Noel Field

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Noel Haviland Field
Born (1904-01-23)January 23, 1904
Lewisham, London, England
Died September 12, 1970(1970-09-12) (aged 66)
Budapest, Hungary
Spouse(s) Herta Katharina Vieser[1]
Children Erika Glaser Wallach (adopted)
  • Herbert Haviland Field (father)
  • Nina Eschwege Field (mother)
  • Hermann Field (brother)
  • Elsie Field Doob (sister)
  • Leticia Field (sister)

Noel Field (January 23, 1904 – September 12, 1970) was an American citizen who, while employed at the U.S. Department of State in the 1930s, was a Soviet spy. In postwar Eastern Europe, he served as the pretext for show trials in Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Hungary, which were used to justify replacing indigenous Communist Party members with Moscow-based agents who had returned to their native lands behind the Red Army.

Early life[edit]

Field was born in south London in 1904,[2] the first son of Brooklyn-born zoologist Herbert Haviland Field, who directed an international scientific bibliographical institute in Zurich, and his English wife. After Herbert Field's death, his wife took Noel Field, his brother Hermann, and two sisters to the U.S., where the boys attended Harvard University.[3]


Noel Field began his career at the State Department in the late 1920s. In the 1930s he was an antifascist and sympathised with Soviet peace initiatives, as did many Western progressives at the time.[3] In 1933, Field met the German anti-Nazis Paul and Hede Massing, who had come to the U.S. from Moscow in order to build a network of Soviet agents among influential left-wing circles.[4]

Peter Gutzeit, the Soviet Consulate in New York City, was also an officer in the NKVD. [5] In 1934 he identified Noel Field and his friend, Laurence Duggan, as future Soviet spies. Gutzeit wrote on 3rd October, 1934, that Duggan "is interesting us because through him one will be able to find a way toward Noel Field... of the State Department's European Department with whom Duggan is friendly." [6] (3) Iskhak Akhmerov decided that Boris Bazarov should be the one to work with Hede Massing on this project. [7]

In 1935 Hede Massing, who was an NKVD operative, tried to sign Field up for the NKVD. Field agreed to work for the NKVD, but in 1936 accepted a post in Geneva with the League of Nations.[8] Massing arranged for Field to make contact with Ignatz Reiss and Walter Krivitsky, who were in charge of Soviet intelligence in Switzerland.[4]

Field was deeply moved by the Spanish Civil War and became involved in efforts to aid victims and opponents of fascism. As a League of Nations representative in Spain from 1938–1939, Field helped to repatriate foreign participants from the Republican side.[3] During the Civil War, Noel Field and his wife Herta became friendly with a German medical doctor named Glaser who worked in a hospital attached to the International Brigade. When the Brigade retreated during the final collapse of the Loyalist forces, Glaser's daughter, Erica, became ill and was separated from her parents. The Fields found her in a receiving camp on the French-Spanish border and brought her with them to Switzerland, where they treated her as their own child.[9] They intended to reunite her with her parents who had fled to England, but the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 made that difficult, and Erica became a permanent member of the Field home, in effect their foster child.

World War II[edit]

In October 1940, Field resigned his post in Geneva and in 1941 became director of the American Unitarian Universalist Service Committee's relief mission in Marseilles, providing relief for endangered Jewish refugees including antifascists and leftists, and helping many to flee to Switzerland.[3] Field began a major collaboration with the Organization to Save the Children (OSE), a French Jewish humanitarian organization, and its Marseilles director, Joseph Weill. The two organizations later shared the same offices in Marseilles and Noel Field, with help from his wife, set up kindergartens in the Camp de Rivesaltes. The Fields worked with a number of French Jewish women and collaborated with OSE to liberate Jewish children from French internment camps both openly if possible and covertly if the camp director would not cooperate. Also beginning in early 1941, Noel Field established an extensive medical program to provide aid to Jewish refugees in hiding, those waiting to emigrate or those held in internment camps. Drawing on the medical expertise of some of the Jewish refugees, Field developed a team of about 20 medical doctors, dentists, and nurses, some with international reputations. From his contacts in Switzerland, he acquired medicines and nutritional supplements that were extraordinarily hard to obtain. With the American Friends Service Committee, and his lead doctor, Rene Zimmer, Field implemented a nutritional survey of many thousands of the refugees interred in French camps and provided additional food for those in greatest need.[10]

During this period, Field worked with the Nîmes Committee, a network of about 30 relief organizations in Vichy France and maintained congenial ties with Varian Fry and other relief workers who viewed him as a dedicated humanitarian who seemed to be working himself into exhaustion and nervous collapse. Field developed a roster of several hundred refugees whom he attempted to help emigrate. Unlike some members of the Unitarian Service Committee and Fry, Field did not face hostility from staff at the U.S. Embassy in Marseilles for his activities, possibly because he sent many of his refugee clients to Switzerland, rather than to the U.S. In 1942, Robert Dexter, director of the Unitarian Service Committee, recruited Field to pass information to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). When the Germans occupied the rest of France in November 1942, the Fields escaped from Marseilles and re-established a refugee program in Geneva. In 1944, Field returned to southern France, traveling with the Maquis and with the approval of Allen Dulles before the area was fully liberated. He arranged for a colleague, Herta Tempi, to establish a small office in Paris as a relief project for the Unitarian Service Committee.[10]

In his relief activities, Field came into contact with a number of communist and antifascist refugees and exiles from Germany and elsewhere and used his position to relay information among various groups. During the war years, Field, based in Switzerland, continued to work on behalf of refugees, including antifascists and communists who, after the war, would assume positions of power in Eastern Europe. Field served Allen Dulles, then head of the OSS and later of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as liaison to Communist resistance fighters when they were needed for OSS operations. Dulles had first met Field in Zurich in 1918 at the home of Field's father. The two had often seen each other in Washington D.C., when both worked at the State Department. Dulles hoped Field could use his Communist connections in Switzerland and Germany to shed light on Stalin's postwar objectives in Europe.[11]

Post-war activities[edit]

In 1949, Field moved from Switzerland to Prague and Franz Dahlem helped him obtain a residence permit in Czechoslovakia. A few days later, Field walked out of his hotel accompanied by two unidentified men. He left his papers, luggage, and traveller's cheques in his room as if he expected to return.[12]

Arrest of Herta Field[edit]

Field's wife Herta became increasingly worried about the lack of word from Field. She believed her husband had been kidnapped by the CIA in connection with the Massing and Hiss cases. In the hope of getting information from Czech authorities, she traveled to Prague and met with members of State Security. She described her husband's involvement with Soviet intelligence to them. Her account matched Field's confession to Hungarian security which had been made available to the Czechs. On August 28 in Bratislava, she was handed over to the Hungarians, who arrested her and took her to Budapest.[4]

Arrest of Hermann Field[edit]

Meanwhile, Field's brother Hermann wrote to two Polish friends, Mela Granowska and Helena Syrkus and asked for help getting a visa to visit Warsaw. The two women passed the letter on to the Bezpieka and were ordered to ensure that Hermann traveled to Warsaw, where he was arrested while on his way to the airport to leave the country.[13] Hermann Field was imprisoned in the cellar of a suburban house in Miedzeszyn, where he was interrogated for three years by operatives of the Tenth Department.[citation needed] Like his brother, Noel, Hermann had for a time worked to help endangered refugees and had shown a preference for communists and antifascists. In 1939 Hermann had served in the Kraków office of the Czech Refugee Trust Fund to help persecuted refugees, who were preponderantly Jewish, to emigrate to Great Britain.[14]

Arrest of Erica Wallach[edit]

After the war, the Fields' adopted daughter Erica moved to the American Zone of occupied Germany and got a job with the OSS. She left to join the German communist party and worked as secretary to the communist representatives in the Hesse Regional Parliament. She met and fell in love with U.S. Army Captain Robert Wallach. When her party superiors objected to the relationship, Erica broke her connections with the party and the couple moved to Paris. In 1947 she was refused admission to the U.S. because of her communist past.[13] In June 1950, Erica decided to search for the Fields, her foster parents. From Paris, she called on Leo Bauer, an old friend from the Swiss exile group, then editor-in-chief of East German radio. The call was monitored by the MVD, and Bauer's Soviet superior ordered him to invite Erica to East Berlin, where she was arrested. Erich Mielke at one point offered her immediate release if she revealed the members of her spy network.[13] She was condemned to death by a Soviet military court in Berlin and shipped to Moscow's Lubianka prison for execution. After Joseph Stalin's death in 1953, her sentence was reduced to hard labor in Vorkuta, north of the Arctic Circle.[citation needed]

Show trials[edit]

Noel Field had in fact been arrested - reportedly on the personal order of Lavrenti Beria - and had been handed over to the Hungarian authorities, who began to prepare the trial of László Rajk, the first of the postwar Eastern European show trials. The trial was held in September 1949, its premise being that Field and his agents had worked to undermine the development of indigenous resistance, especially in Germany, in order to strengthen Western influence and create a divided postwar Germany.[15] "Noel Field," stated the prosecutor, was "one of the leaders of American espionage," who "specialized in recruiting spies from among left-wing elements."[16] Field was tortured and held in solitary confinement for five years, often at the edge of death. A matter of interest to students of the Cold War came to light years later when records from Field's interrogations were found in the Hungarian Interior Ministry archives, and in those records Fields named Alger Hiss as a fellow Communist spy:

[Interrogator's question]: What was the essential point of the Alger Hiss case?

In the Fall of 1935, Hiss requested that I undertake intelligence work for the Soviet Union.... I informed him that I was already conducting such work.

[Interrogator's question]: So you revealed to Alger Hiss that you did intelligence work for the Soviet Union?


In East Germany, in August 1950, six Communist functionaries, including the director of East zone railroads and the boss of Radio Berlin, were accused of "special connections with Noel Field, the American spy." All were either imprisoned or executed.[16]

In Czechoslovakia, in November 1952, Rudolf Slansky, the Secretary General of the Communist Party, and 13 highly placed co-defendants confessed to high treason, conspiracy, murder, espionage, Titoism, and Zionism on behalf of "foreign imperialist agents." (See Slánský trial.) "The well-known agent Field." was named as their spymaster.[16]

Release of the Fields[edit]

No trial of the Fields themselves was ever held, (perhaps Communist authorities in Moscow and Budapest were or became uninterested in such). Noel, Herta, and Hermann Field were released in October 1954.[4] Hermann returned to America, later publishing an account of the case, "Trapped in the Cold War: The Ordeal of an American Family".[3] Noel and Herta Field, however, opted to settle in Budapest, where, despite the torture inflicted on them, they did not condemn the Communist regime, leading some to dub them apologists.[citation needed]

In Field's own words, written while he was imprisoned:

My accusers essentially have the same convictions that I do, they hate the same things and the same people I hate - the conscious enemies of socialism, the fascists, the renegades, the traitors. Given their belief in my guilt, I cannot blame them. I cannot but approve their detestation. That is the real horror of it all."

Mainstream magazine, Jan. 1961[18]

Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who had blocked Field's bid for OSS funds for a German communist front group during World War II, later commented, "Field's simple-mindedness was indestructible".[9]

In October 1955, Erica Glaser Wallach was released from Vorkuta, the Soviet labour camp, under an amnesty declared by Nikita Khrushchev that year but was unable to join her husband and daughters in the U.S. because of the State Department's concern over her earlier Communist Party membership. It took the personal intervention of Allen Dulles to reunite her with her family in 1957.[9] Her account of her experiences, "Light at Midnight", was published in 1967.[19]

Hypotheses regarding Field's role in the show trials[edit]

Field was ideally suited to the Communists' show trials; he had known and assisted many highly placed officials, including resistance fighters and members of the Spanish International Brigades with whom he had maintained contact after the war. In addition, he had had contact with Allen Dulles which allowed the Communists to construct a scenario of cooperation with the U.S. directed against the Soviet bloc. It could even be argued that Field had turned his friends into a spy network penetrating Central Europe. Moscow could thus counteract the ongoing uncovering of its own network in the U.S. with the bogus uncovering of an extensive network of American spies headed by the same Field whom the U.S. had charged with being a Soviet agent.[4]

The journalist Drew Pearson maintained that the Soviets, encountering resistance to demands for grain and for military support from nationalist Communist leaders in Eastern Europe who had spent the war outside the USSR, used the myth of a Field-led spy network to purge them all. Pearson speculated that Field was arrested and incarcerated to prevent him from discrediting the trumped-up charges of disloyalty.[20]

It has been suggested that Allen Dulles, informed that Noel Field was on his way to Prague, saw an irresistible opportunity to create havoc among his Cold War adversaries and lit the fuse by instructing Józef Światło, his Polish agent within East European counterintelligence, to alert his colleagues to the impending arrival of Dulles's master spy, coming now to activate the network of traitors he had put in place during the war years. However, it is more likely that CIA officials saw a chance to sow discord once the Fields had been arrested and fanned the blaze of paranoia and Stalinist terror. It is undisputed that Allen Dulles was delighted by the chaos caused by the Field case and did not express any sympathy for the plight of the Fields or the harsh treatment they received. He even refused all efforts by Field's sister Elsie to help rescue Noel and Herta.[9]

Later life[edit]

Noel Field's tomb in the Farkasréti Cemetery, Budapest.

Noel Field remained a staunch communist; his final testament, written in Budapest and published in an American political journal, was entitled "Hitching Our Wagon to a Star."[citation needed]

In 1956, just out of prison, he had published an angry defense of the Russian counterrevolutionary brutality in Hungary.[citation needed]

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

His story became the subject of a 1997 documentary by the Swiss film producer Werner Schweizer, Noel Field - Der erfundene Spion (Noel Field, the Fictitious Spy).[21]


By Noel Field:

  • Field, Noel (January 1961). "Hitching Our Wagon to a Star". Mainstream. 

By Hermann Field:

  • Field, Hermann Field; Field, Kate (1999). Trapped in the Cold War: The Ordeal of an American Family. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Svetlana Chervonnaya. "Field, Noel Haviland (1904-1970)". Moscow: Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  2. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved October 23, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Field, Hermann H.; Field, Kate (2002). Trapped in the Cold War: The Ordeal of an American Family. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-4431-9. OCLC 228212361. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Kaplan, Karel; Kovanda, Karel (1990). Report on the Murder of the General Secretary. I.B. Tauris. ISBN 1-85043-211-2. OCLC 20995411. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Peter Gutzeit, Soviet Consulate in New York City, memorandum to Moscow (3rd October, 1934)
  7. ^
  8. ^ Schlesinger, Arthur Meier (2002). The Politics of Upheaval, 1935-1936. Houghton Mifflin Books. p. 204. ISBN 0-618-34087-4. 
  9. ^ a b c d Srodes, James (2000). Allen Dulles: Master of Spies. Regnery Publishing. p. 143. ISBN 0-89526-223-1. 
  10. ^ a b Subak, Susan Elisabeth (2010). Rescue and Flight: American Relief Workers Who Defied the Nazis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803225251. 
  11. ^ Waller, John H. (1996). The Unseen War in Europe. I.B. Tauris. p. 359. ISBN 1-86064-092-3. 
  12. ^ Schlesinger, Arthur Meier (2000). A Life in the Twentieth Century. Houghton Mifflin Books. pp. 499–500. ISBN 0-618-21925-0. 
  13. ^ a b c Hodos, George H. (1987). Show Trials: Stalinist Purges in Eastern Europe, 1948-1954. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 143. ISBN 0-275-92783-0. 
  14. ^ Field, Hermann; Field, Kate (1999). Trapped in the Cold War: The Ordeal of an American Family. Stanford University Press. 
  15. ^ McLellan, Josie (2004). Antifascism and Memory in East Germany. Oxford University Press. p. 359. ISBN 0-19-927626-9. 
  16. ^ a b c "Fielding Error". Time. November 29, 1954. Retrieved 2008-07-02. 
  17. ^ Schmidt, Mária (December 2004). "Noel Field — The American Communist at the Center of Stalin's East European Purge: From the Hungarian Archives". American Communism in History (Routledge) 3 (2): 215–245 (229). Retrieved 18 November 2012. 
  18. ^ Field, Noel (January 1961). "Hitching Our Wagon to a Star". Mainstream. 
  19. ^ Wallach, Erica (1967). Light At Midnight. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. 
  20. ^ Pearson, Drew (November 29, 1952). "Washington Merry-Go-Round" (PDF). Bell Syndicate. p. 3. Retrieved 2009-09-10. 
  21. ^ Noel Field - Der erfundene Spion at the Internet Movie Database
General references
  • Haynes, John Earl; Klehr, Harvey (1999). Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America. Yale University Press. 
  • Klingsberg, Ethan (November 8, 1993). "Case Closed on Alger Hiss?". The Nation. 
  • Lewis, Flora (1965). Red Pawn: The Story of Noel Field. Doubleday & Company. 
  • Schmidt, Mária (2005). A Titkoszolgálatok Kulisszái Mögött - Hitek, Ideológiák És Hírszerzok a XX (Battle of Wits - Beliefs, Ideologies and Secret Agents in the 20th Century). Budapest: Század Intézet. 
  • Sharp, Tony (2014). Stalin's American spy. Noel Field, Allen Dulles and the East European show trials. London: Hurst & Company. 
  • Steven, Stewart (1974). Operation Splinter Factor. Philadelphia: Lippincott. 
  • Schweizer, Werner (1996). Noel Field, the Fictitious Spy (Documentary film). 
  • "Der Fall Noel Field (The Fall of Noel Field)". Mfs Insider (informal group of former employees of the Stasi).