The Rugs

A government official is approached by a freelance writer for publicly available information. The two become friendly. The official eventually loans the writer some money. Because the writer is slow to repay the loan, the official accepts a rug from the writer as partial payment.

This was the story that Alger Hiss told about his relationship with Whittaker Chambers – and at the time some said it sounded improbable. The released Hiss case Grand Jury minutes, however, reveal that exactly the same thing happened to Abraham George Silverman (another New Deal official, someone Hiss had never met), who told the Grand Jury about his own acquaintance with Chambers in Washington in the 1930s.

Chambers, on the other hand, had a markedly different story to tell: He claimed that these rugs were gifts from the Soviet Union to both men in appreciation for their cooperation. The rugs became a major issue at both trials. Who was telling the truth?

We present here annotated excerpts from Silverman’s Grand Jury testimony. They are followed by annotated excerpts from the Grand Jury testimony of noted art historian Meyer Schapiro, a Chambers friend who was a key government witness in the Hiss case trials and whose testimony supported Chambers. Finally, we show a receipt and check for the rugs that were placed in evidence at the trials, one bearing Schapiro’s signature and the other supposedly bearing his wife’s signature.