The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Harriman) to President Roosevelt 75

M–23119. In light of Marshal Stalin’s reply to your message regarding our liberated prisoners of war I feel you will be interested to have from me a brief review of the situation.

Our information received from our liberated prisoners indicates that there have been four or five thousand officers and enlisted men freed, The Russians today claim that there are only 2,100 of whom 1,350 have arrived at Odessa and the balance being en route by train.

Russian information is based on reports from concentration points within Poland where our prisoners have been collected. Meantime there appear to be hundreds of our prisoners wandering about Poland trying to locate American contact officers for protection. I am told that our men don’t like the idea of getting into a Russian camp. The Polish people and Polish Red Cross are being extremely hospitable, whereas food and living conditions in Russian camps are poor. In addition we have reports that there are a number of sick and wounded who are too ill to move. These Stalin does not mention in his cable. Only a small percentage of those reported sick or wounded have arrived at Odessa.

For the past 10 days the Soviets have made the same statement to me that Stalin has made to you, namely, that all prisoners are in Odessa or entrained thereto, whereas I have now positive proof that this was not true on February 26th, the date on which the statement was first made. This supports my belief that Stalin’s statement to you is inaccurate.

I am glad to say that the reports from our contact officers in Odessa indicate that the Russians have done a first rate job in providing quickly a reasonably adequate camp in Odessa and our prisoners are reasonably well provided with food, etc. Our officers there also are allowed to communicate with us daily. I have no present reason to complain about the situation in Odessa or about the speed with which [Page 1075] our prisoners have been moved from Poland by train, considering the shortage of transportation.

I am outraged, however, that the Soviet Government has declined to carry out the agreement signed at Yalta76 in its other aspects, namely, that our contact officers be permitted to go immediately to points where our prisoners are first collected, to evacuate our prisoners, particularly the sick, in our own airplanes, or to send our supplies to points other than Odessa, which is 1,000 miles from point of liberation, where they are urgently needed.

Since the Yalta Conference General Deane and I have been making constant efforts to get the Soviets to carry out this agreement in full. We have been baffled by promises which have not been fulfilled or have been subsequently withdrawn. We succeeded after considerable delay in getting one contact team of an officer and a doctor to Lublin but they have not been permitted to move to other points and our infrequent communications with them have been largely through the friendly intervention of the Polish Embassy here.

Ten days ago the Soviet Foreign Office finally authorized General Deane to go to Poland to review the situation but no action has been taken so far. Impressed it again last night and hope to hear today. I have proposed that he go with a Russian officer and report jointly to the Soviet authorities and myself as to whether their information or ours is correct.

I am not so worried about our prisoners who are well. These, I believe, will gradually be assembled and shipped to Odessa. I am extremely concerned, however, over the sick and wounded. I hope to get an answer today about Deane’s trip. If it is not satisfactory I will recommend that you cable Stalin again.

  1. Copy of telegram obtained from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, N.Y. This telegram was transmitted through the facilities of the United States Military Mission in Moscow.
  2. Reference here is to the agreement of February 11, 1945, between the United States and the Soviet Union regarding liberated prisoners of war and civilians; see bracketed note, p. 1072.