Memorandum of Conversation, by the Acting Secretary of State

The Polish Prime Minister, General Sikorski, accompanied by the Polish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Count Raczyński, and the Polish Ambassador, Mr. Ciechanowski, called to see me this afternoon.

General Sikorski told me that he had been deeply gratified by his conversation with the President.52 I said that the President had spoken with me of the conversation and had expressed his own gratification [Page 124] at the opportunity he had had of exchanging views with, and of obtaining information from, General Sikorski.

The Prime Minister first of all gave me a graphic account of his interviews last December with Stalin. He impressed upon me repeatedly his belief that the reason why he, the representative of a defeated and occupied country, had been able to reach so satisfactory an understanding and agreement with Stalin, and an agreement which involved real concessions on the Soviet side, was the fact that he had spoken with complete frankness to Stalin, had been entirely blunt in his conversations with him and had at no time resorted to the somewhat roundabout diplomatic and frankly timorous methods which the British representatives had employed and were employing in their relations with the Soviet Government.

General Sikorski said that Stalin had at the outset of their conferences pressed him repeatedly to agree to a territorial understanding in the form of a secret treaty between Poland and the Soviet Union, which would have involved the cession to Poland of East Prussia, the recognition by Poland of the right of the Soviet Union to obtain sovereignty over the Baltic states and a slight modification of the original East Polish frontiers with the Soviet Union. General Sikorski told me that he had refused to enter into any such understandings and had repeatedly stated that Poland could not enter into any agreements of this character until the war had been won. He stated that at the latter part of this phase of his discussions with Stalin, the latter had said, “Will you not at least enter into a very little agreement with me?” General Sikorski had replied that he would not enter into even the littlest agreement of that character, and, he continued that from that moment on until the departure of General Sikorski from Moscow Stalin had never again brought up the subject.

The Prime Minister emphasized to me what he had already said to the President that if the British undertook to discuss agreements of this character with the Soviet Union, they would later on find themselves confronted by additional and greater demands, involving not only sovereignty by the Soviet Union over Bukovina and Bessarabia, but probably East Poland and eventually even the Dardanelles, the Balkans and Iran. He said the British were considering a fatally mistaken policy. He insisted that under no conditions, save German defeat or a complete defeat of the Soviet armies, would Stalin again enter into a separate peace with Hitler. For that reason the whole British premise was erroneous.

He added that when the Russians were apparently winning considerable victories in January and February, their attitude towards Poland and the Polish troops in the Soviet Union had become overbearing and dictatorial. In recent weeks this attitude had once more [Page 125] changed and he felt that the Russians were to so great a degree dependent upon Great Britain and the United States for assistance in withstanding the anticipated German offensive this spring that the Russians would never persist in their demands upon Great Britain for an agreement involving future territorial changes if the British Government would only for once take a firm stand similar, to that which the President here had taken.

General Sikorski stated that the German losses this past winter totaled two million men killed or hopelessly incapacitated through wounds for future combatant service. He said that except for oil, of which there would be a desperate shortage in Germany by the end of the summer unless Germany in the meantime obtained access to major oil supplies, Germany would be short of nothing that she required for a major offensive, except man power. He stated that the man power situation in Germany had already reached a most acute stage. In reply to an inquiry from me he confirmed my understanding that Germany was now obliged actually to take men from war industrial production and from agricultural production in order to supply the deficiencies in the divisions on her eastern front.

He went on to say that in his judgment the Soviet Union this past winter had only won tactical victories, that she had by no means inflicted a defeat upon Germany. He said that of course Germany had lost the battle of 1941 in the sense that she had not been able to achieve her objectives, but that there was no feeling in Germany on the part of either the army or the population that Germany had suffered any defeat at the hands of the Russians. In Other words, the feeling was that she had merely been delayed in attaining her objective. He expressed the belief, however, that because of the two deficiencies above mentioned, the German offensive against the Soviet Union this spring would not be as powerful as her offensive of last year.

He stated that he had learned from information he had received since he arrived in Washington that the German plans called for an offensive before the end of April and not as late as the beginning of June, which had been the plan agreed upon by the German High Command at the time he left London last week.

General Sikorski then returned to the subject of the negotiations between the British Government and the Soviet Union concerning territorial rectifications. He handed me the following memorandum, transmitted on March 2453 to Mr. Eden in London:

“I. The Polish Government declares emphatically that from the time of Russia joining the Allies, one of the most essential aims of Polish foreign policy has been the maintenance and the strengthening of friendly relations with the Soviet Union. This policy, initiated [Page 126] by the Polish Government in July 1941,54 has met with approval and has been fully endorsed by the Polish Nation which has always definitely rejected all attempts of the Third Reich to gain the Poles for the idea of an anti-Bolshevik crusade led by Germany.

“This policy is not dictated solely by the needs of the struggle against a common and merciless foe. Loyal collaboration of both States lies, in the opinion of the Polish Government, at the root of a stabilized European order after the war, constituting its most efficient guarantee. In order that such a collaboration should be expedient it must be based upon honest respect of one another’s independence and upon mutual confidence. If this is to be attained we must avoid decisions concerning a territorial settlement which, in the East, might become the nuclei of conflict in the future. Good neighborly relations, and Polish-Soviet friendship, are essential elements of a durable peace.

“II. At the outset of the war all the Allies, as well as almost all neutral nations, including the United States, expressed the just principle that any changes of boundaries between States, effected by force and by methods of aggression, cannot be recognized, and that no settlement of the political status of Europe or of the other parts of the world can be attained before the end of the war.

“The principle, which conforms to international law, is being broken only by Nations whose imperialism prompts them to ever recurring acts of aggression. In the course of time, as the occupation of the European continent by Germany and her satellites progressed. Great Britain and the Allied Nations supported this view as representing the moral principles of justice which should henceforth control international relations. The Allies were prompted in their internal adherence to this principle also by its expediency for the conduct of the war. They undoubtedly accepted the view that stable conditions cannot be fixed amidst the fluid elements of war.

“Moreover, the peoples living under the terror in occupied countries constitute valuable national elements of future victory. At least such are the Nations which reject any collaboration with the Germans, organize diversions and prepare for open rebellion which, at the appropriate time, of our own choosing, will become a decisive element in winning the war. Their stubborn resistance to the oppressor immobilizes considerable military forces of the enemy, causing him inconvenience.

“After the downfall of France, Great Britain advanced this view as formulated above to the status of an official political doctrine, expressed in the declaration of the Prime Minister on September 5, 1940.55 The other Allied Governments rallied to this doctrine. Thanks to these declarations, the thesis of non-recognition of acts of physical coercion committed during the war, has become a basic principle for which the Democracies are fighting.

“A second parallel Allied thesis concerning the world order after the war is bindingly and clearly formulated in the Atlantic Charter.

“At this juncture, and still during the struggle, the Soviet Government demands the recognition by Great Britain of some of her annexations [Page 127] of 1939/40. This action would undoubtedly invalidate the two aforementioned Allied principles.

“The Polish Government considers the Soviet request as harmful to the general war policy. It would not add one soldier to the Allied Armies, nor would it improve in the least the war situation. On the contrary, it would destroy confidence in Allied integrity and in the wisdom of the political conduct of the war. It would create chaos in the world of political ideas both in Europe and beyond. It would dangerously weaken the moral forces of Democracy. Such decisions would be exploited by the enemy not only in occupied countries but also in neutral States. On the eve of the Spring offensive this appears particularly dangerous.

“The Polish Government fails to see any material advantage which Soviet Russia could gain in her relation to Germany should her request be granted by H. M. Government. Russia is fighting and is fighting valiantly because she is fighting for her own salvation.

“Rumors circulated by Germany regarding the possibility of a separate peace with Russia are either an attempt at blackmail or an illusion based upon wishful thinking. It is unlikely that Germany should renounce her war aims, so loudly proclaimed to her own people at a time when Germany is making a maximum aggressive effort against Russia.

“Germany might tend to conclude a separate peace with Russia in two eventualities alone:

  • “1) If Germany’s Spring offensive were to break down without achieving basic strategic aims.
  • “2) If the Russian Army were to be defeated, eventually with the assistance of Japan. In this instance Germany would achieve her Eastern war aims, dictating her own terms to conquered Russia.

“Both of these alternatives are very remote at the present time.

“Soviet Russia was forced into the war and must continue to fight to the end in order to save the régime, which for Soviet Russia constitutes a matter of life and death.

“III. Apart from the view expressed in par. II of this memorandum, the Polish Government would like to analyze those aspects of an eventual British-Soviet agreement which would most directly affect vital Polish interests. In particular it desires to draw the attention of H. M. Government to p. 2 (b) of the secret Protocol attached to the agreement of August 25, 1939,56 p. (b) [sic] concerning Lithuania. The wording of this paragraph is unequivocal and clear. The Government of Great Britain confirms in it the maintenance of Lithuanian independence as being equally vital to Poland as that of Belgium and Holland is to Great Britain.

“The Polish Government took the liberty to draw the attention of H. M. Government to the contents of the said Protocol in a note dated December 30, 1941.

“The above mentioned text is the legal expression of the political reality. An independent Lithuania can never become a threat to her [Page 128] neighbors or other States of this European region. On the contrary, the annexation of Lithuania by powerful Soviet Russia would be particularly dangerous to Poland, rendering her situation in the North East more precarious and making her neighborly relations more difficult. Russia cannot justify by strategic arguments of her own security her demands regarding Lithuania, a country devoid of natural port facilities in the Baltic.

“Lithuania is inhabited by a Catholic peasantry and townfolk deeply attached to the ownership of their small property.

“The Polish Government considers the full sovereignty of Lithuania as a basic principle of its foreign policy and stresses once more the view that this can in no way affect friendly Polish-Soviet relations.

“Analogous to the Lithuanian problem is that of Bukovina. No Polish-British legal document relates to the Bukovinian question. It was not necessary to regulate the matter owing to a valid British guarantee given to Rumania57 at that time, whereas the Polish-Rumanian defensive alliance58 was also fully operative. The possession of Bukovina by Russia59 does not constitute an element of security. The country, devoid as it is, of maritime or Danubian bases, bound by ties of many common interests with Rumania and Poland, whose continuity it assures, had never belonged in the past to Russia and never was the object of Russian declared aspirations. These aspirations could therefore be explained only in terms of designs for eventual aggression in Central Europe, and more particularly in the Balkans.

“It must also be stressed that the concurrence of H. M. Government in the annexation of Lithuania and Bukovina by the Soviets would signify approval of Polish encirclement by Soviet Russia from the North, the East and the South. Thus in the East the strategic situation of Poland would become analogous to her situation in the West in 1939, when, after the occupation of Czechoslovakia, and particularly Slovakia, Germany surrounded Poland on three sides.

“IV. H. M. Government is aware of the vital importance to Poland of the Vilna District and of the whole Eastern area of Poland. The Vilna District, with its Polish population, Polish civilization and traditions, has become an object of local contention with Lithuania which was utilized in no small measure by Germany in provoking long international discussions.

“The Soviet Union declared in Art. 3 of the Treaty of Riga of March 18, 1921,60 its absolute disinteressment in regard to the Polish-Lithuanian disagreement concerning the Vilna territory. The territory [Page 129] was occupied by the Russian army in September 1939, and later on October 10, 1939, it was ceded by Russia to Lithuania, the latter being at that time still independent. Annexed for a second time in 1940, it was made part of Soviet Russia by force as a component of the so-called Lithuanian Soviet Republic.61 These arbitrary proceedings were recognized solely by Germany. The Polish Government protested this action to the Allied and Neutral Powers.

“The Polish Government declares that any questioning of the Polish rights to the Vilna territory would be regarded as directly endangering Poland’s territorial integrity.

“V. It is the considered opinion of the Polish Government that, in terms of the alliance between Poland and Great Britain, Poland should join in the discussions between Great Britain and Russia of all matters affecting Poland directly or indirectly. The exclusion of the Polish-Russian boundaries from such discussions and leaving them to a separate agreement between Poland and Russia, would stand in contradiction to the terms and the spirit of the Treaty of August 25, 1939. The conclusion of this Treaty contributed to Poland’s decision to take up arms in this war so terrible in its effects for Poland, and to the unfaltering prosecution of the war until the present time in spite of German policies of extermination and wanton destruction.

“The Polish Government also draws attention to the fact that the Polish-Soviet boundaries were established by the Treaty of Riga of 1921, freely negotiated by both contracting parties. These boundaries represent in fact a compromise between the pre-partition frontiers of Poland and the temporary frontiers of Russia of 1941.

“In the Polish-Soviet declaration of December 4, 1941, signed by the Polish and the Soviet Prime Ministers, the necessity for respecting international engagements was particularly stressed. Following par. 3 of the secret Protocol to the British-Polish Agreement of August 26, 1939, as well as general mutual obligations, H. M. Government recognized the territorial integrity of the Polish State. Moreover, in his letter of July 30, 1941, addressed to the Polish Prime Minister, Mr. Eden declared that H. M. Government does not recognize any territorial changes effected in Poland after August 1939. The Polish Government takes the liberty to draw the attention of H. M. Government to the circumstance that the above mentioned letter formed the subject of diplomatic negotiations preceding the conclusion of the Polish-Soviet Agreement of July 30, 1941. This letter therefore is an integral part of this political act, concluded with the help of British mediation. The political realism shown by Poland on that occasion undoubtedly served the Allied cause and that of Great Britain in particular.

“The Polish Government emphatically declares that the best safeguard of Russian security from German aggression is a strong Poland linked to Russia by ties of sincere friendship. It is our aim to restore such a Poland in complete harmony and friendship with Russia at the time of victory over the Third Reich, regarding all boundary problems [Page 130] as a whole. Then only will be the time for the solution of the problem of security. Such solution will have to take into account, in a spirit of fairness and realism, the legitimate interests of Russia and of Poland as well as those of other States of that region of Central and Western Europe.

“March 24, 1942”

I told General Sikorski that this would be extremely helpful to me but that I thought, in order that there might be no misunderstanding between our two Governments, that I had better crystallize the position of this Government with regard to this general subject.

I stated that the views of the President, as already communicated to the British Government, were as follows:

The United States will approve no secret treaty during the course of the present world war.
The President believes that all questions involving definitive boundaries and territorial readjustments in Europe should be determined only after the war is won.
The policy of the United States is clearly set forth in the principles enunciated in the Atlantic Charter.
This Government will, however, be glad to receive the views of the other United Nations as to their feelings with regard to the national interests of their own peoples in order that it may give full consideration to these problems and be in a position to determine its own views, after such consideration, when the time comes for these questions to be finally settled.62

I asked if the views as thus set forth were in accord with the views of the Polish Government. General Sikorski replied that his Government was completely in accord with the statements I had made to him covering the views of the United States.

General Sikorski then said that the Polish Government believed that the peace of Europe would be best assured in the post-war period with the creation of a federation of the Eastern European States lying between the Baltic and the Aegean Seas. I said that I had heard of this conception which was most interesting. I did not pursue the subject.

The Prime Minister then handed me a memorandum indicating the need for reprisals against Germany in view of the atrocities being committed by German authorities in Poland. The memorandum reads as follows:

  • “I. The Polish Government has been receiving lately numerous trustworthy reports from Poland relating to a recrudescence and [Page 131] intensification of the number of terrorist acts and crimes committed against the Polish and Jewish population by the German authorities of occupation. These acts are of a nature unprecedented as regards cruelty and bestiality. The reports describe acts of mass executions carried out after infliction of indescribable mutilation and torture with a refinement of brutality and sadism which can only be qualified as inhuman in the fullest sense of the word.
  • “II. The Polish Nation which has, for two years and a half, been suffering from ever increasing ruthless treatment at the hands of its oppressors, calls upon its Government to appeal to the United Nations for immediate action in view of stopping this inhuman extermination of the Polish people.
  • “III. The Polish people express the conviction that this could be brought about only by immediate measures of retaliation applied to German nationals wherever this is possible and their publication in a way which will bring it to the knowledge of the German nation.
  • “IV. On January 13th, 1942, an Inter-Allied Declaration relating to retribution for war crimes was signed in London by the Representatives of countries occupied by Germany.63 This solemn Act took place under the Chairmanship of General Sikorski, Prime Minister of Poland, in the presence of the Representatives of the U. S. A., Great Britain and the British Dominions, Soviet Russia and China. By this Declaration the signatories wished: (1) to make certain (according to the Declaration made on September [October] 25, 1941, by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill64) that the responsibilities of the individual war criminals would not be evaded in the future, (2) to establish as from now a record of the various cases, and publicly to denounce the crimes, which had come to their knowledge, thus endeavoring to produce a preventive effect on the morale of the occupants.
  • “V. Notwithstanding this Declaration, German outrages in Poland are on the increase and call for energetic and immediate action.

“Washington, March 24th, 1942.”

He handed me likewise a copy of a declaration, issued as recently as January 20, by representatives of all of the Polish political parties. The text is as follows:

“At the present time, when the European War enters in its decisive phase, no Polish citizen would undertake conversations with the German authorities on political questions. Nobody besides is authorized to do so by the Polish Government or the Polish people.

“In order to explain the attitude of the Polish Nation towards Germany and her representatives, it is necessary to state the following:

  • “1) The German armed forces have attacked the Polish State on the 1st of September 1939 by order of the supreme authorities of the [Page 132] Reich and they have thus created a state of war between Poland and Germany. This state of war continues to exist de jure as well as de facto. De jure—because the war has not been terminated either by armistice or by peace, de facto—because the Polish Armed Forces are still carrying on the war with Germany, for the time being outside the frontiers of Poland, and inside of Poland the entire Polish Nation is fighting the Germans. The Polish Armed Forces have been fighting, are fighting and shall continue to fight on land, on sea and in the air, wherever the military forces of Germany can be destroyed.
  • “2) The Polish Republic has a legally constituted Government, temporarily residing in London, a Government recognized by all the great Powers who are carrying on the war against the aggressors, namely: Great Britain, the United States, Russia and China, as well as the other United Nations and neutral countries. This Government only has the exclusive right to speak in the name of the Polish Republic and enter into agreements with other Powers. Any conversations carried on by persons not authorized by the Polish Government, or any agreements or understandings concluded by such persons are null and void.
  • “3) A Polish citizen, who—notwithstanding this legal situation—dared to negotiate with the enemy on questions regarding the future of Poland, would commit an act of treason towards the Polish State and Polish people.
  • “In addition it must be stated that,
  • “4) The activities of the German authorities on Polish territories are marked with continuous criminal violation of all the international laws as provided in the Hague Conventions,65 brutal destruction of the Polish people and the annihilation of the whole Polish cultural life. The guiding principle of all the party authorities who are ruling occupied Poland—as far as the life of the civilian population in the General Gouvernement is concerned—is, according to their own statements, exclusively the interest of Germany. It is impossible to imagine that a Polish citizen could collaborate in extending the limits of German interests.
  • “5) The attempt of the German authorities to break the unity of Polish lands by means of fictitious frontier lines and limit Poland to a small administrative district—the so-called General Gouvernement—betrays their insidious plan of destroying the nine million Polish inhabitants of Western Poland, a land which for centuries has remained in hands of their forefathers—and to pillage their property. No political contacts of any kind whatsoever are therefore permissible with an enemy who in such way interprets his relationship to the Polish Nation.

“The political attitude of the Polish Nation must correspond in principles to which Poland remains true since the outbreak of this war, those of a just retaliation for aggression and the crimes committed and of fighting the enemy until the complete liberation of the country is achieved.

“Warsaw, January 20th, 1942.”

[Page 133]

The Prime Minister Asked if it would not be possible for him to have some final decisions with regard to the various questions before he left Washington next Monday66 on his return journey to England. I told him I would make every effort to do so. I said that, as he knew, several of the requests previously made of me by his Ambassador, at his instance, had already been accepted in principle and that what remained to be done was to work out the details.

During the conference the Polish Ambassador acted as interpreter since General Sikorski did not trust his French, and the Polish Foreign Minister acted as stenographer.

S[umner] W[elles]
  1. No record of this conversation found in Department files.
  2. The note was actually transmitted on March 27.
  3. With the negotiations for the Polish-Soviet Agreement of July 30, 1941.
  4. Great Britain, Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 365, col. 39.
  5. The treaty of mutual assistance between the United Kingdom and Poland, signed at London; for text of treaty and protocol, see British cmd. 6616, Poland No. 1 (1945).
  6. The guarantee to Rumania was announced for both Great Britain and France by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in the House of Commons on April 13, 1939 (Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 346, col. 13), and simultaneously in the House of Lords by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Lord Halifax (ibid., House of Lords, 5th series, Vol. 112, col. 612).
  7. Originally signed at Bucharest on March 3, 1921; for text, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. vii, p. 78. Renewed, with some changes, on March 26, 1926, and January 15, 1931; for texts, see ibid., vol. lx, p. 162, and vol. cxv, p. 171, respectively.
  8. For correspondence concerning the activities of the Soviet Union in the Balkans and the seizure of Bessarabia and Bukovina, see Foreign Relations, 1940, vol. i, pp. 444 ff.
  9. Treaty of peace between the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic and Poland signed at Riga, March 18, 1921; for text, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. vi, p. 123.
  10. For correspondence concerning pressure by the Soviet Union upon the Baltic States in 1939 to conclude pacts of mutual assistance, and the forcible occupation and incorporation of them by the Soviet Union in 1940, see Foreign Relations, The Soviet Union, 1933–1939, pp. 934 ff.; and Foreign Relations, 1940, vol. i, pp. 357 ff.
  11. According to a memorandum by Ambassador Biddle on April 10, 1942, after his return from Washington, the Acting Polish Foreign Minister, Count Raczynski, told Ambassador Biddle on April 10, that he had discussed with President Roosevelt the desire of Stalin to get a three-cornered agreement on postwar western frontier aims. “The President thereupon stated that his policy was to uphold the principles set forth in the Atlantic Charter; that this was no time to draw up agreements on post-war frontiers. The war had first to be won.”
  12. See Polish Series telegram No. 4, January 14, from the Ambassador to the Polish Government in Exile (Biddle), vol. i, p. 45.
  13. President Roosevelt issued a statement on October 25, 1941, denouncing the execution of hostages by the Nazis (Department of State Bulletin, October 25, 1941, p. 317). On the same day Prime Minister Churchill issued a statement associating his Government with the President’s statement, and adding: “Retribution for these crimes must henceforward take its place among the major purposes of the war.” ( Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. i, p. 447.)
  14. For texts of the Hague Conventions signed on October 18, 1907, see Foreign Relations, 1907, pt. 2, pp. 11811283.
  15. March 30.