Published on the six-month anniversary of Franciszek Herzog’s death.
In 2012, shortly after my discovery in the US National Archives, of the coded letters sent from Oflag 64, I spoke with an Associated Press reporter working on the story of the declassified files. He wanted to see a copy of these materials, and so I went to the AP offices near Hudson Yards in New York. During the course of our meeting he mentioned that the AP was also speaking to the son of one of the Katyń victims. Little did I know that this was Franciszek Herzog, who had for years been actively been involved in the Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego (ZHP - Polish Scouting) in the United States, and was one of its mainstays.
Many members of Polonia in the United States were aware of Franciszek Herzog’s engagement in Scouting, almost none, however, were aware of his link to Katyń or more specifically of his attempts to have the US government publicly confirm Soviet responsibility….
Franciszek Herzog, Jr. was the son of Captain Franciszek Herzog. Upon the invasion of Poland by the Soviet Union on September 17, 1939, the Soviets began accumulating information about these prisoners as well as their families. Thus, the prisoners were allowed to write letters to their families, and received responses from them. In this manner, the Soviets garnered the home addresses of the prisoner’s families… As a result, on several days, in the early morning hours of late winter and early spring of 1940, NKVD officers arrived at the homes of these families and informed them that they had two hours to prepare for travel. These families, consisting of women and children, as well as some elderly men and women, were loaded into boxcars and travelled into the depths of the USSR – to various of the Soviet ‘stans’ where they were offloaded, either in kolkhozes or in open fields. They were then told they were to work as lumberjacks (one can just imagine these women wielding handsaws) or in the fields. In most cases, they first shared a room with locals (if there were any) and then built peat sod huts, which were half submerged in the ground.
These were the conditions that faced Franciszek Herzog’s mother and her children. His mother did not survive this period and young Franciszek, together with his older sibling, managed to join the group of orphans whom the Polish delegates had located at various orphanages throughout the Soviet Union, and others who had arrived at Jangi Jul on their own. These children as well as mothers with children were then transported out of the Soviet Union across the Caspian Sea to Pahlevi, Iran and dispersed throughout the world (Kenya, Rhodesia, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Mexico were some of the nations were these refugee women and children were sent) and one small group of children was hosted by a Maharajah in India. One of the members of this last group was Franciszek Herzog.
His route then led to the Middle East and Great Britain, where he completed his studies and having immigrated to the United States, he settled in Connecticut.
As readers, you are now asking – “why is Franciszek Herzog important enough to write about and why is he a singular Child of Katyń…”
By 1990 Gorbachev had delivered what was referred to as File No. 1, and which had lain in the safe of the Communist Party Secretary in Moscow since 1940. That file contained the document signed by all the Party Presidium members and which condemned the Katyń, Ostashkov and Starobielsk prisoners to death.
The fact is, that the United States clearly knew that the Soviets had committed the crime. The Madden Committee had reached that conclusion based on its hearings in 1951 and 1952.
As a naturalized citizen of the USA, Franciszek Herzog believed that he had the right to demand accountability from the President of the United States and the Department of State for the actions and statements of the Government of the United States. Although there were any number of children and widows of Katyń victims residing in the US, none of them felt confident enough to demand such accountability.
Franciszek Herzog did demand accountability, and the letters he sent to the Department of State over a period of months remained unanswered, until he wrote a final letter in which he advised the Department that he was now including Senator Dodd of Connecticut in the correspondence. At that point, the Department of State did proceed to prepare a flimsy response stating it had not been clear who had committed the Massacre.
These documents – both Franciszek Herzog’s letters demanding an apology from the Department of State to the Families of the Katyń Victims as well as the quasi-throttled response with its weak excuses were part of the material declassified (yes, his letters were classified) and the Associated Press included this as the lead to its story on this declassification and posting.
The main photograph in the story was a closeup of Franciszek Herzog holding a photo of his father next to his face appeared in thousands of newspapers throughout the world.
Although Franciszek Herzog’s efforts to have the US confirm Soviet guilt were never acknowledged by the Polish government – during his lifetime, they were acknowledged after his death. He was awarded the Officers Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for his efforts in propagating the truth about Katyn and for his work with Polish Scouting in the US.
Franciszek Herzog died on February 3, 2017.