Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State1

Participants: Secretary of State Marshall
Mr. Charles E. Bohlen, Counselor, Department of State
Mr. Modzelewski, Polish Foreign Minister2
Mr. Winiewicz, Polish Ambassador to the U.S.
Mr. Zebrowski, Polish Foreign Office

Mr. Modzelewski said that he wished to discuss a number of problems with me but before proceeding to the specific items he had in mind he wished to make a general comment on Polish relations with the Soviet Union and with the United States. It is not correct to state that Poland has to choose between the Soviet Union and the U.S. The fact was that Poland had to choose between the Soviet Union or Germany. That choice which had naturally been the Soviet Union was one of the foundations of their foreign policy. He continued that Poland desired the closest relations with the West in all fields. They had a cultural agreement with France and were at present negotiating a political agreement which would in effect restore the Polish-Soviet[-French] pre-war alliance. Poland was taking an active part in all the subsidiary bodies of the United Nations such as the food administration and the European Economic Council which had been set up at Polish suggestion. Their concern over the Paris economic conference meant that the 16 countries that participated would be given preference and priority in the matter of U.S. aid over the other nations of Europe. This would have an adverse effect upon Polish economic relations with those countries as they would give priority to each other rather than to any Eastern European country. He cited as an example, if Poland wished to export coal to France in exchange for mechanical equipment that under the present plan French mechanical equipment would probably go first of all to the other countries participating in the plan and this would mean that Poland would not be able to obtain immediately machinery in exchange for coal and would in effect be supplying coal to France on credit which Poland was in no position to do.

In regard to Germany he stated that the Polish Government desired to see the restoration of economic life in Germany but they did not feel that Germany should receive any priority over the victims of her [Page 447] aggression. He cited as an example of Polish desire to have economic relations with Germany the fact that an economic agreement had been made with the Eastern zone and that negotiations were proceeding for a similar agreement with the Western zones.

On the general subject of coal Mr. Modzelewski said that under present plans Poland expected to export 35,000,000 tons of coal in 1949 which would be its contribution to the recovery of Europe. At present the exports were only 20,000,000 tons because new machinery was needed for which Poland did not have the necessary capital at the present time. At present one-third of the coal exports were going to the Soviet Union and two-thirds to other European countries. For example, Poland was exporting 3,000,000 tons to Sweden which represented 55 percent of Sweden’s coal needs.

Mr. Modzelewski said that since Poland needed financial assistance to enable it to carry out its economic plans, he wished to bring up the question of such assistance. He said that it was apparent that the Polish request to the Export–Import Bank had for political reasons been placed lower down on the list.3 Poland also had a request before the International Bank whose experts in general had taken an affirmative attitude towards the data in regard to the Polish coal mines which had been supplied to the International Bank. He said he realized that the Bank was international in character but felt that the U.S. influence was a very strong factor in its decisions.4

I replied that I did not have the details of the Polish request to the International Bank in my mind, but I assured the Polish Foreign Minister I would look into the matter very seriously and speak to Mr. McCloy5 as soon as the latter returned. I then said that I wished to tell the Minister that U.S. friendship for Poland was deep and of long standing due in part to the fact that there were many Americans of Polish descent. I said that I had been preoccupied in all sincerity with finding means whereby all could cooperate in the struggle to remedy the desperate economic situation in Europe. I said one of the principal reasons for this situation was the fact the rock on which efforts had foundered had been the failure to treat Germany as an economic whole. In this connection I said I had expected that the Minister would bring up the question of the level of industry which I understood had been criticized by the Polish Government and while [Page 448] I did not wish to go deeply into the subject I would merely like to state that the U.S. and British action had been one of necessity which had arisen out of the failure to reach any agreement on the economic unification of Germany. I said obviously if an agreement to carry out the Potsdam decision on unification was reached then the level of industry would be reconsidered. I added that if Polish fear centered around the revival of German economic war potential then I must point out that the present bizonal figure of 10,000,000 tons of steel was lower than that of 12,000,000 tons suggested by the Soviet representative at the recent Moscow Conference.6

I stated that the U.S. Government and I personally had always endeavored to find a basis for helpful action in regard to Polish problems; that at the last session of Congress I had personally endeavored to have Poland included on the last relief bill and likewise Hungary. The feeling, however, in the Congress based on the belief that the Polish Government was not pursuing actions consistent with our concept of democratic action, had made this impossible. I said I had in mind political actions such as those which had occurred in another country ending in the execution of Petkov.7 I emphasized that the U.S. attitude towards such actions as the persecution of political opponents was fundamental and could not but affect our attitude toward the countries employing them. I added that the attitude of the Polish Government towards the U.S. likewise played a part. I mentioned the fact that the U.S. Ambassador had had what appeared to be a satisfactory talk on the subject of anti-American propaganda [Page 449] in Poland with Mr. Modzelewski himself.8 I had just had a report from the American Ambassador in Warsaw to the effect that despite this conversation anti-American propaganda had increased rather than diminished.9 I said it was our impression that this anti-American campaign was a controlled propaganda operation. I added that I was speaking frankly and I wished to assure the Minister that my attitude towards Poland and European recovery were purely objective with no ulterior motives whatsoever.

I said that I had gathered from the Minister’s speech at the General Assembly10 that the Polish Government disagreed with some of the measures I had proposed. I wished to state that these measures had been put forward to prevent the United Nations from dying from inaction or rather from frustration.

As to European recovery I said that I had noted with regret that the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other countries had declined to join in a cooperative effort for recovery.

I said I would ask the Minister to forget a couple of hundred years of European diplomatic history. I said I had not approached my duties as a diplomat with any ulterior motive and that I had been accorded a large degree of liberty of action as Secretary of State. I had suggested certain measures and while I had expected criticism and even distortions, I really felt that the misrepresentations of U.S. motives had far exceeded any expected limits. I then gave an outline of the origin of our approach to European recovery emphasizing that at Harvard11 I had merely put forth certain suggestions to deal with the obviously desperate and worsening condition of the European continent. I said that it had not been an easy suggestion to make in this country from a political point of view but it was necessary if the U.S. was going to be in the position to aid Europe at all that some initiative should be taken by the European countries themselves. I said I had had no motive except to find the best method of assisting in the stabilization and rehabilitation of Europe. I added that in the U.S. What I was able to do would depend in large measure on public support and that for this reason I had been extremely frank with the Minister.

[Page 450]

Mr. Modzelewski said that in regard to Germany the chief problem that was worrying the Polish Government was the fact that the frontiers had not yet been fixed. He said it would be most helpful in improving American-Polish relations if a clear statement could be made by the Secretary that these frontiers were not to be changed.

I replied that I fully understood the Minister’s statement on the frontiers.

Mr. Modzelewski continued that the problem of the frontiers was not a political problem of Poland but one of continuing national existence; that without these frontiers Poland’s chance of existence would be greatly diminished. He said that on the level of industry that they would have no objection if an increase in the level of industry was connected with the unity of Germany and the problem of continued reparations. His Government felt that any aspect of the German problem must be settled by the four powers together and that they were afraid that a raise in the level of industry under present circumstances would merely result in the decline and eventual elimination of reparations.

As to the question of propaganda in Poland, Mr. Modzelewski said there is a good deal of freedom of expression in present Poland, that it was not as great as in the U.S. but political conditions in Poland were quite different. There was in existence an illegal underground press which had always existed in Poland and was not a postwar phenomenon. He said he felt their position in the propaganda field was one of defense and not of attack, and that as I was probably aware there were quite a number of German language papers published in the United States which continuously published pro-German and anti-Polish statements. He said Ambassador Winiewicz would be glad to supply me with excerpts from these papers. He said that Mr. Byrnes’ Stuttgart speech and my own statement on the frontiers at Moscow had aroused opposition among the Polish people. He stated that any U.S. statement supporting Poland against Germany would be greeted with great satisfaction and joy in Poland. He added that if some such statement was made that even if the Government desired, it could not carry on any anti-American propaganda campaign.

I told Mr. Modzelewski that I wished to be clear on the subject of propaganda, that the U.S. having no control over its own press, did not and could not object to criticism and even attacks on the part of a free press, and that I would not expect the Polish Government to undertake to control criticism of the U.S. in its press. However, in this case I had the impression that the anti-American campaign was in effect controlled propaganda.

The Minister replied that he personally did not favor propaganda campaigns and had twice attempted to intervene with the Polish press [Page 451] in order to tone down the comments on the U.S., but that the Polish newspapers did not agree with him and cited anti-Polish statements from the U.S. press particularly from the German language newspapers. He said he would like to see an end to propaganda and a more friendly atmosphere created but that they could only go half way.

As to the Paris Conference the Minister said the manner in which my suggestion had been carried out was what had made it impossible for Poland to accept. He said had the U.S. been able to hold similar conversations with the Soviet Government as they had with the British and French Governments before the Conference the result might have been different.

I informed the Minister emphatically that the U.S. had had no conversation at all with the British and French Governments concerning the Paris Conference. The U.S. had taken great pains to remain entirely aloof with any European Government on this question until September 1. I personally had had to resist strong pressures both from American opinion and from some of our representatives abroad to avoid saying anything as to what we meant and I had instructed our representatives abroad also to refrain from any participation. I stated that the British and French Governments had had no advance notice of my speech at Harvard and since then until September 1 had had no indication of U.S. views on the matter. I said it would have been obvious to me that any attempt of the U.S. to tell the Europeans what they should do would be regarded as an attempt at U.S. dictation.

Mr. Modzelewski said that Molotov had gone to Paris but in his opinion the British and French Governments had been unwilling to let him stay. He said while this did not directly affect Polish and Czechoslovak attitudes, nevertheless, it had placed them in a very awkward position because of their ties with the Soviet Union. In his opinion the 16 countries had preferred to limit the Conference to themselves rather than include all 25 of the European countries since this would have meant less aid per country from the United States.

I stated that our information was to the opposite effect, that England and France had been very disturbed at Mr. Molotov’s refusal to participate and at the refusal of the Eastern European countries to attend. I said that I did not intend to discuss whether Poland should or should not have gone, but I merely wished the Minister to be entirely clear on the origin and motives of my suggestions in regard to European recovery, that there would have been no chance of assistance from this country unless Europe had given evidence of a desire to help herself. The alternative of my suggestion would have been to do nothing and to let economic deterioration take its course. [Page 452] I added that under those circumstances the only U.S. help for Europe would have been the maintenance of the U.S. zone in Germany which was an obligation we could not escape. This would obviously have been very undesirable from many points of view.

The Minister stated that they were concerned lest the Marshall Plan would result in erecting a wall in the middle of Europe and would deprive the Eastern European countries of any benefits thereof. I replied that I understood that the French and British concern at the Soviet and Eastern European refusal had been based upon the same fear of a split Europe. I repeated that my only motive in this matter was to find means of assisting in the rehabilitation and consolidation of Europe and not to build any wall but the U.S. would not go along with a procedure of frustration which would result in the whole situation going to hell.

In conclusion I said I would talk with Mr. McCloy on the subject of the International Bank and would let the Minister know. In taking leave Mr. Modzelewski also asked for U.S. help in the Control Council for Germany to persuade the British to let the Polish miners in the Ruhr area return to Poland. He said that these were Poles who had been in Germany before the war and who had indicated their desire to return to Poland, but that the British for some reasons not fully clear had been delaying their departure. Ambassador Winiewicz said he believed that since they were mostly miners the British did not wish to see them leave the Ruhr area. I said I would look into the matter as this was the first I had heard of it.

  1. The Secretary of State was in New York as the Chairman of the United States Delegation to the Second Regular Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, September 16–November 29.
  2. Foreign Minister Modzelewski was Chairman of the Polish Delegation to the United Nations General Assembly.
  3. Pending before the Export–Import Bank at this time was a Polish application for a $20 million cotton credit.
  4. Regarding the possible loan to Poland by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, see the memorandum of conversation by Thompson, infra.
  5. John J. McCloy, President and Chairman of the Executive Board of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development who was at this time on a visit to Czechoslovakia and Poland.
  6. In a note of September 14, to the Acting Secretary of State, Ambassador Winiewicz had transmitted the protest of the Polish Government against the revised plan for level of industry in the American and British zones of occupation in Germany. The reply to the protest was contained in a note of September 30 to the Polish Ambassador. For the texts of the notes which were released to the press on September 30, see Department of State Bulletin, October 12, 1947, pp. 741–743. For additional documentation regarding the revised level of industry plan for Germany, see vol. ii, pp. 977 ff.
  7. The reference here is to the execution of the Bulgarian Agrarian Party leader Nikola Petkov on September 23 for alleged anti-state activities. For documentation on the attitude of the United States regarding the trial and execution of Petkov, see pp. 159183, passim.

    In a memorandum to the Secretary of State dated September 25, not printed, Counselor Bohlen pointed out that there were growing indications that the Polish Government was proceeding to eliminate political opposition through criminal proceedings, that members of Mikolajczyk’s Polish Peasant Party had been sentenced for alleged anti-state activities, and that it appeared likely that Mikolajczyk himself might be arrested and tried for treason as had Petkov in Bulgaria. Bohlen stated that the United States had a considerable moral responsibility in connection with Mikolajczyk. Bohlen suggested to the Secretary that he tell Foreign Minister Modzelewski of the very adverse effect on American public opinion if events in Poland should develop along the lines of those in Bulgaria (860C.00/9–2547).

  8. In a conversation with Ambassador Griffis on September 3, reported upon in telegram 1419, September 3, from Warsaw, not printed, Foreign Minister Modzelewski had expressed great regret at the Polish press attacks on the United States and had stated that he would promptly insist to the Minister of Information that such antagonistic comments be discontinued (711.60C/9–347).
  9. Ambassador Griffis’ report was contained in telegram 1546, September 24, from Warsaw, not printed (711.60C/9–2447).
  10. On September 23.
  11. Reference is to the Secretary of State’s address at Harvard University on June 5.