The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Henderson) to the Secretary of State

No. 969

Sir: Confirming my telegram No. 45 of February 14, 1938 5 p.m.,48 I have the honor to report that the wife of Mr. Roman L. Biske, an employee of this Mission of approximately four years standing, called [Page 636]at the Embassy on the morning of February 14, 1938, and reported that the room in which her husband lived had been entered on the same morning at approximately 2:00 o’clock by agents of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs; that these agents had spent three hours searching the room and examining the papers of Mr. Biske, and had eventually departed taking Mr. Biske with them.

She said that since she occupies a room in another building, she was not informed of the arrest until several hours later. Mrs. Biske was in a terrorized state of mind fearing that she also might be arrested. She said that of late arrests of wives frequently follow those of the husbands.* She could shed no light upon the reason for the arrest. She said that the occupants in the other rooms of the apartment in which Mr. Biske lived, had he ard the agents break into his room and make the search but had had no opportunity to talk with him.

On the afternoon of February 14, I called upon Mr. Weinberg, Chief of the Third Western Political Division of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, and requested him to obtain information for the Embassy regarding the reason for the arrest. I said that it was particularly unfortunate that the agents of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs without volunteering any explanation had arrested another employee of the Mission almost immediately after the conversations which Mr. Troyanovsky had recently had in Washington with the Secretary of State and Mr. Dunn. Such action, I pointed out, was likely to create an impression in Washington that the internal authorities of the Soviet Union were not seriously interested in the healthy development of American-Soviet relations.

During the course of the conversation, I drew Mr. Weinberg’s attention to the fact that despite repeated inquiries addressed by me to him and requests made by Mr. Davies to Mr. Litvinov, the Embassy had not as yet been informed regarding the reasons for the arrest of Mr. Samoilov in September 1937 and Mr. Svyadoshch in October 1937, or as to whether or not these persons had been found guilty and sentenced.

I emphasized the fact that the arrest of four of the Soviet employees of the Embassy during the last eighteen months had not only lowered the morale of the survivors but rendered it more difficult for the Embassy to obtain replacements.

Mr. Weinberg appeared to be disturbed and surprised by the information which I gave him. Whereas he had displayed an unsympathetic attitude when I had requested him last September to [Page 637]endeavor to ascertain reasons for the arrest of Mr. Samoilov, he made an effort during the course of this interview to manifest concern. He said that he would immediately make inquiries of the competent authorities. When, however, I asked him if I might inform my Government that he hoped to be able to furnish the Embassy information regarding the reason for Mr. Biske’s arrest, he replied that although he would attempt to obtain such information he would prefer to have me state merely that he was making appropriate inquiries of the competent authorities.

I told Mr. Weinberg that the inroads which the arrests had made upon our Soviet staff were seriously interfering with the functioning of the Embassy. He replied that although he did not like to appear to be making suggestions regarding the manner in which the American Embassy might best be organized, he nevertheless thought that I might be interested in learning that the Soviet Government, after having had a number of unfortunate experiences with foreign employees of its diplomatic missions abroad was now following a policy of replacing these employees with Soviet nationals. It had found that such a policy was advantageous since Soviet nationals were not so likely as foreign nationals to become involved in activities objectionable to the governments of the countries in which the diplomatic missions in question were situated.

I told Mr. Weinberg that it would be difficult for the Embassy to replace its Soviet employees by American citizens. In the first place, it was not easy to find American citizens with the requisite language and other qualifications; and in the second place, in view of the housing situation in Moscow, it would be difficult to provide housing for American citizens, even in case they should be found. Furthermore, I pointed out, Soviet nationals were frequently able to accomplish much more for the Embassy than American nationals since the contacts of American citizens with Soviet institutions and nationals are bound to be more limited and less fruitful, in present conditions, than those of Soviet citizens.

Later in the day I mentioned the matter again to Mr. Weinberg at a reception given at the Embassy and asked him if he had any objection, pending the receipt of further information from him, if I should inform my Government that in the opinion of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs there was no connection between the arrest of Mr. Biske and his employment with the Embassy. Mr. Weinberg replied that of course he had no objection; that he had assumed that I had understood from the beginning that Mr. Biske had undoubtedly been arrested for activities which had no relation whatsoever to the Embassy.

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Although it would be impracticable to fill with American citizens all of the positions held by Soviet employees, I feel that both the Department and the Embassy should seriously consider the advisability of endeavoring to replace, in so far as possible, the Soviet employees acting as translators and research assistants (other than the Soviet typists) with reliable American citizens possessing a good knowledge of the Russian language and a broad educational background. I cannot emphasize too strongly that no American citizens should be chosen for this work who have any family or other connections in the Soviet Union or who have inherited any Eastern European traditions. It is believed that it might be possible to find young men qualified for the work in some of the American universities which offer Russian language courses.

Respectfully yours,

Loy W. Henderson
  1. Not printed.
  2. In this connection it should be pointed out that according to neighbors, the wife of Mr. Svyadoshch, the Soviet employee of the Embassy arrested in October, was arrested several weeks later. [Footnote in the original.]