The Foreign Service Journal, March 2024

22 MARCH 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL The Polish authorities when approached became exercised at the mere thought of evacuation. The minister of railroads told me that any concerted exit of Americans would produce a panic in Warsaw. … Were we not acting prematurely? Would we not withdraw our request for rolling stock? Under questioning he had to admit that with each day’s delay there would be fewer and fewer railway carriages available. At last I got a contingent promise of a special train to take the Americans to Danzig [today Gdansk], though the minister made it clear that no luggage or heavy effects could be transported. One freight car would be reserved for the chattels and records of the Legation, but that was the limit of what he could do. I spent a good part of the next day trying to rent some barges to float heavy luggage down the river. … Nothing could now be seen that was to save Warsaw from its doom. … Jack White [fellow member of the U.S. legation] called in the heads of the various American groups and told them in unmistakable terms that the time had come for the evacuation to begin. Two hundred places were reserved on the Danzig train the following night. But to our chagrin, many declined to go, selfishly declaring that they wished to be the last to leave. ... Meanwhile I went upstairs and started burning documents. For four hours on a summer day I stood before a huge open hearth, feeding papers to the flames, neither too fast nor too slowly, and breaking up the glowing ash with a heavy poker. Let no one who has not done as much belittle that fatigue. … Jack White and I reviewed our own situation. We had instructions from Washington not to risk capture by the Bolsheviks for fear we might be held as hostages. On the other hand, our mere presence in Warsaw after the others had left was an encouragement to the Poles, and we felt that American prestige would be enhanced by our remaining until the very last moment. But what was the very last moment? And how could we determine it? We finally decided to remain until the Poles blew up the two great bridges crossing the Vistula between Warsaw and its suburb Praga. … We tried to work, but it was a meaningless shuffling of papers. … It was not until after seven o’clock that we left the Legation. ... To our surprise the Great Square was roped off, but lined up within the cordon we could see row upon row of unarmed soldiers, standing sullen and sweating in the August heat. We looked again and sure enough, the uniform they wore was Bolshevik. … A thousand prisoners taken that morning in battle could mean only one thing—a sizable Polish success. … At the very moment when all seemed lost, there came a transformation in the Polish spirit, born of a realization that if Warsaw fell, there could be no survival for the Polish state, no future for the Polish race. Fired by an idea, the Poles gained an ascendancy in morale and this they retained through the remaining weeks of the war. 1931 Promoting American Trade in Bogotá Growing up on a ranch in Montana, Aldene Alice Barrington became a teacher in Puerto Rico and then joined the U.S. Commercial Attaché Office in Colombia in 1927. By 1931 she had risen to the rank of assistant trade commissioner, one of the earliest members of what became the Foreign Commercial Service. She tells of preparing Commerce Department reports, compiling information we now know as Country Commercial Guides, and assisting American companies in entering the market—all while quietly breaking professional barriers for women. In the beginning, I was somewhat unusual. American companies locating there would have loved to have found available English-speaking people to employ for clerical jobs in their offices. I was, more or less, office manager … and we had to do an awful lot of reporting. I started on my own—I was really pushed into it, because everyone was so very busy—reporting on different commodities and opportunities for trade and investments because that was primarily what the Department of Commerce wanted. I can remember getting that department pouch off, which was quite a task, every week. ... I remember one of the reports that I was pushed into writing was about doing business in … not Latin America, but the specific country. And you had to answer a lot of questions about their legal requirements and points of view and what the American company had to do in order to establish itself, pointing out the difficulties I realized that, sometimes, with my credentials, I could get into places that women had not been in. I was never refused at all, although maybe some eyebrows were raised. —Aldene Alice Barrington