The Berle Notes

Adolf Berle’s Rediscovered Notes of his 1939 Meeting with Chambers

The handwritten notes that Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle took during a conversation at his home, in Washington, DC, with Whittaker Chambers on September 2, 1939 were later typed up by a secretary. Subsequently, in 1943, the FBI made its own typed copy from Berle’s typed copy. The original notes disappeared at some point in 1948, or shortly thereafter, and Berle himself assumed they had been lost for good.

In a recent memo, Hiss-case historian Lewis Hartshorn (author of Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers and the Case That Ignited McCarthyism) takes up the story from there: “I knew Berle’s papers were archived at the FDR Library at Hyde Park. In May 2009, I wrote the archivist and explained exactly what I was looking for, and that these notes even Berle thought he had misfiled and had not seen since 1948. On May 19, 2009, supervisory archivist Robert (Bob) Clark informed me that he had found them.”

This was a significant find, because Chambers (in his book, Witness) and, after him, many later historians have based their accounts of the Berle-Chambers meeting on the FBI’s typed notes – and the FBI notes do not correspond to the original handwritten notes in a number of particulars, for instance (as Hartshorn notes in his book), the FBI’s changes “make it appear as though Berle was taking notes of a talk with an ‘underground espionage agent.’”

We present here a complete copy of Berle’s original notes, as found by Hartshorn, 61 years after their disappearance.