The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Harriman) to the Secretary of State
[Received April 3—3 p.m.]
1008. In compliance with the suggestions contained in the President’s message No. 216 of March 26,98 I wrote a letter to Molotov on March 27 setting forth our complaints regarding the treatment of our prisoners of war liberated by the Red Army. The following is a summary of the pertinent parts of this letter for the Department’s information and information of the War Department:
I told Molotov that I was submitting this letter as per his request during our conversation of March 13, at which time he had indicated [Page 1087] that he would investigate such complaints with a view to taking necessary corrective action. I commented on my Government’s appreciation to the Red Army for the liberation of our POWs99 and for the many acts of kindness and generosity by individual officers and men of the Soviet armies towards our released soldiers. I stated that I was thoroughly aware of the operational requirements of any army in the field and that, therefore, I would confine my comments to those conditions which we felt might be corrected without infringing upon the efficiency of military operations. I pointed out that I was not raising the question at this time of permission for our contact officers to go to the first points of concentration as we understood the Yalta agreement. The complaints listed were the following:
- Lack of cooperation of Soviet military authorities made it impossible effectively to set up an organization for handling American prisoners of war as liberated. The United States had been trying to effect such plans since June of last year with no results.
- Because of this lack of planning American prisoners of war who were liberated in Poland and Germany were forced, although some of them were sick, to wander through Poland uncared for by anyone and without instructions as to where they should assemble. It is recognized that some of the sick and wounded were cared for in Red Army hospitals. It took our liberated soldiers weeks to find their way to certain points of concentration in Polish cities from which they were entrained for Odessa.
- During the period from the time of their liberation until they managed to reach these concentration points our American prisoners of war were almost entirely dependent upon the generosity of the Polish people and the Polish Red Cross for the barest necessities of life.
- It was nearly one month after their liberation that American authorities in Moscow were notified officially of the liberation of American prisoners of war.
- It was a month after time of liberation before instructions were issued to our prisoners of war, at which time posters were distributed directing them to Wrznesia, Praga, Lublin, or Lodz.
- Reports have reached us, amply substantiated by witnesses, that many of our soldiers, while wandering through Poland, had their watches and personal effects forcibly taken from them by Red Army soldiers.
- When points of concentration were finally set up they were poorly administered as to sanitary conditions, food and replacements for worn out clothing.
- The worst concentration point was that at Rembertow, near Warsaw. There existed serious conditions of overcrowding, shortage of beds and bedding, poor food, and inadequate sanitary conditions. Food was meager and served only twice a day at irregular intervals. The processing of large numbers of civilian evacuees aggravated this problem for some time. Conditions at other points of concentration were a little better but existing facilities were still inadequate.
- In the trains from these points in Poland to Odessa our prisoners were placed in box cars where there were stoves but no fuel, making it necessary to forage for fuel when the trains would stop. Food was scarce and an insufficient number of blankets were issued.
- During the entire period our prisoners were under Soviet control they were prevented from contacting the Military Mission in Moscow. Prisoners at Odessa were kept in strict confinement.
- There is no way of knowing exactly how many sick or injured American prisoners are still in Poland, but we have reason to believe that many of them are still either in hospitals in Poland or in private homes in small communities.
- The sending of American supplies to liberated prisoners was not permitted except for a small quantity which accompanied the United States contact team to Lublin. Requests to send supplies to Odessa were granted after considerable delay in each case.
In closing I stated that questions at Odessa were not being dealt with in my letter as they were being handled by our contact officers there and our Military Mission in Moscow. I also stated that I believed the complaints listed could be corrected and I requested that the Soviet authorities take the necessary steps to insure that such conditions will not exist in the future. I asked Molotov to keep me informed of corrective action which might be taken.