WWII: The Soviet Union Joins the Allies | Reporting the uneasy alliance made with Stalin's Russia

A Report on BBC Broadcasts to Poland

'As regards the recent crisis in Russo-Polish relations, we have been most circumspect.'

BBC Archive
Written Document 1943

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Recent developments in Russo-Polish relations and the fact that under the new
schedules increased time will become available for broadcasts to Poland make
this an appropriate moment for a short survey of our Polish output.

The first point to be borne in mind is that our broadcasts are primarily directed
to a small and highly specialised audience. It is improbable that we are regularly
heard by more than about 1500 listeners in the whole of Poland, but many of these
are connected with the production of underground newspapers and accordingly have
an influence out of all proportion to their numbers. Consequently our main task
is to give them what they need, in a form suitable to their requirements.
Brightness of presentation is unimportant; what is principally needed is hard,
objective news and plenty of it. It should also be noted that the Polish government
plays a not inconsiderable part in our transmissions. In addition to a daily period
of free time known at Radio Polskie, over which we exercise a policy censorship,
the Polish government advises on certain news bulletins specially designed for the
use of editors and provides a number of regular talks in our own service.

The most interesting special characteristic of our Polish output is the unusually
full and outspoken treatment which has been given to post-war problems, both
external and internal. As regards the former, much attention has been given to the
question of frontiers. The assumption has always been made that the pre-1939
frontiers in the west would be assured, and more or less guarded hints have from
time to time been given about the Eastern Provinces. Moreover, while due publicity
was given to the Polish-Czech agreement and while occasional references have been
made to the Atlantic Charter, it has been made quite clear that the creation of a
large and powerful Polish state was of first importance. In General Sikorski's words,
"resurrected Poland must base her natural rights not only on ideals but on guns and
planes." Lately much interest has been shown in "Poland's irrefutable rights to the
seas" and claims have been made to an extended Baltic seaboard. In sharp contrast to
this attitude to external problems, the line taken on internal reconstruction has
been remarkably progressive. From time to time talks have been given by members of
the Polish government which have discussed in considerable detail widespread reform
of the economic, social and political structure of the Polish state. The new Poland
would, it was said, be a democratic republic in which political and social rights
would be guaranteed irrespective of race and creed, in which every citizen would
have the right and duty to work, and in which a just redistribution of land would
be effected. It should perhaps be noted that whereas the Greek and Czech governments
have pledged themselves to surrender their mandates to the people at the earliest
practicable moment, no such promise appears to have been made on behalf of either
the Polish or the Yugoslav governments.

A second point in which our Polish service has deviated from the general line of
the European service is in its treatment of the subject of retribution. Here the
normal procedure is to draw a sharp distinction between those guilty of criminal
acts and the German people as a whole. Broadcasts to Poland have tended to blur
this distinction. As far back as last June General Sikorski declared that when
the power of the German army and the Nazi Party had been broken, "Germany will
fall into a bottomless abyss," and that RAF raids "bring the nation only a
foretaste of the just and well-merited retribution she will undergo." Stronski
once stated that "not one German will escape payment with interest," and in
January 1943 we reported a particularly vigorous speech by Sikorski: "Let Hitler
remember, however, and let him think it over, that he provokes a vengeance unknown
in all history. The whole German nation in silence or with enthusiasm backs Adolf
Hitler in unison and approves of his bloody crimes. Let the Germans remember that
we shall reach to their homes, to the interior of Germany, that punishment will
be ruthless if they will not abandon the bloody persecution of the Polish nation.
We wish never to have to reach for German children as they Germans reach for ours."

Perhaps the most difficult problem with which the service is confronted is the
treatment of Russia. There has been no attempt to play down the achievements
of the Red Army - our presentation of news from the East Front has been at least
as full as in other services, and we have paid tributed to the heroism of the
Russian people. However, while any attempt to "project" Russia would obviously
have been futile, government spokesmen have attempted to curb the traditional
anti-Russian sentiments of the Polish people, particularly at the time of the
Russo-Polish Agreement. The service has lately cooperated in the intensive drive
to dispel the Bolshevik bogey, and has included suitable items in news bulletins;
no talks on the subject, however, were given. As regards the recent crisis in
Russo-Polish relations, we have been
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most circumspect. We reported the Polish government's demand for the 1939
frontiers, suppressed the more angry declaration issued by the Polish National
Council, and, alone among the European services, gave the Russian reply to the
Polish claims.

The above are the main points in which our broadcasts to Poland shown a variation
from the normal pattern of the European outprt. It should perhaps be added that as
regards resistance we deliberately avoid the encouragement of sabotage which might
lead to increased terror. Here the policy of London conflicts with that of Moscow.
We do however report well authenticated news of sabotage in Poland itself and of
resistance in other parts of Europe.

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Document Type | Report

01 February 1943

Document version




This extract from a report summarises the nature of broadcasts made to Poland from the BBC's European Service. It notes how these differ from those to other parts of Europe, for example in the call for vengeance upon all of Germany, and highlights the difficulties faced in reporting on Russia.

Did you know?

As well as concerns about post war national boundaries, strains in Russo-Polish relations were also caused by the unexplained disappearance of thousands of Polish army officers who had been taken prisoner in 1939. Their mass graves were discovered in April 1943 by German troops in the Katyn Forest but the Soviets continued to deny involvement in their deaths and formal admission that Stalin ordered the executions only came in 1991.

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