Bedacht (1883-1972) was a Communist activist and theoretician.
After an impoverished childhood and career as a journeyman
barber and trade union leader in Germany and Switzerland,
he immigrated to the United States in 1908 where he supported
himself as a barber and German language newspaper editor.
Bedacht became an early leader of the German Federation of
the Socialist Party in California, while continuing to edit
German language and labor newspapers in Detroit, San Francisco
and South Dakota.
From World War I onward, his sympathies were increasingly
with the left wing of the Socialist Party, and at the 1919
convention he joined the Communist Labor Party. Caught up
in the Palmer Raids in California and Chicago, he was arrested
and tried for conspiracy. He was convicted but never imprisoned
and was soon travelling to Europe and Russia as an international
delegate for the American Communist Party.
unpublished memoirs are part of the Tamiment Library collection
at New York University. The excerpts here, from a chapter
entitled "The Witness," take the form of a letter
to Bedacht's children (Whittaker Chambers' Witness
opens with a letter to his own children) and concern Chambers'
allegatons that Bedacht was connected to a Communist underground
"The Witness" saw the light of day, I learned from
reviews that the author had also woven me into his tale. Despite
that, I refrained from reading the book. The tales of Baron
Munchausen are only amusing as long as they are presented
as tales. But as court testimony against real human beings
they become much too serious to be amusing, yet they are much
too ridiculous to be taken seriously.
I am a lover of a knowledge of history. Since I have learned
to read I have read and studied history. Rather early in these
efforts I have also learned to dislike historic fiction. It
is worse than worthless as history. It is misleading.
after reading the product of this author, Whittaker Chambers,
I am more convinced than ever of the miserable effects of
historic fiction. But "dar-Not gehorchend nicht dem eignen
Triebe," I finally undertook the awful task of reading "The
Witness." I forced myself to undertake the ordeal after
some outrageous quotations out of the book were read to me
by an acquaintance, with a question about what I could say
about them. I found "The Witness" to be historic
fiction at its worst. It is hysteric rather than historic.
Since you, my dear children, may some day be asked what you
had to say about the lies of "The Witness" concerning
your father, I suppress my reluctance and tell you my side
of "the story."
course, some of Mr. Chambers' lies you, my children, could
easily detect yourselves. While you lived in your parents'
home, you met all of the guests who ever entered it. And you
know by your own knowledge that no Whittaker Chambers and
no Mr. Ulrich were ever among these guests.
of thin air Chambers imports to America the head of a non-existing
West European Secretariat of the Comintern. I, a member of
the leading committee of the American Communist Party, never
heard of the creature, and certainly never saw it. But Whittaker
Chambers makes its acquaintance and even gets chummy with
without moving an eyelid, makes people who admittedly committed
suicide and told the world so, victims of murder committed
by Communists. And the amazing thing about his story is that
though he learned of every crime committed by the Communists,
he, the chief undergrounder, always manages to keep lily-white
enough of that. Let me now get to the part of Chambers' story
dealing with Bedacht.
begins this part of his witnessing by claiming that one day,
I, Max Bedacht, had summoned him to my office by means of
a telephone call. For some reason which he does not explain,
he promptly obeyed my order. He came to the head of the International
Workers Order at his office, which, so Chambers claims, was
located in the headquarters of the Communist Party. This latter,
according to "The Witness," was located in the Workers'
Center. Chambers sets the time of this momentous event as
the summer of 1932.
this introductory description of our relations has some very
peculiar aspects. First, the Workers' Center was located on
Union Square near l7th Street, while the National Office of
the Party was located on 13th Street. Second, in 1932 I had
no office in the Party headquarters. Third, I was elected
to the position of General Secretary of the IWO only in the
summer 1933 and therefore could not have been the head of
that organization when the teller of tales claims to have
received a summons from that head.
author then proceeds to relate what did happen at our imagined
first meeting, the meeting which took place in a non-existing
office, and which was participated in by a non-existent leader
of the IWO.
"terrible little figure" told him, so "The Witness"
relates, that he, Chambers, had been selected for work in
the Underground. Unbeknownst to myself, I seem to have been
the head and the director of an underground apparatus of the
Communist Party. This apparatus was founded by our Gestapo
[the FBI] for the convenience of its perjurers, and as a means
for getting a fatter appropriation from Congress. This underground
was a spying and murdering ring, which was directed by a "terrible
little figure" by the name of Max Bedacht. And this terrible
figure, for some mysterious reasons, had selected Whittaker
Chambers as a fit and capable assistant. And how well chosen
Chambers was for this post is publicly testified to by a certain
Whittaker Chambers, who claims that after an undefined period,
he succeeded in replacing Bedacht and of becoming the head
of this work himself.
description of our original meeting by "The Witness"
is the foundation upon which Chambers eventually erected the
complete structure of his tale. I have been a member of the
Communist Party from the day of its birth to the day of my
expulsion. That makes almost twenty-nine years to today. During
all this period, I have been either a part of, or was closely
associated with, the top apparatus of the Party. Never in
these years did the Party have anything even faintly resembling
an underground apparatus. Even in the days of the illusions
about illegality in principle did the Party have any such
thing. Whatever there was of the Party was all of it, all
of its members and all of its leading committees and all of
is another little peculiarity in the Chambers story. He should
have explained it, but failed. In a list verbally given much
earlier by Chambers to Adolf Berle, Isaac Don Levine and their
anti-Communist brotherhood, he had named all comrades he wanted
to, and he hoped to be able to harm. But, peculiarly enough,
the name of Max Bedacht was missing in that list. How come?
Why did I, the very head of the criminal underground, not
rate a place on that black list, despite the impressive fact
that according to Chambers' own assertion in "The Witness,"
it was I who in 1932 had introduced him into "the crypt of
Communism he scarcely dreamed existed".
am quite certain I have the answer to that riddle. And it
is the only answer that fits. The whole story about Bedacht
was born out of Chambers' own phantasy. But it had been generated
by the desires of his paying boss - the Gestapo. I was expelled
from the Party in the fall of l948. The Gestapo then considered
me a possible recruit for Mr. J. E. Hoover's Augean stable
of trained perjurers. They set out to lasso me. The Congressional
inquisitors even provided a secret, closed meeting to give
me a chance to pour out my hoped for-poison of revenge against
my expellers. My past did not automatically promise good results
from a direct approach. Therefore my name was woven into Chambers'
fantastic testimony. Chambers lied to order. I became first
acquainted with some of Chambers' lies when I was cited before
Grand Juries in the end of l948 and in '49, and was interrogated
about a mysterious Mr. Ulrich. I had never heard that name
before. I was given a thousand and one chances to get even
with my expellers. But when I truthfully told the Congressional
political inquisition that these fictitious characters were
unknown to me, and that my expulsion from the Party did not
concern them and that it did not affect or change my principles
as a revolutionary fighter for the cause of the working class,
then the Gestapo learned that it had miscalculated. But I
was already in Chambers' story. And I had to remain in it
like the insects were compelled to remain in the amber in
which they had been caught in prehistoric days.
was never well acquainted with Mr. Chambers. I knew him only
by sight, as I knew many people. He never worked with me;
he never worked under and most certainly he never worked for
me, nor did I ever work for him.
other things Chambers tells his readers is that I had mistaken
him for having been the son of the famous novelist Robert
K. Chambers. He reports that when that novelist died, I did
congratulate him on the death of his father, presumably because
I expected Chambers to come into a fat inheritance. The author
of "The Witness" with his soft heart and his high
principles and morals judges the human reactions of other
people on the yardstick of his own. Thus he created his Bedacht
in his own image. He could see that homemade Bedacht dance
for joy at the death of a father, with his eyes on a fat inheritance
for the son, rather than sympathize with the sorrows of a
I never knew about the existence of the famous and well-to-do
Robert K. Chambers. Mr. Whitaker Chambers' "The Witness"
has given me the first inkling of it. This admission on my
part may testify to my ignorance. But it also should clear
me of the suspicion that I expected my friends to dance for
joy when they lost their parents, just because they might
inherit the fortunes they left behind.
also relates a visit of "The Witness" to my home.
Together with a mysterious character by the name of Ulrich,
Chambers visited the home of the "terrible little figure."
a number of pages earlier Chambers had revealed the secret
to his readers that Bedacht had eight children. He introduces
their existence in the form of a jingle which runs like this:
"There was an old man named Bedacht, who had der Kids to the
number of acht." There is a true story connected with "der
its truth is not massive enough to make Chambers' story truthful.
In the 'twenties of our century, the original Chambers ditty
was composed and peddled in the National Office of our Party
in Chicago. Then, it ran like this: "Max Bedacht, mit
der Kinder acht."
obviously tried to improve on this original. He arbitrarily
aged me and made me an old man. I am that now. But I was not
The original author of that ditty was Max Schachtman. This
original poet left the Party around 1927 to start his trek
toward the champ of petty bourgeois liberalism under the disguise
of a Communist label. Since that time the ditty had been forgotten
until Chambers dug it up and enlarged it. I wonder where he
had found it.
must have derived a good deal of pleasure from that jingle.
It fits wonderfully into his fables. Poets invent rhymes to
describe and to fit existing facts and sentiments. In Schachtman's
rhyme, sentiments and facts were invented to fit a rhyme.
And that is the general principle of all Chambers' writings,
rhymes and prose alike.
the best part of the story is yet to come. Chambers not only
wrote rhymes about my eight children, he even saw all of them.
When he and his phantom companion Ulrich came to my home in
Brooklyn, the eight children cluttered up the house and I,
the father; had to shoo the little ones into bed. Chambers
tells us this. Now, that was quite a feat, even for as lively
an imagination as evidently is Mr. Chambers.'
begin with, the "terrible little man" and his wife never had
but four children. And in 1933 the oldest of those four was
twenty, and the youngest fifteen. In 1934, the second of our
daughters married and set up a household in Manhattan. Our
oldest daughter then roomed with her sister and also lived
in Manhattan. Therefore, depending on the time of the Chambers-Ulrich
visit to Bedacht's home, there were either only grown and
mature people and no children there, at most only four, never
eight; or there were only two there, the youngest a boy of
sixteen and a daughter a year older. How Chambers could have
seen a swarm of children whom I had to shoo away is a deep
dark mystery. Of course, Chambers might have seen double.
To visit the "terrible little man's" house might have suggested
to Chambers that he first imbibe some extra courage. And the
result might well have been that he saw double.
this example, the readers of Chambers' "The Witness"
may judge the truthfulness of his whole tale.
to The Witnesses