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.
Office of War Information
At the Office of War Information, Mira Złotowska worked as an editor and writer of Voice of America background materials and radio scripts, but in May 1943 she transferred to the Overseas Publications division which produced propaganda leaflets and pamphlets for distribution in countries under German occupation. I was not able to determine whether she had voiced on the air any of the Voice of America scripts she had edited or written. She no doubt made a considerable contribution to the pro-Soviet propaganda effort and her work was used to target not only Poles in German-occupied Poland but also Americans, including Polish-Americans, since OWI was producing propaganda for both foreign and domestic consumption.
Under inmediate supervision of a Script Editor (Polish), CAF-11, is responsible for collecting, analyzing, and digesting restricted and unrestricted reports and information material to be used as background for the less important Polish news and feature scripts transmitted by short-wave radio broadcasts to a predetermined Polish area; under close supervision and using themes and.styles suggested by higher grade script editors writes less important radio scripts in Polish; performs other research work as assigned using as information sources newspaper clippings, publication and standard reference works; keeps informed on source material in the International Press and Radio Bureau for possible use; performs similar duties as assigned.
Under general supervision of the Specialties Editor CAF-11, in charge of the 5th Regional Unit assists her in the origination and production of important propaganda specialties, novelty publications, booklets, pamphlets, posters and other items to be disseminated to a specific foreign country held by the enemy; is particularly responsible for the planning and execution of a monthly miniature magazine of about 10,000 words; selects the material to be used and does the necessary research; rewrites and adapts articles and stories, (mainly writes original material;) writes in the specified foreign language and submits a rough translation to the Principal Propaganda Analyst in the Office of Control, for policy clearance; plans the format and supervises the technical production of the magazine and the shipment, assists in creating other publication projects such as inserts and leaflets; edits and proofreads copy; performs related functions as required.
Polish-language propaganda pamphlet
One original miniature OWI propaganda booklet in support of Soviet Russia and radical socialism, measuring only 2 and 1/4 by 1 and 3/4 inches, which may have been produced by Mira Złotowska or one of her Polish colleagues, is in the collection of the Cold War Radio online museum. It contains Polish translations of excerpts from speeches by Vice President Henry A. Wallace whose naive references to the Soviet Union would have been dismissed as ludicrous by almost any Pole who had spent any time as a slave laborer in the Soviet Gulag and had seen first hand how Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Christians, Jews and other groups were treated by Soviet communists. The Polish propaganda booklet cannot be, however, definitely attributed to Złotowska.
Unlike the OWI editors and publishers of this pamphlet, Henry Wallace, who had served as Secretary of Agriculture under President Roosevelt from 1933 to 1940 and as Vice President from 1941 to 1945, eventually publicly disavowed his speeches and statements praising Soviet socialism and Joseph Stalin.
Mira Złotowska seemed to had been highly valued for her propaganda work by her Office of War Information superiors who wanted to see advance in her government career. One rapid promotion request was, however, questioned in September 1943 by an OWI manager who observed that “there is still not sufficient concrete evidence of exceptional performance.” She received, however, an overall excellent efficiency rating.
An undated justification for “rapid promotion” when Złotowska worked for the OWI unit producing propaganda pamphlets for overseas consumption, described her educational and work background more or less accurately but without mentioning her collaboration with a Communist Party newspaper, for which she was reportedly briefly arrested in Poland.
Mrs. Zlotowska has studied at the College of Journalism in Warsaw, at the Colege de France and the Ecole des Sciences Politiques in Paris. She has started her newspaperwork in 1935, writing for a year a column for the Warsaw daily “Dzien Dobry”. Later she went to Paris and was correspondent for several newspapers and magazines. She wrote a series of articles on English literature for the oldest Polish Literary Magazine “Tygodnik Ilustrowany”. During the first year of the war she was assistant editor to the Polish Weekly in Paris “Czarno na Białem.” In the United States she published a number of articles for different Polish language newspapers. Last winter she wrote and arranged a pamphlet “Unconquered Poland”, now at its third edition with a total circulation of 100,000 copies to date. It is a propaganda pamphlet on the resistance of the Polish people. It had a great number of excellent press reviews and has been repeatedly called the best propaganda pamphlet of its kind.
During the time Mrs. Zlotowska is with this unit, she has displayed great intelligence in the handling of her work. She has distinguished herself by her writing ability, by her ingenuity and unremitting diligence. She has both written and edited original material, translated the same at the rate of over 10,000 words per month. She has shown good judgement and real initiative. She has also contributed projects of real value to the war effort and has been responsible for valuable suggestions and original ideas. Her record for the past and her actual work more than justify the reclassification to higher rating here requested.
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.