By Ted Lipien for Cold War Radio Museum
Soviet influence at Voice of America during World War II — documents and analysis
Mira Złotowska, later known as Mira Michałowska who published books and articles in English as Mira Michal and used several other pen names, was one of many radically left-wing journalists who during World War II worked in New York on Voice of America (VOA) U.S. government anti-Nazi radio broadcasts but also helping to spread Soviet propaganda and censoring news about Stalin’s atrocities. While not the most important among pro-Soviet propagandists at the Voice of America during the war, Michałowska later went back to Poland, married a high-level communist diplomat and for many years supported the regime in Warsaw with soft propaganda in the West while also helping to expose Polish readers to American culture through her magazine articles and translations of American authors. One of the American writers she translated was her former VOA colleague and friend, the 1953 Stalin Peace Prize winner Howard Fast who in 1943 played an important role as VOA’s chief news writer. Despite today’s Russian attempts to undermine journalism with disinformation, the Voice of America has never officially acknowledged its mistakes in allowing pro-Soviet propagandists to take control of its programs for several years during World War II. Eventually, under pressure from congressional and other critics, the Voice of America was reformed in the early 1950s and made a contribution to the fall of communism in East-Central Europe.
While at OWI, Złotowska worked closely with another Polish journalist, Stefan Arski, who might have been her romantic partner. His real name was Artur Salman. In addition to Stefan Arski, he also had other pseudonyms and pen names: Jan Wiljan, Leliwa, Roman Warecki, S. Kalinowski and Star. Arski was an activist in the Polish Socialist Party, which was legal in Poland in the interwar period. Socialist politicians participated in various pre-war coalition governments in Warsaw and were represented in the wartime Polish government-in-exile in London. After the war, Michałowska’s colleague became a high-ranking Communist Party member in Poland, a Communist Party newspaper editor and a prolific writer of anti-U.S. propaganda.
While Michałowska engaged in soft propaganda and what could be described as public diplomacy in support of the communist regime, Arski was a conventional, stop-at-nothing propagandist. He is particularly known for his vehement and consistent denials of Soviet responsibility for the Katyn massacre of thousands of Polish POW military officers, which he did in Voice of America broadcasts and later in newspaper articles in communist-ruled Poland. He is also known for launching vicious personal attacks on journalists working after the war for the already reformed Voice of America, his former U.S. government employer, where he remained on the payroll until February 15, 1947. When he quit his U.S. government job, VOA was already under the U.S. State Department. Złotowska had left VOA in 1944 and may have held a part-time position there until February 1945. 1
After leaving his U.S. government position, Arski worked briefly after the war as the American correspondent of the Warsaw Socialist newspaper, Robotnik. During that time, he authored a booklet on Poland’s Western border published in 1947 by the Polish communist regime’s embassy in Washington where his friend and KGB agent of influence and intelligence asset Oskar R. Lange was the ambassador. The biographical note at the end of Arski’s book published in 1947 by the embassy in Washington identifies his connection to the U.S. Office of War Information where the Voice of America radio programs, on which he worked, originated during World War II.
Bialer on Arski
One of the refugees from Communism who after the war tried to educate Americans about the work of pro-Kremlin propagandists in the United States and in Poland was Seweryn Bialer, himself an ex-Communist who after his defection to the West became later a respected scholar and professor of Soviet studies at Columbia University. He was helped during his testimony by his interpreter, another famous refugee, Jan Karski, himself always an anti-Communist, a former fighter in the Polish underground anti-Nazi resistance movement and recipient of Righteous Among the Nations medal for helping to bring the world’s attention to the extermination of Jews by German Nazis during the Holocaust. Testifying before a U.S. Senate subcommittee in June 1956, Seweryn Bialer spoke about Stefan Arski, a former Voice of America editor and Mira Michałowska‘s presumed ex-partner.
Mr. Stefan Arski is presently in Poland. He is a journalist, and one of the most violently anti-western and anti-American journalists. He specializes in American affairs, and he contributes mostly to the People’s Tribune, an official organ of the Communist Party in Poland. He wrote several books which we used as a kind of basis for our anti-American propaganda.
Ted Lipien was Voice of America acting associate director in charge of central news programs before his retirement in 2006. In the 1970s, he worked as a broadcaster in the VOA Polish Service and was the service chief and foreign correspondent in the 1980s during Solidarity’s struggle for democracy in Poland.
- A U.S. media article inserted into the Congressional Record suggested that Arski and Michałowska were married, but I did not find a documentary evidence of their marriage. They may or may not have been romantic partners, but they worked together at OWI and worked together on publishing a socialist propaganda pamphlet in 1943. ↩