861.404/451: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Steinhardt) to the Secretary of State

1758. Harriman,30 who left this morning, requested me to send the following telegram in answer to the Department’s [1112], October 2, 7 p.m.

“I told Stalin31 of the importance of the religion question in the United States and of the need for clarification publicly by the Soviet Government of its position on this subject followed up by general publicity as well as relaxation of restrictions as exemplified by releasing two Polish Roman Catholic priests from confinement and allowing them to conduct services. He indicated he would give the subject his attention.

I spoke to Molotov subsequently in great detail in conversations both with and without Oumansky. On receipt of the cable last night Steinhardt and I had further discussions with Oumansky, who promised without qualification that a statement of some sort would be made along the lines of the President’s wishes.32

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I leave with the impression that the Soviet Government will give lip service and make a few gestures to meet the President’s wishes but is not yet prepared to give freedom of religion in the sense that we understand it.

Steinhardt agrees with the above and will follow up until statement is forthcoming.”

  1. W. Averell Harriman, Special Representative of President Roosevelt, and chairman of the special mission to the Soviet Union, September 29–October 1, 1941. For correspondence about the Harriman-Beaverbrook Mission in Moscow, see pp. 825852, passim.
  2. Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Ail-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks); member of the Politburo and Orgburo of the Party; and, after May 6, 1941, President (Chairman) of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Union (Prime Minister).
  3. The Chargé in Germany related in telegram No. 3704, October 7, 1941, that German propaganda made critical use of the President’s remarks as “an ideal illustration” of the attempts of the American Government “in trying to make its alliance with Bolshevism palatable to the people.” Mr. Harriman was portrayed as having the thankless task of “seeking as an arch capitalist to convert the arch Communist, Stalin, to Christianity and persuade him to join in the singing of ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’.” (861.404/454) To correct misquotations and distorted interpretations of the words used by President Roosevelt in his press conference remarks of September 30, 1941, the verbatim transcription was released to the press for direct quotation on October 2, 1941; see Department of State Bulletin, October 4, 1941, p. 246.