Field, Noel Haviland (1904-1970)

Noel Field was a U.S. State Department official from the late 1920s to 1936, who then relocated to Geneva to join the secretariat of the League of Nations, and worked in Europe on U.S. relief missions during World War II. After his detention by Communist authorities in Prague in 1949 as a U.S. spy, Field became the pretext for a series of early Cold War show trials in Hungary, Poland, East Germany and Czechoslovakia.

Noel Field’s story remains one of the most mysterious and controversial stories from the early Cold War period. Despite a significant amount of documentation from the archives of Hungary and other Central and Eastern European countries that has surfaced since the early 1990s, there are still three huge  and significant gaps in the Noel Field corpus of documentation. The most voluminous part of this corpus, the so-called Noel Field Hungarian dossier1 — deposited at the Historical Archives of Hungarian State Security — has very little pre-1954 documentation left; most records were destroyed in the aftermath of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, reportedly on the instructions of Janos Kadar. Most importantly, there is not a single record of the intensive interrogations Field underwent while he was in solitary confinement in Hungary from 1949 until 1954.

As for the Russian archives, the miscellaneous “Noel Field” records that I have discovered there since 2005 are those that found their way into the Cominform, as well as into personal files from other sources, some of them  Hungarian. Although I have repeatedly seen references to a “Noel H. Field” personal file, no such file has thus far been discovered in the two publicly accessible archives holding the records of the Comintern, the Cominform and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR. My efforts to discover a KGB investigative file on Noel Field dating from the late 1940s to the early 1950s have thus far failed. An official response to my request for these records from the KGB successor agency, the FSB, said: “the Central Archive of the FSB of Russia is not in possession of information in respect of Field, H. Noel.” 2 This suggests that the Russian investigative records and reports from the late 1940s and early 1950s might also have been destroyed, probably again after 1956.

Neither has there been any access to Noel Field’s NKVD foreign intelligence personal file, which is reportedly held at the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR. Therefore, we have no ability to crosscheck the veracity of the stories that Field told in 1948, in a desperate attempt to ascertain his “party situation” (which he described as “an issue of life and death”). Similarly, it is difficult to check the veracity of the stories that Field told his Hungarian interrogators in 1954.

Except for the records of the U.S. Department of State from the 1930s, the U.S.-held records in re Noel Field are scarce.  Conspicuously, there are no records to shed light on the details of the relationship between Noel Field and Allen Dulles during World War II — and, most importantly, to prove or disapprove the allegations made in a 1974 book that Field’s arrest in Prague, in 1949, had been in some covert way set up by Dulles as part of a strategy to undermine the Stalinist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe.

Given this incomplete corpus of documentation, any telling of Noel Field’s life story will be non-definitive and, at this point, based mostly on the accounts which Field himself gave in 1946 and in 1948, while still free in Europe — as well as on the accounts he gave after five and a half years of solitary confinement. The latter accounts  exist as transcripts of 25 high-pressure sessions with Hungarian interrogators in 1954, when Field’s case was re-opened after Stalin’s death, and as a number of lengthy personal narratives which he wrote in between various interrogations.

Noel Field was born in London on January 23, 1904 to an established Quaker family. His American-born father, a well-known biologist named Herbert Haviland Field, was a director of an international scientific bibliographic institute in Zurich, Switzerland, which was a vast, encyclopedic enterprise in zoology. His mother, Nina Foote, was a British-born journalist, a Quaker who turned Communist in the 1930s. Field grew up in a home with strong traditions of pacifism, egalitarianism, humanitarian service and assistance to the victims of persecution. Schooled in Zurich from a young age, he took part in pacifist and charitable organizations. As an adolescent in Switzerland, he met his German-born future wife, Herta Katharina Vieser, with whom he would not part for the rest of his life.

Noel and Herta Field in 1925

After the death of Field’s father in 1921, his mother took Noel, his brother Hermann and two sisters to the United States. Herta Vieser followed Noel Field to America, where the two later got married. Noel Field studied political science at Harvard and obtained a Ph.D. from there in 1926. On September 1 of that year, he enrolled at the Foreign Service School in Washington, D.C., and in spring 1927, he became an employee of the Western European Affairs division of the Department of State. In 1930, he was promoted to senior economic adviser at that division. 3

Field was an internationalist who was disappointed that the United States had not joined the League of Nations, a fact which resulted in America’s declining international responsibility. At the Department of State, he was primarily occupied with the affairs of the League of Nations. His major field was limitation of armaments and disarmament. In late 1929, he helped to prepare draft papers for the First London Conference on Naval Disarmament – and then went to London to take part in the conference (January 21-April 22, 1930). In subsequent years, his work was closely connected with international disarmament discussions aimed at lightening the burden of large armies and navies, beginning with the General Disarmament Conference which opened in Geneva in 1932 and continued until 1935. Field served as Secretary of the U.S. delegation at its session, which began in June 1934. 4 On October 6, 1934, he was designated Secretary of the U.S. delegation to the London Naval Disarmament Conference, which opened on October 23, 1934. 5 In November 1935, Field was appointed Technical Assistant to the U.S. Delegation at the London Naval Disarmament Conference, which opened on December 9, 1935 and closed on March 25, 1936. 6

Meanwhile, at the Department of State, Field was considered a prospective head of the German branch. He chose instead to leave the State Department for a job at the League of Nations. In April 1936, soon after his return to Washington, D.C. from the London conference, Field joined the League of Nations in Geneva as a delegate in the disarmament division (the group focusing on demobilization) of its Secretariat. The Fields settled at villa La Chotte in Vandoeuvres, near Geneva. A few months later, Field prepared a memorandum on “Prospects respecting a resumption of disarmament activities of the League.” 7

Field was deeply moved by the civil war in Spain – and, particularly, by the impact of German Nazi and Italian fascist assistance deployed against Spain’s democratically elected government. In early 1939, he accepted a position with the League of Nations’s Intergovernmental Committee to oversee the repatriation of foreign nationals who had taken part in the Spanish civil war. 8 In the following months, Field saved many lives, often at great risk to his own, providing humanitarian assistance amidst the havoc of the war. Frustrated by the League of Nations’s inability to prevent the defeat of the Republican forces in Spain, as well as by the German aggression, he resigned from the League in October 1940.

By that time, Field had several years of service to the Communist cause behind him. Years later, he would place the beginning of his radicalization in 1927 – under the impact of the landmark Sacco and Vanzetti case (Italian immigrants who were accused and convicted of murder during a 1920 armed robbery) — when he began moving “leftward” from his former position as a self-described “pacifist idealist.” Field placed what he called “the first non-firm ties with the Communist Party of the USA” in “1932-1934,” when he “performed occasional unorganized work,” including writing for the Communist press under a pseudonym. 9

In that period Field befriended another State Department official, Laurence Duggan, whom he later described as his “best and almost only friend.” Duggan was the only colleague at the Department of State with whom Field “shared his views and intentions”; Duggan also supported Field “on some operations, for instance, in the organization of support for [Henri] Barbusse” during the 1933 tour of the French writer in the United States. 10

Noel Field’s motives “stemmed from his conviction,” rooted in President Roosevelt’s decision to grant diplomatic recognition to the USSR, “that the United States and the Soviet Union had a common mission to save the world from the abyss into which [the] capitalism and imperialism of the European powers were driving it.” Ultimately, according to historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., “the depression and the rise of fascism set his Quaker idealism in a communist mold.”  11

Years later, in statements to his Hungarian captors, Field would cite 1934 as the beginning of what he termed his “organized work.” In his own words, this was “re-orientation into special work in favor of M. [Moscow]” According to Field’s account, “in 1934 (perhaps even in 1933)” he met an “American journalist Kendall Foss, who had recently returned from Moscow.” At his home, he subsequently met “Hede Gumperz, an émigré from Germany,” and “probably also her husband Paul Massing,” a German Communist and social scientist who had recently been rescued from a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Hede Gumperz told Field that she and her husband were working for the Communist cause – helping the Soviet Union in its stand against the forces of imperialism and fascism. Field joined the enterprise – and was ordered “to cease all party contacts in the USA.” According to Field, he “handed over lots of information… – orally as well as in writing – about the State Department, but also about the London Naval Conference.” Field also introduced his close friend Laurence Duggan to Hede Gumperz. 12

In the mid-1930s, again according to Field’s written statements while in solitary confinement in Hungary in 1954, he met another young New Dealer, Alger Hiss, and his wife Priscilla. At least as traceable through surviving Hungarian records, the confusing story that then emerged was the first statement Field ever made suggesting that Hiss had also been involved in working with the Soviets; it appeared for the first time in a memo Field wrote after the second in a series of 25 often hostile interrogations, to which he was subjected after the investigation into the charges against him of American espionage had been reopened. Desperate to establish his 20 years of continuous loyalty to the USSR as a way of demonstrating that he could not have been an agent of U.S. intelligence, Field repeatedly told stories of how he had over the years “compromised himself” 13 by revealing his “work for the Soviet intelligence” to a few “outsiders.”

As Field told his interrogators, he first “broke discipline” “approximately in the summer of 1935” (two months later, Field would change the date to the fall of 1935) by confiding to Hiss that he (Field) was working for a Communist cause. According to Field’s first account, Hiss “tried to recruit” him “for the Soviet service,” or, as he said two months later, in his 22nd interrogation, “Hiss requested” him “by occasion to work for the Soviet intelligence.” Field said that he had immediately reported his indiscretion to his contact, Hede Gumperz, who would tell him later that the damage he had caused by his lack of caution was “much greater” than he could imagine, and that “the whole work had to be reorganized.”

When researchers in the early 1990s began gaining access to Hungarian security records, some authors cited this story of Field’s as a kind of “offstage corroboration” of Hiss’s espionage. Compounding the confusion, Field before his incarceration had written Hiss a letter, praising him as “an embodiment of the best Oliver Wendell Holmes tradition and as a man of unusual integrity.” 14

To learn more, click:

1)  The English translation of exactly what Noel Field wrote and said to his Hungarian interrogators in mid-1954 as proof that he had been an agent of the Soviet and not the U.S. intelligence – as well as the clues Field left to his possible sources.

2)  What Hede Gumperz (soon to become Hede Massing) first told the FBI, on December 7, 1948 (for the first time, after two years of talks with the Bureau) – and subsequently told the grand jury in the Hiss-Chambers case.

3)  How this story appears in the notes former KGB officer and journalist, Alexander Vassiliev, took in the mid-1990s on the NKVD file on Laurence Duggan.

By the mid-1930s, Hede Gumperz and Paul Massing were, in fact, agents of the Soviet NKVD foreign intelligence (the INO), and Hede Gumperz was serving as a spotter, recruiter and courier for its “illegal resident in New York, Boris Bazarov. Here is how Field himself described his “organized work” years later, during his interrogations in Hungary:

In the winter of 1935/36, when I attended one of the last sessions of the London Naval Conference, Paul Massing also stayed for some time in London and he continuously received reports and documents from me, which he copied. I think his headquarters was in Paris. On Christmas, I spent a few days with Massing in Switzerland (Arosa), where I wrote a detailed report about the conference.

During that time, Massing began to involve other members of my family into the work. My brother Hermann and his then wife, Jean Clark (later Liebermann) were living as exchange students in Zurich at that time. In 1934, they stayed in the Soviet Union and returned as enthusiastic Communists. I introduced them to Massing and in the beginning of 1936 on his order Jean came to London as a courier to receive my reports. Either at the same time or a little later, after my move to Geneva, even my mother, who was visiting my brother, was used by Massing for his work, especially for courier services. Likewise, my mother had travelled to the Soviet Union and returned as a Communist, too. 15

According to historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., “Field wanted to help [the] Communist cause but had scruples about spying on his own government” – and presumably solved the ethical issue by taking a position at the League of Nations. 16

In the Geneva of 1936, Communism and the Soviet Union were the order of the day among left-wing and intellectual circles. The Fields soon joined these circles – and made lifelong friendships. A few months after they arrived in Geneva, their contact from Washington, D.C. days, Hede Gumperz, made an appearance at their home. Some time later, she brought a friend, whom she called “der Dicke” and introduced as the Czech citizen “Eberhardt Reiss.” In fact, “der Dicke” was the INO resident in Europe, Nathan Poretsky (known in the West as Ignacii Reiss.) In January 1937, Hede brought another visitor to the Fields’ home, this time the INO resident Walter Krivitsky. 17

In late summer 1937, Krivitsky came to Geneva again to tell Field that “der Dicke” was a traitor to the Communist cause and that dozens of comrades were in danger. Field was quickly summoned to Paris, where he met with a Russian whom he later described as “a man with the Lenin order”. This Russian asked Field to go back to Geneva and stay on the alert for any appearance of “der Dicke” – and to warn his new contact, “a nice young Russian” whom Field knew as “Max.” “Der Dicke” did not appear, and in early September, Field learned from the Swiss newspapers about the assassination of the Soviet defector, Ignacy Reiss, in Switzerland. 18 It wouldn’t be long before Field learned of another betrayal, this time by Krivitsky. Following the assassination of Reiss on September 4, 1937, and the defection of Krivitsky the next month, Field’s contact with Soviet intelligence was, to use his own words, “temporarily terminated due to the fact that the contact had been betrayed.” 19

In the summer of 1938, the Fields traveled to Moscow as tourists, hoping “to clarify their membership in the Communist Party.” Here is how Field himself described the purpose of that trip in September 1948:

Summer of 1938:  A trip to M.[oscow] My application and application of my wife for the admittance into the party (American) with length of party membership since 1936; the application did not reach the American section of the Comintern; the American party had not been informed about it. 20

In 1954, Field would expand on this story for his Hungarian interrogators. He said that, in Moscow, he and Herta had lived in the brand-new “New Moscow” hotel right across from the Kremlin – and met with Noel’s contact from Paris, whom he remembered only as “a man with the Lenin order.” (This man was  probably Sergey Shpiegelglas – at that time  acting head of the INO.) Another “Soviet comrade” the Fields met with was “Peter,” as well as his wife, “Natasha.” (“Peter” appears to have been the Soviet intelligence officer Vassily Zarubin and Natasha – his wife, Elizaveta Zarubina.) “Peter” turned to the American section of the ECCIto ascertain the Fields’ party status. 21

Earlier, when he was in Warsaw back in 1948, Field had written, rather pathetically:

Since 1936, I have been a responsible comrade, even during the period of isolation. In all situations, I acted and worked as a comrade. 22

As to his contacts with the Soviet intelligence, here is what Field himself said on the subject to his Hungarian interrogators in 1954:

Finally, I like to emphasize, although it may go without saying, that I consider my illegal work at that time as a work for the party and not as spying. I acted as a Communist and did not betray my people. I made this point clear to the Soviet comrades during my visit to Moscow, and they totally agreed. This was also the reason why my wife and I did not join the Soviet Communist Party, which was offered to us, although we understood it to be an honor; instead, we joined the American party.

In 1954, Field described the period from the summer of 1938 to the spring of 1941 as his “political interregnum.” 23

In Geneva, even after he lost contact with Soviet intelligence following the defections of Reiss and then Krivitsky, Field continued to be a “responsible comrade.” By his own account, he provided information to Vladimir Sokolin, a Soviet diplomat who became Vice Secretary General of the League of Nations in early 1937. Suggesting to Joseph Stalin that he appoint Sokolin to the United Nations, Narcom Maxim Litvinov had written, in late 1936: “… in the apparatus of the League there is a considerable layer of rather radical and pacifist individuals, who are looking to the USSR as a bulwark of peace and are ready to provide to us all kinds of service. It is necessary to use these people and supervise them….” 24 Noel Field fits as one of those “radical and pacifist individuals” who required supervision. 25

In early 1939, Field was appointed to the Intergovernmental Committee on Political Refugees 26 By that time, he had already committed himself to rescuing refugees from Spain. In May of the same year, the Fields traveled to the United States on leave. According to State Department files, in early June Noel Field gave a sworn affidavit for the Dies Committee[LINK to Dies Committee] of the House of Representatives, in which he denied “radical activities.” 27

In 1940, Field retired from the League of Nations, shortly after the expulsion of the Soviet Union following the beginning of the Soviet-Finnish war of 1939-1940. From 1941 to 1947, he worked as head of the American Society of Assistance of the Unitarian Service Committee (USC). Formed in May 1940 as a standing committee of the American Unitarian Association, the committee had a mission to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced persons in occupied countries. It opened an office in Lisbon, Portugal in June of the same year. In spring 1941, Field became its French Director, stationed at the Lisbon Mission’s affiliate in Marseilles. Noel and Herta Field were again saving the lives of innumerable refugees – including European Jews and anti-Nazi political leaders – from war-torn Europe.

In November 1942, faced with the threat of Nazi occupation of the whole of France, the Fields fled to Geneva. There, in late 1942 or early 1943, Field was appointed European Director of the Rescue Mission of the Unitarian Service Committee. According to Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., in that position “he did courageous work rescuing anti-Nazi (especially Communist) refugees.” 28 Throughout that time, Field considered himself a “responsible comrade.” Here is what he wrote in 1948 about his “particular party work since 1941”:

In spring 1941, in the city of Marseilles, I worked with the Society of Refugee Assistance; [it was] Jules Humbert-Droz who recommended me to the Party structures. 29  After that time, and until my discharge in the fall of 1947, I worked [providing] contact with important 30 comrades (French, German, Spanish, Hungarian, Italian, Austrian, Polish and Czech comrades.) My major task was to provide assistance to the cadres through USC (material assistance, medical assistance, escape from the camps or across the borders, accommodation at safe flats, etc.) For some time I was a liaison 31 between party groups in occupied France and Switzerland, … particularly for the German party. After the war, I mostly concentrated my work on repatriation of cadres to liberated countries – including Italy, Austria, Hungary and Germany. 32

In 1943, Field  crossed paths with Allen Dulles, who had arrived in Bern in 1942 as mission head of  the U.S. wartime central intelligence agency, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS.) Dulles was, in fact, an old acquaintance of Field’s. When Dulles “had first entered the intelligence game as a young diplomat in Switzerland during the First World War, he met Herbert Haviland Field, an American zoologist and Quaker living in Zurich. Dulles worked with him on intelligence matters and became acquainted with his family, including young Noel.” 33 Dulles and Field also knew each other “from the interwar period when both were involved in disarmament matters for the State Department.” 34

The story of the World War II-period relationship between Noel Field and Allen Dulles is still puzzling and uncertain, and many questions about Field’s relationship with the OSS’s Bern office are left unanswered by the available documents from that period. The only thing that they establish with certainty is that “Field worked intimately with Dulles on relief and refugee matters.” 35 There have been unsubstantiated allegations that “many of these files dealing with Field and the Unitarians have been sanitized.” Moreover the CIA allegedly “cleared the boxes of cables and letters between Dulles and Field from the Unitarian Service Committee files stored at Harvard.” 36

For Allen Dulles, Field’s contacts among the leadership of European Communist Parties provided an opportunity to obtain information from behind the front lines, including from the territories occupied by Germany, as well as a pool of potential agents across Europe. Through Field, Dulles began to obtain first-rate intelligence information from Communist sources in Nazi Germany and the occupied territories, which was badly needed by the Allies. 37 Discussing Dulles’s decision “to use his old friend’s Communist contacts,” Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote that “an intelligence chief in Switzerland who failed to make use of Field would have been delinquent. The Communists were an important part of the anti-Nazi resistance. It was Dulles’s job to collect intelligence from every source.” 38

In December 1944, Field reportedly suggested to Dulles a plan for the OSS “to subsidize a group of German ‘anti-fascist’ refugees in France so that they could set up a Comité de l’Allemagne Libre Pour l’Ouest (CALPO) – to conduct political ‘reeducation’ in prisoner-of-war camps and recruit agents to be dropped in Germany for espionage and sabotage.” According to Schlesinger, in  February 1945 “Field arrived in Paris with a message from Allen Dulles,” who was submitting Field’s project for consideration by the OSS office in Paris. Schlesinger and his colleagues “found a tallish, stooped man, cultivated and courteous in appearance, soft-spoken but intense in manner.”

To Schlesinger and his colleague Albert E. Jolis from the OSS Secret Intelligence (SI) Branch, who talked with Field in Paris, “Field’s CALPO was obviously the extension to Western Europe of the Soviet-controlled Free Germany Committee set up in Moscow in 1943 behind a façade of captured German officers.” In Field’s list of potential recruits, Schlesinger and Jolis saw “a strong Communist flavor” – and they “both strongly recommended against the project.” But by that time, as Schlesinger would learn only later, CALPO was already “in touch” with OSS’s Special Operations Branch (SO) and its Special intelligence Branch (SI), which were “in urgent need of agents to drop into Germany” – and, like Dulles and OSS head William Donovan, were “ready to work with anybody who might help win the war.” 39

At the end of the war, Field helped Hungarian Communists – with American funds – to return to Hungary, and aided other Eastern European Communist émigrés as well. After the war, he provided humanitarian aid to the Eastern European countries, particularly Hungary, where the Unitarian Service Committee opened an office.

In the winter of 1945-1946, Noel and Herta Field traveled to the United States and Mexico. Later, Field would write that on his visit to New York, he tried to ascertain his and his wife’s “party situation” from Max Bedacht (a member of the Politburo of the CPUSA), “who promised that he would try to clear up this matter.” On the same trip, Field learned that “three people he worked with from 1935 to 1938 [had] turned traitors.” They were Walter Krivitsky, who committed suicide in 1941, and Hede and Paul Massing, who, as Field wrote, “at that time kept silent about me for personal reasons.” 40 Field did not specify how he had learned that the Massings had “turned traitors.” Neither is it clear from Hede Massing’s account to the FBI: “In 1945, Hede saw the Fields in New York and deduced from their behavior that both were still in espionage apparatus and weren’t going to come out. … Hede felt relieved of personal responsibility to them.” 41

In any case, a few months after Field returned to Switzerland in the fall of 1946, he confided in Edgar Woog, the political secretary of the Swiss Party of Labor (a socialist party founded in 1944 by some of the leading members of the Swiss Communist Party that was banned in 1940):

In the fall of 1946, … Woog met Field again, and in the course of the conversation Field said that he had great personal difficulties: it looked likely that he would not be able to return to America, since American leadership of the organization of assistance – the Unitarian Service Committee – plans to launch an investigation of him, since he had assisted Communists. It is also possible that he would lose his current job. This would also mean a serious financial problem for him. He did not know what to do: he did not want to return to America, since he was afraid that he would be prosecuted. He stated that he planned to go somewhere in South-Eastern Europe. 42

Meanwhile, in the United States Hede Massing began confessing to the FBI – and implicating Noel Field. The Bureau tipped off the Unitarian Service Committee, which, first, cut the funds for Field’s operation, and next, in October 1947, fired Field from the USC “on political reasons.” 43 Unemployed and suspected of being a Soviet spy in the United States, Field hoped to find work as a correspondent “for the progressive American press.” Concerned that his American sojourn permit for Europe would expire by the end of 1948, Field accepted an invitation to go to Prague, Czechoslovakia in April of that year.

In May 1948, Field undertook “an educational trip to Poland in preparation for work as a correspondent for the progressive American press.” 44

Noel and Herta in Warsaw, 1948

In Warsaw, Field received an offer from the newly founded American liberal magazine, the National Guardian, to become its reporter on East European affairs. As far as Field could recall in 1954, he was recommended to the National Guardian – a magazine connected with the movement behind Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party bid for presidency in that year’s presidential elections —  by his friend from the 1930s, Alger Hiss. (In the far more definite recollection of two of the Guardian’s editors, Field was instead suggested for the job by a left-wing British MP named Konni Zilliacis). 45

In August, while still in Warsaw, Field learned from the Western press about the public hearings of the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities, in which Whittaker Chambers, a Time magazine editor and self-described former Communist, accused Hiss of being a secret Communist. “Scared” that he could “be pulled into” what would later be known as the Hiss-Chambers case, Field hurried to write to the National Guardian that he “would temporarily not be able to work due to health reasons.” 46

Now Field felt trapped in Eastern Europe and destined to remain there: in a sense, the Iron Curtain fell behind his back. Under a great shadow in the United States, he felt he was lacking the necessary Communist credentials to begin a new life behind the Iron Curtain. In desperation, he wrote a passionate letter on September 9, 1948 to Jacub Berman, the Polish Politburo member in charge of security apparatus, asking him to help clarify his own and his wife’s Communist Party status with Berman’s “Soviet colleagues.”

Click here to have a look at the Russian translation of Field’s letter to Berman, which found its way to the Foreign Commission of the VCP (b) in early March, 1950.

Even through the multiple veils of a triple translation (I am using the 1950 Russian translation of the Hungarian translation of Field’s original letter to Berman, which he wrote in French), Field’s voice comes through, sounding wretched. He explained that, for him and his wife, settling the problem of their party status “is a question of life and death”: “After all those hardships I have suffered remaining outside of the party and without taking part in the work of the party, for us being outside of the party is a matter of life.” And then: “… in the absence of the party card I have already faced difficulties during my stay in Poland. This has been painful to me because I feel exceptional love for the People’s Poland and admire its achievements and goals. I am aware that until my problem is resolved, the difficulties and obstacles, which I have faced in Poland and in other countries will increase. I think that this is an unbearable situation for a Communist.” To his letter, Field attached a seven-page reference on the history of his “party activity,” written in German, which, as he explained, he knew better than French. 47

Within one day, Field left Warsaw for Prague – to apply for a resident permit in Czechoslovakia in the hope of obtaining a lecturing job at the University of Prague. While in Prague, Field continued to follow the press reports on the U.S. investigations in the evolving Hiss-Chambers case. In October, a letter he received from Alger Hiss temporarily relieved his fears. But in early December he learned from the U.S. papers that Chambers had produced a cache of copies of State Department documents as proof of Hiss’s espionage.

Meanwhile, in Prague, Field himself fell under the surveillance of Czech security (known as the StB). The Communist officials whom he had once helped during the war now refused to see him: in the heated atmosphere of late 1948, just talking to an American meant danger. As Igor Lukes, professor of international relations and history at Boston University, wrote after scrutinizing the former Communist archives in Prague:  “Noel either did not understand the situation or he felt he had nowhere else to go.” The Czechs, for their part, “had heard from Budapest of his contacts with Allen Dulles and they were ready to close in on him.” But “when the StB sat down to interrogate Noel Field regarding his contacts with the OSS, he surprised them: he identified himself as an officer of Soviet intelligence. The StB were taken aback by this news, and they decided to let him go. At the end of 1948, Noel left Prague for Paris.”

Meanwhile, old Communists began to get arrested in Budapest and, under pressure, admitted that they had been American spies. One of those arrested, Tibor Szönyi, mentioned that during the war he had carried letters between Noel Field and Allen Dulles. The Hungarians demanded that the Czechs arrest Noel Field and hand him over to Budapest. The StB located Field in Czechoslovakia and trapped him, requesting that he go back to Prague. On May 11, 1949, Field was arrested in Prague and disappeared behind the Iron Curtain. Desperate to find her husband, Herta Field, who had stayed behind in Switzerland, came to Prague on August 4, 1949 – only to be driven by the StB to the Hungarian border on August 27, 1949. By that time, Field’s younger brother, Hermann Field, had followed Herta and Noel into the abyss – he was arrested at the Warsaw airport and taken to a secret prison outside Warsaw. 48

Meanwhile, in Budapest, Noel Field was secretly interrogated – in order to knock out of him “confessions” to be used in the first in a series of political show trials in Eastern Europe. This trial would become known as the Rajk trial, after the chief defendant, Laslo Rajk – a lifelong Communist and top party theoretician who had been Hungary’s all-powerful Interior Minister and later its Foreign Minister. According to the official Hungarian version of the trial, known as the “Blue Book” during World War II, “on the order of Allan [sic] Dulles, the head of the American spy organization, OSS in Switzerland, recruited a spy-cell from among the Hungarian Trotskyites, residing there.” According to the indictment, in Switzerland Tibor Szönyi had “found connection to Noel H. Field, one of the leaders of the American intelligence service, then with Field’s superior, Allan Dulles, the European head of the USA intelligence organization, Office of Strategic Service [sic] (OSS). Field’s specialty was to recruit spies from so called ‘leftist’ elements, and he ran Swiss emigrant spy-cells recruited from among different nationalities”. 49

Noel Field was not tried, nor did he appear as a witness in the Rajk trial or subsequent trials. However, a mere association with Field, or even a brief crossing of paths, became a death sentence for dozens and a curse for hundreds of Communist officials in Eastern European countries. Reading through personal files from the period retained as part of the Comintern collection in Moscow, or through Cominform files, you are stunned by the implications of the mere appearance of Noel Field’s name.

We will never know exactly what Noel Field told his interrogators and/or torturers in the months preceding the Rajk trial and in the subsequent period, when his naming of names facilitated the staging of show trials and purges in Czechoslovakia and other Eastern European nations. As I have said, most Hungarian records from 1949 to 1953 pertaining to Noel Field were destroyed in the aftermath of the 1956 rebellion in Hungary. The surviving Hungarian records from before 1954 are few and do not include any records of interrogations of Noel Field. The only glimpse we have into this picture comes from a Polish account of the interrogation of Noel Field on August 27, 1949 by Józef Światło, then an officer of the Polish state security. The Russian-held records, although filling in some of the gaps, appear to have been sanitized too, probably during the same period. In any case, the tragic fallout from Noel Field’s wartime activities in France and Switzerland has been estimated to be “five hundred people from all parts of the world dragged through the mire,” with “the names of 12,600 people … included in criminal and intelligence registries.” 50

Budapest house where Noel and Herta Field were kept in solitary confinement.

After their disappearance behind the Iron Curtain, Noel and Herta Field were kept in solitary confinement in Budapest, with no idea of each other’s fate.

A year after Stalin’s death, Noel Field wrote a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (by that time renamed the CPSU). This letter appears to have been retained only in Hungarian records. (My thorough search for any trace of it in the Soviet Central Committee’s records at the Russian State Archive of Contemporary History (RGANI) ended in failure.) In a section of that lengthy document, which Field sub-titled “2. Fundamental Explanations, Analysis and Self-Criticism,” he pledged two things. First, that he “had been a loyal, devoted and active communist for more than 20 years, who risked his life for the Communist Party more than once.” Second, that he “had never been, neither directly nor indirectly, neither officially nor unofficially, a spy or a spy agent and have never worked for the American intelligence or any other hostile secret service.” 51

According to the Hungarian records, on June 15, 1954 the “investigation in the case of Noel H. Field and Herta K. Field” was renewed, and their “systematic interrogation” began. Here is how the two Hungarian security officers who were responsible for the enterprise summarized the charges at the start of the renewed investigation:

… Field is suspected by us of the following offences:

a) … From 1941 to 1947, he had close contact to Allen Dulles and was spying during this time for the American intelligence.

b) After the end of World War II, he was spying in the People’s Republic of Poland and in Czechoslovakia for the Americans. 52

From June 15 to October 4, 1954, Noel Field went through 25 grueling interrogations and wrote 41 lengthy memos and “explanations.” For her part, Herta Field went through three interrogations in early August of 1954 and wrote 11 detailed memos. After 23 interrogations, when Field “emphatically denied having been a recruited agent of the American intelligence and … emphasized that he was a communist,” his interrogators were still scheming to “unmask his hostile activities” by “employing a cell agent” in the person of one Dr. Tamas Pasztor. 53

According to the Hungarian files, the factor that finally sealed Field’s case was an undated reference (“spravka”) sent from Moscow some time in late September 1954. Here is what it said, in part:

… since the end of 1947 Noel Field hasn’t had a regular workplace. In 1948, he was staying in Poland and Czechoslovakia for a long time, where he created an impression that he was an American Communist journalist being chased by reactionary circles.

At the end of 1935, when Noel Field was working at the State Department, he was involved  in the work of the Soviet intelligence. The foundation for his recruitment was his displayed sympathy for the Soviet Union. Field stayed in touch with [the] Soviet intelligence until the year 1937.

When he left the Soviet Union for Switzerland, he was retained as an agent. After we had received the message in 1942 that Field would stay in Geneva and work as a manager for the USC Europe there, a new attempt was made to contact him in spring. However, at the end of a long talk with the person from the NKVD, Noel Field and his wife announced that the password, which had been given to them in those days, would be out-dated and was no longer plausible and that the five years without any contact had led them to commit on another line. Noel Field refused to speak about the commitment and to whom it was given. After that, all connections to him were broken. 54

On October 6, 1954, Hungarian state security finally concluded that “although in contact with Dulles, Field was not an American spy and his pro-Communist activities and contacts have been proven.” The reference went on to say that since “the Fields did not want to return to America for fear of charges of un-American activities,” they “would like to settle in a country of People’s Democracy.” 55

In November 1954, Noel was finally reunited with Herta. The first question he asked his beloved wife, after  years of separation, was reportedly: “Have you remained faithful to the Party?” 56 Noel and Herta Field were granted political asylum and settled in Budapest. Till the end, they did not condemn the Communist regime that had subjected them to torture and years of misery. Field entitled the last article he wrote in Budapest, for the American magazine Mainstream, “Hitching Our Wagon to a Star.” 57

Tomb of Noel Haviland Field in the Farkasréti Cemetery, Budapest; photo by Nemkovethem, September 2008.

Noel Field died in 1970, his wife Herta in 1980.

The first – and thus far, the only – book-length story about  Noel Field, The Red Pawn, by the American journalist Flora Lewis, was published in 1965. The second book dealing with Field’s story, Operation Splinter Factor, by British journalist Stewart Steven, was published in 1978. Steven suggests that Noel Field was “set up” by his old friend Allen Dulles, through Józef Światło, Dulles’s agent at the Polish state security agency, in order to create havoc in the Soviet bloc and light a fuse that might cause its eventual disintegration. In 1987, Steven’s account was circumstantially corroborated in a book by the FBI spy hunter, Robert Lamphere, who wrote that “Field had worked for Donovan and the OSS, but we knew he had also been an agent of the KGB, and had spied for Walter Krivitsky …, and it had been suggested that the CIA added to KGB suspicions in a rather clever way.” It is difficult to say whether Lamphere was relying here on his own knowledge or simply referring to Steven’s book. 58

In the absence of any definitive corroboration, click here to have a look at a fascinating early 1950 note from Józef Światło to the Hungarian party head, Matias Racosi that founds its way into the Cominform records in Moscow.

In 1997, Field’s story became the subject of a documentary by Swiss film producer Werner Schweizer, Noel Field – Der Erfundene Spion (Noel Field, the Invented Spy.) In 2005, a comprehensive compilation of Noel Field documents from Hungarian and other Central and Eastern European archives was published in Germany. 59 Still, a complete story of Noel Field’s life is yet to be written.

  1. The term “Noel Field dossier” originally appeared in publications of the Hungarian historian, Maria Schmidt, who was given access in the early 1990s to a limited number of Hungarian state security files pertaining to the case of Noel Field. After the whole collection was declassified in 1997, it was studied by a German historian, Berndt-Rainer Barth, who published it in a German translation, along with documentation from the archives of other Central and Eastern European countries, in Der Fall Noel Field, Schlüsselfigur der Schauprozesse in Osteuropa, Gefängnisjahre 1949-1954. Herausgegeben von Bernd-Rainer Barth und Werner Schweizer, BasisDruck, 2005.
  2. The Central Archive of the FSB of Russia to S.A. Chervonnaya, August 3, 2007, № 10/A-3499.
  3. “Dispatch, from March 7, 1950” (referenced to “File: H. Noel Field,” which has not been discovered), Fund 575 (Cominform records), description 1, file 141, p. 143, RGASPI; Le camarade américain, by Alain Campiotti, LeTemps Suisse, retrieved from http://www.letemps.ch/Page/Uuid/3ca455a4-e34e-11dd-b87c-1c3fffea55dc/Le_camarade_am%C3%A9ricain. See also, Show Trials: Stalinist Purges in Eastern Europe, 1948-1954, by George H. Hodos, NY: Praeger, 1987, p. 26.
  4. Wilbur J. Carr to Noel Field, June 6, 1934, RG 59, Department of State Decimal File, 1930-1939, 500. A 15 a 4 Personnel/1349; General Disarmament Conference, Geneva, Personnel (attached is Noel Field’s salary check for July 1 to 15, 1934); Ibid., 500. A 15 a 4 Personnel/1383National Archives, College Park, MD.
  5. “Designated Secretary of the US Delegation,” October 6, 1934, Ibid., 500. A 15 a 5 Personnel/33a; League of Nations Chronology at  http://www.indiana.edu/~league/1934.htm
  6. State Department cable to American Embassy, London, November 23, 1935, Ibid, 500.A 15 a 5  Personnel/77; Naval Disarmament Conference, 1935. Personnel. Leave of absence authorized for, November 29, 1935, 500. A 15 a 5 Personnel/91c; Davis to Secretary of State, January 17, 1936, 500. A15A5 First Committee/29.
  7. Le camarade américain, Op. cit.; League of Nations. Committee No 3. Disarmament. Prospects respecting a resumption of disarmament activities of the League. Memorandum prepared by [Noel Field], dated June 22, 1936. Ibid., 500.C 1113/72 Confidential File.
  8. “Acceptance of a position with the Intergovernmental Committee by Mr. Field, February 28, 1939,” Ibid., 840.48 Refugees/11443a; “Conditions in Spanish refugee camps in France, March 14, 1939,” Refugees/1505, 852.48/415.
  9. “Brief ‘party activity’ of Noel H. Field,” attachment to “Noel H. Field letter to [Jacub] Berman, Warsaw, September 9, 1948,” Fund 575, description 1, file 141, p. 137, RGASPI, Moscow; translation by Svetlana Chervonnaya from the Russian 1950 translation of the Hungarian translation of Field’s original, which was written in German.
  10. Noel Field’s Memo, “Professional Activities,” June 23, 1954, Der Fall Noel Field, Op. cit., document 34, p. 301; English translation from German by Manfred Putzka, revised by Svetlana Chervonnaya (2006.)
  11. Triple Play by Stalin, by Karel Kaplan in: Noel Field, Revelations of Karel Kaplan, Reports on Noel Field and the Rosenbergs, CIA FOIA, Release 4/11/86, Case N F-1985-00171 (Archives of the Czech CP Central Committee, Files from the Interior Ministry, 372/z82.); A Life in the Twentieth Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950, by Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Mariner Books, 2002, pp. 334-335.
  12. “Brief ‘party activity’ of Noel H. Field,” Op. cit. p. 137; Noel Field, Memo “The History of my political activities,” July 6, 1954, Der Fall Noel Field, Op. cit., document 49, p. 390; “The First Interrogation of Noel Field, June 15, 1954,” Ibid., document 28, p. 261.
  13. Field used a German phrase, “dekonspiriert habe,” which, like the Russian word, “konspiratsija”, literally means “depriving himself of his cover.”
  14. Noel Field, Memo “The History of my political activities, July 6, 1954,” Der Fall Noel Field, Op. Cit., document 49, pp. 393-394; “22nd Interrogation of Noel Field, September, 23, 1954,” Ibid., document 95, pp. 753, 774-775; Noel Field to Alger Hiss, November 9, 1948, personal letter.
  15. Noel Field, Memo “The History of my political activities,” July 6, 1954, Der Fall Noel Field, Op. cit., document 49, p. 396.
  16.  A Life in the Twentieth Century, Op. cit., p. 335.
  17. Ibid., pp. 398-399; Noel Field Interrogation # 25, October, 5, 1954, Der Fall Noel Field, Op. Cit., document 100, p. 796.
  18. Ibid., pp. 399-401.
  19. Brief “party activity” of Noel H. Field, Op. cit., p. 137.
  20. Ibid., pp. 137-138.
  21. Noel Field, Memo “The History of my political activities,” July 6, 1954, Der Fall Noel Field, Op. cit., pp. 403-406.
  22. Brief “party activity” of Noel H. Field, Op. cit., p. 140. A translator at the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party used the Soviet term “soznatel’nyi,” verbatim “conscientious,” which in Soviet parlance meant “responsible.”
  23. Noel Field’s Memo “The History of my political activities,” July 6, 1954, Op. cit., p. 398, p. 406.
  24. M.M. Litvinov to J.V. Stalin, December 29, 1936, Fund 05 (The Office of Litvinov), description 16, P. 1, file 114 (“The letters of Narcom M.M. Litvinov to the Central Committee of VCP (b)”), p. 349.
  25. Noel Field briefly described how he provided information to Vladimir Sokolin in one of his memos, written in 1954, during his last round of interrogations in Hungary. Der Fall Noel Field, Op. cit., p. 415.
  26. RG 59, The State Department Decimal File, 1930-1939, 840.48 Refugees/11443a, February 18, 1939, NA, College Park, MD.
  27. Telegram to the Department of State from Noel Field, April 21, 1939, Ibid., 500. C 113/176; Noel Field’s sworn affidavit, June 8, 1939, 811.00 N/441.
  28. A Life in the Twentieth Century, Op. cit., p. 335.
  29. The Russian translator used the word “organy,” which in Soviet parlance described NKVD, party and government agencies. Jules Humbert-Droz was a founding member of the Communist Party of Switzerland, which had gone underground after it was banned in 1940.
  30. The Russian translator used the Soviet term “otvetctvennyi,” verbatim “responsible,” which is better translated as “important.”
  31. The translator used a Russian term, “svyaznoi,” which in Communist Party and intelligence parlance described an agent-courier.
  32. Brief “party activity” of H. Noel Field, Op. cit., p. 139.
  33. A Life in the Twentieth Century, Op. cit., p. 334.
  34. From Hitler’s Doorstep: The Wartime Intelligence Reports of Allen Dulles, 1942-1945, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996, p. 167.
  35. Ibidem.
  36. A Certain Arrogance, by George Michael Evica, Xlibris Corporation, 2006, p. 134.
  37. Operation Splinter Factor, by Stewart Steven, Lippincott (Philadelphia), 1974, cited from its Russian translation, Stiven, Stuart, Operatsija “Raskol,” Moscow: “EKSMO,” 2003, pp. 138-144.
  38. A Life in the Twentieth Century, Op. cit., p. 335.
  39. Operation Splinter Factor, Op. cit., p. 145; A Life in the Twentieth Century, Op. cit. p. 335.
  40. Brief “party activity” of H. Noel Field, Op. cit., p. 139; a reference to Field’s story about approaching Max Bedacht appears in the latter’s Comintern personal file, Fund 495, description 261, file 34, p. 3, RGASPI, Moscow.
  41. The FBI-KGB War: A Special Agent’s Story, by Robert J. Lamphere and Tom Shachtman, New York: Random House, 1986, pp. 56-57.
  42. N. Pukhlov to V.G. Grigoryan, March 16, 1950, enclosing the “record of the conversation of Hungarian chargé d’affaires in Switzerland with Woog, one of the leaders of the Swiss Party of Labor.” The record was provided to the representative of the Central Committee of VCP (b) earlier that month in Budapest by the head of the Hungarian party, Matyas Racosi. Fund 575, description 1, file 181, p. 207, RGASPI, Moscow.
  43. The FBI-KGB War, Op. cit., pp. 49-59; Brief “party activity” of H. Noel Field, Op. cit., p. 139.
  44. Brief “party activity” of H. Noel Field, Op. cit., p. 136; Noel Field, Revelations of Karel Kaplan, Op. cit.
  45. Something to Guard: The Stormy Life of the National Guardian, 1948-1967, by Cedric Belfrage and James Aronson (two of the magazine’s three co-founders), New York: Columbia University Press, 1978, p. 91.
  46. Noel Field’s Memo, “Professional Activities,” June 23, 1954, Der Fall Noel Field, Op. cit., document 34, p. 331.
  47. The letter of Noel H. Field to [Jacub] Berman, Warsaw, September 9, 1948; Brief “party activity” of H. Noel Field, Fund 575, description 1, file 141, pp. 133-134, 136-142, RGASPI, Moscow.
  48. Cit., “Rudolf Slansky: His Trials and Trial,” by Igor Lukes, pp. 24-25, a working paper posted at:  http://www.wilsoncenter.org/topics/pubs/WP50IL.pdf; Show Trials: Stalinist Purges in Eastern Europe, 1948-1954, Op. cit., pp., 168–169.
  49. “Reconstruction reconsidered: an examination of police philology. The case of László Rajk,” by I. Rév, Psychology Study, 2009, N 3 (5), retrieved from http://psystudy.ru/index.php/eng/2009n3-5e/165-rev5e.html; the article is in English.
  50. Show Trials: Stalinist Purges in Eastern Europe, 1948-1954, Op. cit., pp. 168-169.
  51. Noel Field to the Central Committee of CPSU, March 18-22, 1954, Der Fall Noel Field, Op. cit., document 19, p. 151.
  52. Major Hullay/Laszlo Piros:“Bericht in der Sache Noel Field und Ehefrau,“ October 8, 1954, Der Fall Noel Field, Op. cit., document 102, p. 815.
  53. Major Hullay: Plan zum Einsatz eines Kammeragenten, September 24, 1954, Der Fall Noel Field, Op. cit., document 97, p. 784.
  54. Soviet reference on Noel Field (Spravka na Noel’ya Filda, original in Russian), Der Fall Noel Field, Op. cit., document 96, p. 782.
  55. Major Hullay/Laszlo Piros: Bericht in der Sache Noel Field und Ehefrau, October 6, 1954, Ibid., pp. 815-816.
  56. Noel Field – Der Erfundene Spion (Noel Field – A Fictious Spy), (TV), IMDB, produced by Werner Schweizer, 1997.
  57. Noel Field, “Hitching Our Wagon to a Star,” Mainstream, January 1961.
  58. The Red Pawn: The Story of Noel Field, by Flora Lewis, Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1965; Operation Splinter Factor, by Stewart Steven, Op. cit.; The FBI-KGB War, A Special Agent’s Story, by Robert J. Lamphere and Tom Shachtman, Op. cit., p. 291.
  59. Noel Field – Der Erfundene Spion, Op. cit.; Der Fall Noel Field, Op. cit.