment, torture, and executions.

But just as Putin lied to Tucker Carlson and his audience in 2024 and VOA’s most famous Communist Howard Fast misled radio listeners during World War II about the Katyn massacre and other Soviet atrocities, VOA official Dr. Owen Lattimore earnestly told National Geographic magazine readers that workers at the infamous Kolyma gold mines were all volunteers fed hot house tomatoes and other vegetables to improve their diet16, and fellow traveler American journalist Anna Louise Strong, who corresponded with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, tried to convince Americans in her 1946 propaganda book, I Saw The New Poland, that the Poles were not forcibly deported but moved to Siberia; the Soviet authorities provided “kitchens giving [them] food at every station.”17 And even though Putin is much more successful now in duping right-wing Americans and conservative media commentators like Tucker Carlson, the old Soviet and Marxist narratives, still promoted by Russia and its proxies, continue to influence many left-wing journalists, including some who now work for the Voice of America.

Recent media reports revealed that VOA editors and reporters refused to call Hamas “terrorists,” and a few reporters posted antisemitic memes and other such material on social media.18 Young VOA journalists might benefit from reading in Marek Walicki’s book how, in 1941, he risked his life as a ten-year-old fleeing alone without permission from a summer vacation camp to return home in Warsaw as the Germans were hunting for Jews of all ages, including children, in the forest near the ghetto. Marek also writes how, in 1943, his mother brought home a thirteen-year-old boy and introduced him as Zbyszek Mokracki, saying he was an orphan. Marek hoped that Zbyszek would play with him, but he discovered that the boy seemed always sad, did not want to play, and refused to go outside. The Walickis’ apartment was located near the feared Gestapo headquarters. In writing about their new houseguest, Marek also described how thousands of burning pieces of paper were falling from the sky at that time, some of them written in Hebrew. The Germans were burning Jewish homes as they tried to suppress the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising while sending its remaining inhabitants to the gas chambers. After some time, the boy disappeared from their apartment. Marek’s mother told her son later that Zbyszek was Jewish and was sent off to a Polish Catholic convent to keep him out of the Gestapo’s hands.

Marek Walicki’s reminiscences seem particularly relevant today, as hunting for Jews, including children, resumed in the 21st century. Hamas terrorists sought Jews out in Israel to murder or take them as hostages. Sadly, many current VOA news reporters do not see the connection between Hamas and German Nazis and between Soviet Marxist and Putin’s propaganda and their own biases as journalists. In reporting on the admittedly great suffering of Palestinian civilians, they fail to note that Hamas had started the war and could end it by releasing all hostages, stopping the launching of rockets targeting Israeli civilians, and ceasing their terrorist attacks. These journalists rarely refer to rapes and taking hostages by Hamas as war crimes. Unfortunately, Marek Walicki’s book is not yet available in English translation because much could be learned from it by American-born reporters or foreign-born who know little about life under Fascism and Communism.

Life Under German Occupation

Illustration from the 1942 U.S. Office of Information Tale of a City pamphlet. The caption was: “Despite the Nazi tyranny, Warsaw’s churches are filled to bursting …”

Later in 1943, when the Walickis’ Warsaw apartment was destroyed during one of the Soviet bombing air raids, the family found shelter in the Wilanów district of Warsaw in the left wing of a former royal palace belonging to the Branicki family. Before the war, the Polish owners of the Wilanów Palace, Count Adam Branicki and his wife Beata, were patients and friends of his parents. At the beginning of the war, the Germans arrested the Polish aristocrat and his sister and confiscated his art collection and landholdings. However, after the intervention of the Italian royal family, the Gestapo released him and allowed the Branickis and their guests to live in the Wilanów palace. There, Marek met young Poles, only slightly older than he was, who were members of the Home Army. One of them, Janusz Radomyski, who was in love the Branickis’ daughter Anna, took Marek’s oath to join the Polish resistance movement and put him in touch with several scouts known as Zawiszacy, the anti-Nazi scouting group of boys and girls aged 12 to 14. They were the youngest conspirators who served as couriers carrying messages and participating in civil resistance by painting anti-Nazi slogans on buildings and distributing underground newspapers. Marek writes that some packages he had to deliver were too heavy to have only papers but added that, in obeying orders, he did not try to see what was in them.

Someone like Marek who as a child risked his life in the struggle against Fascism could not be easily intimidated or deceived by Communists and other totalitarians. He would also not be easily discouraged later by new disasters and challenges when working as a Cold War journalist.

VOA and the Warsaw Uprising

Warsaw Old Town in flames during Warsaw Uprising. Author Ewa Faryaszewska was corporal in Polish Home Army and shot 31 color photos during the Warsaw Uprising. This photo was not colorized.

Marek Walicki was only 13 when the Warsaw Uprising began on August 1, 1944. He wanted to join the fighting in the city, but presumably, his parents would not permit it. Marek writes that on August 3, the Germans executed in the Wilanów Palace park several Polish insurgents whom they had captured. It soon became clear that the uprising was not going well for the Polish Home Army. Marek observed one unsuccessful action by a unit of Polish insurgents at the palace where his family was staying. Janusz Radomyski, the fiancé of the palace owner’s daughter, Anna Branicka, wanted to free her and her mother from house arrest by the Germans. Before the uprising, he had recruited Marek to join the anti-Nazi resistance as a young scout. Marek’s father thought it was a careless and unnecessary action that put the civilians in danger of German retaliation.

The uprising lasted 63 days. It failed due to Stalin’s refusal to send the Red Army or the Polish troops under his command to help the fighting insurgents in Warsaw or even to give permission for American and British planes to land on the Soviet-controlled territory after dropping weapons and supplies for the Polish Home Army. The Polish casualties were horrific – about 16,000 dead insurgents, many more wounded, and the civilian deaths estimated between 150,000 and 200,000, the majority from mass executions by German troops and foreign units under German command. After the failure of the uprising, the Germans forced the remaining civilians to evacuate from the city. They blew up buildings, destroying in revenge almost the entire city while the Soviet Army stood idle on the other side of the Vistula River.

The Walickis had to abandon the relative safety of the Wilanów Palace grounds and found refuge in a nearby home as the German-ordered evacuation of Polish civilians continued. In an area under their control, where the Walicki family was staying, the Germans forbade all men and boys over 10 to leave their homes. Still, Marek had decided to go to a nearby house, whose occupants were listening to the forbidden foreign radio stations, mainly the BBC. The British Broadcasting Corporation radio programs are mentioned in numerous memoirs by Polish Home Army leaders and fighters. Almost no one mentions the Voice of America, which largely ignored the Jewish Holocaust and the Warsaw Uprising.

A German soldier stopped Marek as he was walking outside to get to the house, whose inhabitants had an illegal radio receiver, and could have killed him. Instead, the soldier motioned with his pistol and ordered Marek in broken Polish, “take me to a store for beer” Marek did, of course, what he was told. He and the German soldier walked together to the store and found it closed. The soldier banged on the door and demanded from the frightened owner – a woman who emerged from the basement – to tell him if she was hiding any Banditen. After hearing her denial, he demanded beer and a toothbrush, which, fortunately, she was able to provide. Pleased with himself, the German told Marek to go home: Raus nach Hause, and even escorted him back home when Marek, fearing being killed by other German soldiers, politely asked him to do so.

Unknown at that time to young Marek, the Soviet propaganda presented Home Army insurgents in Warsaw as pro-fascist adventurers. The pro-Soviet Voice of America leadership and journalists sided with Stalin on the Warsaw Uprising by ignoring it, even though President Roosevelt wanted to provide help to the Polish Home Army soldiers fighting the Germans in Poland’s capital. Had Marek Walicki or Jan Nowak joined VOA in 1944, they would have found, in the words of an Austrian-Jewish refugee journalist, Julius Epstein, “extreme left-wingers who indulged in a purely and exaggerated pro-Stalinist propaganda.”19 Epstein was, until 1945, an editor on the German desk of the Overseas Branch of the Office of War Information in New York. The OWI included the Voice of America, although its wartime broadcasts were disseminated under various names. In reporting on one of VOA’s wartime scandals, the New York Times Washington correspondent and bureau chief Arthur Krock observed that its radio programming “conforms much more closely to the Moscow than to the Washington-London line” and follows “the personal and ideological preferences of Communists and their fellow-travelers in this country.”20 A Polish journalist based during the war in London, Czesław Straszewicz, who later worked for Radio Free Europe, wrote after the war,

… 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.21

The wartime Voice of America also practically ignored the Holocaust of European Jews, probably because Stalin did not care much for protecting Jews and sent many of them to the Gulag.22The Soviet dictator wanted American war propaganda to focus on the Red Army fighting the Nazis, the opening of the second front in Western Europe, and facilitating his takeover East-Central Europe. American and foreign-born propagandists in the Office of War Information and the Voice of America did not disappoint him. The Office of War Information also produced propaganda films in support of the illegal internment of Japanese Americans, modeled in concept, although not in deaths and cruelty, after Stalin’s deportations of ethnic groups to the Gulag.

Still, President Roosevelt wanted the Warsaw Uprising to succeed and, perhaps also to secure for himself the Polish-American votes in the 1944 U.S. presidential elections, made appeals to Stalin for help, which the Soviet dictator rejected. Stalin showed his contempt for the Warsaw fighters in a secret message to President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill on August 22, 1944: “Sooner or later the truth about the handful of power-seeking criminals who launched the Warsaw adventure will be out.”23

Roosevelt’s Gift to Stalin

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin at Yalta. February 1945.

As World War II was nearing its end, Marek Walicki had no way of knowing that his future and that of his country was being decided not by his compatriots but secretly and without the knowledge of the multiparty Polish Government in Exile, by the leaders of the great powers in Moscow, London, and Washington. Regardless of what the Western leaders may have wanted for Eastern Europe after the war, the Soviet dictator was not going to give up on his plan to keep the territories the Red Army had occupied in 1939 and his desire to place Poland and other neighboring counties under Russia’s control. Critical to misleading the West about Stalin’s intentions was the perceived need to hide his enormous crimes from Western public opinion.

One of the most horrific of Stalin’s crimes was the Katyn massacre. Helping the Soviet regime with propaganda to cover up the Katyn mass murders, the Gulag slave labor camps, and other communist atrocities were many left-leaning Western journalists, a few politicians, and a large number of intellectuals. Fortunately, there were also American journalists, diplomats, and politicians, including members of the U.S. Congress of both parties, who were pointing out, in public, but more often privately, especially while the war with Germany and Japan was not yet won, that President Roosevelt’s trust in Stalin was a colossal mistake. However, their warnings would not be acted upon until President Truman had concluded that the Soviet dictator was a mass murderer with who could not be trusted.

After the end of World War II, Marek Walicki, along with millions of other East-Central Europeans, was doomed to pay the price for the world conflict started by Hitler and Stalin. After Hitler betrayed his alliance with the Kremlin and attacked Russia in June 1941, the Soviet Union emerged as America’s most valuable military ally. Roosevelt and Churchill secretly promised Stalin at the wartime Big Three conferences in Tehran and Yalta that he could keep the eastern part of Poland he had already acquired in his earlier deal with Hitler. Not only the Poles but also the Ukrainians and the Belorussians, who represented the majority of the population of pre-war eastern Poland and wanted to have their own nation-states after enduring years of Soviet communist terror, were not consulted. 

Marek Walicki’s book is a memoir, not a detailed historical account. Written for a Polish reader, it omits the historical background of events he describes in his young life. Still, as a good journalist, he sometimes presents the drama of the times in one or two sentences. Marek was still a young teenager when he saw the first Soviet soldiers and shared his excitement with Hanna Garlińska, the former wife of his half-brother Michał Walicki. She replied to him with a severe expression, “Don’t rejoice, dear Marek; difficult times are coming.” Red Army soldiers stole from the Poles whatever they could. Marek writes about returning to their room in the Wilanów Palace administrative building they left a few months earlier. (They had moved earlier from the part of the left wing to the administrative building next to the right wing of the palace. The administrative building had heating, which the palace did not have.) The green leather on his father’s dentist chair, which he brought from Saint Petersburg to independent Poland in 1918, was carved entirely out. The chair was full of human feces, and the whole room was littered with destroyed books, including pages ripped out of a pre-revolutionary Russian encyclopedia. Marek and his mother also discovered that the Soviet soldiers left small pieces of dental gold foil on the floor, not realizing their high value.

Marek Walicki proved he had courage, independence, initiative, and youthful foolishness when, at the end of the war, he became the primary breadwinner in his family at the young age of 14. His parents were not yet working, and there was no money to buy fuel and food. Too young to be a worker, even if he could find employment and his parents would permit it, he decided to collect wood, which, as he noted, became as valuable as gold. His father had permission from Count Branicki to cut wood in his forest, but Marek found a better way by transporting already cut logs previously used by the Germans to cover the ammunition dumps near their home. For his plan, he secured the help of a Polish peasant with a horse wagon and a willingness to take risks.

To get the wood out of the forest, they had to drive through an area full of abandoned explosives and get the logs to load on the wagon by removing them from the ammunition dump. Marek and his helper survived; the peasant kept half of the wood for himself, and the Walickis had enough to stay warm the entire winter.

Marek also learned how to build fireworks from gunpowder extracted from German signal rockets that burned in various colors. For some reason, these homemade fireworks were highly sought after by the peasant boys, who could pay for them with food probably stolen from their parents. Marek briefly lost his sight when a small amount of gunpowder he tried to light with a match exploded in his face, burning his eyebrows. Some young boys in the neighborhood died from playing with an artillery shell. Marek’s father, who discovered gunpowder stored under his son’s bed, explained to him that the whole house would be destroyed and many people would die if it exploded. Marek had to hide his stash of gunpowder in the garden. He wrote that after his parents returned to work in dentistry, his job ended, and to his great disappointment, they once again treated him as a child.

Communist Repressions

Life in Poland, freed from the Germans by the Red Army in 1944-1945, did not mean the end of terror for Marek Walicki’s family. He wrote that on the first day of the “liberation” of the area near Warsaw, Soviet soldiers raped dozens of local women, several of whom died, their bodies left in the snow. In January 1949, the Polish communist secret police arrested his older half-brother, Michał Walicki, a noted art historian, and falsely accused him of collaborating with the Germans. At about the same time Marek Walicki started his full-time work at Radio Free Europe in Munich after his escape to the West, a court in Warsaw sentenced Michał Walicki to a five-year prison term for being a member of the anti-Nazi Polish Home Army counter-intelligence unit, which collected information about the communist press, the Polish Communist Party, and its underground military formations. Marek pointed out that Colonel Józef Różański, an NKVD agent who, after the war, joined the Polish Ministry of Public Security (UB) and personally tortured former anti-Nazi Home Army soldiers, as well as Communists who fell out of favor, complained in a secret memorandum that the prison sentence was too short and should more severe. Michał Walicki, who consistently denied the charges of helping the Germans in any way, was released from prison in 1954.

Soviet and Polish communists often falsely used the fascist label against those non-communist Poles who had risked their lives fighting the Nazis during the German occupation or served as officers and soldiers in the Polish Army fighting Nazi forces in the West simply because these Poles were opposed to communism and Poland becoming a Russian colony. Many innocent men and women were tortured and executed. Others spent years in prisons in Poland or were sent to the Gulag forced labor camps in Russia.

Marek writes about Anna Branicka-Wolska whom the Soviet NKVD arrested with her father and her mother, Beata Branicka, and sent to Siberia. Anna’s fiancé, Janusz Radomyski, who had recruited Marek to be a member of the anti-Nazi resistance, was taken by the Germans as a prisoner of war after the fall of the Warsaw Uprising and ended up in the West after the war. Beata Branicka wrote moving love letters to him from Russia, which he did not receive. She survived her ordeal in Russia and returned to Poland with her family in 1947, but her fiancé, thinking she was dead, married another woman. Her love letters were published in Poland in 1990 in a book, Listy niewysłane (“The Unsent Letters”).

The Polish communist secret police detained and interrogated Count Branicki for a few more weeks in 1947 after his return from Russia. Anna, who was a member of the Home Army and participated in the Warsaw Uprising, was also interrogated. The regime confiscated the family’s remaining property, including the Wilanów Palace, where the Walickis found refuge during the war and where Anna helped to organize a field hospital for the Warsaw Uprising soldiers, which the Germans discovered and put her under house arrest with her mother and sister. The Communists also appropriated the remaining artworks Count Branicki managed to save from the Germans and the Soviet soldiers.

The Voice of America, still dominated by Soviet sympathizers, did not broadcast Information about communist repressions in Poland or Polish soldiers in the West who refused to return to their homeland. At the time of his escape to the West, Marek did not know that the Western Allies had already demobilized the Anders Army, which he had hoped to join. There were diplomatic protests by the American and British governments after the war. Still, there were no plans to force Russia to honor the promise of free and democratic elections in Poland and the rest of East-Central Europe. In 1949, the Soviet Union successfully tested its first atomic bomb thanks to the help of American Communists and British agents supplying the Soviets with stolen Western military secrets. The Soviet nuclear blackmail was in full swing. 

Marek writes in his book that when cold and hungry, he crossed the Czechoslovak-German border in late October 1949 in rain and snow, he had no idea he would later work as a journalist and help to liberate his native land, not with weapons but with words. His big break came when, quite by accident, he became an employee of the Voice of Free Poland (later the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe) in 1952, initially as a monitor of radio broadcasts from Poland and later as an author of programs and news reports.

The Escape

I increasingly felt that we were living in a cage, that there was no future for me there.

Marek Walicki

Marek made his decision to escape through Czechoslovakia to the American occupation zone of Germany in 1949 when he saw the Communists, in his words, “torture, murder, and imprison thousands of Polish patriots.” He and his friend, Marian Krauze, who attended the same high school and accompanied him on this dangerous adventure, were lucky. They slipped unnoticed through the Polish-Czechoslovak border and made it to Prague, where they stopped at the home of Marek’s Czech friends, Bedrich Hořice, his wife, and their daughter Hanna. The pragmatic Czech family had declared their loyalty to the Communist Party, presumably to have a safer life, but Marek was convinced they would not betray him and his friend. He was right.

Marek’s Czech friends offered advice and help and did not alert the authorities. He had met them earlier during his first, also illegal, trip to Prague in 1947, which he took with his nephew Andrzej Walicki. While in Prague for the first time, Marek considered escaping to the West but decided against it, fearing that the Germans or the Americans might send him back because he was still a minor. He and his nephew, who was about the same age as Marek, returned from Prague to Warsaw.24

Two years later, after Marek had already turned 18, he again illegally crossed the Polish-Czechoslovak border. After a short stay with the Czech family in Prague, he and his friend took a train going west and jumped off before reaching the heavily guarded Czechoslovak-West German border. Despite initially losing their way and spending the night in the mountains in the freezing rain, they managed to cross the border without being spotted.

When he fled to the American zone in Germany in 1949, Marek Walicki was too young and too inexperienced to realize that the West was not going to risk another war, this time with Soviet Russia, to liberate Poland with military force. He wrote in his memoirs that he was escaping with the hope of returning as a soldier of the Polish Army under the command of General Władysław Anders, who avoided being killed in Katyn because the NKVD secret police interrogated and tortured him at the Lubyanka prison in Moscow. Stalin released General Anders and other Polish prisoners in the Gulag after signing an agreement with the Polish Government-in-Exile in London in 1941. The Soviet dictator still feared then that Hitler might succeed in conquering Russia. Evacuated by Anders from the Soviet Union to the West through Persia, Polish soldiers later fought against the Germans alongside American, British, and other allied troops, helping to liberate Italy. At the war’s end, many of them no longer had homes to return to as their towns and villages were on the territory annexed by the Soviet Union. A few returned to the new Poland under communist rule only to be arrested by the regime’s security services.

Imposition of Communist Rule

One thing Marek Walicki did not lack was courage. Even more significant was his desire shared by many Poles of all ages to see their beloved country free and democratic after the horror of the German occupation and the repressions by the Soviet-imposed communist regime. After surviving the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Germans, which failed because Stalin had halted the Red Army advance and blocked American and British help to the Polish non-communist insurgents, he did not want to live in a country that went from being ruled by one foreign totalitarian dictatorship to being led by a puppet government of another.

Marek Walicki’s book offers examples of how the pro-Moscow regime attempted to secure its power by attacking the Catholic Church, the only remaining independent national institution left in Poland after the war. He writes that after the Communists forbade hanging crosses in schools, he and his high school friends would bring them to their religion classes. The “war of the crosses” continued until the communist regime eliminated religious instruction in schools in 1947. The authorities later arrested Marek Walicki’s religion teacher at his school, Father Antoni Czajkowski, a Catholic priest who took part in the Warsaw Uprising. Marek wrote that the priest was tortured while being interrogated and spent seven years in prison.

Also arrested was Marek’s half-brother, Michał Walicki, who, during the German occupation, brought to his Warsaw apartment for meetings parachutists dropped in Poland by planes flown from England. Shortly after his arrest, the communist militia called Marek for an interrogation. He managed to mislead them by saying that he did not know much about his half-brother. The militia let him go free after questioning. Still, he was afraid that, if arrested again and tortured, he might break down, and he wrote that the incident only strengthened his desire to escape from Poland.

I increasingly felt that we were living in a cage, that there was no future for me there, and that, given my contrary nature, I might one-day share Michał’s fate and waste several years of my life in a communist prison. I decided to escape to the so-called West – to choose the freedom I had longed for since the German occupation.

Leaving His Parents in the Dark

To protect his parents, Marek Walicki admits that he did not tell them he would try to escape from Poland. He knew they would have wanted to stop him if he had told them about his plans and that he would have probably given up and decided to stay with them.

Their concern for his safety and well-being would not have been unfounded. He risked being shot by communist border guards or, if caught alive, being sent to prison for many years. Before departing from Warsaw on a train to the Polish-Czechoslovak border, he left a farewell letter to his parents with one of his friends with instructions to deliver it after receiving a postcard, which he promised to send from Germany to another high school friend if the escape plan succeeded. Marek’s friend delivered his letter to his parents after he was sure Marek was already in West Germany.

Marek rightly assumed that it would have been better if his parents could say, if confronted by the communist police, that they knew nothing about his flight from Poland. He was probably right in also noting that the director of his high school – a woman who had held that position since 1905 and was not sympathetic to communism – was punished for his escape. The authorities replaced her with a communist educator, but it was only a question of time before the regime would have dismissed her.

Difficult Beginnings

At first, Marek Walicki’s life in the West following his dangerous escape was far from easy and far from what he may have expected. He quickly learned he would not, as he had hoped, return to Poland to liberate it as a soldier of the Polish Armed Forces in the West. The Anders Army, as it was commonly called after its commander, General Władysław Anders, also known as the Polish Second Corps, no longer existed. General Anders would not return on a white horse to free Poland from Russian occupation, as many Poles had hoped. After fighting the Germans in Italy and on other fronts alongside British, American, and other allied forces, tens of thousands of Polish soldiers under his command were transported to Britain and disbanded. They and their comrades who died fighting the Nazis in Western Europe became an embarrassing reminder of the American and British betrayal of Poland. To avoid offending Stalin, the British government did not invite to the 1946 London Victory Parade the veterans of the Anders Army who had fought on the side of Great Britain and the United States in World War II.

The Western allies had already assigned Poland to Soviet Russia’s sphere of influence without asking or consulting the Poles or their multiparty Government in Exile in London and, accepting Stalin’s promise of “free and unfettered elections,” gave diplomatic recognition to the Soviet-imposed regime in July 1945. President Roosevelt received the Polish-American vote in the 1944 presidential elections by successfully deceiving the leaders of the Polish-American Congress, the umbrella organization of Americans of Polish descent, about his plans for Poland and the promises he had already made to Stalin and the Tehran Conference at the end of 1943.25

Marek does not say why he made erroneous assumptions about General Anders Army and the rosy Western view of Stalin’s Russia immediately after the war. Still, it is not difficult to imagine that many patriotic Poles, especially the younger ones, when faced with the brutal reality of Soviet domination of their country and communist repressions and cut off from the outside world, would embrace unrealistic hopes. More difficult to understand is how Stalin deceived the Western public opinion with the help of sympathetic press in the West to accept his conquest of East-Central Europe as a guarantee of future peace and progress – something that Ukraine has good reasons to worry about now concerning any deals proposed to end the war, with the support for Vladimir Putin’s propaganda coming this time much more from radically right-leaning American politicians and commentators as opposed to the pro-Soviet leftists of the World War II and the Cold War period who were also deceived by propaganda and supported Russia for their own ideological and partisan reasons. Marek does not mention whether, at that time in Poland, he listened to the Voice of America. However, much of Western journalism at that time was still solidly pro-Soviet, and VOA still employed until 1947 pro-Soviet broadcasters. One was Stefan Arski, a U.S. State Department-employed Voice of America editor Marek Walicki mentions later in his book. He was one of several former VOA journalists who had returned to Poland to help establish communist rule.

During a short stay in a refugee camp in Munich following his escape, Marek found out that one of the few options still open to young refugees from the Communist Block like himself was to join the Polish Guards Companies. These were paramilitary units organized by the U.S. Army in West Germany to help protect and service American military installations. The guards were recruited from former Polish prisoners in Nazi Germany, former Nazi concentration camp inmates, Poles taken to Germany to perform forced labor, and recent escapees from Poland like Marek Walicki and his friend. These refugees, removed from their homes during the war, were mainly men from poor families and without much education. Marek tried to teach a few basic math and Polish grammar, as he wrote, with some success.

Service to others and helping those less fortunate was something Marek must have learned from his parents. He mentions later in his book that during the German occupation, his mother sheltered a Jewish boy in their Warsaw apartment, thus risking the lives of their entire family, including her children. His half-brother was an active member of the anti-Nazi resistance with Marek’s father’s approval and help. Patriotism in the Walickis’ intelligentsia home was typical of other Polish families of similar backgrounds. Centered around service and loyalty to one’s country and fellow human beings as individuals, especially those needing help, it had little in common with nationalism in today’s ideologically tainted definition of the word.

As a rather private person, Marek does not flaunt his religious faith. Still, his memoir makes it clear that religion shaped his life and gave him the courage to defend the truth and stand on the side of the persecuted and the less privileged. As someone intensely loyal to his friends and family, he is not as willing to talk about private conversations as some readers may wish. It may be one of the few flaws of his otherwise invaluable memoir. 

His religion and upbringing may have also made him less willing to write more about some of his noteworthy achievements and his service to others. The book leaves several questions unanswered about his choices and decisions, at least for me. For example, even though he escaped from life under communism, he nevertheless told a few of his fellow guards that they might be better off returning to Poland to go to school. He volunteered to teach some of them how to read and write when he did not see much interest among the Polish leaders in London or the Americans in Germany in the long-term welfare of these Polish war victims who never received any education. When the guards’ commanders found out that he had advised some of the guards to go back to Poland, they started to suspect him of being a “communist agitator.” He points out that the paranoia of McCarthyism was already beginning to take hold. Still, he also makes it clear that communist agents and those duped by Soviet propaganda in the West represented a real threat to freedom and human rights.

Marek’s first job in the Polish Guards was shoveling coal, but by the end of 1949, he advanced to become a military guard. His most difficult day, he wrote, was the first Christmas Eve in the West when he volunteered to be on duty to allow a married Polish guard to spend time with his family. Walking outside with his rifle along the fence surrounding the American military warehouses, he could only think of his loved ones left behind in Poland. Marek wrote that his eyes would have been full of tears that night if not for the severe winter cold stopping them from flowing down on his cheeks.

Meeting a Communist Spy

Marek Walicki’s job with the paramilitary Polish Guards did not last long. It ended after not quite half a year when, at 19, he found better employment as a secretary with Caritas, the Polish Catholic charitable organization that provided Polish refugees in Germany with food, clothing, and, to a much lesser degree, some financial help. While working for Caritas, Marek developed long-lasting friendships with several Catholic priests. But he was also disappointed that one of his more casual clerical acquittances from that period, a former prisoner in Auschwitz, Bolesław Wyszyński, was identified after the fall of the communist regime in Poland as a secret police informant, codename “Nihil.” In the 1970s, Wyszyński spied at the Vatican on visiting Polish bishops, including Cardinal Karol Wojtyła – the future Pope John Paul II. He was no relation to Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, the Catholic Primate of Poland, whom the communist regime imprisoned from 1953 to 1956.

Walicki speculates that Cardinal Wyszyński may have suspected Father Bolesław of spying and recalled him from the Vatican a few months before Wojtyła was elected pope in October 1978. After joining Radio Free Europe, Marek encountered another Polish regime spy, Zbigniew Brydak, who infiltrated the Munich Bureau of the Voice of America. Marek suspects that someone had recommended him to those in charge of VOA’s Munich office. But as titillating as these revelations about communist spies among priests and at Radio Free Europe may appear, these relatively few agents could not help subvert the Catholic Church or the American-funded radios.

The communist regimes achieved much more by misleading political elites in the West with the help of witting and unwitting agents of influence among Western intellectuals, journalists, and politicians. As Marek discovered later, some opinion makers and politicians in the West would aggressively demand the closing down of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty while being willing to tolerate continued broadcasting by the “soft” Voice of America. Later in the Cold War, some of the communist regimes indicated that they tolerated VOA as the official radio station of the U.S. government. They no longer saw VOA broadcasts as dangerous in the era of détente, while continuously demanding that Washington stop its funding of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

After broadcasting pro-Soviet propaganda during World War II and for a few years after the war, VOA programming became much more focused on exposing communist propaganda during the later years of the Truman administration. But, as Marek observed in his book, in the 1970s, when he started to work for the Voice of America’s Polish Service, “the most VOA could do was to send its correspondents to the Polish People’s Republic to cover the opening of the American Pavilion at the Poznań International Fair, to report on the U.S. Information Agency’s traveling exhibits or a reception at the Polish People’s Republic’s Embassy in Washington during the visit of Edward Gierek, the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ [Communist] Party.” He could not get his superiors in VOA’s Polish Service to approve his requests for coverage of interesting events in Washington until the Reagan administration officials implemented management reforms in the early 1980s.

The Voice of America’s commitment to the truth and effectiveness was restored twice during the slightly more than 80 years of its existence – the first time by President Truman, a Democrat, in the early 1950s, and the second time by President Reagan, a Republican, in the early 1980s. What mattered the most in the case of the Voice of America was the presidential leadership, the experience and skills of agency and VOA leaders, and the background and the quality of VOA journalists. Still, even the most experienced, skillful, and least partisan VOA leaders and journalists found it difficult to compete effectively for audience and impact with Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

A Young Journalist

Marek Walicki started to pursue a journalistic career while still a guard for the U.S. Army, at first as a photojournalist. Using the money he saved, he bought a used Leica camera and freelanced for a Polish Catholic weekly paper, Słowo Katolickie (Catholic Word), published in Paris. At that time, he became a member of the International Federation of Free Journalists of Central and Eastern Europe, Baltic and Balkan Countries and joined the Association of Polish Journalists in Germany.

Although able to work remotely for a Polish magazine published in Paris, Marek noted that the American, British, and French authorities, still afraid of upsetting the Soviets, shut down dozens if not hundreds of Polish-language publications in their respective occupation zones in Germany. He may not have known at the time that a few years earlier, officials of the U.S. government agency that had managed the Voice of America since 1942 had managed to silence during the war a few Polish-American radio programs for exposing Stalin’s crimes and made another illegal though unsuccessful attempt to shut down a Polish-American newspaper, which would later tell how in its propaganda campaign to protect Stalin’s reputation, the U.S. government’s information agency lied to American media and audiences overseas about Polish orphan children rescued from Soviet Russia.26

When Marek Walicki got to West Germany, the honeymoon between the U.S. government and communist regimes was near its end. But, as he points out in his book, the Western occupational authorities in Germany had forcefully sent some of the former Polish slave laborers to communist-ruled Poland. While such forced deportations from the West of Polish and other Eastern European refugees soon stopped, Marek Walicki’s book reveals the hidden truths about how the U.S. government had collaborated earlier with Soviet Russia in supporting Stalin’s takeover of Eastern Europe. President Truman eventually put a stop to the policy of appeasing Soviet Russia.

In line with this policy, almost all former Soviet prisoners of war in Germany, as well as some Russians who had escaped from the Soviet Union even before the war, were delivered to the Soviet authorities, often against their wishes, and were promptly sent on Stalin’s orders to prisons and Gulag labor camps in Siberia. It has been a sensitive and embarrassing topic still subject to coverup or silence by many left-leaning American historians and journalists. This shameful episode in American history was briefly brought to wider attention for the first time in the book, Operation Keelhaul, published in 1973 by Julius Epstein, a Jewish-Austrian refugee journalist who, during the war, worked in the U.S. Office of War Information and became a critic of Soviet influence at the Voice of America.27  

Meeting His Future Wife

Nothing in Marek’s book suggests that, after leaving Poland, he was looking for a safer and more economically prosperous life in the West. In planning his escape, Marek thought that with American help, he would return to his homeland to liberate it and reunite with his parents, younger brother, and friends. He soon discovered, however, that America and other Western nations had no desire to go to war with Russia, even if it meant that Stalin would deprive the East Europeans of human rights and national independence promised to them in Yalta.

Marek eventually returned to free Poland, but not in the way he had imagined he would. He writes that when he fled from communism in late October 1949, it did not even cross his mind that he would become a journalist. It would take more than 30 years before he could visit Poland for the first time since he illegally crossed the Polish-Czechoslovak border.

Unable to go back to Poland without facing an immediate arrest, Marek Walicki established a life for himself in exile, emigrated to the United States, and eventually became an American citizen. While still in Germany, he met a German girl, Elza, whom he calls in his book his life’s “beautiful and great love.” It may have been uncommon for a young Polish man, who only a few years earlier had experienced the horrors of the Nazi occupation of his country, to choose a German woman as his life partner, but Marek’s upbringing did not foster ethnic or racial prejudices. When, in a letter sent through a friend, he wrote to his mother about meeting Elza and sent her a photograph of his fiancée, she answered that she and his father were surprised but were “with him with all their hearts, if his choice is good.” Elza and Marek married after emigrating from West Germany to America in 1955. They had two children, Ryszard and Krystyna, born in the United States, where they now have successful lives and careers. Even though the communist regime would not allow his mother to visit him and his family in the United States until shortly before her death, he wrote that she and his wife exchanged letters and remained close. Elza Walicka died in 2021.

Listening to the Voice of Free Poland

Marek Walicki credits the start of his broadcasting career to purchasing a radio receiver, which he used primarily to listen to the BBC and other foreign radio stations. By chance, he once heard the Voice of Free Poland (later renamed Radio Free Europe). Marek writes that he was impressed that the newly discovered Polish-language radio station had a “definite anticommunist” tone and thought that “finally someone has started to go strongly after the communists.”

Still only 21, he followed Radio Free Poland programs for younger listeners, and while he liked some, he was not entirely pleased with one that often described how young people in the West play, travel, and otherwise enjoy life. He thought that people his age living in Poland, who were poor, malnourished, poorly dressed, and not free to travel to Western Europe, would be annoyed by such otherwise truthful descriptions of life in the West. They could also detect an element of propaganda behind such broadcasts. As a stateless refugee in West Germany, he also could not easily travel to other countries in Western Europe, and besides, he had no money to afford such trips.

Jan Nowak-Jeziorański

Marek Walicki monitoring broadcasts from Warsaw for the Voice of Free Poland, Munich, 1952. Photo from M. Walicki Archive.

Marek wrote a letter with his observations about the Voice of Free Poland programs to the station’s headquarters in Munich and was surprised when an announcer read parts of his letter on air and promised that someone from the radio station would soon contact him. “I could not believe my ears!,” Marek recalled, “for me, who fled from the Polish People’s Republic and dreamed of fighting for Poland’s independence, it was a great and moving experience.” Three Radio Free Europe emissaries soon visited him in a small Bavarian town of Bad Wörishofen, where he lived, and, at the request of the Polish Service director Jan Nowak-Jeziorański (his real name was Zdzisław Jeziorański; Jan Nowak was his radio name) invited him at RFE’s expense to come to Munich and evaluate several youth programs.

One of Marek’s proposals submitted to the management of Radio Free Europe was broadcasting historical programs for young people. He also suggested to Jan Nowak starting programs about scouting “that would make young people aware of how the communists remade the Polish Scouting Association on the model of the Soviet Pioneer” after rejecting the scouting principles of Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the worldwide Scout Movement.

Nowak liked Marek and his program ideas, especially his proposal to correct the distortions of historical facts in the communist regime’s propaganda in Poland. The head of Radio Free Poland promised him a full-time position as soon as one became available. Nowak kept his promise, one of several he made to Marek in later years to advance his career or to save him from staff layoffs. By October 1952, two years after he escaped from Poland, Marek started working in Munich as a monitor of radio broadcasts from Poland and as an announcer and writer of programs about scouting. His only great regret was that he had to leave his future wife, Elza, in Bad Wörishofen by moving to Munich.

In later years, Marek Walicki would become one of Jan Nowak’s closest and most devoted friends. He reveals in his book that Jan Nowak was a deeply religious man – something not many people knew about him. Still, this new information in Marek Walicki’s book may explain Jan Nowak’s extraordinary courage, willingness to take enormous personal risks in the service of his country, and his uncompromising commitment to freedom and democratic ideals. During World War II, Nowak served as an envoy between the Home Army and the Polish Government in Exile, making several dangerous trips between Warsaw and London. Known as the “Courier from Warsaw,” he was the first to report the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. After the outbreak of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, he organized shortwave radio transmissions and broadcast news in English.

At Radio Free Europe, Jan Nowak was not afraid to challenge the American managers when he thought they were wrong, made decisions, unpopular with some at the time, to interview former Communists and hire former communist state media journalists who broke with the regime, and consistently avoided risking violence and bloodshed in Poland while remaining uncompromising in opposing communism and Soviet influence. The courage and prudence of the leadership and journalists in the Radio Free Europe Polish Service may have resulted partly from their experience as former anti-Nazi underground resistance fighters, Soviet Gulag prisoners, and Anders Army veterans. When Marek Walicki joined VOA in the 1970s, he may have expected the same from the VOA Polish Service’s leadership and journalists since some of them were also former anti-Nazi resistance fighters and war veterans, but he discovered that they had been broken by years of working in the restrictive environment of VOA’s U.S. government bureaucracy.

After the war, Jan Nowak worked for the BBC Polish Section after being turned down for a job with the Voice of America. It was, in retrospect, a fortunate decision because by becoming later the head of Radio Free Europe’s Polish Service, he made it by far the most popular and impactful Western radio station in Poland, while Voice of America’s listenership remained low for several decades and did not improve until the start of Ronald Reagan’s presidency when I was put in charge of VOA Polish broadcasts and selected Marek to be my deputy. The film The Resistance Fighter (Kurier) by director Władysław Pasikowski, released in 2019, depicts Jan Nowak-Jeziorański’s dangerous missions as an emissary between the commanders of the Polish Home Army’s resistance movement and the Polish Government in Exile in London. The legendary former director of the RFE Polish Service and recipient of America’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, given to him by President Clinton in 1996, died in Poland in 2005 after returning from the United States to his native country.

Polish Scouts After the War

Marek remained a member of the scouting movement in Poland after the war for as long as it seemed that it might avoid being taken over by the Communists. In his memoirs From People’s Poland to Free Europe, Walicki included a photograph of the dedication in the book Stones for the Rampart from the author, Aleksander Kamiński, then vice-chairman of the Polish Scouting Association, whom he met in Łódź in 1946. During the war, Kamiński was a soldier of the Home Army and one of the leaders of the anti-Nazi sabotage scouting group Gray Ranks, which Marek joined in 1943. In 1991, the Jewish Yad Vashem Institute posthumously awarded Kamiński the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” for his help to members of the Jewish scouts’ organization and the Jewish resistance movement under Nazi occupation. Although Kamiński’s scouting philosophy was in complete contrast to communist ideology, some Polish nationalists misinterpreted his support for social justice causes as being sympathetic to communism.

I wish Marek Walicki that he would follow in the footsteps of great scouts: Robert Baden-Powell, Andrzej Małkowski, and the heroes of “Stones for the Rampart,” in what was the most valuable for these people: in working on improving oneself and in continuous service, above all, in the service of everyday life and the service of peace. A. Kamiński, Łódź, March 30, 1947.

Walicki recalls that shortly after he met with Kamiński, the “Communist Party group” in the scouting leadership in the People’s Republic of Poland “reassessed Kamiński’s book, strongly rejecting all his recommendations.” Walicki and several scouts from his team decided to leave the Polish Scouting Association, convinced that the Baden-Powell model had ceased to apply in the Polish scouting movement after it fell under communist control. However, many who had remained its members still tried to uphold the old personal virtues and patriotic values as much as possible even under communism.

Regime Spies and Agents of Influence

Before the communist authorities in Poland took over the scouting leadership, Walicki mentions going to a summer scout camp in Tomaszkowo near Olsztyn in 1946, where the camp’s leader was sub-scoutmaster Zbigniew Brydak. Brydak later tried to force the scouts to wear red scarves, following the example of the Soviet pioneers. He then mysteriously appeared in West Germany. He had become a communist security service agent and succeeded in finding employment in the Polish branch of the Voice of America in Munich. He was also an occasional contributor to RFE Polish Service programs. While spying on VOA and RFE journalists, Brydak made attempts to lure Walicki out of the West so that the authorities of the People’s Poland could capture him. Marek immediately saw through Brydak’s ploy and shared his suspicions about his former scoutmaster with Jan Nowak, who declined to give Brydak a full-time job with RFE.

Office of War Information photo of OWI and Voice of America writer and editor Artur Salman, aka Stefan Arski.

Walicki wrote that even before his spy mission to the West, Brydak recruited several young Poles to join a fictitious anti-communist scouting group, and – “when there were no more candidates – he handed them over to the torturers of the communist security service.” Exposed as a spy, detained by the Americans but later released, Brydak returned from West Germany to the People’s Republic of Poland. He engaged in pro-regime and anti-Western propaganda in Poland, writing articles for the “Świat” magazine, edited by Stefan Arski, also a former Voice of America broadcaster and editor who had worked for VOA in New York until 1947. The Office of War Information (OWI) hired Arski during the war under his real name, Artur Salman. While employed by the U.S. government, Arski was in contact with Oskar Lange, a Soviet agent of influence and the future first ambassador in Washington of the People’s Republic of Poland, and with Bolesław Gebert, a Soviet intelligence agent and the future ambassador in Turkey for the Warsaw regime. 

Fearing dismissal as part of President Truman’s efforts to remove pro-Soviet influence at the station, Arski resigned from the Voice of America. After a short association with the Embassy of the Polish People’s Republic in Washington as the writer of a policy booklet on the issue of the Polish-German border, he returned to Poland, joined the Polish United Workers Party, and was one of the country’s most prominent pro-regime and anti-Western propagandists. He wrote articles and books denouncing journalists of Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. He also strongly criticized the bipartisan efforts in the U.S. Congress in the early 1950s by the Madden Committee, named after its chairman, Rep. Ray Madden (D-IN), to reveal the truth about the Katyn massacre of thousands of Polish POW military officers and intellectual leaders in Soviet captivity.28

As the Cold War intensified, Truman and more members of Congress from both parties concluded that the Office of War Information and the wartime VOA broadcasts had been tainted by Soviet propaganda that harmed America’s long-term international reputation, its national interests, and security. The agency was doomed by the incompetence of its leadership, their ideological fascination with Soviet Russia, poor security, which allowed the hiring of Communists and other radicals, and ultimately Stalin’s betrayal of the empty promises he made to Roosevelt and Churchill at Teheran and Yalta to get their approval for border changes and for Russia’s dominance over Eastern Europe.29

Like Arski, whom Marek Walicki mentions in his book in connection with the Brydak spying scandal, another former Voice of America editor, Mira Złotowska Michałowska, whom he does not mention, also returned to Poland after the war. She married a high-ranking communist diplomat, later the Warsaw regime’s ambassador in Great Britain and the United States. She translated books by the former VOA chief news writer and editor Howard Fast. She also translated Hemingway, promoted American literature in Poland, and was a talented writer herself. Her own stories were made into a popular Polish television series. In his book, which does not deal with the genesis of the Voice of America broadcasting during World War II, Walicki understandably does not mention Howard Fast or other communist sympathizers and pro-Soviet fellow travelers among VOA’s founding fathers. The earliest period of VOA’s history, which is the least studied, the most hidden, and the most distorted, still awaits an objective historical presentation and analysis. One of VOA’s founding fathers was the London bureau chief of the Office of War Information and later a senior VOA official in Washington,  Wallace Carroll, who became a news editor in the Washington bureau of the New York Times (1955-1963) and subsequently editor and publisher of the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel. Carroll still defended the Soviet explanation of the Katyn massacre, one of Stalin’s greatest propaganda lies, as truthful in his 1948 book, Persuade or Perish, designed to teach Americans how to recognize and fight propaganda.30

The Katyn massacre remains a major World War II war crime for which no one was ever punished, and Russia paid no reparations. Confident that he could count on the support of naive Western journalists like Wallace Carroll, one of VOA’s founding fathers and later a Pulitzer Prize Board member, Stalin ordered Soviet lawyers to charge the German defendants at the Nuremberg trials (1945-1946) with murdering the Polish officers in Katyn. This attempt backfired when the defense showed irrefutable evidence that the Germans were not involved, at least in this war crime, and introduced evidence pointing to Soviet guilt. The charge was quietly dropped. However, Wallace Carroll erroneously implied in his 1948 book that the Germans, rather than the Russians, introduced the Katyn charge at the Nuremberg trials and continued to defend the Soviet propaganda lie about the massacre.31

Marek Walicki and many other Poles, those who stayed in Poland and those who became refugees in the West, followed a different path than the former Voice of America journalists who later became propagandists for the communist regime in Poland. Walicki mentions Stefan Arski briefly since his book focuses on the contributions of Radio Free Europe to the fall of communism in Poland and his work for the Voice of America during the last decades of the Cold War. Stefan Arski, Mira Michałowska, and Zbigniew Brydak joined the ranks of what became known as the “red aristocracy,” with access to consumer goods, privileges, and foreign travel denied to most citizens of the communist state. Marek reveals in his book that his emigration to the United States was delayed for several months because the U.S. Army counter-intelligence unit tried to convince him to respond in broadcasts to Brydak’s accusations against Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America in radio programs and press articles published by the Warsaw regime. Marek wrote that he kept refusing their suggestions because, among other things, he feared for his family’s safety in Poland.

Józef Czapski Censored by VOA – Resignation of Konstanty Broel Plater

Józef Czapski

During the Reagan administration, the Voice of America interviewed Józef Czapski, a Polish aristocrat, military officer, writer, artist, and a witness of Soviet war crimes who before had not participated in VOA programs for many years, although he was a frequent guest in Radio Free Europe broadcasts. The VOA senior management and the Polish Service management partially censored Józef Czapski in 1950 when he tried to describe the Soviet mass murder of thousands of Polish military officers and intelligentsia leaders in Katyn in western Russia and at other locations.32 In a 1984 interview with the VOA Polish Service, Józef Czapski was especially bitter in describing Kathleen Harriman’s false 1944 report to to the State Department about the Katyn massacre.

Konstanty Broel Plater OWI Personnel Record Card Photo
Konstanty Broel Plater OWI Personnel Record Card photo, 1942.

Marek Walicki mentions Czapski in his book as one of the best Polish artists of the 20th century. Only one Voice of America broadcaster is known to have resigned in protest against VOA’s censorship of the Katyn story and spreading Soviet propaganda. He was Broel Plater, a Polish aristocrat with a law degree from the prestigious Warsaw University and a former young Polish diplomat in the United States, but also an experienced radio broadcaster who, prior to his employment at the Voice of America, had written and voiced Polish-American programs for radio stations owned by Columbia Broadcasting System and General Electric.

Marek Walicki does not mention in his book the historical background of the Katyn massacre lie, presumably because he did not see it as necessary for Polish readers.

Jan Ciechanowski, who from 1941 until July 5, 1945, served in Washington as the Ambassador of the Polish Government-in-Exile based in London, wrote in his 1947 book Defeat in Victory about his struggles with pro-Soviet propagandists in the Roosevelt administration’s Office of War Information and the Voice of America.

Of all the United States Government agencies, the Office of War Information [where Voice of America radio broadcasts in English and many other languages originated], 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. … So-called American propaganda broadcasts [some early Voice of America broadcasts were originally called “America Calling Europe”] 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.33

Poor Security Threatens Journalists

While not excessively dwelling on some of the details of Voice of America’s early history, Marek Walicki’s book still has many important lessons about how dictatorships try to intimidate, punish, and, if possible, subvert journalists, especially those working for foreign language services of U.S. government-funded media outlets. It includes a copy of a letter the communist spy Zbigniew Brydak sent to him in Munich from Frankfurt, Germany in April 1953. In Marek’s view, Brydak caused more harm to the Polish exiles in the West and was a more useful spy for the regime in Warsaw than some of the later spies in RFE’s Polish Service, including Andrzej Czechowicz. He also wrote that one of them may still be collecting his generous retirement pay from RFE/RL.

Reading Marek’s book, I do not doubt that there is now an even greater need for protecting VOA and RFE/RL journalists from such risks as holding dual citizenship while traveling to Russia and other countries ruled by repressive governments or going there at all. I have observed lately how the failure of security vigilance has resulted in a large number of RFE/RL reporters and freelancers being arrested for the purpose of intimidation and blackmail.

Differences Between VOA and RFE/RL

One of the best decisions Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty management made during the Cold War was to disallow the travel of its employees, and even some members of their families, to Soviet satellite countries.

I don’t want to be misunderstood, but working at the Voice of America seemed me from the start like child’s play to compared to the hard, independent work at Radio Free Europe.

Marek Walicki

Another decision that had saved RFE and RL from becoming excessively bureaucratic and managed for the benefit of its officials and employees rather than primarily in the service of surrogate journalism was the initial lack of any sizable RFE and RL news production in English, although it had a research unit, which put out highly valued analyses for English-language readers during the Cold War. When I came to RFE/RL and briefly served as its president in 2020-2021, I encountered a completely different organization from what I saw in the 1980s. RFE/RL had been incorporated following the end of the Cold War into the U.S. government bureaucracy and is now part of the federal U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM). It is now more like the Voice of America in the 1970s. I saw RFE/RL run much more than before for the benefit of the American management and the English-language newsroom, with the foreign language services and their journalists reduced to a secondary role, just as VOA’s foreign-born staffers were treated during most of the Cold War. I also noticed a reluctance of some RFE/RL officials and journalists to take the security threat from Putin’s regime seriously enough to avoid or at least reduce the number of arrests of its reporters and to protect them more effectively from intimidation.

Marek Walicki describes a different time and different management culture at Radio Free Europe:

Being a “creative” radio station, full of our own initiatives, and not only “repeating” or translating imposed materials written by native-born Americans, we have always discussed, with the director – a Pole, and the director with us – how we can help the Polish society in advancing positive changes and how to make it more difficult for the regime to tighten the screws that were loosened under social pressure.

Marek Walicki’s book provides several examples of “good-enough-for-government-work” attitudes among some VOA managers and journalists, including those working in VOA’s Polish Service. He writes that, as an editor, he would never leave a single mistake uncorrected, while some other editors did. He also noted that translations by some VOA Polish Service broadcasters had many more mistakes than one would find in original scrips written by Radio Free Europe journalists.

In the 1990s, the advantages of RFE/RL’s non-governmental corporate culture, with the emphasis on hiring talented native-born journalists and making them and their surrogate broadcasting mission the center of the operation, slowly began to change. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the International Broadcasting Act (Public Law 103-236), which created a Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) with federal government-level oversight authority over Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The Broadcasting Board of Governors members became the Board of Directors of RFE/RL.

As RFE/RL came under increasing administrative control of the Washington bureaucracy, its unique independent culture weakened over the years. This trend accelerated under the U.S. Agency for Global Media, the successor to the BBG. While the BBG board was bipartisan, the selection of its members was based on their partisan loyalties, including, in some cases, their work on election campaigns. Several BBG members had corporate financial links to Russia and China, representing a potential conflict of interest that would have been unacceptable during the Cold War. The new law did not make RFE/RL a federal agency or instrumentality, but it profoundly changed its culture and weakened its effectiveness as a surrogate broadcaster. Marek Walicki retired from his position as the chief of Voice of America’s Polish Service just before the BBG board members assumed oversight over VOA.

His former and much-admired boss at Radio Free Europe, Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, told Polish journalist and film director Beata Postnikoff in a 1992 interview for a documentary film about the Voice of America, RFE and VOA played different but complementary and much-needed roles:

When Americans asked me whether, in light of the great success that Radio Free Europe had achieved in Poland, there is still any need for the Voice of America, I always answered – absolutely yes – because [VOA] is our shield from using us as an instrument of the U.S. government on a daily basis. As long as the Voice of America exists, we are left alone. If the Voice of America ceased to exist, we would then be under tremendous pressure from [U.S.] government institutions to present their point of view.

In his book, Marek Walicki criticizes the official Voice of America editorials written by a special unit within VOA in consultation with the State Department. Each VOA editorial had to be translated word-for-word, broadcast, and introduced in our programs as “representing the views of the United States Government.” In contrast, the American management of Radio Free Europe did not require RFE commentaries written by various foreign language services to present only the American point of view.

Marek observed that broadcasting these VOA editorials had a negative effect even though he suspected few radio listeners in Poland paid much attention to these official U.S. government commentaries. He added that in the letters sent to the VOA Polish Service, which he read, some listeners complained about their inclusion in the radio programs. However, he noted that such criticism did not extend to the other content of our broadcasts in the 1980s and the 1990s, which he described as “varied and interesting” thanks to programs originated by nearly all VOA Polish Service editors and our service’s correspondents in the United States and abroad. U.S. policy changes toward the Soviet Union and VOA programming policy changes under President Reagan, combined with greater funding for VOA broadcasts to Poland, gave us the freedom and flexibility to function as an almost independent radio station for several years.

Zdzisław Najder

Marek Walicki writes extensively about his longtime close friend, Zdzisław Najder, who became the head of RFE’s Polish Service in 1982 during the martial law in Poland and was identified after the end of the Cold War as a Polish secret police informant (codename “Zapalniczka”). Marek argues that Najder was manipulating the Polish state security and intelligence services to be able to travel abroad and continue his anti-regime activities. The same also appears to have been true in the case of Father Stefan Filipowicz, the former head of the Polish Service of Radio Vatican, whom I had hired in the 1980s as a freelancer to help write religious programs and provide commentary in the Voice of America Polish Service studios in Washington on Pope John Paul II’s travels to Poland. A few other former VOA Polish Service journalists were also discovered after the end of the Cold War as being at one time informants for the Polish communist secret police. Still, neither Marek Walicki nor I were aware of this at the time they were hired, and they never told us during their employment with VOA about their past cooperation with the Polish security service. These appeared to have been old contacts resulting from intimidation or blackmail, and they most likely did not continue after the journalists left Poland for the West and started working for the Voice of America. Some informed VOA’s security office that the secret police had forced them to provide information while still in Poland. Those who chose to comment also said they never reported anything that might have hurt anyone and swore they refused further contact when they thought they could do so safely.

New generations of Poles, born after the fall of communism, and most Americans may not fully understand how difficult and dangerous it was to refuse demands from the secret police in communist-ruled Poland. However, some did at the cost of their further higher education, careers, travel abroad, and even freedom. Other informants cooperated willingly with the secret police. One was the second wife of the famous Polish opposition historian Paweł Jasienica, who reported on him to the secret police before and after their marriage. This shows to what lengths the communist regime was willing to go to stay in power despite the lack of public support.

The regime perceived the Catholic Church and Radio Free Europe as the greatest threats to its rule in Poland, maintained with the military backing of the Soviet Union, and to its propaganda and media censorship to make its hold on power secure. Marek Walicki describes in his books his visit in 1981 to the Benedictine abbey in Tyniec, now part of Kraków, where he met Father Dominik, the brother of the then Radio Free Europe Polish Service Director Zygmunt Michałowski (1976 to 1982). Father Dominik was asking Marek many questions about his brother and Radio Free Europe personnel. Only after the fall of communism in Poland, it was revealed that Zygmunt Michałowski’s brother was, for many years, an active informant of the secret police. His reports included information he obtained about his brother’s work at Radio Free Europe and Cardinal Karol Wojtyła. Marek mentions that Zygmunt Michałowski could not believe his brother spied on him. It is even more difficult for Westerners to accept the fact that deception, subversion of journalists, and spying on them were some of the most essential weapons in Stalin’s arsenal against Poland and the West, as they are now part of Putin’s hybrid warfare against Ukraine and other democratic countries.

Marek Walicki wrote that Zdzisław Najder’s collaboration with the secret police was totally different from those of others who willingly helped the regime and saw how the media in Poland reported on it as exceedingly unfair to Najder. He is convinced that his friend would never have betrayed anyone in the anti-communist opposition movement and that he agreed to meet with the secret police only to be able to mislead them. The martial law regime of General Wojciech Jaruzelski saw Najder as a dangerous enemy, condemning him to death in absentia on charges of treason and spying for the United States. The regime also stripped him of his Polish citizenship. The post-communist government overturned his conviction and restored his Polish citizenship. In 1993, Marek Walicki wrote a letter in defense of Zdzisław Najder. It was published in the Polish Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, which, during the communist rule, was in opposition to communism and, with full approval from Pope John Paul II, supported the Solidarity independent trade union and its struggle for human rights and democracy.

Zdzisław Najder, who had been a professor of literature at Warsaw University and an advisor to Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa before becoming the Polish Service director of Radio Free Europe, was one of the most recognized experts on the British-Polish writer Joseph Conrad. Walicki recalls in his book that during his first meeting with Zdzisław Najder in the United States in 1959, Najder told him to read what Joseph Conrad wrote about Russia. Walicki noted that Conrad’s observations, which he quotes in his book, are especially relevant today because of Vladimir Putin’s imperialist war against Ukraine. Conrad, whose timeless novels are deeply humanistic, warned at the beginning of the previous century that “the Government of Holy Russia” has been “arrogating to itself the supreme power to torment and slaughter the bodies of its subjects like a God-sent scourge.” Before becoming a refugee in England, Conrad was one of Russia’s many non-Russian conquered subjects. Conrad also observed that in imperial Russia, “Western thought, when it crosses her frontier, falls under the spell of her autocracy and becomes a noxious parody of itself.”

VOA Before Reagan

After a short period of relative editorial freedom in the final years of the administration of President Truman and the first years of the administration of President Eisenhower, when the Voice of America was for the first time allowed to report on the atrocities of the regimes in Soviet Russia and the Polish People’s Republic, the VOA management resumed partial censorship of programs considered too critical of the Soviet Union and communists in Central and Eastern Europe. The gradual change happened as various U.S. administrations, both Democratic and Republican, attempted to pursue the policy of détente with Moscow and the rest of the Communist Bloc. When Marek joined the VOA Polish Service in 1976, VOA foreign language journalists were already working primarily as translators of texts written in English.

I don’t want to be misunderstood, but working at the Voice of America seemed to me from the start like child’s play compared to the hard, independent work at Radio Free Europe. I would receive to translate one of the reports sent in English by Voice of America correspondents around the world, give the translation to one of five editors for checking, and go for a walk on the Washington Mall between Constitution and Independence avenues, where VOA offices and studios are located. Then I had time to read newspapers, have lunch, translate another text in the afternoon, and so on day after day.

Describing his work at the Voice of America, Marek noted that some of his superiors in the Polish Service, who were close to retiring, did not care much about the quality of translations, which soon led to a quarrel with one of the senior editors. Marek felt that one text he was given to voice was of such poor quality that he could not read it even under his fictitious VOA radio name, Jan Korsak.34 The editor ordered him to record the text as written and approved. After returning from the studio, Marek sat down and began to write a memorandum to the American management, complaining that he was forced to voice a broadcast that would embarrass the Voice of America. After asking Marek what he was writing and getting his response, the senior editor agreed not to insist on broadcasting the report if Marek would withdraw his memo, and a bargain was struck.

Marek had less success when he suggested to the management that the VOA Polish Service should make greater use of audio actualities, which RFE commonly employed to make their broadcasts more lively and more authentic. Marek “refused not to care,” as he put it, but some of the older journalists, demoralized by working in a U.S. government office under the senior American management that did not understand the conditions of life behind the Iron Curtain and treated foreign language broadcasters as second-class citizens, simply gave up and did the minimum needed to collect their salaries. Some of them fought against the Nazis and were once outstanding journalists or writers. Still, many gave up after years of struggling with VOA’s government bureaucracy, which focused primarily on protecting its jobs and those of U.S.-born journalists in VOA’s central English-language services.

One reason the management of the VOA newsroom and English-language program producers wanted to see foreign language broadcasters reduced to being translators was to allow hiring more U.S.-born English speakers and getting visas for their reporters to travel periodically to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Many were convinced that Willis Conover’s jazz programs were enough to win the Cold War. They knew that communist embassies would reject their visa requests if they criticized the communist regimes too harshly. Most United States Information Agency (USIA) public diplomacy specialists who occupied key managerial positions at VOA, likewise, with only some exceptions, did not want to upset relations with Russia and other countries of the Soviet Bloc.

My impressions of the bleak atmosphere at the Voice of America in the 1970s were the same as Marek’s. I can only recall three reporting assignments of greater significance in that period: my 1976 interview with Cardinal Karol Wojtyła during his visit to Washington, D.C., two years before he became pope, coverage of a speech by National Security Advisor, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, in Savannah, Georgia, and my live coverage of the mass on the Washington Mall led by Pope John Paul II in 1979. At that time, the Voice of America senior leadership and bureaucracy were not keen on letting VOA language services do original reporting.

Former Polish Television and RFE journalist, Maciej Wierzyński who was Marek’s successor as the service chief from 1994 until 2000, also expressed the same low opinion of VOA’s bureaucratic government structure when he wrote that the six years he spent at the Voice of America were “the most frustrating time in his life.” Wierzyński called it a [government] office, where one worked from 9 to 5, and added, “we had not very intelligent bosses; their main concern was to keep their jobs.”35 Marek Walicki and I would agree with his assessment. Wierzyński wrote about the so-called annual “program reviews” at VOA as an “idiotic ritual” in which “some journalistic rejects, incapable of working in foreign language services, evaluated programs in a foreign language, none of them knew.”

At one of the program reviews, one such individual asked Wierzyński in a “reproving tone” why the Polish Service “broadcast dozens of interviews with some man named Karski?” Jan Karski, a pre-World War II young diplomat and a member of the anti-Nazi underground army in German-occupied Poland, was an eyewitness of the Holocaust. He was once arrested and escaped from a Gestapo prison. During World War II, the anti-Nazi Polish resistance movement sent Karski to London and to Washington to warn British government leaders and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt about the German extermination of Polish and other European Jews.36

Working for the Voice of America in the 1970s must have been even more difficult for Marek Walicki because he had already seen how much more could be done in countering Soviet and other communist propaganda by a better-managed, non-governmental journalistic outlet like Radio Free Europe. In presenting the hidden and little-known history of U.S. government’s international broadcasting during the Cold War, he is especially appreciative of the freedom he had at RFE while working in Munich and New York in contrast to the many restrictions and bureaucratic obstacles he found at the Voice of America before the Reagan administration took office in 1981. In the book, he describes one alarming attempt by the VOA management to censor a news report in 1978 about the Katyn massacre. The censorship was met with strong protests from the Polish Service journalists and criticism in the U.S. Congress and the American media. As Marek points out, even during the Reagan administration and the independent Solidarity trade union’s struggle for democracy in Poland, Voice of America’s central news writers sometimes issued texts for translation by foreign-language sections with terms such as “illegal Solidarity.” Because one of the journalists in the Polish Service, who was not a fan of Solidarity, translated “illegal” literally from English, Walicki consistently crossed out the adjective or changed it to “delegalized.” However, much of the pro-Soviet censorship at the Voice of America ended at the beginning of the Reagan administration. Before that, the VOA management even banned interviews with the Nobel Prize-winning dissident Russian writer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, as reported by former VOA Russian Service chief Victor Franzusoff.37 The censorship intensified at the Voice of America during the Nixon and Ford administrations. However, the management Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty effectively resisted attempts to introduce it at their broadcasting organization.

Marek Walicki describes his years with RFE with pride as purposeful and fulfilling, especially his work at RFE’s New York bureau. His first years at the Voice of America were, on the other hand, professionally disappointing, as they were for me and a few other VOA Polish Service journalists, who, as Marek wrote, ”refused not to care.” Only during the Reagan administration in the later period of working for VOA, we were able to do what Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, in his 1982 article titled, “The Soft Voice of America,” said should always have been the main aim and purpose of U.S. government-funded VOA radio broadcasts from Washington and Radio Liberty broadcasts from Munich: “to establish mutual trust, warm feelings, and contact with the oppressed people, and thus to tear them away, to help tear themselves away, from their Communist oppressors.”38 We were both proud to be part of that effort in the Cold War’s final decade.

When I visited Radio Free Europe in Munich for the first time in the 1980s, I immediately saw how much better managed RFE was compared to the Voice of America. I already knew that RFE programs were superior because I had listened to both stations as a teenager in Poland. I continued to listen on shortwave to Radio Free Europe nearly every morning before driving to work in the VOA building in Washington. Many VOA English newsroom reporters and editors and almost all pre-Reagan senior managers and officials were, however, entirely convinced that their programming philosophy of not rocking the boat, building bridges with the Soviet Union and other communist states, and sending Willis Conover to Poland and Russia would produce much better results. At every step, they resisted programming changes by Reagan-appointed VOA officials and thought VOA programs were superior and better liked by audiences in the Soviet Bloc. They failed to ask themselves why the communist regime in Warsaw decided to give Willis Conover a visa to visit Poland.

The Polish communist intelligence service and secret police spied on Willis Conover during his visit to Poland in 1959 and tried to exploit it to influence U.S. diplomats into silencing Polish broadcasts of Radio Free Europe. They hoped that by giving him a visa, they would convince the U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Jacob D. Beam, and the Embassy’s political officer, Thomas Donovan, that it was time to end Radio Free Europe broadcasts as detrimental to U.S.-Polish relations.

At that point, the regime in Poland was far less afraid of the Voice of America than of Radio Free Europe. Communist officials became convinced they could manage limited cultural exchanges with the U.S., such as Conover’s visit, or even expand them to their advantage. With the help of female agents and informants, which included the mother of one of today’s leading Polish politicians, the communist intelligence service was able to influence Ambassador Beam and Thomas Donovan to accept a completely mistaken view that Radio Free Europe broadcasts were harmful and no longer needed.39

Interestingly, the woman who became close to Ambassador Beam was a Polish journalist and writer, Mira Złotowska Michałowska, who, during World War II, worked as a Voice of America Polish editor in New York – the same one who went back to Poland after the war and married a communist diplomat. However, due to opposition from Radio Free Europe journalists, the CIA, and other members of the Eisenhower administration, RFE Polish broadcasts were neither terminated nor softened. Ambassador Beam eventually broke off his relationship, whatever it was, with Mrs. Michałowska and put the sex-spy scandal behind him. He was named U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union and eventually became a strong supporter of Radio Free Europe, serving as the chairman of the RFE Board. When he was nominated to become the U.S. ambassador to Moscow in the late 1960s, conservative members of Congress unsuccessfully opposed his nomination on account of the sex and spying scandal during his ambassadorial assignment in Warsaw.40 Willis Conover was probably unaware of the ultimate objectives of the Polish intelligence service. However, he was aware of being spied on while visiting Poland. By the late 1950s, playing American jazz was no longer officially discouraged. Conover told me in the 1980s that agents of the Polish communist regime may have been spying on him even in the United States.

Willis Conover’s jazz programs were indeed popular among a small group of elite listeners in Poland in the 1950s and for much longer in the Soviet Union. However, at least in Poland, no VOA music program could compete with RFE’s “Rendez-vous at 6:10” music show hosted by Jan Tyszkiewicz, Janusz Hewell (who later worked for the VOA Polish Service in Washington), and Barbara Nawratowicz, whom Marek Walicki mentions in his book. By the 1960s, jazz was not nearly as popular in Poland as rock and roll, but the bureaucratized Voice of America could not adjust fast enough to the changing tastes in music.

It was not Willis Conover’s fault that the VOA management lacked the flexibility and knowledge to make timely programming changes. His broadcast was still outstanding in its elite category and, as Marek correctly observes, extremely popular among jazz lovers. We offered the Polish-language edition of his program to Polish Radio in December 1989 after reintroducing it several years earlier in our broadcasts to Poland. But, as Marek also points out, VOA’s Polish Service broadcast a very successful music program, “Top Ten,” hosted by Wojciech Żórniak for many years. Hired in the 1980s, he was our youngest broadcaster. We also eventually shared his music program with Polish Radio. However, music programs and Willis Conover – without Solidarity, the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and substantive political programming from Radio Free Europe throughout its existence and from VOA during the Reagan years – would not have made much political difference in Poland and the Soviet Union. This became especially true when, after Stalin’s death, the Communists eventually learned how to use Western music to their advantage and how to manipulate American diplomats and journalists to support détente and the illusory convergence of communism and socialism. What they did not want from the U.S. government was more focus in diplomacy and journalism on the eventual replacement of the illegitimate governments imposed by the Soviet Union without democratic elections.

VOA Under Reagan

President Reagan addressing guests attending the 40th Anniversary of the Voice of America VOA at the Voice of America Building, February 24, 1982.

While not commenting at much length on any specific international media issues today, Marek Walicki is sending a clear message in his book that what Vladimir Putin’s propagandists deliver to the most naïve among Western journalists is a parody of the truth. What used to be the weakness of the Left in believing in Soviet propaganda has now become the weakness of some of the right-wing American conservatives. They ought to ask themselves how a leader like Ronald Reagan, who called the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire,” would have reacted to Russia’s current attempt to restore it. 

…unlike in previous years, the Voice of America was no longer jamming itself with its “political correctness.”

Marek Walicki

Marek Walicki correctly observed in his book that the dramatic change in Voice of America programming after 1980 was not in any way the work of the old Voice of America leadership but resulted from the election of Ronald Reagan and the appointment of his friend, Charles Z. Wick, as the new director of the U.S. Information Agency. He describes the dramatic expansion of VOA programs to Poland, which occurred shortly after the imposition of martial law in December 1981. Both of us initiated the changes in programming, but they would not have been possible without increased budgets, more airtime, and the hiring of many new talented broadcasters. In making these changes, we had full support from VOA Director Kenneth Y. Tomlinson and his successors throughout the Reagan administration.

…we were finally working “all out,” like real, independent radio journalists, and also conveying American reactions to the increasingly new events in Poland.

Marek Walicki

Marek Walicki noted that he and I worked very closely together in transforming the VOA Polish Service, with Marek assuming the duties of the chief editor, while I focused more on managing staff, dealing with the government bureaucracy, and protecting the independence of our programs. I also wrote and edited news reports and conducted interviews in English with American politicians, including Vice President George H. W. Bush. While covering his visit to Poland in 1987, I interviewed Lech Wałęsa, Solidarity leader and future President of democratic and independent post-Cold War Polish Republic.

At the same time, Marek watched over our broadcasts in Washington. He and I saw eye to eye on almost everything. Without him, the VOA Polish Service would not have become as widely listened to in Poland as Radio Free Europe, which both of us knew was far superior to the Voice of America in serving the information needs of the Polish radio listeners. Still, we achieved considerable progress during the Solidarity period by making our programming more similar to RFE’s broadcasts. What was happening in Poland domestically became the focus of our VOA Polish Service programs in the last decade of the Cold War.

We initiated phone interviews with prominent anti-communist opposition activists, many of whom became later ministers in the post-communist governments in once again democratic Poland. We also expanded coverage of American topics relevant to our listeners, including interviews with members of Congress and leaders of Polish-American organizations. Our regular weekly audience had grown by nearly 500 percent in a few years. According to various surveys, in the mid and late 1980s, we reached anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of the adult population in Poland.

In his book, Marek Walicki confirmed my own conviction that we chose the right strategy for broadcasting to countries behind the Iron Curtain, in this case, Poland.

Fortunately … due to historical events in Poland, the Polish Service of Voice of America was somewhat privileged, and we could afford to create many interesting, original programs and not rely only on English “master scripts.” Following the example of [Radio]Free Europe, we even prepared, for a period of time, reviews of the second-circulation [underground] press, discussed emigre magazines, we were in contact with the Solidarity office in Brussels – in short, we were finally working “all out,” like real, independent radio journalists, and also conveying American reactions to the increasingly new events in Poland.

The VOA Polish Service would have never received permission or resources from the pre-Reagan management to create such programs. The Reagan administration gave us the needed support, and we did not have to ask for permission to create programs we wanted. Marek Walicki correctly noted that at the so-called “program reviews” before the Reagan administration took over, the Voice of America management would carefully count the number of “House” programs used in our broadcasts. These were news reports and features written by Americans and translated by dozens of VOA’s foreign language services. “The more of these reports we used, the more praise we would get from the management,” Marek wrote.

The situation substantially changed for the better for the Polish Service after 1980. Marek observed that we even had an advantage over Radio Free Europe after obtaining, thanks to the new management, a quick and easy access to official statements from the State Department, the White House, and the U.S. Congress. During much of the 1960s and the 1970s, VOA’s weekly audience in Poland hovered around 10 percent and only three times reached 20 percent, while RFE’s audience fluctuated during the same time between 40 and 50 percent, reaching 80 percent in 1970-1971. Starting in 1980, we increased our weekly audience reach in Poland from 10 percent to nearly 50 percent in 1986 and were almost even with RFE in the late 1980s.41

Marek wrote that he found great satisfaction in the communist regime’s propaganda attacks on the Polish Service of the Voice of America during the Reagan years, as did I. Many of the accusations were absurd, including claims that VOA was broadcasting secret instructions to the leaders of the underground Solidarity movement and urged them to call for strikes. For Marek and me, the regime’s criticism of our broadcasts and the resumption of jamming, in addition to the continuous jamming of Radio Free Europe, was the best proof that VOA had become effective. It showed, Marek wrote, “that unlike in the previous years, the Voice of America was no longer jamming itself with its ‘political correctness.'”

Marek Walicki, deputy chief of the Voice of America Polish Service (right); Tadeusz Lipień, service chief (center); Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski (left) during the former National Security Advisor’s visit for an interview with VOA in January 1990.
The cover of the book, Panorama of Sabotage –Image of Poland in Voice of America Propaganda 1982-1984, published by the Interpress agency in Poland.

In a review of a book published by the Warsaw regime’s media agency “Interpress” under the title “Panorama of Sabotage – Image of Poland in Voice of America Propaganda 1982-1984,” someone writing for the Communist Party newspaper under the name Kazimierz Adamski accused VOA Polish Service journalists of being saboteurs sponsored by Ronald Reagan and employed by the United States government. The communist commentator blamed us for trying to nullify the results of the 1944 Yalta Agreement, tearing out Poland from the alliance of socialist states and attempting to bring back capitalism. The author of the article and the authors of the book he reviewed also accused us of lying about dire political conditions in the country and the crisis of Poland’s state-controlled socialist economy.42

Pulitzer Prize-winning Watergate reporter Bob Woodward wrote in his 1996 book about Pope John Paul II co-authored with Italian journalist Marco Politi that “Radio Free Europe and Voice of America were also used to send coded messages to the [Solidarity trade union] underground about deliveries of equipment and other matters, despite U.S. laws forbidding such activity” and became primary conduits of the Reagan Administration policy of separating the Poles from the Warsaw Pact.43 If the Voice of America sent such messages, I was not aware of them as the person in charge of VOA radio broadcasts to Poland. Marek Walicki or I checked almost every significant political report and interview broadcast during the Solidarity period. No one ever told us to send secret messages, and none were sent with our knowledge.44

While communist journalists in Poland knowingly engaged in blatant propaganda, some American journalists had no idea what the VOA Polish Service was doing at that time. Having never experienced life without freedom, Western critics of our Polish-language broadcasts were easily fooled by disinformation and conspiracy theories originating either in Warsaw or in Moscow and sometimes unwittingly repeated fake news.

The Voice of America 1982 Polish Service Superior Honor Award.

Marek mentions that in December 1989, I had a historic meeting in Warsaw with the director of Program One of Polish Radio, Marek Lipiński. VOA’s Polish Service and Polish Radio began a joint discussion program in which one of the guests was the former National Security Advisor to President Carter, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski. Polish Radio also rebroadcast a bilingual English-Polish newscast produced. Marek also noted in his book that we opened a small bureau in Warsaw.

But while Marek and I were arranging these post-Cold War initiatives, I felt that it might be the beginning of the end of Voice of America’s presence in East-Central Europe. With Marek in charge of the Polish Service in Washington, I moved to Munich and later to Prague to take a different job securing placement of VOA and RFE/RL broadcasts on the region’s public and private radio stations. Despite initial successes, it soon became apparent that VOA’s English and most foreign language services did not have the resources or new talent needed to deliver high-quality broadcasts demanded by local stations in Europe. Unable to secure more funding and new staff positions from VOA’s management, the Polish Service had to end its cooperation with Polish Radio.

VOA broadcasting to East-Central Europe soon ceased altogether, and the agency’s management closed down the language services serving the region. The Voice of America was forced to start paying radio and television stations in other countries to get them to carry VOA programs, usually late in the night when few people listened or watched. At the same time, Vladimir Putin’s security services ensured that no radio or television station in Russia would continue to carry VOA programs for payment or for free.

Former Radio Free Europe journalists, including Marek Walicki, and former RFE/RL officials who wrote books about their organization have been much more honest about some of the failures in RFE/RL’s past than former U.S. government employees and officials of the Voice of America Some former and current VOA English newsroom reporters, and at least one former VOA director, still declare with complete conviction that there have never been any Soviet, communist, or Russian spies working for the Voice of America.45 They are wrong denying or minimizing the role of Soviet agents of influence in VOA’s early years.

Among several books written about the Voice of America, only Mark G. Pomar’s recent bookCold War Radio: The Russian Broadcasts of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Lincoln: Potomac Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press, 2022), offers an objective assessment of the organization but, like Marek Walicki’s book, also does not focus on VOA’s early history.46

During the Reagan years, Pomar was director of the USSR Division at the Voice of America and served earlier as  a former assistant director of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service. He interviewed Alexandr Solzhenitsyn for the Voice of America Russian Service and defended him from the KGB-inspired attacks in U.S. media. Pomar correctly observed in his book that as a result of Reagan’s new policy toward Soviet Russia, “VOA produced many outstanding programs that dealt with individual freedom and human rights, especially in the area of culture, that retain relevance to this day.”47

Programs About Religion

In listing many of his impressive reporting assignments at the RFE New York Bureau, Marek Walicki describes his coverage of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła’s 1969 visit to Boston with justifiable pride. When he met Kraków’s Archbishop, he knew immediately that this self-effacing but also cheerful and witty Polish churchman was an exceptional man. Still, he admits he had no idea that he would become Pope John Paul II nine years later. A photograph in the book shows Marek Walicki standing with a microphone, recording Cardinal Wojtyła’s remarks. Standing next to Marek is the mayor of Boston, Kevin White. The date was September 24, 1969.

Although Marek Walicki did not go into the details of how Radio Free Europe covered the activities of the Catholic Church in Poland or visits to the West by its cardinals and bishops, it would have been impossible for senior members of the church hierarchy to grant an exclusive interview to Radio Free Europe without risking retaliation from the Warsaw regime. The threat of retaliation was less severe after 1956 in the case of interviews with the Voice of America. Cardinal Wojtyła granted VOA an exclusive interview during his trip to the United States in 1976, which I recorded. However, RFE reporters could and did record and broadcast public statements abroad by Polish Catholic bishops much more frequently and extensively than VOA. In his book, Marek Walicki pointed out that Radio Free Europe Polish Service director Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was in secret contact with Pope John Paul II during the Solidarity period in Poland and always supported Poland’s Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. For most of Voice of America’s existence, its senior management did not understand the importance of religion in countries like Poland and its importance in programming to these countries. This changed for a short period of time during the later part of the Truman administration. Another drastic changed occurred during the Reagan administration.

The first drastic change in the State Department personnel and Voice of America programs happened under pressure from the Truman administration. VOA hired Bertram David Wolfe, an American scholar, a leading Communist, and later a leading anti-communist, to write a series of programs about the Katyn massacre. When he joined the Voice of America in 1950, Wolfe discovered that VOA’s central English service journalists lacked the right background, education, and experience to report on the Soviet Union and the other Communist Bloc countries, especially on religion-related topics. In his autobiography, A Life in Two Centuries, published posthumously in 1981, Wolfe disclosed that even though he was an atheist, he had to write programs about religion under communism himself because he could not find anyone among VOA writers who could do it in English. Several years of hiring staff at the Voice of America according to ideological and partisan preferences of the Roosevelt administration had to change before VOA was able to challenge Soviet propaganda. Bertram Wolfe wrote in his memoir:

When I went to work for the Voice of America in the period from 1950 to 1954, religious leaders and believers were being framed, tortured, and sent to concentration camps in all the countries under Communist rule in Eastern Europe. After trying to get my script writers to write effective radio broadcasts to defend the religious freedom of the churchmen and devout believers who were being thus persecuted, I found that I had to write the scripts myself to get the requisite feeling into them. I did not believe what the persecuted believed, but I did believe in their right to freedom to harbor and practice their beliefs without interference.48

While working at the RFE New York Bureau, Marek Walicki accompanied his boss,  Karol Wagner-Pieńkowski, for an interview with Archbishop of Philadelphia Cardinal John Krol, who, during the Cold War, also recorded religious talks from time to time for VOA’s Polish Service. The Polish-American churchman was a close friend of Cardinal Wojtyła. Pan Karol, whom Marek greatly liked as his boss, was initially shocked that a Radio Free Europe employee did not show proper reverence toward the prelate. (In contemporary Polish, Pan and its feminine version Pani convey respect to an older or distinguished person.) Marek did not kiss Cardinal Krol’s ring, as Pan Karol told him to do. However, when Marek saw that the cardinal entered the room smiling and smoking a cigar, he decided to dispense with what Pan Karol had told him about how to behave correctly in the presence of a religious dignitary. Marek also straight-forwardly asked the prelate if he could move some chairs to get a better recording. His boss relaxed after he saw the cardinal put his hand on Marek’s shoulder and heard him say in Polish, “Do lad what you need to do so that the interview turns out well.” 

However, most of the religious programming for Poland at Radio Free Europe originated in Munich, not New York. During most of the Cold War and even during the Solidarity period, RFE had much more air time than VOA and could use it for more programs about religion, the Catholic Church, and regime-imposed restrictions on the rights of Catholics and Catholic press in Poland. Still, much of VOA’s airtime to Poland was wasted on translations of centrally-produced radio scripts on topics of little interest or relevance for listeners behind the Iron Curtain. The change at VOA came during the Reagan administration. As Marek Walicki observed about the Reagan years at VOA, “the Voice of America Polish Service covered all major international events: the visits to the United States by Pope John Paul II and Poland’s Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, the visits of Lech Wałęsa and Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, and even the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.”

Zofia Korbońska

The overall success of the Voice of America broadcasting to Poland would not have been possible without Ronald Reagan in the White House. Still, much of the credit goes to Marek Walicki and many of our colleagues, both from the old emigration and the new ones hired in the 1980s. One broadcaster at the Voice of America, about whom Marek writes more extensively in his book, was the legendary anti-Nazi underground radio coder Zofia Korbońska. Together with her husband, Stefan Korboński, the head of the anti-Nazi Social Resistance Department of the Directorate of Underground Resistance and the 1981 Yad Vashem honoree, she had to flee Poland in 1947 to avoid arrest by the communist regime or the Soviet NKVD secret police. After the war, Zofia Korbońska and other refugees from communism replaced the pro-Soviet Voice of America Polish staff. However, they continued to encounter a fundamental lack of understanding from much of the American management for the needs of journalism and radio broadcasting to a country ruled by a repressive and totalitarian regime. 

Zofia Korbońska and Tadeusz Lipien in the Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service office in Washington, DC, c. September 1974. Ted Lipien and Cold War Radio Museum photograph.
Zofia Korbońska and Tadeusz Lipien in the Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service office in Washington, DC, c. September 1974. Ted Lipien and Cold War Radio Museum photograph.

During the war, the Korbońskis were responsible for the Home Army radio station, which transmitted current information from Poland to London. The information was then retransmitted in news reports back to Poland by the Świt radio station based in England. Because the information was so fresh, radio listeners in Poland falsely assumed that Świt was broadcasting from within their Nazi-occupied country. However, there were not many of them because the Germans confiscated radio receivers from all Poles and severely punished those who did not obey the order to turn them in.

Zofia Korbońska started working for the Voice of America in 1948 on the recommendation of the former American ambassador to Poland, Arthur Bliss Lane, who wrote at that time: “As for radio broadcasts beamed to Poland as the ‘Voice of America,’ my opinion of their value differed radically from that of the authors of the program in the Department of State. … I felt that the Department’s policy to tell the people in Eastern Europe what a wonderful democratic life we in the United States enjoy showed its complete lack of appreciation of their psychology.” The former U.S. ambassador added, “especially in Poland, which had suffered through six years of Nazi domination, it was indeed tactless, to say the least, to remind the Poles that we had democracy, which they also might again be enjoying, had we not acquiesced in their being sold down the river at Teheran and Yalta.”49 Ambassador Bliss Lane was a great friend of the pro-democracy Poles and one of the prominent supporters of Radio Free Europe together with Ronald Reagan and General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was also critical of Voice of America’s pro-Soviet and partisan journalism during and after the war. 50 Bliss Lane resigned in 1947 from the State Department in protest against the U.S. government allowing Stalin to violate the provisions of the Yalta agreements. He described these violations and communist repressions in his memoir, I Saw Poland Betrayed, published in 1948.

Marek Walicki was among those Poles, both in exile and living and working in Poland, who refused to accept the legitimacy of the communist regime in Warsaw. They did not share the hope of many Western and some Polish writers and journalists, that a convergence of capitalism and socialism would result sooner or later in a return of democracy and respect for human rights in East-Central Europe and in the Soviet Union itself. He gravitated toward people of similar views, including Zofia and Stefan Korboński, but especially his main mentor and a friend in later years, the former director of the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe Jan Nowak Jeziorański. His friendship with Zofia Korbońska and Jan Nowak was so close that toward the end of their lives both made Marek the executor of their wills.

Marek Walicki wrote about Zofia Korbońska, “In the bureaucratic radio station that was the Voice of America, where we worked together for many years, pani Zosia – that’s how everyone called her – was probably the only person in our small team with whom I had very similar beliefs and the same, although rarely verbalized at that time, ideals.

Voice of America promotional brochure circa 1990.

Other Friends and Relatives

In his book, Marek also describes his close friendship with one of the most anti-communist intellectuals, a major 20th-century Polish poet, Zbigniew Herbert. At the suggestion of Zdzisław Najder, Marek met Herbert during his trip to the United States in 1968. After the poet stayed at Marek’s house for part of his American visit, they became close friends and corresponded for many years. During his later trips to Poland, Marek visited Herbert in Warsaw.

The Sejm (Parliament) of the Republic of Poland declared 2008 the Year of Zbigniew Herbert on the 10th anniversary of his death. The resolution adopted by the Parliament said that in his poetry, Herbert “expressed a love of freedom and faith in the dignity and moral strength of the individual.” Marek Walicki may have found a friend who shared his vision of what it means to be a Polish patriot. Herbert, the resolution said, “understood patriotism as a rigorous love which does not idealize, demanding of those who declare it not only sacrifices, but also enlightened criticism, not only lofty gestures but above all work and responsibility.”

Marek’s only relative who lived in the West at the time of his escape from Poland was his uncle, Juliusz Poniatowski, a reformist minister of agriculture in the pre-World War II Polish government. Marek established contact with his uncle, whom he saw as a substitute father, and visited him several times in Paris. Marek noted that Juliusz Poniatowski’s beloved daughter died in the Warsaw Uprising.

His uncle was somewhat less critical of the Warsaw regime than Jan Nowak. Marek described a conflict between the two when Nowak made cuts and changes in a program his uncle proposed in 1952 for Radio Free Europe to analyze economic policies under communism. Poniatowski thought that RFE tried to turn his script into a propaganda piece. However, a few years later, Marek and his uncle agreed that Jan Nowak was right in being cautious during the 1956 Polish October Revolution and thus avoided the mistakes of the RFE Hungarian Service. The much more belligerent RFE programming to Hungary may have encouraged the insurgents of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution to make decisions that led to the Soviet military intervention, the deadly crushing of the insurrection, and the murder of its leaders. Still, Marek wrote his uncle that may have been too optimistic about Soviet Russia. He told his uncle that one cannot trust Moscow and must assume that the satellite states would remain under Soviet influence as long as the Communists ruled in the Kremlin.

When, at the end of 1956, Juliusz Poniatowski decided to return to Poland, partly under the influence of his friend, the Polish writer Maria Dąbrowska, his correspondence with Marek ended. His uncle thought he might be able to advise the Warsaw regime on agricultural policies following the limited liberalization within the Communist Party after October 1956. Before the war, he was known as the “Red Minister” because of his support of moderate reforms and limited redistribution of agricultural land from the large estates of Polish landowners to land-poor peasants. Marek wrote that nothing came of his uncle’s expectations for a role as a government advisor in the Polish People’s Republic. He suspects that his uncle did not resume writing to him after he realized following his return to Poland that sending letters to a Radio Free Europe journalist on the Polish communist regime’s “blacklist” would have been inappropriate, if not outright dangerous.

Shortly before returning to Poland, his uncle applauded the travel to the Polish People’s Republic by a popular Polish writer, Melchior Wańkowicz, who until then lived in exile in the United States. After he signed the letter of 34, a Polish writers’ protest against censorship, the Warsaw regime arrested Wańkowicz in 1964. It charged him with “spreading anti-Polish propaganda abroad,” accusing him of secretly sending his texts to Radio Free Europe. The court sentenced him to three years in prison, but the communist authorities decided not to carry out his sentence, convinced that his arrest and trial were enough to force other Polish writers into submission. Self-censorship was the price writers and journalists had to pay for being allowed to return from exile to communist-ruled Poland and have their works published. Wańkowicz refused to follow these rules and was punished for it as an example to others.

Marek writes at some length about other friends, including the Polish artist Hilary Krzysztofiak, who, in the early 1950s, broke with socialist realism in Poland. His wife, Krystyna Miłotworska-Hilary, was a journalist who left the regime media in the Polish People’s Republic and, in 1969, started working as a broadcaster with Radio Free Europe. Hilary was a frequent guest in Marek’s Virginia suburb home, where he decorated the entrance wall with a large mural. Marek’s daughter Krystyna helped him with his work and, in largely symbolic but generous gesture, allowed her to sign her name next to his.

Marek’s books also has a chapter about his warm friendship with Father Feliks Zieliński, a Benedictine priest, whom he helped to raise money in the United States for rebuilding an unrestored wing of Kraków’s Tyniec Monastery, and who in turn devoted much of his time to hosting Marek and his children during their visits to Poland.

Personal Sacrifices

Despite many professional and personal successes, life in exile was not always easy for Marek Walicki. He could not visit his parents in Poland and, for many years, did not know whether he would ever be able to return to his country, which, like many Poles brought up in the patriotic tradition, he loved and wanted to see free, democratic, and independent from domination by Soviet Russia. When he left Radio Free Europe in Munich in 1955 and moved to the United States to explore new opportunities, get married, and have a family, he had to take several low-paying jobs before being rehired to work at the RFE bureau in New York.

Marek Walicki writes with some bitterness about the budget cuts, which later led to the eventual elimination of RFE Polish Service’s staff in New York, including losing his full-time position in 1974. He is especially critical toward RFE and RL executives Ralph Walter and William Durkee for what he describes as their coldblooded implementation of the budget and staff-cutting policy. Walter served as a policy advisor to RFE Polish Service, and was later appointed RFE director. William P. Durkee III was RFE president. The dismantling of the RFE Polish Service Bureau, as well as Bulgarian, Czechoslovak, Hungarian, and Romanian bureaus in New York, reminded Marek of how the American authorities in Germany in the first years after the war liquidated in their occupation zone all Polish pro-independence newspapers and other publications to appease Stalin. He found it curious that reporters working in New York for more than a dozen Radio Liberty services kept their full-time positions while refugee journalists from the anti-communist nations in the Soviet Bloc in East-Central Europe lost their jobs with Radio Free Europe. Marek added that despite the best state of current Polish-American relations, “one must not forget about the black spots in Washington’s policies.”

Poland represented the greatest threat to Moscow’s control over East-Central Europe as the country where opposition to Soviet domination and communism was most likely to erupt and most likely to succeed, as proven by prior and subsequent events. Besides the Soviet Union, Poland was the most significant member of the Warsaw Pact alliance. The Soviet Empire did not disintegrate from its center; it started to fall apart on its eastern flank, with Poland leading the way since 1945 with multiple rebellions by workers and intellectuals, morally supported by the Catholic Church. Strangely, the RFE and RL leadership selected Polish and other Central-East European RFE journalists in New York – those who could do more damage to Soviet hegemony in the region than Radio Liberty reporters – to be let go. As Marek noted, all administrative staff at the bureau, with less work to do, kept their full-time jobs and time to paint their nails, do crossword puzzles, or watch television. “The RFE and RL leadership, leaders of the Polish-American Congress, members of the United States Congress, and many influential Americans of Polish descent,” Marek Walicki wrote, “could not save a few dozen soldiers – allies committed to the ongoing struggle for freedom and democracy.” Marek added that “The powerless Polish-American media reported” that the RFE broadcasters in New York “were thrown on the ash heap of history.” Marek attributes the budget cuts at RFE to the influence of Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a foreign policy advisor to Henry Kissinger at the National Security Council and the State Department during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Kissinger’s aide advocated for a “more natural and organic” relationship between the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellite states as necessary for the lessening of tensions between Washington and Moscow.

It was not Jan Nowak’s fault that the RFE and RL New York Bureau found itself on the chopping block. Senator J. William Fulbright (D-AR) led a long crusade to shut down the entire Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty operation, which he saw as contributing to tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union with its Warsaw Pact communist allies.51 The American leadership of RFE and RL in Munich found it difficult to justify keeping the New York Bureau open when the Voice of America’s specific mandate was to report American news. However, to those who knew how the Voice of America operated in the 1960s and the 1970s and how its management treated its East-Central European foreign language services, it was evident that VOA could not consistently do the work of RFE and RL journalists in New York. Reading Marek Walicki’s book and based on my experience at the Voice of America in the 1970s, I know that the VOA Polish Service was not doing anything similar. The quantity and quality of RFE output in New York was much greater to anything VOA was willing and capable of producing. Before the Reagan administration, the money for travel and news coverage at VOA went to central English newsroom reporters, not foreign language services.

Marek’s boss in New York, radio journalist Karol Wagner-Pieńkowski was the director of the Polish Service of Radio Madrid from 1949 to 1955. The Polish-language broadcasts from Madrid were very popular in Poland before Radio of Free Poland-Radio Free Europe came on the air. Speaking in the U.S. House of Representatives on July 24, 1951, Congressman Richard B. Wigglesworth (Republican-Massachusetts) delivered a devastating critique of Voice of America Polish broadcasts and named the Polish Service of Radio Madrid as the most popular Western radio station in Poland. His assessment of Radio Madrid and his criticism of VOA were based on letters smuggled from Poland and analyzed for the Voice of America management by Poland’s former wartime ambassador in Washington, Jan Ciechanowski, one of the early critics of Soviet influence within the Office of War Information, where VOA broadcasts originated during the war. One of the letters said:

Western radio broadcasts beamed to Poland are rated by the Poles as follows: 1. Radio Madrid is considered the best of all. It is interesting, topical, nonpartisan, informative, and is therefore widely listened to and acted upon, being regarded as a trustworthy anti-Communist directive. 2. The broadcasts of the British Broadcasting Corp. are regarded as the next best. 3. In most recent reports, the Liberty broadcasts of the National Committee for a Free Europe (N. Y.) are rated as somewhat improved. They are classed as third best after the two above-mentioned ones. 4. The Voice of America broadcasts come last.” In listeners’ letters from Poland, VOA Polish broadcasts in 1951 were described as “uninteresting, drab, bureaucratic in tone, unconvincing.”52 

My VOA mentor Zofia Korbońska and I were envious knowing that the RFE Bureau in New York regularly obtained recordings and texts from some of the most famous Polish and Polish-American writers, poets, journalists, and artists living in exile in the United States and even in other countries: Witold Gombrowicz, Kazimierz Wierzyński, Marian Hemar, Gustaw Herling-Grudzinski, Tadeusz Wittlin, Józef Wittlin, Jan Fryling, playwright Jerzy Tepa (who at that time was only the chief of VOA Polish Service radio production), Bolesław Wierzbiański, Zdzisław Bau (whom VOA Polish Service used sometimes as a freelancer under his radio name Andrzej Holik), Stefan Gacki, and many others. The RFE Bureau in New York also interviewed Polish democratic politicians in exile: Stefan Korboński, Zbigniew Stypułkowski, General Władysław Anders, General Kazimierz Sosnowski, General Władysław Bortnowski, and others. Some of these Polish writers and journalists were former Soviet Gulag and Nazi prisoners. Many Polish scientists and scholars also came to the RFE Bureau in New York to be interviewed or sent texts. In the 1970s, VOA Polish could rarely get permission and money from the management to send reporters to cover events in the United States and often could not even cover Poland-related news in Washington, DC, as Marek Walicki found out when he joined VOA in 1976. I remember that he and I would laugh at the irony that the administrative assistants who processed our rare requests for travel reimbursements had higher U.S. government pay grades than we did.

Thanks to Jan Nowak, Marek Walicki’s ultimate boss, who, until he retired from RFE in 1976, always looked out for his favorite young employee and kept assuring him that he could always return to Munich, Marek was allowed to continue working in New York for some time as a freelancer after the elimination of the bureau but at much lower pay and without any benefits. While still working part-time for RFE in New York on a reduced salary, he supplemented his income by running a cleaning service for office buildings in Manhattan. The cleaning service belonged to an American businessman, with Marek hiring and managing its employees, primarily African Americans and immigrants from Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia, and other countries. He was making more money as an office cleaning service manager than from his freelancing work for Radio Free Europe. He also had social benefits from his employer that RFE would not offer to its part-time contributors.

Living in exile and working for Radio Free Europe required many personal sacrifices. It took more than three decades before Marek could return to Poland under communist rule. While he still worked for Radio Free Europe, a trip to visit his family was out of the question. RFE and RL employees were not allowed to travel to their native countries behind the Iron Curtain for security reasons. If they did, the communist authorities would arrest them and put them on trial unless they agreed to cooperate with the secret police, admit they made a mistake working for the Americans, and publicly condemn their American employers. Marek wrote that very few people, especially the younger ones, have any idea how the communist regime controlled travel and correspondence with relatives abroad perceived as the enemies of the state. Some naively asked him if he often talked to his parents on the phone.

For many years, Marek and his family in Poland exchanged letters but never directly, addressing them instead to persons with different names and using various addresses. A few times, his mother could send her letters by diplomatic pouch because one of her patients was a French diplomat in Warsaw who agreed to help her communicate with her son. The communist regime denied her requests for a passport to visit him in the United States seventeen times. She finally received one and spent almost a year in 1968 with Marek, his wife, and her grandchildren. But when she died suddenly later that year after returning to Warsaw from her visit, Marek could not travel to Poland for her funeral. He explains that he was one of Radio Free Europe’s “hornets.” The communist secret police called their confidential files on RFE journalists the “hornets’ nest.” He also could not return to Poland for his father’s funeral, when he died much earlier when Marek was still in Germany.

As a U.S. federal government employee and a Voice of America broadcaster in the late 1970s and the 1980s, he was no longer automatically disqualified from getting a Polish visa. However, getting the regime to give him a visa was still a harrowing process. In 1981, he went to the Polish Consulate in Washington to apply for a tourist visa for himself and his daughter. The Polish Consul who received them tried to convince his daughter to apply for Polish citizenship. She ended the conversation by saying she was uninterested and happy to be only an American citizen. After returning home with the visa questionaries given to them at the Consulate, Marek discovered that his visa application included written-in additional questions: who helped him escape from Poland?; when and where he illegally crossed the Polish border?; and whether he made statements defaming the Polish People’s Republic? Outraged by these questions, Marek protested in a letter to the Polish Ambassador in Washington, Romulad Spasowski. As an aside, shortly after the imposition of martial law in Poland, Ambassador Spasowski defected and asked for political asylum in the United States. The ambassador must have chastised the regime’s consul because he called Marek and told him there was no need to answer the additional questions and that he could return to the Consulate in a few days to pick up his and his daughter’s visas.

My experience with Poland’s communist diplomats in Washington while trying to obtain a reporter’s visa was similar to Marek’s experience. According to a file on me in the communist secret police archives in Poland, I had told a Polish diplomat, who undoubtedly was a spy, that I was not planning to file ”venomous news reports” about the communist regime. I was pleased to read years later that Polish communist officials were greatly disappointed in my work for VOA in Poland.

In his reports from the Polish People’s Republic, T. LIPIEŃ did not respect his own obligations because he concentrates on transmitting negative statements by the representatives of the opposition, previously recorded on tape, regarding the government’s policy and society’s mood. VOA then repeatedly broadcast these statements in the program “Echoes of the Day’s Events.” This is a special kind of “publicist” for the representatives of the opposition [to the communist rule].

The secret police also prepared a description of my family background and biographies of my parents. Much of the information in that report was factually wrong as their informants were not very reliable. However, it showed how repressive regimes everywhere keep tabs on Western journalists, especially those employed by the U.S. government, and are more than willing to use it for intimidation, blackmail, and potential recruitment of informants.

Regime’s Attempt to Recruit Him

Thirty-two years after crossing the “green border” and living in exile, Marek finally returned to his home country on a private visit in June 1981. It happened following the legalization of the independent Solidarity trade union but still nearly a decade before the final fall of communism in Poland. Everything went well during the visit, but toward the end of his trip, persons who identified themselves as Polish military intelligence functionaries were waiting for Marek at the Kasprowy Hotel in the Polish Tatra Mountains resort town of Zakopane. He suspected they had been alerted by the regime diplomat in Washington, whom he and his daughter had met at the Consulate to arrange their entry visas. One of the Polish spies called his hotel room and asked to meet with him in the adjoining room. Marek reluctantly agreed after whispering to Krystyna to phone the American Consulate in Kraków if he did not return by the next morning.

Marek wrote that the regime spies offered him money and a passport for travel abroad for his brother in exchange for agreeing to provide them with information. They also told him they knew he was collecting underground literature. They asked about Zdzisław Najder, but Marek brushed aside their questions by saying that he did not discuss politics with him, which was not exactly true. He also misled them into thinking that Najder was in Great Britain, although he knew he was in Italy at that time. One of the functionaries, looking like a thug, who came later into the room, put a bag on the table full of U.S. dollars, and showing his big muscles, said that they no longer use force but indicated his disappointment that Marek refused to cooperate and wanted to remain on the enemy side. Marek thought that he was watching from the adjacent room. He wrote that after rejecting their requests and saying that he would only answer any further questions in the presence of an American diplomat, the regime spies let him leave after about forty minutes. As he departed, they told him to forget about their conversation and added a warning that he should not forget their long reach.

Collapse of Socialist Economy

A long line in front of a food store in Warsaw, Poland in 1981 shortly before the imposition of the martial law by the communist regime. Photo by Ted Lipien.
A letter from a mother in Poland to the Voice of America Polish Service, mailed in 1982, with a request for clothing and shoes for her children who signed their names.

On his 1981 trip to Poland, Marek could observe the complete failure of the state-run socialist economy wherever he went. He described empty stores and wrote about the great joy of Janina Walicka, his nephew’s former wife, when he purchased an ample supply of toilet paper from a private street vendor near the central train station in Warsaw. VOA’s Polish Service received during the Cold War thousands of letters from its listeners in communist-ruled Poland with requests for humanitarian assistance. The number of such letters increased considerably in the 1980s. In one of them, sent to the Voice of America in November 1982 during the martial law in Poland, a Polish mother of three girls – Agnieszka, Joanna and Magda (ages 7, 11, and 12) – asked if VOA could help her find an American family willing to send used clothing and shoes for her young children. All three girls signed their names on the letter. It was mailed from a city in central Poland. The majority of letters sent from Poland to the Voice of America during the Cold War with requests for humanitarian aid were written by women.

During his visit in 1981, Marek saw long lines of men and women waiting to apply for U.S. visas at the American Embassy in Warsaw. He felt terrible that he could not do anything when many asked him for help to secure a visa to come to the United States. Traveling by car, he and his daughter noticed that the roads were almost completely empty but saw many cars waiting at gas stations. They could only continue their travel by car thanks to friendly priests at Catholic parishes who supplied them with gasoline. After three weeks of sightseeing, Marek and Krystyna left the country by plane without further incident. Marek’s luggage, where he carried Solidarity pamphlets published without the approval of the regime’s censors, was not searched.


Marek’s second visit to Poland, this time as a VOA correspondent using an American diplomatic passport to protect him from possible further harassment by the secret police, was in 1988, shortly before the fall of communism in the following year after the first partly free nationwide elections in the country since the end of World War II, resulting in an overwhelming victory for candidates backed by the independent Solidarity trade union movement. Even during his second trip to Poland, he reported being followed by the secret police. Still, they did not prevent him from filing his reports and traveling to Gdańsk, where he interviewed for the Voice of America Lech Wałęsa’s advisor, the future first non-communist Polish prime minister since 1946 Tadeusz Mazowiecki.

Marek pointed out that sending news reports and interviews by phone from Poland to Washington was not always easy because regime functionaries, knowing ahead of time which phones he might be using, often interrupted audio transmissions with noise or cut the line. However, they did not know that Solidarity activists put him in touch with Zdzisław Okulski, a retired steelworker in Nowa Huta near Kraków. The secret police did not tap the phone at his home in a working-class neighborhood. Marek would travel at least twice daily from Nowa Huta to a Catholic church in the Mistrzejowice suburb of Kraków, where a three-day International Human Rights Conference was held, and back to Nowa Huta, so that he could send his reports to VOA in Washington without any interruptions. One of the interviews Marek recorded for VOA’s Russian Service was with Russian poet, translator of Polish literature, and civil-rights activist Natalya Gorbanevskaya, who took part in the 1968 Red Square demonstration against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and was sentenced in 1970 by a Soviet court to incarceration in a psychiatric hospital.

It took some effort to send these recording from Poland to Washington. Marek wrote that he would call my office number collect. We would talk briefly, he would connect his tape recorder to the phone line, and transmit his audio reports. An hour later, and sometimes even sooner, Mr. Okulski, his wife, his son, Piotr, and thousands of other families throughout Poland could hear Marek’s interviews with Polish opposition leaders and foreign guests who were attending a three-day International Human Rights Conference held in a Catholic church in Kraków. I used the same subterfuge, sending phone reports from Poland in 1987 on the visit of Vice President George H. W. Bush and a pro-Solidarity demonstration following his appearance at the grave of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, whom the regime’s secret police agents brutally murdered three years earlier. Using a phone at a private apartment in Warsaw, I would call Marek in Washington and send my reports, which included a short conversation with Father Popiełuszko’s parents. A few days later, I sent my interview with Lech Wałęsa, recorded earlier in the day in Gdańsk at his parish church.

Tadeusz Mazowiecki, whom Marek interviewed during his working visit to Poland the following year, had been a longtime opposition activist with close links to the Catholic Church and the editor-in-chief of the Tygodnik Solidarność weekly magazine. He was a prisoner during the martial law in Poland. At the end of August 1988, Marek caught up with Mazowiecki at Lech Wałęsa’s parish church, St. Bridget’s in Gdańsk, and asked him for an interview for the Voice of America. Mazowiecki told him he was dead tired after traveling from Warsaw and needed a few hours of sleep. In a manner typical of Marek, he said to the Solidarity advisor that he would wait for him in the courtyard. After about 20 minutes, unshaven, looking extremely tired, and holding a cigarette, Mazowiecki returned and said to Marek, “I can’t let you wait any longer … this is too important; I’ll give you an exclusive interview for VOA. The same day, the Polish Service broadcast to Poland an interview with the future prime minister of a democratically-elected government, in which, as Marek recalled, he expressed optimism about the country’s long-term future. He regrets not keeping a copy of his interview with the Polish opposition leader and points out that, unlike Radio Free Europe, Voice of America’s management did not pay much attention to maintaining a tape archive. As I learned after returning to VOA in Washington in 2003 after my assignment in Europe, all VOA Polish Service tapes with important interviews were thrown into the trash.

I agree with Marek on every one of his observations in the book about the differences between the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe – nearly all in favor of RFE. Elsewhere in his book, he points out that while non-staff contributors to RFE programs were called freelancers, at VOA, they were referred to as POVs, which stood for “Purchase Order Vendors.” The bureaucratic government language left no doubt that VOA ordered and bought their product and specified what it must be; RFE treated their freelancers more as creative talent. The difference in the language may appear trivial. Still, it showed RFE’s advantage over VOA in having a clearly defined mission of serving their audience’s most critical information needs as a surrogate broadcaster. VOA has never had a clearly defined mission, especially now. The U.S. government agency’s management could never decide whether the mission should be showing the United States to the world, improving America’s image abroad, promoting dialogue with foreign governments in the hope that they would slowly change and become less repressive and more democratic, or giving their audiences the information they most desired and not being afraid if it would lead to their fall, hopefully in a non-violent way. Marek and I chose the last option, also favored by President Reagan and his administration. We made out programs resemble RFE programs to a significant degree while not departing from the requirements of the VOA Charter but rather adding them, thus making our broadcasts in some ways superior to RFE’s. This was not what nearly all pre-Reagan VOA management teams wanted or what was desired and demanded by most of our central English programs colleagues, even during the Reagan years. Marek Walicki’s book leaves no doubt that our choice of programming strategy was responsible for our success.

Marek writes that after Solidarity’s final victory, he was later disappointed by the so-called “thick line” policy, a phrase borrowed from Prime Minister Mazowiecki’s speech in the Sejm (the lower house of the Polish Parliament) interpreted as favoring nonpunishment for crimes committed by the communist regime of pre-1989 Poland. Still, he sees the years 1988 and 1989 as the happiest in his political-journalistic life, and perhaps also his personal life.”

As a former political refugee from the People’s Republic of Poland, an employee of Radio Free Europe, and a former “class enemy,” I was back in Poland, and with the Voice of America microphone in my hand, I was a witness of historic events, an interlocutor of the new leaders of the emerging independent and increasingly democratic Poland.

Threats to Independent Journalism

While Poland has made significant progress in the last 30 years since the time described in the final chapters of Marek Walicki’s book, some of Western journalism has reverted sadly to the state characteristic of the good old days of the Soviet empire and its network of spies, agents of influence, and fellow traveler reporters and writers. Authoritarian and dictatorial regimes in countries like Russia, China, Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Cuba seek out for direct or indirect subversion media reporters, anchors, and commentators known for their extreme ideological or partisan views, those who can be bought easily with money. They also target reporters who are desperate for personal or professional reasons to get visas to visit their homelands or, even if not born there, to gain fame by reporting from a closed nation and securing a difficult-to-get interview with a regime leader.

The most vulnerable journalists are those with close family members in these countries. Not all know how not to take unnecessary risks and protect themselves from intimidation, their handlers and security services in the countries they visit. Marek Walicki had the courage and integrity and knew how to outsmart the secret police. Not every reporter is capable of detecting and resisting manipulation. Few U.S. government media officials today are even aware of the dangers that Cold War journalists like Marek Walicki had to deal with every day of their careers. Several years ago, I watched a video report from North Korea sent by a VOA Korean Service correspondent who somehow got a reporter’s visa. The video contained almost nothing besides the North Korean regime’s propaganda.

Some VOA reporters can be also exceptionally obsequious or excessively cautious in interviewing dictators, giving them an entirely mistaken impression of American values and U.S. government’s intentions. Several years back, I read the full transcript of a much-hailed interview with Mullah Omar Mohammad, the Taliban leader, conducted in Pashtu in 2001 by a Voice of America correspondent. VOA presented airing the interview as a victory for journalistic independence after the State Department, for whatever reason, had demanded that it not be broadcast. VOA refused the request and aired the interview.

The partial transcript of the interview that can be found online does not give the complete picture of how it was conducted because I remember thinking at the time that the VOA Polish Service would have never addressed a communist leader in Poland in the same manner. I was convinced that if different VOA reporter did the interview, asked the right questions, and presented the dire consequences of refusing to give up or expel Osama bin Laden, the Afghan War with its enormous costs in human lives – American, allied soldiers, and Afghans – and the money spent fighting the Afghan regime and the Taliban could have been averted. It would certainly not be how Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, or Marek Walicki, would have conducted an interview during the Cold War with a communist leader. However then RFE and RL had no chance to interview communist officials. It was, in my view, not such a bad thing in dealing with brutal and unscrupulous regimes. When I was briefly RFE/RL president in 2020-2021, one of my first decisions was to stop paying legal fees to keep the RFE/RL bureau in Moscow open, close it down, and get our reporters out of Russia as soon as possible. U.S. international broadcasting lost important knowledge and experience when journalists like Marek Walicki, who lived through World War II and struggled against communism, Soviet despotism, and communist propaganda retired in the 1990s.

A Fulfilling Life

In the introduction to his book, Marek Walicki correctly observed that the communist regime in Poland suffered a defeat in the first partly democratic elections in the country since World War II and was forced to make concessions “thanks to more than ten million members of the independent Solidarity trade union movement, the Polish Pope, and also partly – as confirmed by many prominent politicians – the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe.” Marek Walicki was very much part of this noble effort.

I am very happy today that after various major and minor struggles or battles, we achieved – through a joint effort – a great victory.

Marek Walicki

However, many former and current American officials and English-language reporters associated with the Voice of America, going back to the Cold War, present a different narrative. They usually fail to acknowledge the role of the Polish people and the Catholic Church in Poland or mention it only in passing. Very little is said about the multiple rebellions by the Poles against the communist regime and the Soviet domination of Poland or the fact that the Polish Solidarity trade union movement helped to bring the end of communism in the other countries in the region and precipitated the fall of the Soviet Union. They may mention the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and his perestroika but without noting that he remained a lifelong Marxist, used military force in trying to prevent the Baltic states from leaving the USSR, and initiated reforms only under the persistent pressure from the anti-communist Poles combined with the collapse of the centrally-planned socialist economy. When they write and talk about the Voice of America and the end of the Cold War, they are more likely to give credit to music programs of Willis Conover, mention the love for American jazz in the Soviet Union, the peaceful protests in Czechoslovakia, or bring up the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre and Voice of America broadcasts to the developing world as proof that their concept of “soft power” radio journalism is superior to any other and that VOA always tells the truth.

Marek Walicki is not trying to present any grand conclusions in his book but offers many anecdotal yet consistently accurate observations on what has worked and has not worked well in U.S. international broadcasting. Information outreach to other countries works best if media users are themselves willing to stand up for the truth, and the news and commentary they receive bring them something they want but don’t have. Marek Walicki makes it clear that left-wing or right-wing propaganda, compromise with the totalitarians, or incitement to hatred and violence can only result in prolonging suffering and may end in disaster. Today, more countries in the developing world, including Africa, side with Putin’s Russia, the repressive regime in Iran, Communist Party-ruled China, and Hamas terrorists than they sided with the Soviet Union and Red China during the Cold War. It is not difficult to imagine why when we see increasingly ideologically biased editors and reporters in the VOA English newsroom under the current partisan leadership in the U.S. Agency for Global Media looking for excuses for the October 7 slaughter by Hamas terrorists of defenseless Jewish women and children, see them glorifying Che Guevara and Angela Davis, or mourning the passing of Fidel Castro.

In the conclusion of his book, Marek wrote that from the moment of his escape from the Polish People’s Republic, he considered himself a political refugee committed to working for Poland’s independence without declaring loyalty to any political party. “My ‘party’ was and is Poland, he stressed. I might add that, unlike today, when many Voice of America officials and journalists openly display their political party affiliations, their extreme biases, and even post offensive partisan material for the whole world to see, Marek and I and our colleagues in most of VOA’s foreign language services, as well as most VOA officials during the Cold War, went to great lengths to keep domestic and foreign partisan politics from anything connected with our work, especially anything that could embarrass us or the U.S. government. That is no longer the case at today’s Voice of America.

Marek Walicki believes that young people in free and democratic Poland who may think about working and living permanently abroad should avoid taking this step, especially if Poland is in their hearts and they are proud of being Polish. He succeeded in teaching his American-born children to speak Polish but concludes with considerable sadness that any new generation brought up and assimilated in a foreign country will inevitably be absorbed within the new nation and its culture. He misses not living in Poland. Yet, despite various difficulties and disappointments, Marek Walicki still calls his work at Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America his life’s success story:

And so the radio stations – Free Europe and Voice of America – replaced the Polish army I dreamed of joining when escaping from the People’s Republic of Poland in 1949. I served in them for nearly half a century. I retired with a sense of a well-fulfilled duty, having lived to see a free and independent Poland. And although – in my opinion – both Polish sections of these radio stations were closed much too early, I am very happy today that after various major and minor struggles or battles, we achieved – through a joint effort – a great victory.

Collector of Polish Art

Marek Walicki has been a collector of Polish art almost his entire life in the West and is one of the leading experts in the United States on Poland’s 19th and early 20th century painters, especially those of the Munich School, which included  Józef ChełmońskiJózef BrandtWładysław CzachórskiJulian FałatAleksander GierymskiMaksymilian Gierymski and Alfred Wierusz-Kowalski. He writes about his friendship with a major American collector of Polish art, Casimir A. Silski (1982-1973).

Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was also a major collector of Polish art. Marek describes in his book Nowak’s collection, which is now displayed at Ossolineum’s Pan Tadeusz Museum in Wrocław. Some of the best paintings from Marek Walicki’s collection are now owned by the same museum.

Marek describes in his book how he and his Polish-American friend Marek Kabat discovered and helped to recover a painting by a leading Polish painter, Wojciech Gerson. The painting, which Sotheby’s in London put up for auction in 2003, calling it “The Shepherd’s Concert,” was stolen from the Kronenberg family in Warsaw during World War II. Marek Kabat alerted Marek, who confirmed it was one of the many Polish works of art the Germans looted during the war. The original Polish name of the painting was Odpoczynek w szałasie tatrzańskim (“A Rest in a Mountaineers’ Hut”). Marek alerted the Polish Embassy in Washington, Sotheby’s withdrew it from auction, and the Kronenberg family heirs generously donated it to the National Museum in Warsaw, where it is now displayed.

Wojciech Gerson (1831–1901), The Shepherd’s Concert. (Odpoczynek w szałasie tatrzańskim), 1862. From Kronenberg collection. Since 2010: collection of Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland.

A Personal Note

I admire Marek Walicki for his honesty in describing in his book his exciting, sometimes challenging, but always truly meaningful life as a journalist and a defender of liberty. During the Reagan administration, he made a big difference in the Voice of America broadcasting to Poland in the 1980s. Without his knowledge, wisdom, and absolute dedication to his journalistic work, the Voice of America Polish Service would not have been able to significantly expand its audience and influence in Poland during the Solidarity trade union’s struggle for freedom and democracy in Poland.

As the VOA Polish Service chief during that crucial period, which ended with the fall of communism in East Central Europe and with Poland and other countries in the region regaining their independence from the Soviet Union, I owe him a great debt of gratitude.


  1. See Anna Louise Strong, I Saw The New Poland (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1946), p. 146. Anna Louise Strong was an American journalist who for several decades supported communism in Russia, in Soviet satellite countries, and China. She published articles in support of Stalin’s rule and propagandized for other communist regimes in The Atlantic MonthlyThe American Mercury, Harper’sThe Nation, and Asia. She also exchanged letters with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Later in her writing and journalistic career, she befriended Mao Zedong. Anna Louise Strong died in Beijing in 1970. Her book, I Saw The New Poland, can be accessed online on the Internet Archive Library:
  2. Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-CA), “The VOA as Ministry of Truth,” Congressional Record, Extension of Remarks, June 28, 1978, pp. 19444-19445, includes the text of Jack Anderson’s column, “Censorship on the Katyn Massacre.”
  3. Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-CA), “The VOA as Ministry of Truth,” Congressional Record, Extension of Remarks, June 28, 1978, pp. 19444-19445.

  4. Oliver Carlson, Radio in the Red (New York: Catholic Information Society, 1947), p. 7.
  5. Mira Złotowska, “I came back from Poland, Harper’s Magazine, November 1946,
  6. Homer Smith, Black Man in Red Russia (Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company, 1964), p. 162.
  7. Ted Lipien, “Black History Hero Homer Smith Fought Racism at Home and Soviet Propaganda Abroad,” Washington Examiner, February 28, 2022,
  8. Robert E. Sherwood, Director, Overseas Branch, Office of War Information; RG208, Director of Oversees Operations, Record Set of Policy Directives for Overseas Programs-1942-1945 (Entry 363); Regional Directives, January 1943-October 1943; Box 820; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
  9. “We Take Off Our Hat To Miss Kathleen Harriman,” The Sketch, April 3, 1946, p. 175.
  10. Flora Wovschin’s immigrant family seemed to have been well off financially in America. Her father, Dr. William A. Wovschin, was a captain in the U.S. Army during World War I. Both her mother, Maria Wicher (cover name DASHA), and her stepfather, Enos Regnert Wicher (cover name KEEN), were Communist Party USA activists and appeared in deciphered Venona messages as KGB contacts. Enos Wicher, who worked for the Wave Propagation Group of Columbia University’s Division of War Research, provided information on American military electronics. See John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, Yale Nota Bene (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2000), p. 198. Flora Wovschin graduated from Barnard College and studied at the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism. She is listed as WOVSCHIN, FLORA RHODA” in the Barnard College Mortarboard 1942 Senior Yearbook roster on page 190, and on page 160 as a member of the French Club. In February 1941, when Stalin and Hitler were still allies, she strongly opposed U.S. aid to Britain, following closely the Soviet and Communist Party USA propaganda line at that time. The Barnard Bulletin student newspaper issue of February 21, 1941, four months before Germany’s sudden attack on its former Soviet ally, quotes her as saying in a student debate that President Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease Bill to allow the transfer of U.S. arms to Great Britain has the support of “warmongers” in the U.S.
  11. See Haynes and Klehr, Venona, pp. 200-201.
  12. Helen Yakobson, Crossing Borders: From Revolutionary Russia to China to America (Tenafly, N.J: Hermitage Publishers, 1994), p. 146.
  13. Vincent Giroud, Nicolas Nabokov: A Life in Freedom and Music (Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), p. 203.
  14. Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1937), p. 575.
  15. Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov, Graphite, 1st ed (New York: Norton, 1981), p. 130. Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales were translated from Russian by John Glad, the late husband of a former Voice of America Russian Service broadcaster, Larisa Glad. John Glad also participated in some VOA broadcasts to the Soviet Union later in the Cold War period.
  16. Owen Lattimore, “New Road to Asia,” National Geographic, December 1944, p. 567.
  17. Anna Louise Strong, I Saw The New Poland (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1946), p. 19.
  18. Ted Lipien, “Why I Can’t Be Silent When Voice of America Bans Calling Hamas’ Terrorists’,” The Washington Times, November 21, 2023,
  19. Julius Epstein, “The O.W.I. and the Voice of America,” a reprint from the Polish American Journal, Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1952. Epstein also wrote: “There are still too many of the old OWI [Office of War Information] employees working for the Voice, both in this country and overseas. I mean those writers, translators and broadcasters who so wholeheartedly and enthusiastically tried for many years to create ‘love for Stalin,’ when this was the official policy of our ill-advised wartime Government and of our military government in Germany. There is no doubt that all those employees were at that time deeply convinced of the absolute correctness of that pro-Stalinist propaganda. How can we expect them to do the exact opposite now?” Julius Epstein, Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the 81st Congress, Second Session, Appendix. Part 17 ed. Vol. 96. August 4, 1950, to September 22, 1950 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1950), pp. A5744-A5745.
  20. Arthur Krock, “President Rebukes OWI for Broadcast on Regime in Italy, The New York Times, July 28, 1943, p. 1 and p. 4.
  21. Czesław Straszewicz, “O Świcie,” Kultura, October, 1953, pp. 61-62. I am indebted to the Polish historian of the Voice of America’s Polish Service, Jarosław Jędrzejczak, for finding this reference to VOA’s wartime role.
  22. American scholar Holly Cowan Shulman wrote in a 1997 article published in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television that “the Voice of America – the United States Government overseas radio broadcasting station founded in 1942 – ignored the subject of the Holocaust throughout the Second World War.” She is the daughter of the second VOA director, Lou Cowan who, according to Howard Fast, wrote in 1944 a highly complimentary official farewell letter to Fast, praising his contributions to VOA. Holly Cowan Shulman noted that U.S. government officials in charge of VOA were “either Jewish or philo-Semites,” but the radio station during World War II “said very little about the persecution of the Jews of Europe at all.” See Holly Cowan Shullman, “The Voice of America, US Propaganda and the Holocaust: ‘I Would Have Remembered’,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio & Television 17, no. 1 (March 1997), pp. 91-103.
  23. ”SECRET AND PERSONAL FROM PREMIER J. V. STALIN TO THE PRESIDENT, Mr. F. ROOSEVELT, AND THE PRIME MINISTER, Mr. W. CHURCHILL, Correspondence between the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR and the Presidents of the USA and the Prime Ministers of Great Britain during the Great Patriotic War of 1941 – 1945, (Moscow: Progress Publishers, Moscow), Marxists Internet Archive (2010),
  24. Andrzej Walicki later became a Russian philosophy scholar in Poland and was a professor in Australia and at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Although they did not agree on some important issues, such as the role of the Communist Party and Poland’s relations with Russia, Marek Walicki exchanged letters with Andrzej Walicki for nearly six decades. Recently, a three-volume selection of Andrzej Walicki’s texts, The People’s Republic of Poland and the Leap to Neoliberalism, has been published, edited by Joanna Schiller-Walicka, his last wife, and Paweł Dybicz.
  25. Secret deals with Russia followed by skillful attempts to prevent Polish American voters from discovering the truth about placating aggressive Russian leaders by naive U.S. presidents at Poland’s expense eventually become known to the American public, and the presidential party, sooner or later, may be punished at the polls. Just before the 1944 U.S. presidential elections, the Polish-American Congress (PAC) president Charles Rozmarek declared his intention to vote for Franklin D. Roosevelt. “Because I am convinced of his [FDR’s] sincerity,” Mr. Rozmarek remarked, “I shall vote for him on November 7 for President of the United States of America.” By then, FDR had already secretly promised Stalin, at their meeting in Tehran, Poland’s eastern territories and effectively assigned Poland and other nations in Central and Eastern Europe to become part of the Soviet empire. In his scholarly study of the impact of the Yalta Conference on American politics, Robert E. Ubriaco, Jr. wrote: “Ever the artful dodger, Roosevelt placated the Polish American community and skirted the issue through his masterful manipulation of symbolic politics. By addressing Polonia’s representatives before a map of prewar Poland [in the White House] and meeting with Rozmarek during a campaign stop in Chicago, Roosevelt managed to secure an endorsement from PAC. Consequently, over 90 percent of all Polish Americans voted for him in 1944.” Arthur Bliss Lane, who as the U.S. Ambassador in Warsaw from 1945 to 1947, documented the Soviet and communist takeover of the country, also observed in his book “I Saw Poland Betrayed” Roosevelt’s clever manipulation of the Polish American public opinion. He wrote in 1947 that an interesting feature of the Polish American Congress leaders’ meeting with President Roosevelt at the White House on October 11, 1944, was the placement of a large map of Poland in the room where the President received his visitors. The map showed Poland’s pre-war boundaries. The photos of the meeting, widely reproduced by Polish American media, were interpreted as FDR’s endorsement of Poland’s independence and territorial integrity. As Ambassador Bliss Lane wrote after he had resigned from the State Department in protest against the appeasement of Stalin, President Roosevelt “had already agreed at Tehran to the sacrifice of a great area east of the Curzon Line to the Soviet Union.” Mr. Rozmarek said later that had the Yalta Conference been held before the presidential elections of 1944, Mr. Roosevelt would not have been reelected, because of the votes of Americans linked by blood to those nations which had been “sold down the river.”
  26. A U.S. government World War II document I discovered a few years ago in the National Archives offers a rare glimpse into how the Office of War Information tried to deceive American and foreign audiences about the Polish refugee children from Russia to protect Stalin’s reputation and America’s alliance with the Soviet Union. The children who came from the eastern part of Poland, occupied by the Red Army in 1939, were not victims of Hitler’s Fascism; they were victims of Stalin’s totalitarian Communism. They never saw any German occupiers. As the Polish American newspaper Nowy Świat pointed out in January 1944, they were arrested with their parents by the Soviets and sent to the Soviet Gulag. “The OWI purposely omitted the explanation and has not added that these tragic children came from Russia, that they forgot to smile there, that they learned there of hunger and want, that they there learned of fear. A careless reader may gain the impression that with the beginning of the war, some group of Poles started on their journey to America, and after four years, had reached this continent. Not a word about the fact that together with millions of Polish citizens this group of refugees which has now reached Mexico was deported from Poland by the Soviets and was kept by Russia under the most miserable conditions. But seeing the obvious is not a virtue with the OWI. That Office is not evidently free from fear. (Fear) before whom?” In its January 4, 1944 editorial, Nowy Świat (“New World”) correctly assessed the U.S. government’s propaganda. The U.S. government press release included a kernel of truth but was otherwise designed to deceive. The first transport of 706 Polish refugees, including 166 children, aboard the USS Hermitage, reached the San Pedro naval dock near Los Angeles on June 25, 1943. The women and children under 14 were placed in the Griffith Park Internment Camp in Burbank, and the men in the Alien Camp in Tuna Canyon. The second group of 726 Polish refugees, including 408 children, mostly orphans, arrived on the USS Hermitage in the fall of 1943 and was placed in the Santa Anita former detention camp for Japanese Americans. It was the second group that was mentioned in the misleading press release from the Office of War Information. The Polish children were loaded onto military trucks and taken to a train under military guard. that remained posted at every door throughout their journey of some seven hours. The windows remained sealed for a seven-hour train journey to Mexico. The American military guards left only when the train reached the American-Mexican border. Their job was to prevent the refugees from escaping or contacting the media.
  27. Julius Epstein was a journalist at the Office of War Information in New York during World War II, who realized that the Soviet regime was behind the Katyn murders. An Austrian-Jewish refugee in the United States, Epstein was OWI’s German editor who, in his youth, had joined the Communist Party in Germany but quickly resigned and became a critic of Stalinist Russia. After being laid off by OWI in 1945, he exposed the Voice of America’s censorship of the Katyn story and was attacked by VOA director, State Department diplomat Foy D. Kohler,  who called him a “disappointed job seeker” and “not best type…of new American citizen.” See ”VOA CRITICS” Memorandum, Voice of America Historical Files 1946-1953 Reports-Psychological Operations POC THRU Katyn Forest Massacres, RG59-Department of State-Entry#P315, National Archives at College Park, MD. In The Gulag Archipelago, Soviet dissident writer and Nobel Prize winner Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, whom the Voice of America management censored in the 1970s to prevent complications in the U.S. policy of détente with the Soviet Union, praised Julius Epstein’s investigative reporting—not in connection with VOA, but in Epstein’s book Operation Keelhaul (1973). See Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenit︠s︡yn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, 1st ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), p. 85. In his book, Epstein revealed the shameful U.S. government secret – the forcible handing over to Stalin of hundreds of thousands of Soviet refugees, many of whom were innocent of collaborating with the Germans and did not want to go back to Russia.
  28. In its final report issued on December 22, 1952, the bipartisan Madden Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives condemned pro-Soviet Russia reporting and censorship by the Office of War Information and the Voice of America.
  29. The bipartisan Select Committee of the House of Representatives 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 J. Madden (D-Indiana), said in its final report released on December 22, 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.” 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), pp. 11-13, 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.” Ibid. 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.” Ibid. Members of Congress criticized the Office of War Information director, Elmer Davis, for his role in enabling the spread of Soviet fake news through the Voice of America. Still, later the whole incident was forgotten and became part of the Katyn cover-up. The bipartisan select committee of the House of Representatives, which conducted the investigation of the Katyn Forest massacre, concluded in 1952 that Davis was responsible for repeating false Soviet propaganda through the Voice of America and domestic radio networks in the United States: “Mr. Davis, therefore, bears the responsibility for accepting the Soviet propaganda version of the Katyn massacre without full in­vestigation. A very simple check with either Army Intelligence (G- 2) or the State Department would have revealed that the Katyn massacre issue was extremely controversial.Ibid. p. 9.
  30. This fact is strangely omitted from his biography by Mary Llewellyn McNeil, Century’s Witness: The Extraordinary Life of Journalist Wallace Carroll, published in 2022, even though she devotes several pages to discussing his Persuade or Perish book. See Wallace Carroll, Persuade or Perish (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1948), pp. 149-152. Also, Ted Lipien, “Voice of America Freelancer Who Promoted Stalin’s Propaganda Lie on Katyn Massacre, Cold War Radio Museum,” April 25, 2023, The jacket of Century’s Witness includes a quote from Donald Graham, former publisher of the Washington Post, saying, “Only after reading this wonderful book, did I understand how great Carroll was.” See Mary L. McNeil, Century’s Witness: The Extraordinary Life of Journalist Wallace Carroll (Buena Vista, VA: Whaler Books, 2022). The quote appears on the dust jacket above the title. Donald Graham and his future wife, Amanda Bennett, who was VOA director (2016-2020) and is USAGM CEO (2021-Present), were members of the 2002-2003 Pulitzer Prize Board, which voted not to revoke Walter Duranty’s 1932 Pulitzer Prize. Information about how various Pulitzer Prize Board members voted does not appear on the Pulitzer Prize website. However, no board member is known to have publicly supported the calls from the Ukrainian-American community and others to revoke Duranty’s prize or resigned over the decision refusing to take away his journalistic award.
  31. Wallace Carroll wrote in his 1948 Persuade or Perish book: “… the dissension which was permitted to arise over the Katyn massacre was still working to the advantage of defeated Germany after the war. In July, 1946, more than three years after Goebbels opened his campaign, the German leaders on trial for war crimes at Nuremberg revived the allegations against the Russians in an obvious attempt to drive a wedge between the Soviets and the Western Powers.” Ibid. p. 152. The facts about the Katyn massacre, which Carroll as a journalist could have easily checked with minimal effort by looking at news reports but failed to do so and did not present in his book, were confirmed to the Madden Committee by Robert H. Jackson, who, during his legal career, was United States Solicitor General, Attorney General, Supreme Court Justice, and chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. Justice Jackson was an outstanding liberal jurist. Even though he was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Roosevelt, he was one of the dissenting judges in the 1944 Korematsu v. United States case brought by a U.S. citizen challenging the forced internment of Japanese-American citizens during the war.
  32. According to journalist Julius Epstein, a pre-World War II Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany and Austria and former Office of War Information (OWI) editor who gave a sworn testimony to a U.S. congressional investigative committee, Czapski, who barely escaped death in Katyn, felt devastated by the VOA management’s censorship of his Katyn talk. On December 11, 1950, Rep. Philp J. Philbin (Democrat–Massachusetts) inserted in the Congressional Record Epstein’s description of the Voice of America’s censorship of Józef Czapski’s program about Katyn, which the VOA Polish Service management requested from him but later refused to air it as written, and lied about the circumstances of the incident, defending its actions and slandering Czapski. Epstein may not be completely accurate that VOA did not allow Józef Czapski to mention the word ”Katyn.” It is true, however, that the text of his talk was heavily censored. Epstein said: “In the spring of 1950 Count Joseph Czapski arrived in the United States. Count Czapski is well known not only among the Poles. He is a writer and painter, and he is also a survivor of the massacre of Polish officers on Russian soil. He has widely writ­ten about Katyn and his own experiences to General Anders’ representatives in the Soviet Union. The Voice of America, well aware of Czapski’s importance, invited him to address his Polish compatriots. Count Czapski was anxious to get the truth about Katyn across the iron curtain. But who can describe his disappointment when he was told in the New York offices of the Voice that he couldn’t even mention the word Katyn? I had the privilege of having lunch­eon with Count Czapski an hour or so after his conversation with Voice officials. I shall never forget how furious he was. I could not comfort him. The only thing I could do, was to tell him about my own experience with the Voice in connection with the Katyn massacre. To evaluate correctly the very strange behavior of the Voice in respect to Katyn w should never forget that the only thing broadcast by our Government were Stalin’s lies of 1943 and 1944. It is an undeniable fact that our Government has never told the truth about Katyn. From 1943, when the story broke, up to this very day when the cold war against Stalin has already become pretty hot in Korea, the Voice of America is suppressing the truth. Wouldn’t it be about time to break this habit? It may, therefore, be a good idea if you, my listeners of today, wrote short letters of protest against the suppression of the truth on Katyn by our Voice of America. The letters should be addressed to the Sec­retary of State, Mr. Dean Acheson, Depart­ment of State, Washington, D.C. Your letters may do some good.  They may even change the attitude of the Voice of America. Whatever the success of your  letters may be, the truth will become known as always truth prevails against lies. No government in all the world is powers enough to kill the truth. The real Voice of America, people’s voice, will carry the truth about Katyn around the world.” In an attempt to hide their censorship, Voice of America officials falsely claimed that the Polish officer, outstanding writer, and artist – one of the very few survivors of the Katyn murders and the person who had searched for the missing Polish officers in Russia whom Epstein mentioned in the excerpt inserted in the Congressional Record – had voluntarily agreed with the management of the VOA Polish Service to have references to Katyn eliminated from in his 1950 radio talk broadcast by VOA to Poland during his visit in the United States.
  33. Jan Ciechanowski, Defeat in Victory (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1947), pp.115-116 and 130-131.
  34. At RFE, Marek Walicki used the name Jan Łada mainly to protect his family members in Poland, although the communist authorities knew who he was from their spy in Munich. For some RFE and VOA broadcasters, it was safer to use radio names instead of their own to protect relatives from possible reprisals at their workplaces.
  35. Maciej Wierzyński, “Druga połowa życia,” in Wiesława Piątkowska-Stepaniak, ed., Autroportret zbiorowy – wspomnienia dziennikarzy polskich na emigracji z lat 1945-2002 (Opole: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Opolskiego, 2003), p. 178.
  36. President Roosevelt, whom Karski met at the White House on July 28, 1943, and most American and British journalists with whom he had talked ignored his appeals for taking drastic measures to save Jews. These conversations with Karski, recorded when Wierzyński was in charge of the Polish Service, were extremely popular with listeners in Poland. They were later rebroadcast by Polish Radio. But, as noted by Wierzyński, “at the Voice of America, a government broadcaster, what mattered was the title” [of the person being interviewed]. “They liked interviews with a [government] minister or a prime minister–but this Karski?” Jan Karski was a professor of international relations at Georgetown University for many years.
  37. Victor Franzusoff, Talking to the Russians (Santa Barbara: Fithian Press, 1998), p. 180.
  38. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, “The Soft Voice of America,” National Review, April 30, 1982, p. 477.
  39. According to several Polish media reports going back to 2018, the person providing the Polish secret police with information about Conover’s meetings in Poland was Teresa Trzaskowska, the wife of Polish jazz musician Andrzej Trzaskowski. She is the late mother of Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, who, in 2020, was one of the two leading candidates for president of Poland. In the second and final round of voting on July 12, 2020, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, a former member of the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) Party, won by a small margin of votes against Trzaskowski, the candidate of the liberal Civic Platform (PO). When told of the media reports about his mother during his run for Mayor of Warsaw in 2018, Trzaskowski laughed them off as products of “PiS haters who bore into the past and go deep into family histories.” He was not even born when the spy scandal took place. He did not say in 2018 or during the 2020 presidential election campaign that media reports about his mother, apparently based on documents preserved in the communist secret police archives, were fake news.
  40. Journalist Arch Puddington, the former deputy director of the New York Bureau of Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty, wrote in his book about RFE history, Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, that Vice President Richard Nixon, who was greatly impressed by the enthusiastic reception he got on his 1959 visit to Warsaw from ordinary Polish people who had learned about the route of his motorcade from Radio Free Europe Polish broadcasts, reportedly told Ambassador Beam to stop his anti-RFE campaign, explaining to him that it was also “an American diplomat’s responsibility to maintain a close relationship with the people.” Arch Puddington, Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2000) 125-126. Also see Yale Richmond, “Nixon in Warsaw,” American Diplomacy, November 2010,
  41. R. Eugene Parta, (Former) Director of Audience Research and Program Evaluation, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Inc., “Listening to Western Radio Stations in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria: 1962-1988 — Longitudinal Listening Trend Charts.” Prepared for the Conference on Cold War Broadcasting Impact co-organized by the Cold War International History Project Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC, and the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, Stanford, California, October 13-15, 2004.
  42. Kazimierz Adamski, “Dywersja Głosu Ameryki: Polska na specjalny obstalunek,” Głos Pomorza, January 9, 1986, page 4,
  43. Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi, His Holiness – John Paul II and the Hidden History of Our Time (New York: Doubleday, 1996), pp. 265 and 382.
  44. Ted Lipien, Wojtyła’s Women: How They Shaped the Life of Pope John Paul II and Changed the Catholic Church (Winchester, UK: O Books, 2008), p. 612.
  45. See former Voice of America Director Sanford J. Ungar in “VOA 80th Anniversary Panel #1: Recognizing 80 Years of Independent Journalism (2022),” InsideVOA, YouTube video (approx. 54 minute], February 3, 2022,
  46. Some confusion over the Voice of America’s early history was evident at a panel discussion to observe the 80th anniversary of VOA’s founding in 1942. One of the panelists, Sanford Ungar, a former VOA director who served during the Clinton administration, apparently tried to defend the organization by suggesting that some critics of the U.S. government broadcaster may have been linked with McCarthyites and “white supremacists.” However, he did not elaborate on who or what exactly he meant by his comment.
    It is undeniably true that some of Voice of America’s critics in the 1950s initially supported Senator Joseph McCarthy when he started to publicize information about Soviet influence within the U.S. government. Still, later, at least some of them moved away from him when he made completely irrational accusations.
    However, almost all former Communists or former communist sympathizers like Eugene Lyons, Julius Epstein, Bertram Wolfe, and others who were especially critical of VOA’s management after denouncing Marxism and the Soviet Union, were not racists or believers in white supremacy by any stretch of the imagination. Many of them were Jewish. Most critics of VOA’s early failures and infatuation with Soviet Russia and Communism were moderate Republicans. Still, many were liberal members of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, prominent liberal journalists, and progressive Democrats in the U.S. Congress. However, intensely partisan Democrats, who may have been ashamed of VOA’s early support for Stalin and the betrayal of Eastern Europe by President Roosevelt, a progressive Democrat, at the wartime conferences in Tehran and Yalta, found it helpful later to avoid any further discussion of such failures by claiming that any criticism of VOA’s link with Soviet propaganda is a McCarthyite obsession.
    Once the Voice of America was reformed in the 1950s by President Truman, Republican administrations also no longer wished to expose its early failures since VOA became a useful public diplomacy tool against the Soviet Union and international Communism.
    See “Voice of America: Recognizing 80 Years – and Counting – of Independent Journalism.” Streamed live on February 3, 2022. Former VOA Director Sanford Ungar can be heard at 53:28.
  47. Under Pomar’s watch, one of the most respected Soviet dissidents, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a former critic of the VOA Russian Service, was invited to produce a weekly 45-minute program on human rights. Pomar also succeeded in ending the previous management’s ban on interviewing Soviet Nobel Prize-winning author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and a ban on airing extensive excerpts from his books, including The Gulag Archipelago. Pomar writes in Cold War Radio about his visit to Solzhenitsyn’s home in Vermont, where during three days in 1984, he recorded a lengthy interview with the Russian writer and 20 hours of excerpts from his novel August 1914, read for VOA by Solzhenitsyn. Broadcasting 20 hours of readings by an anti-Soviet Russian writer would not have been possible at the Voice of America before the Reagan administration. Many pre-Regan-era VOA managers, as well as a substantial majority in the VOA central English newsroom, staffed mostly by U.S.-born journalists, regarded President Reagan with alarm and contempt.
  48. Bertram D. Wolfe, A Life in Two Centuries: An Autobiography (New York: Stein and Day, 1981), p. 81.
  49. Arthur Bliss Lane, I Saw Poland Betrayed: An American Ambassador Reports to the American People (Indianapolis and New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1948), p. 219.
  50. In his memoirs, President Eisenhower wrote: “During World War II, the Office of War Information had, on two occasions in foreign broadcasts, opposed actions of President Roosevelt; it ridiculed the temporary arrangement with Admiral Darlan in North Africa and that with Marshal Badoglio in Italy. President Roosevelt took prompt action to stop such insubordination.”Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years: Waging Peace 1956-1961 (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1965) p. 279. VOA broadcasts, exposed as pro-communist and pro-Soviet in a New York Times article, could have endangered the lives of American and other allied soldiers, including the Polish troops fighting the Germans in Italy, and could have prolonged the war.
  51. Arch Puddington, Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000), pp. 187-213.
  52. The sender of one of the letters wrote “Very few of us here (in Poland) consider it worthwhile to lose time and run personal risks listening to the Voice of America program” (June 1951). In 1951, the Voice of America, which was at that time located in New York but managed from Washington by the State Department, was under heavy criticism, particularly from Republicans in the U.S. Congress, for failing to counter Soviet propaganda. Voice of America listeners in communist-ruled Poland, in letters smuggled to the United States, described VOA programs as “uninteresting, drab, bureaucratic in tone, unconvincing.”“They give the impression that they are prepared and spoken by clerks who do their job perfunctorily without any intelligent understanding of the human element or of Polish susceptibilities,” was one of many critical comments.

Ted Lipien is the online Cold War Radio Museum's principal volunteer editor. He is an independent journalist, writer, and media freedom advocate. He was Voice of America’s Polish Service chief during Poland’s struggle for democracy and VOA’s acting associate director. He also served briefly in 2020-2021 as RFE/RL president in a non-political and non-partisan role. His book “Wojtyła’s Women” was published in 2008 by O-Books, UK. E-mail him at:

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