The “Dinner Party” at the Fields’ I: Whittaker Chambers’s and Hede Massing’s Accounts (1939-1948)

The following timeline is a compilation of what different sources have said about the story known in Alger Hiss case history as “the dinner party at the Fields” – shorthand for a much-contested story about a meeting between Alger Hiss and a Comintern and Soviet intelligence agent Hede Gumperz (later known as Massing) that allegedly took place in the Washington, D.C. apartment of Noel and Herta Field sometime in the mid-1930s. The story was told variously by four different sources — each of whom told it to different “audiences” at different times: Hede Massing herself; Whittaker Chambers, Hiss’s accuser; Noel Field, an American with a convoluted history of Communist and Soviet espionage associations who spent many years in solitary confinement in Communist Hungary; and Alexander Vassiliev, a former KGB officer and journalist who had access to Soviet intelligence files in the mid-1990s.

Here, we will examine what Hede Massing said to the FBI, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the grand jury in the Alger Hiss Case, the jury at Hiss’s second perjury trial, and in her memoir — as well as what Whittaker Chambers said about her.

At the end of the day, it is up to the reader to decide what part of the record, if any, is true.

Summer 1939, Washington, D.C.:

Former Soviet intelligence operative and defector Walter G. Krivitsky mentions “H. Massing” as a Soviet intelligence liaison in an interview with a representative of the U.S. Department of State on June 28, 1939:

“…

Hand-written notation: See Boris Bazarov, nee “Fred” – “Boris”

H. Massing’s [1 word illegible]

… Boris Spaak or Spak. … 1

Sometime in 1939, probably summer:

Whittaker Chambers meets Walter Krivitsky, according to Chambers’s own recollection; the two exchange their stories and Chambers hears certain names for the first time. 2

September 2, 1939, Washington, D.C.:

Whittaker Chambers visits Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle in the company of journalist Isaac Don Levine, in an attempt to inform President Roosevelt of the existence of a Communist underground operating within U.S. government agencies. Berle makes notes about Chambers’s revelations, which come to be known as the Berle List. The section about the State Department says:

STATE

Post—Editorship, Foreign Service Journal. Was in Alexandria

Unit of CP—in “Underground Apparatus”—

Duggan—Laurence—(Member CP??)

(Wadleigh) Wadley—Trade Agreement Section

Lovell—Trade Agreement Section

Communist Shop Group

Elinor Nelson—Laurence Duggan—Julian Wadleigh—

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. 3

Fast forward to 1952, to Whittaker Chambers’s memoir, Witness:

… In 1939 I gave to … A.A. Berle, the name of Laurence Duggan as someone whom I believed, though I was not certain, to be connected with a Soviet apparatus. …

My belief was based upon two incidents. When Noel Field left for Europe, Alger Hiss asked him if he would not use his great influence with Duggan to recruit him into the special apparatus.

Noel Field replied that, since he was going away, “Duggan would take his place.”

Hiss and I both assumed, therefore, that Duggan was working with the Massing apparatus.

Hede Massing has told the facts, in so far as she knows them, in This Deception.] 4

For a different perspective on Hede Massing’s history and motives, see http://algerhiss.com/hedemassingstory.html

March 20, 1945, Westminster, MD:

Chambers mentions Noel Field’s name in an interview with Ray Murphy, a State Department official:

“… In a special category were Noel Field and Laurence Duggan of the State Department. Field was described as a member at large of the Party. Duggan was not. Neither was connected with the underground and in fact the underground had orders to refrain from contacting them. The special liaison of Field and Duggan was Hetta Gumperts. She is now in the personnel Department of the Toss Shipbuilding Corporation and is married to Paul Massing, a former member of the German Communist Party described by General Krivitsky in his book. Massing is a penologist for the State of Pennsylvania, and they have a farm near Quakertown, PA. He is also known as Karl Billinger. Hetta Gumperts is a Viennese Jewish girl. When Field went 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.” 5

August 27, 1948, Washington, D.C.:

At a closed session of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), Chambers testifies about the existence in Washington, D.C. in the 1930s of two Communist underground rings, with one headed by Alger Hiss and the other by Noel Field – working independently of each other. Chambers says that “Hiss found [out] about Mr. Field’s Communist affiliations only by accident.”

“On August 27, 1948, Whittaker Chambers linked Noel Field to his own accusations against Alger Hiss, claiming that Hiss had tried to ‘draw Field in’ to Hiss’s alleged Communist espionage cell, only to discover that Field ‘was already a Communist working in another apparatus.’” 6

September 2, 1948, Washington, D.C.:

The FBI’s Guy Hottel informs FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover that HUAC has discovered an association between Alger Hiss and Noel Field.

Later in September, 1948, Washington, D.C.:

Hottel refers Director Hoover to his Sept. 2 letter regarding the association between Hiss and Field, brought to light by HUAC:

“Ref. to my letter dated Sept. 2, 1948, … You will note in the reference letter that LOUIS A. RUSSEL, Investigator for the Committee, had advised that the Committee had become aware of an association between ALGER HISS and NOEL FIELD.” [2 graphs redacted] 7

September 22 (21?), 1948, Washington, DC:

The Thomas Committee questions Paul and Hede Massing regarding an association between Alger Hiss and Noel Field – but the Massings refuse to help the Committee make the link.

September 22, 1948, Washington, D.C.:

FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. receives a teletype from its New York Office with information about the Thomas Committee’s hearings:

“9/22/48 65-9940-108 Teletype-NYC Re: Paul Wilhelm Massing

The Thomas Committee questioned PAUL and HEDE MASSING regarding ALGER HISS and NOEL FIELD. The Committee indicated that HISS had recommended NOEL FIELD for a State Department position around 1940. The Committee apparently was trying to show that HISS knew of FIELD’s activities at the time he recommended him. [Paul?] MASSING was unable to help concerning this. (NOEL FIELD is an American citizen employed by the Unitarian Service Committee. He was recruited by MASSING and acted as a Russian Agent in Europe – later seen in Moscow in 1938. He allegedly misappropriated funds from OSS for Communist purposes.)” 8

To continue reading this timeline, see:

“Dinner Party” at the Fields’ II: Noel Field’s Account, with additional comments by Hede Massing and others (1948-1954)

“Dinner Party” at the Fields’ III: Skeletons in the Closet (1990s and 2009)

  1. Walter G. Krivitsky, FBI File 100-11146, File 2a, pp. 30-31. Retrieved from http://foia.fbi.gov/ krivitsk/krivitsk2a.pdf.
  2. Witness, by Whittaker Chambers, Henry Regnery Company (Chicago, 1952), pp. 459-463.
  3. “The Berle List,” September 2, 1943, Adolf Berle Papers, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Library, {LINK to the list posted on Alger Hiss website} Emphasis added.
  4. Witness, Op. cit., pp. 381-382.
  5. Rev. Father Cronin to Mr. Patrick Coyne, FBI, 10/14-1947, the reference in the enclosed “Memorandum of Conversation, Tuesday, March 20, 1945, Westminster, MD,” FBI Silvermaster File, Vol. 132, Serials 2896-2984, p. 109.
  6. Ethan Klingsberg in The Nation, November 8, 1993. http://algerhiss.com/klings2.html
  7. Hottel to Director, September, 1948, FBI Silvermaster File, Vol. 143, Serials 3551- 3620 x 2, p. 14.
  8. FBI Silvermaster File, Vol. 149, serials 3806 – 3834 (Summary report on Hiss), p. 107.