An Account of Karski’s Conversation with President Roosevelt (1943)
Ambassador Jan Ciechanowski organized a meeting for me with President Roosevelt in such a way that it appeared to take place on the President's initiative. People from the President's circles (Cohen, Frankfurter, Bullitt, Henderson, Cox) told him about my materials, encouraging him to look at them personally. The invitation came suddenly, after the President's conversation with Mr. Bullitt, the former U.S. Ambassador to France. Mr. Bullitt pointed out to the President the significance of my information regarding the methods of operation of the Communist agents on Polish territories. The next day, around 8 a.m., the Ambassador received a phone call that the President would be waiting for us around 10:30 a.m that same day. Before that conversation, I had received detailed instructions from the Ambassador as to which information to emphasize, and how to present my report. He warned me that he would be trying not to add anything to my report, to avoid the impression of influencing me in any way, aside from potentially correcting my technical language. He added that my presentation might result in some political discussion between him and the President. As with all the other key American political figures, the Ambassador reminded me not to exaggerate anything and to be as accurate and truthful while reporting, because he was certain that both the situation in Underground Poland as well as the overall conditions in the country were our best political argument (leverage). The Ambassador wanted me to emphasize the Poles' attitude towards the President, the disloyal and detrimental efforts of the Communist agents, the scope of operations and official character of the Underground authorities, the well-functioning communication with the government-in-exile, the attitude towards the Government in the country, the preparations for the Warsaw Uprising, the communication with the Czechs, Slovaks, Lithuanians, the attitudes towards the idea of forming a federation, the essence and scope of the German terror, the Polish losses and the extermination of the Jews.
The conversation took place on the day that President Roosevelt was giving a speech on the radio, which lasted an hour and fifteen minutes. The President's interest was significant; he told us after the conversation, that he was late for his next meeting by half an hour. The conversation took place not in the President's official [Oval] office, but in his private apartments in the White House. The Ambassador introduced me as the liaison between the authorities in the country and the Government, and as a person well-oriented in the affairs of the Polish Underground movement. He explained that I left the country at the beginning of March of this year; that I was not a political activist; my only agenda is to accurately recreate the information given to me. [Handwritten:] I am to come back to the country in the fall of this year.
I began my conversation by expressing my gratitude for the President's willingness to see me. For us, fighting in the country, the fact that President Roosevelt was interested in our fate and wanted to be informed held great significance. Perhaps the President didn’t know, but in Poland, his name meant more than anyone else's. We looked to him as the person who would and should be arranging peace on the principles of justice and humanity. The President listened fairly attentively, interrupting me at a certain point:
PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT: Is the material situation in Poland really that bad?
KARSKI: It is really bad. In the cities, an individual receives practically only 250 grams of black bread (9 oz) for two days, 150 grams (5 oz) of beet and carrot jelly for 10 days, about 50 kilograms (110 lbs) of potatoes a year, and from time to time some artificial ice, and 50 kilograms of coal per year. In 1942, we did not receive any coal. Theoretically we receive more. In September 1942, it was announced that every citizen of the General Government would receive ¾ kilograms(1.65 lbs) of sugar. That same night, the Warsaw [district] governor thanked the Polish population for donating the sugar that was meant for them to the heroic German army, which is protecting the Poles from war and bravely fighting Communism, British and American imperialism and international Jewry.
PRESIDENT: This is astonishing, their treachery is hard to imagine.
KARSKI: You have to buy everything on the black market, for enormous prices, usually 15 or 25 times higher than before the war. People have sold everything they had. Many cities are ravaged by hunger. The children are in the worst situation.
AMBASSADOR CIECHANOWSKI: It is interesting to compare the standard of life in Polish and French cities.
KARSKI: I travelled through Paris where I spent ten days. I ate like an average Parisian. I was sick to the stomach for 10 days. After 2.5 years in the country, my stomach couldn't handle that much fat, meat, sugar.
PRESIDENT: What is the mood in France?
KARSKI: I didn't have much contact with the French. My general impression is that that the majority of French people want to live in peace. I suppose that the mood is different in the organized resistance circles. We are in cooperation with their Underground organizations.
AMBASSADOR: It is very interesting how far-reaching is our (Poland's) Underground movement. He (me) travelled throughout Europe, and everywhere he went he had [resistance] cells at his organization's disposal.
KARSKI: Yes, this I true, my only task while going through Europe – i.e. the incorporated territories, Germany, Belgium, France, Spain and Gibraltar was to closely follow instructions given by the individual cells. The route through Europe wasn't particularly difficult. There were many messengers going that way before me to London.
PRESIDENT: This is astonishing. Tell me what is the situation in the Polish countryside; it's better, isn't it?
KARSKI: A little better, but the poverty is still terrifying. For 3.5 years of the occupation, the Germans got to know our countryside, they know what we produce and under the terror of collective responsibility they take almost everything. Even ducks and chickens have been branded; the owner is responsible for the lives of the branded chickens and ducks with his own life.
PRESIDENT: How is it with the horses and cattle?
KARSKI: Around three fourths were confiscated. There are great insufficiencies. The General Government (GG) has typical extensive agriculture. In the incorporated territories, it is relatively intensive, but at the same time the most efficient farmers were deported, and their land was given to German colonists.
PRESIDENT: What did the Germans do with the larger properties? Turning to the Ambassador Ciechanowski: What is going on, in, for instance, your estate?
Ambassador: I don't know the details. I only know that it is in German hands.
KARSKI: The big estates have experienced a complicated fate during this war. In the incorporated lands, all the Poles were evicted from those estates. The Germans took over. On the territories once occupied by the Bolsheviks, the Germans theoretically returned all the properties to their owners. In practice, however, the owners were either evicted or had to flee. Only rare exceptions are they still managing their estates. In the GG theoretically and practically almost all the legal Polish owners are managing their estates, but they always have Treuhändlers [commissioners] who are carefully watching whether the owners are giving away all their crops. These Treuhändlers often abuse the system. However, the owners often bribe them and thus are able to bypass German orders.
PRESIDENT: Is there a lot of bribery among the Germans?
KARSKI: Indeed. With the exception of SS men, officers and a large part of the Gestapo, the Germans came to Poland to get rich. We try to exploit that. We get most of our light weapons, paper for the secret press, the printing presses, German uniforms and documentation from the Germans, through bribery, threats or blackmail. If the German does us a favor once, he has to serve us in the future as well, because we have proof that could compromise him. It is typical and interesting that all the Germans that we are using aren't people who are disappointed with the regime, or who are in the political opposition, but are simply either corrupt, or terrorized by us.
PRESIDENT: Is demoralization in the German army and administration widespread?
KARSKI: Yes, it is. A number of deserters have come from the Eastern front, especially in the winter of 1942-43. The soldiers stationed in the GG, or those who were recuperating there, were especially disappointed, demoralized, and in need of money. Such a soldier wants money primarily for vodka and girls. It got to a point where there are special places in cities such as Warsaw, Lviv, Krakow where it is generally known that you can confidentially buy a rifle, a bayonet, a uniform or a coat for a certain sum.
PRESIDENT: Is it true that the Germans are sterilizing the Polish population?
KARSKI: Yes, it is true. They are sterilizing criminal prisoners, sometimes political ones, the mentally ill, and the terminally ill.
PRESIDENT: What does the German terror look like?
KARSKI: It is different than, for instance, the Bolshevik terror. The Bolsheviks, aside from deporting hundreds of thousands of people to Russia, primarily attempted to destroy the Polish Underground movement. They had a great system of espionage, of observation, they knew how to use agents and provocation. They were penetrating the Underground resistance. They were trying to catch everyone who had any kind of political past. The Germans have different methods. They don't have time or personnel for the aforementioned methods; a very tough attitude from Polish society makes it impossible for them to use most of these methods. They act primarily through mass terror and collective responsibility. They find a doctor in a town who is involved in the resistance, and they arrest most of the doctors in that town. They find a printing press, they arrest all the men they find on the nearby streets. They organize a street roundup, they arrest 10 or 20, or even (in Warsaw, in July of 1942) 35,000 people, assuming that among that number there will surely be some culprits. Everyone else is sent to forced labor, to camps. The suspects are interrogated, tortured, shot. As a result of this terror, the losses among the Polish population are huge, often worse than you would think based on the information published by our authorities.
AMBASSADOR: It proves that the government announced numbers and facts are indisputable and can be proved.
KARSKI: I noticed that they do not recreate the reality adequately. At our Consul General Strakacz's in New York. I saw a brochure published by our information agency a few weeks ago. I was astounded by the numbers. They stated in the brochure that the Germans shot 60,000 Polish members of the intelligentsia, and that they had murdered 1,200 000 people. In Auschwitz alone, although it is the most horrible concentration camp, from 80,000 to a 100,000 people, mostly intelligentsia, have lost their lives. And Auschwitz is only one of the concentration camps for Poles in Poland and in Germany. There's also Majdanek, Treblinka, Belzec, Stanislawow, Dachau, Oranienburg, Mathausen, a special camp for women in Ravensbrück. The collective responsibility is particularly difficult for our rural population, because the names of the hostages [prisoners] are always published by the Germans, and these hostages, who haven't even been [officially arrested] are responsible for keeping the rural communities quiet and loyal. All these people know each other. It is very difficult and awful to organize resistance or fighting on territories where all the villagers know who will be shot or hung [if they resist the Germans], when the victim is their friend, relative, neighbor, etc. We are coping with this by sending Poles from other regions to carry out the sabotage, armed struggle and diversion.
I am certain that most people are not aware of the horrific fate of our Jewish population. Over 1,800,000 Jews have been murdered in our country. There is a difference between the terror used against the Poles and the Jews. The Germans want to destroy the Polish nation as a nation, but they want the Polish population on these territories, deprived of their political, intellectual, religious and economic elites, with only farmers, workers and the city middle class. With the Jews, they want to destroy the entire Jewish nation biologically [organically]. I brought an official announcement for my Government from the Government Delegate [for Poland] and the Home Army Commander, saying that if the Germans don't change their methods toward the Jewish population, or if there is no Allied intervention – whether it is through repressions, or other methods - if there are no unexpected circumstances, in a year and a half from my departure from the country, the Jewish population in Poland, with the exception of those working in the Jewish Underground resistance, will cease to exist.
PRESIDENT: Do you cooperate with the Jews?
KARSKI: Yes. In two ways: the Jewish workers (socialist) movement participates in the Underground resistance in close cooperation with the Polish Socialist Party. Independently, there is a special committee for the aid and protection of the Jews (Zegota, which is affiliated with the Government Delegate). There are Poles in the committee, which is run by a Jew, and which has relatively large sums of money at its disposal.
We managed to hide a fair number of Jews. Unfortunately, this help is limited to those active in the Underground movement, or the prominent and valuable Jewish individuals. We cannot develop these efforts on a large scale because Jews can very often be recognized by their Semitic features. There is only one punishment for helping, hiding or facilitating a Jew's escape - the death penalty, executed on the entire family of the helper. If anything could help, we suppose it would be an Allied intervention, and, most importantly, repressions on the German population – in Germany and outside of Europe. That is the point of view of the Underground Jewish authorities, which I am to relate to both international Jewry and the Allied governments.
PRESIDENT: In what conditions are you able to conduct your efforts against the Germans?
AMBASSADOR: The methods of the Polish underground movement are astounding. The organization has a very particular character and has an incredible reach and scope in the society, of which I was not aware of prior to Mr. Karski's arrival. If you allow, Mr. President, I would suggest that Mr. Karski present you the entire structure of underground life. These things are astonishing and unheard of.
PRESIDENT: I've heard a lot, but I would like to find out from you, as an eyewitness and participant.
KARSKI: Above all, I have to note that we are in fortuitous circumstances compared to other Underground movements in occupied countries. In almost every other country there is some form of legal government cooperating with the Germans. I have contacts in many Underground organizations in other countries. It is hard to imagine the difficult dilemma of a regular, non-political, common patriot. He knows that his government has all the morally legitimate qualifications; he is faced with the fact, however, that the legal government of his country is cooperating with the occupier. It is often very hard for a regular person to judge which authorities are right, who is playing the right game, who actually represents the will and interests of the nation: is it Benesz or Hácha, Pétain or de Gaulle? We are in a different situation. The fact that we did not permit the creation of any form of government cooperating with the occupier, allowed us to assume and impose on the society the following general rule: The Polish state, as a state, as an institution, as the authority still exists – Underground. We recreated in the Underground the most important state institutions – civilian, military and political. The particular character of this construction is that the legal, proper Government, recognized by all the relevant organizations and the society, is in safe conditions abroad. In the beginning of our underground work there was some discussion about whether we needed a Secret National Government in the country, referring to the 1863 January Uprising tradition [a failed insurgence against the Russian Empire]. This idea, however, after a most careful deliberation, was dismissed by all of the relevant organizations in Poland. Two factors were especially taken into consideration: one, that such a government wouldn't be able to form any policies, to have relations with the world, to participate in the Allied camp, and the other, that in case of an arrest of any of the government's members, the state's continuity would be severed. Thus it was established that the government would operate abroad, having all the prerogatives of a regular government of a democratic state. The Government would consult all of its important decisions, regarding both external and internal affairs, with the authorities in the country. This rule turned out to be our salvation. The Government is in constant communication with the country, it relies on it, and even in case of an empty seat of the Underground authorities, the Government issues new nominations. The communication with the Government stands at a very high level. We are able to obtain a Government answer or decision within 48 hours by radio.
The official character of our Underground movement, as a representative of the Polish state, helps us immensely while recruiting members. It doesn't operate only using the argument of patriotism and sacrifice, but it convinces people to join by telling them that they are signing up for an official government post - if they are working for the Delegate - or for the Polish army, where their service will count as if they were on the front lines, with all the potential opportunities (nominations, distinctions, benefits, etc.) The official character of the Underground authorities has become obvious for the entire Polish society, not just those participating in the underground. There are five important elements of the Underground structures, and a fifth, patriotic one:
1) The Government Delegate. He represents the Government in the territory of the country. He has his district delegates in all the important hubs of the country. Every district delegate is obliged to “govern” his territory. One of the most important tasks of the Government Delegate is to organize a substitute administration, secret service and local authorities, which, when the uprising erupts, will publicly assume their prerogatives and official powers. According to the Underground authorities' ideas, the uprising is not only to be a revolution against the occupier, but also a legal takeover of state, local, economic power in the Polish territories. On the other hand, the Delegate is to assure that during the uprising and in the first years of independence, there will be no chaos and disorder on Polish territories.
The second branch is the Home Army. The Commander of this army has all the official prerogatives of the head of the military (nominations, distinctions, confiscations etc.) The Government gave him one additional prerogative. When the uprising erupts, he will have the right to call for a general mobilization of all Poles capable of carrying arms.
The third element is the political representation of the country. It is composed of representatives of the four biggest Polish parties, making up the so-called coalition (Political Consultative Committee) The committee of these four parties is the equivalent of a parliament in a democratic state. The Commander of the Home Army, the Government Delegate and the proxy administration are all politically responsible before this body.
The committee consists of representatives of The National Party; The Peasant Party; The Polish Socialist Party; and The Democratic Party.Each of these parties has its representatives or leadership in London as well. The committee has special communication with the government and their representatives in London. Thanks to this, the government can base its efforts on the so-called “coalition rule.” Every party in this body develops its own patriotic and political efforts. They all have their own resistance organizations the operations of which are all organizationally, but not politically, under the Home Army Commander.
The fourth element is the Directorate of Civil Resistance. It is a special organization which watches over the society's morale and is responsible before the government for preventing any political cooperation with the occupier. It functions almost like a People's Court. It punishes those Poles who went to serve the occupier or are compromising the Polish name by cooperating with him. It gives two types of sentences: infamy and death. It is the only organization that has the right to execute death sentences on Poles. All of the sentences are carried out. It is not difficult to eliminate a Pole on Polish territory. It is telling, though, that there was no need to issue a death sentence on a Pole who could have seriously and politically compromised the Polish nation through large-scale cooperation. The Polish nation assumed an unchanging and honorable attitude toward the Germans. This organization also tries those Germans who are especially cruel or dangerous to Poles, whose elimination would boost the society's morale (Krüger, Hoffman, Wagner, Ziegelt).
The fifth element is unofficial, and it is composed of various political, social, economic, cultural, educational and scientific organizations. These organizations have their publications, of which there are over 120. Their scope is primarily local. Most of them are subsidized by the Government Delegate. These organizations, as weaker in terms of technical support, are more vulnerable to being discovered by the Gestapo, and they often become its victims. It is always painful in terms of losses, but on the other hand, these organizations are a shield separating us, i.e., the proper center of the Underground movement, and the Gestapo. Even when the Gestapo reaches the Underground movement, it is certain of their success in its elimination, not knowing that they are merely roaming around its peripheries.
PRESIDENT: All of this is extraordinary. I never thought that in such conditions you could create such a carefully planned organization. It seems only the Poles could have achieved this.
AMBASSADOR: Please do not forget, Mr. President, that we have a very long tradition of this type of resistance.
PRESIDENT: Is the Government really in communication with the country? What kind of communication is it? How are you being informed about what is happening? How do you get help from the Government?
KARSKI: We have multiple channels of communication with the Government, by radio, the Commander-in-Chief, the Government Delegate, The Political Consultative Committee and the Directorate of Civil Resistance have their own transmitting radio-stations, with which they can communicate with the Government faster than an embassy with its headquarters. Provided the Government wants to answer, you can always receive briefings, the Government's or the London Headquarters decisions, or get in touch with the political parties in London. In the fall, winter and spring months, parachutists are dropped off in the country. Between 5 and 7 of them come every 10 days. They bring weapons, explosives, the Government's materials and money. This way we get foreign press, the Government's reports, briefings, Polish international press (all of it photographed).
The third form of communication is people such as me leaving the country every once in a while to inform the Government of The Overall Situation in the Country and the Underground movement. We also bring reports. We really mastered the art of microphotography on a high level. Hundreds of pages of print take up the size of three American matchboxes.
Independent of the aforementioned forms of communication, the Government has contacts with foreign citizens who under the protection of diplomatic or other special passports transport materials to and from the country.
PRESIDENT: Do the Swedes work with you?
KARSKI: Yes, though I don't have specific information regarding that. I know that there were some arrests of Swedish citizens who are on our services.
PRESIDENT: Can planes from England take people and materials from the country?
KARSKI: So far, they haven't been able to. This is our biggest worry. We cannot imagine a country which wouldn't be able to organize this. We were even disappointed with our Government because of this. Coming to London, however, I realized that this can only be arranged by the English authorities. The English said they would try this fall.
PRESIDENT: Would it be possible for our planes to come and to land on territories indicated by you in the mountains to take your people and materials?
KARSKI: I have no idea.
PRESIDENT (turning to the Ambassador): We have to arrange these things. I think we will have a surplus of planes and equipment not far from now. I think it would be very useful to use the older, 1942 Liberator planes in Poland. We have to arrange this.
The President and the Ambassador had a short discussion, [handwritten:] in which the Ambassador reminded the President about General Sikorski's pleas and asked for the President to take up an initiative regarding transport planes for occupied Poland.
PRESIDENT: What is the extent of your contacts with the Poles deported for forced labor?
KARSKI: This is a difficult issue. We have two options: either call on the Poles taken for forced labor to run away to the forests, to the guerillas, or organize them secretly before they go to Germany. Making them run away to the woods would force us to provide them with food, fake documents, protection, etc. It would be impossible on such a large scale. We are aware that these people, in their desperation and with their lack of organization, would lead to a premature eruption of the uprising. Such an uprising would end catastrophically. Besides it has been agreed by the Allies and the Polish Government that an uprising in Poland will take place only during a time opportune in terms of overall strategy and not just the local situation in the country.
PRESIDENT: Naturally, I know about this, this is completely obvious.
KARSKI: This is why we are facilitating the evasion of forced labor for individuals especially useful to us at this phase of organizing. Everyone else is organized into groups, assigned tasks and guides. We later keep in touch with the factory groups. These people, when the Germans start losing, according to our calculations, will contribute to immobilizing the German military industry. Every larger group of workers has their own priest, who, also as a worker, looks after their morals, patriotism, etc. The authorities in the country are in communication with these groups.
PRESIDENT: Do you think the loss of General Sikorski was a strong blow to the Polish nation?
KARSKI: Yes, very much so. Polish society - especially the Underground movement - relies on the Government as the highest state authority.
PRESIDENT: Do you conduct your operations in East Prussia as well?
KARSKI: The Government Delegate, as the legal representative of the highest Polish state authorities, operates on all Polish territories within the pre-War borders. I do not suppose that he has serious organizational efforts on the East Prussia territories. The Home Army, however, operates not only on the Polish territories from September 1st 1939, but also on the territories that we think should be incorporated into Poland, i.e. East Prussia and Silesia, not counting our cells in the countries of Southern, Central and Western Europe.
PRESIDENT: I am wondering about one thing (turning to the Ambassador): What will we do with the 1.5 million Germans in East Prussia. Should they be forcefully deported to Germany, or do we give them a choice? Will they go to Germany willingly?
A short exchange results between the Ambassador and the President. The Ambassador informs the President that for a hundred years we've been facing not the Drang Nach Osten [drive to the East] phenomenon, but the Drang Nach Westen [drive to the West] one. The German exodus from East Prussia has been admitted, regretfully, by the German authorities. Leaving East Prussia by this population won't be unnatural, it will be merely speeding up a long-term process. Considering, however, that the German population of Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium turned out to be their 5th Column [an underground movement disrupting a nation from within] it would be better to expel them from East Prussia by force.
PRESIDENT: I suppose that the remaining population in East Prussia will assimilate, once the territories are taken over by the Poles.
The Ambassador informs the President of the [German] lineage of the population of Mazury. I thought that this really caught the President's attention, because he was listening closely. At one moment I interrupted, saying: “We have a different idea: When the Germans collapse, we will organize, for a short period of time, horrible repressions on the German authorities and the immigrant population, that they will willingly and massively leave Polish territories. We are counting on facilitating it technically for them, and that way resolving the matter. We do not doubt that this is how it will happen in Pomerania, the Poznan region and Silesia.
PRESIDENT: This problem has to be resolved, however. [He turns to the Ambassador with a friendly smile: No more corridor. It is more difficult with the Baltic States, mostly with Lithuania. He turns to the Ambassador with a tone in which you could sense a note of impatience and disappointment.] You know, Mr. Ambassador, that I cannot meet with Stalin yet. That prevents us from dealing with several matters. One has to discuss things with these people. One possibility is making me very anxious. (He looks at the Ambassador again). Because what will we do if Stalin calmly says, for instance, that the Lithuanian question is not up for discussion. I suppose that he will also want some adjustments in the Eastern border of Poland. You know the Chinese saying, “to save your face.” I suppose that Russia will put forward a difficult argument for you, saying that you will get East Prussia as compensation.
The Ambassador says that only a strong U.S. position against Russia will bring Stalin down to earth and weaken the Russian appetites. [illegible handwriting]
PRESIDENT: Well, yes, but we cannot afford a war with Russia. He turns to me: How are your contacts with other nations?
KARSKI: We have military contacts with the Lithuanians (I was thinking the former Chief of Staff General Razitis. Because I couldn't recall his exact name, I'm not even sure of it right now, I didn't even mention him.) We are in communication with the Czechs and the Slovaks. This matter is enormously complicated. My biggest disappointment in London was realizing that the official relations between the Polish and Czech competent authorities are far weaker and smaller in scope, than the contacts, and mostly aspirations of the Underground movements of these nations and the public opinion in these countries. Both the Czechs, and we in Poland, assume, in our efforts that the union between Poland and Czechoslovakia is a fait accompli. Only in London did I realize that on the level of diplomacy, this conviction is much weaker.
PRESIDENT: Yes, that was to be expected.
AMBASSADOR: I think that it would be interesting for the President to find out about the Communist organization's activity in Poland. Karski's materials in this matter are also very valuable and interesting.
PRESIDENT: I would like to know, naturally. Go ahead.
KARSKI: First of all, I have to begin with this: While being abroad, I met, in certain English and even Polish circles, with the opinion that Polish society does not want any relations with Russia, that we hate Russia, etc. This is absolutely inaccurate. Public opinion in the country, and above all our Underground authorities have to realize the usefulness of good relations with Russia - their usefulness both for us and for Russia, and peace in Europe. We understand that we won't change our geographical situation and we can't have bad relations with either Russia or Germany. The Soviet secret service operations on Polish territories, however, contradict the spirit of the Polish-Soviet pact, and they are disloyal towards the Polish nation. We look at this with anxiety, and this is painful for us. Our authorities have tried multiple times to come to an agreement with these organizations, but you will see that this is very difficult.
There are several Underground resistance cells in Poland, the orders of which come from outside the Polish nation. Each has a different name, they all apparently act independently, they all have different methods.
The first one: Soviet partisan units which operate primarily on the territories taken over by Russia in 1939. One exception that is telling is that they operate also in the districts that were under the Red Army in September of 1939, which the Soviet army left as agreed in the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. They are led only by officers and politruks [political officers of the Soviet Army] sent from Russia.
Apparently, as we suspect, Stalin doesn't trust any Soviet officer who was in German captivity. These divisions are hiding in the woods, in the marshes. They confiscate food, clothing, tools from the Polish population, while also provoking German repressions on the Poles. We understand that if they are on those territories they need clothing and food, and that they have to take it from the local population. We have no qualms with that. What is, however, difficult to understand is the fact that they are conspicuously, consciously provoking German repressions on the Poles, purging these territories of the Polish population through German hands. A partisan unit comes into a village, sings, shows off, takes what they need, retreats to the woods. After a while the Germans come and burn the entire village, with everything in it – the people, horses, cows, dogs, cats, as a warning against collaborating with the Communists.
AMBASSADOR: The entire world knows about Lidice – from what Karski says, there are many places like Lidice in Poland, although no one knows about them.
PRESIDENT: I knew about these Polish villages from my own sources.
KARSKI: It is typical that these units never risk fighting the Germans. They want to preserve their strength for the future, and, according to our assessments, their aim is not to fight the Germans, but to weaken the Polish population on these territories, and prepare for the future. At the same time, however, they are constantly calling the Polish population to immediately organize a revolution, an uprising, open guerillas, open diversions, etc. It is very distressing for us, because we know that this uprising must erupt in the appropriate moment, agreed upon with the Allied governments. These units are spreading propaganda, appealing to the Polish population not to believe their government, their Underground authorities, saying that they are German agents, that they want to sell Poland out to the Germans etc. It's so stupid. The Home Army Commander initiated some contact with them, showed that he was willing to cooperate. There were diverging opinions on this, however.
The Commander's point of view: It was agreed in the Polish-Russian pact that the Polish army formed in Russia will be acting independently, but operationally it will be under the orders of the HQ of the Red Army. You are operating on Polish territories, where I am Commander-in-Chief. Go ahead and act independently, but operationally you are under my orders, like all the combat divisions of the other political organizations in Poland.
Their point of view: No, we cannot agree to this, we have our own leadership.
PRESIDENT (“he was listening very attentively, nodding”) [handwritten] Are they strong?
KARSKI: General Sikorski and the other members of the Government, as well as the British prominents asked me the same thing. First of all, it is very hard for the Commander to determine their strength, because you judge the strength of a combat unit in battle. Because they are not fighting, but hiding and preparing for the future, this is very difficult. They number approximately several thousand. The Commander could eliminate them. We know the territory, we would use all the methods (of which there are many) possible. No one will do this, however, without an order from the Government. It is hard to imagine how sensitive people in Poland are not to, under any circumstances, impede any of the Government's efforts, policies, not to provide the enemy propaganda with any arguments.
I did ask General Sikorski, however, if it wouldn't be good to eliminate them, considering them being completely useless and harmful in our struggle against the Germans. General Sikorski said that he wouldn't give such an order for two reasons 1) he does not want to recreate the Yugoslavian situation on Polish territories 2) he can't tear apart the great coalition of the United Nations, because the most important goal for the world, and for the Poles, at this phase of the war, is to defeat the Germans in a united effort. It is not my thing to dabble in politics, but I have to say, personally, that this state of being puts us in a very bad position back in the country, because we have to look helplessly at the fact that there is a force being organized on the ground which is not against the Germans, but against us.
The second form of their activity: In the winter of 1942-43 in the General Government an Underground political organization was formed under the name of the Polish Workers' Party. It introduced itself to society as patriotic, nationalistic, Catholic, almost imperialist, progressive, democratic. People from this organization were trying to form contacts with everyone. There were some talks with them.
But we quickly discovered who they were. They want to get to know us, infiltrate, penetrate the Underground movement, know our real names, our fake names, our addresses, our influence and scope abroad etc, etc. Every emissary of the Commander or the Government Delegate who was sent to speak to them was watched by their agents – where he went after, where he lives, under what name.
This organization is undermining the trust in the Government and in our underground authorities. It is calling everybody to organize today, now, immediately, an armed uprising against the Germans, an escape into the woods, to start a revolution, etc. They never admit to being Communist- we know, however, that they are actually led by an elite group of less than a hundred people – the Communist Party of Poland.
The Communist Party of Poland has, in turn, other methods: they are an elite, closed group which is conspiring against even the other communist-affiliated circles, not admitting to any connection with the Polish Workers’ Party, while actually it is its brain, its core. […] The Polish Workers’ party also does not admit to any affiliation with the Communist Party of Poland, but they are ruthlessly trying to infiltrate the Polish Underground structures.
The Peasant Party has an official publication - “Toward Victory” [Ku Zwycięstwu] and the Polish Workers’ Party started publishing a paper, with the same size, same print, and a nearly identical title - “To Victory” [Do Zwycięstwa]. The Polish Socialist Party also has a very well-functioning, technically sophisticated combat organization called “People’s Guard” [Gwardia Ludowa]. Their publication is called “The Guard,” and the military publication of the Polish Workers’ Party has the same type of paper, the same dimensions, the same layout and the title “The Guardsman.” The Government Delegate issued in 1942 an internal loan [bond]. He gives the receipts on pieces of paper, thanking for 10 or 20 kgs of potatoes, beets etc, which actually means 1,000, 2,000 etc. zlotys. After gaining independence the Government will pay back the money, and the subscribers will have the satisfaction that they helped out in difficult times. The Polish Worker's Party immediately organized a similar internal loan. Through these methods they pretend to be our organization, and they try to penetrate us. It is disloyal. We can't be against anyone who is Communist who is participating in the anti-German resistance. Unfortunately we see that they refuse to admit they are Communist, and they bring mayhem into our movement, making it weaker.
Aside from the above, from time to time, the Comintern's [Communist International] emissaries are dropped off on Polish territories. They try to get in touch with the Commander-in-Chief, with the Government Delegate, etc. They try to organize anti-German fronts, committees, etc. Here the matter is simple however, because they 1) don't have anything to offer us in exchange for so-called cooperation, 2) we have been organizing against the Germans for a very long time.
Many people abroad asked me whether the overall efforts of the Soviet agents on Polish territories are on such a large scale that they could threaten us. This type of question shows the complete ignorance of the matter and the lack of understanding of Polish realities. They are not dangerous to us because they are strong, because they have an influence on the society, because they have convincing propaganda, because they have many supporters. Polish society, and especially the Underground movement is fully aware of their goals and methods. I suspect that we assessed that the “Kosciuszko” radio station was a diversion even before our authorities abroad.
Wanda Wasilewska – Korneyszczuk or Berling are traitors and only traitors to us. So their danger lies not in their strength, but in their methods, for which they don't need force, but ruthlessness and using all available means. On the other hand, it is dangerous that we never go actively against them not having the Government's permission; its representatives in turn want to settle the matter on a diplomatic level, having regard for good relations with Russia. This situation is much harder for us in the country than you can imagine from abroad. We feel that at a certain point, we become the victims of such methods. It has a very harmful impact on the mood of many Underground activists, and it is especially sad, considering the strong conviction that good, loyal and neighborly relations with Russia are useful.
PRESIDENT: Indeed, this creates a difficult situation for you in Poland.
KARSKI: The following ideas make us nervous: if they find out who we are, they could at some point inform on us to the Gestapo, this way, through German hands, purging Poland not only of its activist community, but also of its leadership. On the other hand, if the Soviet army came onto Polish territory following the retreating German army, we still wouldn't know if we should further hide our underground movement, or whether we should reveal ourselves. If we hide even deeper, we compromise our Government, because it would turn out that there is no “Fighting Poland” and that way we would also give free reign to the Soviet authorities, their agents, to arrest us as German agents or such. If we revealed ourselves, the current methods of the Communist agents make us fear that we would hand ourselves over to the NKVD, which would start eliminating us under any pretext. We think that for the country it is incredibly important that during this time, the British-American army or British-American committees arrive on Polish soil - not necessarily to help us with our internal affairs - but to protect us from the Soviets.
PRESIDENT: We also would like for our troops to be in those territories at that time. When it comes to the committees, I would have to look into it. It could be a good idea.
The President and the Ambassador have a short discussion from which it results that they both see the Russian methods as traditional and unchanging. The Ambassador emphasizes the issue of organizing a Committee of Free Germans. [Illegible handwriting] During this short discussion the President says “Joe is playing a [illegible] game.”
PRESIDENT: During the initial phase of Poland's independence will there be much disorder?
KARSKI: Our entire Underground system is organized in such a way as to prevent this disorder in the first days of independence. The designated and legal bodies will take over the country's governance, in terms of the administration, social affairs and the economy. This is the task for the Government Delegate and the government-in-exile in London.
AMBASSADOR: It is interesting that from Mr. Karski's report it seems that in Poland they see the Allied help differently than we here have been designing. There, they would like to get material help, food, clothing, machinery, resources etc., while the entire personnel - the human element - will be designated and prepared.
KARSKI: Yes that is accurate, that is how we see Allied help in the first days of our independence.
The President is already half an hour late. He thanks us for all the information. It is important, he is glad he heard them. He, very nicely, wishes me luck in my work and my safe return to the country. He also wishes me to return to America. He asks me when will I be back, and I say that in the fall of his year. We say goodbye.
I shake the President's hand, emphasizing again how important this conversation had been for the people fighting in Poland, and I ask him whether I can give an account of this conversation to the authorities in Poland. The President answers that naturally, I can. He adds that he wishes me further luck in my beautiful work for my country.