A. George Silverman
Annotated excerpts from the Grand Jury testimony of A. George Silverman on December 15, 1948. Silverman testifed about his relationship with Whittaker Chambers and then revealed his side of the story of the rugs.
A. GEORGE SILVERMAN, called as a witness, having first been duly sworn by the Assistant Foreman, testified as follows:
Q. Mr. Silverman … What is your present address and your present business address?
A. My present address is 255 West 23rd Street, New York City. I am presently unemployed.
Q. Now will you briefly give your employment in the government?
A. My last position with the government?
Q. Start with your first one and then bring it up to the last one.
A. My first position with the U.S. Government was as Labor Advisor to the Labor Economic – Labor Advisory Board of the N.R.A. – I am sorry, Chief Statistician of the Labor Advisory Board of the N.R.A. That was my first position with the Federal Government.
JUROR: That was when?
A. That was 1933–34. My next position was Special Expert for the U. S. Tariff Commission for the negotiation of the Canadian-American trade agreement, basically. My position after that was as Director of Research of the Railroad Retirement Board. My next position was as Chief of Analysis and Plans of the Materiel Service Headquarters, Army Air Force, Assistant Chief of Air Staff. That carried me –
Q. What year did you stop your Government employment?
A. I stopped in August of 1945.
Q. Where were you employed in the government during the years of 1936, 1937 and 1938?
A. I left the Tariff Commission, I think, in March of 1936, and then went immediately into the Railroad Retirement Board as Director of Research. That’s the Board that administered the old-age pensions and unemployment insurance for railroad workers, federal scheme. I was in the Railroad Retirement Board until, I believe, March 1942.
Q. Now, we ask you again, Mr. Silverman, do you know Whittaker Chambers?
Q. How long have you known Whittaker Chambers?
A. To the best of my recollection, I first met him somewhere in 1936, I should say.
Q. Do you remember where you met him?
A. It was later in 1936. I am not entirely clear; I have a recollection of his coming up to my office.
Q. Where was your office at that time?
A. It was at 10th and U Street, I believe.
Q. 10th and U Street, in Washington?
A. In Washington.
Q. What was your business at that time, Mr. Silverman?
A. I was then Director of Research of the Railroad Retirement Board.
Q. And then, under what circumstances did you meet Whittaker Chambers?
A. I don’t remember the exact circumstances. I have a recollection of his telling me that he was a freelance writer and that he wanted some information in connection, perhaps, with the constitutionality of the Railroad Retirement Act, or it might have been in connection with some other matter, the exact nature of which I do not remember.
Q. Do you recall giving Mr. Chambers any information such as he sought?
A. I don’t recollect having given him any information. What I was concerned with had no restrictions of any kind; it was just a general matter of the constitutionality of an act.
Q. And thereafter, from time to time, did you see Mr. Chambers?
A. I saw him a few times.
Q. Always in Washington?
A. Always in Washington.
JUROR: May I ask a question? What name did you know this person by at that time?
A. David Chambers.
Q. What was the nature of the other contacts you had with him?
A. I liked him. He was very intellectual, and a nice fellow and basically – the best I can recollect is that we talked about music and we talked about – I am trying to remember. We had a common interest in Stendahl, a French writer. We had a common interest in art matters. There was some talk about Peter Bruegel, the Elder. I remember that I said that was my greatest enjoyment in art, and he concurred along those lines. We talked about politics, presumably, although I don’t remember any direct conversations with him.
Q. Did Mr. Chambers ever tell you what his real occupation was at that time?
A. Which occupation are you referring to?
Q. What occupations did he tell you he had?
A. He told me that he was a freelance writer, as I recollect it.
Q. And nothing else?
A. I remember once he told me about having some sort of interest in import and export.
Q. Did he tell you he was an underground operative of the Communist Party?
Q. Did you ever learn that?
Q. I suppose you have read the testimony before the Un-American Activities Committee?
Q. Prior to that time, did you ever know what Chambers’ real occupation was?
Q. Where would these meetings with Chambers occur – these several meetings?
A. Generally at lunch, and maybe sometimes at dinner; I don’t remember.
Q. When you had dinner, would you be eating in your home, or out?
A. We would be eating out, if I had dinner.
Q. Do you know Mr. Alger Hiss?
A. No. The first time I met Alger Hiss, to the best of my recollection, was when I met him out in the ante-room here last week, a week ago Tuesday.
Q. When you were first subpoenaed?
A. I think the day after the first time I arrived here, Mr. Hiss was outside here, and that to the best of my recollection is the first time I ever met Hiss.
A. JUROR: Were you introduced to him?
THE WITNESS: He introduced himself to me.
Q. What did he say to you, Mr. Silverman?
A. He may have asked my lawyer who I was. I don’t remember the exact words that he used.
Q. Didn’t you ever come into contact with Hiss when he was with either the State or Labor Departments in Washington?
A. Not to my recollection.
Q. Did you at any time make any presents to Whittaker Chambers?
A. No, not that I – well, there is a qualification there. I loaned him some money.
Q. You loaned him some money?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. When did you loan him some money?
A. Somewhere in that period, I don’t remember the exact dates. He was always hard up.
Q. Do you remember the amount?
A. No, I do not, but I know it ran up to a fairly substantial amount.
Q. What do you mean by that, approximately?
A. Maybe seventy-five dollars, in the course of – after a while.
Q. Was that borrowed in a lump or at different times?
A. At different times; that is my recollection.
Q. Was it ever repaid?
Q. You ever ask him to repay it?
A. I say it was never repaid. It wasn’t repaid as such.
Q. Was it repaid in some other way?
A. Yes, it was.
Q. How was it repaid?
A. I finally bought two rugs from him.
Q. You bought two rugs from him?
Q. When did you buy two rugs from him?
At the Hiss trials, the government would say that among the rugs delivered to Silverman was one which went to Alger Hiss. Count Two of the indictment against Hiss said he had committed perjury when he claimed he did not see Chambers after January 1, 1937. According to documents placed in evidence and Chambers’ testimony, the rugs were not delivered until after that date.
Hiss was the first to mention the rug, volunteering the information to HUAC in August 1948, that a rug was given to him in early 1936 as partial payment for money he had loaned George Crosley (Whittaker Chambers). On December 8, in an interview with the FBI, Chambers said the rug was a gift from the Soviet Union in return for work done on behalf of the Communist Party. Chambers said that Silverman and Harry Dexter White also received rugs for the same reason. When Julian Wadleigh also claimed to have received a rug from Chambers, Chambers for the first time included Wadleigh.
A. My recollection would be that it was somewhere in 1937.
Q. What kind of rugs were they?
A. They were Orientals. I don’t know the names of them.
Q. Domestic or imported?
A. I think they were imported …. and that is how I happened to remember about this import connection, and that he had some rugs that he would like to dispose of, and since …. he owed me some money, that would be part payment towards the rugs.
Q. How much did you pay him for the two rugs that you bought?
A. I am trying to remember. It is somewhere between two and three hundred dollars.
A JUROR: And the seventy-five dollars he owed you was in addition to that?
THE WITNESS: That’s right.
A. JUROR: That would make it three hundred twenty-five dollars?
THE WITNESS: That’s right.
A JUROR: What size are the rugs?
THE WITNESS: I don’t know; I think eight by 11.
A JUROR: You still have the rugs?
THE WITNESS: Yes, I do.
Q. Both of them?
A. I have one of them.
Q. What did you do with the other one?
A. The other I gave to Mr. White.
Q. To Dexter White?
A. Yes, Harry Dexter White.
Q. How well did you know Harry Dexter White?
A. I had known him for about 26 years…
Q. Did you give or sell the rug to White?
A. I gave it to Mr. White. I had lived with the Whites for two months prior to that, while my wife was away – or perhaps prior to the time she came to Washington – and they had always refused to accept payment for my stay there, and I thought this was a way to accomplish that purpose.
Q. Now tell us what happened to the other two.
A. All I know is that I gave them to Mr. Chambers.
Q. Where did you give them to Mr. Chambers?
A. From the house.
Q. From your house?
A. Yes, I don’t know whether he came up and brought them down, or whether I brought them down to him, but that is what happened.
Q. Were they of the same quality and character?
A. I believe.
Q. And you don’t know what Chambers did with them?
A. No, I do not know what Mr. Chambers did with them.
According to Chambers, Silverman delivered the rugs to Chambers in his car and then helped deliver the rugs to Hiss.
Q. You say you had a car?
Q. Did you at any time meet Mr. Chambers with your car and deliver one of those rugs to Whittaker Chambers?
Q. Did you at any time deliver one of those two rugs to Alger Hiss?
A. I did not.
Q. At no time?
A. At no time.
Q. Where did you get these two rugs you gave Chambers?
A. Mr. Chambers asked me to accept delivery of a bundle containing the rugs, and it is my recollection that I got it through express.
Q. Let me develop that for a minute.
A. He told me that they were coming, and I could select the two I wanted from those four, and those two would be the ones I would purchase from him.
Q. Where did Chambers say he was getting the rugs?
A. He implied that he had some connections in relation to import and export, and that he could get these rugs. I didn’t inquire with respect to anything else in the matter.
Q. Did you keep the better two?
A. Only the two that appealed most to me.
Q. Did the one you gave to Harry White have a white design in it?
A. I don’t remember.
Q. Or a light design?
A. I don’t believe so.
Q. What did you do with the brilliant red one?
A. The brilliant red one?
Q. Yes, the brilliant red one with the medallion design?
A. That isn’t my recollection of them. They were all four more or less alike, and I selected one for myself and another that I selected for the Whites.
By all accounts, the rug given to Hiss was a bright red – almost orange – color. This suggests that Hiss may have received his rug in a prior delivery.
Q. What is your recollection of the color of the four rugs?
A. My recollection is that they were all of the same type, and there were only gradations in the mixtures of the colors.
Q. How about the color – wasn’t there a difference in color?
A. Not a very great difference.
Q. Was the one you gave White a light rug with a dark figure, or was it a dark rug with a light figure?
A. They were all dark rugs; that is my recollection.
Q. Your testimony has been that Chambers came to your house and took away two rugs.
A. That’s right; to the best of my recollection.
Q. Who would be able to back you up on that; who was there at the time?
A. My wife probably could back me up on that, and we had a maid at that time.
Q. What was the maid’s name?
Q. I think it was Miss – Mrs. – a Miss or Mrs. Thompson.
The FBI found and interviewed Silverman’s former maid. Her name was Florence Tompkins. She gave the FBI a statement in which she recalled a delivery of only three rugs. After a background check revealed a prior arrest, Tompkins was reinterviewed by the FBI and said four rugs were delivered.