July 18, 2023

1956. Correspondents Discuss What Other Countries Think About Americans

"What Foreigners Think About Us"
CBS reporters in 1956. Clockwise from left: Bill Downs, Daniel Schorr, Eric Sevareid, Richard C. Hottelet, Edward R. Murrow, Robert Pierpoint, David Schoenbrun, Howard K. Smith, Alexander Kendrick
From Pageant, June 1956, pp. 117-123:
What Foreigners Think About Us
"Today, it's important to know how other countries feel about America. Especially in view of the import of international politics, foreign aid, threat of war and, of course, the American overseas tourist. To find out how others see us, Pageant asked top CBS-TV and foreign correspondents in seven countries to interview the man in the foreign street on what he thinks about Americans.

"Newsmen who held the mirror up for us were David F. Schoenbrun, Paris; Daniel Schorr, Moscow; Bill Downs, Rome; Howard K. Smith, London; Richard C. Hottelet, Bonn, Germany; Robert C. Pierpoint, Tokyo; Alexander Kendrick, Africa.

"None of the correspondents knew what his fellow newsman in the country next door was saying—but wait till you read from their reports. It seems that everyone from Africans to Frenchmen has definite and similar opinions of Americans, their resources and their way of life."
1. What puzzles foreigners most about Americans? 
France: The French are most puzzled about Americans' attitude towards money; why, they ask me constantly, do you think Americans work so hard to earn money and work equally hard to spend it?

Russia: Russians seem most puzzled about the decentralization of power in the U.S. For example, when told that President Eisenhower opposed racial discrimination, they ask why he doesn't ban it. When you explain that the President doesn't have dictatorial authority, they shake their heads uncomprehendingly.

Italy: Our naïvete. As one of the biggest nations in the world the foreigner often expects us to act the part. They are puzzled when we make a major blooper in diplomacy or our foreign relations. Likewise, they are puzzled when we pay out billions of dollars in foreign aid and then don't ask for something in return. The result is that sometimes foreigners feel they must treat us as somewhat idiotic and spoiled children. Americans abroad usually fall into one of three categories—the "everything is better back in Podunk" type; the "Why don't these people learn to do it our way" type; the "Gosh, isn't this wonderful" type. Fortunately, the latter predominates.

England: Haste. They wonder why Americans are always in a hurry. In Britain you get business done by writing letters and having them considered at some length, before a request is granted (interviews with salesmen, etc.). The American system is to do it by telephone, and do it immediately. In a world that has lasted so long, our fellow men do not understand the rush.

Germany: The Germans tend to be puzzled by the American mixture of practical, hard-headed realism and buoyant, optimistic idealism. America still the country largely known as the land of the dollar, and Americans as shrewd businessmen. Yet the United States has been giving away money in vast quantities since the end of the war. Has this been sheer generosity, or has Washington had an ulterior motive? On a personal level, general American preference for the aristocracy strikes everyone as rather odd. Many Americans seem to gravitate toward the Graf (Count) or the Freiherr (Baron) or the the Fuerst (Prince) in a way that does not seem characteristic.

Japan: Our treatment of racial minorities. Asians are well aware of our democratic ideals of freedom and equality, and they find it extremely difficult to rationalize this with the many unfortunate incidents which occur regarding racial minority groups in America. It is hard for them to understand how a nation, which so loudly preaches democracy, can at the same time tolerate an Emmett Till case. Unfortunately, the progress made in America toward racial equality is not well advertised in Asia.

Africa: Why there are so many of them wandering all over the place without any real reason except to seek enjoyment, when everybody knows the United States is the home of all enjoyment.
2. What disappoints them most about Americans?

France: What disappoints the French most about Americans is to find that we are not all millionaires. They are shocked by middle-class, low budget tourists, who complain about prices in Paris.

Russia: What disappoints Russians most about Americans (the few Americans they've seen) is our refusal to acknowledge the superiority of their system...and especially the fact that American workers say they like capitalism, flourish under it and are not oppressed by it.

Italy: Our fallibility. America's tradition, particularly in the minds of Italians, is that it truly is "the promised land." They have relatives in the U.S. that prove it. This reputation, plus a good coating of Hollywood fairy stories, makes every short-coming or failure doubly significant in their judgment. For example, one never hears of the bastards that must have been left by the German army during its stay in Italy. But one would think the orphanages were all full of American illegal progeny.

England: The joy Americans take in traveling several thousand miles to Europe and meeting other Americans in the lobby of the American Express Company. Europeans often complain that the thrill seems the greater, the nearer neighbors they find themselves to be.

Germany: Those Germans who are disappointed with Americans—and they're a pretty small minority—don't like what they consider to be the American's childish manners, loud voices and loud neckties, colorful clothing (especially sports shirts). Americans do tend to have a lot of money by local standards, and sometimes throw it around a bit demonstratively.

Japan: Recently Asians have been acutely disappointed by America on two issues. First of all, we seem to have abandoned our traditional anti-colonialism for the expediency of tacitly supporting our colonial European allies. Secondly, we have rather clumsily continued to emphasize military strength and the military defenses of the free world while the Communists have more nimbly switched their attacks to the economic and political fronts. Most Asians feel disappointed that we have not more readily responded to the Communist challenge in these new areas.

Africa: That they're not all rich, as expected.
3. What do they like best about Americans?

France: The French love the youthfulness of Americans, American enthusiasm, yes, even our naïvete, which they find personally charming, if politically frightening.

Russia: What Russians like best about Americans is our breeziness, informality, our ability to form quick friendships and enthusiasms. On the personal level, they frequently find more in common with Americans than Europeans. Especially after a little vodka.

Italy: Our idealism. This is expressed not only in the fact that the new Italian Republic copied the form of our government—but it is expressed in simpler terms. Europe, generally, and Italy in particular, has never quite gotten over the aristocratic tradition and acceptance of special privilege. Family name, occupation and education still tend to stratify population. They admire the GI sergeant who speaks with ease to his officers. But underneath, the thing most admired in Americans is the American precept that one man is as good as another. This is expressed in the vote and in everyday relationships. And it is in this precept that democracy finds its greatest argument against totalitarianism.

England: The geniality of Americans. In most cases American visitors to Europe seem to do their utmost to maintain a friendly attitude.

Germany: The most likable thing about Americans is their friendly and unconventional manner. One German says: "Americans are frank, they are not prejudiced." The average American has won himself many friends in Germany by his fresh, open approach to life.

Japan: We are an open and sincerely friendly people.  While some of the more reserved Asians may not respond immediately to the back-slapping type of friendliness, most Asians find the Americans have a genuine interest in the welfare of other people.

Africa: Their informality and lack of snobbism.
4. What do they think of American women?

France: They find American women to be the most beautiful and dullest women in the world: beautiful from the purely physical point of view, the beauty of good health, good looks. However, they find American women conformist; they all look, talk, and dress alike. The tourist with her flat-heeled shoes, bright-colored raincoat, shoulder bag with a brass eagle has become the symbol of the American women for the French.

Russia: Russian women tend to be envious of the well-groomed, well-dressed appearance of American women, the long fingernails and other evidences that American women don't work as hard as Soviet women. This envy is sometimes concealed behind ridicule.

Italy: Pampered. In Italy, particularly, the woman is still something of her husband's personal chattel. And the Italian women are a bit frightened by the power the U.S. housewife wields in family affairs. They are also somewhat scornful of the efficiency of American women in their antiseptic methods of raising their child or even bearing them.

England: They find Americans healthy, pretty and well-tailored, but complain that, as Westerners say of the Chinese, it's hard to tell one from another.

Germany: "Die Amerikanerin," the American woman, is regarded in Germany mainly with envy. She is regarded as fully emancipated, and German women would like to enjoy a measure of her independence. But Germans feel that the American woman has bought independence at the price of femininity. She may be a good comrade, but she is taken as lacking in the tenderness and devotion which Europeans consider a woman's greatest charm.

Japan: Perhaps my answer is colored by the personal prejudices of an American bachelor, who finds foreign women eminently attractive, but here goes. American women are considered to be very well dressed, quite attractive, and cold. Probably the most telling criticism is that they are not really very womanly. Most foreign men find them somewhat frightening.

Africa: Their main experience being with American women in American movies, they love 'em all.
5. What do they think of young people in America?

France: The French don't know young people in America. What they think about them, therefore, is based upon what they read in the papers, as reported from America, or in the movies from America. This has led the French to conclude that American youngsters are dope-fiends, juvenile delinquents, rapists, and gang-muggers.

Russia: They have no special thoughts about young people in America, having seen practically none of them.

Italy: They don't know much about young people in America except what they get from Hollywood or from the sensational stories in the press. They have nothing but admiration for students who come to study in their countries. Generally, this student group is the hardest working, most serious and nicest group of Americans abroad. The State Department should give them yearly bonuses.

England: Foreigners have less contact with American young people than with other grades of Americans. Yet, it is the American teen-ager who has had the greatest apparent influence on foreigners. Probably Hollywood has been carrier of the teen-age cult abroad. In many places dungarees are standard wear for youth. Elizabeth Taylor and Tony Curtis hairdos are very prevalent among European teen-agers as are swoon sessions for visiting American crooners.

Germany: American children and teen-agers in general are judged mainly by the young Americans stationed in Germany with military families. They are thought to be overly self-confident, and to exercise their great personal freedom a bit too violently. Germans feel that American children tend to dominate their families, thereby hurting both themselves and their parents.

Japan: American young people are generally considered by foreigners to be friendly, undereducated, and oversexed. Asians are sometimes shocked and frequently fascinated by the freedom of association between boys and girls in America. Words like "necking" and "petting" scarcely exist in Asian vocabularies. Sometimes foreigners appear to be surprised at how well Americans turn out, considering the poor start they get as young people. This is no doubt evidence that their views of American youth are too harsh, colored by reports of American juvenile delinquency.

Africa: Every student in Africa who can go to an overseas university is not choosing America instead of Britain, as before.

6. What was the most unexpected thing you found in a foreign country that bespoke American influence?

France: A hot-dog stand recently opened on the Boulevard de la Madeleine in Paris, in front of the Olympia Music Hall with a big sign "Hot Dogs" printed in English. A self-service restaurant on the Champs Elysees, specializing in chicken-on-the-spit; garish, Miami-Beach style sport shirts at the Bou Saada oasis in southern Algeria; a huge road sign at a camel caravan crossing in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains, saying, in English: Death is so permanent...Slow Down...U.S. Air Force.

Russia: The most unexpected evidence of American influence I found in the Soviet Union was the American machinery used in the Stalin Auto plant in Moscow—lend-lease equipment is still in use.

Italy: Canned American spaghetti, imported from New Jersey. It showed up in a fancy Rome food shop.

England: The ubiquity of the American famous soft drink. In strife-torn Cyprus I was amazed to find that all the spots where riots most often occur had been emblazoned with large advertisements for that commodity. For example, on Metaxas Square in Nicosia, four vantage points were occupied by signs. This ensured that every time trouble broke out—which is often—photographers unwittingly propagated the pause that refreshes.

Germany: Perhaps the most incongruous American import in the land of Beethoven, Bach, Brahms and Wagner is the jukebox.

Japan: After living eight years abroad, I am still constantly amused and amazed by the widespread influence of American music. I don't suppose I shall ever quite recover from the first time I saw a Geisha clad in the dignified costume dancing a jitterbug.

Africa: Crossing the Equator in Kenya, British East Africa, a sign which read "Equator, 8600 feet altitude, Drink Pepsi-Cola."

7. What American product would a foreigner like to own?

France: An automobile.

Russia: The American product a Russian would like most to own is an American car—judging by the disbelief they express at the lower price. (A car comparable to a 1941 Ford costs $4,000 in Russia). When an American car parks in Moscow it draws a crowd.

Italy: If you leave out dollar bills and immigration visas, my guess for Italy would be washing machines. The number of women-hours spend in boiling, scrubbing, rinsing and drying laundry throughout Italy runs into the tens of millions.

England: After considering and rejecting Cadillacs (too expensive for Britons to run) and washing machines (no longer an American monopoly) I nominate the combined domestic refrigerator with deep-freeze unit. Britons go into ecstasies over this topic.

Germany: The housewife would most like a dishwasher or an automatic ironer. One journalist nominated a pocket size stapler.

Japan: The desire to own an American automobile is practically universal. It covers both sexes, all age groups, and transcends all national boundaries. The only possible objection would be against some of the new pastel colors, and most foreigners admit they could even get used to these if they could just afford the car.

Africa: A red automobile, preferably a taxicab.

July 3, 2023

1943. The Babyn Yar Massacres

Babyn Yar
"In liberated Kyiv, Jewish prisoners of war held in a prison camp across the road. From left to right: Efim Vilkis, 33, Leonid Ostrovsky, 31, and Vladimir Davidoff, 28. (Photo by A. Ioselevich / No. 8718, Siberia Photo Service)."*
The Babyn Yar (Babi Yar) ravine in Kyiv, Ukraine is the site of some of the largest massacres of the Holocaust and World War II. The first and largest was carried out in September 1941 over a 36-hour period during which German forces murdered 33,771 Jews. Over 100,000 more Jews, Romanis, Ukrainians, and Soviet prisoners of war were murdered there over the next two years until the Soviets retook Kyiv in late 1943.

Bill Downs wrote an article for Newsweek in 1943 titled "Blood at Babii Yar – Kiev's Atrocity Story," in which he recounted the second visit to the site taken by a group of American, British, and Soviet reporters. New York Times correspondent Bill Lawrence was in the same press party, and wrote an article titled "50,000 Kiev Jews Reportedly Killed." The two accounts are featured below.

From Newsweek, December 6, 1943, p. 22:


The following story was cabled by Bill Downs, Newsweek and CBS Moscow correspondent:
The first foreign witnesses this week returned to Moscow from what are probably the most terrible two acres on eartha series of desolate ravines in the Lukyanovka district three miles northwest of Kiev. The name Babii Yar is going to stink in history. It is the name of the main ravine where the Russians estimate between 50,000 to 80,000 people were killed and buried during the 25 months of the German occupation. From what I saw, I am convinced that one of the most horrible tragedies in this Nazi era occurred there between September 1941 and November 1943.

The press party was led by the Ukrainian author and poet, Nikola Bazhan. The Ukrainian Atrocities Commission called three witnesses to meet us at the ravine. They were Efim Vilkis, 33, Leonid Ostrovsky, 31, and Vladimir Davidoff, 28all Jewish prisoners of war held in a prison camp across the road. Vilkis did most of the talking, interrupted occasionally by the other two. The first act in the tragedy took place in September 1941, a few weeks after the Germans captured Kiev. One day they ordered all Jews to report at the Lukyanovka district and bring their valuables with them. Thousands of men, women, and children marched out to Lukyanovka, thinking they probably would be evacuated. Instead, Nazi SS troops led them to Babii Yar.

At the wide shallow ravine, their valuables and part of their clothing were removed and heaped into a big pile. Then groups of these people were led into a neighboring deep ravine where they were machine-gunned. When bodies covered the ground in more or less of a layer, SS men scraped sand down from the ravine walls to cover them. Then the shooting would continue. The Nazis, we were told, worked three days doing the job. However, even more incredible were the actions taken by the Nazis between Aug. 19 and Sept. 28 last. Vilkis said that in the middle of August the SS mobilized a party of 100 Russian war prisoners, who were taken to the ravines.

On Aug. 19 these men were ordered to disinter all the bodies in the ravine. The Germans meanwhile took a party to a nearby Jewish cemetery whence marble headstones were brought to Babii Yar to form the foundation of a huge funeral pyre. Atop the stones were piled a layer of wood and then a layer of bodies, and so on until the pyre was as high as a two-story house.

Vilkis said that approximately 1,500 bodies were burned in each operation of the furnace and each funeral pyre took two nights and one day to burn completely.

The cremation went on for 40 days, and then the prisoners, who by this time included 341 men, were ordered to build another furnace. Since this was the last furnace and there were no more bodies, the prisoners decided it was for them. They made a break but only a dozen out of more than 200 survived the bullets of the Nazi Tommy guns.

As substantiating evidence, while walking over the mass graves, I saw bits of hair, bones, and a crushed skull with bits of flesh and hair still attached. Walking down the ravine, I constantly came across shoes, spectacle cases, and in one place found gold bridgework.

The most persistent question that presents itself is why the Nazis took such pains to cover this tragedy. Previously, the Germans made little effort to conceal their pogroms in any occupied territory. If in their retreat they intend to try to cover their crimes, this represents a new and significant policy which presupposes the possibility of defeat. The United Nations declaration regarding war criminals, which closely paralleled Soviet announcements on war crimes, thus can be said to have had its first real effect.
"'Babi Yar,' where the Germans carried out mass executions. (Photograph by A. Ioselevich / No. 8717 Siberia Photo Service)"* [The photograph is of the press party being taken through the site].


The Russians took great care not to damage Kiev, their most beautiful city. That was one reason why the first break-through bridge was built dozens of miles upriver. By outflanking them from the northwest, they forced the German withdrawal. There was no fighting in Kiev and the Germans for the first time did not have time to do their usual job of complete demolition.

Yet practically one-fourth of the city has been destroyed, either by Red Army scorched-earth actions or by the Germans. The city's main street, the Kreshchatik, is completely in ruins. However, there are many blocks of apartments and buildings intact. The Germans had a complete municipal organization ready to take over the city at the time the Reds retook it. The plans even included renaming streets such as Doctor Todt Strasse and Horst Wessel Strasse.

The Soviet government reached a new high in efficiency in reestablishing Kiev's municipal government. Before Kiev was taken, food stores and sanitation squads established a dump as close as possible to the city. They then quickly moved in. City and regional Soviets were established shortly after the reoccupation. Bakeries were set up and banks opened.

Today Kiev looks like an ancient city suddenly occupied by pioneers. It is not uncommon to see workmen packing pistols, and you get used to seeing women, some in fur coats and stylish hats, with rifles slung across their backs. But it is a city of old women and children. The strong and healthy have been exported as slave labor to Germany.
Bill Lawrence's Account

From The New York Times, November 29, 1943, p. 3:

Soviet Atrocity Group Hears Nazis Machine-Gunned Victims in Sept., 1941
Prisoners of War Forced to Build Pyres Were Shot to Destroy All Evidence

KIEV, Russia, Oct. 22 (Delayed) — Kiev authorities asserted today that the Germans had machine-gunned from 50,000 to 80,000 of Kiev's Jewish men, women and children in late September, 1941 and, two years later—when Kiev's recapture by the Red Army seemed imminent—had forced Russian prisoners of war to burn all the bodies, completely destroying all the evidence of the crime.

This was the story told to the Kiev Atrocity Commission and to a group of British, American and Russian newspaper correspondents after having visited bleak Babi Yar, a deep ravine northwest of Kiev, where the massacre was alleged to have occurred. The story was told by three Russian soldiers, who said they had participated in the burning of the corpses and had escaped from the Germans, and by Paul F. Aloshin, chief architect of Kiev. No witnesses to the shooting appeared before the atrocity commission or talked with the correspondents.

On the basis of what we saw, it is impossible for this correspondent to judge the truth or falsity of the story told to us. It is the contention of the authorities in Kiev that the Germans, with characteristic thoroughness, not only burned the bodies and clothing, but also crumbled the bones, and shot and burned the bodies of all prisoners of war participating in the burning, except for a handful that escaped, so that the evidence of their atrocity could not be available for the outside world.

Remaining Evidence Is Scanty

If this was the Germans' intent, they succeeded well, for there is little evidence in the ravine to prove or disprove the story. We did see a few isolated bones, including a skull and some matted hair, a shoulder bone and an arm, a gold tooth bridgework and some spots on the ground which we were told had been made by the blood of prisoners shot by the Germans after the burning of the bodies of Jewish victims had been completed. There were spectacle cases, handbags and other evidences of things left in Babi Yar. Freshly excavated earth in the floor of the ravine left no doubt that something had happened there.

Before the war, Kiev had a Jewish population of more than 100,000 in a total population of more than a million persons. Among the estimated 70,000 total population of Kiev today, there are said to be very few Jews.

This is the story as we heard it. Mr. Aloshin, who was the correspondents' guide on our first day in Kiev, took us out to Babi Yar and told us how on Sept. 28, 1941—nine days after the German Army took Kiev—all Jews in the city were ordered to report to the Lukyanovka district, bringing with them their most valuable possessions. Mr. Aloshin said the Jews went expecting that they were to be evacuated. Instead, they were met by German troops, who ordered them into the ravine, where they were directed to give up their valuables. Part of their clothing also was removed. Then, according to the city architect, they were placed on a platform, machine-gunned and thrown into the ravine.

Mr. Aloshin said that war prisoners were required to bury the bodies. Some of the victims were only wounded, but were buried anyway. The job of shooting and burying the Jews took several days, he said.

Eyewitnesses Tell Story

Mr. Aloshin said the story had been told to him by a German architect, who boasted of the deed, but, said Mr. Aloshin, when Kiev's recapture by the Red Army became imminent, the Germans decided to remove the evidences of their crimes because of the lessons learned by the Russian discoveries of the Stalingrad and Kharkov atrocities, and they ordered the bodies burned.

Correspondents who heard Mr. Aloshin's story requested Soviet authorities to provide them with eyewitnesses to some of the crimes charged against the Germans. Accordingly, on the following day, in company of Mikola Bojan, Ukrainian poet and Vice Commissar of the Ukrainian Soviet, the correspondents were again taken back to Babi Yar, where the atrocity commission was meeting, and where they heard the stories of Efim Vilkis, 33; Leonid Ostrovsky, 31; and Vladimir Davidoff, 28, who said they were Soviet soldiers who had been captured by the Germans and forced to take part in the disinterment and burning, and who were among the handful of prisoners who escaped.

The principal witness was Vilkis, an Odessa-born Jew who before the war was a freight loader in Kiev. He was a prisoner in the German concentration camp just across the road from Babi Yar, and he told how on Aug. 14, 1943, all prisoners were lined up and 100 selected by the German authorities for an undisclosed task.

Vilkis said these prisoners were taken under heavy guard across the road to Babi Yar. He said they thought they were there to be killed by the Germans. These prisoners were shackled together and told to remove their shoes and hats and strip themselves to the waist.

Then, Vilkis said, they were put under the command of S. S. troops headed by a major general and told to start digging in the ravine. This digging continued for several days, he said, without uncovering anything. Then, Vilkis continued, a German officer who had participated in the original shooting came to the scene and told the commanding officers that they were digging in the wrong place. He directed new digging operations at another place in the ravine and soon they began uncovering bodies.

Ostrovsky and Davidoff listened intently to Vilkis' story, interrupting occasionally to offer corroboration or to provide additional details. The three showed correspondents wounds on their legs caused by leg shackles.

Vilkis said that as the work of uncovering the bodies continued, other prisoners were sent to a near-by Jewish cemetery, where marble grave markers were removed and brought to Babi Yar, where they formed crude stoves. The prisoners then carried the bodies of the Jewish men, women and children and laid them on the marble foundations. More than 100 bodies comprised each layer. On each layer the prisoners were forced to place wood, and then another layer of bodies. When the first stove was filled, gasoline was poured and a fire started, but did not burn well because of lack of draft.

Vilkis said the Germans then sent another group of prisoners back to the cemetery, where the iron railing around the graves was removed to make grates. In the second attempt, the bodies were placed farther apart, and the burning was successful.

Each pyre took two nights and one day to burn.

He said the work of destroying the bodies continued from Aug. 19 to Sept. 28.

During the burning, he said prisoners who became sick or went mad were executed by the Germans in the presence of other prisoners. He said that every day three to five prisoners were shot.

When the work of burning the corpses was completed, they knew then that the Germans intended to kill them and burn their bodies so that there would be no witnesses to the atrocity.

Vilkis said that he and a group of other prisoners had decided to escape. He said that in going through the clothing of disinterred Jews, they had found a few keys, including one that a prisoner who had been a locksmith was able to use to open the door of their dugout. The prisoners loosed their shackles, and on the night of Sept. 28 they decided to make a break for freedom.

By this time the number of prisoners working had been increased to about 300. As they dashed out of their dugouts, German sentries armed with machine guns poured bullets into the groups.

Vilkis said that only a very few had escaped, but he did not know the exact number. He said that he, Ostrovsky and Davidoff found shelter near a cement factory near by, where they remained in hiding until the Red Army took the city Nov. 6.
Members of the press party some time later in Rzhev being led by Soviet officials, 1943.
The Press Party's Reactions

Unlike some of their counterparts on other fronts during the course of World War II, Moscow-based foreign correspondents were not allowed near the front lines; their movement was restricted and their reports were subjected to heavy censorship. Reporters relied frequently on government news sources for important military updates and information, and press trips around Moscow and surrounding areas were directed by watchful state officials.

As the Soviets made major territorial gains in 1943, foreign correspondents were able to visit liberated cities, concentration camps, and massacre sites and see the devastation firsthand—but censorship continued to pose a major challenge. Downs wrote in 1951:

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."

Although the trips to the retaken areas remained as they were before—carefully orchestrated guided tours—they afforded reporters an opportunity to see for themselves the actual scale of the Holocaust, to speak to survivors and witnesses, and to inform readers and listeners at home and abroad exactly what had taken place.

The press party visited Babyn Yar shortly after the area's liberation. According to Deborah Lipstadt (1993), some of the correspondents were skeptical about the death toll, while others questioned whether the murders took place at all. Several considered the overwhelming scale of the massacres to be implausible. Joan Peterson (2011) addresses the reactions of Downs and Lawrence specifically:

. . . Both men were part of a group of British, U.S., and Russian newspaper reporters who, along with the Kiev Atrocity Commission, heard the account from three Russian prisoners of war who had been forced to participate in the corpse burning in 1943 and later managed to escape from the Germans. The articles differ in tone. Lawrence's is guarded. Given the paucity of evidence after the destruction of the corpses, he stated, "On the basis of what we saw, it is impossible for this correspondent to judge the truth or falsity of the story told to us." Downs, however, wrote, "From what I saw, I am convinced that one of the most horrible tragedies in this era of Nazi era atrocities occurred there." Both men were taken to the ravine where they related slightly different versions of the few scattered bones, shoes, spectacle cases, and bridgework that they observed. Spots of blood on the ground were explained as made by the prisoners who had been shot after they completed their grisly task. (Only a dozen or so prisoners managed to escape out of the 200-300 prisoners forced to do this work.) Where Lawrence used terms such as "isolated" and "scanty," Downs said, "As substantiating evidence, . . . I saw bits of hair, bones, and a crushed skill with bits of flesh and hair still attached. Walking down the ravine, I constantly came across shoes, spectacle cases, and in one place found gold bridgework." Lawrence, however, added, "Freshly excavated earth in the floor of the ravine left no doubt that something had happened there."
.    .    . 
Successive writers would draw from the words used in both depictions. Lawrence described the site as "Bleak Babi Yar." Downs called the site "probably the most terrible two acres on earth," "a series of desolate ravines," and he said that "the name Babi Yar is going to stink in history." Downs used the word "tragedy" three times. It can be surmised that Lawrence's account contains a measure of disbelief at the magnitude of the action; Downs' one of shock and distress. Both responses are consistent with how many people first absorbed reports of Nazi atrocities. 

Deborah Lipstadt is highly critical of the reporting by Lawrence and Toronto Star correspondent Jerome Davis in particular:

By this point the Nazi threat to "exterminate" the Jews should have been understood as a literal one. There was little reason, in light of the abundance of evidence, to deny that multitudes were being murdered as part of a planned program of annihilation. But despite all the detail there was a feeling among some correspondents, New York Times reporter Bill Lawrence most prominent among them, that the reports that Hitler and his followers had conducted a systematic extermination campaign were untrue. Lawrence did not doubt that Hitler had "treated the Jews badly, forcing many of them to flee to the sanctuaries of the West"; but even in October 1943—ten months after the Allied declaration confirming the Nazi policy of exterminating the Jews and six months after Bermuda—he could not believe that the Nazis had murdered "millions of Jews, Slavs, gypsies. . . . and those who might be mentally retarded."

His skepticism permeated his story on Babi Yar. Though he acknowledged that there were no more Jews in Kiev, their whereabouts he simply dismissed as a "mystery." Lawrence's report surely left even the least skeptical reader unconvinced of the Babi Yar slayings.

.    .    . 

Equally skeptical about the reports of mass murder was Jerome Davis of Hearst's International News Service and the Toronto Star. Neither Lawrence nor Davis seemed able to accept the idea of a massacre, much less of a Final Solution.

Davis's and Lawrence's doubts would have been more understandable had their colleagues who visited the site with them manifested the same suspicions. But they drew markedly different conclusions. Bill Downs, who was Moscow correspondent for CBS and Newsweek, was convinced that one of the "most horrible tragedies in this Nazi era of atrocities occurred there." Henry Shapiro of United Press, Maurice Hindus, a special correspondent for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and Paul Winterton of the BBC all described the flesh, human bones, hair, shoes, glass cases, and even gold bridgework they found in the dirt. Lawrence and Davis, who saw the same things the other reporters found, could not believe that they represented the remains of thousands. Though neither Lawrence nor Davis suggested it, it was obvious that they both believed that these items could have been placed in the sand by those who wished the reporters to believe that such things had happened there. 

.    .    . 

Despite subsequent reports further confirming the disappearance of the Jews from cities and towns throughout Europe, Lawrence maintained his "built in skepticism" for a long time. If someone such as Lawrence, a seasoned reporter for the most important and influential American newspaper and one who had the chance to visit the site and talk with witnesses, remained so riddled with doubt, it is not surprising that the American public, which depended on the press to bring it the news, tenaciously clung to its skepticism. As we shall see, Lawrence was far from alone. In fact many of those in the highest and most powerful echelons of his profession maintained their skepticism for another year and a half.

Lipstadt notes that The New York Times ran the story on page three, while other newspapers ran it on page one. She also notes that the New York Journal-American ran the United Press story by Henry Shapiro under the headline "100,000 Kiev Civilians Killed by Nazis: Wholesale Massacre Revealed."

In the book Buried by the Times (2005), Laurel Leff writes:

Lawrence later wrote that he had doubted that "50,000 Jewish people had been murdered here," and got into "furious arguments" about how to report the story with CBS's Bill Downs, "who believed it all." . . . Lawrence was at the height of his frustration with the Moscow assignment. He had been begging his editors to transfer him for months. Just before he went to Babi Yar, he noted other Moscow correspondents' willingness to print unverified assertions and then to retract the claim in a subsequent story. "But, meanwhile, the damage of false reporting had been done," he wrote to [Edwin L.] James.

Lawrence reflected in 1972 that "Babi Yar was the first site of an alleged atrocity that I had ever visited, and my skeptical mind simply rejected claims that more than 50,000 Jewish people had been murdered here."

He recounted one instance in which reporters and foreign dignitaries were taken in January 1944 to the site of the Katyn massacre, where 22,000 Polish officers and prisoners of war were murdered in a series of mass executions. Soviet authorities blamed the Germans, who had discovered the site a year earlier and sought to use it for their own propaganda purposes. It took decades before the Russian government admitted that the NKVD had committed the executions in 1940. However, in a report in April 1943, Downs relayed the Soviet denial published in Pravda after the Germans uncovered the site. He described the German announcement as "the latest gory German propaganda," and said that "the German story of this crime has too many holes in it to be believed."

Lawrence wrote that he ultimately concluded that the Germans had committed the atrocities at Katyn, but said that the evidence was contradictory. The manner of execution pointed toward the Soviets, but the postmortem handling of the victims was characteristic of the Nazis in 1941—the year that the murders had taken place, according to Soviet officials who denied responsibility.

Lawrence wrote that "all my skepticism about war crimes and atrocities vanished" after visiting the Majdanek concentration and extermination camp that had been operated in Poland by the Nazis until its liberation in July 1944. He described, in graphic detail, what he called "the most terrible place on the face of the earth" in an article published on August 30, 1944 titled "Nazi Mass Killing Laid Bare in Camp." He wrote:

This is a place that must be seen to be believed. I have been present at numerous atrocity investigations in the Soviet Union, but never have I been confronted with such complete evidence, clearly establishing every allegation made by those investigating German crimes.

After inspection of Maidanek, I am now prepared to believe any story of German atrocities, no matter how savage, cruel and depraved.

Many news outlets were deeply insufficient in their reporting on the atrocities against Jews. Lipstadt writes that "as late as 1944 eyewitness accounts, particularly those of survivors, were not considered irrefutable evidence even if they came from independent sources and corroborated one another. The press often categorized them as prejudiced or exaggerated." She quotes Kenneth McCaleb, the war editor of the New York Daily Mirror, who said that foreigners were seen as having an "axe to grind" against the Germans.

Downs' Experience

Bill Downs, for his part, was greatly affected by what he had seen in the year he spent in Moscow. Cloud and Olson (1996) write that Downs told friends upon his return home that "coming back . . . is something like stepping out of a St. Valentine's Day massacre into a Sunday school classroom." They quote a letter to his parents in which he said that "I've seen more bodies than I care to remember." In a 1946 manuscript, Downs wrote:

When I returned to the United States from Soviet Russia early in 1944 I recounted what I had seen at Babi Yar. It received mixed reaction. People would look at me curiously. Obviously I had been taken in by Russian propaganda. My friends expressed pity. Others called me a liar. In fact, one fanatic wrote me a post card charging me with being a Russian agent and threatening my life.

This was, you remember, before we had landed in France. It was before we had uncovered the horror and brutality of Buchenwald, Belsen, and Dachau. But we saw what we saw. And I suppose skepticism over facts so horrible, details so stomach-wrenching, was not an unnatural reaction to the sheltered, inexperienced minds at home.

.    .    . 

The story of Babi Yar is an important story. A story which the world should remember in the coming days as our statesmen attempt to lay the foundations of peace. The mortar for this foundation is mixed with the blood of millions of people—American soldiers and the soldiers of a dozen other of our Allies. The blood let at Babi Yar also is in this foundation.

While accompanying the British Second Army on its advance toward Germany, Downs lamented the doubt and indifference in another letter to his parents dated October 21, 1944:
We are beginning to run into the old atrocity stories again. I tried to tell them in Russia, but no one paid any attention. Now we are finding the same Nazi prisons, the same torture weaponswith some improvementsand the same sad stories of persecution, execution and privation by Hitler's bad boys. I don't suppose anyone will believe these stories either, although we collect and print enough evidence to hang the whole German army.
It seems that the Presbyterian mind of the average American cannot accept the fact that any group of people can coolly sit down and decide to torture thousands of people. And if torture isn't enough, then to kill them as calmly as an ordinary person would swat a fly. This refusal to believe these facts is probably the greatest weapon the Nazis have . . . and it will operate in the post-war judgment of the Germans, wait and see. All of us more or less normal people will throw up our hands in horror even at the prosecution of the guiltybecause there are so many guilty that we again will think that we are carrying on a pogrom when actually it is only making the Nazis pay for their crimes.

Unless it can be brought home as to what the Germans have done in Europethe cruelty and ruthlessness and bestial killings and emasculations and dismemberment that has gone onwell, I'm afraid that we'll be too soft on them.

His disillusionment had only hardened by the end of the war. Cloud and Olson recount that, after visiting Auschwitz in 1945, Downs told friends he felt like shooting the first German he saw, and later said: "By the time the war ended, all our idealism was gone. . . . Our crusade had been won, but our white horses had been shot out from under us."

Several memorials have been erected in the decades since the Babyn Yar massacres, including one dedicated in 1991 to the Jewish victims fifty years after the first killings took place.

Menorah monument in Kyiv, Ukraine dedicated to the Jewish victims of the Babyn Yar massacres (source)

* The first two photographs are from Bill Downs' personal papers. The Russian-language captions were taken from notes taped to the back of each photo. The English captions include more detail and are thus not intended to be direct translations. The original captions are below.
First photo:

Оставшиеся в живых свидетели массовых казней десятков тысяч мирных жителей, совершенных немцами в окрестности Киева "Бабий яр". На снимке /слева направо/ Вилкис, Островский и давыдовю.

Фото А. Иоселевич
№ 8717 Сибфотосарвис

Second photo:

"Бабий яр", где проводились немцами массовые расстрелы мирых жителей.

Фото А. Иоселевич
№ 8717 Сибфотосарвис
This post was originally published in 2013. It previously included Lawrence's account as told in his memoir, rather than the Times article. That excerpt can be read here.

Cloud, Stanley; Olson, Lynne. The Murrow Boys: Pioneers on the Front Lines of Broadcast Journalism. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996), pp. 195-196, 235.

Downs, Bill. "Blood at Babii Yar: Kiev's Atrocity Story," Newsweek, December 6, 1943, p. 22. Accessible at: https://archive.org/details/sim_newsweek-us_1943-12-06_22_23/page/22/mode/1up.
Downs, Bill. Correspondence from Bill Downs to his parents, April 8, 1943. William R. Downs Papers, Booth Family Center for Special Collections, Georgetown University Library, Washington, D.C.

Downs, Bill. Correspondence from Bill Downs to his parents, October 21, 1944. William R. Downs Papers.
Downs, Bill. Correspondence from Bill Downs to John Desmond, December 26, 1951. William R. Downs Papers.

Lawrence, Bill. "50,000 Kiev Jews Reportedly Killed," The New York Times, November 29, 1943, p. 3. Accessible at: https://www.nytimes.com/1943/11/29/archives/50000-kiev-jews-reported-killed-soviet-atrocity-group-hears-nazis.html.

Lawrence, Bill. "Nazi Mass Killing Laid Bare in Camp," The New York Times, August 30, 1944, pp. 1, 9. Accessible at: https://www.nytimes.com/1944/08/30/archives/nazi-mass-killing-laid-bare-in-camp-victims-put-at-1500000-in-huge.html.

Lawrence, Bill. Six Presidents, Too Many Wars. (New York: Saturday Review Press, 1972), pp. 91-100. Accessible at: https://archive.org/details/sixpresidentstoo00lawr.

Leff, Laurel. Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America's Most Important Newspaper. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 172.

Lipstadt, Deborah E. Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933-1945. (New York: Free Press, 1985), pp. 244-248. Accessible at: https://archive.org/details/beyondbeliefthea00lips.

Peterson, Joan. "Iterations of Babi Yar." Journal of Ecumenical Studies. September 22, 2011. The Free Library. Accessible at: https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Iterations+of+Babi+Yar.-a0278400312.