The Ambassador in Poland (Griffis) to the Under Secretary of State (Lovett)

personal and secret

Dear Bob: I do not know whether or not you will be interested in a fairly long personal letter regarding Poland. Sometimes I think [Page 442] that the life of a diplomat is largely the life of an Arctic explorer fighting his way through the continual snowstorm of papers. Accordingly, as I have no pride of authorship, it will be quite all right if you just regard this as another one of those things, but perhaps there may be some viewpoints expressed which may be of interest to you.

I am writing you today after six weeks in Poland with a good many contacts with the Polish Government and with the Diplomatic Corps here and having covered Poland by car, visiting all but one or two of the large cities, from the Czech border to the Baltic.

My contacts with the Polish Government are somewhat similar with my contacts with the Bulgarian Minister. He speaks only Bulgarian. His secretary speaks Bulgarian and Polish. The Minister talks to his secretary in Bulgarian and the secretary, in turn, transmits it to my secretary in Polish. She, in turn, translates it to me in English, and by the time my reply gets back to the Bulgarian Minister any resemblance to the original idea is purely coincidental—thus, with the Polish Government. Whatever I suggest is usually received with warmth and attention with the promise of an answer in three or four days. Apparently, usually from higher up and from further East comes a complete negation which results in refusal of most of my requests. There is no possible question of the substantially complete control of this Government from elsewhere.

My first days in the Polish capital brought me an initiation the like of which I doubt has ever been received by an incoming Ambassador. I was hit squarely in the face by the Poles’ refusal to attend the Paris Conference which came 24 hours after I had been assured by the Government that they would be there. Within a few days thereafter our Government announced that Poland had been stricken from the list of European countries selected for relief and the Polish repercussion was immediate and vigorous. The Air Attaché’s plane, which has been for the use of the Ambassador, has been ordered out of the country and as a result of these few incidents my conferences with Government officials have not been all peaches and honey.

The patterns of government here are defined and unmistakable. Most of the high members of the Government are young, almost without exception in the forties. Many of them spent a large part of the war in prison or concentration camps. Their languages are usually Polish and Russian or Polish and German which they will not use. A mere handful speak some English and some French. While there is much talk of a coalition government of communists and socialists, actually the domination is entirely communistic and the trend, despite constant talk of merger of the two parties, is definitely towards a gradual elimination of the socialist influence. In a nation of 22,000,000 [Page 443] people it is said that probably less than 50,000 are actually communists but with the Russian alliance in the background, with a pitifully small Polish Army far outnumbered by the Russian Army in Poland, the Government has become even more strongly entrenched by the tragic results of American gifts of more than $500,000,000 through UNRRA which it must be understood distributed its largess through the Government. One may easily guess the results in strengthening the power of the few men who controlled the distribution and who now dominate the Government and the Country.

There remains also the little matter of countless secret police, of continual political arrests and imprisonments extending even to many priests and Catholic clergy, many of whom are held incommunicado and without trial. Altogether, the atmosphere is surcharged with nervousness and fear and walking through the streets of Warsaw at night one almost has the feeling that the planes should be overhead any minute now.

The Russian trained, indoctrinated and sponsored Polish communists have not sought to control Poland through a seizure of power in the classic Marxist sense. Rather their approach has been gradualistic; they have sought to insinuate themselves into power, presumably reserving ruthlessness for the coup de grâce instead of using it consistently as a political weapon. The choice of this technique has resulted inevitably in a piecemeal approach to their problem and this in turn has necessitated an intricate scheme of political maneuver aimed at keeping large and diverse elements of the population controlled and quiescent, while selected groups were to be either dominated or liquidated.

As completely clear and defined as the Government and its Russo-Polish ideological pattern is the propaganda served the people unceasingly in the almost entirely controlled Polish press. It plays only a few strings but these are incessant: (1) that the United States, that monster of capitalism where the poor downtrodden workman is striving daily for the growth of communism, is rapidly approaching a complete financial debacle; (2) that Poland may rest content for its future prosperity and safety under the gentle and all-embracing umbrella of its great and powerful ally, the Soviet Union; (3) and this is an exact quotation from the leading Warsaw newspaper of July 29: “The American policy wishes to have a strong Germany—stronger than all her neighbors. It wants Germany to become the greatest industrial power of Europe.” This latter is, of course, an extremely powerful piece of Goebbelism in reverse for the Polish hatred of Germany is far more deep-seated than its hatred of Russia and its fear of German aggression far more intense.

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In my first press interview I told the Polish reporters that their policy reminded me of a man who approaches an old friend on the street and begs him for help and for loans, punctuating the request by smashing the friend in the nose. In other words, Poland has its left hand extended for help and its right hand is a fist constantly attacking the United States and everything American.

In my life here I am substantially isolated from any Poles. Probably the best examples I can give you are the following: My first visit to any charitable institution here was to Laski, an institution for Polish blind children for which one of my young partners in New York is treasurer. I spent several hours there. You may imagine how horrifying and returned to Warsaw. However, it seems that this institution has some substantial support from the Polish Government and the next day I received a message, through an intermediary, telling me that while they were very glad to see me and welcomed my help, it would be better for the institution if I did not visit it. This morning I was told by the Polish-American representative of the Motion Picture Export Corporation of the United States that the personnel of Films Polski, which is the Government monopoly here, has been instructed not to have any future contacts with Americans here. There it is in a nutshell.

As I judge it, the tempo of anti-American propaganda and Russian-Polish solidarity is rising. I believe that in general present Russian political strategy and ideology, both local and worldwide, is superimposed on Poland and with reasonable variation one can be applied to the other.

Enclosed herewith is what I believe is the best analysis which I have read regarding the political policy of the communistic government in Warsaw.1 I have stolen the first paragraph of it for use in this letter to you, but if you care to read it all, I believe that you will have in the few pages an accurate and complete analysis of the method, the calendar, and the probable future course of the present Polish Government. You might particularly refer to the last paragraph which states, I think with truth, that either the decline of the power of Soviet Russia or the withdrawal of its support of the Polish Government would result in almost immediate collapse of this Government.

The Polish Government needs three eyes: one to watch the power of Russia; one to watch possible aid from the United States; and one, and an extremely important one, is to watch the temper of the great [Page 445] mass of peasants which constitute this potato-digging and coal mining country. You are perfectly aware, of course, that the one subject on which all Poles, whether here or in the United States, are united is the question of the Western borders. On this matter, as you know, the Poles feel that they have had the complete support and friendship of Russia and rather overlook the fact that Russia took a substantial bite out of Poland when it moved over to the Curzon Line. I believe that a final settlement of this question in favor of the Poles would weaken the position of Russia as the Poles would no longer fear the loss of Russian support on the all-important border question.

Do not overlook the fact that this government with all its leftist tendency and its terrorism is doing a tremendous job economically. They are part and parcel of a modern miracle of reconstruction, of tireless effort and of an apparently very real desire to bring order out of chaos. What lies beyond no one can tell.

You have been so long in Government that I hesitate to write you regarding any world situation, knowing how much greater your knowledge of them all has become than mine. However, for better or for worse, I am on the ground and if there is anything whatever which you desire in the way of future or other information, do not hesitate to command me. At the moment about all an American Ambassador can do here is to be here as a symbol of the friendly power of the United States to the Polish people. He receives little or no integrity or friendship from the Government except as an alms giver.

With every good wish to you.

Sincerely yours,

Stanton Griffis
  1. The enclosure is not printed.