Against Directive to Play Down Soviet Anti-Semitism
The VOA Russian Branch chief also told members of the subcommittee that in 1952 and at the beginning of 1953, Voice of America broadcasters were ordered by State Department officials to play down the news of a new official anti-Semitic campaign in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia and had to protest to get the order modified. He also said that a State Department official, Reed Harris, who had testified earlier, did not tell the truth when he claimed that he had advised increased reporting about anti-Semitism. The same official ordered the VOA Hebrew Service to close down a few days after the show trial of 14 communist officials in Czechoslovakia, 11 of whom were Jews. Most of them were executed.
The CHAIRMAN. Did you have the feeling that the Washington office was trying to impair your effort to put on a real hard-hitting program of anti-Communist counterpropaganda? Mr. BARMINE. Well. it was rather periodic, from time to time. The CHAIRMAN. I did not get that. Mr. BARMINE. It was a chronic disease. It was coming at intervals all the time for several years. The CHAIRMAN. Now, Mr. Harris testified yesterday, and he is in the room. In case I misquote him, he will have a chance to correct me. He testified in effect that while the Hebrew-language desk had been attempted to be canceled, they did order that the anti-Semitism of the Soviets be played up on the other language desks. Is that true, or false? Mr. BARMINE. I regret to say that that is simply not true. The CHAIRMAN. It is untrue? Mr. BARMINE. It is contradictory to the truth. Senator MUNDT. Can you detail that a little bit? Why is it not true? Mr. BARMINE. Well, Senator, I have no authority to quote the way Mr. Harris did from the official guidances, which are confidential. If I would be able to, I would be able to prove that this statement of Mr. Harris is directly opposite to the truth. In fact, the first guidance was ordering us to play down not only the anti-Semitic, but even the anti-Zionist angle. The CHAIRMAN. In the Russian language? Mr. BARMINE. In all languages, including Russian. When I stated my very violent objection, using even the terms that “this is sabotaging the most effective issue that we have"—Mr. Puhan supported me in this meeting, and several other chiefs of desks—this “guidance” was softened a little bit. But I can’t go into details. I can only say that the intention of those guidances was in direct opposition to what Mr. Harris states here. Senator MUNDT [Karl E. Mundt (Republican – South Dakota)]. Can you say this, without violating any confidential information? After you made your protest and the guidance was softened, was it softened to the extent of encouraging you to make wide use of this issue? Mr. BARMINE. Not at all. It was more “weasel-worded,” I would say. Senator MUNDT. More “weasel-worded”? Mr. BARMINE. Yes, with the result that we still would be unable to carry any effective campaign. And so we stated. This argument was going on for the last month, almost in every meeting where we discussed this thing. Senator MUNDT. Did the time ever come when your point of view prevailed? Mr. BARMINE. No, sir; not yet. Senator MUNDT. In other words, the argument went on for practically a month? Mr. BARMINE. Since January 14, when the trials of doctors were announced in Moscow. Senator MUNDT. And your feeling that we should emphasize the anti-Semitic qualities of communism never did prevail in the argument? Mr. BARMINE. Well, I would say we finally won the decision on the matter so that we could discuss this angle as a secondary issue; although in my opinion this was the most effective weapon given into our hands. We have to remember that a lot of people in Europe and in all areas consider still the Communist movement, even if they disagree with it, as a liberal movement on the left. Here we have an excellent possibility to point out that there is no difference between Hitlerism and Stalinism, that this is only Red fascism. We can prevail on many hesitating neutrals by exploiting this issue to the maximum. So I think it would be very harmful to us to play this issue down. Senator MUNDT. You were never encouraged, then, to point out the very obvious fact that Hitlerism and Stalinism, nazism and communism, both being anti-Semitic, both being totalitarian, are similar, and equally repugnant. Mr. BARMINE. Well, I wouldn’t state exactly that. Senator, because, as I say, this was a long argument, and we were sometimes gaining a little in position, sometimes losing. We were never told directly not to. Because, after all, I would say even Mr. Connors, with his assumed innocence of the Communist problem, wouldn't say, “Don’t speak, because it might hurt them.” Senator MUNDT. Were you ever told in positive terms: "Here is a fine issue. Give it the old college try. Go to work on it”? Mr. BARMINE. As I say, I couldn’t quote exactly. We were told this was a secondary issue, which should be played down.1
Barmine’s testimony about Reed Harris’s order to play down the anti-Semitic campaign in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, which was later softened due to protests from Barmine and other VOA officials and journalists, was confirmed by two other VOA managers who also testified before Senator McCarthy’s subcommittee. Dr. Sidney Glazer, the chief of the VOA Hebrew Service, told the subcommittee that he had received the order to terminate VOA Hebrew broadcasts ten days after the death sentences were announced in Czechoslovakia, most of them against Jewish party members.
Dr. GLAZER. So far from going along with what seemed to us the obvious, almost elementary step of intensifying our activity at the time, we were ordered to be taken off the air completely. Mr. COHN. Do you mean to say they ordered the close-down of the entire Hebrew Language Service of the Voice of America? Dr. GLAZER. Exactly. Mr. COHN. That would have meant the end of programs originating from your section to Israel and to other Hebrew-speaking people throughout the world? Dr. GLAZER. That is exactly what it would have meant. Mr. COHN. Is it your testimony that this came just after you were presented with this splendid issue of minority persecution by the Soviet Union? Dr. GLAZER. This news reached us within 10 days after the Prague trial verdicts were announced. The CHAIRMAN. Senator McClellan? Senator McCLELLAN [John L. McClellan (Democrat – Arkansas)]. I wanted to ask you: Who issued the order? You say you were ordered to close down the service. Mr. GLAZER. The order was never issued to me directly. I was only told about it, unofficially. Senator McCLELLAN. Who told you? Let us get the source of responsibility established. Mr. GLAZER. I was told it unofficially by my chief, Mr Dooher. Senator McCLELLAN. He told you unofficially. Dr. GLAZER. Unofficially. Senator McCLELLAN. Do you know the source of his orders or instructions? The CHAIRMAN. Perhaps, Senator McClellan, we should have Mr. Dooher testify on that point. He is under oath. Would you care to direct your questions to him? Senator McCLELLAN. I would be glad to have Mr. Dooher testify. Mr. DOOHER [Gerald F. P. Dooher, Acting Chief of the Near East, South Asia, and African Division of the Voice of America]. Senator, the order was in the form of a directive from the International Information Administration in Washington. The order was signed by Mr. Reed Harris, who was the Acting Administrator of the Administration at the time of the absence of Dr. Compton, who was in Europe.2
Whether the VOA Hebrew Service had a significant audience was in dispute. Still, the timing of the decision to close it down was more than problematic in light of the anti-Semitic campaign in the Soviet Union and the satellite communist states. It was also unfortunate because, during World War II, the Voice of America covered the Holocaust even more scantily than The New York Times and most other American newspapers, magazines, and radio stations.
“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,” American scholar Holly Cowan Shulman wrote in a 1997 article published in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. She 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.”3 Pro-Soviet propaganda overshadowed the Holocaust in World War II VOA programs since Stalin was not interested in helping to save Jews.
The controversy over VOA Hebrew broadcasts continued for a few months, but the Eisenhower administration later quietly agreed with the original decision to terminate them. VOA Hebrew broadcasts were transmitted from April 15, 1951, until May 23, 1953.
- State Department Information Program--Voice of America, p. 483.
- State Department Information Program--Voice of America, p. 193.
- 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.