Samuel Dickstein (congressman)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Samuel Dickstein
Samuel Dicksten.jpg
Justice, New York State Supreme Court
In office
Congressional Representative of the 19th District of New York
In office
January 3, 1945 – December 30, 1945 (resigned)
Congressional Representative of the 12th District of New York
In office
March 4, 1923 – January 3, 1945
New York State Assemblyman
In office
Personal details
Born (1885-02-05)February 5, 1885
Vilnius County, Lithuania,
Russian Empire
Died April 22, 1954(1954-04-22) (aged 69)
New York City
Political party Democratic

Samuel Dickstein (February 5, 1885 – April 22, 1954) was a Democratic Congressional Representative from New York and a New York State Supreme Court Justice. He played a key role in establishing the committee that would become the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which he used to attack fascists, including Nazi sympathizers, and suspected communists. Authors Allen Weinstein, and Alexander Vassiliev said in 1999 that Soviet files indicate he was a paid agent of the NKVD.[1][2][3] The Boston Globe stated: "Dickstein ran a lucrative trade in illegal visas for Soviet operatives before brashly offering to spy for the NKVD, the KGB's precursor, in return for cash."[4] Sam Roberts in The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case stated "Not even Julius Rosenberg knew that Samuel Dickstein had been on the KGB's payroll."[5] Kurt Stone wrote "he was, for many years, a 'devoted and reliable' Soviet agent whom his handlers nicknamed 'Crook.'"[6]

Early life and career[edit]

Dickstein was born into a Jewish family living near Vilnius in present-day Lithuania. He emigrated to the United States in 1887 with his parents, who settled in New York City. There he attended public and private schools, the College of the City of New York, and graduated from New York City Law School in 1906. He was admitted to the bar in 1908 and practiced law in New York City.

He was a Special Deputy New York Attorney General from 1911 to 1914; a member of the Board of Aldermen in 1917; and a member of the New York State Assembly (New York Co., 4th D.) in 1919, 1920, 1921 and 1922.

Congressional career[edit]

Dickstein was elected as a Democrat to the Sixty-eighth Congress, defeating Socialist incumbent Meyer London. He was reelected eleven times. He resigned from Congress on December 30, 1945. He served as Chairman on the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization (Seventy-second through Seventy-ninth Congresses).

During his tenure as Chairman of the Committee on Naturalization and Immigration, Dickstein became aware of the substantial number of foreigners legally and illegally entering and residing in the US, and the growing Anti-Semitism along with vast amounts of anti-Semitic literature being distributed in the country. This led him to investigate independently the activities of Nazi and other fascist groups in the U.S. This investigation proved to be of such significance that on January 3, 1934, the opening day of the second session of the 73rd Congress, Dickstein introduced a resolution calling for the formation of a special committee to probe un-American activities in the United States. The "Dickstein Resolution" (H.R. #198) was passed in March 1934, with John William McCormack named Chairman and Samuel Dickstein Vice-Chairman. Dickstein had refused the chairmanship of the Committee, feeling that his Jewish ancestry might have an adverse effect on the proceedings.

Throughout the rest of 1934, the Special Committee on Un-American Activities conducted hearings, bringing before it most of the major figures in the U.S. fascist movement. Dickstein, who proclaimed as his aim the eradication of all traces of Nazism in the U.S.,[7] personally questioned each witness. His flair for dramatics and sensationalism, along with his sometimes exaggerated claims, continually captured headlines across the nation and won him much public recognition.

Peter Duffy (2014), using Soviet documents from the 1930s, says:

an Austrian working for the Soviets approached him and asked for help in securing American citizenship. Dickstein told the man that the quota for Austrian immigrants was filled but for $3,000 he would see what he could do. Dickstein said he had "settled dozens" in a similarly illegal fashion, according to the NKVD memo on the meeting. Moscow concluded that Dickstein was "heading a criminal gang that was involved in shady businesses, selling passports, illegal smuggling of people, [and] getting citizenship."[8]

In his 2000 book The Haunted Wood, writer Allen Weinstein wrote that documents discovered in 1990s in the Moscow archives showed Dickstein was paid $1250 a month from 1937 to early 1940 by the NKVD, the Soviet spy agency, which hoped to get secret Congressional information on anti-Communist and pro-fascist forces. According to Weinstein, whether Dickstein provided any intelligence is not certain; when he left the Committee the Soviets dropped him from the payroll.[9]

He was instrumental in establishing the temporary Select Committee on Un-American Activities (the 'Dies Committee') with Martin Dies, Jr. as chairman, in 1938 to investigate fascist and Communist groups in the United States. However Democratic leaders in the House distrusted him; They were unaware of his spying or his bribery, but they did know he brutally browbeat and threatened witnesses, and grossly exaggerated evidence. They removed him from membership on the committee.[10]

Later the same committee was renamed the House Committee on Un-American Activities when it shifted attention to Communist organizations and was made a standing committee in 1945.

Following the 1938 German takeover of Austria, Dickstein attempted to introduce legislation that would allow unused refugee quotas to be allocated to those fleeing Hitler.[11]

Duffy uses Soviet documents to conclude that:

Dickstein denounced the Dies Committee at NKVD request ("a Red-baiting excursion") and gave speeches in Congress on Moscow-dictated themes. He handed over "materials on the war budget for 1940, records of conferences of the budget subcommission, reports of the war minister, chief of staff, etc.," according to an NKVD report.[12]

Later career[edit]

Dickstein later served as a Justice on the New York State Supreme Court until his death in New York City.

A one-block section of Pitt Street, between Grand and East Broadway in Manhattan, was named Samuel Dickstein Plaza in his honor.


  1. ^ The Kremlin Connection Joseph Persico, The New York Times Jan 3, 1999 "The files document Soviet spying by Representative Samuel Dickstein of New York, so greedy that his handlers gave him the code name Crook."
  2. ^ Spy vs. spy vs. spy The story of Stalin's spies in America: both worse and better than was feared Boston Globe; Lynnley Browning, Globe Staff; February 14, 1999
  3. ^ What Ifs? Of American History: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been Robert Cowley; Penguin, 2004; 298 pages; page 164
  4. ^ Boston Globe Feb 14, 1999 Spy vs. spy vs. spy: The story of Stalin's spies in America: both worse and better than was feared; By Lynnley Browning, Globe Staff
  5. ^ The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case Sam Roberts; Random House Digital, Inc., May 13, 2003, 584 pages; page 117
  6. ^ The Jews of Capitol Hill: A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members Kurt F. Stone; Scarecrow Press, December 1, 2010 693 pages; page 120
  7. ^ Chip Berlet, Matthew Nemiroff Lyons (2000). Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. Guilford Press. ISBN 978-1-57230-562-5. 
  8. ^ Duffy, "The Congressman Who Spied for Russia Politico Magazine October 6, 2014
  9. ^ Weinstein, Allen; Vassiliev, Alexander (2000-03-14). The Haunted Wood : Soviet Espionage in America--The Stalin Era. New York: Modern Library. pp. 140–150. ISBN 0-375-75536-5. 
  10. ^ Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (2009) pp 285-87
  11. ^ Morrison, David (1999). Heroes, antiheroes, and the Holocaust. Jerusalem, New York: Gefen Publishing House. p. 120. ISBN 965-229-210-9. 
  12. ^ Duffy, "The Congressman Who Spied for Russia" (2014) Politico Magazine October 6, 2014


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

The Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) has the full text of former KGB agent Alexander Vassiliev's notebooks with evidence regarding Dickstein's involvement in Soviet espionage in the United States during the Cold War.
New York Assembly
Preceded by
William Karlin
New York State Assembly,
New York County, 4th District

Succeeded by
Samuel Mandelbaum
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Meyer London
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 12th congressional district

Succeeded by
John J. Rooney
Preceded by
Sol Bloom
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 19th congressional district

Succeeded by
Arthur G. Klein