740.00114 European War 1939/2270

The Secretary of Embassy in Charge at Moscow ( Thompson ) to the Secretary of State

No. 11

Sir: I have the honor to enclose herewith a translation prepared by this office of a memorandum on Polish prisoners of war in the Soviet Union8 which was handed to me by its author, Jozef Czapski, a captain in the Polish Army in the Soviet Union. Captain Czapski informed me in strict confidence that not only had Stalin promised the Polish Ambassador that the Polish officers concerned would be liberated but that he had given the most solemn assurance to this effect to General Sikorski. Captain Czapski came to Moscow in an effort to obtain the implementation of these promises but has been unable to obtain any further information as to the whereabouts of these prisoners. He thinks it possible, however, that some of them may be imprisoned on Franz Joseph Island and as it would be impossible to [Page 105] bring them back from there before the month of June, there is a slight possibility that the Soviet authorities are withholding any information until such time as they can actually release the prisoners. As illustrative of the attitude taken by the Soviet authorities on this question, Captain Czapski told me in the strictest confidence that two officers of the Polish army in the U. S. S. R. were suddenly arrested in Kuibyshev and re-imprisoned without notice to the Polish Embassy or Military Authorities. The Polish Embassy has been unable to secure their, release despite the most strenuous efforts. The Soviet authorities have merely stated that the officers in question are believed to be pro-German. Captain Czapski said he thought the real reason for their arrest was the fact that they were members of the Polish Bund.9 Captain Czapski, who was himself a prisoner of war, said that he had been fortunate in being imprisoned in a camp where the prisoners received relatively good treatment. He said that the reason for this special consideration was the desire of the Soviet authorities to prepare a nucleus of Poles who would be favorably disposed toward the Soviet Union and would be useful to the Soviet Government after the war, possibly for intervention in Polish internal affairs. He said that while he had no direct evidence he suspected that similar tactics were being used with respect to German prisoners of war. Some support to this theory is furnished by the recent visit of American correspondents to a Soviet prison camp near Gorky, where the German prisoners receive a more liberal ration than the citizens of Moscow, although it cannot be said that the conditions of life there would be likely to win adherents to the Communist Régime.

Respectfully yours,

Llewellyn E. Thompson, Jr.
  1. Not printed; it dealt in detail with Polish prisoners of war known to have been concentrated in camps located at Starobyelsk, Kozyelsk, and Ostashkov “in the year 1939–40 (April–May) amounting to over 15,000 men, of which 8,700 were officers.” These prisoners “have not returned from their captivity and the place where they were located is absolutely unknown with the exception of 400 or 500 men, about 3% of the total number of prisoners of war” detained at these three camps “who were freed in 1941.” Most of these freed prisoners passed through another camp at Gryazovets. The liquidation of the first three camps was begun on April 3, 1940, and was soon accomplished. The camp at Gryazovets was not liquidated until September 1941. The memorandum further declared that “not a single cry for help has come to us” from these prisoners of war, and that the Polish Government had “no news whatever of their location apart from vague rumors.” Pertinent comment and selected documents about these prisoners of war were also released in Republic of Poland, Polish-Soviet Relations, 1918–1943, Official Documents, pp. 38–45 and pp. 110–126.
  2. A Jewish Labor Union organization in Poland carrying on socialist propaganda among Jewish workmen, formerly associated with the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, 1898–1903. The Bundists then retained separate identity until after 1919, when the group fused with the Communist Party in the Ukraine, although its members in Poland remained independent until their organization’s destruction after Hitler’s invasion in September 1939.