The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Harriman) to President Roosevelt 95

M–23408. Molotov has given me a copy of Stalin’s answer96 to your message regarding American liberated prisoners of war in Poland. [Page 1085] No doubt the Red Army has reported that on March 16th there were no more of our liberated prisoners in Poland except the 17 sick to which he refers. On the other hand General Deane and I believe that there are a number of our ex-prisoners, including sick, still at large in Poland. Since February 26th we have had continual definite statements from the Foreign Office and the Red Army Staff to the effect that there are no prisoners left in Poland and each time these statements have been proved to be wrong. The American Red Cross representative recently returned from Poland tells me that on the day he left Praga,97 March 18th, he talked to one American officer in the street.

Stalin’s statement that our liberated prisoners are in Soviet camps under good conditions is far from the truth. Soviet facilities in Odessa meet the barest minimum needs but are improved as a result of the work of our contact officers and the American food, clothing, and medical supplies that we have been able to furnish. Until arrival at Odessa the hardships undergone have been inexcusable. No effort whatsoever has been made by the Red Army to do anything until our men drifted into camps at Warsaw, Lodz, Lublin, or Wrzesnia which the Red Army advertised as point of assembly. These are some hundreds of miles from points of liberation and our men would have starved if it had not been for the generosity and hospitality of the Polish people. Individual headquarters of the Red Army have sometimes given a meal to our men. On the other hand reports indicate that in other places not only was nothing done but Red Army soldiers have taken wrist watches, clothing, and other articles at the point of a gun.

The unsatisfactory conditions existing in these camps have been ameliorated at several points by the activities of the Polish Red Cross. Conditions at the Rembertow camp at Warsaw were unbelievable. Our men were mixed with civilian refugees of all kinds, sleeping on floors, utterly no sanitary or washing facilities. Food was served twice a day at irregular intervals and consisted of barley soup, bread, potatoes, or kasha, and tea or coffee. There were no delousing facilities. I believe as a result of your cables to Stalin and General Deane’s and my pressure our liberated prisoners have been moved to Odessa somewhat more rapidly than would otherwise have been the case. It may be there are only a relatively few of our men still in Poland, but on the other hand additional numbers may be liberated at any time and there is no reason to believe that their care will be any better than that experienced so far. Reports from our liberated prisoners when they arrive home will show that they have great gratitude for the Polish people and Polish Red Cross but nothing but resentment for [Page 1086] the treatment received from the Russians, despite the fact that upon liberation they were deeply grateful to the Russians. The only exceptions to this are the dozen who had the good luck to get through to Moscow quickly.

Stalin’s statement that the Red Army command cannot be bothered with a dozen American officers in Poland to look after the welfare of our liberated prisoners is preposterous when we think of what the American people have done in supplying the Red Army with vehicles and food. There was no thought of having our contact officers in the combat zone but I understand from General Eisenhower that he is giving Soviet contact officers complete freedom of movement to visit Russian citizens wherever they may be.

When the story of the treatment accorded our liberated prisoners by the Russians leaks out I cannot help but feel that there will be great and lasting resentment on the part of the American people.

I suggest that you reply again to Marshal Stalin, expressing thanks for his promise to fly out the 17 sick but stating that you cannot accept his position, using such of the above or other material available in the War Department as you think appropriate. I further recommend that since the Russians cannot do less than they are now doing for our men, General Eisenhower be instructed to limit the movements of the Russian contact officers in France to several camps where Russian citizens are collected, far to the rear. We should, of course, continue to give the best treatment possible to liberated Soviet citizens and all reasonable courtesies and assistance to their contact officers at these camps in the rear.

  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. Of March 22, p. 1082.
  3. Suburb of Warsaw.