The Spiegel Testimony

On January 25, 1949, Whittaker Chambers described in some detail, for the second Hiss case grand jury, the process he said he had used with Alger Hiss to bring out documents from the State Department for transmission to the Soviet Union. This arrangement began, he said, in early 1937; Hiss would bring home papers and give them to Chambers, who would photograph them in Baltimore, and then return them the same night so Hiss could take them back to his office the following morning, before they were missed.

At first, Chambers said, he would do the photographing himself, at the Baltimore apartment rented by a couple named William and Anna Spiegel. Chambers repeated this same testimony at both Hiss trials. Here’s an excerpt from the account he gave the grand jury in January 1949:

Mr. CHAMBERS: Almost immediately after this meeting [around January 1937] Mr. Hiss began to produce documents from the State Department, which were photographed and the photographs transmitted to Bykov [supposedly Chambers’ superior in the communist underground]. The photography was done at first, I believe, in an apartment on Madison – corner of Madison and Cowan Street in Baltimore. The apartment was rented by a family named Spiegel. Mr. Spiegel had a small business making a kind of composition cork which was used in novelty lines; it was used for putting around waste baskets or making jackets for books, and other things. Mrs. Spiegel was, at that time, I believe, in the Baltimore school system. I’m not definitely sure, but I believe that Mrs. Spiegel was a member of the Communist Party. I’m much less sure whether Mr. Spiegel was. The Spiegels were contacts of David Carpenter and he arranged with them for us to use his apartment for photographic work. At that time I did photography. When I would come into the apartment, to which I must have had a key, I suppose, the Spiegels would go out for the evening, and I think I usually left before they returned.

What no one knew until the grand jury minutes were made public was that on February 3, 1949, a week after this testimony by Chambers, the Spiegels themselves also testified before the grand jury – and contradicted key aspects of Chambers’ account: they said, for instance, that they had not moved into their East Madison Street apartment until the fall of 1937. The prosecution knew of their testimony, but did not put them on the witness stand in either Hiss case trial. Because of grand jury secrecy, the defense never learned what they had said, and was therefore unable to impeach Chambers’ testimony about this process. We present both excerpts from the Spiegels’ testimony and a full transcript.