Monday, September 15, 2014

1965. Where is Che Guevara?

News From Castro's Cuba
Fidel Castro (left) and Che Guevara

October 8, 1965
The most dramatic human sea-lift since the desperate World War II evacuation of Dunkirk may be in the making in Cuba. Fidel Castro's surprise offer 10 days ago to allow "any Cuban who wants, to leave the island" could not be refused by the United States. President Johnson's quick agreement to accept the refugees also appeared to have caught the Castro-ites by surprise. The rapid reaction by the White House didn't give the Havana government much propaganda time to boast how kind, sweet, and generous Fidel had become.

Now the Cuban officials appear to be trying to force the United States into an embarrassing protest against the unorganized departure of the island refugees by inviting exiled Cuban fishermen and other private boat owners to start an unauthorized freedom ferry service between north Cuba and the Florida Keys -- dumping the emigres onto U.S. soil in violation of the law.

However, morally, there appears nothing the U.S. can do except welcome the refugees and try to sort them out later. It carries with it the risk of admitting some Castro agents among them. But that's nothing compared to the damage that would be done to the United States if somehow Washington could be blamed for blocking the flight of the Cuban dissidents.

Washington's Castro-ologists and other experts on Caribbean affairs are most suspicious of Fidel's motives in the sudden lifting of what might be called "the sugar-cane curtain." And there still is some question as to how high the curtain will be raised, whether Castro's offer applies only to the 15,000 to 20,000 Cuban relatives who already have applied for U.S. visas, or whether the bearded Premier really meant it when he said any unhappy Cuban was free to depart.

President Johnson's reply in his New York speech on Monday declared that "all Cubans who seek refuge in the U.S. will find it." And he called for the Red Cross and the Swiss Embassy handling Washington's affairs in Havana to make arrangements for the orderly entry of the emigres into this country, with priority going to relatives and political prisoners.

There are approximately 179,000 Cuban refugees now registered and living in this country. Most all of them have relatives, and Castro's dictatorial Communist regime has made the beautiful island a miserable place to live.

Washington officials have their fingers crossed that a volunteer fleet of refugee sailors does not attempt a mass migration across the 90-mile-wide Florida Straits. At best, it's a dangerous operation. But so was the Dunkirk rescue mission in the Spring of 1940. Then England's so-called "Sunday sailors" took every shape and size of boat across the Channel to lift more than 338,000 soldiers off the beach and save the British army.

Whether Fidel Castro would allow a mass exodus of Cubans from the island seems unlikely. To permit such a migration would prove to the rest of Latin America and the world the dismal, home-grown failure of the once-vaunted Castro revolution.

There is one Cuban refugee that U.S. officials would very much like to know about. The disappearance of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the 37-year-old Argentinian who for long was the No. 2 man under Fidel, poses one of the most puzzling mysteries on the world Communist scene. Cubans who fought with him in the early days of the anti-Batista revolt describe Guevara as the real brains of the Castro movement -- a man so skilled in guerrilla warfare that U.S. military officials use his book on the subject as a text -- and the most dedicated Marxist in the Western Hemisphere.

Although Fidel Castro said last week that "Che" Guevara had resigned his Cuban citizenship to go elsewhere to serve the Communist world revolution, there also are reports that the handsome revolutionary is dead or perhaps in a political prison. One story goes that Guevara became disenchanted with Moscow's "co-existence" brand of Communism after the Russian back-down on Cuban missiles. Recently he has made no secret of his support for the Stalinist "tough-line" Marxism being spouted by Communist China's leaders.

Also, Guevara was said to have clashed with Fidel himself over the Cuban dictator's growing complacency and preoccupation with the island's internal problems. "Che" yearned for the good old days when the capture of Havana was to be only the first step towards Communizing all of Latin America and then move in on the United States.

Thus, the speculation is that Guevara may have become the victim of one of two heresies -- or both. Russian secret police may have liquidated him as a Red Chinese agent, or the Castro brothers may have regarded "Che" as a threat to Fidel's dictatorship and removed that threat. Or perhaps Guevara was allowed to walk out on the whole Cuban mess, to go his own way. If he's alive, then watch out, for where "Che" goes, trouble's not far behind.

This is Bill Downs, substituting for Edward P. Morgan, saying good night from Washington.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

1943. Stories From the Eastern Front

The Red Army Soldiers on the Eastern Front
Source: "Soviet soldiers advance through the streets of Jelgava; summer 1944"

Bill Downs
Saturday April 10

Certain Red Army units have started their own spring offensives in a war of nerves that has had some pretty ridiculous results.

Here's what happened a few weeks ago on one sector of the front. The Red Army unit dug into this sector has been fighting the Germans for a long time. They were fairly familiar with a crack German regiment opposite them. It was a regiment of the Waffen-SS, Hitler's personal troops.

One night a group of soldiers went out on a strategic clearing that formed the no-man's-land between the two trenches and put up two poles. Between these two poles they stretched a canvas cartoon of Hitler -- it was not complimentary to the Fuehrer. Under the cartoon was written in German in large letters "Shoot at me." Then the unit waited until morning to see what would happen.

When the sun rose, they could hear loud discussions in the German trenches. Staff officers came to the trenches and had a look at the insulting cartoon through binoculars. But the Germans refused to obey the instructions to shoot at their own leader.

Before noon they opened an offensive to capture the cartoon. A detail of German soldiers was ordered to take the canvas down. This detail almost reached the cartoon of Hitler before they were wiped out. Another detail was sent. It too failed to get the cartoon. And then in the evening, German artillery all along the sector opened up on the Fuehrer. All the German guns were concentrated on the spot. It took a fifteen minute concentrated barrage before the cartoon was blasted out of existence -- which is one way of killing a dictator.

Right not the grandstand military experts are having a field day. And any time you want, you can find Russians who will argue that there is not going to be a second front this year and why. Other Russians will argue just as violently that there will be a second front. It's a favorite way of passing the time here.

But the feeling of the ordinary soldier is best expressed in a story from the front that I heard the other day. The Red Army men are getting a lot of American canned meat, and they like it. However, they don't call it canned meat. When they get hungry, they say "Come on Ivan, let's open up a can of that Second Front."

Bill Downs
Wednesday April 28

The military spring training on the Russian front seems to be just about over. Nothing of importance happened along the 1,200 mile front last night. There was the usual artillery barrages -- Soviet aircraft made their regular trips to railroad junctions and supply points behind the German lines; snipers on a half-dozen sectors put a few more notches in their guns; and scouts succeeded in slipping through the Axis lines on their hell-raising missions in the enemy rear.

During this spring lull we've heard a lot about the achievements of these Russian scouts. They are the modern Russian counterparts of "Buffalo Bill" Cody and Kit Carson and others who formed the vanguard in America's winning of the west. Except the work of a modern scout in the Soviet Union is a lot more complicated.

For example, take the Red Army scout Yakov Chekarkov, a 30-year-old bachelor who used to be a storekeeper at a tractor station in one of Russia's big collective farms.

Chekarkov knows his stuff. His job is to creep as close to the German lines as possible and find out just what the Nazis are up to. There are thousands of these men who creep out every day and night to gether information. Sometimes they go deep behind the German lines, and sometimes groups of them do commando raids.

Chekarkov has introduced his own methods. For example, he watched the Germans lay a minefield on the approaches to a forest. At night he took his own mines and mined the passages which the Germans left through the field. You can imagine what happened when the Germans attacked. This  scout also has become an expert on German uniforms. He spotted tank reinforcements in one sector because he noticed the pink tabs on the collars of some of the men who were designated tank troops.

This winter he sat for days in the frozen carcass of a dead horse just in front of the German lines. Another time he found a hollow stump almost inside the German fortifications. He established his position by burrowing under the snow and cutting his way inside the stump from the bottom.

It takes a lot of courage to be a scout in Russia, and Yakov Chekarkov is a brave man. However, he has one great fear: catching cold. He was scared to death by a cold last fall. He was behind the German lines when he sneezed. He had to run for his life. Now he never does any scouting without a heavy wool shawl wrapped around him like an old woman.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

1943. The Nazi Colonization of Ukraine

The Occupation of Kharkov
Source: Kharkiv, Ukraine in 1942. Photo by Johannes Hähle.
Bill Downs
Saturday night February 27

I have just had a closeup of how Adolf Hitler's New Order makes history -- you know, the kind of history he raves about at the drop of a helmet. The Nazi brand of history he has sold to Italy and certain other countries in Europe. The kind of history Japan is trying to market in the Far East.

At 9:30 this morning I took a plane out of Russia's rich Ukraine. I spent Thursday and Friday wandering around the streets of Kharkov talking to people and seeing what I could see.

Right now, Kharkov is a very special place. It is more than just another city which the Red Army has recaptured. It's the first big city in Europe that has been retaken from the Axis in which Hitler's New Order had a chance to work. You remember the Germans held Kharkov for sixteen months. And I got to Kharkov with a party of other news reporters only eight days after the New Order was kicked out...before the smell of it had completely left the city.

There is no doubt that the Germans thought they were in Kharkov for keeps. All the street signs were written in both German and Ukrainian -- German first, of course.

German colonists -- at least that's what Hitler calls them -- had set up business, and there were restaurants and shops with German signs on them. Yes, the Nazis sent a lot of loyal German families to collect what they though was coming to be easy money and a pleasant life in the wake of Hitler's Wehrmacht. No one knows just how many colonists Hitler sent to Kharkov. They were a little difficult to count -- like flies on a sugar stack. For months they played at being super-men. Ukrainians couldn't ride in the same street cars with them -- they had to catch the one hitched on behind.

If Ukrainians had better homes or business than [the colonists] had been allotted, the colonists went around to authorities and arranged to take over. That's the way the New Order works. But these good Nazi families were too smart to get themselves caught by the Russians. They ran away with everything they could carry early in January when the Red Army started to march.

Two days before the German army fled the city, the Nazi command destroyed every major building in Kharkov. There literally is not one single store, office building, hotel, or government house in the main part of the city which has not been gutted by fire, blown to bits, or bombed.

But during the occupation, the Germans did something else -- something much more damaging than making piles of rubble out of buildings.

It's something you can see in the face of every kid you run into on the streets. The women and old men who are left have the same look.

The people are pale from hunger. The boys and girls, particularly, have faces the color of wet dough. They have rings under their eyes like old people.

I stopped what I thought was a 10-year-old boy on the street to talk with him. He was thin and had black hair that hung down into his eyes.

He grinned when I introduced myself and said in a tough kind of way that he supposed he would tell me his name. He was Vladimir Voskresenski, a good Ukrainian name. He was 14. You see, kids just don't grow very fast without food.

I asked him what he did while the Germans were there. He shrugged and answered, "Oh, sometimes I begged for food, some bread or a piece of chocolate if I was lucky. And sometimes I could earn some food by taking my sledge and dragging luggage to the station for German officers. I would get half a slice of bread for that."

I noticed that Vladimir had on an outside man's suit coat which struck him below the knees. He looked a little bit like Jackie Coogan used to in the silent pictures. I asked him where he got that coat -- I should never have asked.

Vladimir started out bravely enough. "It belonged to my father," he said. "He was an engineer. They took him to the hotel over there and beat him for four days. He died. I never saw him again."

He was crying when he finished the story. He was a tough kid, like all the kids that survived the New Order in Kharkov.

But those kids won't forget. And neither will the rest of the world.

During the fifteen months of German occupation, a lot of things happened to Kharkov -- all of them bad. For example, there are some facts repeated to me at random by a half-dozen people to whom I talked on the streets of the city.

A year ago last October when the Germans took the city they started hanging people. By the second day of the occupation, every balcony stretching for two miles on the main street through the center of the city had become a gallows. Scores of men and women were trussed up and left to hang.

Six weeks after the occupation, every Jew in the city was ordered to go to an empty machine tool shop nine miles out of town. Women cried as they told me about this. 10,000 Jews were herded into this camp. Ten days later a huge ditch was dug and a squad of German tommy-gunners shot every man, woman, and child.

It is estimated that 18,000 people were executed in the first weeks of the occupation, but no one knows the exact number. The Germans didn't bother about death proclamations or keeping records. I have check that figure not only with Soviet officials now in charge of Kharkov, but also with a school teacher, a college professor, and four other people who were in the city at the time.

This is simply another example of how the New Order works.

1943. Adventures at the Hotel Metropol

At the Hotel Metropol
Bill Downs in the front row, second from left
In 1943 Bill Downs stayed at the Hotel Metropol in Moscow with about thirty other foreign correspondents. After leaving in January 1944, he kept in touch with a few friends he made along the way.

The reporters and secretaries staying there looked for ways to amuse themselves in their free time. Downs wrote in a letter to his parents on April 8, 1943:
Our entertainment here consists of vodka -- which is liquid dynamite -- and the ballet or opera -- and the occasional poker game with a general or admiral -- and an occasional date full of gestures and shouting with a Russian girl.
In the letters below, some of Downs' friends give him the rundown on what's going on in Moscow:

Sunday evening, 10 PM

March 5th 1944
British Embassy, MOSCOW.
Dear Bill,

Thought you'd appreciate a line on what's been happening around the Metropole since you departed and your room was filled by Jim Fleming who is a nice guy but socially not a patch on Basher Downs. No longer does the floor of 348 shake to the clumping of devooshkas feet; no longer do the curtains catch fire. It is just a nice quiet room. So quiet that I haven't even been in there once.

No, the location for the new stamping ground is Bill Lawrence's sumptuous suite at 373. He really has a magnificent setup there -- you'd never believe it existed in the Metropole. Big main room, bedroom with a complete leopard skin rug snarling at him all the time, a bathroom and a storeroom which right now is stacked -- I said stacked with tins of this and that. You never saw so much tinned stuff at one time. We are continually having big eating as well as drinking jamborees.

Incidentally the drink problem has now become one of what to do with it and not where to get it. All our dept. were issued four bottles scotch and four bottles gin at one time about a month ago, which means nearly a couple of hundred bottles of strong liquor being brought into the hotel -- in addition to our normal ration of vodka which now comes in regularly.

Horace and I had 12 bottles between us and as we usually drink Marion's, we were doing all right. We had so much I traded one bottle of gin for 12 tins of fruit and stuff from Bill. I struck a pretty good bargain I thought, but he did all right from Jean and Ray who were content with two or three tins for one bottle. In addition to all this drink, your own Embassy received cases and cases of Canadian Club rye and there is a lot of this knock about too. Honestly, I have never seen so much strong drink drunk for years.

When it comes to Harold King complaining that there are too many bloody parties you can imagine how it is. And he's right. Last week I had one quiet night -- and then Horace and I and Cornwell finished a bottle of Black and White before dinner. This week I had no quiet nights -- parties or something every night. Last night -- Saturday -- Jean, Ray and Nora -- the three maiden aunts -- well, aunts anyway -- gave a party at the Kuznetsky Most. Bill and I had previously arranged a jag he gave the Saturday before, to dine a couple of devooshkas in his room -- and Jean having issued an ukase that there were to be no devooshkas as you and I and Bill understand the term, at her party. Bill and I declared a lockout -- said we wouldn't go. She climbed down and we went but it was as stuffy as we anticipated, so after a couple of drinks we pushed off to Doc Waldron's flat where it was at least a bit more homey.

Bill is doing a big line at the Nark every night and is making 'em all work. He doesn't let this interfere with his drinking, tho'.

Incidentally, chum, they're all gunning for you -- all those with guilty consciences that is, following the galoshes telegram.

Frankly I can hardly blame them. You wait till you get married.

Horace is just now sitting in bed reading. He's been there all day trying to get over skin trouble and has been forbidden to drink for a week, which is hard.

There has been a lot of sickness, and there still is for that matter, although apart from a mild attack of food poisoning which I had the other week, I have so far managed to keep all right . . . God knows why since these parties do not encourage it.

We're still waiting for the winter to arrive; today it's been really warm -- well not at all cold anyway and there is no snow at all around the place.

Ronnie Matthews and his blonde wife have at least departed so we have more cigarettes than we did. Tamara Gilmore has canceled all her engagements for some time -- at least, she will be doing very shortly. A number of others will soon be opening up local second fronts as it were, such as Tanya, Doc Waldron's wife. So far the Press Dept. girls have managed to keep out of the Pudding Club, for all the trying they do in this direction they might start a Club for Old Maids right away -- this does not include you-know-who next door. We have two more of them coming out this month. One is a pretty good bet, but the other I fancy will join the Neo-Virginity class.

Just heard from the Swan that Stettinius has gone to London to discuss armistice terms with Germany. Sounds like a first class canard, but I'll be close here so that I can pop round and get a paper.

I don't expect a reply to this knowing your aversion to writing letters, but if you do get to London, give my love to my wife.

See you in El Vino's some time.

All the best,
[Signature illegible]

All on the same page:


Dear Bill -

Everything in Moscow is different now... This sign was on a table at the Moscow (Moskva) Restaurant. I have forgiven you for all except telling Tina about "the second galosh." That story seems to have gotten under her skin. Thanks for the intent, anyhow.

Jim Fleming has helped to make up for the loss of WRD. The ballerinas still come around but they seem to hanker for the Russian-speaking boys.

I've been hoping to get home this summer but so far have not heard about a replacement. Eddie [Gilmore], Tamara [Gilmore], [Harrison] Salisbury, [Harold] King, [Bill] Lawrence, the bearer of these messages, and myself are ensconced at a nice table. Until midnight they played Russian pieces -- after that there's JAZZ -- BINGO-BOOM. It only costs about 600 rubles each.

See you -

Watch your step, Buddy. I'm now nearly the oldest inhabitant, but she tells me it's still all right. Give my love to Fleet Street, but for Christ's sake lay off the lurid details.

See you,
Harold King

Look, pal, give Betsy my best, and don't sit up all night talking with her. And tell her for X sake write me. I'm isolated.

- Best now,
HES (Harrison Salisbury)


Please give my love impartially for Helen, Betty Knox, and Sandy. I miss them all -- but perhaps not for long. Also my thanks for not sending that watch.

- Bill Lawrence

May I inject a commercial note -- I delivered your stuff to Kelly and she was very delightful. You see by this here card that we're very busy. I don't know yet why, but I'm catching (?). We'll soon see. Somehow this doesn't seem to make much sense but I'm trying to translate the remarks of a Russian captain to our guests. Nuts, I'm signing off.

Love to all,
Eddy Gilmore

At the bottom:
Привет из Москвы. Надеюсь на скорую встречу. 
Тамара Гилмор 
Greetings from Moscow. Hope to see you soon. 
Tamara Gilmore 

Monday, September 8, 2014

1943. Russia's "Forgotten Casualties"

Treating Those Made Impotent by War Wounds
Source: Soviet officer sharing cigarettes with German prisoners, 1943

From Newsweek, February 8, 1943, p. 78:
"War Surgery for Sex"

The "forgotten casualties" of any war are the men deprived of sexual powers by wounds. In potentiality, it is a fate that every fighting man fears; in actuality, it is a condition that often produces madness and suicide. It is a tragedy that has even found a spot in Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover," Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises," and Toller's "Eugene the Miserable."

Last week William Downs, Moscow Correspondent of CBS and Newsweek, cabled news of an extraordinary surgical technique that has been developed by Russians to combat this type of injury, one that has not thus far been reported in American medical journals. It promises to rescue many victims from the extreme mental depression which is one of the wound's worst features. The dispatch follows:

The present fighting in Russia has brought a greater number of these genital organ cases than any previous war. Low-sweeping fragments of shells, mines, and explosive bullets have inflicted such mutilation upon an estimated 2.3 per cent of all Red Army casualties.

Soviet scientists attacked the problem and now are achieving almost miraculous success. Today some 40 Soviet soldiers, who in the past would have been hopelessly maimed, are now living normal lives through plastic surgery.

Working on the principles developed by Dr. Bogoroz of Rostov, scientists and doctors at Botkin Hospital in Moscow developed the technique. In the Botkin laboratories and operating room, Prof. Anatoly Frumkin, chief of Botkin's plastic-surgery section, devised a series of operations which in six to eight months can restore the adult male external sexual organ completely. (Doctors make no claim that they can restore glands if castration has occurred. In such cases surgery is helpless, although the last war proved that 20 per cent of those castrated by wounds retained sexual ability even if they were unable to father children.)

The initial surgery is basically a simple plastic operation. A lateral incision is made between the patient's lower ribs and a length of gristle is removed. Then, an inch and a half apart, two parallel incisions are cut vertically in the abdomen and a strip of skin is peeled down, the bottom of which is left attached to the lower abdomen. The skin is formed into a tube in which the gristle is placed and attached to the stump of the damaged organ. While the graft to the stump is forming, the now tubular strip is nourished through its attachment to the abdomen.

After several weeks, when the graft is completed, the upper end of the tube is severed from the lower abdomen. The most difficult phase of the operation then follows. It involves constructing a urinary canal which is built by a smaller tube of flesh within the larger one, and at the same time connecting it with internal ducts. When that is completed successfully, the soldier is ready for life again.

Importance of the treatment was stressed last week by Dr. Boris Shimeleovitch, director of the Botkin Hospital, who commented:

"Young soldiers brought here on the verge of suicide are as much mental cases as surgical. However, when they see other men undergoing plastic treatment and when they have talked with similarly wounded comrades, one can notice a psychological change within as little as one hour."

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

1943. War Correspondents vs. the Soviet Censors

The Cell of Moscow
"There was a fear that the correspondent could, by intonation, change the meaning of his report...When reading your dispatch on the air, there was always an English-speaking Communist broadcaster sitting alongside with his hand on the cut-out switch. If you unintentionally changed the grammar of the sentence, as sometimes happens, down would go the switch and you'd be off the air."
Downs' Soviet ID -- The People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs certifies that [Bill Downs] registered as a correspondent.

1941 - 1945

An assignment in wartime Moscow was a pretty good gig, given the circumstances. For four years foreign correspondents lived and worked at the Hotel Metropol, and even with the rationing they usually had just enough provisions to get by -- and sometimes even enjoy themselves.

But they were there to do a job, an important one, and the government did not make it easy. The Soviet People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs had absolute control over all of the press in Moscow, and their policies were strict. They dictated what was permissible to talk about or publish, and transcripts were thoroughly scrutinized.

There was much disagreement over how and what content should be disseminated to Western audiences. Information coming out of Moscow could affect worldwide opinion, and this bred paranoia among the bureaucrats. Any piece that they felt went against the government's carefully crafted image of a mighty Russia -- no matter how negligible the content -- was killed. Anyone daring enough to challenge the censors was asked to leave the country. Bill Downs' successor Jim Fleming met this fate.

George Moorad (1946, p. 15-16) sums it up:
...I asked my friends, "just what does a Moscow correspondent write about?"

A Moscow correspondent doesn't write, he rewrites, they explained patiently. All the material available has already been published in Russian newspapers, but some slight allowance is made for interpretation if the comment is considered favorable. The only loophole is that the Russian censors' knowledge of English is scanty and their judgment unpredictable. For instance, one worth-while story came from Pravda, eulogizing Russian inventive genius. Pravda told how the Russian inventor, Popov, had invented the radio six years before Marconi, and how other Russians were responsible for the first electric motor, incandescent lighting, the steam engine, the steamship, and a number of other outstanding gifts to mankind. This story had presumably been intended for domestic consumption, but the correspondents were able to cable it out, with a deadpan tribute to Soviet historical genius.
Western correspondents (as opposed to their Japanese counterparts, who were treated with some disdain and were mostly restricted to the capital) were funneled to various places both in and out of Moscow. Unlike reporters elsewhere in Europe, they were never taken to the front lines, and they were watched carefully at all times. Associated Press correspondent Eddy Gilmore (1954, p. 82-84) recalls an incident from March 1942 in which his train ran out of fuel outside of Moscow. It was a wood-burning locomotive, and though the engine was able to use other fuel, coal was scarce and reserved for the most essential trains. They stopped at the next station to refuel, and two operators began loading the engine. Members of the foreign press party got out to assist. A press department official saw this and frantically told them to stop. When it was pointed out to him that the operators seemed to appreciate the help, he relented and warned that he would not approve any stories that mentioned the incident.

Starting in 1943, correspondents received guided tours closer to the front lines. They visited liberated cities and massacre sites, including Stalingrad, Kiev, and the Babi Yar ravine. At Babi Yar, they were given the chance to interview survivors and evaluate what had taken place -- it was a genuine eyewitness display of Nazi war crimes. On the other hand, Soviet officials later staged a duplicitous visit to Katyn, a Russian village near which over 21,000 Polish prisoners were executed by the NKVD in 1940. The government went to great lengths to convince the Western Allies that it was yet another Nazi atrocity, in part because the Nazis had previously used the mass graves as a propaganda tool against the Soviet Union.

Bill Downs was CBS' Moscow correspondent from December 1942 to January 1944. He stayed at the Hotel Metropol with about thirty other Western correspondents and their secretaries and translators. In 1951 he answered a questionnaire from the newly-formed International Press Institute about his experiences in Moscow.

December 26, 1951

Mr. John Desmond
c/o Lester Markel
New York Times
Times Square
New York, N.Y.

Dear Mr. Desmond:

I am happy to reply to your questionnaire and offer whatever information I have for the IPI survey. I should like to explain that my year's assignment in the Soviet Union was in 1943 during the so-called period of good feeling, when the Red Army had just won its most important victory at Stalingrad, when American lend-lease aid was beginning to arrive in quantity, and when the Kremlin was looking forward to the Second Front. At this time the Soviet foreign office made an important change of policy toward the foreign correspondents. It was decided (presumably by the Politburo since all decisions on foreign relations are based there) that the Communist cause would be aided by allowing the correspondents to see and report on the tremendous victories then being won. The result was that, beginning in January 1943, the press section of the foreign office laid on a series of junkets, beginning with trips to the Stalingrad area and ending, I believe, in 1945 with the junket to the scene of the Katyn massacre. (I had left Russia by this time and my dates are open to question. Your non-atomic Bill Lawrence can fill you in on this.)

At any rate, this era of good feeling was something rare in Russian history, and it has never since been repeated. I might add that the policy at the time did pay off from the Kremlin viewpoint. For the first time we were able to write authoritatively of the tremendous achievements of the Red Army, and the Russians did build up a "bank account" of good will in the outside world. They also managed to create an atmosphere of trust, which was for a long time disappearing. I think the Teheran and Yalta conferences are proof of this.

However, it is my observation that the Soviet foreign office did not and does not understand the so-called "banking" of good will and has no interest in such a policy. The relaxation of restrictions on correspondents in 1943 was, I believe, ordered for two reasons: first, a natural pride in the achievements of their army and a desire to tell the world about it; second, to create pressure for a second front. There was and is no compromise with the basic thesis of Communist policy, which is to communize all nations of the world -- either through direct conquest or through revolution.

Now I'll tackle your questionnaire.

1. Based on your experience, how accurate are reports the outside world gets of what goes on in Russia from resident correspondents?

Within the scope of Soviet censorship, the resident correspondent can report accurately on government policy as announced by the Kremlin. However, the resident correspondent is not allowed to report such details as the living standards of the people he sees or the state of the national economy, which he can judge by visiting shops and stores and such news. He is not allowed to report on conversations, say, overheard on the subway or on the buses and streetcars. His isolation from the Russian people is manifold -- first by the language barrier, second by the fact that he is restricted for the most part to Moscow, thirdly by government orders against association with foreigners, and fourthly by the atmosphere of fear and suspicion, which is part of the daily life of the people. Outside of a few officials, it is doubtful that even the Russians themselves know what transpires in their country. The citizen of Tashkent is just as ignorant of what goes on in the Urals as is the correspondent in Moscow. Just as the foreign correspondent can be said to exist in the cell of Moscow, it can be said that the ordinary Russian also exists in a cell bounded by the community in which he lives and works. Only occasionally does rumor or a leak in the press break through these barriers which the government has inflicted on the people.

2. What was your personal experience with censorship and its operations, commenting at the same time on your freedom of movement?

During my stay in the Soviet Union, the government had the excuse of military security to fall back on. However, it is my belief that fear and suspicion are as much a part of the Russian censorship policy as security. There is another quality that is embraced in censorship policy too. This is pride. For example, we had many long arguments with the censors concerning the reporting of military casualties. The government wanted absolutely no mention of them. Our argument was that the world -- and particularly Russia's allies -- should know the sacrifices the nation was making in fighting the war. But the attitude of the censor was that a Russian killed in battle somehow reflected on the national honor. There was a constant watch on copy to stop anything -- be it a humorous story or what -- that might possibly reflect on the Russian "honor." As for the suspicion and fear, the best example I have of that concerns the Battle of Poltava near the end of 1943. I went with my secretary to the Lenin Library to look up the First Battle of Poltava in 1709 when Peter the Great defeated Charles of Sweden. I managed to dig up the number of men involved, the number of horses employed, and the number of guns in that first battle that ended the era of Swedish conquest. I thought it would make an interesting angle to supplement the 1943 battle story. However, the censor stopped all the statistics on that 240 year old battle because, he explained, it is "military information." It was obvious that he suspected some sort of a code.

3. How valuable is the contribution made by experts who analyze the Russian press, radio, and other sources to interpret what is going on in Russia? Should experts be used more widely than they are at present?

Analysis of the Russian press and radio is extremely valuable because there is such a scarcity of information coming out of that country that any contribution which leads to greater understanding of it is helpful. Also, the dynamic of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism calls for a constant watch and reinterpretation of Soviet policy and Communist methods. The controversial nature of the Russian problem makes objectivity difficult to achieve. The more people who attempt to understand and interpret the better. As for using the so-called "experts" more widely, I'd have to know my expert, his background, and his expertise.

4. On the basis of your experience, and in the light of present circumstances, how valuable do you think it is to have a correspondent in Moscow? 
Most valuable. It keeps open a channel and maintains a precedent by maintaining bureaus in the second most important capital in the world. And while the correspondent on the scene may be allowed little freedom to report, there still are some things that even a dictatorship so complete as the Russian cannot hide from the reporter. He may not be able to report these things from Moscow, but he can report them when he leaves the country.

5. How would you proceed to give better coverage of Russia and the satellites, recognizing all the difficulties that lie in the way; e.g., do you feel that correspondents working in Stockholm, Vienna, Berlin, and Belgrade could improve our coverage because of their strategic location?

Considering the difficulties, it is hard to make any practical suggestions as to how to improve coverage of Russia beyond the present efforts being made. It is understandable that networks and newspapers have lost interest in maintaining bureaus in Moscow, but I believe it is most important that they do. The fact that there are so few correspondents in Moscow today would appear, in part at least, due to lack of interest by news distributing organizations to spend the money there. The pressure to get correspondents in has slackened. Trying to report on Russia from the capitals of nations bordering the Iron Curtain is of doubtful value. In Berlin, for example, we were able to see Russian-directed policy for the German Communists. But there was very little to be collected about Russia itself. The only field which I can think of where there could be more comprehensive coverage is the field of foreign trade and economics. I have seen no roundup of what the Soviet Union is buying on the world market -- say, machine tools from Belgium, ball bearings from Sweden, textiles from India. Such information would be a valuable addition to the sum total of our day-to-day knowledge of the country.

It was a censorship problem that eventually resulted in the Soviet government completely banning radio reporting from Moscow. Press correspondents would submit their copy to the foreign office censorship, where it would disappear. The correspondent could not find out what had been cut from his copy until he was advised by his home office. However, radio scripts were submitted and had to be returned to us for reading on the air. Thus we could see what the censors had cut, and we were able to assess the government's attitude on subjects of a sensitive nature. The government obviously felt that its censorship was not complete. There was a fear that the correspondent could, by intonation, change the meaning of his report. In broadcasting from Moscow, the radio directorate censored the broadcasts, although we protested constantly against double censorship. However, the radio people very seldom tried to improve on the foreign office censorship. When reading your dispatch on the air, there was always an English-speaking Communist broadcaster sitting alongside with his hand on the cut-out switch. If you unintentionally changed the grammar of the sentence, as sometimes happens, down would go the switch and you'd be off the air.

I end this letter with a great feeling of inadequacy and frustration. The basic problem, of course, is the two conflicting theories about the function of the press and radio. The Soviet government sees the press only as an arm of the government whose chief duty is to forward the Communist cause. They do not understand -- or at least pretend not to understand -- the role of the free press outside their country. The Soviet concept of news is that all information about Russia, no matter how trivial, comes under the heading of intelligence in the espionage meaning of the word. Consequently the foreign correspondent is tolerated as a kind of second-rate spy. The Tass agency forms the basis of all Soviet intelligence abroad, although most of the information that Tass gathers is regarded by us as legitimate news. It is not so regarded by the Soviet government. And since Tass correspondents are regarded by the Russian government as their agents, the government logically expects foreign correspondents in the capital to perform the same function.

In view of the restrictions and this official attitude, it's difficult to see how there can be any comprehensive coverage of the Soviet Union at all until the Communist policy, Communist aims, or Communist government of Russia changes or is changed.

I hope you find something useful in all of this.


Bill Downs

Some of Downs' broadcast transcripts were rejected entirely by Soviet authorities because of their content. Here are three examples from April 1943:

A Boy and His Pig
Bill Downs


Thursday night, April 1, 1943

Here's one of the most human stories to come out of the Russian war. It is repeated by a Red Army captain who recently returned from the Smolensk front.

It seems that at one of the liberated villages west of Rzhev there was a little boy named Aliosha. Aliosha was raising a pet pig named Khrushka when the Germans came to the village. He loved his friend Khrushka and was very much afraid when the Germans started collecting all of the other pigs and cows and chickens in the village to send back to Germany.

When the Germans came to his house to get Khrushka, the boy hid the pig behind the big peasant's stove. The Germans finally went away. When Aliosha went to get Khrushka, he found that the pig was dead. You see, peasant stoves are very hot during the Russian winter and Khrushka had suffocated.

Aliosha was very sad and wanted to give his friend Khrushka a fitting burial. So Aliosha got another boy in his village and dug a grave by the side of the road. At night, the carried Khrushka to the grave and carefully buried the pig.

However, both of the boys knew that Germans are very careful about freshly turned earth -- they are always looking for hidden parachutes or arms or valuables when they see that something has been buried.

So Aliosha made a rough cross and got a German helmet. On the cross he carefully copied the first German name he could remember. It was Schmidt...or Schwartz...something like that. Aliosha put the cross at the head of his pet pig's grave and placed the German helmet on top of the cross. It looked just like a score of other German roadside graves that dotted the area.

Then the German headquarters moved to the village. The German general stopped to examed the grave and gasped when he read the name. It was the same name as the general's son, who was missing on the front.

The General immediately called his officers and demanded that his son be buried with more honor. He ordered the body be disinterred.

This story ends with the sweating officers digging out the grave, with the German general standing bravely aside, waiting to view the last remains of his son. No one stayed long enough to see what happened when the general discovered that his "son" was the prize pig Khrushka.
Convicts in the Red Army 
Bill Downs


Wednesday night, April 14, 1943.

There are a lot of things that most of us don't know about the Red Army. This goes for me here in Moscow as much as for you people back home.

For example, today I discovered that, among those soldiers of whom the Soviet Union is most proud, are the men who have disobeyed Russian law and been sentenced for minor crimes.

Doctor Goebbels is going to have a lot of fun with that one. He's going to say immediately that the Red Army is an army of "criminals." Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I talked to a young Soviet lawyer today who at the age of 35 is one of the assistant prosecutors of the USSR. He not only told me that men with criminal records are serving in the Russian army -- but he's proud of it. The evidence he presented explained why.

This young prosecutor, his name is Vladimir Diakonov, said that since the beginning of the war, men who have been convicted of crimes calling for sentences of less than three years detention had on examination been admitted to service in the Red Army.

"Not in a single case have we found that they have failed their country," the prosecutor said. "Of course, we don't send dangerous criminals into the army. They are a danger to society and would be a danger to the army as well. But we feel that a man convicted of a minor crime -- say embezzlement or a first offender -- is not necessarily an incurable criminal or an unpatriotic citizen. It is the aim of any prison system throughout the world to make these men useful citizens again. We think we have succeeded. And the records prove it."

It seems that there are scores of men with criminal records serving in the Red Army. Some of them have completed terms and joined. Others are serving while under conviction and may have terms to finish after the war is over. And there are others who have joined the army who are waiting for conviction. Settlement of their cases will also be made after the war.

I saw evidence where many of these men have been decorated with the highest Red Army orders for their courage. Many have risen from privates to be officers.

But not one, according to the deputy prosecutor, has turned out to be a bad soldier.

 News From the Western Allies
Bill Downs


Wednesday, April 14, 1943.

The Soviet Union is expecting big things from the American, British and French forces now advancing in Tunisia. For many days now the Allied North African offensive has been the biggest military news in the Soviet press.

This morning the army newspaper, Red Star, printed an analysis of the situation written by one of its leading military experts, Colonel Tolchenov. Colonel Tolchenov said that the Hitlerian command undoubtedly understands that their campaign in Africa is lost and no regroupment or reforming is able to save the situation.

Then the Colonel proceeded to say some of the nicest things about the Allied armies that have appeared in Russian press since the war began.

He said: "There is no doubt that Hitler is willing to sacrifice the troops remaining in Tunisia in order to gain time and delay realization of the further plans of the Allied command. Of course, attempts to evacuate certain parts of the German troops are not excluded -- but they are connected with enormous difficulties. The naval bases of the Allies have approached close to the central Mediterranean and operations of the Anglo-American ships have compelled the Italian navy to hide in its ports. Anglo-American air forces already are blocking the air lines across Sicilian straits."

Then the Red Star article ended with the statement "It is only a matter of time before the Axis troops will be driven from Africa. It must be supposed that the Allied command will concentrate all efforts to reduce this time. The quicker the Tunisian territory is cleared, the more rationally our allies could use the big forces which are now attached to this front."

The second biggest military news in Russia this morning are the details of the Russian bombing of Koenigsberg the night before last. The Soviet air force gave Koenigsberg a two hour plastering, which was its heaviest bombing of the war. Russian pilots reported they hit the city's power plant, railroad junctions, a big war factory, and particularly smashed a gigantic store of military equipment near the center of the city.

Special scouting bombers were assigned to fly over the city during the attack and assess what damage was done.

This morning the Russian press points out that Koenigsberg is the biggest center of the eastern Prussia war industry. There are steel smelters, armaments factories, ship buildings and chemical plants centered in the city. It is a railroad junction for lines connecting Latvia, Poland and Eastern Germany. And more important, it was the base for the German drive into the Baltic states which ended at Leningrad.

This bombing was not unconnected with the recent flare-up in fighting on the Leningrad and Volkhov fronts and the battles south of Lake Ilmen.


Downs, Bill. 1943. "Bill Downs Papers." Georgetown University Special Collections.

Gilmore, Eddy. 1954. Me and My Russian Wife. Doubleday.

Lawrence, Bill. 1972. Six Presidents, Too Many Wars. Saturday Review Press.

Moorad, George. 1946. Behind the Iron Curtain. Fireside Press, Inc.

Reynolds, Quentin. 1944. The Curtain Rises. Random House.