The Crimes of Alger Hiss
William A. Reuben
A. Reuben covered the Hiss appeals and the motion for a new
trial in the 1950s. A former national publicity director of
the American Civil Liberties Union, Mr. Reuben is the author
of "The Atom Spy Hoax", "The Honorable Mr.
Nixon," and "The Mark Fein Case." In studying
the Hiss case, his travels have taken him from New York to
California to Washington to Moscow, and he has benefited from
having obtained thousands of government documents obtained
as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit he initiated
in 1975. His forthcoming book challenges not only the allegations
made against Hiss by his sole accuser, Whittaker Chambers,
but also the basic story that Chambers told about himself.
The following chapter focuses on the revelations borne out
of the interrogation of Whittaker Chambers during the libel
suit depositions in 1948.
"For, you see, after six years, my
side still does not really know what this [the Hiss case]
is all about. . . ."
Whittaker Chambers to William F. Buckley, Jr.
November 28, 1954
have long feared (have sometimes cautioned) that you suppose
me to be something which I really am not."
Whittaker Chambers to William F. Buckley, Jr.,
response to Hiss's challenge at their confrontation on August
17 ("make those same statements out of the presence of
this Committee without their being privileged for suit to
libel"), Chambers abandoned the immunity of Congressional
testimony. On August 27 he appeared on "Meet the Press,"
a radio program broadcast over the Mutual Broadcasting System,
which was presided over by American Mercury editor Lawrence
Spivak, with whom Chambers had been friendly for several years.
These are the key passages of that broadcast:
MR. REYNOLDS (Tom Reynolds of the Chicago Sun
Times): Are you prepared at this time to say that Alger
Hiss was anything more than, in your opinion, a Communist?
Did he do anything wrong? Did he commit any overt act? Had
he been disloyal to his country? . . .
Are you willing to put on the record, so that it
can be tested in courts under the laws of evidence, that this
man did something wrong?
MR. CHAMBERS: I think that what needs clarification
is the purpose for which that group was set up to which Mr.
Hiss belonged. That was a group, not, as I think is in the
back of your mind, for the purpose of espionage, but for the
purpose of infiltrating the government and influencing policy
by getting Communists in key places.
MR. FINNEY (Nat Finney of Cowles Publications):
It was not, then, by definition, conspiracy?
MR. CHAMBERS: No, it was not . . . They certainly
were not doing anything directly for the Russians.
MR. SPIVAK: You didn't place them there necessarily
for spying, but rather to influence policy.
MR. CHAMBERS: That is true . . .
MR. REYNOLDS: I was in Washington at the time that
the Soviet Union was recognized by the United States. Liberalism,
so-called, was the fashion and the fad.
Oliver Wendell Holmes was the god of such young
people as Mr. Alger Hiss. Mr. Alger Hiss was a leftist in
the Holmes pattern. Did he have to go to the left to be guilty
of whatever you are accusing him of, which I am not quite
MR. CHAMBERS: I am accusing him of membership in
the Communist Party. I am not even accusing him of that. I
am simply saying that he was a member of the Party.
filed a lawsuit for libel a month later, on September 25,
in federal district court in Baltimore, Maryland, asking for
damages of $50,000. Upon being served with the legal papers
at his home in Westminster, Chambers was quoted in the press
as having said he was not surprised at the "ferocity"
of the "forces" that were "working through"
Hiss. These statements caused Hiss to raise the demand to
$75,000. As a defendant, Chambers took a serious view of his
situation. He wrote in Witness, "The sum of $75,000 [was]
fantastic as compared with any ability I had to pay it."
Inc., under the command of Henry R. Luce, took over Chambers's
defense. Time, Inc. provided counsel for Chambers, paid for
investigators and, from the time of Hiss's filing of the suit
for libel and extending over a six-month period, bore all
other costs of Chambers's defense.
spent the better part of six weeks, he revealed in Witness,
meeting with his attorneys every day in preparation for the
trial. The testimony he gave when he was first subject to
serious questioning, therefore, was not off-the-cuff - even
though, despite such exhaustive preparation, as we shall see,
his replies to Marbury's questions were incredibly vague,
inconsistent, and at times even incoherent. On November 4,
1948, Chambers testified in a pretrial deposition in the law
offices of the Baltimore firm, Marbury, Miller and Evans.
The defendant was accompanied by his lawyers, Richard F. Cleveland
and William MacMillan, Sr., and Harold Medina, Jr., who had
been retained by Time, Inc. Present on behalf of the plaintiff
were attorney William L. Marbury, a friend of Hiss's since
childhood, and Marbury's law partner Charles C. G. Evans;
and Harold Rosenwald, who had been a classmate of Hiss's at
Harvard Law School, representing the New York firm Debevoise,
Plimpton and McLean. Marbury examined Chambers and his wife,
Esther, over four days, on November 4, 5, 16, and 17, and
his questioning was intended to find out, and make part of
a record, everything he possibly could about the life and
family background of his client's accuser.
Marbury began his questions on November 4 to develop evidence
about Chambers's Communist functions. In two full days of testimony
Chambers was unable to provide a scrap of documentary evidence
to support his claim that he had for some thirteen years been
a paid functionary of the Communist Party. He could not even
prove he had been a member of the Communist Party.
the beginning of his examination, just after Chambers testified
that he had joined the Communist Party "in the spring
or early part of 1924," Marbury asked Chambers if he
would produce any written record reflecting the date of his
joining the Communist Party, the name under which he joined,
and the branch to which he was assigned. Chambers replied
that he "presumed" such information "would
have been included in some written record." However,
he added, this was not available since such records were maintained
"in a secret file in Moscow, or in Russia someplace."
"What about a Communist Party card?" Marbury then
asked. "That I do not have," Chambers replied. "You
do not have that?" Marbury asked again. "No,"
proceedings on November 4 were terminated with a request to
Chambers by William Marbury "to produce tomorrow"
any documentation, or anything at all he had in writing, relating
to his testimony, and also to produce "anything of that
sort" he had ever received "from any member of the
second day of Chambers's pretrial deposition, on November
5, began with this exchange:
Q. Yesterday, at the close of the hearing, I asked
you if you would produce any papers or notes or correspondence
. . . Have you got any such papers with you, Mr. Chambers?
A. No, I do not.
Marbury's requests, in two days of questioning Chambers was
not only able to produce nothing, papers or "anything"
else he had ever received from the man he characterized in
his HUAC testimony as the best friend he ever had had in the
Communist Party or any member of the family, but he was also
unable to produce any documentation to show that he himself
had ever been a card-carrying Party member.
attorneys had managed to collect a great deal of factual information
about Hiss's accuser's life that had not been brought to public
attention by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
Investigators hired by Hiss's attorneys spent September, October,
and November 1948, in Lynbrook, Long Island, New York City,
Washington, Baltimore, and Westminster, Maryland, interviewing
Chambers's past and present neighbors, classmates, employers,
publishers, and associates. The investigators and Chambers
himself in his deposition did produce some verifiable evidence
of his activities outside the Communist Party.
August before the Committee, Chambers testified that he had
quit Columbia University in 1924 to plunge into full-time
paid activities in the Communist movement. He testified that
from the time he left college until he went to work at Time
in 1939, he had had only one employer: the Communist Party.
On November 4, however, Marbury elicited the information that
Chambers was first employed as a fifteen-dollar-a-week clerk
in the Newspaper Division of the New York Public Library.
how long he worked at the library, Chambers replied that he
"was there about a year or a year and a half," until
sometime "in the fall of 1924"; this was, he added,
"perhaps six months" after he had joined the Communist
Party. Marbury asked what the occasion was for his leaving
the library. "My locker was forced open in my absence,"
Chambers replied, "and in it were found a number of Communist
hand-bills, and I believe also evidence that there was a Communist
cell working in the library."
recollection was shown to be false by New York Public Library
employment records obtained by Hiss's investigators. These
records established that Chambers had worked as a clerk at
the Forty-second Street branch of the New York Public Library
for three and one-half years, from September 1923 until April
1927, and that he was fired, not because of any Communist
Party activities, but because he had stolen sixty-three library
Marbury's next series of questions brought about the disclosure
of other employment that had gone unmentioned during Chambers's
six appearances before Nixon and his fellow investigators.
Q. Well, now, following your leaving the library,
what did you do?
A. I think I next got a job in a second-hand book
store on Fourth Avenue.
Q. Do you remember the name of the proprietor?
A. Morris Zukofsky.
And what were you doing there?
A. Selling books.
Q. Now, you worked there as a clerk in the book
store as a salesman. How long did you work at that occupation?
A. Perhaps for . . . six months or a year.
professed to remember nothing else about this second job except
that the bookstore was located at Thirteenth Street and Fourth
Avenue in Manhattan.
response to Marbury's inquiry as to whether he had been active
as a Communist Party member during this period, Chambers replied:
Yes, in the small ways novice Communists operate.
I made newsstand collections, that is, I went around to the
newsstands in New York and various sections of the city and
picked up unsold copies of the Daily Worker and brought them
back to the national office, or, rather, to the Daily Worker
office - simple chores of that kind.
next series of questions established that Chambers's activities
as a "Party novice" continued through his employment
at the New York Public Library and at the Fourth Avenue bookstore.
described his younger brother Richard's suicide as a major
trauma in his life. He said it immobilized him for "several
months," and only after he snapped out of his depressed
state did he throw himself actively into Communist Party work.
He pinpointed the beginning of his career as a full-time active
Communist in the following exchange:
Q. Now, you say that after the period of several
months following your brother's death, that you decided the
best way to snap out of it, so to speak, was to throw yourself
actively in the work of the Party. Now, will you tell us what
A. Yes, I went to the Daily Worker and began to
write for it.
Q. You mean as an employee, or just voluntarily?
A. I believe first voluntarily, and then later I
was taken on the staff.
After testifying that he ultimately became the "editor
of the Daily Worker," Chambers revealed that he quit
the Party and the paper in 1929.
Q. Well, now, what did that mean?
A. I got on the bus and went to Chicago and visited
a friend who had just been expelled from the Communist Party.
. . .
Q. Well, now, while you were in Chicago, what was
the purpose of the visit?
A. Well, it was in large measure to separate myself
from the Communist Party. . . . but out of a desire to be
apart and think a little, and to talk to a comrade who had
been expelled and see what his views were, and a man whose
view I respected, at least at that time, and I also met other
Lovestonites out there who had been expelled. . . . I decided
to remain out of the Party.
months before he was questioned by Hiss's attorney, Chambers
had testified before HUAC that he had been a "paid functionary"
of the Communist Party for thirteen years and because of that
experience he was "one of the few" persons in the
Western world qualified to speak as an expert on the subject
of communism-a claim that helped garner front-page banner
headlines across the land. A sizable gap in those thirteen
years now appeared:
Q. You had in fact left the Party at that time .
. . in 1929?
A. That is right.
Q. You had diverted, I take it, from the Party
A. It is not only that, but I was working with
the oppositionists, which is also a sin in the eyes of the
Q. In other words, you were definitely on the outside
in that period.
A. That is right.
went on to testify that for the next three years, from 1929
to 1932, he was not only outside Communist Party ranks, but
looked upon by members as "an enemy of the Communist
the three years that he was "out of the fold," Chambers's
roommate and best friend was Michael Intrator, who had been
expelled from the Party as a Lovestone supporter. For the
entire period, Chambers said, his only associates were "people
who had been expelled from the Party." He was definitely
"not in good standing." Although he said he was
not quite in the category of "what is termed a diversionist
wrecker," in the eyes of the Party comrades, he was "in
Baltimore deposition makes clear that the first eight years
of his claimed paid employment as a full-time functionary
of the open (i.e., non-underground) Communist Party added
up to something considerably less than the tally he had given
under oath before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
were other contradictions. In the August version of Chambers's
Communist past that Nixon asserted had been established to
be "without a flaw," Chambers testified that after
quitting the Party in 1937 and joining Time two years later,
he "translated a book." Asked by Nixon whether he
had ever done any translations other than that one, Chambers
replied, "I do not recall any others." In providing
a chronology of his life under William Marbury's questioning
in November, however, Chambers engaged in the following exchange
about the period before his split with the Party in 1929:
A. . . . I believe my nominal salary [from the
Communist Party] was something like $10 a week, which very
often I did not get. More often than not I think.
Q. . . . Now, what did you live on, and where did
A. Well, I suppose it is scarcely credible, but
I lived on the $10 among other things . . . And I also did
some translating during that period.
Q. That was just the only other source of income,
except the occasional $10 in the Communist Party, was the
translations, is that correct?
A. I think so. I don't recall any other major source
for details, Chambers maintained that, up until 1929, his
only other income was $250 he received from Simon & Schuster
for translating Bambi. This exchange came next:
Q. Now, what other translating did you do, can you remember?
I don't know that I did any more translations until after
I broke with the Communist Party [in 1929].
. . . Well, now, in other words, you think that prior to
1929 your only translation was Bambi? . . . Did you publish
any other translations during this period?
No, I don't think that I did.
further questioning, Chambers disclosed that prior to the
time he claimed to have gone "underground" in 1932,
he had written and published a considerable amount of poetry
and fiction, and translated some "faintly erotic"
poems and stories for a twice-convicted publisher of pornography
named Samuel Roth. He remembered none of these works except
Aphrodite, but maintained that none of the translations he
had done for Roth was "extravagantly pornographic."
of this work-Chamber's employment as a library clerk, as a
sales clerk in a bookstore, as a poet, a fiction writer, and
as a translator-had been mentioned in his testimony before
the Committee. He was able to offer no record to substantiate
his claimed employment at the Daily Worker.
None of Chambers's verifiable activities had any connection
whatsoever with the Communist Party.
self-portrait drawn in the thousand pages of testimony before
the Committee was that of an American Bolshevik, a man so
wholly committed to the Communist revolution as to make his
life as fraught with the threat of death as that of a front-line
soldier. Before HUAC on August 3, Chambers testified that
by virtue of having been a paid functionary of the Communist
Party for thirteen years he was "one of the few"
persons in the Western world who had any real knowledge of
communism. No questions by Nixon or his colleagues jarred
days of questioning by Hiss's lawyer brought forth a different
picture, in which the only life-threatening danger was to
be found in the realm of Chambers's imagination, stimulated
by books, poems, and works of fiction.
questioned Chambers about his early life. Chambers testified
that he went through his first twenty years with the given
name Vivian. But thereafter, as Hiss's investigators had turned
up, he used some seventeen other names. The name on Chambers's
birth certificate was Jay Vivian Chambers. He was registered
in elementary school as Vivian Chambers, in high school as
Vivien Chambers, and in college as Whittaker Chambers. (Whittaker
was his mother's maiden name.) In the fifteen months between
high school and college he held two jobs, as Charles Adams
and Charles Whittaker. He was known to friends in Lynbrook
as Charley Chambers, to his family as Beadle. He lived in
Staten Island as David Breen, in Baltimore as Lloyd Cantwell.
He dealt with publishers as David Chambers and, beginning
in October 1937, worked for the U.S. government on a WPA project
in Washington as Jay Chambers. He published poems and short
stories under the names John Grass, Malvern Hill, John Kelly,
Julian Fechtner, and George Crosley.
reading a class prophecy at his high school graduation ceremony
predicting that a classmate, the daughter of a Rockville Centre
banker, would wind up as a prostitute, he created a scandal
of such proportions that he was not allowed to graduate with
the rest of his class. He ran away
from home and as a teenager wandered around the country for
two or three months, working briefly as a day laborer on the
nation's capitol and idling for weeks in New Orleans' red-light
district before calling his family for funds to come home.
entered Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, in
August 1920 and, after spending three or four days buying
furniture with his roommate, Karl Helfrich, he declared he
had received inspiration from the scriptures and abruptly,
at midnight, left Williamstown and returned home. He got into
trouble, causing a postal authorities' investigation to see
if his actions were in violation of federal law, by addressing
a letter to a fictitious person, asking Helfrich to open the
envelope, readdress the letter, and mail it back to Chambers
in New York - an episode that would later be developed at
trial and cause psychiatrists to question whether Chambers
was able to distinguish between reality and fantasy.
entered Columbia University and was requested to leave after
two years, having caused a scandal of such dimensions as to
land on the front pages of four New York City newspapers by
publishing in Morningside, the college literary magazine,
a blasphemous playlet depicting Jesus Christ as a homosexual.
He spent the next year, his twenty-second, doing nothing.
He then announced he was going to be a poet, made a trip to
Europe, visiting France and Germany, to soak up culture, and
abandoned that career in a matter of months. He landed a fifteen-dollar-a-week
job at the New York Public Library, as mentioned above, until
he was fired for stealing library books. He talked his way
back into Columbia by convincing the dean that he had decided
to become a teacher of history, and then, after three months,
dropped out for the second time. His transcript was endorsed:
"This man should not be allowed to register in any school
of this university under any name." The reason listed
for this banishment: "For stealing books."
Marbury's questions Chambers testified that his younger brother,
Richard, committed suicide at twenty-one. His father, Jay
Chambers, lived apart from the family for most of Chambers's
adolescent years. Chambers lived at home with his mother,
Laha Whittaker Chambers, during the 1920s and 1930s, even
after he himself had married and had become a father of two
children. Chambers's mother, Laha, was, in Chambers's words,
"a Black Republican."
The fourth member of the family home on Earle Avenue in Lynbrook,
Long Island, was his maternal grandmother, Mary Whittaker,
whom Chambers described as "mentally unsound." She
lived with the family for ten years, until 1929, when, said
Chambers, she was sent away to "an institution of some
said under oath that he graduated from high school "in
1918," though his high school record, on file at South
Side High School, Rockville Centre, Long Island, gives the
date of his graduation as June 1919.
In his deposition testimony Chambers told Marbury that he
quit Columbia the first time "in the spring of 1921,"
before completing his sophomore year. His Columbia transcript
revealed that he actually left in the spring of 1922 and was
compelled to withdraw near the end of his junior year. He
said he went to Europe "the summer of 1921," but,
according to his passport, it was actually the summer of 1923.
He said he returned to the United States from Europe "in
September of 1922," though his passport says it was actually
September 1923. He said he was employed at the New York Public
Library for "about a year or a year and a half,"
and was fired "in 1924" because "Communist
hand-bills" were found in his locker. Library records
say he was actually employed at the library for three and
a half years, from September 1923 to April 1927, and was fired
for stealing books. He said he worked at the Zukofsky bookstore
in 1924 and 1925, but in fact he worked at two Zukofsky bookstores,
in 1927 and 1928. He said his
brother, Richard, committed suicide at age twenty-one "in
1925," but Richard's death certificate says he ended
his life in September 1926, two weeks before his twenty-third
birthday. Chambers said that in
1925, he "went to the Daily Worker and began to
write for it," and that this activity was commenced "several
months following [his] brother's death." This statement
was clearly not true, because of the conflict in dates. The
Daily Worker, furthermore, was founded in 1924 and
was published, edited, and manufactured in Chicago, Illinois,
until its operation was transferred to New York City at the
end of January 1927. Chambers
said that his father died of "a heart attack in 1927."
In fact, according to his death certificate, Jay Chambers
died of hepatitis on October 27, 1929.
Chambers said his mother was a housewife who never worked.
New York City personnel records show she was employed from
1921 to 1941, by the City of New York, as a detective in a
Richard Nixon's questioning before the Committee in August,
Chambers testified that from 1924 to 1937, when he was a member
of the Communist Party, he had translated only one book. Hiss's
investigators discovered that Chambers's name appeared as
translator (from the German and French) on eighteen books,
sixteen of them between 1928 and 1937: "Bambi" by
Felix Salten (1928); "Mother Mary" by Heinrich Mann
(1928); "Aphrodite" by Pierre Louys (1928); "Class
Reunion" by Franz Werfel (1929); "The Sentimental
Vagabond" by A. T'Serstevens (1930); "The Passionate
Rebel" by Kasimir Edschmid (1930); "Fifteen Rabbits"
by Felix Salten (1930); "Thistles of the Barragon"
by Panait Istrati (1930); "Adventures of Mario"
by Waldemar Bonsels (1930); "Collected Works of Pierre
Louys" (1930); "The Venetian Lover" by A. De
Nora (1931); "Samson and Delilah" by Felix Salten
(1931); "Mugel the Giant" by Paul Gartner (1931);
"The Scorpion" by Anna Weirauch (1932); and "The
City Jungle" by Felix Salten (1932). He was listed as
translator of two books after the date he said he quit the
Party: "Dunant: The Story of the Red Cross" by Martin
Gumpert (1938); and "The Great Crusade" by Gustav
Regler (1940), a book about the Spanish Civil War which, in
his HUAC testimony, he said he translated while he was in
the Party. Under William Marbury's questioning, Chambers testified
that, prior to leaving the Party in 1929, he had translated
only one book. In fact he translated four books before the
end of 1929: "Bambi," "Mother Mary," "Aphrodite,"
and "Class Reunion."
Chambers's first translation, "Bambi," was a Book-of-the-Month
Club Selection. Six of his translations were published by
Simon & Schuster, and most were reviewed in major newspapers
and magazines. The Times Literary Supplement's reviewer
of Chambers's translation of "Bambi" commented that
the translator "was untrustworthy" and [he] "has
not troubled to be accurate about his details."
answers under examination had a gossamer quality. About his
marriage he said: "Most of the time that I was out [of
the Communist Party], for the three years that I was missing,
I was either married to my present wife, or thinking of marrying
her, and we were married in 1930, which will give you one
landmark to go by." Whittaker Chambers and Esther Shemitz,
according to their marriage certificate on file at the city's
Department of Records, were married in New York City on April
landmark that Chambers offered turned out to be even more
elusive. Chambers gave a poignant description of how he remembered
joining the Communist Party:
Q. Now, can you date the time of your leaving [Columbia]?
I can date it most clearly by giving you the date of my
joining the Communist Party, because my decision to leave
Columbia was the same decision as to join the Communist
What was that date?
I joined the Communist Party in the Spring or early part
Yes. And I remember very distinctly sitting on a bench in
front of the dormitories and making up my mind that that
kind of life was bankrupt, and that I must seek another
solution, and that solution was the Communist Party.
. . . Now, you had then left Columbia approximately at the
same time that you joined the Party?
That is right.
turned out that Chambers was not at Columbia in the early
part of 1924. His college transcript, obtained by Hiss's lawyers,
showed that he was not at Columbia from the spring of 1922
until he matriculated for the second time in September 1924.
Although at the second Hiss trial, Chambers gave a still different
date for joining the Communist Party, saying it was in 1925,
the fact is that, either way, he was untruthful in testifying
that he "left Columbia approximately at the same time
that [he] joined the Party."
were many inconsistencies and contradictions in Chambers's
accounts of his Communist past between his testimony before
HUAC and his testimony in the libel action. He nevertheless
always maintained that his career as a paid functionary of
the Communist Party was restricted to his work on the Daily
Worker, on the New Masses, and in the Party "underground."
At the Committee hearings Chambers had given this answer when
asked what positions he had held in the Communist Party: "I
was at one time a writer on the Daily Worker, later
foreign news editor of the Daily Worker, editor of
New Masses, and a functionary in the underground .
the version of his Communist past in his deposition, Chambers
said he left the Daily Worker and the Party in 1929
and remained out of the Party for three years until 1932,
when he rejoined the Party and became editor of the New
the Un-American Activities Committee, Chambers testified that
from June 1932 until the end of 1937, he had been assigned
to the Party's underground, an apparatus so hush-hush that
even many card-holding CP members did not know of its existence.
Marbury, Chambers testified that he returned to the Communist
Party fold to become the editor of New Masses, and
that after "two months" in that post he was ordered
underground. Asked to describe
the circumstances of going underground, Chambers offered a
literal response: he said he went into the BMT subway station
at Fourteenth Street and met a man named "Arthur,"
who then accompanied him to Grant's Tomb, where the two of
them had a rendevous with "a Russian named Herbert."
his first two years in the underground Chambers said he worked
in New York - an assignment that had gone unmentioned in his
Committee testimony. Chambers's descriptions of his fellow
workers in the New York underground were meaningless. His
first associate in the underground, said Chambers, was a man
named "Arthur" - not otherwise described or identified.
Next there was "a Russian - Herbert"; he was succeeded
by "Ulrich - also a Russian"; his place in turn
was taken by "a man called Charlie"; then came "Bill
- a Russian or European of some kind"; then there was
"Henry"; and, finally before meeting Alger Hiss,
Chambers said he had been associated in the underground with
someone name "Herman or Oscar - a Russian who spoke German."
No other identifications or descriptions of any of his underground
associates were forthcoming.
asked what Chambers had done in this first underground assignment,
which Chambers said spanned a two-year period, from 1932 to
A. Very little that I can recall. . . . There were occasional
days I think I did not do anything at all.
Well, what did you do, just sit around the house?
Stayed home, or would go into the city and go to a movie.
. . .
Marbury's questioning, Chambers described the Communist Party
"apparatus" he said he worked with in the Washington,
D.C., area, beginning in "the early spring" of 1934,
in these words:
There was a leading group of about seven people,
men, and probably the majority of these people were the heads
of cells. Most of the people involved, both in the leading
group, and in cells, were workers in the government.
own participation in this apparatus, Chambers went on to say,
was arranged in New York City when J. Peters introduced him
to Harold Ware. On August 3, Chambers had testified before
the Committee that he never met Ware. Now he said that a CP
apparatus had been previously set up in Washington by Peters
and Ware. His mission was to go to Washington and "look
over the possibility of setting up a parallel apparatus."
In Washington in the spring of 1934, Ware introduced him to
other members of the apparatus. Chambers said the others knew
him only as Carl and knew nothing about him except "that
he was a man who could be trusted." Chambers gave few
Q. You were just introduced, "This is Carl, he is
the contact with Peters in New York." They knew Peters,
Yes, Peters had been there apparently, and was, of course,
there at other times when I was there.
They knew him as Peters?
As Peters, Peter or Peters.
. . . Well, can you date it any closer than saying it was
in the spring of 1934?
No, I would hesitate to do that. It is difficult to be absolutely
accurate on that.
description of his own function in the Washington underground,
lacking in specific detail, was vague, dreamlike:
What I had to do was look over the possibilities
for taking people out of the apparatus that existed and perhaps
drawing other people in, if they could be suitable for the
purpose. . . . The reason for organizing a parallel apparatus
at that time was that there seemed to be a possibility of
placing certain people in the old apparatus insofar as any
restrictions which better suited the purposes of the Communist
August Hiss had testified before HUAC that he met Chambers
in his own office of the Senate's Nye Committee, when Chambers
walked in and introduced himself as a freelance writer named
George Crosley interested in doing some articles on the munitions
investigations. After Hiss gave this testimony, Nixon met
with Chambers in secret many times during the month of August.
In his Committee testimony Chambers said his first meeting
with Hiss had been arranged by J. Peters. Now, under questioning
by Marbury in Baltimore, Chambers was uncertain as to how,
when, where, and under what circumstances he had met Hiss,
except that it was in the presence of the late Harold Ware,
whom Chambers had told the Committee he had never met.
Q. When did you first meet Mr. Hiss?
I would think in the end of '34, or sometime in '35.
In other words, you had been in Washington some 6 months
before you met him?
No. If I had been in Washington six months, I had met him
earlier than that. I met him probably very shortly after
I met Henry Collins.
Now, you said yesterday that your first visit to Washington
you thought was paid around June, or in fact in the spring.
That is possible.
In the spring of '34, and that you met Henry Collins on
the second day, the day after you got there. Now, did you
meet Mr. Hiss as far back as the spring of '34?
I would think I met Mr. Hiss at least a week or two after
I met Henry Collins.
Well, are you prepared to say now that you did meet him
in the spring of '34?
I would have to say that that is what I recall.
Well, now, where did you meet him?
Apparently in a restaurant of some kind.
Why do you say apparently?
Because my recollection is not very clear about it.
Well, then, you don't remember how you met him, and your
guess is that you usually met people in the restaurant.
Is that what you mean to say?
No, I recall that Harold Ware and Peters were present, and
I have some kind of memory of a restaurant.
Harold Ware was present?
Baltimore version was equally imprecise as to the purpose
of the meeting:
Q. Now, what was the gist of the conversation on that occasion?
The gist of the conversation was, or the purpose of the
meeting was to introduce me, and the gist of the conversation
was that we wanted to begin to separate Mr. Hiss from his
. . . What was the function of that group?
The function of that group, I presume-I took part in very
little of its affairs-was to consider their general work
in Washington, the organization of the cells and certain
policy matters with respect to work in the government.
. . . Now, did I understand you to say just now that you
were not particularly familiar with the activities of the
Well, now, what did you learn about them when you were introduced
to them, what were you told?
What I was told about them?
That this was a group of communists, most of them government
workers, who were involved in certain party activities in
And this is the extent of your knowledge?
That is the gist of it.
response to Marbury's further questions, Chambers went on
to supply this explanation of his own role:
One of my functions had been to set up a parallel
apparatus. . . . The theory of the parallel apparatus is that
the apparatuses co-exist in the same area, and the members
are supposed to completely separate from one another, and
if possible not to know of one another, or of another existence.
parallel apparatus which he was assigned to set up, Chambers
added, had for its purpose the withdrawal from the original
group of "those people whom we thought had the best possible
ability of advancing in the government," and forming
with them a separate group. Marbury was unable to elicit from
Chambers a straight assertion as to how long it took to start
this new organization. Chambers was unable to say whether
it began immediately after the first meeting, or whether it
was a matter of days, weeks, or months. He said only that
"it was some time" before Hiss was transferred from
one party apparatus to another.
August 25, in his televised face-to-face confrontation with
Hiss before HUAC, Chambers had testified, "Mr. Hiss was
certainly the closest friend I ever had in the Communist Party."
Marbury now asked Chambers:
Q. Well, now, in the meantime, what did he [Hiss] do?
What did he do?
Yes, I mean in relation to party activities, I mean to your
In relation to party activities? . . . I don't know as he
had any particular activities.
. . . You don't know that he did anything at all?
I am not certainly sure of just what his activities were
at that period.
Marbury pressed on, seeking to ascertain Hiss's role in the
Communist Party underground:
Q. Now, in other words, can you explain to us exactly what
Mr. Hiss was supposed to do after he had separated [from
the Communist Party and joined the underground]?
Yes, he was supposed to keep himself as far removed from
any Communist activities or suspicion of communism as possible,
and advance as far in the government as possible.
Q. Is that all he was supposed to do?
That was his principal function.
Now, I understood you to say his principal function. Now,
what other function did he have?
Well, it was hoped that when he arrived at certain positions,
he would be able to influence policy.
That was the future, was that it?
Yes, it was. This is the beginning of the group.
Well, was that a complete statement of his assignment?
A. At that time, yes.
A complete statement. In other words, he was to behave himself
like a man who is not a Communist, but to try to get ahead
in the government, and separate himself from the other Communists
- in other words, he was to behave exactly like a man who
was not a Communist?
Yes, of course.
his testimony before the Committee on August 16, Hiss stated
that he knew the man to whom he sublet his apartment on 28th
Street in 1935 as George Crosley. Chambers denied under Richard
Nixon's questioning that he ever used any such name. But when
Marbury turned to the name Chambers had used when he first
knew Alger Hiss, this is what followed:
Q. Now, in that six or eight week period you stayed in
the [Hiss] 28th Street apartment, what name did you use?
I have no recollection. . . . As you know, Mr. Hiss said
I used the name Crosley. I don't recall it, but I dare say
it is not beyond possibility. . . . I know I must have had
a name, but what the name was I still don't recall.
four weeks in August, during his first five appearances before
the Committee, Chambers consistently testified that he broke
with the Communist Party "in 1937" and that during
all of 1938 he was in hiding. But then, on August 30, he first
shifted the date of his "break" with the Communist
Party into early 1938. Chambers said he had taken a government
job in Washington in the fall of 1937, and had continued in
it until January 31, 1938. Then
came this exchange:
MR. NIXON: After you left the job, what happened then?
Did you leave the party immediately?
CHAMBERS: I think there may have been two or three weeks
in between. I have no longer a recollection, but I left
very shortly thereafter.
NIXON: In other words, you severed your relationship with
the party completely a few weeks afterward?
CHAMBERS: I disappeared.
NIXON: Completely disappeared?
CHAMBERS: Yes, sir.
testimony would seem to fix Chambers's break with the Communist
Party "two or three weeks" after he left this government
job, which would put it, and the date he went in hiding, at
about the second or third week of February 1938.
his first day of Baltimore deposition, November 4, testifying
to the circumstances under which he said he left the Communist
Party, Chambers was explicit in describing where and when
he lived in Baltimore at the time of his break from the Party.
William Marbury got Chambers to confirm what the Hiss investigators
had established: that Chambers and his family lived on Auchentoroly
Terrace until some time in October 1937; that they next moved
to a house at Mt. Royal Terrace; that they next moved to Old
Court Road; and that on July 1, 1938, under the names David
and Esther Chambers, they purchased a house at 2616 St. Paul
Street for $2,650, making a down payment of $500. As Marbury
attempted to trace Chambers's movements during the period
when (according to his Committee testimony) he was in hiding,
this exchange followed:
Q. Now, how long did you stay at Mt. Royal Terrace?
I should think we stayed there until February or March of
February or March of '38. And what then?
Then we moved to the Old Court Road.
. . . And you think that you moved there in - when was this?
I should think February or March '38. . . .
Well, now, let us get back to your leaving the Communist
Party. You said that in 19- . . .
Whatever the day was that I left the house on Mt. Royal
The same day you left the Party?
That was the day that I had broken with the Party.
How did you break with the Party?
By separating myself completely from them.
How did you separate yourself completely?
By going into hiding.
You mean that you just-
. . . In other words, as I now understand it, on the day
that you moved from Mt. Royal Terrace, you ceased to go
to Washington and perform the duties that you previously
had been performing in connection with the Party?
That is correct.
minutes of giving these answers, Chambers testified:
Q. . . . By the way, what name did you live under
[at Auchentoroly Terrace]?
Q. What Chambers?
A. Either Jay or Whittaker.
Q. What name did you live under on Mt. Royal Terrace?
The same, either Jay or Whittaker. Probably Jay.
. . . Now, you say you stayed there [Old Court Road] until
sometime in the summer?
And what did you do then?
We then moved to St. Paul Street.
. . . Did you use your name? As I understand it, you lived
in Baltimore from '37 right straight along under the name
That is right. . . . I have always used my own name since
I came out of the party.
Well, let us specify what you mean by your own name.
the end of the day on November 5, William Marbury, having
in two days established a record that put into serious question
the self-portrait of a time-hardened professional revolutionary
that Chambers, with the help of Richard Nixon & Company, had
presented through the media to the American people, formally
notified Chambers and his lawyers that he intended to make
the transcript of the Baltimore deposition available to the
Chambers wrote in "Witness," after these two days
of testifying in pretrial depositions, he was overcome "with
despair" and had decided "to destroy [my]self."
had been shown to be inaccurate about almost every detail
of his personal life, from when and how he left Columbia University
and the New York Public Library to how he made a living, to
whether his mother worked, to when he got married and how
old his brother was when he committed suicide. More important,
he had contradicted his earlier testimony given to the Committee
on numerous crucial subjects, from when he joined and left
the Communist Party and how long he was in it, to whether
he had known Harold Ware, to how and where he first met Alger
Hiss. Since he had testified under oath in both instances,
it was clear that either he had willfully perjured himself
or that he was a man incapable of differentiating truth from
there was one important thing he had remained consistent about,
as he had been for the last nine years: he still maintained
that whatever he and Hiss did in the underground, espionage
was not part of their activities. "Alger Hiss didn't
do anything of this character," Chambers said near the
close of his examination on November 5. "I never obtained
documents from him."
William F. Buckley, Jr., ed. "Odyssey of a Friend: Whittaker
Chambers' Letters to William F. Buckley, Jr., 1954–1961"
(New York: Putnam, 1969). November 28, 1954, letter, p. 87;
Christmas Eve, 1958, p. 227.
See Whittaker Chambers, "Witness" (New York: Random
House, 1952), p. 705.
The record of Whittaker Chambers's employment at the New York
Public Library and the report of the library's investigator,
Edwyn White Gaillard, about Chambers's discharge, because
of theft of library books from the main reading room, children's
stacks and from the central circulation stacks of the Public
Library and from the library of Columbia University, were
introduced at the second Hiss trial as Defense Exhibits E
Lovestonite is a designation for the "Right Opposition"
of the Communist Party, led by Jay Lovestone, who was expelled
from the Party in a factional struggle in 1929. At the same
time a few hundred of his followers were expelled with him.
An extremist in his Communist days, Lovestone later became
a valued advisor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
on trade union matters.
The Communist Party was organized in the United States in
1919. In the mid 1920s, two factions developed within the
Party, one led by William Z. Foster and Earl Browder, the
other led by Jay Lovestone. In 1928, the Comintern's Sixth
World Congress decided that Foster's group should lead a party
to be renamed the Communist Party of the United States of
America (CPUSA). Lovestone and his followers, referred to
thereafter by the Party faithful as the "oppositionists,"
were expelled from the Party in 1929.
My own research shows that in the first five years of the
Daily Worker's existence, 1924–29, Chambers's name
did not appear on the masthead of the paper, nor did any news
story carry his byline. During a period when more than 1,200
names were listed as contributors to or reporters for the
paper, the name Whittaker Chambers appears just once: as the
author of a 20-line poem published in the July 9, 1927, Sunday
edition of The Worker.
For a detailed account of this bizarre episode, see Meyer
Zeligs' "Friendship and Fratricide," pp. 47–48.
In my own research in Rockville Centre, Long Island, I was
able to track down Floyd B. Watson, who had been principal
of South Side High School at the time of Chambers's attendance
and who made the decision to hold up his diploma because of
the scandal. A half century after it happened, Watson told
me that he remembered the episode "as if it were yesterday."
Choosing his words carefully, Watson told me he always thought
of Vivien as "some kind of a nut." Shortly after
the graduation-day ceremony resulting in Chambers's diploma
being held up, his mother, Laha, came to the school and remonstrated
with Watson and his assistant principal, a Mr. Covert, for
punishing Vivien: "You just don't understand working
with youthful minds." For years afterward, Watson told
me, he and Covert used that line as a standing joke between
themselves anytime a parent complained about the way their
child was being treated.
The bizarre activities Chambers was shown to have engaged
in at high school and at Williams College were explored at
length at both Hiss trials. Karl Helfrich (a senior executive
with Forstmann Woolen Company at the time of the Hiss trials)
was called as a defense witness. He gave a statement to Hiss's
lawyer Edward C. McLean relating how after Chambers's abrupt,
middle-of-the-night departure, over a period of some six weeks
he received a number of very long letters from Chambers "running
to over twelve pages each," describing peculiar adventures
"which Helfrich thought must have been invented."
In one of these, dated at a time when Chambers was commuting
to his freshman classes at Columbia from Lynbrook, "Chambers
told of having been in a mining camp and of having seen ‘murder
at the worst under my nose.' " A bewildering episode
that occurred six weeks after Chambers's departure was set
off, Helfrich said, by a letter he received from Chambers
there would be a letter at the post office addressed to some
other name. . . . Chambers asked Helfrich to get this letter
and to readdress it to Chambers at his New York address. Helfrich
went to the post office and found the letter there and (fearing)
that it might be some crime in tampering with the mails to
send a letter addressed to one person to another person (he
decided he) had better consult the President of the college,
Dr. Garfield turned the matter over to the postal authorities.
Helfrich said the letter, written by Chambers to himself,
was "a weird recital" dealing with "some mystic
communion between Chambers and the Devil or something of that
sort." Two distinguished psychiatrists, Carl Binger and
Henry Murray, relied heavily on this and the high school class-prophecy
episode in testifying, without rebuttal challenge, that Chambers
was a psychopathic personality frequently unable to distinguish
fantasy from reality. (See Edward C. McLean interview with
Karl Helfrich, January 19, 1949, HISS files, Harvard Law School
Library; also see Hiss second trial, pp. 2534–36.)
The World, a leading newspaper of the day, gave the
story a big play under this two-column head: COLUMBIA EDITOR
/ WROTE BLASPHEMY, / STUDENTS DECIDE. The dialogue of the
playlet, "A Play for Puppets," was so shocking,
The World reported, that "most of the dialogue cannot
be reproduced." Whittaker Chambers's treatment of Jesus,
The World said in its lead, "has given the Columbia
University campus the shock of its long life."
Whittaker Chambers's Columbia College record, together with
Dean H. E. Hawke's notation that "Whittaker Chambers
should not be allowed to register at any school of the University,"
and the further notation that "It is for stealing library
books," were all made part of the record of the second
Hiss trial. See Defendant's Exhibits, G, H and I, at pp. 3658-64
of the trial record.
"Black Republican," a term first used during the
Civil War by Southerners to apply to the most uncompromising
wing of the newly-formed Republican Party, came in later years
to be a conjuration referring to the most conservative elements
of the Party.
The certificate of death of Whittaker Chambers's maternal
grandmother, Mary Whittaker, on file at the Suffolk County
clerk's office, Smithtown, Long Island, reveals that she was
confined for two months and 23 days at the Kings Park State
Hospital, a state institution for the mentally ill, from September
29, 1931, until her death on December 22, 1931.
In his senior year, the grades posted for Vivien Chambers
for June 1919 at South Side High School were: English 80;
Virgil 78; Plane Geometry 60; Chemistry 64; American History
83; and Civics 82 (author's research; on file with William
A. Reuben papers, University of Michigan).
According to Chambers's own account, he obtained this job
after his discharge from the Public Library, which was in
April 1927 (see note 2, above). Louis Zukofsky, the poet,
who described himself as a close friend of Chambers all through
the 1920s into the early 1930s, confirmed that Chambers worked
at his (Zukofsky's) brother's Fourth Avenue bookstores for
"about a year" beginning some time in 1927. (Author
interviews, September 18, 1967; March 20, 1971.)
Richard Chambers was born on September 26, 1903. Rockville
Centre police officer Denton recorded his death by suicide
at 8:15 a.m. on September 9, 1926. Denton's report, reviewed
by author at Rockville Centre, Long Island, police station,
stated, "He was lying on two chairs face upward with
his head resting on a pillow in the oven of a small gas range
in the kitchen, his lifeless form was cold. (Police Surgeon)
. . . said the young man had been dead several hours. . .
. In a talk I had with a brother, Whittaker, he told me that
he (Richard) had tried to use gas on himself last winter in
a shed in the rear of his parents' home at Lynbrook, and that
he used to talk of being bitter of life in general."
Author's review of Daily Worker mastheads from 1924
to 1927, on file at New York Public Library.
The death certificate of Jay Chambers, attested to by S. J.
Bradbury, M.D., of Lynbrook, was introduced as Defendant's
Exhibit DD, Hiss 2nd trial; see pp. 3725-26.
Laha Chambers was employed from September 23, 1921, to September
26, 1941, as an investigator for the Board of Child Welfare
of the City of New York. To qualify for this employment Laha
Chambers lied about her age (lopping off ten years) and gave
a series of fictitious addresses in New York City (while living
in Lynbrook). Her starting salary was $1,518, and she received
annual increases in pay until she retired. (Author's research,
on file with William A. Reuben papers at the University of
Michigan; also see Hiss investigator Horace Schmahl's report
on Laha Chambers, October–November 1948, HISS, Harvard Law
The eighteen books that Chambers translated from French and
German to English can be found listed, for the appropriate
years, in the "U.S. Catalog," "the Accumulated
Book Index," "The New York Times Book Review Index,"
and the "National Union Catalog" at the Library
In 1931 four short stories by Whittaker Chambers were published
in the "New Masses" - at a time when, under oath,
he told Marbury that he was considered an enemy of the Communist
Party: "Can You Make Out Their Voices?" in the March
issue; "You Have Seen the Heads," in April; "Our
Comrade Munn," in October; and "Death of the Communists,"
in December. Chambers's name does appear on the masthead -
not as the editor, as he testified before the Committee and
in the deposition, but as one of forty persons listed as contributing
editors. The six editors were: Egmont Arens, Joseph Freeman,
Hugo Gellert, Michael Gold, James Rorty, and John Sloan. The
executive board included these six and, in addition: Maurice
Becker, Helen Black, John Dos Passos, Rubert Dunn, William
Gropper, Paxton Hibben, Freda Kirchwey, Robert Leslie, Louis
Lozowick, and Rex Stout. In his An American Testament, Joseph
Freeman listed the contributing editors, who included Sherwood
Anderson, Vay Wyck Brooks, Stuart Chase, Floyd Dell, Max Eastman,
Waldo Frank, Susan Gaspell, Lewis Mumford, Eugene O'Neill,
Elmer Rice, Carl Sandburg, Upton Sinclair, Genevieve Taggard,
Louis Untermeyer, Mary Heaton Vorse, and Edmund Wilson, among
others. Freeman, one of New Masses's editors in this period,
wrote, "Among the fifty-six writers and artists grouped
around the New Masses only two were members of the Communist
Party, less than a dozen were sympathetic to it."
On its face this assertion seems odd. According to Chambers's
testimony, he was given this special assignment just two months
after rejoining the very Party that for the previous two or
three years had regarded him as its enemy. It was even more
odd that a man who claimed to be "underground" would
allow his name to appear on the masthead of the "New
Masses" as a member of the editorial board. The FBI made
its own investigation, "to ascertain the exact period
Mr. Chambers was listed in mast head [sic] of "New Masses'
Magazine," and, as Special Agent James R. Shinners reported,
Chambers's name appeared in the masthead "for the first
time" in the May 1932 issue of New Masses and with eight
others (Robert Evans, Hugo Gellert, Michael Gold, Louis Lovowick,
Moissaye J. Olgin, William Gropper, Joshua Kunitz, and Herman
Michaelson) "was listed continuously in this capacity
to September, 1933." During the period 1931-33, the only
persons listed on the masthead as editor were Michael Gold
and Walt Carmon. (See report of James R. Shinners, "Re:
Jay David Whittaker Chambers," dated February 4, 1949,
FBI File Number 65-14926-1886.)
In 1952, in his memoir of the case, Witness, Chambers first
disclosed that "throughout" the summer and fall
of 1948 Nixon regularly visited him for ex officio discussions
at his farm in Westminster. See "Witness," pp. 537,
600, 618, 717-18, and 792-93. In 1962, Nixon himself first
acknowledged making many private visits to Chambers in Westminster
during the month of August and all through the fall of 1948.
See Richard Nixon, "Six Crises" (Garden City, N.Y.:
Doubleday, 1962), pp. 21, 22, 23, 46, and 47.
In the fall of 1948 Hiss investigators interviewed Samuel
Roth, for whom Chambers had translated Aphrodite and
some shorter works. Roth told them that Chambers had submitted
several short stories to his magazine Two Worlds under
the name George Crosley. Because Roth had served a prison
term on a pornography conviction, Marbury and Hiss's later
counsel decided against using Roth as a witness. At Hiss's
second trial, Chambers admitted that George Crosley was a
name he had used and "may have been" the name he
used when he knew Alger and Priscilla Hiss.
In his HUAC testimony, Chambers said that his government employment
paid six thousand dollars a year, but he did not otherwise
describe the job. Hiss's lawyers later obtained this record
and it was introduced in evidence at the second Hiss trial
as Defendant's Exhibit J. This record showed that as Jay V.
David Chambers he was employed in Washington for three and
a half months, from October 18, 1937, to January 31, 1938,
as an editorial and research assistant by the Works Projects
Administration (WPA), at a salary of $166 per month.
William A. Reuben, 2002
to the next chapter, "The Baltimore Documents"
to the Courtroom