The Consul General at Warsaw (Davis), Temporarily at Oslo, to the Secretary of State

No. 1 (Oslo)

Sir: I have the honor to report below the more salient facts concerning the remaining in Warsaw of the personnel of the Consulate General.

The Department in a telegraphic instruction to the Embassy25 authorized the moving of the officers of the Consulate General to such place or places which might appear to be the safest. It, however, expressed a desire that, if such a course were feasible without placing officers in too great danger, some officer should remain in the official premises so that, in the event of German occupation of Warsaw, the Consulate General would be found functioning, thus avoiding the problem of reopening the office.

On September 5th the Ambassador and all of his staff save the Military Attaché, Second Secretary Harrison and a few of the Polish staff, hurriedly departed for a point near Lublin. He left considerable baggage behind, hoping to send back for it by truck. The next afternoon, September 6th, he sent instructions to the Military Attaché and Mr. Harrison to join him at once. Subsequent to these departures no messages of any kind were received from the Ambassador and his staff. Owing to the hurried nature of the Embassy’s departure, the chancery was left in a state of great confusion with office equipment and baggage piled up in various places. This was inevitable, but it made doubly difficult the task of organization and handling the large number of frightened and semi-hysterical refugees—American, British and French—which at once commenced arriving.

Subsequent to the departure of the Embassy there had not only been no communication with the Ambassador but none with the Department, although constant effort was made to send out messages. In fact, there was no communication of any kind with points outside of Warsaw, either abroad or in Poland. There had been a welter of so-called information, much of it conflicting. The only facts which were clear were that the roads leading from Warsaw had all been heavily bombed and swept by machine-gun fire from airplanes, that they were congested with Polish troops and fear-maddened civilians hopelessly seeking some place of safety, and consequently that any attempt to move the officers and the American refugees over them would be so dangerous as to be inadvisable and so difficult as to be all [Page 684] but impossible. Owing to the rapid movements of mechanized German columns and to the lack of reliable information as to what points had been occupied or were being attacked, it was impossible to know that, even if reached, any point would be even as safe as Warsaw, Although from the nature of the Polish road systems and the superior mechanized equipment and air force possessed by the Germans, it was foreseen that movements in Poland during a war would be much more difficult than in countries such as England or France, there were two factors which much aggravated the situation that could not be anticipated. The first of these was the failure of Poland’s allies to exert any material pressure in the Western Front, thus exposing Poland to the full force of the German land and air attacks; the second was the unrestricted German attacks—by bombing and machine-gunning from airplanes—upon all roads and most towns and villages.

As a result of this situation, which developed at the same time the Embassy personnel departed, the Consulate General was deprived of any latitude of choice and had to remain in Warsaw with all of its personnel. The authorization to exercise its judgment as to the depature of officers thus proved entirely valueless. In the light of what has occurred, it is evident that the only manner in which the personnel of this office could have avoided the serious and constant dangers to which they were exposed, would have been for them to have been ordered to withdraw as soon as the war commenced, or with the Ambassador.

Although it appeared impossible to avail ourselves of the Department authorization to move to places of greater safety, it is impossible to state whether or not this would have been done even had it appeared safe to undertake it. At one point it was suggested that an attempt be made to proceed by motor cars to some town or city further from the heavier fighting and one or two officers advocated making the attempt. However, after carefully canvassing the situation with the officers in whose judgment I had the most confidence, I decided that it would be wisest to remain. The grounds of this decision were (1) the lack of sufficient means of transportation for taking along all of our American refugees; (2) the strong probability that we could find neither adequate shelter or food supplies; (3) the known dangers of moving on any roads; and (4) the desire to have the Consulate General operating at the time of the German occupation of the city. In making this decision I stated that any officers who wished to leave were at liberty to do so, but that in my opinion their chances of surviving would be greater were they to remain in the chancery.

The following points may perhaps prove of interest to the Department in this general connection:

On September 6, 1939, a representative of the Foreign Office called up all missions and stated that diplomatic personnel should [Page 685] leave Warsaw, since protection could no longer be afforded them by the Polish Government.
Upon being requested to furnish means of transportation for diplomatic officials, this Foreign Office official stated that no such means were then available to the Polish Government.
Upon being asked by one of the Baltic chiefs of mission whether Warsaw would be fortified and used as a point of resistance, the Foreign Office representative stated that this would not be the case. This fact was stated verbally in a meeting of the Diplomatic Corps in the Norwegian Minister’s Office.

Respectfully yours,

John K. Davis
  1. Telegram No. 48, August 30, 7 p.m., p. 673.