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Guide to the Gerhart Eisler FOIA Files TAM 219

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
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Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Peter Filardo

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on May 02, 2018 using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Descriptive Summary

Title: Gerhart Eisler FOIA Files
Dates [inclusive]: 1941-1968
Dates [bulk]: 1947-1951
Abstract: Gerhart Eisler (1897-1968) was a journalist and prominent communist activist in Austria, Germany, the United States, and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). A political refugee from Europe, he arrived in the United States in 1941. In 1947 he was publicly accused of being an agent of the Soviet Union, and was charged and stood trial on separate charges of contempt of Congress (because he refused to be sworn in at a hearing before the U.S. Congress' House Un-American Activities Committee) and of perjury for misrepresenting his Communist Party affiliation on his immigration application. He was sentenced to one and three years in prison, but was released on bond. In May 1947 he jumped bail and fled the country, making his way to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), where he remained for the rest of his life. The materials in this collection are photocopies of original documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests made to the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation for records pertaining to Eisler. They document the intense scrutiny and surveillance of Gerhard Eisler, his wife, and associates, by the United States government from the 1940s through the 1960s.
Quantity: 8.5 Linear Feet in 9 record cartons
Location: Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please contact tamiment.wagner@library at least two business days prior to research visit.
Language: Materials are in English
Call Phrase: TAM 219

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Historical/Biographical Note

Gerhart Eisler (1897-1968) was a journalist and prominent communist activist in Austria, Germany, the United States, and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Born in Leipzig, Gerhard Eisler grew up in Vienna. He served in the First World War and returned from the Front radicalized. In 1918, with his sister, Ruth Fischer, and his brother, the leftist composer Hans Eisler, he was among the founders of the Austrian Communist Party. In 1920 or 1921 he moved to Germany and joined the German Communist Party (KPD). From 1929 to 1931 he was a liaison between the Communist International (Comintern) and the Communist Parties in China, and then from 1933 to 1935 its liason to the United States. The Comintern then sent Eisler to Spain during the Spanish Civil War to head a radio station broadcasting antifascist programming and publish a newspaper for volunteers serving in the International Brigades. From Spain he went to Paris and wrote articles for KPD publications to be distributed clandestinely in Nazi Germany. In 1939 he was interned by French authorities. After more than a year of imprisonment an offer of asylum to Spanish Civil War veterans by the Mexican government allowed him to be released and depart France. In 1941, Eisler and his companion, Brunhilde Rothstein (who later became his third wife), were on their way to Mexico when the ship on which they were traveling was torpedoed and British authorities interned them in Trinidad for some weeks. They were then allowed to continue to New York, but upon arrival were detained. Although granted transit privileges, they were not actually allowed to resume their trip, but were forced to stay on Ellis Island, as in the face of the advancing World War, the United States government had issued an order forbidding Germans or Austrians transit or exit visas to Latin American countries. After a determined campaign of several months by their friends, they were granted permission to enter the United States.

In the U.S. the Eislers lived in New York City and Gerhart Eisler worked as a journalist and helped found the anti-Nazi newspaper,The German-American. In 1946, as Eisler prepared to return to Germany, he was publicly accused of being an agent of the Soviet Union and his permission to leave the United States was rescinded. He and his wife and friends were subjected to intense surveillance by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal agencies, and in February 1947 he was arrested for misrepresenting his Communist Party affiliation on his immigration application. Several days later he was summoned to testify at a hearing of the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). There he refused to be sworn in without first reading a statement and was charged with contempt of Congress. One of the witnesses at the hearing testifying against him was his sister, Ruth Fischer (the two had been estranged since 1933), who had become fiercely anti-Communist. Eisler was tried in two separate trials for both charges, and lost both. He was sentenced to one to three years in prison, but released on bond, while his cases were on appeal (the Supreme Court had agreed to consider his contempt charge). Shortly thereafter he was arrested by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in connection with deportation proceedings and held on Ellis Island for three months and was only released when he went on a hunger strike, putting him in the position of having the U.S. government attempting both to deport and detain him simultaneously. Eisler's case became a celebrated one, for both the American right (an American Cold War film,  I Was a Communist for the FBI, featured an actor portraying Eisler as a leading character, a villainous foreigner secretly heading the American Communist Party) as well as the left.

In May 1949, Eisler escaped by stowing away on a Polish liner bound for London. Once in England, although initially detained by the authorities, the British government allowed him to leave a month later. Eisler flew to the German Democratic Republic, where he joined his brother, Hans (who had been deported from the U.S. a year earlier also after refusing to cooperate with HUAC). Eisler remained in East Germany the rest of his life, continuing to work in radio and as a journalist.

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Scope and Contents

The materials in this collection are photocopies of original documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests made to the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for records pertaining to Gerhard Eisler. They document the intense scrutiny and surveillance of Gerhard Eisler, his wife, and associates, by the United States government, not only during the late 1940s when Eisler was charged with and tried for perjury and contempt of Congress, but earlier, beginning when he arrived in the United States in 1941, and after his flight from the U.S. as well, nearly up to his death in 1968 in East Germany. They also document the cooperation between the FBI and additional U.S. federal departments in shadowing Eisler, including the U.S. postal service, Internal Revenue Service, and local U.S. police departments as well as police departments in Europe (including copies of documents from Germany during the 1930s).

Documents include detailed narrative reports, surveillance photographs, summaries of interviews with confidential informants (including Eisler's sister, Ruth Fischer, before she publicly accused him of being a Communist agent), and FBI agents' daily surveillance reports. The documents also reveal that that FBI the devoted considerable additional resources to investigating Eisler, including having translations of entire newspapers from German and wiretaps from Czechoslovakian, and intercepted letters tested for secret ink and examined by cryptologists in the FBI's crime laboratories.

Arrangement

Files are arranged in one series. Materials obtained from the Federal Bureau of Investigation are arranged using its own filing system, that is, in FBI file number-subfile-section number order. Folders containing materials from other U.S. federal agencies are filed after the FBI folders in roughly alphabetical order by (archivist-assigned) folder titles.

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Eisler, Gerhart
  • Schrecker, Ellen
  • Eisler, Hanns, 1898-1962
  • Fischer, Ruth, 1895-

Subject Topics

  • Deportation -- United States.
  • Communists -- Germany.
  • Communists -- China.
  • Anti-communist movements -- United States.
  • Communism -- United States.
  • Communists -- United States.

Subject Places

  • Germany |x History |y 1918-1933.

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Administrative Information

Custodial History

Ellen Schrecker sent a gift of documents obtained as a result of a number of separate requests she made to the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other U.S. federal agencies, using the mechanism of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), for records pertaining to Gerhard Eisler in 2007.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials in this collection, which were created in 1941-1968, are in the public domain. Permission to publish or reproduce is not required.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; Gerhard Eisler FBI Files; TAM 219; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

Related Archival Materials

Gerhart Eisler Scrapbook (TAM 438)

Separated Materials

Duplicates of the following congressional documents were removed from the collection, as all are available in hard copy at the Tamiment Library and also may be found online, via commercial vendors (Proquest Congressional which New York University students and on-site Tamiment researchers may use) and freely via the Internet Archive :

Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the U.S., February. 6, 1947, Transcript of Proceedings (Committee on Un-American Activities. House of Representatives)

HTTP://congressional.proquest.com/congressional/docview/t29.d30.hrg-1947-uah-0001?accountid=12768

Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the U.S. (Regarding Leon Josephson and Samuel Liptzen) - March 5 and 21, 1947 -Hearings before the Committee on Committee on Un-American Activities. House of Representatives

HTTP://congressional.proquest.com/congressional/docview/t29.d30.hrg-1947-uah-0008?accountid=12768 Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the U.S., March 24, 1947.

Hearings before the Committee on Committee on Un-American Activities. House of Representatives on Bills to Curb or Outlaw the Communist Party of the United States. Part 1: Testimony of Hon. William C. Bullitt

HTTP://congressional.proquest.com/congressional/docview/t29.d30.hrg-1947-uah-0004?accountid=12768

Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the U.S. - March 24-28, 1947. Hearings before the Committee on Committee on Un-American Activities. House of Representatives, on Bills to Curb or Outlaw the Communist Party of the United States.

HTTP://congressional.proquest.com/congressional/docview/t29.d30.hrg-1947-uah-0003?accountid=12768

Hearings Regarding Communism in Labor Unions in the U.S., February 27; July 23, 24, and 25, 1947, before the Committee on Committee on Un-American Activities. House of Representatives.

HTTP://congressional.proquest.com/congressional/docview/t29.d30.hrg-1947-uah-0012?accountid=12768

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials were donated by Ellen Schrecker in 2007. The accession number associated with this gift is 2008.006.

Processing Information

Materials were removed from pressboard file backers with metal fasteners and placed in acid-free folders and boxes.

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Container List

Container 1     Title Date
Box: 1 Eisler State Department 1949; File HQ 100-32520, Section #s 1-6

Scope and Content Note

Notable are a 1942 memo from U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to re Eisler's attempts to secure a work permit in the U.S., and FBI response including report from confidential informant; correspondence between the FBI and wartime postal censorship department; a memo from Director Hoover to Office of Strategic Services Director William Donovan; a detailed chronology of Eisler's movements and correspondence about him between FBI and INS and State prepared for Hoover; translations from German of issues of The German American; lists of names of people who sent postcards to the State Department protesting denial of an exit permit to Eisler.

circa 1941-1947
Box: 2 File HQ 100-32520, Section #s 6-10

Scope and Content Note

Notable documents include information on FBI interviews with a notary public who witnessed Eisler's signature on his application for an exit visa.

circa 1947-1948
Box: 3 File HQ 100-32520, Section #s 11-27

Scope and Content Note

Includes translations of and informant reports about conversations between the Czechoslovakian consul in New York and the Czech ambassador in 1948.

circa 1948-1950
Box: 4 File HQ 100-32520, Section #s 28-31 and File NY 100-12376, Section #s 1-5

Scope and Content Note

Includes surveillance reports on Eisler from 1943 and 1944, and requests from FBI headquarters for information on Eisler made to its Newark, Chicago, St. Louis, San Franciso, and Los Angeles offices; a letter from a local postmaster acknowledging an FBI request to monitor Eisler's mail; an FBI request made to the New Rochelle, New York police department for information on Eisler, crime laboratory reports (including crytographers' worksheets) on tests made on letters from Eisler and his wife submitted by the FBI; reports on information provided by confidential informants, including Eisler's sister, Ruth, and a 1949 surveillance report (produced at FBI's behest) by an IRS intelligence unit looking for possible income tax violations by Eisler.

circa 1946-1950
Box: 5 File NY 100-12376 Section #s 6-12

Scope and Content Note

Includes reports from numerous confidential informants.

circa 1947-1951
Box: 6 File NY 100-12376 Section #s 12-14 Part A

Scope and Content Note

Reports by confidential informants, letters from anonymous informants, reports, and news clippings.

circa 1950-1951
Box: 7 File NY 100-12376, Section 14 A&B; File HQ 100-32520, Section # 6 of 6; File NY12376 – supplemental release

Scope and Content Note

Includes over 300 pages of documents collated by the FBI as part of a "report prepared in an attempt to summarize the pertinent information to date relating to the activities of Gerhard Eisler" that includes poor quality copies of surveillance photographs, as well as a reference to surveillance motion picture film having been shot of Eisler.

circa 1947-1959
Box: 8 File HQ 100-32520, Subfile A, Section #s 1-12 ; File NY 100-12376 Subfile 1A Section #1 - File NY 100-12376 Subfile A, Section #5

Scope and Content Note

Newspaper clippings arranged in chronological order within their folders, and files (each including a list of its contents of that file) including correspondence between the FBI and police forces in Europe and documents from Europe (including Nazi Germany) re Eisler and his associates, surveillance photographs, intercepted mail and telegrams, surveillance reports.

circa 1943-1959
Box: 9 File NY 12376, Subfile A Section #6 – NY 12376 Subfile B, Section 3; FOIA requests and materials from United States Federal Agencies in addition to the FBI

Scope and Content Note

Includes briefs relating to Eisler's court cases, files from and correspondence to Ellen Schrecker (from additional US government agencies besides the FBI) in response to her FOIA requests, including the State Department, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Department of Justice Criminal Division, Central Intelligence and the Army. The INS file includes copy stenographers minutes of Eisler's 1947 hearing by its Alien Enemy Board, documents detailing surveillance by U.S. government operatives in Frankfurt, Germany in 1952, 1953 looking for information on Eisler, and documents of 1952/1956 discussions between the FBI and U.S. officials in Bonn regarding unsuccessful attempts to persuade Eisler to defect from East Germany.

circa 1942-1968

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