American cover-up of WWII massacre could taint U.S.-Poland relations

Ear to the World, Sept. 12: Tragedy in Katyn, Obama tweets in Arabic and more

By Nicholas Nehamas

A man leaves flowers at a memorial for the dead at Katyn, 217 miles west of Moscow. Nearly 22,000 Poles died in the Katyn forest in 1940, mainly army officers but also policemen, intellectuals, aristocrats and other potential dissidents whom Stalin feared might oppose his rule. (Reuters)

A World War II massacre, Barack Obama tweeting in Arabic, and an Israeli radio show: what do they have in common? They’re all American stories being covered by the foreign press.

  • In 1940, Josef Stalin ordered the massacre of nearly 22,000 Poles in the Katyn forest of Western Russia. Now, declassified U.S. documents show that American prisoners-of-war saw the bodies in 1943 and sent coded messages about the atrocity back to Washington. But the Roosevelt Administration sat on the information, afraid to anger its Soviet ally. Stalin blamed Nazi troops for Katyn, and the Russians didn’t formally acknowledge their guilt until 1990. The revelation could spark new tensions between Russia, the U.S. and Poland, reports Russia’s RIA Novosti, though scholars have suspected since the 1950’s that America knew about Katyn during the war. Polish-American Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) pushed the U.S. National Archives to release the documents, which were declassified on Monday.


  • A parody Twitter account for Barack Obama, which tweets in Arabic, has 244,279 followers, reports Al-Arabiya, a Saudi television station. @ArabicObama has been active for sixteen months. A recent tweet chronicles how Michelle Obama prevented the Lebanese ambassador from flirting with her husband: “My wife Michelle survived an assassination attempt, unfortunately.” Hmmmm. We’re not sure about that one. But parody accounts of political leaders are apparently a big hit in the Arabic-speaking world. Bashar al-Assad and his father, Hafez, both have prolific satirists claiming to speak for them. But perhaps the best known account belongs to Osama bin Laden, who posted a tweet in July saying: “In the 5 years I’ve been on Twitter, I’ve posted 617 tweets, gained nearly 37,000 followers & been shot dead once. Good times.”
  • Israeli TV networks have had great success taking hit shows from the U.S. like “Survivor” and “American Idol” and repackaging them for domestic audiences. So why not do the same with radio, asks the Israeli daily Haaretz? Wait, wait don’t tell me! That’s exactly what Israeli Story, an Israeli take on This American Life, is trying to do. Like its American counterpart, writes Judy Maltz, “[Israeli Story’s] mission is to shine a light on stories that rarely get told in the mainstream media: true stories – sometimes humorous, sometimes heartrending, often both – about real everyday people.” Unfortunately, the show is yet to find a radio station willing to broadcast it. 85 percent of Israeli radio is straight news, according to one of the show’s creators, and it’s not easy convincing programming directors to take a chance on something new. In the meantime, check out “Israeli Story” online or as a podcast on iTunes.