As is well known, WWII did a number on Italy. Here are two books that described the experiences of females during and after the war.
The First Book of the Week is “Child of the Ghetto, Coming of Age in Fascist Italy: A Memoir 1926-1946” by Edda Servi Machlin, published in 1995.
Born in February 1926 in a small village outside Rome, the author was named Edda, after Mussolini’s daughter. Her father was the community’s rabbi. The family was actually anti-fascist, but used her name as a cover for avoiding trouble. The Italian government began its abusive treatment of Jews starting in the late summer of 1938. Jewish teachers and public-school employees were fired.
Since the author was no longer allowed to get an education, she spent her adolescence up until her late teens in real-world job training, as a maid, bookkeeper and seamstress. Signage in retail outlets’ windows stated, “This is an Aryan-race store.” Everyone was required to show ID cards that stated his or her religion.
Mid-July 1943 saw a change in Italy’s government but not in its war alliances, pro-Fascism bent, or treatment of Jews. Even though in September it pledged to stop fighting against the Allies. The author’s two older brothers went to hide in the woods to avoid conscription. Because they were Jews, they were denied admittance to an anti-Fascist youth group.
According to the author, in October 1943, the Germans who were sociopathic sadists with weaponry, descended on Rome in the middle of the night to abduct via truck, more than three thousand Jews. Luckily, in the next two months, when a roundup began in neighboring regions, the author, her brothers, and younger sister had been on the run in an area spanning hundreds of miles of countryside around Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, etc., hiding in various homes of benevolent farmers willing to risk their lives. Her parents and younger brother, however, were taken away.
The author heard “through the grapevine” that two American soldiers had bailed out of a warplane and parachuted into her village. That was exciting, because she had been rooting for the Allies all along. Her mentality was, “America, the mythical country of our childhood dreams, was so far away… And Lello [her older brother] had met two of her children! We were enthralled.”
Read the book to learn the fate of the author’s family members, her prewar existence, her adventures in the forests and farmyards during the war, and of her later endeavors.
The Second Book of the Week is “The Three of Us” by Marisa Giardina, published in 2012. This is the suspenseful, depressing story of a female whose girlhood ended before she turned three years old, due to WWII.
The author, her mother and older sister fled on a ship bound for Italy from their native Libya with hardly more than the clothes on their backs. They left her father and her two older brothers behind. The goal in their travels was to reach Fiuggi, where her grandfather was being held as a prisoner of war.
They spent an inordinate amount of time in a bomb shelter and their diet consisted of dried bread crumbs when they could get them. As their situation worsened, refugees such as they, resorted to prostitution, thefts of crops from farms, black-market trading, and illegally occupying abandoned, rubble-strewn buildings, among other tactics to stay alive.
“Italy was in chaos after the war and the Italians lost their compassion for their fellow men.” Non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross and CARE handed out food and sweaters, which were acquired after days of waiting in a queue.
Read the book to learn more about the countless hardships endured by the author, and her incredible will to live, considering her circumstances.
The First Book of the Week is “Harry Belafonte, My Song, a Memoir” with Michael Shnayerson, published in 2011.
Born in March 1927 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the singer best known for the “Banana Boat Song” actually did a lot more in his lifetime than give concerts and act. He was instrumental in helping fund and organize the civil rights movement.
Belafonte’s older relatives were interracial; they hailed from Jamaica in the Caribbean; the light-skinned ones living there were Scottish. Growing up dirt poor, he lived alternately between upper Manhattan and Jamaica for years at a time, bounced among them.
For Belafonte, it was one psychological trauma after another. He had undiagnosed dyslexia, in addition to having accidentally with sewing scissors, as a toddler, blinded himself in one eye.
Fortunately, Belafonte’s mother, an illegal immigrant, had survival skills. But she practiced spousification with him in his early years. When he was five years old, he was tasked with taking care of his baby brother while she worked. She instilled in him a love of music, taking him to see the great singers of the 1930’s and 1940’s at the Apollo Theater in upper Manhattan.
The author’s mother hired someone to give him piano lessons. However, he played hooky from them because the teacher cruelly beat his fingers, just like the nuns at his parochial school. He ended up quitting school for good in the middle of ninth grade.
Belafonte’s father, an abusive, mean drunk, was frequently out of town– either acting as head chef on a banana boat in the Caribbean, or philandering. But there were a few occasions of quality time, playing marbles.
Belafonte was able to pay for drama school with the G.I. Bill, after his Navy service during World War II. He befriended the politically-active, drama and jazz crowds, many of whom, like him, would later became world famous.
By the early 1960’s, the nation was violently divided. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded Belafonte that “… compromise was a crucial tenet of nonviolence. If compromise got you closer to your goal, then it was worth any loss of face.” As is well known, there was excessive bloodshed throughout the 1960’s– so there must have been a lot of men who couldn’t stand to swallow their pride for the good of the nation.
Anyway, read the book to learn why Belafonte, even after becoming fabulously famous and wealthy, never did lead a charmed life. He did, however, raise funds for Shirley Chisholm.
The Second Book of the Week is “Shirley Chisholm, Catalyst for Change” by Barbara Winslow, published in 2014.
Born in Brooklyn in 1924, Chisholm had a grandfather who worked on the Panama Canal, whose construction spurred the upward mobility of sugarcane slaves from Barbados. Her ancestors believed in education and home ownership.
Chisholm spent roughly three and a half years of her early childhood in Barbados; the rest, in New York City. She experienced culture shock moving from a rural, agricultural village to big, scary, crime-ridden neighborhoods– Brownsville, and then Bedford-Stuyvesant, both in Brooklyn.
Chisholm’s goal was to become an elementary school teacher but she couldn’t get hired because she was black. With her master’s degree in early childhood education, Chisholm eventually became a consultant to the day care department of New York City’s welfare agency, supervising tens of employees. She “… would always have to face men who tried to infantilize, patronize or demonize her.”
In 1964, Chisholm won an assembly seat in New York State. She worked with three other black politicians in New York: Charles Rangel, David Dinkins and Percy Sutton. She was very prolific; eight of the fifty bills she sponsored were passed.
In 1968, with the slogan, “Vote for Shirley Chisholm for Congress– unbought and unbossed” she became the first African American woman elected to Congress. When she expressed her intention to run for president in 1972, men bristled.
Chisholm had a particular reason for rescinding her plan to personally campaign in Wisconsin, involving public relations. She disappointed a bunch of dedicated grass-roots volunteers. But she would have visited the state for only two or three days anyway, and not have gotten significant support over and above her loyal followers’. So by not visiting, she could brag that she got, say, 5% of the vote without even campaigning there– that’s how much people loved her.
In May 1972, after racist presidential candidate George Wallace was shot, Chisholm behaved compassionately, visiting him in the hospital.
Read the book to learn more about Chisholm’s life and times, including why she was actually bossed, but not bought.
The Book of the Week is “Thomas E. Dewey and his times (sic), The First Full-Scale Biography of the Maker of the Modern Republican Party” by Richard Norton Smith, published in 1982.
As early as the 1820’s in New York City, there were political nefarious goings-on via the Democratic machine. Judges chosen by the big boss William Marcy Tweed, “…swore in new citizens [newly arrived immigrants] a thousand a day in the weeks before a crucial election.”
When Thomas E. Dewey was born in March 1902 in Michigan, major American cities had been seeing political shenanigans from both Democrats and Republicans, for decades.
From a young age, Dewey was active in Republican clubs. In early 1931, he became an assistant U.S. attorney. He developed a reputation for investigating organized crime among politicians, labor leaders and the criminal justice system. He launched a sting against vice in order to expose the corruption in the system. About a hundred prostitutes and madams were arrested for the purpose of serving as witnesses who testified against racketeers, in exchange for lesser punishment. In 1936, a jury deemed Lucky Luciano guilty of 559 different crimes.
The Mob owned the garment and trucking industries. Local business owners were forced to pay protection money to racketeers or they or their families would face serious injury or death. They passed on this higher cost of doing business in the form of significantly higher prices, to consumers. Thus, all city dwellers became victims of the scourge.
In 1937, Dewey ran for the law enforcement office of district attorney in New York City. To voters around Manhattan, he showed a highlights reel of his crime-fighting prowess, and made radio broadcasts.
In 1940 in Denver, when Dewey was running for U.S. president, he proclaimed “Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the National Debt.” Unfortunately, that line has borne repetition for the last 80 years.
As New York State governor in March 1945, Dewey achieved approval via the state legislature, of a bill that outlawed anti-black practices in housing and employment. A fellow Republican believed that the three major issues of the day were: international relations, race relations and labor relations, respectively.
In the 1948 presidential campaign, the incumbent Democrat Truman mongered fear among farmers and labor unions that the nation would experience an economic downturn if voters changed direction, and elected a Republican to the White House.
As is well known, some people were shocked that Dewey lost the election. “Dewey was ahead until the last two weeks of the campaign, [Samuel] Lubell concluded [referring to a poll from the University of Michigan], when millions of voters switched their allegiance.”
No doubt, presidential campaigns are all about the propaganda war. But because voters have short memories, ten months before an election is like the first quarter of a football game. It will be a loooong time before a winner becomes official.
Anyway, Dewey continued to serve as New York State governor. In September 1949 in Peekskill, Paul Robeson sang at a concert at which fifteen thousand fans were victimized by rabid anti-Communists. The latter seriously injured the former with stone-throwing and head-bashing with clubs. State troopers failed to keep order. Dewey called in the sheriff and district attorney to investigate. Dewey said that although Communists had a reputation for being subversive and oppressing other people, the concert-goers had rights to free speech and assembly– which were violated.
Dewey prepared for the 1952 Republican convention for president that would nominate Dwight Eisenhower, by ordering fourteen bullhorns from a Pennsylvania company, just in case the microphones there unexpectedly cut out. Incidentally, there was a dispute between competing Republican candidates Eisenhower and Robert Taft, over how delegates chose their candidates, or vice versa.
As a result, in early 1954, Dewey instituted New York State’s first code of ethics for public officials. It would regulate conflicts of interest of legislature members and other office holders. Apparently (or rather, unsurprisingly), there were loopholes in the law. In the 1960’s, the Republican governor of New York State, Nelson Rockefeller was “…funding grandiose building projects… brilliant subterfuges in which independent agencies acted as surrogate spenders for the state. Rocky’s state budget was five times that of Dewey’s administration.
Anyhow, read the book to learn a wealth of additional details about Dewey and his times.
I am pleased to announce that my book: “The Education and Deconstruction of Mr. Bloomberg, How the Mayor’s Education and Real Estate Development Policies Affected New Yorkers 2002-2009 Inclusive” is available through the following online channels:
http://www.angusrobertson.com.au/books/the-education-and-deconstruction-of-mr-bloomberg-sally-a-friedman/p/9781450099028I am pleased to announce that my book: “The Education and Deconstruction of Mr. Bloomberg, How the Mayor’s Education and Real Estate Development Policies Affected New Yorkers 2002-2009 Inclusive” is available through the following online channels:
The First Book of the Week is “Piety & Power, Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House” by Tom LoBianco, published in 2019. This volume recounted the political adventures of Mike Pence, elected vice president of the United States in 2016.
By November 1990, Pence had lost two Congressional races. “He didn’t grasp that using the campaign cash to make his mortgage and car payments was a clear violation of their [his Republican colleagues’] trust.” Thereafter, the Federal Election Commission deemed that activity illegal.
Pence lets political expedience dictate his religious / ideological bent. Over the course of twenty years, beginning in the late 1970’s, he proceeded to play the roles of: evangelist, conservative Republican, mainstream Republican, Libertarian, evangelical megachurch supporter, and finally, Christian Rightist.
Pence was finally elected to Congress in 2000. In 2013, he became governor of Indiana. He gave Hoosiers a small tax cut but promoted it as a big one. He proposed funding free pre-kindergarten for poor kids (of course, knowing him, he’d push for allowing pre-kindergarten to teach religion), but actually obtained more federal Medicare funding. He also proposed a state-run news service– which of course was looked at askance, and died on the drawing board.
In March 2015, Pence signed a bill that allowed (translation: encouraged) religious ministers and businesses to refuse to provide services for gay marriage ceremonies. He failed to anticipate the public relations crisis that ensued.
Pence figured that a Donald Trump loss in 2016 would increase his own chances of getting elected president in 2020. For, Pence was instrumental in helping Trump win the Rust Belt and other swing states.
Read the book to learn of other interesting factoids about Pence.
The Second Book of the Week is “Troublemaker, Let’s Do What It Takes to Make America Great Again” by Christine O’Donnell, published in 2011.
Born in 1969 into a family that was eventually comprised of six children, O’Donnell is of Irish and Italian extraction. The family moved from Philadelphia to Moorestown, New Jersey when she was little.
When O’Donnell participated in the commencement ceremony at Fairleigh Dickinson University, she still owed $8,000 in tuition, and was six credits short of graduating. At the podium, the leather portfolio she was handed contained a bursar’s bill instead of a degree. By that time, she had decided she wanted to pursue a career in politics. Her naivete was a blessing and a curse, as it is with so many passionate young people who seek to work for a cause that is bigger than themselves.
However, the more one reads, hears or sees about politics, the more cynical one becomes; one does not even need to run for office to see what dirty a business it is. The sooner one learns this, and the lessons O’Donnell learned, the better. Apparently, a certain political climate at certain times allows particular instances of what could be considered unethical, or at best, dishonest activities to proceed.
Anyway, O’Donnell wrote candidly about her work experiences. She described what some might say were conflicts of interest that were minor, in that the goals were to spread propaganda and cover all the bases, more than make money.
Some believe that a media outlet should not be used solely as a political mouthpiece. Nevertheless, in 1994, from Washington, D.C., the Republican National Committee aired a Haley Barbour-created TV show, “Rising Tide.” The weekly show had affiliates around the nation, including Chicago. O’Donnell– whose job was to sell the show– got it on the air on a cable access channel in New York City.
In another case, in 2008, Senator Joe Biden re-ran for the U.S. Senate at the same time he ran for vice president. Biden won both elections. As is well known, he has been a gadfly ever since. Currently, some people, even those from his own party, wish he would go away.
At any rate, O’Donnell advised the reader on ways she saved money after she again lost her run for the U.S. Senate as a Republican from Delaware, of all states. In her late thirties, she had crushing debt load, but she swallowed her pride and:
worked cleaning houses
became a laundress
sold her possessions on eBay and Craigslist
cancelled her cable TV subscription
borrowed free DVDs from her local library
got free internet access from her local library
moved into a small apartment
shopped at thrift stores, and
destroyed her credit cards.
Running for office is undeniably expensive, regardless of the age of the candidate; just ask even now-famous politicians who lost elections in the past. Those who emerge as election losers but are still wealthy are those who inherit endless money. Or obtain it through unethical means at the very least, or both.
O’Donnell clearly had a stronger desire to change the world than profit. Obviously, by the third time she ran for the Senate in 2010, she knew there would be adverse financial consequences. However, she did not anticipate the extreme abuse she would suffer.
During the author’s race, the opposition (unsurprisingly), but also her own political party (!) launched vicious smear campaigns against her. And the IRS audited her for years. Notwithstanding, in summer 2010, she went on Mark Levin’s national radio show, and listeners consequently donated $12,000 to her campaign in a matter of hours. After she won the nomination in September, Rush Limbaugh endorsed her on his radio show and donations poured into her campaign.
Mike Castle, O’Donnell’s primary opponent was a sore loser. Karl Rove and his GOP operatives cast aspersions on her, too. Toward the end of this book, she cast aspersions on Barack Obama. She blamed him for almost all the nation’s troubles.
O’Donnell didn’t understand that on the economic front, one economic period cannot be fairly compared to any other, because times and conditions are constantly changing. It is incalculable how much credit the current president deserves for the current success of certain economic sectors or indicators. Does former president Bill Clinton deserve full credit for the economic upturn that, without question, resulted from the rise of the Internet? Anyway– as is well known, Al Gore invented the Information Superhighway, so perhaps he deserves full credit.
One way to get an idea of the extent of dishonesty of idiot-box drama on a political show, or one momentarily reporting on politics– is to mute the TV and see whether the person reading the Teleprompter is blinking frequently. If they are, what they are reading is likely lies; blinking like crazy is body language that likely indicates lying.
O’Donnell gave the reader tips on how to be an activist. She wrote, “Whether liberal, conservative, Republican or Democrat, good people should be able to run for office without concern for getting trashed in the public eye or having phony claims thrown at them. Thug politics have to stop.” Good luck with that, all.
Read the book to learn of O’Donnell’s other political and personal experiences.
The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Incredible True Story of Blondy Baruti, My Unlikely Journey From the Congo to Hollywood” by Blondy Baruti with Joe Layden, published in 2018.
Baruti was born in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the late 1980’s. When he was three, his father– a banker and government official– abandoned his mother, him and his older sister.
In the late 1990’s, eight countries in Africa engaged in an extremely ugly war, ultimately leaving five million dead. The armed, sociopathic sadistic fighters drugged young males and turned them into soldiers like themselves, and young females, into victims of rape and torture. Naturally, Baruti’s family, like millions of others, fled their homes.
The death rate for everyone in the country was ridiculously high, what with rampant disease, animal or human violence, starvation, etc. To push the point, Baruti wrote, “I was sick and exhausted, and sadly accustomed to the sight and smell of death and so I barely reacted [when a bomb hit a village his family was in].”
Read the book to learn how Baruti’s goal-oriented behavior, positive attitude, unwavering faith, great skills and passion for two activities– which are highly coveted careers– led him to get invaluable assistance with changing his lifestyle radically for the better.
The Book of the Week is “The Reckoning, Death and Intrigue in the Promised Land, a True Detective Story” by Patrick Bishop, published in 2014.
Born in 1907 in Poland near the Lithuanian border, Avraham Stern grew up to become an agent of the Irgun (one of the intelligence services in Palestine), coordinating the purchase of weaponry from Italian and Polish sources, to be smuggled into Palestine to help the Jews fight for an independent state, plus spreading propaganda about offensives in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky was a prominent Zionist in the same underground group, who gathered intelligence and launched military offensives in pursuit of Jewish statehood.
Stern, however, was a more radically violent sort, whose spinoff group (called Betar, or Revisionists) committed acts of terrorism against Arabs, even civilians, and later, the British. His group received funding from wealthy Jews who believed in the cause of helping oppressed Jews live freely in a land of their own.
In May 1939, Great Britain issued a White Paper– a follow-up document to the 1917 Balfour Declaration– stating that since there was then a significant Jewish population (450,000) in Palestine, only an additional 75,000 would be let in in the next five years, and those arriving later than that, would require Arab consent.
A governance arrangement would have to be made in the next ten years between the Arabs and the Jews. Of course, no one could know the untoward historical events soon to occur, let alone the number of Jewish refugees who would ultimately be seeking to reside in Palestine.
By 1940, Great Britain was in trouble militarily. In August, Jabotinsky unexpectedly died of a heart attack. Stern, who took the opportunity to occupy the resulting power vacuum, argued that the Zionists should ally with Germany because although anti-Semitic, the Germans might let the Jews emigrate to Palestine.
In desperate need of money, Stern plotted a successful bank robbery in September 1940 that was executed by his henchmen. He himself was an armchair warrior, only the mastermind behind the group’s activities.
Afterwards, Stern went underground, but got friendly with the anti-British Italians through his spy network, so if the Italians were to march into Palestine, they would be benign colonialists, rather than oppressive imperialists. Early 1941 saw Stern solicit the friendship of the German diplomatic corps, too. His overtures later proved to be a waste of time.
In 1941 and 1942, Stern went all out with planning violence because he knew his days were numbered. His group committed a robbery and launched an attack that resulted in the deaths of innocent people, including British cops. He became public enemy number one. A major historical event that might either discredit or make truthfulness more likely in connection with various historical accounts is: the Wannsee Conference held in late January 1942, at which Hitler discussed his plot to create a master race and eliminate all Jews. Thereafter, parties privy to such knowledge began to change their behavior.
Stern and his cohorts hated the British government because the British knew the Jews were seeking refuge from Hitler’s death camps, but they prevented them from reaching the shores of Palestine via boats, anyway. It was inexcusable not to save their lives. Two of Israel’s future politicians, Irgun members (Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin) fought with the ideologically dogmatic Zionists, newly renamed “Lehi.”
Read the book to learn of the way the British intelligence community treated Stern’s terrorist cell as an organized-crime gang– resorting to frontier justice out of fury when law enforcement officers were killed in attacks; the ensuing propaganda war between the Brits and Jews on a specific incident involving Stern; the fate of the head of British intelligence; and the activities of the British and Zionists from 1944 onward.
I am pleased to announce that my book: “The Education and Deconstruction of Mr. Bloomberg, How the Mayor’s Education and Real Estate Development Policies Affected New Yorkers 2002-2009 Inclusive” is available through the following online channels:
The Book of the Week is “Taken For A Ride, How Daimler-Benz Drove Off With Chrysler” by Bill Vlasic and Bradley A. Stertz, published in 2000.
This was a story not atypical in many ways, of any 1990’s merger between two big-name public companies. One difference, however, was that one was American (Chrysler), and the other, German (Daimler-Benz). Thus, there was the additional difficulty of minimizing employee friction in connection not only with the different corporate cultures, but with the different national cultures.
Another difference was that Daimler and Chrysler weren’t direct competitors– product-wise demographically or geographically, so there was little personnel duplication between them. So minimal employee layoffs were in order.
Initially, Kirk Kerkorian was a major shareholder of Chrysler. In April 1995, his group Tracinda made a tender offer for all of Chrysler, but unwisely publicly admitted it had yet to line up the financing for purchasing the company. The news brought out all the greedy stakeholders: Tracinda’s people, and institutional and individual shareholders of Chrysler. Other parties to the possible transaction included investment bankers, and consultants of various kinds– image, financial, M&A, and legal.
The media stoked public anger at Tracinda for its poor planning (which might have been deliberate, to rattle the target). The Wall Street Journal made the emotionally charged claim that Kerkorian would saddle Chrysler with a heavy debt load if his bid was successful. Of course, regardless of success, he knew he would boost Chrysler’s share price and make more money for himself.
There were various times when different male corporate leaders became angry at others, usually when they felt they had or were going to get, less power or money than they thought they deserved.
For example, anger was directed at Lee Iacocca, former turnaround artist of Chrysler around 1980. At the time of the Kerkorian affair, he was a paid corporate consultant to Chrysler but contracted with Kerkorian, too. So Chrysler revoked the stock options he still had. “He [Iacocca] was… madder than a hornet when he heard he would get only $42 million…”
By the mid-1990’s, auto industry executives knew their companies would be swallowed up by bigger ones if their own companies didn’t make acquisitions or team up with their competitors.
One other possible way to expand was to try to sell cars to Third World countries like Vietnam. However, the bulk of those Asians– who were still farming and fishing– would need to save their entire annual salaries for forty years (!) if they wanted to buy even the lowest-price Chrysler car, the Neon. Besides, their country still had few paved roads, anyway.
In summer 1997, the timing just happened to be right for Daimler and Chrysler to get together with a stock swap (rather than a tender offer– buying the stock from the shareholders to cash them out– make them no longer owners of the stock). Nevertheless, the months-long merger talks had to be kept secret because if the news was prematurely leaked, Chrysler’s stock price would skyrocket, making a deal prohibitively expensive.
Read the book to learn what, in summer 1999, prompted the following: “His aides had never seen Kirk Kerkorian so mad. In two days he lost almost $600 million on his Daimler Chrysler stock” plus all the other details of the whole story.
The Book of the Week is “Whittaker Chambers” by Sam Tanenhaus, published in 1997. This large volume described a situation that lends itself to the hypothetical board game “Survival Roulette: Alleged Commie Edition” (See “Blind Ambition” post).
Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers were just two of thousands of people starting in the late 1940’s who were losers of this game. The winners actually won only temporarily: Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon and other bullies.
The board’s spaces could describe wiretapped conversations of such evil Commie fronts as the Boy Scouts, and dossiers acquired through the Freedom of Information Act in which every word of every page has been redacted (blacked out) except the names of the 205 guilty State Department officials.
Of course, there could be spaces such as “Go to the Electric Chair” and “IRS Audit.” A “Commie Chest” (rather than Community Chest) card, for instance, could say “Collect $1 in a libel suit while your attorneys collect $50,000.” By the way, any player wearing a red necktie is a Commie.
Chambers, born in 1901 in Brooklyn, was accepted to Columbia University in 1920 through, at that time, simply passing an intelligence test rather than taking entrance examinations. He was fluent in several languages and was a skilled writer. As a commuter from Lynbrook in Long Island, New York, he paid only the school’s annual tuition of $256. The following year, living on campus, he also paid room and board of $400.
As a sophomore and rebellious intellectual, Chambers penned an offensive, blasphemous piece for one of a few campus publications for which he wrote. Fierce critics forced him to take a leave of absence from the school.
In the next several years, he traveled around Europe, came home, held short-term odd jobs he obtained through friends, returned to school, rode the rails out West, etc. in an effort to find himself; also in an attempt to escape his dysfunctional family. According to the author, Chambers suppressed his homosexual urges by having affairs with women.
In the course of his voracious reading– a lifelong passion– Chambers discovered a speech of Vladimir Lenin called The Soviets at Work. In it, Lenin advocated violent authoritarianism. Curious factoid: a line in the speech is reminiscent of a line in the Elton John song “Yellow Brick Road” paraphrased: “… where the dogs of society howl… I’m going back to my plow…”
Anyway, in February 1925, Chambers joined the Workers Party of America, a then-illegal political party that espoused Communist ideals. Its American members numbered about sixteen thousand. He also joined the International Workers of the World.
In the spring of 1927, Chambers was found to have stolen tens of books from Columbia University’s libraries and various other libraries. He was proud rather than ashamed. He wrote articles for The Daily Worker and other Communist publications, got a short story published in The New Masses, that was turned into a play performed internationally.
Some Americans became Communists because they felt that capitalism was the cause of the Great Depression— with its breadlines, labor unrest, suicides, protests, etc. In spring 1932, Chambers joined the OGPU– the Soviet agency that eliminated anyone who expressed the least negative thoughts about Comrade Stalin or his ilk.
Chambers was a valuable addition, as he had experience in bureaucracy, was fluent in German and Russian and literate in the Classics. The American chapter of the Party forced him to become a secret agent man.
But it was fun to play adolescent-boy spy games. And the pay was really good. He played well with others. He and his comrades got secret messages in invisible ink and microfilm from the Germans in their safe house on Gay Street in Greenwich Village. They spied on businesses and the military. He helped steal blueprints for weapons to be built by military contractors, and sent them to the Soviets.
In summer 1934, Chambers was relocated by the Soviets to Washington, D.C. to become a New-Deal advocate for sharecroppers and tenant farmers, who were opposing landowners and big growers in the agricultural industry.
Then Chambers started assisting with generating false passports to be used by his comrades. The initial step was to comprehensively extract information (such as birth dates and names) from the archives of obituaries of babies, in the research branch of the New York Public Library (yes, the one with the lion statues in front).
A birth certificate was then the only proof of citizenship that was required to obtain an American passport, which allowed the easiest travel. The above information (reflecting the then-age and gender of the agent who traveled internationally) would be used to apply for a fraudulent birth certificate, which could then be used to obtain a fraudulent passport.
The Party headquarters was in the U.S.S.R., though, and was the ultimate boss. It could shut down a cell if it saw little productivity. For example, an agent was reassigned to Riga (equivalent to Siberia). But before the transfer, the agent did win the handball championship at a YMCA in the closed Tokyo cell.
Across the United States, there were plenty of organizations posing as Communist fronts, such as a literary agency in San Francisco, the Unemployed Council in Queens county in New York State, and the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians. Chambers used a series of aliases for himself, his wife and daughter with each new assignment.
Changes were always afoot. In the mid-1930’s, the OGPU became the NKVD. Chambers’ boss was purged by Stalin. His highly-strung new boss reflected the Soviet mentality of proactively engaging in an act of generosity to butter up his new office in Washington, D.C. He therefore gave it a large cash gift that was used to purchase Oriental rugs to be given to the top operatives there.
In December 1936, the Soviets considered Germany, Italy and Japan their fascist enemies. The United States, France and England were passively standing on the sidelines. Chambers’ new mission was to, with the help of comrades, procure stolen original State Department documents, take photos of them, and return them, turn the photos into microfilm, and send it to Moscow. Although the documents usually didn’t contain anything world-shaking.
Nevertheless, circumstances were getting dangerous for Chambers. He was considering withdrawing from the Party, but then he and his family would have to disappear. He didn’t want to end up like Ignace Reiss, a “…well dressed corpse, perforated with bullet holes.” In spring 1938, he took the plunge and went into hiding. About a year later, he was able to get a job through a friend at Time, Inc.
Chambers knew the NKVD could kill him or harm his family at any time. Besides that, he could be convicted and imprisoned for treason, and he couldn’t afford to flee. So in September 1939, he turned state’s evidence instead. He named names of Treasury Department and State Department members and discussed the U.S. military’s Communist spy ring.
Into the 1940’s, Chambers continued to work around the clock at Time, Inc., where he received an obscenely high salary for his new rabidly anti-Communist editorial bent. His intuitions were correct, however. He knew that the Soviets had designs on world domination.
In August 1948, Chambers was subpoenaed to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Reputable officials and journalists were angry that in a public hearing, Chambers claimed that Alger Hiss, a high-level State Department official had been a Communist in the 1930’s. Hiss’s integrity had been irreproachable up to that point. The then-freshman Congressman Richard Nixon (R., CA) was the only member of the Committee who insisted on continuing the case against Hiss.
Initially, Chambers couldn’t name anything Hiss had done that was illegal. For, Party membership hadn’t been illegal in the previous decade. Neither had paying Party dues, nor meeting with other Communists.
However, with circumstantial evidence that Chambers produced in his own sweet time, he was able to convince the authorities that Hiss had lied under oath. Another crime that Hiss might have been punished for, was espionage. Fortunately for Hiss and Chambers, the three year statute of limitations on that had expired.
Political accusers always seem to scream about risks to national security!!! But it has become a cliche that more often than not, documents have been labeled top-secret, not to become declassified for decades– in order to cover up government’s bad, embarrassing behavior, NOT because American lives are at risk.
For approximately the last seventy years, on and off, vicious political vengeance has been the norm– best interests of the country be damned. However, the punishments haven’t fit the crimes. The most guilty and least punished perpetrators have acted in ways that have resulted in needless deaths and ruined lives.
Who knows what else Hiss did– making love to an intern in the Old Executive Office Building? He did get caught lying under oath.
Based on lies, the most guilty perpetrators have led the United States to attack other countries and smeared their political opponents for their own selfish political and financial ends. At least they didn’t get caught lying under oath.
Anyway, as is common with these kinds of situations, different government agencies are fighting to grab glory for bringing the perpetrators to justice. In the Hiss case, it was the Justice Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and HUAC.
Individuals such as Nixon and Robert Stripling, the chief investigator of HUAC, were also jockeying for power and bragging rights. Then-Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter testified on behalf of Hiss, an unprecedented move, and possible conflict.
Read the book to learn why Chambers wasn’t also tried for lying under oath, even though he was the biggest liar in the world; every ugly detail of the Hiss case, and much more about Chambers’ life.