Other Witnesses Deny – or Fail to Confirm – Chambers’ Allegations
A crucial aspect of Whittaker Chambers’ account of events was his claim that Alger Hiss was associated with an underground Communist group in Washington, D.C. (the Ware Group). He also named Lee Pressman, Henry Collins, Nathan Witt and others as members of the group.
On August 28, 1950, Pressman, by then an admitted ex-Party member, testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee about the group and who had been in it. Pressman said he had been a member but that Hiss had not. Pressman also disputed an allegation by Chambers that he, Pressman, aided an effort by Stalin to purchase munitions in Mexico. We present here both excerpts from his testimony that discuss his own beliefs and Chambers’ allegations, and more extensive excerpts that give an even broader picture of his involvement with Chambers.
Whittaker Chambers claimed Max Bedacht recruited him into the Communist underground. Bedacht admitted his Communist Party membership, but in 1948 grand jury testimony denied Chambers’ charge, saying he had had nothing to do with underground activity and had only briefly met Chambers at the New Masses office. We present here a portion of Bedacht’s unpublished memoirs.
Jozsef Peter, a Ukrainian-born CPUSA official also known as J. Peters, “Steve,” and “Storm,” was alleged by Whittaker Chambers to have set up the Communist underground in the United States. In 1935, he wrote The Manual of Organization, a book about creating such an underground, but his actual role and responsibilities remain unclear. He addressed the subject of the underground in an autobiography he wrote in Hungary in 1983 (Peter had left the U.S. in 1949 to avoid deportation).
“[Hiss-] I need hardly tell you how angered and outraged I was over the irresponsible allegations made against you. Your testimony fully harmonizes with the memory I had of you during our all-too-brief acquaintance in Washington.” — Noel Field
This quote comes from a letter written to Hiss by Noel Field, a former State Department official. Victor Navasky explored its implications, and in addition accusations Whittaker Chambers made against two other men, Sam Krieger and Maxim Lieber, in an article for The Nation that assessed Chambers’ accuracy and that of a scholar who supported him, Allen Weinstein.
According to Hiss’s detractors, Field, who was imprisoned in the 1950s in Communist Hungary, implicated Hiss in Communist activity during secret prison interrogations that were not released until the 1990s. As Ethan Klingsberg, a lawyer who examined transcripts of Field’s “confession,” later explained, Field’s Hungarian testimony had been obtained under torture.
Hede Massing was the one key Hiss case witness whose testimony supposedly corroborated Chambers – Hiss detractors have called it “crucial” and “a staggering blow to the defense.” But FBI files released under the Freedom of Information Act, and analyzed by Jeff Kisseloff, demonstrate that by the time of the Hiss trials, Massing’s testimony was a story that had been shaped by her own immediate legal troubles: by that point the Bureau had gained an unshakable hold over what she would say or not say, in court and elsewhere.