By Jeff Kisseloff
The musical satirist Tom Lehrer once composed a bouncy waltz, celebrating the life of Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel, “the loveliest girl in Vienna,” who managed to marry three great geniuses of 20th-century Europe. Lehrer could have written a similar ode to Hede Tune Gumpertz Massing, who, in the span of 30 tumultuous years, lived with or married three prominent German leftists: Gerhard Eisler, Julian Gumpertz and Paul Massing. Unlike Lehrer in his tribute to Alma, the FBI took a more jaundiced view of Hede’s escapades, labeling the only person to corroborate Whittaker Chambers’ story that Alger Hiss had once been a member of the Communist underground, “a Viennese woman with a doubtful reputation.”
Nevertheless, Hede Massing was a key prosecution witness at the second Hiss trial. Sam Tanenhaus says her testimony was a “crucial” factor in the conviction. Ralph de Toledano and Victor Lasky, who were both openly allied with the prosecution, called her testimony “a staggering blow for the defense.” That may be an exaggeration, but clearly it didn’t help any, this despite the fact that her testimony had nothing to do with either of the two charges against Hiss: 1) that he lied when he denied seeing Chambers after January 1, 1937 and 2) that he lied when he denied handing government documents to Chambers.
In essence, the story she told the jury was this: As a member of the Soviet underground, it was her job to recruit new members. One of her targets was a State Department official named Noel Field. But after asking Field to work for her, he told her he was being recruited by another underground group leader. Massing asked to meet this person, and in the fall of 1935, Field introduced her to Alger Hiss at a dinner party in his Washington D.C. apartment. There the two verbally jousted over who would lay claim to Field’s loyalty. Massing flirtatiously told Hiss that as a woman she had the advantage. The conversation concluded with one of them — she couldn’t recall who — saying, “It doesn’t matter since we both work for the same boss.”
While the defense attacked her credibility on cross examination and in rebuttal, by suggesting she had recently told a more nebulous version of the story at a party, and that she was testifying under threat of deportation, the defense did not have all the information it needed to completely shake her testimony.
As it turns out though, the prosecution did.
Recent FOIA releases have shed considerable new light on her story. With these new files — which include unredacted FBI and INS files released to the author in the summer of 2005 — we can now track how Massing’s story developed and changed under considerable pressure from the FBI, from the first time she was interviewed by the FBI in 1942, through her Hiss trial testimony in 1949, to the publication of her memoir, “This Deception,” in 1951, and her Senate Subcommittee testimony later that same year.
These documents confirm many of the suspicions raised by the defense in 1949, while raising even more questions about her testimony that go beyond anything even imagined by Hiss’s attorneys. They also reveal a larger, and in some ways more important, story about FBI malfeasance, about the tight connection in the McCarthy period between the government and the press, and about the extent that the government was willing to go to secure a conviction.
Massing’s life story, set forth in “This Deception” (1951), which was serialized in the New York Post prior to publication, is given great credence by several Hiss-case historians. Allen Weinstein, for example, cites “This Deception” as one of the two main sources in his chapter on Massing in “Perjury” (the other being “Red Pawn,” a biography of Noel Field that sheds no light on the question of Hiss’s guilt).
Weinstein fails to acknowledge, however, that the book was written while Massing’s husband was dependent on the FBI’s support in his battle to obtain US citizenship. Also, according to the FBI’s files, Massing submitted the manuscript to the Bureau for its approval prior to publication, and she allowed the FBI to rewrite portions of the text to eliminate what it felt were potentially embarrassing details regarding its agents’ relationship with Massing.
When the FBI also began comparing the stories she told in the book to her earlier testimony and statements, they found a number of discrepancies, and Massing admitted to the Bureau that she had changed the facts to improve her stories.
As unreliable as they are, however, “This Deception,” and Hede and Paul Massing’s interviews with the FBI, are among the few available sources of information on her life. In the book, Massing says she was born in Vienna in 1900, the granddaughter of a well-to-do Polish rabbi. Her father, whose last name was Tune, was a philandering farmhand with a penchant for prostitutes and French postcards. He left her mother when Hede was in her teens and was never heard from again. Massing writes that her mother was killed at Auschwitz.
Tall and slim, according to her own account, a handsome if not beautiful young woman, she studied acting and, she boasts, acquired a large coterie of male admirers, an achievement not esteemed by the FBI in its January 27, 1949 summary.
Both accounts agree that before her 20th birthday, she was already living with an editor and active Communist named Gerhart Eisler, whom Louis Budenz in 1946 would call the “secret head of the Communist Party in the United States.” But back in 1919, Eisler was just one of her many suitors among the bohemian crowd, hashing out life, love and politics in Vienna’s cafés.
Massing writes that he was “neither dashing nor handsome,” but he did have “large blue eyes,” was intellectually gifted and self-assured, and he pursued her with great intensity. Within a week of meeting Hede, Eisler professed his love for her, and although he warned her that his first priority would always be socialism, she accepted with alacrity his offer to whisk her away from her unhappy home life.
Eisler took her to his home, where he still lived with his parents, and also introduced her to the movement, and while she didn’t quite understand what it was all about, she “learned to love the idea of socialism.” She also loved Eisler, she says, and when he was asked to move to Berlin to become editor of Rote Fahne, Germany’s leading Communist newspaper, she dutifully followed.
At this point discrepancies in her story leave us with a hazier picture of her life. In “This Deception,” Massing writes that she and Eisler were married in City Hall in Vienna, with Eisler’s brother Hans and a Polish friend serving as witnesses. Ever the mama’s boy, Eisler borrowed his parents’ rings for the ceremony.
But when asked various times by US government officials to recall the date of her marriage, Massing couldn’t pin it down. During two different interviews with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, she said she had been married in 1920 and 1921. On the stand at the Hiss trial, she said she and Eisler were married in 1919. Trying to explain away the discrepancy, she told Hiss’s attorney, Claude Cross, “I wanted to forget this marriage. It is not a marriage I am very happy about.”
But if she had been that unhappy, one would think she would have had an easier time recalling the date of her divorce. Alas, no. In her direct testimony, she put her divorce around 1922. The defense subpoenaed her INS file, however, and found that in 1927, she told the INS that the marriage had been dissolved the year before in Vienna. In her 1942 INS interview she stated that they were divorced in 1925 in Berlin. She told the FBI that they were divorced in 1926.
In his INS interview, Paul Massing said he didn’t even know about the marriage to Eisler. As far as he knew, Hede had only been married twice, to him and to Julian Gumpertz. Maybe the most reliable source on the subject is Eisler himself. He later told the East German secret police that he and Massing were never married but had lived together for a couple of years.
Vienna maintains no civil-marriage records from that period. But even if did, it’s unlikely there would be any listing for the Tune-Eisler nuptials, because the story is doubtful at best. Why would Massing lie about it? Two reasons come to mind. In the 1940s, when she was desperately trying to get into the good graces of the INS, living with a man without benefit of marriage was not seen as evidence of good character. Second, a jury in 1949 would probably not have appreciated 1920s Communist disdain for bourgeois convention. At the same time, before the Hiss jury, she earned more credibility as the former wife of the so-called Number One Communist than she would have as his former paramour. And while of course the question of whether or not she was married to Eisler has little to do with her alleged conversation with Hiss, it does show her willingness to create a detailed account of an event that seemingly never occurred.
Legal or not, the relationship didn’t last, mostly because Eisler’s long days as a Party functionary left little time for romance, so to fill that need Hede turned to Julian Gumpertz, a publisher of left-wing literature. Hede writes that she took up with Gumpertz in 1923, perhaps another reason why she originally tried to place the date of her divorce in 1922. Either way, as she tells it, she became enthralled with the handsome, American-born Gumpertz as they sat in an outdoor cafe in Berlin, his “blond hair ruffled by the wind,” no doubt a pleasing contrast to Eisler’s empty pate.
Gumpertz had recently returned from Russia. His dramatic account of seeing Trotsky standing in Red Square for five hours, with his fist raised in triumph “like an iron giant” as he reviewed a military parade, thrilled Hede. Soon, she and and Julian were sharing a house that Gumpertz’s mother purchased for them. Although it appears that her breakup with Eisler either followed or coincided with her meeting with Gumpertz, her relationship with her ex was cordial enough that Eisler soon moved in with Hede and Julian, and married Hede’s younger sister, Elli, who was also living in their home — a modern arrangement, to say the least.
In 1926, according one of Hede’s accounts, she and Julian traveled to America for an extended visit. When Julian returned, Hede remained behind to become a naturalized citizen, which she did in December 1927, swearing under oath that she was “not a believer” in the Communist Party. She then returned to Germany in 1928. Julian, having decided that he no longer wanted to publish Communist Party material, took a job with the Institute for Social Research. The couple settled in Frankfurt and fell into the routine of academic life. Again, the relationship didn’t last, however. One of Julian’s students was a doctoral candidate named Paul Massing, who, writes Hede, was “handsome and a great success with women.” When Julian began tutoring Paul at home, it wasn’t long before Massing’s charms ended any chance of Hede’s relationship with Gumpertz achieving tenure.
Hede left Julian and moved with Paul to Berlin. In 1929, he traveled alone to Moscow to work at the International Agrarian Institute. Hede waited behind, while Massing sought permission to bring her to Russia. Massing told the FBI that, during his visit, he met an underground agent named Ignace Reiss, who recruited him for anti-fascist work. Meanwhile, to assuage her loneliness, Hede began attending Communist Party meetings, and she, too, was recruited into the underground. Her initial contact was Richard Sorge, an old friend who would later be executed in Japan as a Soviet agent.
Through Sorge, she also met Reiss, who, she said, convinced her to leave the open Communist Party to work in the underground — although she claimed she never knew which branch of the underground she was working for: the OGPU (later the NKVD and then the KGB) or the rival military intelligence unit that later became the GRU.
In 1933, back in Berlin, Paul was arrested by the new Nazi government and interned for four months in a concentration camp. Out of his incarceration came “Fatherland,” in 1934, one of the first books published in the United States to reveal the brutality of the Nazis. While Paul was imprisoned, Hede writes that she came to the United States to try to secure his release and a US visa. He was freed on Christmas Day in 1933. Hede immediately traveled to Europe to meet him, and together they arrived in the United States in January 1934, after Paul had obtained his visitor’s visa.
It is at this point that the haze surrounding their story descends into a permanent fog. Recently released FOIA material show the couple repeatedly dissembling in interviews with the FBI and the INS in desperate attempts to stave off Paul Massing’s being deported because of his Communist activities. The Massings contradicted their own respective testimony, the record, and each other, on key points in their story, covering this crucial period from 1934 to 1938. 
The Massings did agree that their underground work ceased following Reiss’s assassination in September 1937, although they did travel to meet with their superiors in Russia later that month, despite fears that they would be killed. They remained in the Soviet Union until June 1938, when, according to Hede, she threatened to contact the US embassy if they weren’t allowed to return. Finally, the Soviets granted them their exit visas.
Back in the States, they rented an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side before moving to a farm in Pennsylvania. During the war, Hede Massing found work at the Todd Ship Yard in Hoboken as a carpenter. Paul Massing worked as a freelance writer and as a researcher for the Institute of Social Research in New York City. In October 1941, he filed an application with the INS for naturalization. That simple request would have massive implications for scores of people who had crossed the Massings’ paths in the underground, and for one person in particular who hadn’t – Alger Hiss.
The Roots of the Hiss Case Testimony
Hede Massing first appears in the government files in connection with Whittaker Chambers as a result of Chambers’ September 1939 interview with Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle. The following reference appears in the notes of the interview that Berle later turned over to the FBI:
West European Div’n — Field — still in —
(Levine says he is out went into I.E.O.
Then in committee for Repatriation
His leader was Hedda Gompertz
Those four lines carry with them several mysteries. The Levine in the story is Isaac Don Levine, the anti-Communist journalist who in 1938 ghostwrote the memoir of Walter Krivitsky, “In Stalin’s Secret Service,” a controversial book in part because several experts raised a number of serious questions about whether Krivitsky really had been the Soviet secret-police agent he claimed to have been. It was Levine who, after reading a manuscript by Chambers, took him to see Berle.
Chambers claimed to have had no contact with the Party after he broke with it, so it’s curious that he would even pretend to have knowledge about Field’s whereabouts at that time. And, as Levine apparently interjected, his information was wrong. The most likely scenario is that the information came not from Chambers but from Levine. If so, how would Levine have known anything about Massing?
There’s more evidence to support that theory. In “Witness,” Chambers writes that, one night in 1935, he went to see a production of “To Make My Bread” with his then-friend Maxim Lieber. In front of them was what Chambers described as a “lively group.” Lieber said he recognized the woman in the center of the group. “That,” he supposedly told Chambers “is Hede Massing.”
There is a problem with this story. The Massings didn’t get married until 1936. How would Chambers have been told her name was Hede Massing in 1935? And if Chambers did know her as Hede Massing in 1935 (perhaps the assumption had been made back then that they were married), why would he call her Hede Gumpertz in his interview with Berle four years later?
That Chambers incorrectly identified Field also indicates that his information was secondhand. This was reinforced after the FBI interviewed Whittaker Chambers for the first time on May 14, 1942. During the interview, Chambers admitted that he had no firsthand knowledge of the inner workings of the OGPU, but that, according to FBI files, didn’t prevent him from giving the Bureau more than two dozen names of those he said were connected with the organization:
He continued that Hedda Gumpertz (phonetic) whom he was told was an Austrian, was direct contact of Duggin [sic]. He pointed out that Hedda Gumpertz wrote the book “Fatherland” and was married to Paul Massing. He stated that Massing and Gumpertz were said to have broken with the Party and are supposed to be living near Quakertown, Pennsylvania. Chambers stated that he thought that these two individuals were connected with the Russian Terror Apparatus of the OGPU and that in his opinion he thinks that they really did not break with the Party. He further advised that Duggin was connected with Gumpertz and with Fred Field, an official of the Institute for Pacific Relations….
That Chambers’ information was indeed secondhand was obvious from the fact that several of his tips were simply wrong. For example, it was Paul Massing, not Hede, who was the author of “Fatherland. ” Chambers also got his Fields mixed up. It was Noel Field, not Fred Vanderbilt Field, with whom the Massings had a relationship.
The FBI’s follow-up on Chambers’ allegations coincided with the INS’s own investigation into Paul Massing’s eligibility for permanent residence. Paul Massing was interviewed three times by INS examiners, Hede once. All the interviews were conducted under oath, and the Massings were advised that they could face prosecution for lying during the interview. Transcripts of those interviews indicate they must have been grueling, especially for Paul Massing, who was repeatedly thrown on the defensive by well-prepared interrogators.
The examiners focused in on two important aspects of his story: his membership in the Communist Party, and his concealing his trip to Russia (and during the interview, the purpose behind the trip) when applying for a visa to travel in 1937. According to the notes on the transcript, the INS said Massing was lying during the interview when he denied being a member of the German Communist Party. Margin notes on the interview also say “false” next to Massing’s statement that he had no contact with the Communist Party while on a trip to France — and also when he denied any familiarity with the inner workings of the Party.
In addition, the examiners concluded he lied when he claimed the purpose of his 1937 trip to Europe and the Soviet Union was to arrange his finances, visit family, and check into an offer for work from the International Agrarian Institute in Moscow.
As a result, the INS district office recommended, in July 1943, that the application be denied. In a show of bravado, Massing initially demanded a hearing, but perhaps realizing that his relations with the INS could only get worse, especially since he knew he had lied, he quickly backed down and withdrew his application.
But Paul Massing wasn’t the only one who lied to the INS. Hede had also been interviewed under oath. During her interview, which occurred on December 6, 1941, she lied when she swore that neither she nor her husband had been Communists, and when she said that the purpose of their trip to Russia was to make arrangements for her husband to edit an agricultural magazine.
Hede writes in “This Deception” that she and Paul had wanted to unburden themselves of their past when they sat down for the interviews, but chose not to because of the hostility expressed by the examiners. But that scenario is unlikely, considering the clear possibility of deportation if their past was revealed. The Massings must have known that the INS was extremely wary of their stories and that they faced prosecution, which almost certainly would uncover their previous underground activities. If that was the case, deportation might have been the least of their troubles.
When denying his application, however, the INS did give Paul Massing an out. In its decision to turn down his application, the district office stated that he “had failed to show sufficient attachment to the principles of the Constitution of the US.” As the FBI summarized the challenge for Massing, if he wanted INS approval, he needed to establish that he was “anti-communist and anti-Soviet and pro-United States as far back as he could go.”
And to do that, all he and his wife would have to do was cooperate with the Bureau.
The FBI kept careful tabs on the Massings during World War II, with both a mail cover and physical surveillance. FBI agents even combed through the Massings’ trash for any indication that they were still active Party members, as Whittaker Chambers had alleged. Though the Bureau remained suspicious, no such clues were found.
Paul Massing was interviewed by the FBI for the first time in 1943. In this interview, he again perjured himself about his membership in the Communist Party.
In March 1945, Chambers mentioned Hede Massing again in an interview, this time with the State Department’s Security Officer, Raymond Murphy. According to Murphy’s notes of the interview, Chambers had now straightened out the confusion in his memory between Noel Field and Fred Field, but he was still struggling with much of his story. (The notes also reflect what must have been a shortage of decent secretarial help in DC at the time.)
In a special category were Noel Field and Lawrence Guggane [sic] of the State Department. Field was described as a member at large of the Party, Duggan not. Neither was connected with the underground and in fact the underground had orders to rerrain from cojtacting 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 boo. Massing is a penologist for the State of Pennsylvania and they have a famr near Quakertwon , Penna. He is also known as Karl Billinger. Hetta umpertsis a Viennese Jewish grild. When Field wnet to the League of Nations in 1936 he left Duggan in her special care. Gumperts was a Communist International agent. it is understood that Field and Duggan disclosed any information she wanted to know.
Actually, Paul Massing never worked as a penologist. Chambers’ statement that neither Field or Duggan were connected with the underground, and that the underground had orders barring anyone from contacting them, may have been true, but it was contradicted by Hede Massing in 1948 when she said she was ordered to recruit both. How Chambers had any information at all about Massing is a mystery, since he claimed at that date to have left the Party in 1937.
Both Chambers and the Massings said that they had never been introduced. They did have a mutual friend, however, in the conservative Isaac Don Levine, and it’s possible that Levine was the conduit for information that Chambers served up to Murphy.
In August 1946, Murphy saw the Massings for an interview – which was remarkable not for what was said but for what wasn’t. In “This Deception,” Massing writes that the widow of Ignace Reiss sent them to Murphy, the State Department’s staunchly anti-communist Security Officer, because they were eager to unburden themselves of their story. When he recounted the interview with the FBI, however, Murphy said the Massings were seeking his help in arranging a visa. Hede wanted to go to Germany as a newspaper reporter, she told him, but Murphy said he was suspicious that what she really wanted was to go to Germany to make money on commodities on the black market. He didn’t help her with the visa, but he did convince the Massings to talk to him for four hours.
It’s important to note that as the Department’s security officer, it was Murphy’s job to “smoke out commies,” as he told George Eddy in a 1959 interview. To that end, Murphy had already seen Whittaker Chambers twice, and in both interviews, according to the notes, Chambers allegedly named Alger Hiss as a member of the Communist underground. Murphy had a special interest in Hiss and Noel Field. Murphy’s 1959 interview with Eddy revealed a deep-seated animosity toward Hiss, whom he accused of blocking his promotion. “I got kicked in the teeth for my efforts…and never received a promotion. I recently retired at the same position,” Murphy added, blaming his difficulties on Hiss. He also told the FBI that Field had connections in the State Department who were easing him out of his job. Given his obsession with Field and his animosity toward Hiss, and the fact that Massing’s testimony directly related to Field, it’s preposterous to imagine that if she really had had an experience tying together Hiss and Field, that it wouldn’t have even come up during the interview.
The FBI didn’t know about the interview with Murphy until they were told about it on March 21, 1947, when agents called on Hede and Paul to seek their cooperation in their prosecution of Gerhard Eisler, who was then being held at Rikers Island. 
The FBI still refuses to release an unredacted summary of this first crucial conversation with Paul Massing, but it was well aware of his difficulties with the INS and knew that he had previously lied about his Communist Party membership to the Bureau. For his part, Massing had surely read the newspapers and was well aware of the difficulties that Eisler had found himself in, in part because of his own dissembling to the INS. Both Massings had to know that, like Eisler, jail or deportation awaited them if they didn’t cooperate with the FBI’s investigation. Hence, it was no surprise that, after the interview, the agents reported back that they had secured Massing’s agreement to talk about his underground work, which he had concealed in his previous interviews with both the INS and the FBI.
And so, the FBI began a relationship with the Massings as confidential informants of the Bureau that lasted, in Hede’s case, more than two decades. This relationship, which is crucial to understanding Hede Massing’s motivation for testifying against Alger Hiss, was unknown to the defense when she testified at Hiss’s second perjury trial in December 1949. Even today, the exact nature of the relationship is still concealed in the unreleased and redacted files of the FBI.
The most intense period of the Massing-FBI collaboration covered March 1947 to December 1948. During that time, the Massings were interviewed well over a dozen times each. In these sessions, they gave the FBI scores of names of former associates and friends, many of whom had worked courageously with Paul Massing in Germany’s anti-Nazi underground. Most of the interviews stretched on for many hours. Yet, from her first session on March 18, 1947 until her December 7, 1948 interview – which took place four days after Whittaker Chambers’ dramatic charges that Hiss had engaged in espionage were made public – not once did Hede Massing mention to the FBI (or any other government official) that she too knew Hiss as a member of the underground.
Right from the beginning, Hede offered evidence that contradicted the claim by Allen Weinstein 50 years later in “The Haunted Wood,” that she was warned to stay away from Alger Hiss because he worked for the KGB’s military rival, the GRU. According to the FBI’s account of its first interview with her, “Hedi Massing continued to furnish info concerning her activity in Soviet military intelligence [author’s italics] in the US.”
This is when the FBI also learned – much to its surprise – that she had already spoken to Ray Murphy. Importantly, one telex quotes the Massings as saying they had “held nothing back” in their conversations with the State Department officer. That she hadn’t mentioned Hiss in that meeting with Murphy, though, apparently didn’t register with the Bureau.
Telling the FBI Their Story
On March 21, 1947, Hede Massing began to lay out for the Bureau the story of her life – or at least the version she wanted the FBI to hear. But even the FBI was troubled by some of her statements, which would change and contradict one another over time. For example, there was the issue of whether she worked for military intelligence. Ignace Reiss, her first superior, was an agent with the rival OGPU. Later, she claimed to have worked for the Comintern. Pointing up the Massings’ confusion, Paul Massing told the FBI that their superior Boris [Bazarov] was mentioned in Walter Krivitsky’s book, “In Stalin’s Secret Service.” But the Boris in Krivitsky’s book (which was ghosted by Chambers’ and the Massings’ mutual friend, Isaac Don Levine) was one Boris Bykov, who, Krivitsky writes, was head of the Soviet military intelligence effort in the United States (he was also the man that Chambers said was his superior in the underground).
In “This Deception,” Hede said she knew Bazarov as Fred. To the FBI, she said his nickname was “The Little One” and that she didn’t know his real name.
Hede also told the FBI a number of different stories regarding the men who, she said, served as her superiors in the underground, and the tasks they assigned to her. In her interview with the Bureau on the 21st, she mentioned four bosses. They were in order:
- Arthur Walter, an alcoholic who was found dead on West 54th Street in 1934;
- William Joseph Berman, whom she met through Walter;
- “Bill,” whom Massing described as a Russian who was “extremely stupid” and was mostly concerned with Walter’s activities;
- “The Little One,” whom she met through “Bill.”
On March 24, she said that while working for Walter, “she was never asked to do anything in the way of obtaining information.” But while telling her story about Alger Hiss for the first time in December 1948, she claimed that Walter sent her to Washington to meet possible espionage recruits.
In December 1948, she told the grand jury that Berman introduced her to Walter, but she told the FBI that it was Walter who introduced her to Berman.
Massing’s description of “Bill” is also a puzzle. Weinstein writes that Massing’s “Bill,” and the “Bill” who served as Whittaker Chambers’ superior, were the same person. But Massing said that her “Bill” was of middle height, maybe five feet six inches tall, while Chambers described him as being six feet or more. Massing said he was suffering from some sort of disease that turned his eyes red. Chambers said no such thing.
Hede and Noel Field
Hede’s willingness to adapt her story to fit her needs becomes even more obvious when we examine the way she spun her narrative about Noel Field, and then expanded it to snare Alger Hiss five days after Chambers first publicly branded Hiss a spy. This move paid off for Massing, both figuratively and literally: it forced the INS to grant her husband’s citizenship, turned the FBI from an enemy to an ally, and made her the star that she never could be as a frustrated actress in Vienna. Some of the most powerful politicians in the United States sought her help and advice, and she earned a handsome book contract to boot.
On March 28, 1947, Hede told the FBI that she first met Noel Field and his wife Herta at the apartment of Margaret [sic] Young around 1935, when Field was working at the European desk in the State Department. She said that Field had specifically asked to be introduced to her because he was eager to meet the wife of the man who wrote “Fatherland.” She said she and the Fields quickly became close friends. 
Importantly, Hede told the FBI that she discussed using Noel Field with both of her Soviet contacts, Bill and Boris, but, she said, contact actually was made at a later date by Paul Massing. Alluding to her husband’s contacts with Field, she said Field was reluctant to furnish information from the State Department, probably because of fear, so Paul Massing suggested he take a post in a foreign country and then supply information. Field later took a job with the League of Nations, “and Hedi knows nothing of subsequent contacts other than that he was used as a Soviet agent.”
But, like a driver who has taken a wrong turn on the highway, Hede would quickly reverse course. She was the one, she would later claim, who made the contact with Field, and instead of suggesting that Field take the League of Nations job, she would later say that the Party insisted that he not leave the State Department, and that she tried to convince Field to remain.
On March 28th, Paul Massing was interviewed separately by the Bureau. He told the agents that Field operated as a source for some time but gave Field little information of value.
Concurrently, Alger Hiss was interviewed by the Bureau in response to charges circulating around Washington that he had been a Communist, so it’s not surprising that Paul Massing was questioned about him. According to the telex describing the interview, Massing suggested – without any direct knowledge – that Hiss, who was then President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was conspiring with the Soviets to misuse Carnegie funds. In a subsequent interview, he said it was Reverend Harrington of the Unitarian Church who told him that Hiss had misused the Carnegie funds. Harrington would later tell the FBI that he had no direct knowledge about Hiss.
A June 11 report based on more interviews with the Massings added several details to their story about Field. According to the report, “the Massings were cooperative and appeared desirous of telling their complete story without holding back anything,” but again, they said nothing about Hiss.
The Bureau was clearly intent on connecting Hiss to Field, but Paul Massing said that all he personally knew about Alger Hiss was that Field once spoke highly of him.
Having named names for nearly nine months, Paul Massing felt he had earned enough goodwill to resubmit his application for citizenship. On his behalf, agents proposed to “contact Immigration and Naturalization Service and make some arrangements so that Paul Massing’s story will be treated confidentially, thus avoiding losing the confidence of Paul Massing and interfering with the Bureau’s work in connection with the information reported by him.”
On December 30, an agent phoned the INS to say that Massing was about to file his naturalization petition and had been cooperative. On January 5, 1948, however, the Bureau reported that the INS would again recommend against Massing’s naturalization, on the basis of his admission in 1948 that his testimony before the INS in 1942 was false. What followed was an attempt by the Bureau to subvert the INS’s efforts to deport Massing. The writer of one memo proposed that the FBI refrain from sending “derogatory” information to the INS (the FBI by then had proof that Massing had lied both to the INS and the FBI), as it would “probably result in the termination of the very valuable service of both Paul and Hedwig Massing as informants.” The memo suggests that facts be outlined orally to an immigration official in whom the Bureau had complete confidence (no doubt, omitting relevant facts). Then, if another INS office asked for more information, it would be advised specifically that available derogatory information concerning Massing had been made available to that official.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover concurred, and arranged that a “blind memorandum” be sent to L.W. Throckmorton, another cooperative INS official. In his cover note, Hoover warned, “This matter should be handled most expeditiously so that any possible embarrassment to the Bureau or Dr. Massing will be avoided.”
The memo cleverly stated that there was no indication that Massing had ever been a member of the CPUSA (only that he had been “affiliated” with the Party), conveniently ignoring the fact that he had lied about his membership in the German Communist Party. It also made no mention of his lying regarding his Soviet trip.
The Bureau reported that Throckmorton took notes from the memo and, in violation of department regulations, promised to place them not in Massing’s file but in Throckmorton’s personal lockbox instead.
In the spring of 1948, a copy of Ray Murphy’s memo, covering his interview with Chambers, was leaked to conservative journalist Howard Rushmore. Rushmore summarized its contents for a column in the Journal-American. He didn’t identify Hede Massing by name but alluded to her, saying that a second woman with the initials “HG” was involved in the “Gregory” spy plot (actually, no one ever suggested that Massing had anything to do with Elizabeth Bentley, whose case was codenamed “Gregory” by the FBI).
House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) investigator Louis Russell deciphered the mystery, and since HUAC was interested in the Field case, decided to subpoena the Massings, who appeared on September 21. The transcript of their testimony, which was not released until 2003, shows that nearly all the questions were directed at Paul Massing, but both Massings were sworn in and Hede did interject her comments when she felt it was warranted.
Paul Massing characterized Field not as a Party member but rather as a “critical Trotskyite,” which would have made Field an unlikely choice for an agent, at a time when thousands of alleged Trotskyites were being executed in the Soviet Union. He said that Field refused to be an agent out of loyalty to the United States, but that he later convinced Field to go to the League of Nations, where he could be of service without violating his ethics. He added, somewhat contradictorily, that he never discussed espionage with Field, so it’s not clear what he meant by Field being “of service.” Hede interjected that, like money or sex, when it came to espionage, such things weren’t discussed in polite company.
Robert Stripling, the committee’s chief investigator, brought the conversation around to Alger Hiss. Paul Massing offered only a vague comment about Hiss, saying that Field had once praised him, while Hede, although handed a golden opportunity to speak, said nothing. In “This Deception,” she writes that she remained quiet because the committee addressed its question about Hiss to Paul, not to her. In her grand-jury testimony that December, she said she didn’t reveal what she knew about Hiss to HUAC because she didn’t trust the committee.
Curiously, the Massing story as it relates to Hiss was alluded to by Chambers nearly a month before the Massings’ appearance. During executive-session testimony before HUAC on August 27, Chambers had this to say, in response to a question about whether Hiss ever had any conversations with him about bringing others into their apparatus:
Yes; we did, and the one whom Mr. Hiss believed to be the most likely was a man named Noel Field. Mr. Field was in what was then the West European Division of the State Department. I don’t know what his position was, but he may have been head of the Division. Hiss believed that Field was already very strongly pro-Communist…
Now, how he knew that I have forgotten, but I presume by conversation. He made a number of attempts to draw Field in and only discovered at the show-down that Field was connected with another apparatus.
Chambers goes on to fill in the details of Field’s resume, indicating that he had access to Field’s background, much as he did the information about what Massing was up to in the years after he, Chambers, had supposedly broken off all contact with the Party.
The story, of course, bears a striking resemblance to the one later told by Hede Massing and, as before, the big mystery is how Chambers would have known about this. Clearly, he is suggesting that Hiss told him, but there easily could have been another source – and, in fact, there is more than one possibility.
In March 1947, Paul Massing told the FBI that Hede had known Walter Krivitsky in the 1930s. Chambers said he met with Krivitsky in 1939 with Isaac Don Levine, another mutual friend of Chambers’ and Massing’s. At that meeting, either Levine or Krivitsky could have passed on that bit of gossip.
Massing and Chambers had another mutual friend – J. Peters – at least according to both their accounts. In “This Deception,” Hede Massing said she told J. Peters about her meeting with Hiss. If she did do so (even if the meeting never took place), it’s possible that Peters passed on the story to Chambers.
A final possibility is Maxim Lieber, who Chambers said pointed out Massing to him at a theater in 1935. If Lieber indeed knew Massing, he also could have been the conduit for the story.
Meanwhile, Hede was given another chance to discuss Hiss the day after her HUAC appearance, when she was debriefed by the FBI about her testimony and about her husband’s. This was a key interview because she later said that while she mistrusted HUAC, she had no such qualms about the FBI. She even said the agents who were regularly interviewing her had become her friends.
Still, she gave them nothing during the interview, despite the strong interest in both Noel Field and Alger Hiss shown by HUAC and the Justice Department.
Oddly, despite all the evidence to the contrary in the FBI files, Hede writes in “This Deception” that in that post-HUAC interview with the Bureau, she told everything to two agents. If she is telling the truth, the contents of those interviews have never been revealed nor even referred to by the FBI. According to its files, she didn’t mention Hiss until agents contacted her on December 7, 1948, to see if she had any information on Julian Wadleigh, whom Chambers had mentioned as a confederate in the State Department. The stated reasons for the interview were peculiar, as no one had previously ever connected the two.
The reports of that interview say Massing told the agents that during the winter of 1934-1935, she was cultivaing Noel Field to work for her and hopefully furnish information. Field told her, however, that someone else was approaching him for the same type of information. That person was Alger Hiss (thus contradicting Chambers’ assertion that Field turned Hiss down, saying he was already connected with another apparatus).
Massing told the agents that she hadn’t said anything earlier because her mind wasn’t clear on the matter, and only now could she reconstruct it with any degree of accuracy. On the other hand, by the time she wrote “This Deception,” her memory had improved remarkably, and she wrote, “I remember my meeting with Alger Hiss in almost every detail.”
Alas, her earlier claims that she had forgotten the meeting simply don’t wash. The numerous interviews with the FBI over the previous year and a half afforded her plenty of time to gather her memories of important events from her underground activities, and a meeting with someone as important as Hiss would surely have been memorable enough not to have been forgotten.
Following her interview, the FBI informed the Justice Department, and Massing was dispatched to New York City to testify before the grand jury that was then investigating Chambers’ allegations against Hiss. In her December 8 testimony (which was not disclosed until 1999), she offered several reasons for not revealing the encounter previously, the first being that the evening’s events were one of the “haziest evenings,” and that she had forgotten about it until she saw a photo of Hiss in San Francisco. It was only then that she recalled it. The San Francisco Conference, however, was in April, May and June of 1945, which means her memory had presumably been refreshed two years before she had become a confidential informant of the FBI.
Perhaps contributing to the haziness, she said, was that on the evening in question, she had had a lot to drink. Massing told the agents this was customary, because drinking made it so much easier to talk about socialism. Contrast that remark to Chambers’ before HUAC on September 7, when he spoke of his days in the underground and his relationship with the Hisses:
Mr. NIXON. What kind of cocktail glasses did they have?
Mr. CHAMBERS. We never drank cocktails.
Mr. NIXON. Did they drink?
Mr. CHAMBERS. They did not drink. They didn’t drink with me. For one thing, it was strictly forbidden by the Communist Party to taste liquor at any time.
Another reason Hede said she was reluctant to go public with her testimony was her concern that it could jeopardize Paul Massing’s job security. Once her grand-jury testimony was complete, Hede no longer was bothered by such concerns, and set out to sell her story to the highest bidder. On December 27, 1948, Nelson Frank of the New York World-Telegram informed the FBI that he had received a call from someone, asking him if his paper was interested in buying information about the Hiss-Chambers case for $750. He said he later learned that the information came from Hede Massing herself.
The Bureau also began to search for someone who could corroborate Massing’s story, the most obvious candidates being Noel and Herta Field, who were out of the country. Curiously, the FBI made no serious efforts to reach them – or at least the documents don’t indicate as such. The Hiss defense team did, however, and was successful.
Hiss’s lawyers sent an intermediary, Dr. W. Staeheim, to Geneva, to see Herta Field on July 25, 1949. It would be hard to imagine that such time and expense would have been spent by the defense, which was continually hard-pressed for funds, if Hiss knew that Hede’s story was true. Herta Field told Staeheim that it wasn’t, according to a defense document:
Mrs. Field immediately denied that Mrs. Massing and Alger Hiss had ever met in her apartment. She confirmed that both had been many times her and her husband’s guests, but declared that they never were invited together. She said that she could remember this distinctly because her apartment was very small and therefore they never had large parties. They necessarily seldom included more than four to six persons…
I then gave her details on this conversation on the basis of Mr. McLean’s memorandum (without handing it to her of course). Mrs. Field shook her head several times during my explanations and denied violently that such a conversation had ever taken place in her home and confirmed again that Alger Hiss and Mrs. Massing had never met there.
After the meeting, Herta Field composed a letter for the defense to use. The note, written by hand, states, in full:
“Dear Dr. Staeheim,
Thank you very much for acquainting me with the report Hede Massing made on a conversation she claims to have had with Alger Hiss in our apartment. I cannot remember our having invited Hede Massing and Alger Hiss together for dinner. I am sure this conversation never took place.”
Herta H. Field.
Noel Field had already been kidnapped in Prague when his wife was interviewed by the defense, and he never did return to Geneva. Shortly after Staeheim saw Herta, Noel disappeared outside his hotel in Prague, and wasn’t heard from again until he was released by Hungarian authorities in November 1954. Herta herself was arrested that summer and was held incommunicado until she was released along with her husband more than five years later.
In the early part of 1949, the INS again reacted skeptically to a renewed request by Paul Massing for his citizenship papers. Concerned that an adverse INS ruling could end its dialogue with the Massings, the FBI began an intensive series of interviews with Hede Massing. The sessions were held twice a week and each ran three hours.
The results of the interviews with Hede were set out in a long report dated July 8. The documents show Hede was now claiming that she and Field were at the Lincoln Memorial when he mentioned that someone else was recruiting him. Previously, she claimed that he had told her about her competitor while they were on a boat trip in the Potomac. She was also stating that Field tipped her off about this competitor in May 1935. Previously, she had said the conversation occurred sometime during the winter of 1934-35 or 1935-36.
The secondary purpose of the interrogations was to shore up Hede’s expected testimony against Alger Hiss at his perjury trial. The prospect of this new “mystery witness” testifying against Hiss created a commotion in the press, and when her identity was unmasked, the wave of interest precipitated a financial windfall that would dwarf Massing’s asking price the previous December. On July 27, she told the FBI that an unidentified company had offered her $50,000 – an astronomical sum in 1949 – for a series of articles. A month later, Hede Massing informed the FBI that she had received yet another offer, this one from Bell Syndicate, for a series that would be ghosted by the journalist Eugene Lyons.
She insisted, though, that she wasn’t looking for financial gain, but rather that the series would let her help enhance the reputation of the FBI.
But a wrench was thrown into the works in October, when one of Bell’s clients, The New York Times, expressed some concern that Hede might be discredited at trial. The agent reporting on his conversation with Hede added that “the informant is extremely distressed at the present time.” One reason for her anguish was, in hindsight, not surprising, considering Paul Massing’s clear unhappiness over his wife’s interest in publicity, even at the risk of his being fired from his teaching position at Rutgers. According to the document, the Massings were now separated.
She was also upset, she told the FBI, that many of her friends had abandoned her, a bizarre complaint considering that she and her husband had informed on many of them.
Hede also attributed the disappearances of Noel Field and his wife to her impending testimony , and feared the Soviets would make an attempt on her life to prevent her from testifying (no such thing occurred). The FBI, however, was more concerned about corroborating her story, and its inability to find someone it trusted to back her up was making the Bureau nervous. One person it tracked down was Dorothy Detzer, a longtime Washington insider and a friend of Hede’s. In fact, it was Hede who suggested to the FBI that Detzer could back up her story.
In “Perjury,” Allen Weinstein gives great credence to Detzer’s FBI interview – more than the FBI itself did, apparently. But, in order to make her sound more credible than she was, he leaves out several salient points.
As Weinstein reports correctly, Detzer related to the FBI that Massing told her “she had been successful in developing and delivering Noel Field.” Regarding Hiss, Weinstein excerpts the following from the FBI’s summary of the interview: “Detzer is certain his name was mentioned along with Noel Field.” But here’s the full sentence from the same document: “Dorothy Detzer cannot now exactly recall what part Alger Hiss played in this apparatus although Detzer is certain his name was mentioned along with Noel Field.”
The complete text puts a less sinister spin on Detzer’s comment and should have been included in “Perjury.” Weinstein also omits Detzer’s statement to the FBI that Hiss had been a “liberal” in the 1930s.
There were other problems with her story. Detzer was obviously miffed at Hiss, for reasons that had nothing to do with the case. She told the FBI that she had been friendly with Hiss since his days at the Nye Committee, and therefore was surprised to learn, when she applied for a job at the San Francisco Conference, that Hiss (who was in charge of hiring the hundreds of people necessary to run the conference) had sat on her application. Weinstein mentions this, but omits the apparent reason behind Hiss’s actions: Hiss was peeved when Detzer tried to secure a job by going over his head directly to Secretary of State Stettinius.
Detzer also told the FBI that she had expressed her frustration to a State Department official named Howland Shaw, who allegedly told her, “There are some who say that Alger is a Communist.”
Weinstein again shows his recklessness by letting that comment stand without correction. While he concedes in a footnote that Shaw, an Assistant Secretary of State, was a character witness for Hiss, he doesn’t mention that, when asked under oath by Prosecutor Thomas Murphy (who was obviously aware of Detzer’s statement) if he had heard any rumors about Hiss in the 1940s, Shaw didn’t hesitate before saying, “No.”
Perhaps the final word on the best way to evaluate Detzer’s objectivity in the case should be left to Hede Massing, who writes in “This Deception:” “I am proud to say that we are intimate friends today, and that our friendship has only deepened through the years.”
Needless to say, Hede’s encomium to her old friend cannot be found in “Perjury.”
Unable to find anyone it trusted to corroborate Massing, the FBI made sure to bolster Massing’s testimony in other ways. On November 18, a month before she was to testify at Hiss’s second trial, she was driven by FBI agents to Noel Field’s former apartment, and shown the interior. Not surprisingly, when she was asked on the stand to describe the interior of Field’s apartment, Massing replied, “I remember the house very distinctly,” and then provided a detailed description of it.
Massing was not permitted to testify at Hiss’s first trial. After taking the arguments of both sides under advisement, Judge Samuel Kaufman agreed with the defense’s objections that as “rebuttal on a collateral material,” her testimony would be mostly “inflammatory and prejudicial.”
Within hours after the trial ended in a hung jury, Richard Nixon demanded an immediate and full investigation to determine “the fitness of Judge Kaufman to serve on the federal bench.” Congressman Harold F. Velde, a former FBI agent, agreed, declaring that Kaufman’s rulings “bordered on judicial misconduct.”
Throughout the summer, Nixon hammered away at the same theme, that Kaufman, a Truman appointee, was “prejudiced for the defense,” and that if it were not for his improper rulings – the most egregious being his decision to bar Massing’s testimony – Hiss would have been found guilty. Charging that the Democratic Party was behind the machinations, Nixon added, “When the full facts of this trial are laid before the nation, I believe the people will be shocked,” and went on to declare that Kaufman should be impeached.
Although he remained on the bench, Kaufman was replaced, in the second trial, by Judge Henry Goddard, a conservative jurist appointed by Calvin Coolidge. Goddard took a more laissez-faire attitude toward testimony, allowing the defense to present its arguments that Chambers was a psychopathic personality, and permitting the prosecution to offer Massing’s testimony. Late in the afternoon on December 9, 1949, she was sworn in as the prosecution’s penultimate witness.
Instead of downplaying her Communist Party activities, as she did with the INS, Massing now positively glowed on the stand, as befits an actress finally getting her chance to appear in the footlights, and carried herself with “an air of challenging chic,” according to the journalist Alistair Cooke.
Again, though, there were the discrepancies. Now, she placed the Field dinner party in the late summer or early fall of 1935. Her most recent statements to the FBI had put it in the late spring or early summer.
On direct examination, prosecutor Murphy asked her,”Have you ever testified in court before, Mrs. Massing?”
She replied, coyly, “No, it is my first experience. I am afraid I do badly.”
But Claude Cross, Hiss’s attorney, got her to admit that she had testified on behalf of her husband’s petition for naturalization. While she didn’t say so on the stand, she had also testified at least three times before a grand jury.
Cross wanted to know if Massing had written a book about her Party activities. Massing denied it. Cross asked her if someone else had written a book for her. She denied that as well. Asked specifically whether Eugene Lyons was writing something for her, she said no. In fact, Lyons’ ghostwritten articles had already been written and were simply waiting for the end of the trial for their final editing and publication.
Laying the foundation for rebuttal testimony, Cross asked, over Murphy’s vigorous objections, if Massing had said at a party, that September, that Lyons had written a book for her. Massing said she didn’t say it because it wasn’t so, adding petulantly, “I probably might write a book after the trial is over.”
Asked if her trip to Moscow was paid for by the Agrarian Institute, as she had told the INS, she maintained the fiction that the purpose of the trip was to arrange for the editing of a magazine (unbeknownst to the defense, she had already admitted to the FBI that she and Paul had gone to Russia in connection with their underground activities).
Cross again went over the subject of her writing. He forced her to amend her earlier statement. Now, she said, “I am not writing and I am not preparing, but I had a discussion with Mr. Gene Lyons about possibly writing articles.” Still, she was shading the truth, adding only that it was “possible” that “he is preparing articles because he will be the writer.”
Cross asked Massing if she had ever met a man named Henrikas Rabinavicius at the home of Eugene Lyons. Massing answered that she had never heard of the name, although she recalled being at a party at Lyons’ apartment.
After the trial broke for the weekend, Lyons sent a note to Murphy, who had no idea what the defense was getting at with its questions about Rabinavicius or the party at Lyons’ home. Lyons filled him in, informing the prosecutor, among other things, that his now former friend was “pro-Bolshevist.”
Lyons also apparently tipped off Massing because, when the trial resumed on Monday, she suddenly seemed eager to talk about Rabinavicius. Now, she not only could recall who he was, but she also clearly remembered their conversation. “The gentleman you are referring to was very pro-Soviet, and I happened not to like that,” she said, echoing Lyons. “It was rather critical of our Government, which I didn’t like either.”
As expected, Rabinavicius was called to the stand in rebuttal. Far from being a Bolshevist, he turned out to be a former Lithuanian diplomat who lost his post to the Communists after the country was taken over by the Soviets. He proved to be a strong witness. He testified that three months before, he and Massing had been guests at a dinner party thrown by Lyons, who had been a friend of his since 1930.
Rabinavicius said Massing told the gathering that, while her job was to be in contact with members of the Department of State, she carefully concealed from them that she was a Communist or a Soviet spy, because that would have scared them away. This jibed with Massing’s own statement to the FBI on December 6, 1948.
According to Rabinavicius, Massing told the gathering that a certain “Mr. X” said to her, “Why should I consider joining your anti-fascist organization, when we have such an organization in the Department of State, headed by a man in the department?” Massing then revealed to the group that the man Mr. X was referring to was Alger Hiss:
She interrupted her telling us the story about meeting Mr. Hiss, and she turned to Mr. Lyons and said, “Gene, what did Alger Hiss say?”
And Mr. Lyons retorted, “I don’t know what Mr. Hiss said, I wasn’t there, you ought to know yourself.”
Rabinavicius testified that he later approached Massing and challenged her on the story. He said she became angry and threatened him:
“You wait and see; I will write articles after this trial is over and will have one that will be addressed to you. You will find yourself in one of my articles. And if I am permitted to testify Hiss will be indicted or put to prison,” or something to that effect. I don’t remember that exact wording.
Hede was preparing newspaper articles about her life, which helps confirm Rabinavicius’s testimony, but the most important clue that Rabinavicius – and thus Hiss – was telling the truth, comes from Massing herself. It’s there buried in the testimony of both Massing and Rabinavicius. According to Rabinavicius, at the party Massing stated that Field had asked her, “Why should I consider joining your anti-fascist organization, when we have such an organization in the Department of State, headed by a man in the department?”
In her 1951 testimony before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, in recalling Field’s question, Massing would use a very similar phrase when quoting Field’s alleged response to her pressure: “I have come to the conclusion that it is really quite ridiculous that I should work with you when I can work with an old friend of mine who works with me in the State Department.”
With that phrase, she not only confirmed Rabinavicius’s account, but also inadvertently backed Hiss’s contention that the story was false. It had to be false because in the summer of 1935 (the date of her conversation with Field, according to Massing’s last version of the story), Hiss was still in the Department of Agriculture. Later that summer he joined Justice. He wouldn’t enter the State Department, where Field was working, until September 1936.
Nearly as bad for Massing’s credibility is her statement that Field told her he and Hiss saw each other every day, meaning that they worked together. But Hiss and Field were never in the State Department at the same time, and neither were their offices in close proximity.
Rabinavicius’s rebuttal apparently did little to help Hiss. He was convicted on January 21, 1950, and on January 25 was sentenced to five years in prison. On the 26th, Massing’s syndicater delivered 18 newspaper articles under her byline to the FBI.
Though separated by then, the Massings together pressured the Bureau into getting the INS to approve Paul Massing’s citizenship papers. On May 29, Hede told agents that Paul was “disturbed and disappointed” by the way he was being treated by the INS. FBI agent Edward Scheidt wrote to Hoover on Paul Massing’s behalf, using flattery to enlist Hoover’s help. “He was greatly impressed by the FBI because to him the FBI acted as the arm of the people and was extremely conscious of the rights of the people.” Scheidt told Hoover that Massing wanted to write an article about his positive experience with the FBI.
Hede followed with her own personal note to Hoover, informing him of her book’s completion – pending FBI approval of its contents. If her trial testimony – that she was not then writing a book on the case – was to be believed, she had written it in less than a month.
Amid these pleas for help, an advance copy of the book arrived on FBI Assistant Director Daniel M. Ladd’s desk. Ladd reported to Hoover that the book is “most favorable” and “is factual for the most part with the exception of a few phases of her work.” Ladd was especially pleased to pass on Hede’s statement that “by meeting with the FBI, I have seen democracy in the working. It has filled me with awe and admiration.” Ladd said Massing also wrote that the FBI employed “no coercion, no tricks” during their interviews with her.
Hede Massing and the “Hisstorians”
In the 1990s and then in 2009, three major books were published, claiming to offer new information backing Massing’s story: “Whittaker Chambers” by Sam Tanenhaus, “The Haunted Wood,” by Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, and “Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America,” by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev.
In his book, Tanenhaus writes that the work of an Hungarian historian named Maria Schmidt provides “the final nail in the coffin for those who proclaim Hiss’s innocence.” Schmidt had found and translated a transcript of an interrogation of Noel Field while he was imprisoned in Hungary from 1949 to 1954. According to that transcript, Field told his interrogators that Hiss had tried to recruit him into the underground.
Tanenhaus tacks on the following curious statement from Field, via Schmidt:
Surprised by Hiss’s overture, Field carelessly told him [Hiss] “I was already working for Soviet intelligence.” When Field reported his blunder to Hede Massing, “I received a stern rebuke from her. … a little later she told me I had done greater damage than I would believe and that because of me the whole network had to be reorganized.”
Like so much of the material relating to Massing, on first glance this appears to incriminate Hiss, but there are numerous problems with this conclusion that go unreported by Tanenhaus. First, according to Massing, she was still attempting to recruit Field when he told her about Hiss. He was not yet connected with any underground organization at the time. Second, in all her interviews with the FBI, her testimony before two grand juries dealing with the Hiss case, her trial testimony, and her book, she never once even hinted that she had had any such conversation with Field or that he had been rebuked that way.
Schmidt’s findings were also refuted by Ethan Klingsberg in a 1993 article for The Nation. Klingsberg visited Hungary, where he spoke to officials and examined the same archives. He didn’t question the documents, but pointed out that Field gave these responses during a period when he was held in solitary confinement by Hungarian authorities. Information given under those conditions (even if he wasn’t being physically harmed during that specific time) can hardly be considered reliable. In an interview with this writer in 2003, Field’s brother-in-law, Joseph Doob, a retired mathematics professor in Urbana, Illinois, supported Klingsberg’s view. “Hermann [Field’s brother, who had also been arrested] and Noel told me many times that they would say anything they thought their interrogators wanted to hear, in order to stop their torture.” 
A memorandum purportedly written by Hede Massing about her contacts with Field and Hiss is presented in “The Haunted Wood.” The authors say the April 1936 document comes from the KGB files. While they claim to be quoting from the document, they do not produce it. Nor do they give an exact date for it. Instead it was part of a group of KGB files carefully selected for them, and then reproduced by Vassiliev’s note. The authors are in effect saying, “You’ll have to trust us on this.”
Should we? Like the excerpt reprinted by Tanenhaus, this document also appears to be incriminating on first glance, but upon closer examination, things are clearly amiss. Quoting from it – or from a summary of it, they begin:
In April 1936 however, an encounter occurred involving Noel Field … that, a decade later, would affect gravely both his life and Duggan’s…
It’s not clear from the text to which encounter the authors are referring, but if they are discussing the alleged meeting between Hiss and Massing, dating this in April 1936 is curious, since Massing, after hours of interviews with the FBI, public testimony and a book, finally put the alleged meeting with Hiss in the late spring or early summer of 1935.
But they go on to put what they claim to be the dagger into the heart of Hiss’s defense:
The story emerged in a memorandum that month from Hedda Gumpertz to her superiors concerning her efforts with Field. She informed them that a week before the latter’s [Noel Field’s] departure for Europe to attend a London conference representing State, he was approached by another New Deal friend, Alger Hiss, then completing an assignment at the Justice Department and scheduled to join State that fall: “Alger let him know that he was a Communist [Gumpertz’s memo continued], that he was connected with organization working for the Soviet Union and that he knew [Field] also had a connection but he was afraid they were not solid enough, and probably, his knowledge was being used in a wrong way. Then he directly proposed that Field give him an account of the London conference.”
Field left the United States to attend the London session around the 29th of November, 1935, five months before April 1936. That was long before Hiss was “scheduled” to go to the State Department (in fact, he was never “scheduled” to go to the State Department). It was also a long time before the alleged memo was written. Moreover, even if the dating of the documents were accurate, and Hiss had told Field of his secret identity in November, that would contradict Massing’s story. In her FBI interviews, her testimony and her book, the range of dates in which she placed her meeting with Hiss covered the spring to early fall of 1935, and, according to Massing, her meeting with Hiss occurred after he began pressuring Field. Additionally, according to the way Massing told it, the meeting with Hiss occurred a week or so after her conversation with Field. The Weinstein-Vassiliev document would place that meeting while Field was away in London.
Weinstein and Vassiliev cite other documents that they say result from Massing’s meeting with Hiss. One cable from Moscow allegedly reads:
We do not understand [Gumpertz’s] motives in having met with [Hiss]. As we understand, this occurred after our instruction that [Hiss] was ‘the neighbors’ man’ [working with military intelligence], and that one should leave him alone…
This too raises more questions than it answers. First, according to the authors, in the actual document or summary to which Vassiliev was given access, Hiss’s name was not mentioned. The authors inserted Hiss’s name in brackets because they claim that the codename mentioned in the cable was Hiss’s. What was the codename? They don’t say, so it can’t be checked.
Second, according to the authors, the document is dated “May 3, 1936.” But Massing placed her conversation with Hiss, at the latest, in the summer of 1935. Why would Moscow still be grousing about a meeting that allegedly occurred a year before? There may be a reasonable explanation for this, but the authors don’t supply it.
Even more important is the suggestion that Hiss was then working for military intelligence. Since the authors apparently accept Whittaker Chambers’ account without reservation, let’s see what happens if we do so as well. According to Chambers, his superior in the underground up until 1937 was J. Peters, who, Chambers said, was affiliated with the Comintern, not military intelligence. It was only after the arrival of Boris Bykov in 1937, and the handover from Peters to Bykov, that Hiss could have had a superior associated with military intelligence. Until then, according to Chambers, Hiss did no work for the GRU. Thus, according to Chambers’ version of events, Hiss could not in May 1936 have been “the neighbors’ man.” 
Even if Vassiliev’s notes from the documents he saw were accurate, both he and Weinstein and their supporters fail to consider the most logical conclusion about Massing’s report to the Soviets – that she made up the story about Hiss. There are a number of reason why this is the most logical conclusion:
- Hede Massing was sent to Washington, allegedly to find recruits. In that vein, she contacted Field and Duggan with limited success. She did not have a good reputation among her handlers, who saw her as “unreliable,” according to Ignace Reiss’s wife. Desiring to continue the work (which carried with it a stipend – not a small consideration during the Depression), and keep up with her husband’s ideological commitment, it’s very possible that she exaggerated her successes in her reports, and that Hiss, who by then was getting noticed in the newspapers for his work with the Nye Committee, would have been considered a good catch. In her book, “The Origins of the Cold War,” historian Amy Knight writes that Soviet agents under tremendous pressure from home routinely puffed up their successes in their reports to Moscow. Ultimately, the presence of Massing’s account in the files shows nothing more than that in the 1930s Massing was telling stories – not that the stories she was telling at that time were truthful.
- The story she told about Hiss and Field was a simple and straightforward one, yet the number of discrepancies in her account can’t be reasonably ignored.
- The Hiss defense was continually pressed for funds. Sending an emissary to the Fields was not only expensive but also risky, since Mrs. Field could have confirmed the story – which she didn’t.
Others who have visited the same Soviet files came away with entirely different conclusions. In 1991, following the written request from Alger Hiss, Russian historian Gen. Dmitri Volkogonov and his associates researched the files of several Soviet agencies for information about Hiss. Volkogonov told American attorney John Lowenthal that the KGB files did not contain any documents that incriminated Hiss. In 2004, retired Gen. Julius N. Kobyakov said he was the one who actually conducted the investigation for Volkgonov, and that his own research into the KGB files (although he said he hadn’t seen the GRU files, while Volkogonov included the GRU files in his statement) confirmed Volkogonov’s statement that Hiss had never been a Soviet agent. “I succeeded in finding out materials dated before the War, and in one of the documents it was explicitly stated that Alger Hiss has nothing to do with our intelligence,” Kobyakov said. The document stated, “‘He is not ours; he is not controlled; he is not recruited. He is not ours.’ It was explicitly stated.”
Kobyakov said he also carefully examined Noel Field’s KGB file. “When I read the Noel Field file, I was certainly aware of the allegations concerning Alger Hiss,” said Kobyakov, “and if I encountered, if I came across an inclination that Alger Hiss was one of our assets, I would have certainly remembered it.”
The Haynes, Klehr and Vassiliev book “Spies” claims to take “The Haunted Wood” one step further. The book is based on the notes that Vassiliev took from the files of the KGB that he was permitted to see in the 1990s. The difference between this book and “The Haunted Wood,” according to the authors, is that their new book contains a good deal of information that wasn’t included in “The Haunted Wood.” Some of that information concerns Massing and Field, and while most of it simply goes over the old ground covered in “The Haunted Wood,” some of it is new, and some of it is actually a new take on the old material. (An in-depth analysis of what “Spies” has to say about Massing and Hiss has also been posted on this site.)
Denouement for the Massings
In May 1951, Paul Massing got a Mexican divorce. Hede Massing signed on with a lecture agency, “hoping to reach out to middle America to discredit the witch hunt slogan and mentality of liberal leftists in New York,” she told the FBI.
Paul Massing’s efforts to obtain US citizenship finally reached fruition, after the FBI produced another blind memo stating that he had only been “affiliated” with the Communist Party. On March 17, 1952, Massing was granted citizenship. The man who signed the order was Henry W. Goddard, the same judge who had admitted Hede Massing’s testimony at the second Hiss trial. Paul Massing taught at Rutgers until his death in 1968.
After the publicity for her book quieted down, Hede Massing quickly began missing the limelight. In 1953, she worked briefly for Sen. Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn on their investigation of the United States Information Service in Europe. She remained in contact with the FBI, continuing to act as an informant for the Bureau, although it was she, not the FBI, who sought to maintain the relationship. Over the next few years, she took it upon herself to contact the FBI, to suggest investigations of various people she heard express liberal opinions, or criticism of her or the FBI.
In 1955, she took up with a much younger man, causing concern in the FBI that news of the affair would damage her credibility. She became a religious Catholic and wrote a novel but was unable to find a publisher for it. She traveled to Mexico City in 1956, informing the FBI in advance because she was worried there were Communists in Mexico who might want to harm her. In 1981, she died at her home in Greenwich Village at the age of 81. The obit was probably shorter than she had hoped it would be.
The Fields were released from prison in 1954. They chose to remain in Hungary. In a letter to Hiss, written after both were released from prison, Field wrote that Massing’s story was “nothing but a lie.” Then, in 1957, a letter arrived at Alger Hiss’s New York City apartment. It was also from Field. He wrote in part:
…it was not until after I came out of jail that I learned of the part played in your second trial by false testimony of a perjured witness with regard to a purported meeting and a conversation, neither of which ever took place, either within or without the confines of our Washington apartment. That my own imprisonment prevented me from nailing this outrageous lie is not the least part of the tragedy which befell me in 1949. My definite and absolute personal knowledge of the complete untruth of this particular bit of evidence is the clearest proof to me – aside from experience of your personality and outlook – of the falsehood of the rest of the “evidence” on which you were convicted.
Field offered to sign an affidavit so that Hiss might find some legal use of his statement, but, as Hiss knew, the letter arrived seven years too late, and he never took Field up on his offer.
1. Documents located in the government archives of the former Soviet Union provide only partial clues as to the extent of their involvement in espionage. What does seem clear from both the FBI and the Soviet files is that, of the two, Paul Massing was by far the more valuable resource. One German Communist Party file from 1930 complains about Hede Massing’s “unreliability,” while the wife of her main contact, Ignace Reiss, reported that Hede had a reputation as a “gossip.”
2. Eisler’s own journey to the front page began in 1941 when, through no choice of his own, he landed in the United States on his way to Mexico from a concentration camp in Vichy France. For six years, he had tried to leave the United States: first, during the war years, to go to Mexico, and then, after the end of World War II, to return to Germany.
In October 1946, Louis Budenz, a former Communist who had undergone a religious conversion, went on a Detroit radio show and declared that “Hans Berger” (Eisler) was the Kremlin’s top agent in the United States. A week after Budenz leveled the charge, a reporter for The New York Times visited Eisler at his home in New York City, and found a “short, chunky, bald man” (in his obituary, the Times described him as looking like “an underpaid bookkeeper”) living in the fourth floor of a walk-up apartment, anxious to leave the country but unable to do so because of visa troubles. Eisler didn’t deny he was a Communist, but said he had nothing to do with the Party. He called Budenz’s charge “too ridiculous to answer,” but did say he had never used the name Hans Berger.
On February 5, 1947, the Justice Department arrested Eisler as an enemy alien at the behest of HUAC Chairman J. Parnell Thomas. The New York Times reported that Thomas had told Attorney General Tom Clark “that Eisler apparently was trying to flee the country or evade appearance in some other way,” so using the Enemy Alien Act of 1798 as an excuse, INS agents acting on Thomas’s bidding picked him up and took him to the jail on Ellis Island.
Without his exit permit, however, Eisler was going nowhere, and Thomas knew it. The only reason to arrest him was to generate publicity for the hearing. Mrs. Eisler said Gerhard was actually looking forward to testifying: “My husband would like nothing better than to appear before the committee because he has some things he would like to tell them.”
Nonetheless, the next morning, Eisler was brought into the hearing room in chains and handcuffs. The press covered his appearance as a major event. Eisler requested permission to read a statement into the record. An angry exchange followed, in which Eisler claimed he was a political prisoner who was entitled to make a short statement before being sworn in. Thomas refused, however, and ending the charade that he was actually trying to get information from Eisler, quickly had him removed from the Committee room.
Testifying against him were Budenz, who reiterated his previous testimony against Eisler, and Eisler’s sister, Ruth Fischer – a former CP member who told the committee her brother was a “terrorist.”
Twelve days later, in his maiden speech in the House of Representatives, Richard Nixon asked that Eisler be indicted for contempt of Congress, declaring that the purpose of Eisler’s presence in the United States was “to tear down and destroy the Government which furnished him refuge during the war years.” Nixon claimed “Communist and Communist-sympathizing government officials responsible for enforcing the laws” gave Eisler “the complete run of the country.” Now was the time for action, Nixon said, in “rooting out communist sympathizers from our American institutions.”
But while Nixon was, in effect, accusing the Roosevelt Administration of treason, the only basis for the charge against Eisler was Budenz’s testimony and, in that testimony, the closest he came to accusing Eisler of a specific crime was a sentence vaguely linking him to one of the Canadian atomic spy defendants. Even by the standards of a professional witness, this was pretty thin stuff.
Eisler was cited for contempt of Congress, and brought to trial in Washington in June. The jury deliberated only 20 minutes before finding Eisler guilty of contempt of Congress. He was sentenced to a year in prison. His conviction was upheld on appeal by a divided court, but Eisler escaped the clutches of the US courts – literally.
On May 11, 1949, he stowed away on a Polish ship bound for Leipzig. At the request of the US government, he was taken off the ship by the British when it landed in Southampton. Scotland Yard released him, however, after a British judge found that he had committed no extraditable crime. Eisler then continued on his trip to East Germany, where a university post awaited him.
3. The FBI later interviewed Young in February 1949. She was firm in her recollection that it wasn’t Field who wanted to meet Hede, but rather Hede who approached her, posing as a German refugee. She said her husband was an anti-Nazi activist in Germany, and she needed help getting a visa for him. Young said that Hede wanted to know if anyone in the State Department could be of help, and Young recommended Field and Duggan. She said she subsequently introduced Massing to both of them.
4. There was no such connection. In his book “Operation Splinter Factor,” author Stewart Steven makes it clear that the Fields were set up for arrest as American agents by the OSS, as part of an elaborate plot to destabilize Eastern Europe and overthrow Soviet hegemony in the region.
5. The sentiment was echoed by Erica Wallach, Noel Field’s adopted daughter, who was arrested by Communist authorities in East Germany in 1949 and not released until 1955. She too was repeatedly tortured. Wallach had read the statements by Schmidt before she died, and commented on them in a letter to her agent:
As you know, I was able to see my own Stasi (East German State Security) file of 1950-51. Since I remember extremely well my nightly interrogations and sometimes day and night – from August 1950 to March 1951 (the last entry in that file but by no means my last interrogations which lasted ’til December 1952), I am amazed at what it contains or what it does not contain.
Apart from several pages in my handwriting, there are only 7 interrogations for the entire period of over 6 months. The answers as well as the questions were written by the interrogator in his language and his interpretation. It has nothing to do with what I had said, which should not really surprise me: whenever I tried to rectify their imaginations and lies, I was told that they would not write down lies. It is impossible to convey to anyone who has not been in that situation the impossibility of the prisoner to defend himself, and no historian will ever be able to learn the truth from those files.”
Tanenhaus did not interview Wallach. Neither did Weinstein when working with Vassiliev.
6. Yet another document cited in “The Haunted Wood,” this one purportedly quoting the KGB’s Washington station chief, Itshak Akhmerov, is said by Weinstein and Vassiliev to directly discuss the meeting between Massing and Hiss. It says, in part, “Gumpertz met with [Hiss] only once during her stay in the country.” Again, Hiss’s name only appears in brackets. But then it adds this curious line, “By an accidental coincidence, a brother organization’s worker connection with [Hiss] knew [Gumpertz] well…” Weinstein and Vassiliev identify the person as J. Peters, Chambers’s alleged superior in the underground, but in her book Gumpertz/Massing maintained that her meetings with Peters, which had to do only with obtaining false passports, were never accidental or coincidental but deliberately planned for and arranged.