Meyer Schapiro’s Testimony
The following are excerpts from Meyer Schapiro‘s grand-jury testimony of February 9, 1949, reaffirming his story that Chambers received translation work from Oxford University Press after his break with the Communist Party. This inadvertantly contradicted Chambers and backed Hiss’s contention that Chambers had left the Party before the final date listed on the Baltimore Documents.
Q. Will you give the Grand Jury as much as you can of that? You started to tell us about that before, and I interrupted you. Can you say about what time in 1938 it was that he came to you – in the Summer or Spring?
A. I think in the Fall.
Q. And where did he contact you?
A. At my home, in West Fourth Street.
Q. And how long prior to that hadn’t you seen him?
A. Perhaps a year or a year and a half.
Q. What did he say to you at that time?
A. He told me that he was in hiding; that he was afraid of Russian agents of the Military Intelligence, who were after him; that he had broken with the organization; that he had been engaged in secret work with them, or for them; and he had to make a living and it was a desperate matter; and that it was quite possible that his wife and two children were in danger.
And at that time I introduced him to the Director of the Oxford University Press, Mr. Willert, and recommended him as a translator – and he is an admirable translator, one of the best from French and German in this country. You know he translated Bambi and Werfel, and a number of other writers – and I was the intermediary in forwarding manuscripts, and so on. He didn’t want the people at Oxford Press to know where he lived, he was so much disturbed about the danger to himself.
Q. Did he ever meet anybody at the Oxford Press or talk to anybody there, as far as you know?
A. He did meet Mr. Willert personally.
Q. Did he ever make any statements to you with reference to his contacts with Mr. Willert?
A. Well, of a purely personal kind. Mr. Willert was very kindly and glad to help him.
Q. Did he ever refer to the fact that he was concerned about whether anybody in the Oxford Press might not have some connection with the Russians?
A. Well, it is barely possible, I have a vague memory of some anxiety about that, but I can’t remember any names in connection with it. He wrote me once – or, rather, I wrote to him once – a letter about information I had gotten from this man Willert, that a Russian was in town, or a Ukrainian had come to New York, and I forwarded the information to Whittaker, and he told me that this man was obviously a Russian agent, and he had to avoid him. That is the one occasion I remember. Now, in just what context I learned that, I am not sure. I don’t recall.
Q. Did Chambers ever say to you, about that time, that Willert told him that somebody was looking for him?
A. This may be the context of it, but I don’t know just what date it was, and with reference to what event; but I did communicate to him that I learned from the people at the Oxford Press – from one of the men at the Oxford Press; probably Willert, but it might have been someone else there, because I knew four or five people there – that this Russian was in New York.
Q. What name was Chambers using at that time, do you recall?
A. I can’t recall.
Q. But it wasn’t Chambers?
A. Well, with Willert he used the name Chambers.
Q. He did use the name Chambers?
A. Yes, of course.
Q. Well, have you any information that Willert identified him under any other name?
A. No, I don’t know that.
Q. Now, at that time, with reference to his activities, when he came to you and said he had broken away, he told you he was engaged in espionage, and so forth, for this outfit?
A. He didn’t say espionage; he said he was engaged in secret work, and I didn’t question him as to what he did and whom he met.
Q. Was there any discussion as to whether he should go to the authorities?
A. It was later, sometime in 1939.
Q. What did he say then?
A. In 1939, the following issue came up: A number of people who had been Communists, engaged in secret work, had been killed. One of them was named Ignatz Reiss, who was a man in the Russian underground service, who had been asked to fake documents in preparation for the Moscow trials; and this man published in the Dutch Socialist press a statement about the instructions that had been given to him, and announced his own resignation from the Russian service, and returned all the medals and honors he had received from the Russian Army, and so on; and a few weeks later he was found dead in Switzerland, and it turned out that the people who had assassinated him were Russians.
Then his widow published all the information in the Socialist press and in the leftist-group presses, and it occasioned a great deal of discussion.
And then there appeared in the world-left press – I mean the whole range, from Socialist to Anarchist to Syndicalist to Communist-opposition groups – a letter from Leon Trotsky, advising people who wanted to break with the Russian service, as to what to do in order to protect themselves from assassination; and he recommended that people in that situation should write a letter telling what they had done, and give it to a friendly Government that was not allied in any way with Russia, and to demand protection. That became very well known at that time, because of a number of assassinations that took place. Some of them were in connection with the Spanish Civil War.
And I believe that Whittaker decided to do the same thing, to seek protection from the United States government by confessing that he had been a member of some apparatus, some secret underground group, so that it would be known to the authorities what he had done and who he was, and hence any assassination of Whittaker would be immediately attributed to the Russian Government; and I believe that was sometime in 1939.
Q. Did he talk to you about it?
A. A little. We discussed it a number of times.
Q. Did you know Isaac Don Levine?
A. No, I had heard of him, and occasionally seen articles of his, but I had never met him.