The Berle Memorandum

Chester Lane’s Memo on Chambers’ 1939 Charges


December 15, 1950

Re: Alger Hiss Investigation

Conversation with Adolf Berle

Adolf Berle telephoned me on December 15th in answer to my letter of December 14th to him, regarding the authenticity of the Berle Notes.

He said he believes that the notes reproduced as Government’s Exhibit 18 are copies of the scratch notes he made during his conversation with Chambers, except for the pencil notations thereon, as to which he has no information. He has no recollection whether he had the notes typed and turned over the typed copies, or whether he turned over the originals and the copies in evidence were from there. However, he is reasonably sure that the copies reflect fairly accurately his original notes.

As to the discrepancies between the notes and his House Committee testimony, he says that it is not as serious as would appear on the surface. Chambers seemed to him a man who honestly believed what he was saying, but was incapable of standing up under questioning on any matter, and generally gave the appearance of a crackpot. Thus, Chambers started by referring to various people, including the Hiss brothers, as Communists (whence came Berle’s “CP” notations), but in the course of the conversation his definiteness faded out, and he admitted that he really meant no more than that they were the kind of people whom the Communist Party had tried to interest generally in the Communist point of view. Berle believes that his testimony before the House Committee accurately reflects the sum of his conversation as a whole, whereas his notes, made currently as the conversation went on, rather than as a careful resume prepared afterwards, merely reflect statements which Chambers made at one point or another but then failed to stand to.

Although Berle began his conversation with me very formally and nervously, he warmed up as we went along, and we ended on a cordial note. I agreed that no further reply to my letter was necessary.

C.T.L. (signed Chester T. Lane)

Chester Lane was the New York attorney who prepared Alger Hiss’s motion for a new trial.