Chambers, March 1945

The following is a memorandum written by Raymond Murphy, the Chief Security Officer of the State Department, recounting his interview of Whittaker Chambers on March 20, 1945.

Memorandum of Conversation

Tuesday, March 20, 1945, Westminster, Md.

The person talking was the liaison man for the Communist Party of the United States with most of the persons listed below and he spoke from personal knowledge, not hearsay. At the time he described the official line of the Communist Party as anti-Administration, pretty violent, and the antithesis of the Popular Front days of post-1935. It is true that this second phase blended in with the first period during which these persons continued cooperation.

It seems that in 1934, with the establishment of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and the introduction of much reform legislation in Washington, the Communist Party decided its influence could be felt more strongly by enlisting the active support of underground workers not openly identified with the Party and never previously affiliated with the Party, but whose background and training would make them possible prospects as affiliates under the guise of advancing reform legislation. The Hungarian, party name J. Peters, was selected by the Central Committee to supervise the work from New York. His Washington representative and contact man was the informant, and he personally met and discussed many times various problems with the persons listed below, except those specifically named as coming under another person’s jurisdiction. The persons listed below are said to have disclosed much confidential matter and to have arranged among themselves a program committing this government to a policy in keeping with the desires of the Communist Party.

The opportunity presented itself, for the formation of an underground group, with the appointment to a leading position in the Agricultural Adjustment Administration of one Harold Ware. Ware had worked for years in Agricultural collectivization projects in Russia. He was a son of Ella Reeves Bloor, veteran American Communist by one of her numerous marriages. On being assigned to this agency, Ware found a group of very promising, ambitious young men with advanced social and political ideas. Among them were Lee Pressman, Alger Hiss, Henry Collins and Charles Kramer (Krivitzky). They all joined the Communist Party and became leaders of cells. No cell had over ten members. This was the nucleus of the communist underground organization in Washington. The purpose was for each member to advance as high as possible in the government, to shape legislation favorable to the program of the Communist Party.

The top leaders of the underground were:

  1. Harold Ware.
  2. Lee Pressman.
  3. Alger Hiss. In the order of their importance.

There were various underground headquarters in Washington at the time. Among these were a violin studio near Dupont Circle, run by Helen Ware, another place was a school on the outskirts of Washington run by Alice Mendham.

The informant dealt with these people from 1934 to the end of 1937, when he broke with the Party and attempted to persuade various of these contacts to break. He remembers several conversations with Alger Hiss in the early part of 1935, during which Hiss was adamant against the plan of breaking with the Party. He described Hiss as a person with a charming personality, absolutely sincere in his convictions and motivated by the idea that he was on the right track.

The informant traced the jobs of these men until the end of 1937, and in each job they worked together with each other and with the Party. Later adherents to the Party included Donald Hiss, Henry Collins, and a man named Post in the State Department.

In a special category were Noel Field and Laurence Duggan of the State Department. Field was described as a member-at-large of the Party. Duggan was not. Neither was connected with the underground, and in fact the underground had orders to refrain from contacting them. The special liaison of Field and Duggan was one Hetta Gumperts. She is now in the personnel department of the Todd Shipbuilding Corporation, and is married to Paul Massing, a former member of the German Communist Party described by General Krivitzky in his book. Massing is a penologist for the State of Pennsylvania, and they have a farm near Quakertown, Penna. He is also known as Karl Billinger. Hetta Gumperts is a Viennese Jewish girl. When Field went to the League of Nations in 1936, he left Duggan in her special care. Gumperts is a Communist International agent. It is understood that Field and Duggan disclosed any information she wanted to know.

Harry White of the Treasury was described as a member-at-large, but rather timid. He put on, as assistants in the Treasury, Glaser, a member of the underground group, and an Adler or Odler, another party member. The two Coe brothers, also party members, were also put on by White.

Nathan Kaplan, head of the National Research Project, was a party member, as was the other head and his sister, Rose Weinstein.

Lee Pressman was not only a Party member. He was directed by the Party to accept the offer of John L. Lewis in 1936 to become General Counsel of the C.I.O. Pressman is said to have run arms to Spain during the Civil War via Mexico, and to have worked with Geral [sic] Mark Moren in that project. Moren was involved in the Rubens Robinson passport case in 1938.

Nathan Witt of the Labor Board was a Party member and also underground.

When Harold Ware was killed in an auto accident near Baltimore about l935, John Abt succeeded him as leader of the underground in Washington. Abt not only succeeded him in the job, he married Ware’s widow, Jessica Smith. Abt today is associated as counsel of the CIO–PAC with Sidney Hillman, and was a delegate to the recent Trade Union Conference in London.

Eleanor Nelson ran a low-grade but important Communist group in the government. More of a trade union group but its members had access to government files which would be made available to the Party. Hiss was a member of this group.