Radio Free Europe Information Item #687/54 (29 January 1954)

“The Decline of Family Life”

in Aspasia

Source citation: “The Decline of Family Life,” Item #687/54, 29 January 1954, Open Society Archive, Budapest (HU-OSA), fond 300–1-2 (Records of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty Research Institute: General Records: Information Items), microfilm reel 33. This source is also available in the Open Society Archive’s online collection. The online citation is: “The Decline of Family Life,” 29 January 1954. HU-OSA300–1-2–43100; Records of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute: General Records: Information Items.–4fdb-a45a-4b059f4dceeb (accessed 1.10.2015).

This translation is published with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

Introduction: Radio Free Europe and the Truth about Communism

On 20 April 1950, American President Harry S. Truman gave a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors about the power of propaganda. The Soviets, warned Truman, had developed propaganda into a “powerful weapon.”1 They effectively presented themselves as agents of peace and promoters of democracy when they were really no more than totalitarian dictators who hoped to bring the world under their sway. While everything they said was “deceit, distortion, and lies,” the Soviets and their communist allies were remarkably proficient at cloaking their true motives. To American ears, said Truman, “Communist propaganda is so false, so crude, so blatant, that we wonder how men can be swayed by it.” Yet, many people around the world took communist claims seriously and hoped communist governments would alleviate their poverty and misery. According to Truman, the only reason these people gave communism’s blatant lies any credence was that they had never heard the truth. If the United States was going to stop communism’s advance, it needed to bring that knowledge to people around the world. “We are the ones who must make sure that the truth about communism is known everywhere,” Truman declared. He called for a “campaign for truth” that would engage both government institutions and private individuals in actively fighting against communist lies.

The radio station Radio Free Europe (RFE) was established in this spirit.2 Ostensibly the result of private initiative—although in fact originally conceived by American government officials and funded by the CIA—RFE’s mission was to broadcast the truth to Eastern Europe.3 By the end of 1950, it had established service in local languages to Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. The first broadcasts were prepared in New York, but by the middle of 1951 most of the reporting and program production had moved to facilities in Munich.4 The individual language services (or desks) were staffed primarily by exiles from the region, but with significant American oversight.5 In this early period, policy guidelines were set by the New York corporate headquarters with input from exile desk editors and CIA or State Department officials.6 Policy advisers based in New York monitored broadcasts for quality and consistency, critiquing scripts and offering suggestions for improvement.7

As an early RFE policy handbook put it, the goal of the station was to “counter the Big Lies of Communism with the Truth, making clear that the basic struggle is world freedom versus world tyranny.”8 As this quote implies, in its early years RFE tended to make little distinction between ideological truth and factual accuracy. Both RFE’s American and exile employees believed that communism was nothing more than terror, oppression, and exploitation. Anything communists said to the contrary, and anything they said to denigrate the West, could only be lies. RFE staffers saw their mission as simply bringing the facts to East Europeans, by offering accurate information that countered communist propaganda. Although the station did not shy away from using the term propaganda internally to describe its work in the early 1950s, RFE saw itself as intrinsically different from the mendacious communist media. Its propaganda was composed of facts, skillfully wielded to attack communist lies.9

Because it wanted to provide an alternative to local communist news media, RFE’s different language desks concentrated on domestic reporting. Given the difficulty of travel to and from the region in the 1950s, it was challenging to find access to the facts RFE hoped to broadcast. As part of its quest for information, the station set up information bureaus in major cities around Western Europe.10 Researchers affiliated with these bureaus interviewed recent refugees and travelers from Eastern Europe to pick their brains for information about life in their homelands. These researchers were generally also recent exiles from the respondent’s home country and spoke with them in their native language. In many cases, the RFE researchers did not identify themselves to their interview subjects, but engaged them in conversation without telling them their responses would be recorded for RFE’s use.11 After 1954, some RFE interviewers started using a more standardized interview protocol (the “Audience Analysis Survey”), but before this, conversations between interviewers and their subjects were quite ad hoc.12 Information gleaned from these interviews was submitted in report form to RFE and filed as so-called information “Items.” The collection of Items, composed of tens of thousands of these reports—each identified by a unique number—formed a source database that could be used by RFE scriptwriters for research purposes.13 Reports were filed in the original language, with summaries, commentary, and subject headings in English. Some Items were translated into English or German for use by workers from any of the RFE language services; some were also sent to RFE’s New York office or to other readers.14

Historian István Rév, the director of the Open Society Archive in Budapest where the surviving RFE Items are housed, has called the Items an “odd” and “weird” collection.15 Rév presumably came to this judgment because the collection presents numerous challenges to the historian. Rév notes that some of the Items were simply fabrications, composed by lazy researchers who were paid for each report they filed, something RFE was aware of at the time.16 Even more seriously, Rév argues that many informants wanted to please their interviewers and obliged by telling them only what they wanted to hear, even though many did not realize they were being interviewed for RFE. While there is little documentary evidence that gives insight into any particular informant’s intent (whether it was to please an interviewer or not), Rév is right to caution historians to read the Items critically and not as the unvarnished pure experience of the informant. As the source translated here shows, the RFE Items are heavily mediated through the anticommunist perspectives of both the refugee informants and their RFE interviewers. In fact, the RFE researchers played perhaps an even bigger role than the informants in shaping their personal stories into anticommunist morality tales.

Yet it is also that case that many Items report incidents or opinions that actually challenge RFE’s own totalitarian perspective on Eastern Europe’s communist regimes. Whatever their intentions may have been, the refugee informants often contradicted themselves. A source might, for example, claim that everyone was too scared of secret police agents to go out with friends, confirming RFE’s beliefs about the ubiquity of fear in everyday life under “totalitarian” rule. The same source, however, might also comment that everyone got drunk all the time, even in public places, either from boredom or despair.17 Drunkenness, of course, loosened the tongue and could certainly attract the attention of police agents. The pervasiveness of public drunkenness, therefore, suggested that fear was not as all-encompassing in this society as the source had claimed. RFE’s evaluators, however, tended to ignore the import of such revelations. Whatever the informant may have said—even when it was clearly recorded in the report—RFE researchers often heard only what confirmed their preexisting opinions.

This is the case in the document that follows. This report tells the story of a young Czech man who fled Czechoslovakia in 1954 to escape the notice of Czechoslovak state security (Státni bezpečnosti or StB). For RFE, the man’s tale was confirmation of how communism was ruining the family, as indicated by the title the editors chose for the report: “The Decline of Family Life.” The report portrays communism an assault on the informant’s masculinity. While the informant, who worked as a carpenter, had a good salary, the cost of living was so high that he was hardly able to support his wife and young son. Communism had taken away this worker’s ability to provide for a family. This led his wife to enter the workforce. Once there, she became infected with outrageous ideas about gender equality. Her move toward independence, claimed the report, destroyed their happy family. She was too tired to be available for her husband when he wanted her and could not adequately care for their son. The informant was further enraged when her coworkers told him that he needed to take care of his share of domestic responsibilities, including watching their child. He felt as if they were all laughing at him, presumably because he had lost his place as the true head of the household.

According to RFE, the informant was merely the victim of an evil regime: “communist poison” had destroyed his idyllic family life. For the RFE researchers, the drive to get women to join the workforce was a deliberate communist plot to wreck the traditional family; it had nothing to do with women’s own desires for economic independence. Like the informant himself, RFE refused to consider the informant’s wife’s wants and needs as valid. If anything, she was fooled by clever communist propaganda into believing that she should have a life outside the home. RFE also refused to acknowledge the informant’s own role in sabotaging his marriage, even though there was information in the report that suggested his complicity. The informant openly told his interviewer that he responded badly to new stress at his own job: he began spending all his time at the Hotel Javorina (presumably in its pub) and ignored his family. He also started cursing, yelling at his coworkers, and even insulting his superiors. One might suspect he became an unpleasant person to be around. Yet, the RFE evaluators brushed such behaviors off as natural reactions to the stress of life under communism. It would also not be hard to imagine that the informant’s own propensity toward foul language might have influenced his young son’s vocabulary. But even here, the RFE researcher did not question the informant’s contention that the son had learned to curse at his communist nursery school. Finally, RFE was entirely sympathetic to the informant’s decision to flee the country or be shot in the attempt, even though this meant abandoning his wife and child. The informant claimed he no longer cared about his own life, but his actions suggested that he also no longer cared about the fate of his family, which not only lost his income but also presumably bore the political consequences of his flight.18 Yet, for RFE, the informant was blameless in his own family tragedy. The real culprit was communism.

The communist-led Czechoslovak government had indeed publicly advocated women’s equality in the 1950s. Its 1948 constitution declared that men and women had equal access to education and the professions and a new Civil Code from 1949 mandated equality between husbands and wives within the family.19 As in the rest of the Soviet Bloc, the Czechoslovak government made tremendous efforts to get women, especially married women, to join the workforce. In the popular press, the image of a woman in a unisex work coverall driving a tractor, operating a machine in a factory, or toiling underground in a mine was presented as an emblem of women’s new independence and equality.20 But despite the positive image in the media, attempts to bring women into previously male professions or other positions of power were actually quite contentious in Czechoslovakia. Reactions to women’s entry into the work-force were not merely a matter of political affiliation; communists and noncommunists alike actively resisted policies designed to create more gender equality.21 While RFE researchers saw support for women’s economic independence as “communist,” the informant’s response to his wife’s new job was actually part of a larger reaction that transcended ideological lines.

The RFE researcher gave the informant’s story the format of a cautionary tale about the power of communist propaganda. The communists cleverly harnessed women’s natural selfishness (the wife’s initial impetus to join the workforce was motivated by her desire for new stockings and a trip to the salon) to destroy the family as a base of resistance to their rule. Gender equality was, for RFE, just one part of communism’s “Big Lie.” It promised women fulfillment while ultimately depriving them of their natural roles in life. From RFE’s perspective, the informant’s wife was brainwashed by this lie into putting her own desires above those of her husband.22 Her actions caused her husband’s downfall and put her son in danger. Consigned to the communist nursery school, he was now vulnerable to insidious communist propaganda.23 For RFE, “The Decline of Family Life,” was therefore about much more than one family’s downfall. It showed in microcosm how Czechoslovakia’s communist rulers planned to sustain their hold on the country indefinitely.

Note: The first two sections of the document (the English-language synopsis and RFE evaluator’s comment) and all headings are in English in the original source. I have not corrected the grammatical mistakes in these sections but left them as they appear in the original text. I have also retained the capitalization, punctuation, and spacing throughout as they appeared in the original.

ITEM NO 687/54

K/MP 29 Jan VIII/W-7359b


Decline of Family Life

Source Salzburg/Wels: Carpenter, 32, from Bynina, District Valašské Meziříčí, escaped in May 1953. Reports his own experience.

Date of Observation: Until May 1953

English Synopsis

Families’ living standard and morale are both ruined by the Communist regime, the general nervousness even affecting personal privacy. Subsource’s married life was happy in the beginning, but in 1951, his income being reduced due to the increased norms, the first arguments arose when his wife intended to accept a job. He had to give in, and the new arrangement of their family life became a complete failure. When the husband and wife were both working and the grandmother was taking care of their child, additional expenses for outdoor services, the boy’s deplorable “education” in a kindergarten, etc. were the result culminating in final rupture of marital relations—a private tragedy, not the least motive of subsource’s escape.

Eval. Comment: This authentic report confirms Item No. 686/54 and many similar reports also referring to the neglected care at children’s homes in ČSR.24 This report is also proof of the deliberately deteriorated family life in ČSR experienced by subsource, since for the sake of Socialism higher interests have priority to the idea of a united and happy family. This report deals with this problem, giving authentic details.


The communist regime is adversely encroaching on family life. Just as the living standard of the population is inexorably declining, so is the level and moral standard of the family. The nervousness that has taken hold of the whole nation has also transferred itself to the family, so it could be said that family idyll as such has already disappeared.

The married life of our informant is very typical and instructive for us and therefore we will investigate it closely.

The informant got married to a woman of several months’ acquaintance. He was satisfied with the woman he had chosen in every way and after a year of marital bliss they had a child. In this period he worked as a carpenter in Ústi nad Labem and his average monthly earnings totaled 10,000 Kčs [Czechoslovak crowns]. But nevertheless, the family’s biggest problem was the monthly budget. Their child not only needed to have clothing, but also a good and hearty diet, so they were forced to buy most of his food on the free market or on the black market.25 They hardly ever bought anything for themselves, but they still barely scraped by. In the second year of the marriage, the informant’s wife fell ill with a thyroid condition and the doctor recommended a change of air. After looking in vain for an adequate apartment in Eastern Bohemia or Moravia, they decided to move to where her mother lived, in Nové Mesto nad Váhom.26 It was a very serious and risky step, because her mother did not have any great love for her son-in-law. However, the risk was offset on the one hand, because the informant continued to work at his firm; he went home only on Saturdays and Sundays. In 1951 the first signs of marital crisis came, because his pay was considerably lower and life, on the other hand, made its own demands. Slowly but surely the time came when his wife could not even buy a new pair of stockings and therefore she thought of going into the workforce. The informant opposed it and said that he got married in order to have children and a wife who raised them and took care of the household. She tearfully told him she had to spend everything on the child’s food. She could not buy anything for herself and the hairdresser was completely beyond her means.

One Saturday he came home as usual. His mother-in-law welcomed him unkindly and when he asked where his wife was, she curtly answered that she had gone to visit her godmother. For a moment he stood stunned, because this had not yet happened to him in his marriage and he just had to ask when she would return. “On Sunday evening,” was the answer. Now he really didn’t know what was going on. “What had happened? Why had his wife left without telling him? Could she be sick?” and similar thoughts ran through his head. On Sunday he left without having seen his wife or son. The next week, the situation was the same. Then his mother-in-law told him his wife ran away from him because she had gotten a job against his wishes. For a moment, he didn’t know what to say, but finally he vindicated her in his mind. His wife was still young and wanted to see something but there was nothing left for her from his pay. Calmed, he went out with his friends and was happy that the whole affair had been explained.

The third week, he thought that he would surprise his wife and so he asked for Thursday and Friday off from work and went. His wife had not expected his arrival and therefore was home. At first, she didn’t know what to say and stood like a pillar of salt, waiting for his reproaches. But her sister, who was there on a visit, intervened and began to tell him that the position of women had changed, that they were now independent from men, and that their life’s goal was work, etc. She would perhaps have continued in her lecture ad infinitum if our informant had not thrown her out. Then he reconciled with his wife and everything seemed to be as before.

A lot, however, was changed by her entry into the workforce. The boy was given into the care of his grandmother, who demanded 600 Kčs a month. In the office, where his wife held the position of secretary, most of the employees were communists who advised her to arrange her marriage according to the “communist formula,” that is, she should send her child to a nursery, eat in the factory canteen, have the laundry done in the state laundry (called “Oslobodená domácnost” [liberated household]).27 But just the monthly sum for the laundry—to the tune of 500 Kčs—shows us what the financial consequences were. Her monthly pay reached on average 3,500 Kčs and she got an additional supplement of 500 Kčs for productive overtime hours. With this, she was partly able to reconcile the family’s finances, but then another, unexpected set of circumstances arose. Oftentimes the informant arrived home on Saturday as usual and only his son met him. “Where is Mommy?” was his first question. “She is working,” the boy always answered. She returned late at night from work and, tired, immediately retired to bed, so that the next day, Sunday, she could go back to the office to write up the notes of the meeting. So it happened that she had no time for her family. Of course, such a situation created quarrels. Sometimes the informant tried to intervene directly at the office—that is, the “Ministry of Purchasing”—but in vain. Whenever he came into the smoky room, everyone there made fun of him: “Indeed, comrade, we aren’t stealing your wife from you,” or “Comrade, we must re-educate you, so that you know what your duties are,” etc. He often said that if it hadn’t been for his child, he would get a divorce. Sometimes, when she was free, he wanted to go for a walk. Saying, “Please, leave me. I’d rather sit in the garden and take a nap, because I am so tired,” she rejected him. Finally, he took their son and went alone. Then sometimes in the evening he wanted to go dancing. Although she loved to dance, she would be reluctant to go, because she knew that the next day she would have to work until late at night. Sometimes he succeeded in getting her to go out. But then all her male colleagues and acquaintances from the office pestered her, so he danced with her only a little bit. During one of these occasions he got terribly upset. An employee of the district secretariat KSS ŠÍMA was always pestering her and he finally gave the man a piece of his mind. He found out the consequences after they got home. [She said,] “I can’t go anywhere with you anymore. Who has to listen to the gossip in the office then? I only have trouble with you. I just can’t say to my boss that I won’t go dance with him,” she reproached him bitterly. It was true, because in the office they all made a joke of what a ridiculous husband she had.

They also had a lot of trouble with their child. For example, one day the informant arrived home and saw his son standing in front of the building. The boy was soaking wet and because no one was at home he had to wait there. “Where is Mommy?” he [the informant] blurted out in exasperation. “She is working,” answered the boy, shaking with cold. “And where is Grandma?” he asked on. “At church,” was the answer. The informant could not control himself. He took the boy into his arms and ran with him to his wife. “Look at how your son looks,” were the first words he addressed to his wife. The comrades present were upset at the “impertinence” of his entrance, which broke up a meeting about the state purchase of potatoes. Purchasing agent Misaros blurted, “Comrade, we have to re-educate you so that you know that when you come home you should light the fire and take care of your child.” “It is easy for you to say when your wife is sitting at home, but look at the boy, he is frozen and soaking wet. My wife is lounging around here during office hours and his grandmother is in church. What kind of a marriage is this? I shouldn’t have gotten married,” answered the informant angrily. His wife saw it could easily come to blows and so she quickly apologized and went home. She bathed the boy and put him to bed in order to keep him from getting sick. The whole time there was only an uncomfortable silence. Both were afraid of a fight. But what they didn’t do, the entrance of Grandma did. The informant jumped up [saying], “Where were you?” “In church,” was the short reply. “And you couldn’t pay attention to the boy?” he went on. “What do you think? Because your brat won’t go to church,” she vented in her hate. We won’t describe what followed. But the informant returned later that night from the Hotel Javorina. On Sunday, he didn’t leave as usual and on Monday he went to the work office and applied for a voluntary work brigade in Kladno. However, one of the office workers telephoned his wife “straight away” and at her request an end was put to everything. At home, his wife told him that if he didn’t do anything stupid then everything would turn out well. Then they decided that he would request a work transfer and find work in Nové Mesto and the child would go to nursery school. For a short time, the family was happy. He got work on the construction site of a bridge in Trenčín and came home every evening, his wife could also work in tranquility and, most importantly, Grandma could lounge about in church to her heart’s content without regard for the boy. But their happiness was short-lived. The first fruits of the nursery school’s communist education appeared. The boy learned crude swear words from the other children and called everyone in the neighborhood bad names. The other tenants and people from the neighboring buildings were taken aback by the foul swearing of the now four year-old boy and blamed the parents. For instance, once a neighbor asked the boy who taught him to swear. “Daddy,” he answered without thinking. Beatings and lectures did not help anything, the boy didn’t say anything like that at home, but among the children everything stayed as it was previously. Furthermore, at home the boy always “jabbered” poems about Stalin and Gottwald he had learned, such that his parents really did not know what to do with him. They were afraid if they explained it to him that he would give them away in public and therefore they agreed to send him to the nursery school at the Techna plant. The informant set off there and after he explained the situation they assented.

But not much changed. The child stopped swearing, but he was coming home dirty, scratched and with dirty underwear. The parents wondered many times what the four caregivers were doing there when the children were arriving home in such a state. Once the boy himself began to talk about his experiences. After arriving the children got a truly substantial breakfast and then they played. The games were of course not games in the true sense of the word. The caregivers had fun amongst themselves and the children wrestled, laid under trees, etc. Then the children had a snack and afterwards there was again “games” and “schooling.” The children had to learn odes in honor of communist luminaries and various communist-colored nursery rhymes. It would be possible to say a lot about the conscientiousness and qualifications of the caregivers, but it is enough to only mention that all the children, regardless of age, had to go on their own to the toilet and were only given paper. It is not necessary to particularly emphasize how the children looked and especially how their underwear looked. Later, the informant found out that the head caregiver was sick with tuberculosis and he wanted to take the boy home and leave him in the care of his grandmother, but it wasn’t necessary, because the boy came down with whooping cough. Now, there was running back and forth from doctor to doctor, but with no result. All their acquaintances gave advice, but nothing was of any use. The boy had virulent fits of coughing and his parents could only desperately watch their child’s suffering. Finally, one of their acquaintances (the former commander of the airport in Piešťany, Major Sojček, who was thrown out of the army after February 194828 and had to work as a bookkeeper in the national enterprise called Chemodroga. His apartment was then confiscated and he had to move to [an apartment consisting of] a kitchen and one room next to a horse stable. The health of the Sojček family suffered from the move, as did their furniture, which was completely destroyed after two months there. Major Sojček had a nervous breakdown and lay unconscious for two weeks. After his recovery he declared that if he had not had a son, he would not have hesitated a moment to poison himself and his wife.) advised the informant to go to Piešťany and ask the [current] commander of the airport if he could take his son on a plane and fly out with him. He took a day of vacation and went. At the airport, they looked at him like he was crazy—indeed, it is after all a military airport and not some children’s sanatorium—and they acted accordingly with him. The informant wanted to say something about the People’s Army, but since his child had whooping cough, he left without another word.29 Finally, the aforementioned Major Sojček recommended he take his son to an acquaintance who was a pediatrician in Nový Jičín. This man would supposedly surely help him. The informant took a vacation day and went. The doctor was not home. The doctor’s wife recommended he wait, because maybe it would be possible for the doctor to do something. They got into a discussion and “sized one another up.” Finally, she told him that her husband would be willing to help, but the informant would have to pay the costs. Towards evening, the doctor arrived. He immediately examined the boy and gave him some kind of medicine to alleviate the symptoms. The examination cost 250 Kčs, the X-ray 150 Kčs and the medicine 1,000 Kčs. The doctor further advised him to take the boy out into the mountains daily. And so the informant would have to carry the boy every day in his arms. But what wouldn’t a person do to save their child? The informant’s arms were numb, but the boy slowly got better. After fourteen days, the child was healthy enough that they could return. Now began the hunt for eggs, butter and milk so that the child would not get tuberculosis. Everything had to be bought on the black market.

All these circumstances left their marks on the informant’s nervous system. His composure and self-control were gone. In the workshop where he worked, he let every little thing provoke him and he exploded. The employees were afraid of him, because he could land them in jail with all of his swearing about the regime. In March 1953 they began to “ratchet up” the norms on the construction site. It was awful work. As a team leader, he had to check the measurements of everything, so he was returning home late at night as a matter of course. In the morning he was tired, he had to leave for the train at 4 a.m., so he himself effectively had no time for the family. His marriage went “downhill.” Sometimes he didn’t have time or was tired, next it was again his wife [who didn’t have time or was tired], and thus in the end he preferred to spend his time sitting around at the Hotel Javorina. At that time the only one concerned for him was his son, who came for him and wouldn’t budge from his side until he had paid up and gone home. Tired and without enough sleep, it was reflected in his behavior. He often abused anyone who came into his path, whether it was the president of the factory council, Mr. Beton (at the construction site for the bridge in Trenčín), or the quota-setter Mueller, who the informant once told he could kiss him you know where, even with his badge.

At the beginning of May 1953 the head of the construction site Engineer Pařízek came to him and warned him that “they are coming for you” so that he could look to “get lost.” In that moment he didn’t think about what would come next; he took his things and went directly to the state border.

“Believe me, I didn’t give a damn about anything. I was so wretched that it was my only means of redemption. Don’t suppose that I had thought about exile or escape over the border at all. I had always heard that the border was so well guarded it was impossible to cross and I had counted on that. In my mind’s eye, I saw the bullet and thought this way I would kill two birds with one stone. That was my mistake. Man proposes, but God disposes. Today I am here and I don’t know what good it did.”

With these words, the young man ended his story about his family tragedy, which began like a fairy tale and ended with thoughts of suicide. We can see from this case the extent to which communist poison has damaged the family, even the family of a man who never had anything to do with politics and even today doesn’t know what political parties exist in the CŠR. This shows the mendacity of communist propaganda when it declares that only “the reaction” is being liquidated. Or is the situation in the CŠR such that every happy husband is a reactionary?


Harry S. Truman, “Address at a Luncheon of the American Society of Newspaper Editors,” 20 April 1950, (accessed 22 June 2015). All quotations in this paragraph are from this source.


On the history of RFE, see A. Ross Johnson, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty: The CIA Years and Beyond (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010); Arch Puddington, Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2000); Sig Michelson, America’s Other Voice: The Story of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (New York: Praeger, 1983); Richard H. Cummings, Cold War Radio: The Dangerous History of American Broadcasting in Europe (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009); A. Ross Johnson and Eugene Parta, eds., Cold War Broadcasting: Impact on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (Budapest: CEU Press, 2010).


On RFE’s domestic fundraising campaigns, see Richard H. Cummings, Radio Free Europe’s “Crusade for Freedom”: Rallying Americans Behind Cold War Broadcasting, 1950–1960 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010). The station’s covert CIA funding was publicly revealed in the late 1960s; funding shifted to the US State Department in 1971. Johnson, Radio Free Europe, 202–221.


Johnson, Radio Free Europe, 17–22.


On the relationship between RFE and exiles, see Friederike Kind-Kovács, “Voices, Letters, and Literature through the Iron Curtain: Exiles and the (Trans)mission of Radio in the Cold War,” Cold War History 13, no. 2 (2013): 193–219.


Puddington, Broadcasting Freedom, 24–30.


For the period before 1956, these reports came out biweekly or monthly. Program planning reviews from 1951 to 1956 are in the Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford, CA (hereafter HIA), RFE corporate records collection (hereafter RFE-corporate), box 194.


RFE fact book (undated, probably 1951), HIA, Arch Puddington Collection, box 2, folder 8, 1. After the early years, RFE’s reporting practices were changed to conform to Western professional standards.


For examples of this attitude, see review of RFE production for 15 July–31 July 1953 and other reports in HIA, RFE-corporate, box 194. On cultivating objectivity as a form of propaganda, see Nicholas J. Schlosser, “Creating an ‘Atmosphere of Objectivity’: Radio in the American Sector, Objectivity and the United States’ Propaganda Campaign against the German Democratic Republic, 1945–1961,” German History 29, no. 4 (2011): 610–627.


Johnson, Radio Free Europe, 43.


István Rév, Retroactive Justice: Prehistory of Post-Communism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), 265–266.


For examples of the Audience Analysis Interviews from 1955, see Items in Open Society Archive, Budapest (hereafter OSA), fond 300–1-2 (Records of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute: General Records: Information Items), microfilm reel 49.


Many of the Items were later destroyed by RFE, ostensibly to protect the identities of the informants, even though their full names were never used in the reports. See Rév, Retroactive Justice, 255–256.


RFE Items were also shared with the BBC; see Items in BBC Written Archives Centre, Caversham Park, UK, E3/130, Overseas Audience Research, Eastern Europe, Romania, 1952–1954.


Rév, Retroactive Justice, 255–256.


Ibid. “‘Fabricated’ Information for RFE,” Item #3389/53, 30 March 1953, OSA, fond 300–1-2- microfilm reel 21.


“Lowering of Moral Standards in Poland,” Item #93/54, 10 January 1954, OSA, fond 300–1-2, reel 32.


Quite a few of RFE’s interviewees were men who abandoned their families to flee to the West. RFE never judged them for that. As another example, see “Everyday Life of the X Family,” Item #6303/53, 18 June 1953, OSA, fond 300–1-2, reel 25.


Melissa Feinberg, Elusive Equality: Gender, Citizenship and the Limits of Democracy in Czechoslovakia, 1918–1950 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006), 220.


As just one example, Eva Maříková, “Zvítězili na časem!” [They triumphed on time!], Vlasta 6, no. 52 (1952): 2.


On resistance to women’s entry into politics and the workforce in 1950s Czechoslovakia, see Denisa Nečasová, Buduj vlast—posílíš mír! Ženské hnutí v českých zemích 1945–1955 [Build the homeland—you will strengthen peace! The women’s movement in the Czech lands, 1945–1955] (Brno: Matice moravská, 2011). The same was true in other countries in the region. See, for example, Malgorzata Fidelis, Women, Communism, and Industrialization in Postwar Poland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Katherine Lebow, Unfinished Utopia: Nowa Huta, Stalinism, and Polish Society, 1949–56 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013), 97–123; Mark Pittaway, The Workers’ State: Industrial Labor and the Making of Socialist Hungary, 1944–1958 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), esp. 144–173; Donna Harsch, Revenge of the Domestic: Women, the Family, and Communism in the German Democratic Republic (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006).


The fascination Americans had with communist brainwashing is discussed in Susan Carruthers, Cold War Captives: Imprisonment, Escape and Brainwashing (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009). The term “brainwashing” dates from this period.


The specter of children being turned into communist believers in school was a common theme in RFE interview reports from this period. For example, “Parents and Children,” Item #03074/53, 25 March 1953, OSA, fond 300–1-2, reel 21; “Private Life of a Polish Prep School Boy,” Item #8118/53, 10 August 1953, OSA, fond 300–1-2, reel 27 or “Educational Problems of a Non-Communist Father,” Item #3132/52, 23 March 1953, OSA, fond 300–1-2, reel 21.


ČSR is the abbreviation for Československá republika [the Czechoslovak Republic].


The term “free market” was used to differentiate foods bought on the rationing system from foods that were not. In Czechoslovakia in the early 1950s, many staple foods, such as bread, sugar, and milk, were rationed (the precise items affected varied over time). Ration tickets were available to workers, but not to the unemployed or self-employed. Food on the rationing system was subsidized and cost less than food bought on the free market. After the 1953 currency reform, rationing was abolished and all food was moved onto the so-called free market. See Jiří Pernes, Krize komunistického režimu v Československu v 50. letech 20. století [The crisis of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s] (Brno: Centrum pro Studium Demokracie a Kultury, 2008), 50–52.


This town is in Slovakia, about 400 kilometers, or 250 miles, from Ústi nad Labem.


While the document was written in Czech, this term was in Slovak, since the family was living in Slovakia at the time.


The Communist Party came to power in Czechoslovakia in February 1948, leading to purges of many state institutions.


The implication is that the informant wanted to curse at the airport personnel, but did not because he would have been arrested and his son needed him.

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Contributor Notes

Melissa Feinberg is an associate professor of history at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, and a member of the Aspasia editorial team. She is the author of Elusive Equality: Gender, Citizenship and the Limits of Democracy in Czechoslovakia, 1918–1950 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006). She is currently finishing a book about fear and truth in Eastern Europe during the first years of the Cold War. Email:


The International Yearbook of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European Women's and Gender History