|Birth name||Sándor Goldberger|
|Born||August 11, 1894
|Died||1990 (aged 95–96)
|Occupation||spy master, Communist Party activist|
J. Peters (born Sándor Goldberger; 1894–1990) was the most commonly known pseudonym of a man who last went by the name "Alexander Stevens" in 1949. Peters was an ethnic Jewish journalist and political activist who was a leading figure of the Hungarian language section of the Communist Party USA in the 1920s and 1930s. From the middle 1930s, Peters was actively involved in the espionage activities of the Soviet Union in the United States, fabricating passports, recruiting agents, and accumulating and passing along confidential and secret information.
In October 1947, Peters was served with an arrest warrant for alleged violation of the Immigration Act of 1924, which required alien immigrants in America to possess a valid visa. On August 3, 1948, while appearing under subpoena before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), Whittaker Chambers, identified Peters as a spy. Later that month, Peters appeared under subpoena before HUAC but did not cooperate. He invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer sensitive questions. On May 8, 1949, Peters left for communist Hungary to avoid imminent deportation by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Peters remained in Hungary until his death in 1990.
Sándor Goldberger (or Alexander Goldberger) was born August 11, 1894 in the town of Csap, Ruthenia, in the northeastern part of what was then part of the Kingdom of Hungary. There were about 3,000 people in the town at the time of Sándor's birth, including a substantial number of ethnic Jews like the Goldbergers who had fled from official and popular repression in Tsarist Russia.
Many of the Jews of throughout the Kingdom of Hungary attempted to assimilate into society by the adoption of local language and customs, speaking Hungarian rather than Yiddish and in general attempting to become, in the words of one scholar, "more Magyar than the Magyars themselves." Peters' biographer notes that this seems to have been the case with the Goldberger family, who apparently spoke Hungarian in the home and who gave all three of their sons — Sándor, József, and Imre — ethnic Hungarian names.
Like most Jewish families in Csap, the Goldberger family was poor, with Sándor's father working as a train brakeman before leaving to join his wife running a restaurant. The family seems to have been secular rather than actively religious members of the Jewish faith, although it remains possible that they held nominal membership in a local synagogue.
In 1899 Sándor was sent to the large city of Debrecen to live with his grandfather, where educational opportunities were brighter than those of Csap. Sándor attended and graduated from primary school and gymnasium in that city. He apparently developed an affinity for the workers movement at a similarly early age, influenced by his grandfather and an uncle who were active participants in the railroad and machinist unions.
Following his graduation from gymnasium in 1912, Sándor decided to become a lawyer, enrolling in the law school at the University of Kolzsvár in Transylvania. He did not attend courses in that city, however, instead studying law on his own in Debrecen and returning only to take examinations. (Whittaker Chambers stated in his memoirs that, "He had studied law at the university of Debrecen in Hungary.") In order to support himself, Sándor worked briefly in an office job before taking a position teaching at the gymnasium in Debrecen.
With the coming of World War I in the summer of 1914, Sándor Goldberger was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army, receiving training in the infantry. Sándor was selected for officer training and early in 1915 he received a commission as a Lieutenant in the infantry reserve. Sándor was assigned to the Italian Front, where he remained for the duration of the war.
With the war coming to a close, Sándor returned to his hometown of Csap, where he came into contact with radicalized friends espousing Marxist ideas about the imperialist nature of the war and touting the new social system in the process of being established in the wake of the Russian Revolution. Sándor was won over to the Bolshevik cause and, together with four former prisoners of war released from Russian captivity in 1918, became one of the founders of the first local group of the Communist Party of Hungary in Csap.
During the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic headed by Béla Kun in 1919, Sándor served briefly on the governing council of Ung County. He managed to escape repression during the so-called "White Terror" which followed the collapse of the Hungarian Soviet regime, apparently benefiting from the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which made Ruthenia (Subcarpathian Rus) part of Czechoslovakia, then a democratic country less inhospitable to radical political activists than the Hungary of Miklós Horthy.
Peters emigrated to the United States in 1924 and became an organizer for the Communist Party USA, concentrating his efforts in the party's Hungarian language section. Peters was a delegate to the Sixth Congress of the Communist International in Moscow in 1928 and was appointed head of the party's National Minorities Department in 1929.
By 1929 Peters (using the name "Joseph Peter" with no "s" at the end) was living in New York City and the Secretary of the Communist Party's Hungarian Bureau. He attended the CPUSA's 6th National Convention in March 1929 as the official representative of the party's Hungarian Bureau. He was also an alternate member of the governing Central Executive Committee of the party.
As organizational secretary for the Communist Party in New York state in 1930, Peters was put in charge of building an illegal apparatus, or network designed to support Soviet foreign policy. CPUSA and Comintern documents at the RGASPI archive in Moscow show that he headed the CPUSA underground apparatus from the early 1930s until Whittaker Chambers’ defection in 1938. Peters was sent to Moscow for training with the Comintern in 1931 and was made a senior intern in the Anglo-American Secretariat. Returning to the United States in 1932, the Central Committee assigned him to work in the secret apparatus where he remained until June 1938.
Around 1933 or 1934, Peters took over from Whittaker Chambers' previous rezident handler. Chambers ascribed central importance to Peters' role:
The Soviet espionage apparatus in Washington also maintained constant contact with the national underground of the American Communist Party in the person of its chief. He was a Hungarian Communist who had been a minor official in the Hungarian Soviet Government of Bela Kun. He was in the United States illegally and was known variously as J . Peters, Alexander Stevens, Isidore Boorstein, Mr. Silver, etc. His real name was Alexander Goldberger and he had studied law at the university of Debrecen in Hungary. In addition, I had myself, during my entire six years in the Soviet underground, been the official secret contact man between a succession of Soviet apparatuses and the Communist Party, U .S.A. Both the open and the underground sections of the party were under orders to carry out, so far as they were able, any instructions I might give them in the name of the Soviet apparatuses.
Although he refers generally to "J. Peters" in his memoir, it appears that he knew him as "Steve" while serving in the underground. In 1935, he penned The Communist Party: A Manual on Organization, which includes the following:
The Communist Party puts the interest of the working class and the Party above everything. The Party subordinates all forms of Party organization to these interests. From this it follows that one form of organization is suitable for legal existence of the Party, and another for the conditions of underground, illegal existence...
The secret apparatus under Peters carried out surveillance, exposed infiltrators, protected sensitive party records from seizure, and disrupted rival communist and leftist movements such as the Trotskyists. Another of Peters' duties included maintaining contact with the Ware group in Washington D.C., and he took over direct supervision of that group in 1935. The head of the CPUSA Earl Browder instructed Peters to cooperate with Soviet intelligence.
About 1936 Peters recognized that some members of the Ware group had potential for advancement within the government, so a decision was made to separate them from the group. Whittaker Chambers became the courier between the GRU and this group. The members separated included Alger Hiss, Henry Collins and Lee Pressman.
Peters was removed as head of the secret apparatus two months after Chambers broke with the espionage ring in 1938 and was replaced by Rudy Baker. He continued to work on the CPUSA's Central Committee staff on what a 1947 Soviet Communist party personnel report called “special assignments”. An examination of the Comintern's records turned up two 1943 messages from the GRU referring to a GRU officer in Washington as having come across “a group of workers singled out by the American Comparty CC [Central Committee] for informational work and headed by the CC worker ‘Peter.’” Though usually called “Peters” in the United States, in Comintern archives Peters' name is often rendered as “Peter.” “Informational work” was GRU parlance for clandestine activity.
On August 3, 1948, in testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Whittaker Chambers publicly stated that Peters was, "to the best of my knowledge, the head of the whole underground United States Communist Party."
Peters (under the name "Alexander Stevens") was subpoenaed to appear before a congressional investigating committee. He refused to answer any questions and left prior to deportation procedures for Hungary.
Peters is identified as assisting Soviet espionage in deciphered KGB cables and in the KGB documents listed in The Haunted Wood by Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev. Many years later, he was located by Weinstein in Hungary and interviewed for Weinstein's book Perjury.
After his return to Hungary in 1949, Peters served in official Party capacities without prominence. In the 1980s, Peters wrote a secret Party memoir for the Hungarian party’s secret files, which become available to the public and forming an important basis of Red Conspirator by Thomas Sakmyster.
Death and legacy
Peters died in Budapest in 1990, "barely noticed in Hungarian newspapers."
In Red Conspirator, Sakmyster concludes that, as far as the Ware Group and related secret groups relate to Peters, these were "conducted by largely on his own initiative... No Soviet agent ever served directly as his handler."
- Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. New York: Random House. pp. 32 (role and aliases), 58 ("Steve"), 338–339, 341–343, 347–357, 369–370, 381–385, 388–389, 398–400, 405–407, 429–430, 564–565, 716–718. LCCN 52005149.
- Sakmyster, Thomas (2011). Red Conspirator: J. Peters and the American Communist Underground. University of Illinois Press. p. 2.
- Sakmyster, Red Conspirator, p. 3.
- Sakmyster, Red Conspirator, p. 4.
- Sakmyster, Red Conspirator, p. 5.
- Sakmyster, Red Conspirator, p. 6.
- Sakmyster, Red Conspirator, p. 7.
- Sakmyster, Red Conspirator, pp. 1–24.
- Russian State Archive for Socio-Political History (RGASPI), fond 515, opis 1, delo 1600, list 36. Published as commercial microfilm as "Files of the Communist Party of the USA in the Comintern Archives," IDC Publishers, reel 122.
- Peter, J. (July 1935). The Communist Party: A Manual on Organization. Workers Library Publishers. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
- Peter, J. (July 1935). "The Communist Party: A Manual on Organization". Workers Library Publishers. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
- Linder (editor), Douglas. Testimony of Whittaker Chambers before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. August 3, 1948. Famous Trials: The Alger Hiss Trials (1949–50). Retrieved 29 January 2011.
- "Burden of Proof," Time, September 6, 1948.
- Hede Massing, This Deception. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1951; pp. 180, 187–188, passim.
- "Another Witness," Time, March 3, 1952.
- Chambers, David (25 January 2011). "Head of the Whole Business". The American Mercury. Retrieved 29 January 2011.
- Sakmyster, Red Conspirator, p. xxi.
- "Photograph of J. Peters," by Martha Holmes, LIFE magazine, September 1, 1948.
- Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. New York: Random House. pp. 799 pages. LCCN 52005149.
- John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.
- Sakmyster, Thomas (2011). Red Conspirator: J. Peters and the American Communist Underground. University of Illinois Press. p. 251.
- Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America—The Stalin Era, Modern Library, 1999.
- Allen Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss–Chambers Case. New York: Random House, 1997.